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Organic farmers look ahead at Wisconsin conference

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — Farmers from across the country recently gathered in Wisconsin to envision the future of the organic farming industry.

Industry leaders attended discussions about organic farming production, economics, climate change and diversity at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse last month, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

Industry leaders expect Wisconsin to continue to be a leader in organic farming. With 1,276 organic farms, Wisconsin has the second-highest number of organic farms in the country, trailing just California, according to Pew Research Center data.

"We certainly have the topography and the mindset," said Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union and owner of an organic dairy farm in Westby. "Vernon County (in southwestern Wisconsin) is one of the largest organic producing counties in the nation and also home of Organic Valley, which is a $1 billion (a year) cooperative. They've built the infrastructure in the state."

Von Ruden said many communities have been showing that they're trying to be more thoughtful about production practices.

"A lot of times that boils down to the organic side," he said.

Organic farming has been growing across the U.S., but the industry still doesn't come close to matching conventional agriculture.

"We need more public and private investment because this movement has been built on the backs of independent farmers and nonprofit organizations who are operating on shoestring budgets for too long," said Molly Rockamann, founding director of EarthDance Organic Farm School near St. Louis.

David Abazs, an organic farmer in northern Minnesota, said organic farming is becoming diversified as more women enter the industry.

"The face (of organic farming) will be changing," Abazs said. "It's going to be diverse and the next generation is coming up and a lot of them are looking toward new ways of doing things. We're in a great transformation in agriculture."

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