Growers have many reasons for transitioning from conventional to organic practices, but irrespective of why they want to go natural, planning is important.
Mid Atlantic Women in Agriculture presented a recent webinar at the subject presented by way of Neith Little, an city agriculture Extension agent with University of Maryland Extension, Baltimore City place of business.
Little based totally her presentation on “Organic Production and Certification,” a bankruptcy from the Maryland Beginning Farmer Guidebook, which she co-wrote.
Little mentioned that some manner natural rising with the concept it’s simplest about swapping out standard methods and inputs in want of natural ones. But she maintains there’s a lot more to it.
“Organic farming is a system where you try to build a healthy soil and healthy agroecosystem,” she stated.
That’s because wholesome soil helps combat off pests and disease.
She explained that higher organic topic within the soil helps increase soil construction, the soil’s water-holding capacity, cation alternate capacity and the gradual unencumber of nutrients. Reducing tillage, increasing dwelling plant quilt and adding organic subject amendments can build up organic topic.
“One of the big factors of soil health is soil organic matter: the living, dead and ‘very dead’ — the remains of living things in your soil,” Little mentioned.
She noted that very dark-colored soil indicates high ranges of organic matter, which is helping support soil’s construction and the way smartly it holds together.
“The more you disturb soil, the more organic matter breaks down,” Little said. “But that’s challenging for weed suppression for organic producers.”
Regardless of rising practices, all plants require vitamins like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, “the same way we need vitamins and minerals to build our bodies,” Little stated.
Little stated that in addition to building soil fertility, natural farmers’ targets most often come with reducing off-farm inputs. Using soil testing can lend a hand them achieve that purpose.
“Regardless of what your goals are, it’s important to test soil to monitor soil and predict crop need,” Little said.
Organic farmers can get vitamins from composts, manures, duvet plants and approved blended fertilizers. Anything carried out through farms hoping to achieve natural certification must be licensed by means of the National Organic Program. Little added that the Organic Materials Review Institute list is at omri.org
She also stated that crop rotation represents a not unusual technique among natural growers for restoring nitrogen to the soil.
“Legumes, like beans and clover, are cover crops to add nitrogen for cash crops,” she said.
Crop rotation can also disrupt pest and illness existence cycles, compete with weeds and build soil organic subject.
“It’s important to change plant families because often the diseases and pests are related,” she said.
Staying within the similar plant circle of relatives “invites” the same sicknesses and pests back.
“A cover crop is something you grow that you don’t sell, like clover,” Little mentioned. “But some grow alfalfa to sell as hay. Tillage radish is another. Several grasses are as well, but you should select ones appropriate for your climate and make sure you have the ability to kill them so they won’t become a weed.”
Certified growers must use organic seed.
“Anecdotally, weeds are the biggest problem for organic growers,” Little said.
She said that every one solutions for weed keep an eye on for organic growers are labor in depth, whether mulch, tillage, cultivation, hand hoeing or weeding. There’s additionally flame weeding, stale seed beds, cover vegetation and a restricted selection of organic herbicides.
“Flaming works only on seedlings,” Little said. “You don’t want to set them on fire.”
Pest management additionally demanding situations many natural growers. Little stated that some encourage the proliferation of the natural enemies of their plants’ pests. Others adjust planting dates to avoid when the pests emerge. As with plant illnesses, crop rotation and scouting can assist prevent pest issues.
After successfully growing an natural crop, pricing and marketing are the following steps. Little said the tight profit margins in farming. That’s one more reason for going natural for some growers, since they can doubtlessly obtain upper costs for natural vegetation; however, that top class worth takes extra paintings in advertising and marketing.
Growers promote without delay to the public or wholesale.
“Retail, they tend to purchase for higher prices than wholesale, but you need to do the work to find customers to buy your products and stand at the farmers markets,” Little said. “All of that stuff is on you as the grower when you do direct marketing.”
Farmers too can promote by way of neighborhood supported agriculture subscriptions or immediately to cooks.
“Because of the higher price, direct marketing is usually the better choice,” Little said.
Customers who need to buy organic in most cases like speaking with the farmers elevating their food to be told more about it. Little mentioned that direct advertising could also be absolute best for people who need to promote immediately to the public.
“Organic certification offers a third party verification, which is especially valuable if the customer never meets the farmer directly about what production practices they use,” Little mentioned.
Selling wholesale to a big grocery retailer, institution that prepares meals, distributor or processor sounds like a dream come true: no scrambling to search out consumers and a guarantee of promoting the entire harvest. But Little warned that wholesale is hard in its personal techniques.
“Supermarkets have higher food standards and food safety standards,” she said.
Growers receive lower costs, should accommodate a minimum threshold of quantity — in most cases a lot better than when promoting directly, and must consistently deliver high quality at the time required.
A processor might require tomatoes to stick within a certain diameter so it fits within reducing apparatus. Excessively large tomatoes could also be rejected.
Selling to stores puts a intermediary between grower and client.
“You don’t get to see the farmer and talk with them if you’re buying at the grocery store,” Little stated.
For natural farmers who decide to sell without delay, Little said it’s necessary to spot a particular buyer, equivalent to grandparents who want to choose most effective organic meals for their grandchildren.
“If your target audience is everyone, your target customer is no one,” Little said.
She advises growers focused on going natural to talk over with usda.gov/subjects/natural to learn concerning the procedure. The USDA additionally maintains a database of qualified organic farms at organic.ams.usda.gov/integrity
Growers selling not up to $5,000 once a year in natural goods are accepted to call their vegetation “organic” but won’t use the USDA organic label.
“There are also many books to help you understand the whole system of growing organic,” Little stated.
In basic, the process of turning into certified as natural takes three years if the land used to be in the past beneath conventional management.