Paul R. Hepperly left Kutztown, during the height of the fall harvest season and arrived in Colonia, Uruguay, for the spring planting season, all in one day this past Monday.That's the kind of thing that happens when you cross the equator. In Hepperly's case, he's traveled south across the equator into the southern hemisphere ' where spring runs Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 ' for a three-month assignment through the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Again, in Hepperly's case, the prestigious program for sending scholars and researchers around the world to share knowledge with their foreign colleagues was looking for someone to carry knowledge of organic agriculture to Uruguay in southeastern South America.

Uruguay "requested this because they're very interested in expanding their organic agriculture production," he explained. "Organics offers them a value-added product. Organics also preserve and improve their environment."

The Fulbright people were stumped for just the right person to fulfill that request and sought recommendations from Hepperly, who for five years has been director of research and training at the Rodale Institute in Maxatawny Township, one of the top international centers of organic agriculture research. The slogan on all the center's signs and materials reads, "Healthy Soil. Healthy Food. Healthy People."

With 28 years of on-the-ground research and application in organic methods in hand, the institute ' and more specifically, the institute's director of research and training ' held the experience and knowledge to share with Uruguay and help that country's farmers "not make all the same mistakes," noted Hepperly.

In the institute's fields, he said, organic matter in the soil has increased 30 percent, in dry years production is 30 to 50 percent better than non-organic fields and oats have 75 percent more mineral content.

Hepperly described the results of the institute's organic methods, which combine traditional techniques with modern science to develop a hybridized modern organic agriculture, as "a very long-term benefit."

The Rodale Institute Farming System Trial one of the most documented and peer reviewed studies in the world ' has clearly demonstrated that over time organic methods are equal to conventional agriculture methods and over more time will overtake conventional methods.

Although he hadn't been planning on an extended stay outside the country, the 55-year-old scientist found himself at the top of his own short-list for someone with deep experience in organic agricultural, who also was fluent in Spanish and well-versed in working in Latin America.

In his tenure with Rodale, Hepperly has worked in Ghana, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Mexico and Chile, and previously he worked in USDA research in Hawaii and was on the faculty of the University of Puerto Rico.

And, as he saw it, when a program as selective as the Fulbright comes calling "you really can't refuse, because it's not going to come back in a lifetime. It's inconvenient, but I didn't think I had any ability not to accept."

Founded by former Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright in the wake of World War II and with the aim of fostering international cooperation through shared knowledge, the program annually sends about 800 top U.S. researchers and professionals around the globe.

That focus gels nicely with the approach at the institute, where, Hepperly explained, "our philosophy is to respond to our clients needs as they perceive them. They say they want it, otherwise we don't go."

Hepperly will be stationed at Uruguay's National Agricultural Research Center, which is similar to the federal Department of Agriculture in the U.S., helping researchers there develop long-term research projects.

However, he hopes to also work directly with some of the country's farmers and to gain knowledge as well as give it.

"We are very interested in methods that don't involve tillage of the land," he said of the institute, noting that South America is the international leader in no-till, with some countries practicing as much as two-thirds of their agriculture in no-till.

Contact Marcus Schneck at mschneck@comcast.net.

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