Urban & Rural Ag Conference Brings Experts, Practitioners, Enthusiasts Together

Anthony Bly discusses soil testing practices Mar 21, 2023 in Ft. Pierre at Drifters Events Center.

The 2023 Upper Midwest Urban and Rural Agriculture Innovation Conference (UMURAI) hosted by South Dakota Specialty Producers (SDSPA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was held on March 21-22, 2023 in Ft. Pierre.

UMURAI brought together experts, practitioners, and enthusiasts from around the upper midwest to share their experiences and knowledge in the field of urban and rural agriculture production. The conference was held over two days and consisted of a variety of sessions, networking opportunities, round table discussions, and entertainment.

The main theme of the conference was producer education with a focus on addressing topics such as finding markets to sell products, pest management, free range chicken keeping, soil health, high tunnel and windbreak establishments, and how to best extend growing periods.

Guests in-between sessions on during the UMURAI Conference.

One of the highlights of the conference was the session by Laura Kahler of SDSPA, focusing on aggregation which refers to bringing produce together from multiple sources to create a larger and more consistent supply to meet consumer demand. Some examples of aggregators include food hubs, producers combining a single product type to increase marketability or producers meeting a large institution’s product needs through collaboration. Aggregation can also be an individual farmer who markets the products for other farmers. You can learn more on these topics at the SDSPA website and the NRCS website.

Another noteworthy session was held by Jason Hirtz, owner of Box Turtle Farm, discussing “Biosolarization for Disease and Weed Control for High Tunnels”. Jason shared his knowledge about running a 16,500 sq ft certified organic high tunnel operation that’s been In business since 2008. Biosolarization deals with biological soil treatment to break pest cycles, participants gained several takeaways from this informative session. 

Shannon Mutschelknaus discussing, “Innovative Systems for Extending our Growing Season” at UMURAI on Mar 22, 2023.

A crowd favorite was Shannon Mutschelknaus discussing, “Innovative Systems for Extending our Growing Season”. Mutschelknaus is a mechanical engineer with 20 years experience doing thermal design, research & testing of electronics mega-systems. Guests really enjoyed his coverage on deep winter greenhouses and other growing structures.

In addition, the conference also included delicious meals provided by Drifters Restaurant for both days. Participants had a great time playing trivia, while some of the questions were challenging. Everyone enjoyed the social time and networking opportunities, especially our winners!

Overall, the 2023 UMURAI Conference was a valuable event for exchanging ideas and experiences in the field of producer education and production practices focusing on urban and rural agriculture. The conference provided participants with new insights, skills, and connections to help them advance their work and operations. If you’d like to learn more visit our conference website detailing sessions and speakers visit our event website.

Trivia took place Tuesday night during social hour. Pictured here are our Winners: Casey Burrus, Tina Brents-Barnhart, Rhoda Burrows, Rachel Crowther, and Bob Weyrich. They took home a grand prize of beef jerky!

SDSPA and NRCS would like to thank our session speakers and everyone who joined us for an informative two days! If you attended the conference, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out this form to help us plan next year’s UMURAI conference.