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Organic Broadcaster Online Issue 19.5 September/October 2011
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Table of Contents
- Managing Soil Fertility and Organic Matter - A Primer
- Heirlooms of Tomorrow
- News From MOSES
- MOSES 2012 Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program Seeks Participants
- Inside Organics Organic Certification: Buried in Paperwork
- Good to Great: Looking at Our Farm Economy Future
- Book Review Weeds and Why They Grow
- No Free Lunch
- Proof Positive Poultry Farms that Go Organic Have Fewer Drug-Resistant Bacteria
- Looking For Organic Production and Certification Information? Explore MOSES
- Considering Reduced- or No-Till Organic? Do it for the Fungi!
- Upper Midwest Organic Grains and Feedstuffs Report
- Make a Phone Call, Make a Difference!
- News Briefs
Managing Soil Fertility and Organic Matter - A Primer
by Joe Pedretti
|§ 205.203 Soil fertility and crop nutrient management practice standard.
(a) The producer must select and implement tillage and cultivation practices that maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil and minimize soil erosion. (National Organic Standards)
Providing enough fertility to meet crop needs is one of the greatest challenges facing organic producers.
Conventional farmers can use synthetic fertilizers, which provide nutrients in an inorganic, highly soluble form, and are therefore immediately available for uptake by the crop. Synthetic fertilizers give an immediate and predictable result. However, their high solubility also makes them prone to leaching. Nitrogen and phosphorous in particular are very soluble and mobile and can cause surface and groundwater contamination. They also must be applied frequently to produce results.
Organic nutrient sources are bound in more complex organic molecules. Organic fertilizers must be broken down by soil microbes before plants can utilize them. Newly transitioned organic fields may take years of careful management and soil building to return them to productivity. Soils that have been under conventional management often lack enough organic matter to supply plant nutrients, or the active biological community that processes those nutrients and makes them available to the crop. Carefully planned organic fertility programs can minimize nutrient deficiencies that may occur in the transition years, and help build healthy productive, disease and pest resistant soils and crops.
Soil organic matter is the fundamental source of fertility in organic systems. And so, it is important for producers to understand the basics of organic matter cycling in the soil. Soil organic matter is that portion of the soil that consists of biological residues from plants, animals, and microorganisms. Organic residues supply not only readily available nutrient sources, but also the building blocks of humus. Humus is the product that is left over after decomposition has ended. It is extremely important in increasing and maintaining soil fertility. Because humus possesses a negative ionic charge, it attracts positively-charged nutrients and holds them. Humus can be thought of as a "bank" which holds nutrients and slowly releases them in response to plant or microorganism needs.
The Importance of C:N Ratio
A broad selection of crops and cover crops in a well-planned rotation ensures diverse sources of organic matter, and is an important strategy for increasing the overall organic matter content of the soil. Low carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio materials, such as legume residues, decompose quickly because they contain relatively large amounts of nitrogen, but they contribute very little to the building of humus. High C:N ratio residues such as cornstalks, on the other hand, break down more slowly in the soil. These residues increase humus content but contribute fewer readily available nutrients.
Crop residues from both nitrogen and carbon sources sustain a diverse and efficient microbial community. Bacteria are associated with high nitrogen materials, while fungi increase in relation to high carbon materials. If the C:N ratio of the soil is too high, nitrogen will be in short supply and will be used up by microorganisms before it is available to the crop. With good soil management, and the proper application of organic materials, the cycling of nutrients will reach equilibrium and be readily available for crop needs.
Other Values of Organic Matter
High organic matter content also has a positive effect on soil physical properties known as soil tilth. Soils with high organic matter content contain a greater abundance of water-stable aggregates and have a greater exchange capacity for nutrients. Soils with good tilth have better structure, water-holding and nutrient absorption capacities. Larger aggregates also slow organic matter degradation; producing a slowly mineralizing pool of nutrients. Long term research at the Iowa State University has shown that organic soils with high organic matter content will out produce conventional fields during drought years due to the increased water holding capacity. Organic matter also prevents soil from "clumping" and compacting. Air (oxygen) is just as important as water to the microbial community. Soils with good tilth have a balance of air channels and water- holding aggregates. This is only possible with high levels of organic matter.
Properly fertilized crops are less attractive to some insect pests. When one or more nutrients are out of balance, this often leads to a crop attractive to insect pests. A plant grown in mineral-balanced soil will first produce simple metabolic compounds, such as amino acids and sugars, which are then made into secondary metabolic compounds that promote (1) vegetative/reproductive growth and (2) enhanced insect and disease resistance. When over fertilized with nitrogen, the plant will accumulate a large amount of simple compounds, but be unable to metabolize these compounds further. These excess simple compounds actually attract herbivorous insects. Only when nitrogen and other nutrients are in balance will the plant produce the right balance of primary and secondary metabolic compounds.
Healthy soils can suppress common soil-borne crop diseases. Many plant pathogens are poor competitors for resources by other non-pathogenic microorganisms. This type of suppression is a result of a diverse microbial community. A soil system that is nutrient deficient, or one treated with pesticides or insecticides, will often lack an active and diverse microbial community, which pathogens may exploit. Without competition or predation, pathogens can reproduce, thrive and cause serious problems.
Soil fertility also affects weed populations. High levels of organic matter will decrease weeds. The higher numbers of bacteria and fungi present in high organic matter soils degrade and consume weed seeds. Weeds have the ability to adapt to and survive in a vast array of soil conditions. However, for all plant species there are certain soil conditions that are most favorable. Weeds can sometimes be useful as indicators of soil conditions and imbalances. For example, giant ragweed is associated with low or unavailable soil potassium, and velvetleaf is associated with low or unavailable calcium and phosphorus. The book, Weeds, and Why They Grow by Jay L. McCaman is an excellent resource on this topic. (See the review on page 5 of this issue.)
Management is Key
Crops benefit from healthy soils in many ways, and good management is the key ingredient. Always start with soil testing. A comprehensive soil test that covers macro and micro nutrients, pH and organic matter is a good place to start. It is a waste of money and time to add nutrients that are available in sufficient quantities. It is also a potential environmental and health hazard to over apply fertilizers. While soil testing may seem expensive, especially if you have many fields, they pay for themselves easily in time. Without a soil test you are only guessing at your needs.
A good manager will use a combination of methods to build healthy, well balanced soils:
• Crop Rotation (Diversity)
• Compost and Manure (Organic Matter & Fertility)
• Mineral and Nutrient Amendments (Soil Balancing)
• Green Manures and Cover Crops (Diversity, Fertility & Organic Matter)
• Liquid Organic fertilizers (Fertility & Soil Balancing)
A well-designed crop rotation is an excellent way to suppress weeds and provide a break in pest cycles. It can also improve fertility and soil tilth when cover crops are included and when combined with manures and/or compost. Crop diversity ensures sufficient organic C and N for humus formation and produces a pool of potentially available nutrients that can become mobilized according to crop demand. For best results, rotate crops that do not belong to the same family. The book Crop Rotation on Organic Farms, by Mohler & Johnson is an excellent planning guide.
Compost and manure amendments are not absolutely necessary for some soils and crops, but the majority of organic farmers will need to use compost and manure as cornerstone fertility inputs. Heavy feeding crops like vegetables and row crops will deplete soils over time without the addition of new organic matter and fertility. Compost can be made from either plant materials only or a combination of plant materials and animal manures. Compost must meet a very specific definition in the National Organic Standards. Any plant or animal materials that do not follow the Standards is considered raw manure and must be handled as such. Be sure your composting system or your purchased compost meets the NOP requirements. If there is any question, handle it like manure and honor the 120 and 90 day manure application restrictions in the Standards. The National Organic Standards do allow the use of conventional animal manures, so long as they do not contain added chemicals or prohibited bedding materials like recycled lumber chips. The Rodale Book of Composting is a highly regarded resource on the subject.
Mineral and micro-nutrient amendments can correct soil imbalances. It is a rare soil that is perfectly balanced. Calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and potassium are considered macro-nutrients. Iron, boron, zinc, manganese, copper and others are considered micro-nutrients. Most macro-nutrients can be purchased as naturally mined materials and applied directly to the soil. Micronutrients may be available in a naturally mined form, but are also allowed as an approved synthetic under the National Organic Standards. Be aware however, that you cannot apply micronutrients without a soil test that shows the need for that micronutrient.
Green manures and cover crops should be a part of every organic farmer's soil fertility toolkit. Not only do cover crops protect the soil from erosion, and improve soil tilth, but they supply organic matter and fertility when worked into the soil. Legume cover crops like clovers, trefoil, and alfalfa also fix nitrogen. It is possible to provide enough organic matter and fertility on good soils through cover cropping alone. The book, Managing Cover Crops Profitably, from USDA-SAN will get you started on the right foot.
Liquid organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, kelp emulsion, sea solids, and compost teas have become very popular because they give a quick, readily usable source of fertility for growing plants. Usually sprayed or applied through irrigation systems, these liquid fertilizers give controlled results. These fertilizers will also stimulate soil microbiology and may even hinder some disease organisms. They do not contribute to building organic matter however, and should be used in conjunction with methods that do.
Managing for good soil fertility is extremely important because the soil environment and the surrounding natural resources are inseparable. The establishment of a functional and stable system in one environment can have far-reaching impacts in the other. This is the true gift of organic farming; natural resources that can provide a sustainable income while actually maintaining or improving upon them.
Joe Pedrettti is the MOSES organic education specialist. He can be reached at
Resources on Soil Fertility
New Farm (Rodale) - http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/new_farm
Books on Soil Fertility and Soil Biology
The Biological Farmer - Gary Zimmer, ACRES USA**
Building Soils for Better Crops - Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es, USDA Sustainable Agriculture Network**
Crop Rotation on Organic Farms - Charles Mohler and Sue Ellen Johnson, USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education**
Hands On Agronomy - Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters, ACRES USA**
Managing Cover Crops Profitably - USDA Sustainable Agriculture Network **
The Rodale Book of Composting - Grace Gershuny and Deborah L. Martin, Rodale PressSoil Biology Primer - Soil and Water Conservation Society **
Weeds and Why They Grow - Jay L. McCaman **
** Available from MOSES bookstore or 715-778-5775.
Heirlooms of Tomorrow
by Dr. John Navazio
Dr. John Navazio is the Senior Scientist at Organic Seed Alliance.
Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is often asked which seeds are appropriate for the new agricultural systems that many of us are developing: systems that foster conservation, diversity, resiliency, and true sustainability. This article aims to answer that question while clarifying the principles guiding our plant breeding work.
OSA has always believed that building a healthy, sustainable agriculture future requires farmer-centric seed systems at the regional level – where farmers and the communities they serve consciously choose which crop genetic resources they use and how they are controlled. In fact, the main goal of OSA's Education and Research Programs is to empower farmers interested in creating these systems by teaching them how to produce the best quality seed to meet their farm needs and those of their communities.
We achieve this goal by teaching farmers how to 1) grow high quality seed of existing varieties and maintain variety integrity through selection, and 2) improve existing varieties through trait selection or crosses to breed new, better performing varieties. If a crop variety already exists that meets a farmer's needs, we always encourage them to use that variety and learn how to maintain its valuable traits. When farmers are dissatisfied and believe they can improve a variety through selection and breeding, we encourage them to use a number of simple classical breeding methods that are appropriate for on-farm breeding.
What is "Appropriate" On-farm Breeding?
OSA fields a lot of questions about plant breeding and how it's used in the modern world, in addition to questions about our own breeding work. At times we are asked why we focus on improving varieties rather than preserving heirloom or heritage varieties. Other times we hear views that imply that plant breeding – not genetic engineering, but classical plant breeding – is "messing" with nature. We must consider that almost all of the crop plants that humans use worldwide have been passed down for generations through the extensive selective breeding work of our agricultural ancestors.
We are very deliberate in our approach to plant breeding. All of our breeding work contributes to one of our core values: ensuring farmers control the seed they use. That is, our breeding work gives farmers free access to genetic resources and the freedom to grow what they please, while supplying them with the knowledge and skills to both grow seed and improve the crop's characteristics to best meet their needs.
Our breeding work is devoted to the needs of organic farmers, who too often must rely on seed bred in conventional, high-input agricultural systems because of the inadequate supply of organically bred and produced seed. We place a strong emphasis on breeding crops with the best-adapted germplasm (plant genetics) available, which often includes varieties used today, older commercial varieties, and heirloom varieties. We base our work equally on identifying the best germplasm that currently exists – including material identified independently by farmers – and material that OSA identifies in trials conducted on farms under the real life challenges of organic farming.
Farmers are essential partners in helping us identify the best-suited varieties to use in this breeding work. In many of the breeding projects farmers become full partners with OSA's plant breeders in what is known as "participatory plant breeding" (PPB). A farmer's role can involve all aspects of the breeding process, from setting the objectives, determining which traits to select, and performing the selection, to determining the final ideotype of the newly bred variety. Academic breeders in North America rarely do this type of PPB. Fortunately, this is starting to change. For example, OSA is a partner in the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC), which includes researchers from four universities who are partnering with organic farmers to identify the best performing varieties for organic agriculture, breed new varieties suited to organic farming practices, and educate farmers on seed production and plant variety improvement.
As we identify the best crop material for regional, farmer-centric seed systems, we evaluate crop genetic resources from a number of different sources. Here are the four categories of plant genetic resources as we think about them when conducting trials and evaluations with farmers:
1) Heirloom or Heritage Varieties: This category includes family or community-based heirlooms as well as non-hybrid commercial crop varieties that existed before 1940. Heirlooms are open-pollinated (OP) varieties that were selected, adapted, and maintained over generations within families or agricultural communities. They were often uniquely adapted to the challenges of the soil, climate, and endemic diseases of a particular region. Commercial OP varieties from this period were either developed by one of the many regional seed companies or by plant breeders at one of the land grant agricultural colleges. While there were pioneering breeders at several influential seed companies and land grant colleges during the pre-World War II era, they were still in the early stages of developing systematic breeding programs and were limited in the number of new, unique varieties that they released.
In many cases, the new commercial varieties released by these regional seed companies were improved or refined heirloom varieties important to the region. These varieties were then made more widely available to farmers and gardeners across the region. There were also seed company innovators like W. Atlee Burpee, founder of the Burpee Seed Company, who combed the countryside of the Mid-Atlantic states looking for farmer breeders with new novel varieties that he thought would be popular across this region. I consider this period the "Golden Age" of regional seed companies and land grant college breeding programs, where research was focused on the needs of communities within their respective regions. Some authors classify these two categories of family heirlooms and early commercial crop varieties as "Class 1″ and "Class 2″ heirlooms, respectively.
2) Early Modern Varieties: This is my term for crop varieties developed by both regional seed companies and land grant colleges from the end of World War II until about 1980. Most of these varieties are not F1 hybrids, but are true OP varieties in cross-pollinated crops, and "pure line" varieties in self-pollinated crops.
Early Modern Varieties were derived directly or indirectly from heirloom varieties. While there were some crops that had an increasing F1 hybrid presence during this era (largely corn and to some degree tomatoes, broccoli, summer squash, and a few others) we have evaluated many non-hybrid early modern varieties upon the recommendation of our best organic farmers and found them to be genetically resilient and well-adapted to the challenges of organic cropping systems.
Despite all of the growth in American agriculture in the post-war era, the land grant colleges and seed companies were still regionally based and the breeding was specific to the needs of farmers and gardeners within the state or particular region where these institutions were based. The Early Modern Varieties were bred for the varied conditions of the region. The breeding of vegetables and other minor crops wasn't usually done under optimum fertility or heavy sprays, as breeders knew that farmers wouldn't treat these varieties with kid gloves. Many of these varieties that are still used today have proven their worth as "workhorse varieties" and a number of the farmer breeders that we work with have chosen varieties out of this category for breeding stock. Many non-hybrid varieties released during this era are considered "Class 3″ heirlooms by some authors, which essentially means they are varieties derived from Class 1 or Class 2 heirlooms.
3) Modern Non-hybrids: Many good non-hybrid varieties are still bred today by independent breeders at various seed companies (generally small- to medium-sized regional companies) and some wonderful public breeders at land grant universities. Some of these breeders include Stephen Jones and Kevin Murphy at Washington State University (wheat); Jim Meyers at Oregon State University (tomatoes, peas, and beans); and Phil Simon at University of Wisconsin – Madison (carrots), to name a few.
4) F1 Hybrid varieties Many of the organic farmers we work with use hybrid varieties in their commercial crop production. We are always interested in comparing all crop varieties (including hybrids) that are important in the organic marketplace to the varieties that our growers are breeding and producing themselves. This is important, as we ultimately want to produce "on-farm seed" of varieties that are equal to or better than anything in the marketplace, including the latest hybrids.
OSA Breeding Projects
In summary, OSA always screens crop varieties from a wide swath of the germplasm base for each crop that we work with and from all four of the above categories – and with great success. In a number of cases, we restored an existing heritage variety and returned it to farmers and gardeners. Two examples of this include the now popular 'Dragon' purple carrot, a farmer variety originally from Asia that I re-selected for more uniform color and stronger tops to better compete with weeds. OSA also reselected 'Purple Olive Shaped Radish,' an 18th century spring radish from England that is the earliest known purple radish, to its former graceful shape and color.
We have a number of success stories where we used early modern and modern non-hybrids to develop competitive varieties that are now grown and controlled by farmers. Some examples include:
– 'Nash's Red Kale,' a cold hardy winter kale variety that was initiated when Nash Huber of Nash's Organic Produce found several unusual red 'Vates' kale plants and crossed them to a tall, winter hardy OP Brussels sprout variety to increase their cold tolerance and create a tall robust plant. In a PPB project with OSA, Nash has stabilized a very cold hardy, powdery mildew resistant variety, that produces vigorous new growth in our cool, cloudy Pacific Northwest springs. Best of all it is delicious when compared to the red kale hybrids!
– 'Shiraz' is a tall top red beet for fresh market bunching. It has uniform round, smooth roots and bright green tops that make it ideal for bunching. In on-farm taste tests with our local farmers it was voted best flavor, beating several of the most widely grown hybrids. It originated from my own backyard cross of two early modern OP beet varieties, combining the "stays green" tops and round roots of 'Crosby Greentop' with the robust tall tops and deep red roots of 'Greentop Bunching.'
– 'Dark Star' zucchini has been a real success for Bill Reynolds' dryland vegetable operation in Northern California. In a PPB project with OSA, Bill selected a cross between an heirloom, 'Black Beauty,' and the hybrid, 'Raven,' for its ability to produce a vigorous plant and taproot that could reach his riverbed water table before his seasonal dry summers. It has become the most hardy, drought-tolerant, best overall OP zucchini on the market today.
Our Farming Ancestors Never Stopped Breeding
We cannot forget that all of the heirloom crop varieties developed during the history of agriculture were produced from selections of existing crops that didn't meet all the needs of our plant breeding ancestors. All good farmers who survived and flourished were plant breeders. They used observational skills to determine and select the best adapted, yielding, tasting and most disease-resistant plants.
These ancestors were never fully satisfied with the crops they used. They wanted to improve the "farmer varieties" (sometimes called landraces) since it could mean the difference between life and death for their families and communities. Modern organic farmers who are choosing to produce, select, and breed crop varieties to flourish in their regional agro-ecosystems are rubbing shoulders with the best farmer breeders of the past who domesticated and continually improved our crop genetic resources.
There will always be a need to adapt new varieties to current challenges, such as climate change. Plant breeding should not be viewed as "messing" with nature. The principles of evolution show us that there is always variation, conditions always change (selection pressure), and nothing stays the same as it responds to selection pressure ("survival of the fittest"). Nothing is static in nature – selection pressure and change over time are inevitable. We advocate for a co-evolutionary model that allows varieties we use to be a part of the evolving agricultural system that we are pioneering.
Returning Farmers to Their Role as Seed Stewards
Our work at OSA is intended to empower farmers to again be part of the seed system that they have been divorced from for almost 100 years. OSA has realized that over the last decade we have not only lost valuable genetic diversity in modern agriculture, we have lost farmer knowledge of how to breed and steward the genetic resources that are most important to them and their communities. We believe that there is just as much important work to be done in training farmers to breed, maintain, and grow high quality seed crops adapted to the needs of low-input, agro-ecosystems as there is for preserving the genetic resources of the past. The best way for valuable genetic resources to become part of the fabric of agriculture is to get them into the hands of farmers who as skilled stewards will both adopt and further adapt the material to their most important needs.
All of this breeding work is done in agro-ecosystems, on-farm, and applying very sound classical plant breeding methodology. We emphasize building in genetic resilience and diversity into each population. One of our seminal programs for this work has been named "Heirlooms of Tomorrow" to emphasize that we want to develop the kind of resilient, dynamic varieties for future generations that our ancestors gave to us.
We certainly regard the screening and evaluation of heirloom varieties as something researchers in this field should emphasize to identify superior germplasm from all possible sources. Still, we view crop improvement as a critical ongoing process in the evolution of organic agriculture.
OSA will continue to promote the stewardship of seed in a manner that fosters the adaptation of plant genetic resources to the ecological and market needs of farmers and the communities they feed. This includes helping farmers perform on-farm plant breeding in the same manner as our most innovative ancestors. To not encourage such improvements would be a disservice to eaters, farmers, the planet, and future generations.
For more about Organic Seed Alliance visit www.seedalliance.org.
News from MOSES
by Jody Padgham
There is something really special about August in Northcentral Wiscosnin. The mornings are beginning to be cool and damp, the sun coming up noticeably later than on those long June mornings. The call of turkey chicks is frequent, and the early evening mist over the back pasture thickens quickly. Some are already talking about the coming cold, but I prefer to luxuriate in the current perfection of the days.
As most of us are in the thick of production, in this issue we concentrate more on the philosophical side of farming. I guess we wanted to give you something to think about as you cut the last crop of hay, harvest soybeans or carrots or butcher chickens.
I have spent the last couple of months writing for and editing the new MOSES book "Fearless Farm Finances," due to be published late this year. This has been a really exciting project, and will generate an important resource. We will be telling you more about that in the next issue, but I couldn't wait to give you a teaser now. As part of the project we are also offering a 2-day workshop on farm financial management December 9-10 in La Crosse. This will be a unique opportunity to learn about what numbers you should be paying attention to, how to collect and organize them, and what they can tell you. Our team of book authors will present the sessions, and we plan to have our new book available as "handouts" for all attendees. We expect the workshop to sell out, so I recommend that you register today to assure yourself a seat. For more information, go to the website where you can register online.
We still have a few MOSES field days in Sept, visit our website to learn more.
Enjoy the end of the summer,
Jody Padgham Organic Broadcaster Editor
"The best way to really get started successfully in organic farming is to have a good mentor" is a common statement we've heard from several MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year. Four years ago MOSES started our Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program to formalize mentorship and link new-to-organic and novice farmers with experienced producers. Over 150 mentors and mentees have since been part of the program, learning from each other, while at the same time improving the new farmer's operation.
The MOSES Farmer to Farmer Mentoring Program is now looking for 2012 participants. Prospective mentors and mentees fill out a one page application (available online), and in December 2011 we will link up mentors and mentees. The 2012 program runs from January 2012 to February 2013.
The mentors bring an experienced eye to the mentee's operation and help explore opportunities or changes that could make a positive difference on the farm. Many mentees claim that the advice given by their mentor in just one year of the program takes them three to five years further along in maturing their farming system. They say that the most important thing they have learned from their mentor is how to prioritize projects and choose the best opportunities that build the economic sustainability of their farms.
Mentors and mentees attend the MOSES Organic Farming Conference at the beginning and end of the year to meet as a whole group and get a chance to spend time together learning at the workshops, exhibit hall, organic research forum, and more. Mentors receive a stipend and have their travel costs paid to visit the mentee's farm twice in the year. Mentees pay a fee to be part of the program, but in turn receive support to attend the MOSES Organic Farming Conference.
MOSES strives to find mentors that live near mentee applicants and have similar types of production. In this way, the mentors can help mentees find local sources of approved inputs, as well as share knowledge of the climatic and market conditions that the mentee may be experiencing. MOSES sets up mentorships in MI, WI, IA, IL and MN, for all types of farming operations. From vegetables, fruits or corn/beans to dairy, poultry and draft horse farming to tractor and implement maintenance, MOSES will try to find a mentor to meet the needs of the mentee.
Mentees should have at least one year of experience farming so they have an idea of their challenges and needs. This is not meant to be a beginning farmer program. Many mentors and mentees have developed relationships that will last for years to come. One mentee stated…."My mentors have met so much more than my expectations with information, encouragement, suggestions, and seedlings for our farm. I feel I can contact them with any questions or concerns. We have been helped with farm equipment ideas and suggestions, they are wonderful mentors and I want to keep them forever."
MOSES is pleased that foundations are being built to make more productive operations that can flourish into the future and increases the capacity for expanded organic production in our region.
Inside Organics - Organic Certification: Buried in Paperwork
by Harriet Behar
This year I've been seeing organic producers leaving the certified organic marketplace due to the "hassle factor" of PAPERWORK.
Having performed many hundreds of organic inspections since 1992 I have seen the time spent on reviewing documentation expand from 25% of the inspection time on the farm, on average, to closer to 75% of the time spent on the farm. The complexity and time needed to complete an annual organic system plan update, with accompanying documents, has also greatly increased. This is frustrating for both the inspector and the farmer. They would both prefer to be touring the fields, looking at livestock, and getting an understanding of the organic farm system by experiencing it, rather than just making sure that the farmer wrote down every time they performed some farm activity, such as moving animals to a new paddock in their rotational grazing system. If we are relying on documentation as the main tool to encourage continuous improvement by organic producers and protect against fraud, we are going down the wrong road.
Keeping good records ARE an integral part of managing an organic operation, helping the producer with a historical reference of facts and details to help make future decisions. Through well-kept records the organic inspector can verify the activities that have happened throughout the year, based on the activity logs that highlight the applications of inputs, purchases, and sales. But, the inspector's observations are also important in verifying that the farmer is doing what they have written in their plan. Each year, it seems the certification agencies, probably due to real or perceived pressure from the National Organic Program accreditation program, are placing more and more documentation requirements on producers.
The completion of the organic system plan, done as part of the organic certification application process, should have the information necessary to ensure compliance to the organic regulation. The documentation maintained on the farm should cover the name, dates, and rates of inputs used. The farmer should be able to provide documentation that they had enough approved seed to plant their organic fields. A simple filing system and field notebook should be able to maintain these records and be sufficient for the inspector to review.
The increasing amount of detail and supporting documentation required is causing some considering organic agriculture, as well as some of those currently certified, to leave certified organic production. We are seeing this especially in commodity crops, where higher conventional crop prices, without the organic paperwork burden, act as an enticement for new-to-organic growers to return to conventional farming.
Records vs Observation
The Organic System Plan, as mandated in the OFPA, was meant to be a management and verification tool, not something used to torture farmers and drive them away from organic certification. The technology of computers, spreadsheets, and the internet have the potential to lessen our reliance on paperwork and allow for more free flow of information. Instead, certifiers and inspectors now spend hours scanning in documents (both in the office and on the farm) to support the organic system plan. The inspectors, while they cannot make the decision that what they have seen is in compliance with the NOP rule, can summarize what they see when they are visiting an organic farm.
Rather than writing down, or even scanning in, every invoice number, date, and amount of chicken feed purchased, it should be sufficient that an inspector state in the inspection report that there were invoices present on the farm for the past year, detailing purchases of two tons of chicken feed every six weeks. If a farmer plants corn over a two-week period, he can note this period in his activity log. It seems excessive to list which field was planted on which day. Every time the dairyman cleans out a calf pen, he does not need to write it down. A seed search form does not need to be completed for every seed purchased on a diverse vegetable farm if the farmer has the seed catalogs present where they looked to purchase the 70 different types of seeds they planted.
A conversation with the inspector while standing in the barn, the pasture, or field will provide much more information than documentation could ever describe. Some of this type of detail is being required now and some is not, but these burdensome requirements seem to be the direction in which we are heading.
The organic inspector should be able to verify that the submitted organic system plan is being implemented through a variety of observations, not only through paperwork. It is much easier to make documents imply that weeds are being managed through organically approved methods than it is to fake organic management of weeds when the crops are actually observed. Our organic verification system is weakened, rather than strengthened, by so much reliance on documentation. This over-the-top documentation and emphasis on reviewing paperwork rather than touring the farm does not stimulate farmers to improve their systems, nor is intense scrutiny of documentation the preferred method to detect or prevent fraud.
The new pasture regulation mandates that 30% of the dry matter intake must come from grazing, averaged over the grazing season. Asking a farmer to provide documentation beyond this basic seasonal average is not necessary to prove compliance to the regulation. As certifiers and the NOP are both developing their systems for managing their verification to this new regulation, it is very important that we don't become overzealous and go beyond what the regulation mandates in order to somehow make up for the loopholes that had been exploited in this portion of the rule in the past.
I am all for compliance. I have been part of the chorus of people applauding the USDA NOP's "age of enforcement." However, I caution that this should not be done in such as way as to burden the many excellent and committed organic producers with excessive documentation to prove what it is obvious they are doing. Organic certification paperwork should provide information that is useful to the farmer, to help them improve their management, or understand their input and yield numbers. When the numbers have value, the farmers will see this as useful and it will not be a big chore. Typically the farmer with the best records tends to also be the farmer with the most consistent crop yield and quality. I attribute this directly to the great management information they have to refer to when planning from year to year.
In the current climate, seemingly every time a weakness is found on a farm, the answer is anther document to complete. I recommend that instead a small modification might be suggested to a document already completed, or a change to the organic system plan noting a new method of doing the job. Loading up more requirements just for the sake of having more documents to track goes beyond what the organic law and regulations mandate. Farming is already a stressful occupation with long hours per day, a seven day-a-week job. The organic certification entities should be looking at ways to lessen the paperwork burden, rather than continually increasing it.
The organic certification program is still a young one, and we have the chance now to be more creative than we have been in the past. Rather than just complaining about the paperwork, farmers need to be thinking about how they can meet the rule by consolidating information, or developing written systems that explain what they do, so they do not have to document down to the detail of daily or weekly activities. Certification agencies, inspectors, and the NOP need to allow for some flexibility in the types of documentation expected of organic farmers.
There are times when organic advocates question whether or not we should have pushed the U.S. Congress to write the Organic Foods Production Act back in 1990. The bureaucratic tangle of regulations and the accompanying paperwork is typically blamed on this law along with the accompanying National Organic Program final rule. Having been certified organic on my farm since 1989, and an organic inspector since 1992, I have seen an evolution of both the standards and the certification that verifies compliance to those standards. I value the time spent when the organic inspector visits my farm each year, mostly the time spent out in the field discussing our successes, challenges, and future plans. As an inspector and as a grower, I believe that reading a description of cover crops in a rotation is no substitute for seeing the soil that has had this crop rotation to truly evaluate if there is a functioning organic system on that farm. We need to find a more happy medium between necessary documentation and flexibility in proving compliance. I hope we can.
Harriet Behar is the MOSES organic specialist. She and her husband farm outside of Gays Mills, WI. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good to Great: Looking at our Farm Economy Future
by Jody Padgham
I was one of the skeptics in the audience when Professor David M. Kohl, Emeritus of Agricultural and Applied Economics from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, recently claimed that the goings on in the national and international economies had a lot to do with our own farm decision making and bottom line success. One of the things that I most appreciate about farming and living in a rural community is the focus on local relationships and economies. I am generally happy to concentrate on my own farm production issues, and don't put a lot of time into studying international politics. Dr. Kohl certainly burst this inward-focused bubble for myself and the other participants in a recent seminar titled "Good to Great in Agriculture: Vision 2010." We all left the room thinking in a new way about how our farming was affected by bigger economic factors.
Kohl began by describing the farmers of tomorrow: by 2025, he says, our farmers will be younger (averaging less than 40 years old), and will not have personally experienced hard times (such as the Depression or the farm crisis of the '80s). There will be a larger percentage of women and minorities owning farms, and we'll see a lot more leases and rented farms. He predicted that 70% of farms will change hands by 2025. Volatility will be the new "normal," and the stakes in farming will be higher- leading to increased opportunity to both succeed and to fail. Kohl estimates that organic, natural, and locally-oriented farms will become 20% of the total, and these farms will focus on improving efficiency. "Better is better before bigger is better" will be their success mantra. These farms will continue to expect a modest family living from the farm. However, there will also be plenty of large complex farm businesses, with numerous paid employees.
Here in the U.S. agriculture has been experiencing a long period of bullish activity, with good crop prices for the last eight years and an especially strong grain market. Ethanol now takes over 33% of the corn crop. Kohl claims that we are getting complacent, and are "normalizing deviation." Unpredictable weather is leading to skyrocketing prices, land values are inflated, and low interest rates have fueled growth. Livestock production, however, is suffering with the high grain prices. We are seeing more farm consolidation, stronger regulations and consumer criticism, farms are experiencing a decline in their equity, and volatility is making everything harder to predict and plan for.
There are several International situations that are now, and will for some time, have a huge effect on our farm's bottom lines. We rely on credit, and fluctuations in interest rates have a multi-level effect. Japan has been the second largest international lender. The troubles in their economy over the past eight months pushes them to keep their money home, causing a lot more uncertainly and volatility in the availability in international credit. This means that interest rates could jump very high very quickly. This instability is fueled by the recent sovereign debt issues in Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Kohl's presentation was before the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, this certainly adds to the unpredictability of credit rates. Increasing, or unpredictable credit makes farming more expensive, and management decisions harder to make.
The influence of changes in China will be huge in upcoming years. China's economy is growing at a phenomenal rate, and is expected to pass the U.S. for largest world economy by 2019. China's Gross Domestic Product (GDP= market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given period) grew 8.7% from June 30, 2010 to June 30 2011, while the U.S. and Britain each only grew 1.9%, and Japan lost 3.9%. A food cost inflation rate of 11.7% in China is setting up unrest, and stockpiling of food and fuel, which leads to further instability. China is investing in growth of economies below the equator (specifically in Africa, South America, and Australia) to develop future food sources for their growing populations. Although presenting a market opportunity, China's growth puts additional pressures on the world's credit, energy, and natural resource reserves, creating competition and rising costs for U.S. agriculture.
Many of us don't realize that 80% of our expenses are related in one way or another to the price of oil. It is one of the largest limiting resources in agriculture (along with water). However, we have little control over the price of oil. 70% of the world's oil is produced in militarily or politically sensitive areas. 74% of the price of oil is based on global market values. 60% of fertilizer raw materials are also produced in militarily or politically sensitive areas. Dr. Kohl points out that six of the last eight recessions in the past 50 years were due to oil shortages or price increases. Given all of this unstability and the unknowns, rising oil prices are quite likely and will also have a huge effect on our bottom lines as we see rising prices for transportation, fuel, fertilizers, and other goods.
Domestically, we are seeing an asset bubble in agriculture. It acts somewhat like the credit bubble of the past few years, but is slower to adjust. Kohl is predicting a land value correction coming up. This will be tied to the global economic downturn, and tightening government policies on ethanol and other agricultural commodities. We will see tightening of lines of credit, consolidations, and more renting and growth-oriented farms, with profits going into expansions, leaving no liquidity. This will leave farmers who are now feeling rich in land value seeing lower balance sheet numbers.
All of the above issues add up to a challenging time coming up in agricultural economies. Dr. Kohl left us with several tips on how to weather the upcoming storms:
• Choose your lenders because they understand your business and want you to succeed, not because they have the lowest rates. Look for someone that will support you through the bad times as well as the good.
• Don't borrow money and expand just because it is cheap. Borrowed money becomes very expensive if you don't have the ability to pay it back.
• Don't assume that bigger is always better. You can't grow your way to profitability.
• Watch out for those who claim to be a millionaire on paper, but never earn a dollar. Know what your numbers are really telling you about your farm's profitability.
• Focus on sustainable farming, not on minimizing taxes.
• Don't rely on non-recurring income, such as sales of assets, to float you year to year.
• Be careful about getting tied up with "silk-suits"- those who think farming is a way to earn money but live in fancy offices. Absentee landowners can be trouble.
Dr. Kohl warned us at the beginning that his talks can seem depressing. But, those I spoke to agreed that, though sobering, this was important information to take home and think about. We all have a goal of keeping our farms efficient and profitable. Now we know that keeping an eye on international trends, staying flexible and aware, will only help us in the long run. To make this easier, Dr. Kohl maintains an ongoing commentary of his national and international views on agriculture through two publications- he offers weekly columns in the Ag Globe Trotter (http://www.farm-credit.com) and monthly updates through the Road Warrior of Agriculture series at http://www.cornandsoybeandigest.com.
Jody Padgham is the Organic Broadcaster editor. She can be reached at email@example.com
Book Review: "Weeds and Why They Grow" by Jay McCaman
Reviewed by Jody Padgham
Although published in 1994, the 116-page book "Weeds and Why They Grow" by Jay McCaman is one of the top selling books in the MOSES Bookstore. Those who pick it up and page through it may have a hard time at first understanding why. The majority of the book is just tables with Latin names and seemingly undecipherable notations under columns headed with things like "Ca" "Mg" and "Cu." But, these tables are what make this book so popular. The tables, and the stories about weeds.
The Latin names in the tables are those for common weeds, from Acalypha indica (Acalypha) and Agrimonia gryposepala (Agrimony) to Youngia japonica (Youngia) and Yucca. The abbreviations across the top are minerals and other components that are present in the soil. The tables inform us of what soil conditions each of the over 800 weeds listed will thrive in, or be indicative of. I'll come back to the tables in a bit.
The first 40 pages of the book are in a free flowing narrative form. This is where the author, Jay McCaman, talks to us about why weeds are important and what we can learn from them. McCaman likes Dr. William Albrecht's definition of a weed: "Weeds are plants making scarcely more than vegetative growth on soils too low in fertility for other kinds of plant growth." Albrecht goes on to point out that cattle and other animals have a much different definition of which plants are weeds (or not food) for them, as a cow will gladly walk past a nice native grass to chomp on a burdock or dandelion.
While some may think weed growth is random, McCaman points out that they don't grow without purpose. We just might not be aware of their purpose. McCaman goes on to explain that "The purpose of weeds is to correct soil problems." With their often deep roots, pioneering spirit, and ability to loosen tight soils, as much as we might struggle with them, weeds have many important roles to play. In this book we learn of numerous values and qualities of weeds. McCaman shares his strong knowledge of soil and weeds in a stream-of-consciousness way, telling stories about people he knows, books he has read, and farmers he has talked to. Although there seems to be some research cited, there are no notations or references, although he has a nice (now a little dated) bibliography.
It appears that McCaman's purpose in writing the book is to offer guidance in weaning farming away from the use of chemicals. His tales highlight the concepts that one must learn to understand the soil, and how weeds indicate to us what is going on. At one point he states "In some soils it will be difficult to change to a no herbicide weed control program immediately. The soil environment is so conducive to weed growth that weeds are what will grow unless drastic measures are taken to stop them."
There is a great section on the various kinds of tillage and cultivation equipment, including when they should be used and what their soil impact will be. Another chapter titled "Farm Experiences" tells of weed success and failures from various farms. The detail is just enough that you can learn new things to try on your own farm- for instance, utilizing the freeze and thaw cycles with cultivation to freeze out quackgrass over the winter.
Another short chapter outlines a few little known facts about weeds and insects. Did you know that slugs like plantain? Or that Japanese beetles are drawn to smartweed? The stories are not long or plentiful, but McCaman ends this chapter apologizing for the vast amount of information that is beyond the scope of this particular book.
Now back to the tables. The tables contain a variety of notations on how the weeds relate to soil conditions or elements. For instance, the term "AA" means that the listed weed will do well in soil lacking oxygen, and dominated by anerobic bacteria. "G" indicates that the soil has good drainage and functions well. "H" means an element or quality is particularly high. "L" refers to a lack or deficiency, and "P" means poor drainage or low functioning soil. A simple "Y" indicates that the condition will be a factor in the particular weed's thriftyness, and that the given condition will be found wherever this weed thrives.
Last week I was on the phone with a farmer who told me he had soils that were particularly favorable for giant ragweed. He has a heck of a time managing the ragweed populations in his row crops. Interested in knowing more about what he was dealing with, I turned to "Ragweed" on page 77 of the book. Here I find three choices for Ragweed: Giant, Lanceleaf, and Western. I followed the chart for Ambrosia trifida, the Giant of the family. Here I found that my friend's soil is probably high in calcium, high in phosphorus (P2O5), very high in potassium (K2O), possibly high in magnesium, manganese, iron, sulfate (SO4), copper, zinc, boron, chlorine and selenium. It is possibly low in humus, and high in porosity and moisture. There is probably poor drainage and high alkalinity. While a thriving population of Giant Ragweed won't mean that my friend has all of these soil conditions, it is probable that he has a combination of many of them. Along with a hefty hand weeding program to reduce the soil bank, corrections to the above listed minerals and conditions may bring him some ragweed relief. Of course, a soil test will be the best way to know what might be going on chemically in your soil, but you can learn a lot from your soils by the weeds that you see.
A six-page section after the charts highlights additional tips about particular weeds- for instance, that western ragweed may indicate that soils may be too wet in the spring, and wild carrot indicates low fertility that may be corrected by planting sweet clover. A final table cross references the Latin names with the possible common names, helpful for those plants that have numerous, or regional, names.
Overall I was fascinated to read this book. I learned a lot that I didn't know about weeds and soil fertility and management. I found the book frustrating in that a clear explanation of how to use or understand the table is not obvious. I'm assuming that I've got it right, but I can't say I'm 100% sure. I also had to resort to the internet to remind myself of the periodic table abbreviations. Nevertheless, there is a lot of great information presented. Perhaps in his next edition McCaman can give us a little more guidance in exactly what his carefully constructed tables are telling us.
Checking on Amazon.com, I see that someone has characterized "Weeds and Why They Grow" as a "collector's item" and offers it for $50.00! All power to them. You'd be better off buying this important and popular book from the MOSES bookstore (715-778-5775 or online) for $21.00.
No Free Lunch
by Dr. Richard Holliday, DVM
Barry Commoner was a renowned environmentalist in the early 1950s. Commoner received his degree in zoology with honors from Columbia University in 1937, and earned his doctorate from Harvard in 1941. He was a professor of cellular biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Misouri. In 1966, he established the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to study man's relationship with the environment. He still serves as a senior scientist and director emeritus.
Commoner's book, "The Closing Circle" published in 1971 postulated 4 laws of nature that are still valid today. They are:
• Everything is related to everything else.
• There is no free lunch ... you don't get something for nothing - every action has side effects.
• Nothing ever really goes away. (everything has to go someplace)
• Nature knows best.
I would like to zero in on the "NO FREE LUNCH" law as it relates to some of the problems facing the average dairyman today.
Three years ago a technological breakthrough allowed dairymen to seemingly bypass one of nature's laws and modify the male/female birth ratio in dairy cattle from the normal of about 48 heifers out of 100 births to over 90 out of 100.
As often happens to "scientific breakthroughs," it didn't take long for the down-side to surface. As a result of sexed-semen technology, it is estimated that 63, 000 extra heifers were put into milk production this year. It is further projected that next year the number will be 161,000, and double that the following year. This effectively wipes out any gains in cow population made by the Cooperatives Working Together Program (230,000 cows culled nationwide since January), and will probably continue to do so for several years to come – proving once more that there is No Free Lunch. If you violate any of her laws nature will eventually come back around and bite you in the buttocks!
Here is an example of more basic problem that permeates the entire dairy industry including many feed manufacturers, dairy nutritionists, veterinarians and university researchers who all seem to share a basic disregard for the fact that a cow is a ruminant with a fiber-based digestive system.
Consider this scenario. The drive for more profits and greater efficiency began to accelerate in the dairy industry after WW II. With the decline in soil fertility came a corresponding drop in the nutritional value of crops. For the convenience of the dairyman there was a trend toward more confinement and less grazing with a loss of nutritional diversity. Feed companies and drug companies provided funds to the land grant colleges to buy research that would help sell the high-protein feeding strategies and drugs needed to support the resulting decrease in animal health. These trends set in motion and laid the ground work for most of the problems we are seeing today.
As production went up, the effects of nature's law There Is No Free Lunch began to surface. Cows did not breed back as easily or as often as they did earlier. Even with the escalating use of antibiotics and other drugs the incidence of mastitis and other diseases increased and the bugs became resistant to the drugs. There are more leg and feet problems. Herds are now forcibly culled by disease rather than by genetic desirability at the discretion of the dairyman. Longevity decreased drastically and the average cow does not complete two lactations.
Success in the dairy industry today is predicated on high production at any cost. This is often an illusion. While one segment of the industry tries all sorts of ploys to reduce cow numbers and increase consumer acceptance, another equally avid segment tries, any way it can, to increase production - including the use synthetic hormones which further undermines consumers acceptance. It's like a dog chasing its tail.
Solutions to these problems will not be found by asking the same old question; "How do I get more milk?" Here are some relevant questions for you to consider.
• Which is worth more, 12 months of milk production or 10 months of milk plus a calf every year? A calf plus milk production means more profit and more lactations per cow. With proper nutrition the cow can produce milk profitably, produce a healthy calf on a regular basis and stay in the herd for many years.
• The average dairy cow in the US completes two or less lactations. If you could extend that to three or four lactations how much would you add to your profit? Somewhat lower production with greater longevity is more profitable than forced high production and lower longevity.
• What effect do lower conception rates have on profitability?
• Why do feed companies and nutritionists push high protein feeds at the expense of herd health and cow longevity? And why do dairymen put up with this?
• Are dairy veterinarians really treating disease or are they a clean-up crew to try to deal with the after-effects of poor management and even worse nutrition?
• When a feed company says it is more profitable to feed their brand of feed do they refer to the dairyman's profit or the feed company's profit?
• Is there anything wrong with having somewhat lower production but a lot more profit?
The bottom line is: It is an illusion to believe that the same thinking and technology that got us in this mess is going to get us out. We must begin to apply Commoner's Laws to our dairy enterprises. It begins with providing fiber based nutrition for our animals and providing an environment conducive to animal health.
Doc Holliday has been actively involved in promoting organic agriculture and holistic veterinary medicine for over 45 years and is currently the Senior Veterinary Consultant for Helfter Feeds, Inc, of Osco, Illinois.
Proof Positive: Poultry Farms that Go Organic Have Fewer Drug-Resistant Bacteria
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Poultry farms that have adopted organic practices and ceased using antibiotics have significantly lower levels of drug-resistant enterococci bacteria that can potentially spread to humans, according to a groundbreaking new study led by a researcher in the University of Maryland's School of Public Health.
The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives (online August 10, 2011), is the first to demonstrate lower levels of drug-resistant bacteria on newly organic farms in the United States and suggests that removing antibiotic use from large-scale U.S. poultry farms can result in immediate and significant reductions in antibiotic resistance for some bacteria.
"We initially thought we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices. But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock of birds that was produced after the transition to organic standards," explained Amy R. Sapkota, an assistant professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. "It is very encouraging."
Sapkota and her team, which included R. Michael Hulet (Pennsylvania State University), Guangyu Zhang, Sam Joseph and Erinna Kinney (University of Maryland), and Kellogg J. Schwab (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), investigated the impact of removing antibiotics from U.S. poultry farms by studying 10 conventional and 10 newly organic large-scale poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. They tested for the presence of enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed, and water, and tested its resistance to 17 common antimicrobials.
"We chose to study enterococci because these microorganisms are found in all poultry, including poultry on both organic and conventional farms. The enterococci also cause infections in human patients staying in hospitals. In addition, many of the antibiotics given in feed to farm animals are used to fight Gram-positive bacteria such as the enterococci. These features, along with their reputation of easily exchanging resistance genes with other bacteria, make enterococci a good model for studying the impact of changes in antibiotic use on farms," Sapkota said.
While all farms tested positive for the presence of enterococci in poultry litter, feed, and water as expected, the newly organic farms were characterized by a significantly lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant enterococci. For example, 67 percent of Enterococcus faecalis recovered from conventional poultry farms were resistant to erythromycin, while 18 percent of Enterococcus faecalis from newly organic poultry farms were resistant to this antibiotic.
Dramatic changes were also observed in the levels of multi-drug resistant bacteria (organisms resistant to three or more antimicrobial classes) on the newly organic farms. Multi-drug resistant bacteria are of particular public health concern because they can be resistant to all available antibiotics, and are, therefore, very difficult to treat if contracted by an animal or human. Forty-two percent of Enterococcus faecalis from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant, compared to only 10 percent from newly organic farms, and 84 percent of Enterococcus faecium from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant compared to 17 percent of those from newly organic farms [see figure].
"While we know that the dynamics of antibiotic resistance differ by bacterium and antibiotic, these findings show that, at least in the case of enterococci, we begin to reverse resistance on farms even among the first group of animals that are grown without antibiotics, said Sapkota. Now we need to look forward and see what happens over five years, 10 years in time." Sapkota said she expects that reductions in drug-resistant bacteria on U.S. farms that "go organic" are likely to be more dramatic over time as reservoirs of resistant bacteria in the farm environment diminish.
Multi-drug resistant bacteria are of particular public health concern because they can be resistant to all available antibiotics, and are therefore very difficult to treat if contracted by an animal or human. In this study, 42 percent of Enterococcus faecalis from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant, compared to only 10 percent from newly organic farms, and 84 percent of Enterococcus faecium from conventional farms were multi-drug resistant compared to 17 percent of those from newly organic farms.
Credit: Amy R. Sapkota, University of Maryland
Looking For Organic Production and Certification Information? Explore MOSES
Organic production and certification are complicated. It is MOSES' goal to provide information and education that helps make these important things easier, so that more farmland comes under organic production.
One of our important contributions towards this goal is our series of Organic Fact Sheets. This series of more than twenty- two to four-page resources offer specific information about organic certification and production. Topics range from "Transitioning to Organic Beef Production" to "How to Choose a Certification Agency," and "Protecting Your Land from Unwanted Chemical Sprays." Written by the MOSES organic specialists, these fact sheets emphasize and outline the most important issues within each specific topic.
We are regularly creating new fact sheets to add to our series. In fact, the cover article of this issue, "Managing Soil Fertility and Organic Matter: A Primer" was written by organic specialist, Joe Pedretti, as an updated fact sheet. We decided to print it here to show you the quality and type of information that is typically covered in one of our fact sheets.
Whether you have questions about organic egg production or how to explain whether organic is better than local, the MOSES fact sheet series is the place to go. You can download pdf copies of the series from our website. Feel free to copy and share with your friends - or take one as a support piece if you are talking to the media or at a local event. These are resources we have created to be broadly used and shared. Those without computer access can call us at 715-778-5775 to receive copies in the mail.
We encourage you to explore the MOSES fact sheet series.
Considering Reduced- or No-Till Organic? Do it for the Fungi!
by Sam Wortman * and Rhae Drijber
Conversations and debate about the environmental benefits of organic cropping systems always lead to one central issue – tillage. The historical dependence on intensive tillage in organic agriculture has led some to the conclusion that no-till chemical agriculture is the most environmentally sustainable path forward. While conventional no-till systems rely extensively on pesticides (which pose obvious health and environmental hazards) these systems also result in many environmental benefits. Several of these benefits include: reduced soil erosion, increased soil carbon sequestration (though often debated), and reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These are not benefits typically associated with organic farming; however, recent research efforts have made minimum- and no-tillage systems a possibility for organic farmers1. Often referred to as the "Holy Grail" of organic agriculture, organic no-till cropping systems provide farmers with the potential to maximize the environmental benefits of both no-till and organic farming without sacrificing yield or profitability.
As you can imagine, an organic no-till cropping system looks markedly different from a chemical no-till cropping system. Indeed, reducing or eliminating tillage in organic cropping systems depends on the planned and purposeful use of cover crops. Traditionally, cover crops have been utilized in organic farming to provide winter soil coverage, recycle nutrients, and biologically fix at least some portion of subsequent crop nitrogen demand. However, in no-till organic farming the cover crop must function like an herbicide, providing season-long weed suppression in the absence of mechanical cultivation. This combination of intensive cover cropping and the elimination of soil disturbing tillage will provide many direct and associated benefits to the crop and surrounding ecosystems. One of the most important, yet often overlooked benefits of this system is the potential positive effect on the soil microbial community.
The most limiting resource to soil microbes is often organic carbon. Therefore, the addition of a fresh carbon source like cover crop residue will result in substantial changes to the microbial community2. Moreover, the way in which the cover crop residue is managed will have dramatically different effects on the microbial community. For example, if the cover crop is incorporated into the soil via plow or disk (e.g., green manure crop) we would expect an increase in the ratio of soil bacteria relative to fungi3. Inversion tillage favors aerobic microbial species with high growth rates, which is characteristic of many bacterial species4. Soil disturbing tillage also destroys large soil aggregates and the fungal hyphal networks within, leading to a reduction in fungal populations. In contrast, cover crop residue managed on the surface of the soil typically results in an increased ratio of soil fungi relative to bacteria5. Managing the residue on the soil surface creates a favorable habitat for soil fungi that is characterized by increased soil moisture and reduced soil disturbance6. In organic no-till systems, it is essential that a slowly decomposing cover crop residue (e.g., winter rye) is managed on the soil surface to interfere physically with weed seed germination and growth. Thus, we would expect that no-till organic farming will lead to a greater abundance of soil fungi. This is great news for farmers!
Increasing the abundance of soil fungi in cropping systems has many potential benefits. One of the goals of no-till agriculture is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase soil carbon sequestration. Indeed, soil fungi play a vital role in the carbon sequestration potential of no-till systems. Compared to bacteria, fungi have a greater efficiency of carbon assimilation due in part to lower respiration rates and a greater carbon to nitrogen ratio7. Therefore, the increased abundance of fungal populations in response to no-till management will increase the carbon content of the microbial community, further contributing to carbon sequestration. Perhaps more importantly, fungi are essential in the formation and stability of large soil aggregates. Fungal hyphal networks produce a glue-like substance, glomalin, which binds smaller soil particles and aggregates7. The formation of larger soil aggregates is important as it increases water infiltration, water holding capacity, and also physically protects organic carbon sources slowing decomposition, microbial respiration, and carbon dioxide release8. Increased fungal populations may also contribute to the formation of humus, which is a stable form of carbon essential for long-term carbon sequestration in soils9.
The benefits of carbon sequestration are important, but from a production standpoint, soil fungi serve a more critical role as nutrient cyclers. Fungi are able to decompose complex forms of carbon including lignin and cellulose (commonly found in plant residues) in addition to simple carbon structures like sugar9. The array of carbon substrates utilized by fungi results in the mineralization of many nutrients that would otherwise be tied up in organic matter sources and unavailable to the crop. Fungi are especially useful for decomposition and nutrient cycling in no-till systems. Long hyphal networks allow fungi to easily colonize carbon substrates in surface residues, while also accessing nutrient supplies in the soil resulting in increased rates of decomposition7. In contrast, bacteria are far less mobile and are limited to the carbon and nutrient substrates in localized soil microsites.
The most commonly identified species of beneficial soil fungi are the mycorrhizal species; those that form a mutualistic relationship with plant roots. In this relationship the plant releases carbon (in the form of root exudates) in exchange for the increased availability and uptake of key nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen. This relationship is critical in organic cropping systems where fertilizer additions are rare, and nutrient cycling depends on these types of complex ecological interactions10. The association with mycorrhizal fungi is typically beneficial to plants because fungal hyphae have a much greater surface area than plant roots, which increases the efficiency of nutrient uptake. Also, many mycorrhizal fungi excrete enzymes through the hyphal network, which aid in the mineralization and availability of immobile elements like phosphorus. Over 90% of plant species have the capacity to enter a mutualistic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi including several key agronomic species such as corn, wheat, and alfalfa7. Indeed, increased soil populations of mycorrhizal fungi may be one the most important benefits of an organic no-till cropping system.
At this point you may be wondering, "Are all fungi beneficial?" Unfortunately, the numerous benefits of fungi are accompanied by a few potential drawbacks. Certain types of soil fungi can be pathogenic to plants including the Verticillium, Pythium, and Rhizoctonia fungi7. While it is difficult to manage for or against individual species of fungi, there are steps that can be taken to avoid devastating populations of these and other pathogenic fungi. First, the importance of a diverse crop rotation cannot be understated. Certain plant species and the associated crop residues often serve as hosts to individual pathogens, and a diverse crop rotation can disrupt these disease cycles by intermittently removing the pathogenic host in time and space. Secondly, there are some Brassica cover crop species that have demonstrated success as biofumigants for the suppression of soil-borne fungal pathogens11. Therefore, it may be beneficial to include Brassica cover crops in a mixture with the slowly decomposing cover crop species more typically utilized in organic no-till systems. Lastly, the use of organically approved seed treatments may increase seedling vigor and reduce the incidence of seed and seedling rot associated with fungal pathogens12. However, the effectiveness of organic seed treatments is often inconsistent. Despite the potential for undesirable fungal species, the diverse crop rotations and healthy soil management associated with reduced- or no-till organic cropping systems will help to maximize the benefits of the decomposer and mycorrhizal species while minimizing the risk of pathogenic species.
There are many practical reasons to consider the adoption of a reduced- or no-till organic cropping system; whether you are interested in reducing your carbon footprint or improving weed control, a successful organic no-till system has many benefits. Changes to the microbial community following management changes are often unpredictable and dynamic across years and even within fields. However, the majority of current and previous research suggests that with a conversion to organic no-till you can expect a greater abundance of fungi and the proven agronomic benefits that accompany this microbial community shift. If you were not already sold on the prospects of an organic no-till system, consider giving it a try for the fungi!
Sam Wortman is a Ph.D. Candidate and Rhae Drijber is a Professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture
1. Rodale Institute. 2011. No-Till Revolution. <http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/no-till_revolution> Verified May 10, 2011.
2. Drenovsky, R. E., D. Vo, K. J. Graham, and K. M. Scow. 2004. Soil water content and organic carbon availability are major determinants of soil microbial community compos00ition. Microbial Ecology 48:424-430.
3. Lundquist, E. J., L. E. Jackson, K. M. Scow, and C. Hsu. 1999. Changes in microbial biomass and community composition, and soil carbon and nitrogen pools after incorporation of rye into three California agricultural soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 31:221-236.
4. Roper, M. M., and V. V. S. R. Gupta. 1995. Management practices and soil biota. Aust. J. Soil Res. 33:321–339.
5. Holland, E. A., and D. C. Coleman. 1987. Litter placement effects on microbial and organic matter dynamics in an agroecosystem. Ecology 68:425-433.
6. Elfstrand, S., B. Bath, and A. Martensson. 2007. Influence of various forms of green manure amendment on soil microbial community composition, enzyme activity and nutrient levels in leek. Applied Soil Ecology 36:70-82.
7. Hoorman, J. J. 2011. The Role of Soil Fungus. The Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: SAG-14-11.
8. Six, J., E.T. Elliott, and K. Paustian. 2000. Soil macroaggregate turnover and microaggregate formation: a mechanism for C sequestration under no-tillage agriculture. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 32:2099-2103.
9. Ingham, E. R. 2011. The Living Soil: Fungi. In: The Soil Biology Primer. USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. <http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/fungi.html> Verified May 9, 2011.
10. Jeffries, P., S. Gianinazzi, S. Perotto, and K. Turnau. 2003. The contribution of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in sustainable maintenance of plant health and soil fertility. Biology and Fertility of Soils 37:1-16.
11. Angus, J. F., P. A. Gardner, J. A. Kirkegaard, and J. M. Desmarchelier. 1994. Biofumigation: Isothiocyanates released from brassica roots inhibit growth of the take-all fungus. Plant and Soil 162:107-112.
12. Lifshitz, R., M.T. Windham, and R. Baker. 1986. Mechanism of biological control of preemergence damping-off of pea by seed treatment with Trichoderma spp. Phytopathology 6:720-725.
Upper Midwest Organic Grains and Feedstuffs Report
Make a Phone Call, Make a Difference!
Have you been wondering how organic and sustainable agriculture has been affected by the various federal budget cutting efforts we hear about every day? All of the programs that we care about are at risk, either to be fully cut or cut so deeply that they would no longer be viable, such as the ATTRA program. While it is understood that some cuts must be be made, it is important that organic and sustainable agriculture doesn't lose the effectiveness of the comparatively small amount of funding we receive.
Examples of good programs that need support include those that help beginning, transitioning to organic, and long time organic farmers. There are also a variety of funds that are targeted to help small and midsized farmers with conservation, marketing, and production. Research supporting organic systems is another area where funding for grants have been more available in the past few years.
Congress, and specifically the 12 members who have been given the mandate to come up with the cuts, will be hearing that large scale commodity payments should not be trimmed, or that these dollars should be moved into crop insurance. (Even though it is even more illogical to support crop payment subsidies with the current high price of conventional corn and beans). These members of congress also need to hear from us! Many of them originally voted for programs encouraging farming systems which have the long term health of the environment, healthy foods, and rural communities at their core.
MOSES will be tracking the negotiations in Washington, DC, with the great help of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition, among others. Look for our action alerts on specific funding decisions in the next few months in the News/Policy section of the MOSES website. Once specific action information is out, PLEASE, take a few minutes to call decision makers and give them the important message of funding support that we will be asking farmers like you around the U.S. to tell. Your call or email will be noted and is extremely important.
ERS Releases Organic Apple Report
A report by USDA's Economic Research Service examine trends in the U.S. apple sector and compares production and marketing characteristics under organic and conventional farming systems. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/FTS/2011/07Jul/FTS34701/
Dairy Processing Workbook Online
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is making available Dairy Processing 101: An online workbook for the beginning dairy farmer or dairy processor. The workbook includes sections on business planning, heritage dairy animals, dairy products, legalities, and infrastructure. http://www.albc-usa.org/dairy/index.html
Lundberg Family Farms Grant Program
Raising Organic Family Farms is a new initiative from Lundberg Family Farms to help nurture, grow and redefine a new generation of organic family farmers. Raising Organic Family Farms will provide up to $50,000 in grants and scholarships in 2011 for beginning or transitioning organic farmers - from college students interested in sustainable agriculture programs to beginning farmers in need of seed money. You can apply or nominate a student or an aspiring commercial organic farmer at http://www.raisingorganicfamilyfarms.com. Entrants submit a 500-word essay in one of three categories: seed money for equipment, supplies or repairs; education funding towards schooling or conference registration; or mentorship with experts in business planning, marketing, retail, livestock management or crop planning. The deadline for submissions is October 31, 2011.
Canadian and EU Organic Standards
July 5, 2011 Canada and the European Union have reached an historic agreement to recognize each other's organic standards and laws, after nearly four years of formal negotiation. This is the world's second such agreement. In June 2009, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture signed the very first "organic equivalency arrangement," which opened the significant U.S. organic market to Canadian exports. More at www.organicnewsroom.com
2010 Organic Assessment of China
The 2010 Organic Assessment of China is now available online. Capturing NOP's assessment of certifying agents operating in China, the report discusses the country's organic industry, reviews assessment scope and methodology, discusses product and soil sampling results, and draws conclusions about certifier competence in China. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5092178&acct=nopgeninfo
Organic Seed Alliance Offers Online Seed Production Tutorials
Organic Seed Alliance has created new multi-media online seed production tutorials for beets and chard, brassicas, carrots, lettuce, onions, and wet seeded crops, along with tutorials on seed climatic considerations, seed disease and seed quality. http://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=377
Organic Certification Suspension
Suspension of Promiseland Livestock's organic certification became effective on July 28, 2011, representing a victory for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to protect the integrity of the USDA organic label. After a lengthy investigation into the matter, the USDA has decertified Promiseland Livestock's for the next five years. During the five-year suspension, Promiseland Livestock is prohibited from representing their products as organic. Promiseland is one of the largest organic livestock producers in the nation with over 13,000 acres of crop lands and 22,000 head of cattle. USDA originally issued its decision to suspend Promiseland's organic certification last year, citing the company's repeated withholding of records from authorized agents that would have allowed them to conduct audits of the company's facilities.
OTA Organic Leadership Awards
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced that it has selected Michael Funk of United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) and Mark Lipson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to receive its Organic Leadership Awards for 2011. Funk, UNFI's Chairman of the Board, will receive the award in the "Growing Organic Industry" category, while Lipson, Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Policy Advisor in USDA's Office of the Secretary and Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, will receive the award in the "Growing Organic Agriculture" category. The 2011 Organic Leadership Award recipients will be honored at the Sept. 21 OTA Awards Gala at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, MD. More at www.organicnewsroom.com
Designs for Two Vegetable Wash Stations Published Online
AMES, Iowa – The Fruit and Vegetable Working Group, a community of practice within the Value Chain Partnerships program, has developed a new online tool to help vegetable growers construct efficient wash stations. The detailed designs offer a low-cost option for small farmers to improve the safety and quality of their produce. Food safety precautions are built into the design, such as separate sinks for hand washing and vegetable washing. Materials to build the open-air wash station can be purchased for a little under $1,000. The document also presents design plans for a second, upgraded wash station enclosed in a commercially available hoophouse with a poured cement floor. It requires more labor and skill to construct, and materials cost roughly $20,000. Detailed instructions, material lists and 3-D drawings for both wash stations are available on the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture's website at www.leopold.iastate.edu/research/marketing_files/washstation.html.
New Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
A formal apprenticeship program developed by GrassWorks and the WI Department of Workforce Development, is an exciting new program that combines on-farm training under a Master Dairy Grazier with formal classroom instruction. Apprentices earn while they learn and follow an institutionally supported career path to independent ownership, partnership, farm transition or management of a dairy grazing farm. GrassWorks is currently looking for more Apprentices and Master Dairy Graziers as the program expands. http://grassworks.org/?110120 for more information or contact GrassWorks Apprenticeship Program Director, Joe Tomandl III at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-560-0389
Drifting Pesticides Basis for Trespass Case
July 26, 2011 An appellate court in Minnesota has agreed with an organic farmer that "pesticide drift" from a neighboring farm can be trespass. The ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals returned to district court a case brought by organic farmers Oluf and Debra Johnson, who claimed chemical pesticide spraying by the owner of land adjacent to theirs, the Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Co., damaged them. The appeals court decision clears the way for the Johnsons to proceed with action to recover losses incurred over the years from the farm coop's spraying. Read more http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=326433#ixzz1U5L1n8g3
USDA Launches Food Hub Web Page
With USDA's new Food Hub Web page, producers, buyers, and others can access a central clearinghouse for resources, news and information related to food hubs and similar enterprises that provide infrastructure support for small and mid-size producers. www.ams.usda.gov/foodhubs
Do you have something to buy or sell? Your classified ad will reach over 8,000 households in the print edition, and be available in both the pdf and html version available online. Go to the Organic Broadcaster website to submit an ad electronically.
For Sale: 16 row Flameburner 845 JD cart for 500 gallon tank. $7500.00. Eight row Dakon Flameburner 250 gallon tank. $3500.00. 507-259-6535.
For Sale: 1000 gallon "earth tea" compost tea brewer. Excellent condition. Lynn Brakke. Moorhead, MN. 701-729-1220.
Wanted: 3 pt. flex-tine harrow/weeder. 20 or 30 ft. in good condition. 785-738-8368.
For Sale: Organic pullets. Ready August 30th. .95 above cost. Joni Miller. 1030 Orange Avenue, Kalona, IA, 52247.
For sale Certified organic lambs 100-120 pounds $2.75 pound FOB farm Howell, MI. Grass only 200 available, November-December 517-719-0073 or Chazmaven4545@yahoo.com
For Sale: MOSA certified organic straw. Large squares. Western Wisconsin. 715-262-5115 or 715-821-0793.
For Sale: Certified organic alfalfa clover baleage, 4x5 bales. G & G Farms, Pittsville, WI. 715-421-9956.
For Sale: Organic feed, wrapped and dry hay big bales. Oats, straw and barley. Can deliver. 608-574-2160
For Sale: MOSA certified hay. Big squares, big rounds. Good quality. Stored inside.
For Sale: Certified organic 2011 hay. 4x5 round bales. High quality-tests available. Wrapped or dry. Hauling available. Wonewoc, WI. 608-553-1136.
For Sale: Organic straw. Wheat or oat. 4x5 round bales. Hauling available. Wonewoc, WI. 608-553-1136.
For Sale: Grass/Alfalfa Mix and Grass Hay For Sale. Analysis Available. Certified Organic. Call Randy. 612-669-6892.
For Sale: Organic hay, straw and oats. Dry & silage bales. Sno-Pac Farms – delivery available. 507-725-5281.
For Sale: Organic oat straw, large (7 foot) square bales, CLEAN, stored indoors, 46 available. Near Westby WI - we load, you haul. Call Charley (608) 634 3860 or Tom (608) 634 2118.
Wanted: Organic straw for bedding, big round bales. email@example.com or 920-894-4201.
For Sale: Certified organic high moisture corn in Harvestore. 608-539-2731.
For Sale: Custom grain and seed cleaning for seed. Feed and feed grade, small or big quantities. MOSA certified. Kevin Nuttleman, Bangor, WI. 608-633-1132.
For sale: Organic Oats. ICO Certified. 2011 crop. Also Organic Alfalfa hay. OEFFA Certified. Ernest Blosser, 29273 425 E St, Tampico, IL 61283; phone:815-438-2174, 815-590-2174 cell
For Sale: Central WI. +/- 240 acre organic farm with good soils. This freestall/parlor dairy has a high producing herd of cows and comfortable home. Dairy will sell with cows, feed and full line of equipment. Opportunity to certify the dairy herd still remains. 608-231-1514.
For Sale: Edgar WI. +/- 115 acre organic dairy and horticultural farm. 60 Acres are cropland and the remaining acres are wooded. The dairy is a grazing dairy with established paddocks and a parlor set up. The horticultural farm consists amongst others of a new 2010 greenhouse. In addition mature raspberries, blue and black berries and asparagus. With older comfortable 5 bedroom home. Additional organic acres at close proximity are available for rent. 608-231-1514.
For Sale: Fresh organic garlic. $8 per pound. 440-693-4632.
For Sale: Certified organic garlic for food and seed. Many varieties. Large quantities available. $10 per pound plus shipping. Email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 507-259-1964.
For Sale: Garlic tincture, 8 oz. $20.00, 16 oz. $35.00, 32 oz. $55.00. Postage paid. Israel Swarey, N83 Hall Drive, Stetsonville, WI 54480.
For Sale: MOSA certified Rocamble hardneck garlic. For seed or eating, $7.00 per pound. Makes 2 to 2 1/2" bulbs. Has large easy to peel cloves. Send phone number for more information. Israel Swarey, N83 Hall Drive, Stetsonville, WI 54480.
For Sale: Garlic, 3 varieties, taking orders for 2012. Joni Miller, 1030 Orange Avenue, Kalona, IA, 52247.
For Sale: Organic soybean meal and organic soybean oil. Pressed from certified organic soybeans. Available in 50 lb bags, 2000 lb totes or bulk. Call Glenn. 218-776-3511
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