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Transitioning to Organic: Strategies for Success

The year two spring rye crop — note how few weeds are present. This rye grew well during the spring and early summer, and was ready for harvest in mid-July. Below shows the rye straw after the grain was combined. Yields were about 35 bushels/acre of rye seed the first year and 4 bales of straw/acre. This year, the yield was 52 bushels/acre of rye seed and 8 bales of straw/acre.

With conventional prices for corn, beans, wheat and dairy really low right now and both prices and demand for organic products high, a lot of growers are thinking about transitioning to organic.

For most growers, one of the biggest deterrents to going organic is the 36-month-long process of transition, during which time you can use only organic-approved inputs and practices, but the crops, milk or other farm goods produced can’t be sold as “organic” and receive the price premium.

In my opinion, chasing profits is not the right reason to go organic, and there is more to it than not adding prohibited inputs and getting paid more for your crops. Being a successful organic farmer requires a different mind-set, and the best time to figure out your approach to organic farming and set yourself up for success is during the transition period.

Before Transitioning to Organic 

If you’re considering transitioning to organic, the first thing you should do is sit down and think about why and then think about how. If your answer to why is that you are doing it for the money, maybe it’s not for you. Continue Reading →

Citrus Greening Solutions

One segment of APHIS’ comprehensive agricultural quarantine and inspection program is based out of APHIS’ National Detector Dog Training Center, an 18-acre facility in Georgia. Sniffer dog Zsemir alerts to a young tree in Florida. 

$3.3 billion. That’s what the National Agricultural Statistics Service rates the value of the citrus industry in the United States. Yet danger and some of the industry’s greatest challenges lurk in citrus groves across the country — devastating pests and diseases.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates invasive species annually cause $136 billion in overall lost agricultural revenue in the United States.

The Asian citrus psyllid, which creates a disease-causing bacteria known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening, is one of the citrus industry’s most destructive insects. It has infected commercial and residential citrus trees across the country from Florida to Texas to California. The disease clogs an infected tree’s vascular system, preventing fruit from maturing and eventually killing the tree.

First identified in China in 1919, by 1937 it had spread to the Philippines and South Africa. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: How to Grow World Record Tomatoes by Charles Wilber

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, How to Grow World Record Tomatoes, written by veteran gardener and grower Charles Wilber. Copyright 1999. #6341. Softcover. 132 pages. $14.95 regularly priced.

By Charles Wilber

In the United States more gardeners grow tomatoes than any other vegetable. Some say nine­ty-five percent of our gardeners grow tomatoes. Most anywhere you find food, tomatoes will be found in some form.

How to Grow World Record Tomatoes, by Charles H. Wilber

Tomatoes will grow in many types of soil, but they prefer well-drained loams (a crumbly mix of sand, silt, and clay). They are easy to grow in a flower pot in the window or as a tree-like plant twenty-eight-feet or more tall in a garden.

Growing tomatoes can be done in the yard or most any place with plenty of sunshine. Be aware that tomatoes are easily killed by frost and early plants should be covered for protection.

Tomatoes are quite hardy and can be planted in leftover spaces like corners, fencerows, low-growing flower beds, early spring flower beds, on trellises beside buildings, or planted in the center of a bale of rotted hay or straw.

The two types of tomato classifications for many gardeners are the determinate and indeter­minate groups. Determinate are the lower growers. They have less production since the stem ends at the flower cluster. Seldom does this group require pruning or major caging. Indeterminate vines do not end at the flower cluster but keep on growing. Continue Reading →

The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health

Mycorrhizal inoculation effecta

This University of Florida photo shows the effect of mycorrhizal inoculation on maize drought response. Mycorrhizal colonization (front left and back right) helps plants avoid severe drought losses compared to the control (front right and back left).

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.

The vast majority of our cultivated soils are in an eroded and degraded state. As we increase demands on our soil to feed billions, we are losing it and depleting it at an unprecedented rate. Our ability to transform it will address both of these key issues. In addition to addressing drought and climate, the web of soil life is critical to maintaining and building soil resources we need now and into the foreseeable future.

Continue Reading →

When Less is More: Understanding Fertilizer and Solubility

The amphiphilic nature of humic substances allows them to work in water and hydrophobic environments, providing the critical conditions necessary for biological processes when they are closely associated with clays.

Make the gesture “just a little bit” by squeezing your thumb and index fingers as tight as you can; tighter, tighter — the amount of fertilizer you could hold between your fingers is about the amount dissolved in soil solution … per acre! That’s right; there is very little if any dissolved “plant food” in the water of a typical soil.

The amount of plant nutrients dissolved in soil solutions is so small that it is expressed as parts per million (ppm), not hundreds of pounds or tons per acre. While synthetic fertilizers are sold primarily on the basis of their water (aqueous) solubility, the emphasis on aqueous solubility is generally misunderstood and somewhat misguided.

It is generally known that over-application of extremely soluble synthetic fertilizers has been responsible for disrupting ecosystems and numerous environmental problems. What is not generally known is that all highly soluble soil inputs, including sulfates, chlorides and fluorides, disrupt the structure of water molecules, impeding the biochemical energy flows that affect the metabolism of plants, making them more susceptible to insect pressure and diseases and decreased water use efficiency.

It is also a well established fact that highly soluble phosphate fertilizers become “tied-up” soon after application. When there is an overabundance of dissolved phosphates in soil water, the soil system responds chemically by forming more stable forms of phosphorus, usually by chemically combining with calcium cations and complexing with lanthanides (rare earths) and organic matter. All of these materials can release phosphorus as plant nutrients through microbial activity.

Although water is critical to all life forms, there are numerous metabolic pathways in biological systems where it gets in the way and must be pushed aside; it’s called the hydrophobic effect.

Continue Reading →

Growing Microgreens for Profit

Itsy Bitsy Greens in Washington state grows a variety of colorful and flavorful options.

Growing microgreens for profit is feasible, as one Washington state-based couple proves. On less than half an acre, Michael Douglas and his wife, Astrid Raffinpeyloz, operate Itsy Bitsy Greens, an organic/biodynamic microgreens farm in Sequim, Washington, that generates about half of their modest, but ample, annual income.

Michael grows the microgreens full-time. Astrid works full-time in a managerial capacity at Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, which she says fulfills her heart mission, and she helps Michael part-time with the microgreens business. She works mostly from home, which allows her the flexibility to help as needed.

Microgreens are vegetables, greens mostly, harvested when they are 10 to 20 days old. They are cut above the root around the time the first true leaf appears (the cotyledon stage), when the plant has all the nutrients it needs for future growth. At this stage, plants are still benefiting from the seeds’ energy and are nutrient-dense.

Continue Reading →