A new initiative of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture may have broad appeal for commercial producers, home gardeners and consumers alike.

UT Extension has launched a new Organic and Sustainable Crop Production program, and the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Knoxville has converted a 90-acre facility into an organic crop production research unit to conduct experiments and demonstrations.

The UT Organic Crops Unit currently has 21 acres under cultivation, with 14 acres of various organic vegetable crops and cover crops in plots that are transitioning to certified organic production. It generally takes a three-year transition period for a plot to become certified organic under USDA guidelines. Organic farming systems rely primarily on natural inputs and largely exclude the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The start of the transition is the date when the last excluded substance was applied to the fields.

The UT Organic Crops Unit also includes three recently constructed high tunnels. High tunnels are framed, unheated greenhouse-like structures covered in plastic whose purpose is to extend the growing season for certain crops.

Annette Wszelaki, UT Extension commercial vegetable production specialist, coordinates a team of AgResearch and Extension professionals and graduate students working on the project. Information about on-going research projects, upcoming workshops, Extension publications, events, and grower resources is now available online at organics.tennessee.edu.

Also linked on the site is the eOrganic community. This effort is a national community of Extension professionals who coordinate information about U.S. organic agriculture production including research and learning modules from land-grant universities. Tennessee Extension professionals have been involved with eOrganic, and the Web site can connect those interested in organic production to regional and national experts.

The UT Web site includes information about an upcoming event that may interest commercial producers. A 10-part monthly workshop will be broadcast beginning this month from three locations throughout the state: Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson. There is no fee for participating in the workshop, but advance registration is required. More information is available online at organics.tennessee.edu.