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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 →

Natural Weed Control

There are many ways for growers to implement non-toxic weed control methods on their farms. The most obvious is to take the chemical farming approach and find an organically-approved material to do the killing. Very strong vinegar has been the most marketed material. The important factor in vinegar formulas is to include a surfactant to strip away any waxy protective coating on the plant surface to allow the desiccation (drying out) of the plant. Salt provides the same mode of action and may be included in the formula.

Natural weed control

The primary condition that promotes broadleaf weeds is the ratio of available phosphorus to available potassium, as shown by a LaMotte soil test. The further you deviate from a 1:1 ratio, the stronger the broadleaf pressure.

Other modern mechanical approaches to weed control include flaming, cultivating, and smothering. Cultivators are a modern version of hoeing or hand pulling. Rotary hoes or spiked harrows are special adaptations of the cultivation approach. Using plastic films, whether biodegradable or not, is a form of smothering that is similar to mulching with any material. The cover denies sunlight to prevent growth.

Repeated cuttings of a perennial weed in a fallow field may weaken a plant over time by using up its stored energy. Farmers should also make every attempt to prevent the reseeding of an offending species. Treating isolated patches is worth the effort to keep them from spreading. If a field is overwhelmed to a point of not having an economic crop worth harvesting, be sure to take the whole field down before the weeds go to seed. Keep in mind that there are seeds in your fields that may have been there for years. Just lime or activate the calcium in your soil and watch clover appear in uncultivated ground, even if you haven’t seeded it since you bought the farm.

Continue Reading →

Aphid Control: Lady Beetle as Beneficial Insect

Lady bugs eat aphids

The convergent lady beetle is a common species of lady beetle.

When searching for aphid control measures, turn to nature first. Numerous vendors sell beneficial insects via their websites along with offering plenty of useful information. For example, ARBICO Organics (Arizona), Orcon (California), Gardens Alive (Indiana), and Nature’s Control (Oregon) sell insect predators in large numbers and at least one vendor sells it as a “beneficial insect program” with weekly shipments adjusted to your pest control needs. Note that beneficial insects are slow acting in pest outbreak situations, so use beneficial insects preventively when pests are in low populations and have not overwhelmed the crops you are trying to protect. Follow the release instructions that come with the products, and modify your spray schedule to adjust for the presence of beneficial insects.

Aphid Control: Convergent Lady Beetle

The convergent lady beetle is a very common species of lady beetle among the numerous others present in any crop field. The convergent beetle is common in Alabama and also a very popular beneficial insect sold by companies. The insect name comes from the two white lines seen on the thorax of adult beetles that seem to merge together on the top. Continue Reading →

Barn Owls for Pest Control

Using barn owls for natural rodent control is gaining traction among farmers and those in other agricultural sectors. This has come about from increasingly critical environmental issues regarding chemical use in the field for rodent population control. To reduce poisons and other invasive methods of pest management, one of the most beneficial owls on the planet is being called upon as an expert rodent assailant.

Barn owls are noted for being fond of nesting but the lack of nest sites, including the loss of tree habitats, has become a major reason for the decline and non-productivity of this owl species.

When hole-nesters cannot find suitable places to breed, the population decreases notably.

Farmers have been putting barn owls on patrol for prey, including moles and gophers, as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) alternative.

Barn owls exhibit some of the best hearing among birds of prey. They have a white heart-shaped, monkey-faced appearance, and are distinguished by whitish or pale cinnamon underparts and rust-colored upper plumage. Velvety feathers allow them to approach their prey silently in darkness.

Continue Reading →

Reducing Pesticide Use

A 2017 study, conducted in France by Lechenet, Dessaint, Py, Makowski and Munier-Jolain, reveals that conventional farmers could dramatically reduce pesticide use without crop or monetary losses. With food security and food production clearly in mind, the research demonstrates that chemical crop treatments could be effectively reduced to meet farmer demand for protection of human and animal health and the environment.

Achieving sustainable crop production to feed a growing population has been acknowledged as one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. For this reason, addressing global food security while reducing pesticide use continues to be a key topic for world governments, global think tanks, nonprofits and philanthropies. As the debate continues, decision-makers are asking “Can we reduce pesticide use without sacrificing crop yield and farmer income?”

Arable farmland is defined as land capable of being plowed and used as farmland to grow crops. The study demonstrates clearly that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability on arable farms. Analyzing data from 946 non-organic arable commercial farms, the authors could not find any conflict between low pesticide use and high productivity and profitability in 77 percent of the farms. As a result, the authors of the study estimate that total pesticide use could be reduced by 42 percent without any negative effects on either productivity or profitability in 59 percent of the farms surveyed.

This corresponds to an average reduction of 37 percent, 47 percent and 60 percent of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide use, respectively. The authors also suggest that these findings would produce major changes in market organization and trade balance between the country’s imports and exports. Continue Reading →