Sunday, November 15, 2015

Iowa Organic Conference to Feature One-on-One Mentoring
Focus on helping farmers interested in transitioning to organic
AMES, Iowa—The 15th annual Iowa Organic Conference will give farmers who are interested in transitioning to an organic operation the opportunity to meet individually with experts in the field. The conference will be held Nov. 22-23 at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, as a joint effort between Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the UI Office of Sustainability.

Farmers will have the chance to participate in farmer-to-mentor round tables with organic producers and those experienced with organic certification.  In addition, event speakers will provide advice on organic grain crops, vegetable production, fruit cultivation and certification how-to tips.

“The U.S. market for organic products reached $39.1 billion in 2014 and the demand for organic grains and produce continues to exceed supply,” said Kathleen Delate, ISU Extension and Outreach organic agriculture specialist and professor in horticulture and agronomy. “Growers everywhere are encouraged to consider the potential for organic production.”

A local foods expo will kick off the conference on Sunday, Nov. 22, from 2 to 5 p.m. in the UI Memorial Union. On Monday, the keynote speakers are Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens, who grow and market over 10 varieties of organic grains and have received numerous commendations for their biodiverse organic farm ( in upstate New York.

The conference lunch on Monday afternoon highlights local and organic produce, meats, and dairy products assembled into a gourmet meal by UI award-winning executive chef, Barry Greenberg, and his team.

Organic producers and experts from across the country will share tips about organic production, weed management, livestock production and methods to enhance organic operations. Over 50 exhibitors, including organic seed sellers, local food system non-profits and government offices working with transitioning and certified organic farmers, will be on site to meet with producers. Growers are encouraged to bring their grain samples to the grain buyer exhibitors.

Conference information and directions to the event are available online at To register, access For additional information, contact Delate at

Additional conference partners are the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, New Pioneer Food Co-op, Organic Valley and Practical Farmers of Iowa.
Related links:

Sustainable Vegetable Production Lab 

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Practical Farmers of Iowa

Related publications:
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Irrigation School

Beat the heat!  Save water and fertilizer this summer with drip irrigation training at Drip Irrigation School!

You are cordially invited to attend a day of professional development at the Horticulture Research Station north of Ames on Monday June 29th, 2015 from 9:00  am to 3:30 pm (registration begins at 8:45).  ISU Extension and Outreach Commercial Horticulture specialists Ajay Nair, Patrick O’Malley, and Joe Hannan will take the fear away from building and operating drip irrigation systems.  Participants will take a pre-workshop homework, in class lecture, and hands-on practice with system components in the field and in the lab.  In the field, participants will also see how water and fertilizer move through the soil profile under different setups.  Upon completion of the workshop, participants will understand the basic principles of drip irrigation systems, be able to determine when and how much water to apply, and be able to assemble a drip system.

This workshop is intended for local food system service providers across Iowa.  No prior irrigation knowledge is required.  Cost is free, but registration is required as space is limited.  Please register by June 19, 2015 with the Dallas County Extension Office at or or by calling the office at 515.993.4281.

A limited number of scholarships are available in the amount of $50 to help offset the cost of travel and are reimbursable through SARE after the event.  Please mention the scholarship when registering as these are available on a first come, first served basis.

Support for this program is provided by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, ISU Department of Horticulture, and ISU Extension and Outreach.

Friday, April 3, 2015

New Extension publication on tomato cultivars

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture

A new publication providing information on suitable tomato varieties for commercial field and high tunnel production in Iowa is now available at the Iowa State Extension and Outreach Online Store. The four-page Recommended Tomato Varieties for Commercial Production in Iowa HORT 3024  , offers tomato growers the opportunity to compare varieties for the Midwest growing zones. The publication is free to download (click the link above to download pdf).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Biochar in vegetable production

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University

Check out our new video on the use of biochar in vegetable production systems. In this experiment we are evaluating the use of biochar in commercial potato and sweet corn production

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New video on cover crops

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University

The Sustainable Vegetable Production Lab recently released a new video showcasing benefits of using brassica cover crops in vegetable cropping systems. The video highlights oilseed radish cover crop grown at the Horticulture Research Station, Ames. Check out the video by clicking the link below


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Soil and insect management for vegetable crops

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University

Location: Cedar Valley Produce – south of Riceville, Iowa 
Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Learn about cover crops, soil fertility, and insects in vegetable cropping systems.

Cover Crops (Dr. Ajay Nair): One of the core philosophies of sustainable production systems is the development of healthy and productive soil that provides essential nutrients for plant growth and supports diverse and active soil biotic communities. Incorporation of cover crops and compost bear paradigm importance as they improve soil organic matter, supply nutrients, and improve soil health and quality. This presentation will focus on various cover crops, their management aspects, attributes, and discuss their effect on nutrient cycling and soil quality and health.

Soil Fertility (Joe Hannon): The soil fertility session will discuss proper soil sampling procedures and how to make sense of soil sample reports. The session will help growers make decisions on annual fertilizer applications for vegetable crops.

Insects (Patrick O’Malley): Solanaceous and Greenhouse Insects (Solanaceous is the nightshade family which includes tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato, and tomatillo). He will talk about insects that affect the Solanaceous crops both in the field and in the high tunnels/greenhouses and then go into insects that are more common on multiple crops inside high tunnels/greenhouses. Patrick will also do a short presentation on Colony Collapse Disorder on honeybees.

Meeting is free but registration by February 10 is required for meal count. Lunch served by Cedar Valley Produce. For registration please contact:
Ms. Sue Barnes ISU Howard County Extension and Outreach
Cresco, IA PH 563-547-3001

This program is being sponsored in cooperation with People’s Savings Bank of Elma, Cedar Valley Produce, and ISU Howard County Extension and Outreach.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Vegetable Transplant Production Workshop (02-17-2015)

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University

Event Date: Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Location: Valders Hall 379 Luther College, Decorah, IA
 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Vegetable producers can learn how to grow quality transplants at an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach workshop planned for Tuesday, Feb. 17 in Decorah. Transplant production plays a key role in a successful vegetable production system. Growing healthy, disease free, and quality transplants is the first step growers have to take to achieve higher yields and productivity.. Please see workshop agenda and registration details below:

9:30 – 10:00 Registration and coffee
10:00 - 10:45 Transplant growing medium – Ajay Nair, Horticulture, ISU
10:45 - 11:30 Insect pests and their management – Patrick O’Malley, ISUEO
11:30 - 12:30 Lunch
12:30 - 1:15 Transplant diseases and management – Joe Hannan, ISUEO
1:15 - 2:00 Importance of quality and quantity of light in vegetable transplant production – Ajay Nair, Horticulture, ISU
2:15 - 2:30 Break
2:30 - 3:00 Hardening off transplants – Patrick O’Malley, ISUEO
3:00 - 3:30 Discussion and Evaluation

Registration on or before 02/13/2015: $30/person
Registration after 02/13/2015 or at the door: $35/person
To register please contact Ms. Teresa Wiemerslage, Allamakee County Extension Office;; Phone: 563-794-0599

This event is co-sponsored by The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

IFVGA Annual Conference (29-30 Jan., 2015)

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University

Please plan to attend the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association annual conference, January 29-30, 2015 in Ankeny, IA. The conference will be held at the FFA Enrichment Center on the DMACC Campus, 1055 SW Prairie Trail Parkway, Ankeny, IA 50023.

The conference  includes tracks that focus on insect and pest management, strip tillage, food safety, high tunnels, aquaponics, agri-tourism, and other important topics in fruit and vegetable production. There are 30+ exhibitors in the trade show with the latest seeds, supplies, high tunnel, irrigation, equipment, and grower information. There will be ample opportunities to visit with other growers, exhibitors and speakers during the conference. It will be
an excellent educational opportunity!

Conference agenda available at:

For registration click the link below:

2014 Fruit and Vegetable Field Day

Ajay Nair
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University

The Department of Horticulture in partnership with Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (IFVGA), Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture organized the 2014 Fruit and Vegetable Field Day at the Horticulture Research Station, Ames IA on 11 August, 2014. The event was coordinated by Dr. Ajay Nair, Assistant Professor in the Department of Horticulture. Other researchers who assisted include Drs. Jeff Iles (Dept. Chair), Paul Domoto, Diana Cochran, Gail Nonnecke, Mark Gleason and Amy Toth. The field day attracted 75 participants that included growers, extension personnel, county horticulturists, post docs, and graduate students. The field day provided research-based information on a variety of topics including high tunnel bramble and tomato production, effect of biochar on onion production, honey bee health and behavior, summer cover crops preceding fall vegetable production, and apple root stocks and training systems.

The event started at 2:00pm with a welcome note from Dr. Jeff Iles and Mr. Nick Howell (Farm Superintendent). He also introduced the new Fruit Specialist Dr. Diana Cochran. Mr. Darrell Geisler (President, IFVGA), Ms. Liz Kolbe (PFI), and Dr. Mark Rasmussen (Director, Leopold Center) also attended the field day and interacted with growers. The Field day gave growers an opportunity for a real time assessment of new, innovative, and sustainable research initiatives in the area of fruit and vegetable production. The first stop was the high tunnel bramble and tomato project which was well received by the audience. Growers discussed several topics such as cost, construction, maintenance, and production methodologies in high tunnel crop production.

Dr. Amy Toth’s bee research lab showcased various ongoing research projects on carpenter and honeybees. Dr. Nair’s research on summer cover crops for vegetable production attracted a lot of interest, especially with growers interested in exploring cover crops as a tool for weed suppression and building of soil organic matter. Mr. Ray Kruse, a graduate student in the department, highlighted a relatively new cabbage cultivar called Caraflex that has small heads with good wrapper leaves, sweet and mild cabbage flavor and is in the form of a tear drop. Mr. Brandon Carpenter, from the Research and Demonstration Farms and a former graduate student of the department, shared his experience of starting a new asparagus planting for future research. Participants also got a taste of new and innovative approach of no-till garlic production integrating cover crops such as sorghum sudangrass, sunn hemp, and cowpea. This was a research project started by Mr. Dana Jokela, a graduate student. Dr. Domoto showcased the apple cultivar and rootstock trial and emphasized the importance of selecting appropriate cultivars that can grow well in Iowa and produce higher yields. Graduate students from the Department of Horticulture (Ms. Leah Riesselman, Ms. Jennifer Tillman, Mr. Dana Jokela, and Mr. Ray Kruse) actively participated in the event by engaging growers in their research projects and answering questions. The afternoon session of the field day was followed by dinner at the farm. After the dinner growers mingled with farm staff, researchers and graduate students and had discussions on needs and challenges for the fruit and vegetable industry in Iowa.