Organic Agronomy Training Series (OATS)

When: August 14 9:00AM-5:30PM and August 15th 8:00AM-5:00PM
Where: Radisson Hotel | 200 Harborview Plaza | La Crosse, Wis.


The Organic Agronomy Training Series (OATS) is a collaboratively managed, science-based train-the-trainer program for agricultural professionals working with organic or transitioning producers in the United States. This two-day training provides education and guidance on organic production methods and certification necessary for agronomists, certified crop advisors, extension agents, and technical service providers to serve the needs of certified organic grain producers.

OATS will increase the skill and impact of extension staff, agency personnel, consultants, advisers, educators, and technical service providers on organic production systems and USDA-NOP regulatory compliance. The program will build participants’ knowledge base in all key areas of certified organic production:

  • Basics of organic production: weed control, nutrient management, crop rotation, pest management

  • Systems thinking & long-term strategies for success in organic production

  • Managing risk during transition

  • Organic certification process & record keeping

  • National Organic Program (NOP) rules & regulations

  • Organic marketing and crop diversity

  • Networking with other organic-focused professionals

  • On-farm & hands-on experiential learning on organic operations

OATS Central Training
August 14th and 15th, 2019 - La Crosse, WI


We have 12 confirmed Continuing Education Units available for CCAs.

9:00 AM - Welcome

9:10 AM - Introduction to Organic
Anders Gurda, Pipeline Foods
A brief history of the organic industry will be followed by a detailed account of National Organic Program regulations and the current state of the organic market, identifying opportunities for farmers and those who work with them.

9:40 AM - Transitioning the Land and the Farmer
Farmers Sandy Syburg and Megan Wallendal
Organic production is based on a systems approach, with proactive decision-making based on careful observation to develop ideal conditions for crop success. Transitioning from a conventional system takes a change in mindset as well as management practices. Farmers Sandy Syburg and Megan Wallendal will discuss the basics of organic transition while sharing their personal experiences.

10:45 AM - Organic Markets
Alex Heilman, Mercaris, Sam Raser, Grain Millers, C.J. Eisler, Pipeline Foods
Organic markets are a world away from the CBOT and elevators every twenty miles. Additionally, different handling and marketing streams must be utilized. Experienced organic marketers Alex Heilman, Sam Raser and C.J. Eisler will discuss the intricacies of organic markets, including market projections.

11:30 AM - Economics of Transition to Organic
Paul Dietmann, Compeer Financial
Conversion to organic has economic as well as agronomic implications. Penciling out the long-term financial outlook, including cash flow, can help assess feasibility as well as smooth bumps in short-term income. In addition to covering financial performance through the transition, new tools, the OGRAIN Compass downloadable spreadsheet and accompanying publication Turning Grain into Dough will be discussed by author Paul Dietmann.

1:15 PM - Weed Control in Organic Production
Dr. Joel Gruver, Western Illinois University
Weed management in organic systems involves a diversity of approaches and mechanisms; from advanced cultivation techniques to crop rotation design and understanding weed biology. Dr. Joel Gruver will provide practical approaches to ecological and mechanical weed management. 

2:00 PM - Soil Fertility Management in Organic Production
James Schroepfer, Ag Resource Consulting, Inc.
The National Organic Program limits sources of fertility for organic crops. James Schroepfer will explain the diversity of alternatives for developing and maintaining soil health, including cover crops, organic amendments and biologicals.

3:15 PM - Organic Certification, Inspection, and Record Keeping
Harriet Behar, OGRAIN
You can farm organically, but without certification, there’s no economic benefit. The importance of careful documentation and certification cannot be overstated. Harriet Behar will outline requirements, and briefly explore the certification process as well as record keeping requirements and helpful tools.

4:00 PM – Organic Farmer Panel
Jonathan Olson, Sandy Syburg, Tom Frantzen, Paul Mugge, Megan Wallendal
Moderator: Anders Gurda
Our panel of experienced organic farmers will discuss experiences and issues they feel most important to successful organic crop production.

8:00 AM - Welcome and housekeeping

8:15 AM - Agronomist Panel
James Schroepfer, Ag Resource Consulting, Inc, Bryce Irlbeck, AgriSecure, Dr. Erin Silva, UW-Madison
Moderator: Matt Leavitt
Experienced agronomists will share tips and experiences in working with organic producers, including frequently asked questions.

9:15 AM - Transition Resources
Anders Gurda, Pipeline Foods, Adria Fernandez, University of Minnesota, Harriet Behar, OGRAIN
A diversity of resources to help understand organic production are now available, but which will be most helpful in your work advising farmers? This trio of experienced educators will help sift through the pile, as well as answer your questions.

9:30 AM - Cover Crops in Organic Production and No-Till Organic
Dr. Erin Silva, University of Wisconsin
Cover crops have long been one of the bedrocks of organic production. Dr. Erin Silva will describe the uses and benefits of various cover crops, including successes with organic no-till production.

10:30 AM - Farmer/Agronomist Panel - Pest Management and Crop Rotation
Dr. Kathleen Delate, Iowa State University, inviting farmers/speakers from audience
Farmers are some of the most creative people around. This moderated panel composed of farmers and agronomists will respond to your questions about pest management practices and strategic rotations.

11:15 AM - Transition Scenario: 1 x scenario grain-based
Now that the experts have shared their experiences and guidance, you’ll have the chance to discuss and practice an organic farm transition scenario in small groups, moderated by those same experts.

12:30 PM - Depart for farm visit
Field tour:

  • Corn, beans, harvested oats (hay)

  • Weed control strategies

  • Record keeping and organic system plans

  • On-farm economics

  • Marketing strategies

  • Cover crop implementation

  • Seed selection

  • Strategies to eliminate co-mingling

4:00 PM - End farm visit


Bios coming soon!
Sandy Syburg – White Oaks Farm LLC

Sandy Syburg is co-founder, and President of Purple Cow Organics, a recognized leader in the field of organic soil amendments. Sandy, a self-taught advocate for soils, has traveled throughout North America, Central America and Europe learning with and assisting growers through the application of bio-mimicry, advancing the knowledge that the quality of the food we eat is directly related to the quality of the soil. Sandy’s certified organic farm is located in Oconomowoc, Wis. where he produces a variety of food, grain and seed crops, while innovating and testing potential new products.

Alex Heilman – Mercaris
Alex Heilman is the Director of Sales at Mercaris, where he oversees new business channels while working to advise clients on economic market conditions, contracting efficiencies, and commodity risk management opportunities across organic and Non-GMO markets. Prior to joining Mercaris in 2015, Alex worked at Miller Milling Company in commodity sales and merchandising. He holds an undergraduate degree in food-systems economics from the University of Minnesota, as well as a degree in pastry arts from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. In a prior career, he spent a decade working as a chef in some of the world’s best restaurants.

Megan Wallendal – Wallendal Farms
Megan Wallendal is part of Wallendal Farms, a third-generation, family-owned farm that grows irrigated vegetables and grain on 550 organic acres and 2,700 conventional acres in Wisconsin. The Wallendal family has a rich history of innovation, and family members pride themselves on their use of research and precision technology to promote a sustainable farming culture. (, 698-339-3654)

Sam Raser – Grain Millers
Sam Raser is currently the manager of Organic Procurement for Grain Millers. Sam grew up on a small dairy/crop/beef farm near Chaska, MN, and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Agriculture Education. Sam started his career with 3 years of service at Cargill Animal Nutrition and has been with Grain Millers Inc since 2008. His tenure at Grain Millers has focused in the organic procurement side of the business, mainly working with the mills. Sam lives with his wife and 3 children, ages 4 and under.

CJ Eisler – Pipeline Foods
C.J. Eisler, Director of North American Specialty Feeds at Pipeline Foods, focuses on developing reliable and stable supply chains for both organic producers and end users. C.J. started in the grain industry in 2006 with CHS, interning as a broker assistant for Country Hedging and obtaining his Series 3 license. After a number of years trading conventional grains for US Commodities for Liberty Commodities, C.J. spent 3 years as a senior trader with Grain Millers’ organic feed group, trading various organic feed grains and ingredients and overseeing a food-grade organic corn program.

Anders Gurda – Pipeline Foods
Anders Gurda joined Pipeline Foods in 2017 to help build the Farm Profit Program, a comprehensive suite of resources that seeks to address each of the many challenges a farmer faces when transitioning to organic production. Prior to Pipeline, Anders founded the Organic Grain Resources and Information Network (OGRAIN), a program housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that provides resources and creates grower networks throughout the Upper Midwest.  He’s worked as a research scientist in organic and sustainable cropping systems, interfacing with farmers at all scales and cropping systems, gaining valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities for farmers exploring organic and regenerative agriculture. Farmer-focused and farmer-generated content are the hallmarks of good extension and research, guiding the programs that Anders creates and informing solid educational design.  Anders holds a B.S. in Ecotheology from Northland College and an M.S. in Agroecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Matt Leavitt — Albert Lea Seed
Matt Leavitt is a passionate supporter of organic agriculture and holds a master’s degree in agronomy from the University of Minnesota. He has worked 9 years as an organic agronomist with Albert Lea Seed, aiding farmers, both big & small, all across the Upper Midwest. He lives with his wife and daughter in South Minneapolis.

Paul Dietmann – Compeer Financial
Paul Dietmann is a Senior Lending Officer in the Mission Financing group at Compeer Financial, a member-owned rural lending cooperative and Farm Credit System institution serving Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  Paul and his colleague, Sai Thao, are responsible for Compeer’s Emerging Markets Loan Program, which provides loans and technical assistance to farmers who market their products through local food systems. Prior to joining the staff at Compeer, Paul spent 16 years with the State of Wisconsin; eleven years as a county agriculture agent with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and five years as director of the Wisconsin Farm Center, which is the farmers’ assistance program in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).  He served as Wisconsin’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in 2010.  Dietmann holds a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics from the University of Illinois, and a Master’s Degree from UW-Madison.  He is co-author of the book Fearless Farm Finances: Farm Financial Management Demystified

Dr. Joel Gruver – Western Illinois University
Dr. Joel Gruver is an Associate Professor of Soil Science in the School of Agriculture at Western Illinois University. In addition to teaching 4 soil science and 2 conservation classes each year, Joel is the Director of the WIU Organic Research program. Annual Organic Research program activities include 5-10 large-scale field experiments at Western Illinois University's Allison Organic Research farm, hosting a summer field day with ~ 200 attendees and speaking at ten to twenty farmer meetings. Joel’s research interests include cover crop management, nutrient management, weed management and soil health in organic grain production systems and innovative teaching methods. He was recognized as National No-till Educator of the Year in 2015. Joel earned his BS in Chemistry (1992) from Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, his MS in Agronomy (1996) from the University of Maryland in College Park, and his PhD in Soil Science (2007) from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. (, 309-298-1215)

James Schroepfer – Ag Resource Consulting
James Schroepfer is a Field Agronomist for Ag Resource Consulting, Inc. in Albany, MN where he works closely with a wide variety of organic and conventional farms, from strictly cash crop to diverse livestock enterprises.  As a crop advisor for ARC, James specializes in implementing good management principles and practices catered to the specific needs of the individual farm operations. With a B.S. in Agronomy from South Dakota State University, he also farms an organic livestock and crop farm in the central part of the state.

Harriet Behar – OGRAIN
Harriet Behar has led trainings and on-farm tours introducing organic agriculture and organic certification requirements to farmers, feed mill operators, bankers, pest control technicians, extension agents, NRCS personnel, and other agriculture education professionals.  As an organic inspector for over 30 years, she has visited and worked with thousands of organic farmers in the Upper Midwest. As current chair of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, she aids in improving the organic standards and is kept current on all details of implementation and interpretation of the organic law.

Jonathan Olson – Olson Organics
Jonathan Olson raises organic corn, soybeans, small grains and alfalfa with his wife, Carolyn, on 1100 acres near Cottonwood, Minn. They began transitioning to organic agriculture in 1998. They also contract finish conventional pigs for a neighbor. The Olson family lives in the same house and farms the original land that was purchased by Jonathan’s great-great-grandfather in 1913. Jonathan has presented on the topics of transitioning to organic agriculture, organic weed control in row crops, and about organic agriculture in general to groups all over the upper-Midwest.

Tom Frantzen – Frantzen Farm
Tom Frantzen and his wife, Irene, own and operate a 320-acre grain and livestock operation in Chickasaw County near New Hampton, Iowa. Their farm became 100% certified organic in 2000. They have 60 beef cows, 40 brood sows. They finish all of the livestock, which is marketed through Organic Valley - Organic Prairie Coop. A longtime advocate of sustainable agriculture and environmental concerns, Tom continues to seek better methods on the farm through various research trials and exploring new possibilities that will provide future stability. Tom produces over 100 bushel per acre of feed grain and utilizes hybrid rye to suppress Giant Ragweed.  (, 641-364-6426)

Paul Mugge – Mugge Family Farm
Paul Mugge has farmed his 300-acre family farm in Sutherland, Iowa since 1976, becoming organic in 2000. He raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and small grain (mainly fall triticale or spring oats). He composts beef cattle manure for fertility and uses ridge-tillage for the soybeans, no-till for the triticale, and conservation tillage for the corn. He has narrow prairie strips for erosion control and pollinator habitat. His wife, Karen, and he have 3 children and 7 grandchildren.

Joe Scholze - Scholze Farm
A 3rd generation farmer, Joe Scholze farms land near his home and family’s home near Holmen WI. He has been organic since 2008, and has experience growing barley, wheat, oats, rye as well as corn and soybeans. He plans his crop rotations to grow what is needed by his livestock, as well as what would return a decent return on the open market. Joseph gives much thought to the economics of his operation, which has also included an organic hog operation and hopes to expand to organic dairy.

Bryce Irlbeck – AgriSecure
Bryce Irlbeck is a fifth-generation farmer and entrepreneur with a passion for rethinking farm production methods. Co-founder of AgriSecure, Bryce honed his organic agronomy skills at Midwestern Bio Ag while being mentored by Gary Zimmer and Bob Yanda, two of the most experience organic farmers in the U.S. He is a graduate of Iowa State University in Agronomy and Agribusiness.

Dr. Erin Silva – UW-Madison
Dr. Erin Silva is an assistant professor in the plant pathology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and extension program in organic agriculture focuses on the development and evaluation of management practices and systems that increase soil health, crop quality and environmental stewardship. Key areas of research include the development of minimal tillage and cover cropping practices for organic production, the development of crop varieties specifically adapted to organic production, the creation of farm management tools (including food safety) for small and mid-­‐-­‐-­‐sized diversified vegetable producers, and postharvest production practices for diversified vegetable producers. Erin’s research program integrates a strong outreach component including the creation of written resources, on-­‐-­‐-­‐farm programming, and one-­‐-­‐-­‐on-­‐-­‐-­‐one farm visits.  Other synergistic activities include: Scientific Advisory Committee Member, The Organic Center (2013 – present); and Member, Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council (2007-­‐present). (, 608-890-1503)

Dr. Kathleen Delate – Iowa State University
Dr. Kathleen Delate is a professor and extension organic specialist at Iowa State University with a joint position between the departments of horticulture and agronomy, where she's responsible for research, extension, and teaching in organic agriculture. Dr. Delate earned her bachelor's degree in agronomy, a master's degree in horticulture from the University of Florida, and a doctoral degree in agricultural ecology from the University of California-Berkeley. She has farmed organically in Iowa, California, Florida, and Hawaii.

Planning Committee


The Organic Agronomy Training Series (OATS) is supported by the Organic Trade Association's industry-invested GRO Organic Voluntary Research, Promotion, and Education Program. Additional support for the Central region provided by Pipeline Foods, Grain Millers, Albert Lea Seed House and (your name here).


Hotel rooms are not included in the registration price, but are available at a reduced rate if reserved by July 22, 2019 and using the promo code OATS19. Reserve at

If you prefer a lower cost option, many other hotels are available in the area.


Price, including light breakfast and lunch each day: $85

Pre-Registration cut off: July 29. Walk ins welcome - price $95.

Registration link: