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Organic farming conference provides wealth of information to agriculture producers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - There is something for every type of agricultural producer, not just organic certified, at the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15-16, at the Marriott Albuquerque Pyramid North Hotel, 5151 San Francisco Road NE.

"This is the largest and most diverse agriculture conference held in New Mexico," said Joanie Quinn, New Mexico Department of Agriculture's organic commodity adviser and conference coordinator. The event is organized by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, NMDA and Farm to Table.

"The information that is presented is vital to any producers. Most of those attending the conference are not organic certified," she said.

A wide variety of topics are planned, from pollinator habitat to using goats to remove salt cedar; from successful season extension to fruit and nut production; and from how to survive the drought to humane care of the livestock. Topics will be presented in 36 workshop sessions in six categories - "Closing the Circle: Minimizing Inputs," "Expressing Natural Behaviors," "Appropriate Crops and Beyond," "When All Else Fails," "Perennial Please" and "The Invisible Hand."

"We have some amazing presenters this year, including Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University," Quinn said of Grandin, who was selected as one of the Heroes in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2010. "She will present two sessions on low-stress livestock handling."

Grandin has designed many of the techniques and equipment used by the livestock industry, and has authored many books, including "Humane Livestock Handling," "Animals in Translation," "Animals Make Us Human" and "Thinking in Pictures," a book on autism.

The conference will begin each day with registration at 7:30 a.m. Registration for both days will be $100 per person, and for single day entrance, $65. Early registration may be done online at www.farmtotablenm.org.

Keynote speaker Mace Vaughn, Xerces Society's pollinator program director since 2007, will speak during the Friday general session beginning at 8:30 a.m. His message is entitled "Will organic farming save pollinators or will pollinators save organic farming."

Vaughn, who serves as the joint pollinator conservation specialist for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service at the Western National Technology Support Center in Portland, Ore., will also present a Saturday workshop session on pollinator conservation strategies for organic seed producers.

"Mace has studied how to create habitat for pollinators and has a wealth of knowledge to share," Quinn said. "During the workshop session he will discuss the latest science-based information on maximizing crop yield through the conservation of native pollinators, while at the same time helping them to reduce the risk of outcrossing with non-organic crop varieties."

Other pollinator related topics will include restoring pollinator habitat by David Dreesen, agronomist with the NRCS Los Lunas Plant Materials Center, and how to set up and maintain a top-bar hive by Les Crowder, New Mexico beekeeper and author of "Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health."

Carol Sutherland, NMSU Extension entomologist, will discuss the various diseases insects can carry into a crop.

"Many times people will see insects on their plants and will blame them when the plants die," Quinn said. "But what has killed the plant is not the insect but the disease they have carried and introduced to the plants."

To help fight plant diseases, Heather Harrell, from the certified organic For the Love of Bees farm, will present how to make and use a compost tea.

A workshop on "Understanding Nematodes" presented by Stephan Thomas, NMSU Department of Entomology nematologist, and "Exploring Biofumigation" presented by Mark Uchanski, NMSU assistant professor of horticulture and vegetable physiology, will shed some light on other aspects of developing healthy soil.

And when all else fails, and insecticides are needed, Tess Grasswitz, NMSU Extension integrated pest management specialist, will discuss when and how to use organic insecticides properly.

"There are some organic insecticides that can be used in the certified organic environment," Quinn said. "But they are a last resort and should not be abused. The person applying the insecticide needs to take into consideration any harm that will be done."

Another topic of interest will be the outlook for the drought in the Southwest. Dave DuBois, NMSU climatologist, will discuss recent studies of tree ring data by the University of Arizona's Climate Assessment for the Southwest.

John Idowu, NMSU Extension agronomist, will discuss a whole farm approach to managing drought at another session.