Market Farming Fact Sheets:
Ask an Organic Specialist: Market Farming Answers
You must keep documentation that the seed planted during your transition meets these requirements as part of your application for organic certification. If you plant a corn seed treated with captan after two years of transitioning to organic, for instance, you must restart the 36-month clock on your transition, to the day you planted that seed on that field. If you are unsure if a seed treatment is allowed, ask MOSES, or the organic certification agency you are planning to use when you become certified for organic production.
If your operation is certified organic, you are required under the organic regulations to plant organic seed, unless you cannot find an “equivalent organically produced variety” in the form, quality or quantity that you want. For example, you may want organically approved clay-coated carrot seed for ease of planting, and it is not available on organic seed; or, you want 1000 pounds of bodacious sweet corn seed and you cannot find organic seed in that quantity; or, the germination rate for the organic barley you found is only 65%; or, you cannot find the specific variety of seed in an organic form that the buyer of your crop wants you to grow. In all of these cases, you can use non-organic seed. It cannot have prohibited seed treatments, as described above.
Note that the rule requires you to seek out an “equivalent” variety. If you are new to organic and are unsure whether the organic seed varieties are equivalent to the familiar non-organic varieties you are used to growing, you should trial out organic varieties with similar characteristics at the same time as planting your untreated non-organic seed, to see if you can find one to your liking. Higher price is NOT an acceptable reason to avoid planting organic seed.
Organic seed is an investment in our future as organic producers. Since organic seed is produced under organic management, and the seed breeders are specifically working to provide characteristics that organic crop producers need, it makes sense to purchase from these companies and support their efforts. For example, organic corn producers cannot plant in cold ground in the early spring, since their seed is not treated with fungicides. Therefore, they want a seed that will germinate quickly as well as canopy thick and early to help with weed control in their organic fields. Organic seed breeders work to have crops that respond well to natural, slower release forms of fertility inputs, whereas nonorganic corn seed breeders don’t do this.
Aphids are sucking insects that weaken plants by sucking up sugars and other fluids from crops. They are not easy to see, since they are the same color as the plant stem and generally like to feed on stems, buds, and underneath leaves.
Step one for control is to monitor your crops on a regular basis. Infested plants are often stunted and can be a lighter green or yellow. Look closely at the stems under the leaves for aphids. A magnifying glass or loop can help. A good approach that saves time is to flag “sentinel” plants. Mark plants in a grid pattern and only monitor those specific plants on at least a weekly basis. If you find significant numbers of aphids on these plants, you know it is time for control options. Yellow sticky cards are another good monitoring device. Adult female aphids have wings and are strongly attracted to the color yellow, which mimics the color of sickly plants. The cards are coated in sticky glue, which traps them. Check cards at least weekly for signs of adult aphids. Sticky cards need to be replaced frequently to work well. Fortunately they are cheap and available through any greenhouse supply company.
If you have any infested plants in a greenhouse or high tunnel, you should begin control options since their numbers can explode quickly.
Here are your options as an organic farmer:
There are a number of predators and parasites available for purchase and release. Ladybug larvae are the most familiar, but there are parasitic wasps, lacewings and others available now as well. Biological controls work best to keep aphid levels down, but may not give good control if you already have a problem. They simply cannot reproduce as quickly as aphids (which can actually reproduce without males- females give birth to clone daughters). Beneficial insects work best as preventative controls. A number of companies sell beneficial insects, including:
Soapy water will kill aphids. The soap strips away their waxy cuticle and they die of dehydration. In order for this to work, they must be directly sprayed with the soapy water. Use a sprayer and mix one tablespoon of liquid soap per gallon of water. (Dr. Bronner’s is pure soap. Be careful not to use soaps with perfumes, dyes or other synthetic additives.) There are also many ready-to-use brands that are OMRI listed including the common Safer Insecticidal Soap.
Allowed Chemical Sprays
Remember that all insecticides approved for organic use are “restricted use” products. You can use them only when your other control options have failed, and you must notify your certifier if you intend to use a new product and the reason you must use it. Pyrethrum/pyrethrin-based sprays will work on aphids, but have a very short residual effect and must come in contact with the aphids. The product Pyganic works well, since it is pyrethrin mixed with oil, which coats and kills aphids and many other insects. Your certifier should be able to provide a list of approved pyrethrum/pyrethrin sprays or check the OMRI website for a list: www.omri.org.
Aphids also love plants that are over-fertilized with nitrogen. If they are a constant problem despite other control efforts, you might be adding too much nitrogen to your potting mix or through fertilizer applications. A tissue test to determine nitrogen levels may be in order if you are having ongoing issues with aphids and other sucking pests.
As always, crop rotation and good sanitation practices can help control aphids in the long run.
Yes, you can plant non-organic strawberry plants and sell the fruit as organic with no waiting period, provided you have documented a search and could not find commercially available organic strawberry plants.
The requirement for planting stock is similar to that for commercially available organic seeds. You must use an organic version unless you cannot find it in the variety, quality or quantity that you need. You must document your search for organic strawberry plants or other types of planting stock. If you cannot find them in the type, quality or quantity you need, then you can plant non-organic plants and sell the fruit as organic.
In February 2013, the National Organic Program (NOP) updated guidance on whether or not “planting stock” such as strawberries, raspberries, tree fruits, and herb plants needed to be under organic management for one full year before selling the production from these plants as organic. Many certification agencies had required a year of organic management. With the update, the NOP clarifies that the one year of organic management is only required when a grower is selling the planting stock itself as organic.
You can sell strawberry fruit as organic at any time from a non-organic strawberry plant. However, the runners from that plant must be under full organic management for a year before you can sell them as “organic planting stock.” Also, you can sell rosemary or lavender leaves as organic from non-organic plants recently planted on your organic farm, but you must manage the plant organically for one full year before you can make cuttings and root them to sell as organic plants.
At farmers’ markets, where these exempt-from-certification growers often sell products, labeling can become an issue. It is unfair to producers who go through the strict requirements to achieve organic certification to see the label misused. In many cases, misuse is a result of ignorance, not malice. But, it can cause bad feelings between growers at a market, and impact a market’s reputation if patrons see “organic” being used loosely.
To ensure that vendors at a farmers’ market are using “organic” correctly, managers can ask them to sign a statement that they have followed organic rules. This not only makes vendors aware of the standards they must meet, but also satisfies certified organic farmers that their market neighbors are meeting the same strict rules.
The statement below covers many of the requirements that a smaller scale grower or livestock producer must meet in order to sell organically labeled products as a noncertified (“exempt”) organic farmer. It provides information on what practices and inputs are allowed in order to use the organic label, and can be a valuable educational tool.
Farmers’ market managers should feel free to modify this statement and have it reviewed by their own legal counsel. This type of statement should be updated each year to keep current with changes to organic regulations.
NOTE: Anyone may file an anonymous complaint at NOPcompliance@usda.gov to report someone who is making an organic claim who is not certified or exempt from certification requirements.
Statement for exempt-from-organic-certification producers to use the word “organic”
I am a producer that is not certified organic, but I use the word “organic” to describe my products or practices in the marketplace. The list below describes many of the requirements in the organic law that I follow in order to use the word “organic.” I have read and follow the full U.S. organic regulation, which is located at www.ams.usda.gov/nop.
I affirm that:
1. I sell less than $5,000 annually in organically labeled products.
2. I have not planted any seeds that had synthetic treatments, such as fungicides or insecticides.
3. I have planted all organic seeds if they were available in the variety and quantity I required.
4. I have either grown transplants myself using only OMRI* or organic certifier organically approved potting mixes and other inputs or I have purchased certified organic transplants.
5. I have only applied fertility, pest, disease and weed management inputs that have either been approved by OMRI or by an organic certification agency. I understand that there are numerous agricultural input products that make organic claims that are untrue and I have gone the extra step to verify what I am using meets the organic law.
6. I have implemented a soil building rotation on my farm, where annual crops of the same type are not grown in succession in the same field. I also use plant and livestock based materials such as cover crops and compost to continually improve my soils.
7. I have not applied manure to my fields growing crops for human consumption any sooner than 90 days before harvest for crops that are not in contact with soil (i.e. sweet corn), or 120 days before harvest for crops that are in contact with soil (root crops, tomatoes, peppers etc.).
8. I have documentation that compost containing livestock originated components used on my farm meets the requirement of having a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio of between 25 to 1 and 40 to 1, has had a temperature maintained of 131 to 170 degrees F for 15 days and has been turned 5 times, or if in a static vessel, had this temperature maintained for 3 days.
9. All mammalian livestock has been managed organically from the last third of gestation of their mother to the day of slaughter. All poultry has been managed organically from the second day of life. Organic management includes 100% certified organic feed.
10. All livestock has had access to the outdoors, with ruminants receiving 30% of their nutrition from pasture during a minimum 120 day grazing season. All animal health products and feed supplements have either been OMRI approved or approved by an organic certification agency.
11. I have maintained documentation that verifies what I have stated above.
*OMRI=Organic Materials Review Institute (www.omri.org)
Before you take drastic steps, determine if the damage is at an economic threshold where you need to take control measures. Knowing the life cycle of the pest bothering your vegetables will tell you if the population numbers can rise very quickly, or if they tend to lessen over time. Your understanding of the insects’ needs and dislikes will help you manage them over time. In a war where only numbers are considered, insects tend to win. In a war where knowledge is the main weapon, humans have the upper hand.
The organic regulation has a pest control hierarchy that mandates you start with cultural, biological or mechanical practices to manage pests, weeds and diseases. When those don’t curb the problem, you can use natural products. After that—but only as a last resort—you can use synthetic materials that are on the National Organic Program’s National List of Approved Substances. Use of synthetics should be avoided as much as possible; broad spectrum insecticides kill beneficial pollinators or predatory insects along with problem insects.
Organic agriculture is a system of production, not just a way to grow food by substituting organically approved materials for non-approved ones. Keep track of problems you have had in the past and seek out resistant varieties (cultural control). Grow habitat beneficial to insects that prey on your pests (biological control). And, use exclusion devices like netting or floating row cover (mechanical control) to protect the tender young plants so favored by insects.
Research has shown that insects favor weak and stressed plants; healthy plants are less attractive to pests. Try foliar feeding your plants with a fish emulsion and seaweed blend to boost their immune system, both to help them recover from the insect damage and to discourage further infestation. Consider starting a regimen of foliar feeding when your plants are usually stressed, such as right after transplanting, when they flower and when they set fruit. Improving the health of the plant also helps you achieve higher yields of quality crops.
Another management technique is to plant a trap crop that is highly favored by your problem insects, and then spray an approved pesticide only on that crop. If you need to move to your last resort of approved synthetic materials, check out Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply’s pest solution chart (www.groworganic.com/weed-pest-control/organic-pest-control. html). This cross-referenced chart of problem insects and control materials is very useful.
As you learn more about insect life cycles and how insect pests interact with your environment, you can help your plants become less vulnerable to insect problems.
I am washing roots, squash and other vegetables for short- and long-term storage. Is there something I should add to my water to help them keep?
There are three common wash water additives used for washing organic vegetables. One is food-grade hydrogen peroxide, 35%. This should be diluted down to 3% in the wash water. That would be one part 35% H2O2, to 11 parts water. This product is corrosive, so handle it at full strength only when wearing long rubber gloves and goggles. H2O2 can degrade organic materials, bacteria, and organically approved or non-acceptable pesticide residues.
Another product is peroxyacetic acid, with Tsunami, a brand name for this blended product. Use this at dilution noted in the instructions. It is advisable that a final clean water rinse be done after the use of hydrogen peroxide or peroxyacetic acid before putting into long-term storage.
Let the root vegetables mostly dry before putting into storage. Some producers put these in large food-grade plastic bags in open-top totes to retain some moisture. Periodically check to make sure the roots are not too moist and getting moldy. For very long storage, you want some moisture so the roots do not dry out. Packing root vegetables in clean, slightly damp sand also works.
Chlorine also can be used, but only in fairly low concentrations. The organic regulations require that the effluent after washing contain no more than 4 PPM chlorine, which is the level allowed in drinking water. You can have your concentrations higher when washing the produce, but the chlorine must basically all be consumed and volatilized by the action the chlorine has on the bacteria and organic matter in the water. This makes the use of chlorine on a small-scale farm more problematic, since you will need to test the waste water to verify you meet the regulatory requirements.
Resources & Research:
Market Farming Resources
- Commercial Kitchen Guide
Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture provides this guide that gives details on the regulatory steps required to start or operate in a commercial kitchen to create value-added products for resale.
- FarmFan app
Small Farm Central has created this customer support tool for farmers who market directly to consumers. Farmers can alert customers with market-day “Fresh today” text messages, then reward customers for purchases over time with premiums at set levels. The farmer sets the reward levels and the rewards: discounts, product, or on-farm experiences. The app gives farmers a way to track customer purchases as well as generate sales. It works with any digital device. Small Farm Central is offering farmers in the MOSES community 20% off the monthly app fee. Use the code mosesfan for the discount.
- Iowa State University and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture have created a Sustainable Vegetable Production website to share results from research on strategies that enhance vegetable production and cropping systems. Topics include transplant production, season extension, cover cropping, plasticulture, biochar, soil biology, nutrient management and food quality aspects. The website’s purpose is to help growers reduce input costs, improve crop and soil health, and create cropping system efficiencies.
- Managing Small Urban Farmers Markets
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has created a handbook for mini-farmers-market managers.
- Manuals on Organic Plant Breeding
Organic Seed Alliance just published four organic plant breeding manuals to encourage organic farmers to participate in developing varieties suited to organic systems. The manuals include an introduction to plant breeding and three crop-specific manuals that provide step-by-step instruction for identifying good breeding material and maintaining a new variety for quality and uniformity.
- Networking Small Urban Farmers Markets
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has created a new guide based on its experience trying to get fresh produce into food deserts in Minneapolis by setting up mini farmers markets. This manual shows how IATP served as the “umbrella organization” in a network of 15-21 urban neighborhood markets with five or fewer vendors.
- Organic Certification of Farms and Businesses Producing Agricultural Products
Created as part of the USDA’s Organic Literacy Initiative to connect organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with the USDA resources available to them. Include information about organic requirements and best practices, and explain the certification process.
- Organic Labeling at Farmer’s Markets
A National Organic Program fact sheet listing the requirements for exempt organic producers.
- Organic Seed Finder
The centralized database offers a way for organic growers to find reliable sources for organic seed. Seed vendors pay a fee to post on the site, which provides free access to growers. The site was created to make it easier to find certified organic seeds and to expand overall organic production. Created by the Organic Seed Alliance and the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies.
- 2014 Organic Seed Growers Conference Webinars
The series features six sessions covering specific topics in the areas of organic plant breeding, organic seed production, and policy. The series also includes a welcome address from Organic Seed Alliance and a keynote address from Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds.
- Skip the Market: 6 Other Ways Your Farm Can Make Money
Lisa Kivirist writes for Hobby Farm Magazine on how to diversify your income stream through outlets other than farmers’ markets. Her ideas expand over hosting off-site farm-to-table dinners, trading words for cash, selling directly to chefs, raising something niche, cultivating craft supplies, and supplying food artisans.
- Soil Fertility Project – Ohio State University
Research team looking for farmer feedback. The aim is to jump-start the process of updating soil fertility recommendations for commercial vegetable growers. Small to mid-scale field and high tunnel growers who manage operations that produce multiple crops may benefit most from this project. The goal is to provide the opportunity to contribute to this study to as many vegetable growers as possible. Participation is free, quick and confidential. Details are explained at the project website where growers, consultants and others are invited to participate.
- Spotlight on Specialty Crops
Informative series featuring one-minute stories about Minnesota farmers who are growing specialty crops to enhance production, profitability, and personal satisfaction on their farms.
- Urban Farming Resources
A new set of free resources guides urban farmers through the business planning process. The Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook, and its complementary Urban Farm Business Plan Worksheets were created by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities through EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization. These resources are the result of a project that provided technical assistance to the Toledo Community Development Corporation to turn a tw0-plus-acre former industrial site into an urban farm.
- Vegetable Grafting Listserv
Created by the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State University, this listserv is open to anyone with a technical interest in preparing, using or evaluating grafted vegetable plants.
- Wisconsin Local Food Marketing Guide: A producer’s guide to marketing locally grown food
Published by the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (122 page PDF)
- Guide for Organic Processors
Created as part of the USDA’s Organic Literacy Initiative to connect organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with the USDA resources available to them. Include information about organic requirements and best practices, and explain the certification process.
- New website bolsters local food systems
The new Community and Local Food Resource website provides tools and resources to help farmers, extension educators, and communities build or strengthen their local food system. For farmers, the site offers resources on marketing to a local system, production ideas, and good agricultural practices. This USDA SARE project was led by a collaboration of the University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Buy Fresh Buy Local South Dakota; FARRMS (North Dakota), North Dakota State University Extension; and the Northwest Regional Partnership (Minnesota).
- The On-Farm Food Safety Project website offers resources to help fruit and vegetable farmers ensure their produce is safe to eat. The website includes a an online tool to create a customized on-farm food safety plans.
- Online Organic Grower Guides
Online organic resources for growing apples, beans, carrots, grapes, and more from Cornell University. (Although these guides were written primarily for New York growers, the recommendations are applicable to growers in other humid regions.)
- Organic Food Processing Basics (PDF)
MN Department of Agriculture Fact Sheet
- Transplant Production Decision Tool
A new online tool can help vegetable growers in the Upper Midwest select the best system for transplant production on their farm. Producing transplants allows farmers to mitigate risk and get a jumpstart on the growing season. Transplants are germinated and grown in a controlled environment and then replanted in the field. This new online tool provides information about options, challenges and costs for every step of this process, from choosing a growing tray to ‘hardening’ the plants for field conditions.
The tool includes profiles of six vegetable farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as photo galleries of infrastructure, equipment and crops. A one-page matrix summarizes the costs, skill level, benefits and drawbacks of various options for transplant equipment.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture awarded a grant to the Iowa Organic Association to compile the online tool. Chris Blanchard, organic farmer and consultant (Flying Rutabaga Works), developed the Transplant Production Decision Tool.
From the Organic Broadcaster:
Scaling up to meet the demand for local food is all the rage these days, especially in the world of fresh produce. Read more.
Fruit and vegetable growers throughout the Midwest are familiar with the labor vs. machinery trade-off. Read more.
For Kat Becker and Tony Schultz, diversification creates more than a smart income risk management strategy for Stoney Acres Farm, their certified organic operation…. Read more.
High tunnels allow vegetable farmers to extend the growing season, but often require supplemental heat to protect plants during spring and fall cold spikes. Read more.
“Seeds are a sacred thing. Everything we have now is built on farmers selecting seeds for millennia. All of that genetic diversity is a great gift….” Read more.
Ask any seasoned organic grower, and they probably vividly remember their first day selling at a farmers’ market. Read more.
Change comes to us all. Sometimes slowly, purposefully, and gradually. Sometimes quickly, suddenly and unexpectedly. But one thing is certain, change comes. Read more.
Bramble berries—raspberries and blackberries—can be great additions to the diversified market farm or orchard. Read more.
An exciting new sector of the expanding agrarian movement is ‘second career’ farmers. Read more.
Work in the transplant house starts at a slow time of year for most vegetable growers, but continues as field operations and even harvest get under way. Read more.
Availability of locally grown strawberries is extremely limited in the Upper Midwest, primarily due to the short growing season. Read more.
Whether or not we like it, we all have relationships with those plants we call “weeds.” Read more.
Transplants offer jumpstart; transplant systems vary
January | February 2014
The long and miserable spring of 2013 highlighted the value of transplants for vegetable production in the Upper Midwest. Read more.
As the soil rests under a cover of snow, farmers’ minds drift to planning for next season’s production. Read more.
As produce farmers, we can’t eliminate the risk of microbial contamination in our food production. Read more.
How to Navigate Cottage Food Laws
November | December 2013
If you regularly have an abundance of tomatoes you’d love to turn into salsa to sell at your local farmers’ market…. Read more.
When I got started in organic farming over twenty years ago I worked on three vegetable farms before anyone even said the words, “food safety.” Read more.
Increase Tomato Plant Vigor and Yield through Grafting
March | April 2013
Envision a 30 to 50 percent increase in the yield of ripe fruit harvested from tomato plants healthy in the hoophouse from March through October. Read more.
For many farmers, winter certainly does bring the white stuff. But it isn’t snow. Read more.
When I opened a pre-print copy of Wholesale Success I was thrilled to find…. Read more.