OIA - Organización Internacional Agropecuaria | Servicio Internacional de Certificación
OIA - Organización Internacional Agropecuaria | Servicio Internacional de Certificación OIA - Organización Internacional Agropecuaria | Servicio Internacional de Certificación


Some mates with … Rick Carr, Compost Production Specialist

We speak with Rick Carr, Master of Science degree in Plant Pathology from Cornell University. He conducted research on understanding the mechanisms associated with vermicompost-mediated disease suppression.

- Could you tell us what the technical exchange trip RODALE-OIA consists of? 

- The goal of the exchange program is to share agricultural research and practices, farming experiences, and more importantly, create opportunities to build relationships among farmers, researchers, and entrepreneurs. Delegates participating in the exchange program are provided with a tour of research facilities, agricultural institutions, and various farming operations where they can learn new approaches and techniques for organic agriculture. There is no recipe for organic agriculture, there is no formula that says if you apply inputs X, Y, and Z there will be predictable outcomes like there is for conventional agriculture. Organic farmers must use every tool in the toolbox to achieve success. Organic farmers must also be able to adapt from season to season and year to year. The Rodale-OIA exchange program is vehicle of information that increases the ability of participants to make informed decisions based on research and farmer experiences.

 - This year you participated in the exchange trip in Argentina. What do you think of your stay in our country?

- My travel experience is limited compared to many others but I can say without a doubt that I have never experience genuine hospitality like I had in Argentina. Argentina has a unique culture that I am constantly drawn to. It’s difficult for Americans to define our culture; in some ways were a melting pot of cultures, whereas there are distinct Argentine customs that pervade throughout the country and create a culture unlike any others. I learned a great deal about organic farming in Argentina but when I participated in the trip, and similar international trips, I always try to learn a little more about the culture, the mentality and philosophies of its people, and experience as many customs as possible. Take mate for example, I love the social aspect of that beverage and the feeling of unity and kinship you get when passing mate. Argentine food is distint as well – absolutely delicious with some of the best meat chefs in the world. There is not a dish on the menu that I would be afraid to order. 

- What do you think of “Jornadas PROD” and the visits to the agricultural establishments?

- I was very pleased with the conference and grateful that the organizers provided translators even though they were only needed for a few individuals. My background is more technical and has focused more on research and production so I didn’t gain as much from presentations that focused on national and international markets. However, the last speaker, Mr. Gabriel Berardinelli was quite eloquent and inspiring. He appeared to be someone who could captivate an audience regardless of the topic and I commend if for his presentation qualities.

- What are the latest investigations you have been working on? Could you explain them?

- Recently, my efforts have been focusing on three areas of research: developing a novel seed treatment for suppressing soilborne plant pathogens, pastured pork production, and compost science and utilization. I manage a large-scale composting operation and lately I have been examining how different feedstocks can influence nutrient profiles in the final compost material. In 2018, I plan to investigate the fate of synthetic chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides during composting and determining what impact persistent chemicals have on plant development. 

In 2017, I joined the animal operations team at Rodale Institute to assist with projects on pastured pork production and research. It’s a unique system for raising pigs for pork – rotate pigs through pastures, similar to cattle management, in such a way that minimizes land degradation and maximizes animal welfare while at the same time improving the health of the soil. There are several research and production questions that we will be asking in the coming years but our current grant-funded project from the UNFI Foundation is asking how can we maximize the nutrient contribution of a pasture. With this information, we will present a model for pasture management to farmers that will decrease labor costs associated with animal husbandry and ultimately increase overall profits. With our pastured pork production system, we are focusing our efforts on pasture management because the pigs will manage themselves.

For several years I have been slowly working on a novel seed treatment that will suppress soilborne plant pathogens. I am using a unique technique to apply the microorganisms found in compost to the seed surface, which is the site of infection for many pathogens. My working hypothesis is if solid compost can suppress soilborne pathogens using a number of different mechanisms, can we capture the activities of those microbes and apply them directly to a seed for protection? This would be analogous to a police officer wearing a bulletproof vest – apply protection where infection occurs rather than broadcasting compost throughout the field when attempting to achieve the same goal.

- What other programs and projects does the Rodale Institute carry out?

- Rodale Institute has quite a diverse list of projects, all in organic agriculture of course. Our flagship experiment is the Farming Systems Trial (FST), the first and longest side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We will be entering our 37th year of the project in 2018. In short, what we see is that organic production is comparable to, if not better than, conventional agriculture. In years of stress, like excessive rain or drought, organic yields nearly always outmatch conventional yields and this is due to the buffering capacity of organic soils. However, organic farmers are discovering that yields are not always the best measure of success; the quality of the food will likely play a key role in increasing greater adoption of organics globally. With this in mind, we have started a few projects that will be investigating the nutrient quality of organic foods compared to their conventional counterparts. In 2016 we began a project similar to FST called the Vegetable Systems Trial (VST) that compares organic and conventional vegetable production. We have several smaller projects that tie into FST and VST that address specific areas of organic agriculture that are too long to describe here but I encourage your readers to check out our website for more information, www.rodaleinstitute.org.

We have a vegetable production program that operates similar to the Community Supported Agriculture model. The goal of this program is to put healthy, organic produce in the hands of impoverish communities and into food deserts, which are commonly associated with urban areas. Currently, the program focuses on production but in the future we will be incorporating more and more research projects that will benefit farmers.

There are a few other notable areas of research we are exploring at Rodale Institute. We continue to study the benefits of cover crops and no-till farming and, in the future, what role cover crops have on improving water quality. We began two trials in hemp production in 2017. Rodale Institute is one of 16 locations that were approved for growing hemp in Pennsylvania, which is the first time in 80 years that hemp was grown in this state. Our honeybees, bats project, compost production, integrated crop-livestock research, and apple production are just a few of the many efforts that define Rodale Institute.

- How does the Rodale Institute interact with the producers?

- Rodale Institute recently launch the Organic Farmers Association. The mission of the Organic Farmers Association is to provide a strong and unified national voice for domestic certified organic producers. With the purpose to build and support a farmer-led national organic farmer movement and national policy platform by: developing and advocating policies that benefit organic farmers, strengthening and supporting the capacity of organic farmers and farm organizations, and supporting collaboration and leadership among state, regional and national organic farmer organizations. 

We have three farmer training programs, two offered exclusively through Rodale Institute, one of which is for training military veterans, and the other in collaboration with Delaware Valley University. With each program, we provide classroom and hands-on training. The components and duration of each program varies but trainees leave the Institute with a strong foundation in several different areas of organic production.
Rodale Institute hosts a field day each year for the public to visit the Institute and learn about current and on-going projects. The bulk of attendants are farmers. In addition, we provide custom tours for anyone interested in learning about a specific area of Rodale Institute. Institute staff also present at state, regional, national, and international meetings and conferences. Lastly, every employee of Rodale Institute is available personally by phone or email. While we are a research institute, outreach and education is a vital component to supporting organic farmers and helping farmers transition to organic.

- What are the advantages of using compost in agricultural systems?

- Compost… my favorite topic, the “hottest” topic in all of agriculture. There are numerous benefits for composting and using compost in agriculture, the first of which is that it is an effective technique for managing on-farm waste materials. Composting organic residuals such as manure and vegetable waste not only improves handling of these materials but creates a valuable resource. Compost contains an incredible diversity of microorganisms that we only have a scant understanding of. What we do know is that some of those microbes have beneficial properties for plant growth and reproduction, from disease protection to nutrient cycling. Compost is high in organic matter and when incorporated into the soil it can increase soil buffering capacity to make it more resilient when damaged. This includes holding water during droughts and slowly releasing nutrients throughout the growing season. In addition, the organic matter from compost will support the existing life in the soil. Unlike conventional fertilizers that contain three nutrients (i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), compost contains a diversity of nutrients that can support plant production. 

- What subject would you like to investigate in the future?

- Personally, I think there is a lot we can learn about pastured pork production. It’s not a novel concept – a hundred years ago raising pigs outside was commonplace across the globe, but since then pork production has become so mechanical that pigs are raised entirely indoors. As such, we need to “re-learn” how to raise pigs on pastures and there are so many questions that need to be addressed.
As a Master Composter, I would like in increase compost operations at Rodale Institute by composting food waste on a larger scale. However, the problem with composting food waste is the amount of trash contamination (e.g. plastic films) that is commonly associated with food waste. Composting these materials will require additional equipment, but in the end we will be able to divert more waste from the landfill and generate valuable soil amendments for agricultural production.

- What would you say to someone who is interested in the trip in RODALE - OIA 2018 but has not yet decided?

- I would say that if you are someone that struggles with the current agricultural paradigm, has the ability to adapt and think outside the box, exhibits a strong interest in learning new practices, and wants to develop a systems approach to farming then you should participate in the Rodale-OIA exchange program. Those that participate certainly have a specific reason or agenda in mind but during the trip everyone is shown a broader picture of organic agriculture. Participants will realize that organic farming is connected, whether it’s in the U.S. or in Argentina, and they only way for everyone to succeed is if we share our knowledge and experiences. And that is what the program is about, an open book for supporting farmers and organic agriculture globally.
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