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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Annual organic farming conference slated for Feb. 29 in Albuquerque

ALBUQUERQUE - Organic farming is growing in New Mexico. The 175 state-certified organic farms and ranches have estimated annual gross sales of $30 million. To keep the farmers and producers abreast of the latest information in their field the annual New Mexico Organic Farming Conference has provided sessions in key topics for the past 19 years.

New Mexico Department of Agriculture Secretary Dr. I. Miley Gonzalez will welcome the farmers and producers to the 2008 New Mexico Organic Farming Conference being held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 29 and March 1, at the Marriott Albuquerque Pyramid Hotel, 5151 San Francisco Road NE, at Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25.

Gonzalez, a long-time supporter of organic farming, has worked to extend support to family-scale farmers in New Mexico as they face challenges ranging from water availability to finding appropriate markets.

The conference is organized by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission and Farm to Table, a non-profit education organization.

The keynote address will be given by Francis Thicke at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Thicke, the owner/operator of a 75-cow, certified organic, grass-based, value-added dairy, will speak on ecology as a model for organic agriculture.

Thicke has been in agriculture his entire life, and converted his family farm to organic in 1976. He has been deeply involved in research and promotion of organic agriculture, testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture regarding the 2007 Farm Bill. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and the steering committee of the Scientific Congress on Organic Agriculture Research.

Among the projects he has worked with is the Shared Vision project to bring local farmers and community members together to create a vision and initiate action toward a more sustainable agriculture and community. Thicke received his doctorate in agronomy/soil fertility from the University of Illinois in 1988.

During the conference, 30 workshops will cover a host of subjects such as building a small dairy, vegetable production, heating greenhouses, veterinary care for organic livestock, beneficial insects, food safety on the farm, managing the acequia, rotational grazing, conservation easements, season extension techniques, organic egg production, weed management, finding the niche market, bee keeping without chemicals and soil health in drylands.

Hands-on demonstrations will be given in pruning fruit trees, solar system setup, farm ergonomics, tractor and equipment safety, drip irrigation and a vegetable washing station.

"This is an exciting conference this year. The speakers are outstanding professionals in their fields," said Del Jimenez, agricultural specialist with NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde. "It's also a great place to network with other people and farmers that are organic in principle."

"This conference is the best around for small-scale producers, whether organic or not, because it is a very good producer conference," said Le Adams of Farm to Table. Prior to being involved as an event organizer, she attended the conference as she learned how to be a Southwest commercial vegetable grower. "One aspect of this conference is that it has been very good about providing new and innovative information for people to know about in the world of production and marketing."

In the past couple of years, the number of farmers turning to organic methods has greatly increased as many conventional farmers transition to organic in order to access a market that is growing at around 20 percent a year, according to Joan Quinn of the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission. "Organic farmers and ranchers are caring stewards of over 130,000 acres of New Mexico's land, providing nutritious and delicious food for New Mexicans, while building habitat for a diversity of wildlife, and creating a fertile soil that conserves water," she said.

"For some family-scale farmers, organic transition provides the revenue farmers need to continue farming the land their families have cared for over generations," said Craig Mapel, marketing specialist for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. "This conference brings together organic producers from around the Southwest to share information gained over decades of organic farming in the high desert."

Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. Friday. Cost is $100 for the two-day event, or $65 for single day entry. Participants will be served snacks during both days and lunch on Saturday that will feature locally grown organic foods. For more information call (505) 841-9067 in Albuquerque or (505) 473-1004 in Santa Fe.