Market Farming Fact Sheets:
- Transition to Organic Vegetable Production
- Protecting Your Organic Land from Unwanted Chemical Sprays
Ask an Organic Specialist: Market Farming Answers
You would have to crunch the numbers to determine the financial impact of the pests and how much it will cost to pay for a company to take care of them for you. If you have had major pest issues that you haven’t been able to control on your own, then going with a pest control company might be the best bet—but you will still be responsible for the organic integrity of your operation. It will be important to clearly communicate to the company what the organic regulations are and how they will work in your context.
Whether you decide to go with a company or do the work yourself, you’ll need to have your certifier approve your pest management plan before you implement it.
The plan has to start with the “least toxic, most effective” means of controlling the pest. The first practical step, as it says in the facility pest management practice standard (§205.271), is to remove pest habitat, food sources, and breeding areas, try your best to prevent pests from entering the facility, and manage environmental factors. Pests can also be controlled using mechanical/physical means, like snapping mouse traps for example. When I worked in certification, I often saw cats and dogs listed in the facility pest management section of Organic System Plans.
If none of that works, you can use natural lures or repellents (or synthetic ones that are on the National List of approved synthetics). Vitamin D3 baits are one example of products that fit into that category. The OMRI certificates of vitamin D3 products include this restriction: “For use as a pesticide only in conjunction with the facility pest management practices provided for in paragraphs 205.271(a) and (b) and only if those practices are not effective to prevent or control pests alone.” So basically, if you can’t keep pests out and mechanical means of taking care of them are ineffective, you can use this product with approval from your certifier.
If restricted products like that don’t work, then you can go to synthetic products that are not on the National List as long as your plan is approved by your certifier. A synthetic substance may be used provided that “the handler and certifying agent agree on the substance, method of application, and measures to be taken to prevent contact of the organically produced products or ingredients with the substance used.” After you’ve shown that your previous steps weren’t effective, your plan and the specific product must be approved by your certifier. No matter what, you have to keep the pest control product away from your stored organic crops, organic land, and organic animals.
There always seems to be a “race to the finish line” when it comes to preparing your farm for winter. If you’re involved in fall production, it can be even more difficult to fit it all in before the snow flies. However, there are a few tasks that are very important for the success of your next season.
First, make sure to walk your property and look for misplaced or forgotten tools. That screwdriver you used to fix the irrigation line will be much easier to see now in the fall grass. Later, after it’s been buried in snow, it can be ruined by the elements, or worse, it could cause much larger problems to your tractor tires. Carefully collecting, cleaning, organizing, and storing your tools now—while they’re still on your mind—will make the spring rush more streamlined.
Make certain to store sensitive items (like an electronic scale or irrigation timer) where they will be protected from extreme temperatures, changes in humidity, and dust. Also, consider what items (floating row cover, packaging, etc.) need to be protected from rodents through the winter and find appropriate containers now before there is damage.
Next, thoroughly drain and store irrigation supplies. Depending on your irrigation system, you may do this by “blowing out” the lines. You might also consider removing fixtures, valves, and hose bibs to replace them with solid end caps to prevent damage from freezing and discourage critters from setting up shop for the winter in your irrigation lines.
Finally, and most importantly, clear and compost potentially hazardous litter from your field and, if possible, secure your soil and fertility with a winter cover crop. It might seem counter-intuitive to remove vegetable matter from the field and then plant a cover crop. However, those squash vines on the field might be offering shelter to cucumber beetles that will return with a vengeance for next year’s crop. Many pests and diseases can be harbored through the winter in crop residue. Remove it and manage the compost well to make sure your problems have been disposed of.
After all that residue has been removed, the soil has less protection from winter winds, snow melt, and spring rains. You can help protect your soil from erosion, hold on to its nutrition, and add organic matter to your soil by planting a winter cover crop of your choice. Depending on your bed layout and harvest patterns, you may be harvesting some crops beyond the planting window. Consider managing your rotation so that those areas get a rest at a different time of year.
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)
We have Canada thistle growing in the large aisles in our two-acre asparagus patch. What can we do to manage this perennial weed?
Canada thistle is a difficult weed to control—I have also dealt with it on my farm in annual crops. I am going to give you a variety of options. Timing and persistence are very important in all of these options.
Dig Them Out
I know this is very time consuming and difficult. The time to do this is as early in the spring as you can see the thistle, preferably when it is still just a rosette and has not yet started to grow a vertical stem. The length of the stem of the plant relates to the depth of the root—the taller the plant, the longer the root. So digging when the plant is very young gives you a better chance of getting the whole root.
Dig when the ground is soft and moist. You want to get the whole root. At the bottom of the Canada thistle root, there is a piece of root that is horizontal to the vertical tap root. I call this an anchor. When you get full root, including that little anchor, then you know you have gotten the whole root. REMOVE the thistle from the field and either fully compost them, or burn them on a burn pile. Thistle roots are very resilient and can re-sprout quite easily. I use a garden fork to dig out the thistle rather than a shovel. This way I don’t break the roots. Leather gloves are another essential tool when digging thistle. I do this in the early morning over a 2-week period in the spring. You can really make a lot of progress, even with just one hour a day.
If you have a handheld flame burner, you can burn them. Again, this needs to be done in the rosette stage and would probably need to be done 2-3 times in the early spring. This is faster than digging, but still needs persistence!
Smother With Mulch
Unfortunately, mulching is not the best method, unless you have a very thick mulch for 3-5 years that truly does not let the thistle receive any sunlight. The root will still be getting nutrients and moisture, so you may just weaken the root, but not destroy it. Black plastic mulch might work best; but make sure you don’t use a woven landscape fabric, which would still allow nutrients and moisture to keep those roots viable.
Smother With Cover Crop
I have had success with this on my farm, and I know corn/soybean growers have also had success with this on a larger scale. Plant sorghum-sudangrass with a drill or some way to cover the seed lightly after broadcasting it. Use very shallow tillage to prepare the area if you need to, but as little as possible. When the thistle is about 2-3 feet tall or starts to bud in your thick stand of sorghum-sudan, go in and mow it. It’s very important that you DON’T LET THE THISTLE GO TO SEED! This mowing cycle can be done 2-3 times in one season. This causes the thistle root to lose a lot of its vitality.
The reason this works well is that the sorghum-sudan is very thick and grows so quickly that the thistle can barely compete for nutrients, water and sunlight, and must use up the nutrients from its root stores. When you cut it, the cycle starts again.
Thistle also likes compacted soil and the incorporation of all of this mowed organic matter loosens up the soil and changes the soil environment so it is less “attractive” for the thistle to grow. I’ve had about a 65-85 percent reduction in thistle in one year with this activity. Then the following spring I go out and dig or burn what is left.
Mow the thistle continually through the season, keeping them 6 inches or less. This will also weaken the roots, but is not as effective as the other options above.
Soil Health, Nutrient Balance
Having a well-balanced soil nutrient profile, especially with the use of high calcium lime or gypsum to bring up low pH soils, will also reduce compaction. Do some soil testing, and compare trace nutrients in the areas where the thistle is present and where it is not. You might be surprised to see some nutrient deficiencies in the thistle areas that you can work on correcting.
Herbicide Approved for Organic
There is an herbicide called AllDown, that is approved for use on organic land. It is a blend of acetic acid, citric acid and garlic juice. Again, it must be used in the rosette stage to be effective, although they advertise it as being effective on larger weeds, too. I do not have personal experience with this product, but others have told me that it works best on the smaller thistle. The manufacturer is located in Minnesota: 952-368-0020 or www.summersetproducts.com. This is the only herbicide that is approved for use in organic production that I know of for use on thistle.
As you can see, there are a variety of strategies to control thistle. You can do one or more of these at the same time to get long term control. It may take 2-4 years of persistent effort, but you can get ahead of thistle in your organic system!
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.
The most protected space on our farm, which sits high on a windy ridge, is tucked in southeast of our big pole shed. We can fit two 10 x 60 structures in this protected space. To make our temporary greenhouse more secure in the high spring winds, we spaced the PVC bows closer together than is usual, and added more rope to hold down the plastic. We also added some Lexan polycarbonate sheeting remnants that we received from a generous friend. We used those below the hip board to add stability.
Another great, easy structure for this same purpose that’s even more secure can be made with galvanized steel chain link fence rails bent as bows that are more sturdy than PVC. (Learn more about this structure at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yBHaNqrbtI.)
We rolled the sides up and down depending on the weather, and entered through one place on the wall. Doors are better and make a more comfortable entry, but we got in and out without too much trouble.
Inside this house, we built 2-foot high tables with wood frames and polycarbonate panels offset for drainage. The tables are balanced on cinder blocks. We tried tables covered in poultry wire, but these were too unbalanced; the wire would inevitably sag in one area. Instead of heating the air, we heat the tables that the plant flats sit on. It’s more efficient all around, and especially in this hack system that isn’t extremely airtight.
We’ve tried table-heating two ways: first with electric heat mats and, second with radiant roll-out heat mats that operate with an on-demand tankless water heater system that runs on propane. Water, mixed with glycol, runs through the tubes in the heating mats within this closed system that keeps the water temperature between 90 – 120 degrees F, a relatively small differential. Keeping the soil temp level and warm enough does far more for good germination and the early days of seedlings than air temp.
We have an exhaust system, and a few makeshift fans in the greenhouse, but the downside of this system is definitely controllable air-flow. For our early growing purposes it hasn’t mattered. Also, with climate change bringing earlier spring, by the time good air flow makes more of a difference, we’ve been able to open up the sides and allow the spring winds to blow through.
Our favorite low-cost system for starting plants early (February) is to build a mini tunnel inside the larger greenhouse. We attached electric conduit (available at home improvement stores for about $2.50 for 10 feet) to the tables, and put plastic over the conduit for a mini greenhouse inside the larger greenhouse. On super cold nights (-10 outside) we threw some sheets and blankets over the whole structure and kept the soil temps above 55.
The average cost to build a caterpillar tunnel is about $700. The set up for the electric heat mats was about $600. We could fit 22 flats on the mats. The cost to build the radiant roll-out heat mats that operate with an on-demand tankless water heater is about $700, not including the mats. We got mats from a former farm for a really good deal. They’re also available online through BioTherm along with the hardware needed to set up the system. (See www.biothermsolutions.com/products/microclimate-tubing). We have run about 700 square feet of tables on one water heater, fitting about 350 flats. The folks at BioTherm would be able to help you work out what you need.
I can also share a couple of watering hacks that have improved our farm life:
We set our newly seeded and just germinated trays in open flats without drainage, then fill the flats as needed for watering. It’s a little tricky to get the balance of how much water to add to the flats given cloud cover, but with a little time and practice you get the hang of it. This improves germination as we seed many flowers that sit on top of the soil and require light to germinate. It also prevents disease and fungus because we aren’t spraying water on the leaves and top of the soil.
Once the plants are large enough to handle a little more adversity, we hook up the PVC pipes with 1/16-inch holes drilled into for easy overhead watering. We only do this when we get to the point where we need to be in the field and are spending less time in the greenhouse. It’s not ideal because the plants aren’t getting the same amount of water, but it’s a functional hack.
There are many, many more greenhouse hacks especially in larger systems. These hacks have been great solutions to challenges on our new farm without requiring a lot of capital.
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.
First, you need to make sure that they are actually fruit flies. Fruit flies are often confused with a different insect called a fungus gnat. Fruit flies have red eyes, a round body and tend to hover or fly pretty slowly. They are slower moving while walking on the ground, too.
Fruit flies need overripe, damaged or rotting fruit in order to feed and breed. They are also known as vinegar flies, and are attracted to the smell of acetic acid (rotting fruit and vegetables). If you keep these materials out of the greenhouse, you are not likely to have fruit fly problems. Clean up damaged fruit and remove ripe fruit as soon as possible. The old baited fly trap with vinegar and a little soap works well to reduce their numbers, but you have to control the food source with good sanitation to get rid of fruit flies completely.
If your sanitation is good, and you are still seeing small files, they are likely fungus gnats. Fungus gnats are quite fast, both in the air and on the ground, are more thin bodied and do not have colored eyes.
Fungus gnats breed in the organic matter of soil mixes that are kept too wet and thus breeds molds, which the fungus gnat larvae feed upon. The solutions to control fungus gnats are to avoid overwatering plants in the greenhouse, improve drainage, and allow the potting soil to dry in between each watering.
Fungus gnats are not harmful to plants, but the conditions they like are also the same conditions that can lead to fungal and bacterial diseases.
Either fly problem is best solved by cultural techniques, rather than approved sprays.
I know I am supposed to plant organic seeds if I sell my crop production as organic. How do I accomplish this?
The National Organic Program (NOP) mandates the use of organic seed for crops that will be sold as organic unless you can show that you could not find the quality, quantity or equivalent variety of seed you wanted to plant. Under no circumstance can seeds treated with GMO nitrogen-fixing bacteria or non-approved synthetic fungicides or insecticides be used when you sell your crop in the marketplace as organic. This rule also applies to producers who sell less than $5,000 in organically labeled products, making them exempt from organic certification (but not from following organic standards). If prohibited materials are used on the seed, or a GMO seed is planted, the land cannot be used for organic production for three years.
More and more seed companies are developing organic seed varieties that function well in organic systems to meet the demand of the organic marketplace. By supporting organic seed suppliers, you encourage further research and development of organic seeds that compete well with weeds, grow vigorously with slow-release fertility inputs and are resistant to disease and pests. Also, certified organic seed would never have prohibited seed treatments.
An excellent resource for finding organic seed of all types is the website www.organicseedfinder.com. Field crops, vegetables, fruits, herbs and flower sources are all listed. This website is also helpful for finding seed suppliers that would be the most likely to carry organic seed varieties.
A broader list of organic seed suppliers is in the Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory. The “Seed Suppliers” section lists not only suppliers of seed, but also farms that supply seed potatoes or grow crops for seed. The directory also is available in print. You may request a copy by calling the MOSES office at 715-778-5775.
If the specific variety of seed you want is not available, you are required to purchase organic seed of an equivalent variety. If you are unsure if the organic variety is similar or equivalent, consider purchasing some organic seed and trialing out new organic varieties to see if they do as well as the non-organic seed that you are used to growing. Remember, the NOP does not consider price to be a valid reason not to purchase organic seed.
If you plant untreated non-organic seed, you will need to document why your search for organic seed was unsuccessful—quantity, quality, and variety are all valid reasons for buying non-organic seed. For example, the organic seed only came in one-ounce packets and you wanted to purchase 20 pounds (quantity). Or, the organic seed germination rate was only 20%, and the non-organic seed had a germination rate of 95% (quality). Or, you wanted to grow an orange oxheart tomato, and could not find it from at least three sources that typically sell organic seed (variety). Searching at your local garden center which does not typically sell organic seed is not considered a viable organic seed search by most certification agencies. You should be trying to find organic seed from the many suppliers that offer it. Even a search on the Internet for organic seed varieties can be fruitful.
Organic seed can be in short supply. It is a good idea to start your organic seed searches in winter and not wait until late spring when they often are sold out.
I would like to purchase an older sprayer that had been used with prohibited synthetic materials. Can I do this and use this sprayer to apply products approved for organic production?
Yes, you can purchase and use this sprayer. However, you will need to perform some cleaning and refurbishment activities and document these before you may use it on organic land.
Most certifiers recommend a clear water rinse first. Completely fill the tank and spray it until empty on non-organic land. Second, fill the tank again with diluted household ammonia, such as one quart of ammonia per 125 gallons. Run this through the sprayer again on non-organic land. Perform another clear water rinse as above. If you continue to smell the residues of the prohibited chemicals, do another ammonia and clear water rinse again. Poly tanks are porous so you may need to repeat this procedure a few times.
Replace all rubber parts including hoses, washers, and nozzles with new ones, as these are very difficult to clean completely.
Many certifiers require that once you have converted this piece of equipment from non-organic to organic production, you can no longer use it for spraying prohibited materials. In other words, if you are sharing this piece of equipment with a non-organic farmer, or you manage split production on your own farm, you may need to dedicate this sprayer, once cleaned, to organic and not go back and forth between organic and non-organic use, even if you perform this cleaning activity each time. Check with your certification agency on its policy for sprayer use to see if it mandates dedication to organic.
As we enter the time of mid-summer bounty, the pollinators and beneficial insects are busy sipping up the nectar and pollen from your flowering plants. Nectar provides energy, and pollen is high in protein. If you are managing bees, you’ll want to research specific mixes of flowering plants that provide a good balance of both nectar and pollen. If you are a farmer who wants to make sure your farm’s beneficial pollinators have plenty to eat, you have a variety of options. Nature provides a diverse assortment of plants that flower from early spring into the fall, ensuring a good food supply for pollinators all season long.
Your first option is to ensure you have plenty of perennial and native plants on your acreage. Buffer strips of native prairie flowers and grasses are a functional and beautiful addition to larger acreages; perimeter buffers work well on smaller plots. Native flowering plants and perennials not only feed pollinators throughout the season, but also hold soil from erosion and buffer your land from neighboring farm chemicals. These plants also are easy to maintain and tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions.
Establishing native prairie and perennials can take a few years. A good resource to help you in this endeavor is the Organic Broadcaster story “Native prairie plantings can be established without using herbicides” by Harriet Behar, MOSES Senior Organic Specialist. You can find it online at https://mosesorganic.org/native-prairie-plantings.
A shorter term option to feed your pollinators is to plant annual flowering cover crops on your land that will grow fast, while improving soil and feeding wildlife, but winterkill to be easily tilled in when spring comes. Diversity of cropping not only feeds your pollinators, but cover crops are a great source of green manure and biomass for your soil. All of the following crops will die over winter and be ready for spring tillage.
Calendula – For small to medium acreages, this useful flower is easy to grow, and blooms its pretty head off all season long. When the flowers die, it can be mowed, then will come back and flower as many as three times during the growing season.
Sunflowers – There are many single stem and branching varieties with various grow times, some as fast as 60 days. You can seed them in July and enjoy them in September until the frost. Sunflower heads make a great bird feast during winter, while holding soil from erosion. Note: don’t leave over winter in a field you’d like to plant early because the thick stems will take some time to break down after spring tillage.
Buckwheat – Buckwheat is a wonderful warm season cover crop. The flowers attract many different beneficial insects and birds. It germinates well and canopies quickly to suppress weeds as it matures in 70-90 days. Buckwheat is also reported to extract soil phosphorus.
Phacelia – Another wonderful cover crop for large or small acreages, this flower is highly frost tolerant and loaded with pollen, or protein. It germinates in 5-10 days, grows fast for weed suppression, and has excellent ability to accumulate and recycle excess nitrates and calcium. Plant phacelia with overwintering crimson clover for a cocktail that will not only feed pollinators during the end of the season (phacelia), and also fix nitrogen and feed pollinators in spring (crimson clover).
Cowpea – A heat-loving legume, the cowpea or black-eyed pea not only suppresses weeds and sources nitrogen in the heat of the summer, it has “extrafloral nectaries” on petioles and leaflets that beneficial insects love to eat. Cowpeas can be planted with sorghum Sudangrass, which they’ll climb. The two together create a lot of biomass. Make sure to plant cowpeas in July at the latest, as they are not frost tolerant and require 60-90 days to mature.
Organic farming is a long-term process. Always start the year before by planting a good cover crop, something that will over-winter and return in spring like cereal rye, clover or vetch. If that didn’t happen, or if you’re farming your acreage more intensively, you can also start with a spring cover crop like a mix of field peas and oats. You can research your cover crop options to find the best mix for your soil needs. A good place to start is with the MOSES fact sheet “How to Choose Cover Crops“.
To ensure optimal nitrogen value and also create a good amount of biomass for soil microbes without allowing the cover crop to set seed, incorporate the cover crop in early to mid-June. By starting early, but not too early, you leave yourself enough time to work out many of the residual weed seeds in your field. Incorporate the cover crop the first time, then wait 10 days or so and work your field again, by tilling, cultivating or plowing, using whatever machinery and method you usually use for bed prep. Depending on the weather (always), you’ll ideally get another nice weed flush right before you plant. Prep your bed as usual right before planting by cultivating or tilling, then plant your brassica transplants.
The nutritious vegetable that they are, brassicas are heavy soil feeders. Making sure your soil macronutrients are balanced is key. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels need to be balanced, and not too high or low. Trace nutrients like manganese and boron can also make a big difference in the quality of your brassica crop. Soil tests (soiltest.cfans.umn.edu, uwlab.soils.wisc.edu) applied to fertility practice are important to start with because it’s really hard to make drastic changes in your soil chemistry at any time, especially in the thick of the season.
Some symptoms of out-of-balance soil resulting in nutrient deficiencies:
• Light yellow color and/or premature head formation also called “buttoning” can be a nitrogen deficiency.
• Too much nitrogen can cause the plants to grow too fast also resulting in a hollow stem.
• Large pest infestations can mean your plant isn’t healthy and can’t defend itself.
• Iron can inhibit calcium uptake, causing localized browning.
• Phosphorus deficiency, especially when the phosphorus can’t move in the cold of later fall, can cause the plant to turn purple.
• Boron deficiency can cause a hollow brassica stem, and browning and uneven heads.
Starting with healthy transplants is always essential to healthy produce. One of the most difficult parts of growing fall brassicas is having to care for the transplants in the greenhouse while you’re in the thick of summer harvest. Starting the seeds in a good soil mix, watering consistently, and applying a foliar feed or root drench fertilizer to boost your brassica plant’s health prior to transplanting can make all the difference in the health of your final product. Another option is to create a healthy seed bed in the field, seed with your varieties and bare root transplant from that. For more on this, see extension.umn.edu/garden-yard/vegetables/growing-broccoli-cabbage-and-cauliflower-in-minnesota.
If you’re buying seed varieties as most produce farmers do, ask the farmers in your area what has worked for them, and also try a few different varieties to find what works for you.
When the plants are in the ground, the best way to balance deficiencies is to either side-dress or foliar feed the plants. Going back to those soil tests and symptom list, you can know what you might need to attend to the health of your growing brassicas and create a mix of fertilizer and minerals in a hopper to be side-dressed once or twice throughout the growth life.
Companies such as Midwestern Bio-Ag can work with you to read your soil tests and provide inputs to balance your soil. You can also try a few different products to find what works best.
At our farm, we foliar feed our brassicas weekly with a fish emulsion mixed with Photo Mag, both OMRI-approved applications. Our soil was in conventional production up until last year, and shows some deficiencies in most everything, including the trace minerals like boron. It’s been really important to give those brassicas feeders good additional nutrition as they grow this season.
Your primary piece of equipment to ensure long-lasting flowers of most varieties is a cooler. You need to be able to take the field heat out of the flowers and hold them until delivery at about 40 degrees.
One easy and inexpensive option is to build your own cooler. Many flower growers build relatively inexpensive 8×12 coolers using foam insulation, a store-bought 18,000-BTU window air conditioner, and a “CoolBot”—a $300 piece of machinery that helps the A/C unit to cool the space to as low as 35 degrees.
Cleanliness of all your tools is of utmost importance. The “godmother of flower farming,” Lynn Byczinski, likes to say, “Keep your vases as clean as your teacups.” The same goes for buckets and clippers. Install an easily accessible, easily cleaned bucket-washing station. Certified organic growers can use biodegradable soap for washing, along with a little bit of bleach or hydrogen peroxide for sanitizing. Wash and sanitize your buckets after every use.
Many flower growers use hydrator and preservative in the water, but the research is unclear on whether or not these make a difference. Hydrator helps the stems take up water efficiently from the first cut, ensuring longer vase life. Preservatives have a sugar to feed the flowers, and a bactericide to kill the inevitable bacteria produced—the “slime” that you see in a vase of old flowers. There is one hydrating and preserving product on the market that certified organic growers can use called Vita Flora (vitaproducts.com/floracare.html).
Once you’ve installed a cooler, and have your squeaky clean buckets and clippers, the next step is timing your flower harvest. Flowers keep best when harvested in the cool morning or evening. In the morning, flowers are most turgid and very fresh. In the evening after photosynthesizing all day, they have the most carbohydrates to give them a long life. Either way, it’s best to harvest in temps under 80 degrees, while steering clear of times when dew is on the flowers. Wetness on the petals can lead to disease and fungus during storage. If you harvest in the morning, it’s important to hit that sweet spot between when the dew dries and the day gets too hot.
Every flower has its own peak time to harvest to ensure longer vase life. For example, sunflowers can be harvested and kept in the cooler the moment the first petal lifts from the center. That’s not the case for dahlias, which won’t open any further after you harvest. You’ll want to get to know each flower’s peak harvest time. Learning the ins and outs, and likes and dislikes of each specific flower can take years! That’s why it’s so important to work with other growers as you begin flower farming on your own. (Consider applying for a flower mentor through our Farmer-to-Farmer Mentor Program.)
The importance of cleanliness in flower harvest and handling can’t be emphasized enough, and that continues into how you cut and strip the flowers. Again, start with clean clippers. Most flowers can be cut and stripped in the field for efficiency and speed. But, if it has been especially rainy and the stems are muddy, you may want to cut the flowers and bring them to your processing area to strip the leaves and clean them up.
As you harvest, strip and put your flowers in buckets. Keep the harvested flowers in the shade, never in direct sunlight, and deliver to the cooler frequently as you go. Taking that field heat out of the flowers as quickly as possible after harvest does wonders for their longevity.
A few flowers do better when they’re not cooled, most notably, the zinnia. Zinnias like to be in the shade, but not cooled, and never harvested when they’re wet. I’ve learned that the hard way; they’ll turn to mush in a day or two.
You can ensure the continued longevity of your certified organic flowers when they’re out of your hands by educating your customers. Let them know to keep vases as clean as teacups, and replace the water and rinse the stems daily. To achieve even longer vase life, customers can give the flowers a fresh cut every other day, and display them out of direct sunlight. You have given your beautiful local, certified organic flowers a great start. By following these few easy tips, your buyers can enjoy them for several weeks.
I buy only certified organic ingredients for a food product that I roast and blend in order to sell a finished beverage to the public. I sell more than $5,000 a year of this product. Can I label it as organic?
The word organic on a retail food label is a guarantee to consumers that the entire process, from seed through field production, storage, sales and any food processing is reviewed and approved as meeting the organic regulations. Since you sell more than $5,000 per year of product that you wish to sell as organic, as the processor, you must be certified in order to use the word organic on the product label.
Organic ingredients alone are not sufficient for using the word organic on a product—the processing facility also must be certified organic. A certified food processor goes through a similar annual certification process as a farmer or rancher.
If you choose not to be certified, you may identify which ingredients are organic on your product’s ingredient list. However, you cannot label the finished product on the principal label as organic, nor use the USDA organic seal on the package.
To label your finished beverage something like “Organic Roasted Vanilla Coffee,” all ingredients or inputs either must be certified organic or on the National List of approved ingredients if they are synthetic. Recipes for each product you wish to label as organic, along with the production methods, needs to be included in your Organic System Plan that a certification agency will review.
Sanitation and pest management materials and protocols must also be documented. Processed organic food products have their own sections on the National List of approved pest control inputs, sanitation products, ingredients and more. Reviewing an organic certifier’s organic system plan will provide you with the information you need to prepare the necessary documentation if you decide to become certified. Pay special attention to the organic regulation section on labeling, which specifies the colors of the USDA organic seal, font size of the word organic and placement of your organic certifier’s name.
If you grew, processed and sold less than $5,000 in annual sales of organically labeled products, then, under the small operator exemption from certification, you could label the product as organic without going through and achieving organic certification. You would still need to follow all of the organic regulations, including use of approved sanitation materials and processes, approved pest management strategies, documentation that all ingredients were either certified organic or on the National List, etc. Again, a review of a sample Handler Organic System Plan would help you prepare and maintain the records you need to have to meet the law. You still could not use the USDA organic seal on your package—that is reserved for certified organic operations only. Most organic certification agencies have Handler Organic System Plans on their websites.
The National Organic Program regulations are here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic. Since each product and process is unique, it would be best to contact the MOSES Organic Answer Line if you have more questions.
What are the requirements for organic certification regarding water to wash my produce or irrigate my vegetable fields?
Water that comes in direct contact with human food in post-harvest handling must meet the clean water drinking act requirements of “potable” or drinkable water. This means it cannot contain E. coli or coliforms. A $10-$18 water test can prove this drinkability.
If you are getting water from a hydrant or a faucet, heat the end of the pipe to kill any bacteria before you take the sample to send to a government or private testing laboratory. The sample needs to get to the lab within 2-3 days. There are many testing laboratories—ask your local extension agent or call MOSES to find a lab in your area.
The water also cannot contain more than 4 parts per million chlorine per liter, which can also be tested. If you have recently shocked your well with chlorine, you should definitely get a test. Typically, municipal water is not over this amount of chlorine. Water from a creek, river, pond or other “surface waters” will typically have a bacteria count that is too high to be used for washing vegetables meant for human consumption. Water from a cistern should be tested more often than from a sealed well, since risk of bacterial contamination is greater from this source. If you have a gas motor mounted on your well, make sure no gas or oil leaks on the ground around the well.
Water used for irrigation is not addressed in the organic regulation. However, organic certifiers may assess risk of organic land contamination, especially if you’re irrigating with surface waters. Consider what is occurring upstream from your organic operation. Is the time of year that the water is used the same time that many prohibited materials are being used upstream? Is there a risk that livestock upstream could be polluting the water so food safety is at risk?
You should be prepared to answer these questions so the organic certifier is satisfied that you are aware and can protect the organic integrity of the land and food you are growing. A larger creek or river, due to the continual movement of the water, would have less risk than a farm pond where the water from non-organic fields accumulates.
Pesticide and herbicide tests are expensive, and are usually not requested by certifiers. Instead, they look at the situation and assess the risk before they decide if that specific water source can be used to irrigate organic land.
Lastly, with the upcoming implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), irrigation water testing may be required, depending on the size of your operation and how far your crops travel to market. These rules are not yet finalized—MOSES will provide that information once we have it. In general, greater care regarding food safety should be taken with crops that are eaten raw from the field versus those that will be cooked.
Resources & Research
- Food Safety resources from MOSES
Learn about GAP and the FSMA Produce Safety Rule. Download our workbook to help you develop your farm’s food safety plan.
- Herb Grower Directory
Looking for fresh, organic herbs for your value-added farming products? Mountain Rose Herbs has created a directory of certified herb growers, sorted by region. To apply to be listed in the directory, growers must have no more than 40 acres in cultivation, must be certified organic, and must be able to receive orders directly (be it by phone, online, and/or mail).
- Deep Winter Greenhouse Resources
A Deep Winter Greenhouse (DWG) is a passive solar greenhouse that enables small-scale farmers in northern regions to grow cold-hardy crops year-round without additional lighting. DWGs feature a south-facing glazing wall that is designed to maximize solar energy, which is then stored in an underground thermal mass. Crops well suited to DWG production include a variety of lettuces, herbs, brassicas, asian greens, and sprouts. University of Minnesota Extension has a webpage of resources that includes construction plans.
- Diagnostic Tools for Plant Problems
Cut down on your head-scratching by using a new diagnostic tool from University of Minnesota Extension. “What’s wrong with my plant?” is a photo- and symptom-based tool for diagnosing diseases and other pest issues in vegetables, fruit, trees, and more. Watch a demo of how it works on YouTube.
- 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.
- Food Labeling
A free ebook, FDA Food Label: Requirements in a Nutshell, simplifies the complex FDA requirements for proper food labeling for nutrition facts, ingredients and other necessary information. This book doesn’t address use of the organic seal—learn more about this here.
- Food Safety Decision Tools
The national Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) website has added farm food safety “decision trees” to help farmers identify risks and implement food-safe practices. Nine decision trees are available, including worker hygiene, soil amendments, wildlife management, and postharvest handling. Each decision tree includes samples of recordkeeping logs and standard operating procedures, as well as template farm food safety plans.
- 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.
- Online GAP courses
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach now offers free online food safety training modules for farmers’ market managers and vendors. The four modules cover good agricultural practices (GAP) for pre-harvest, post-harvest, marketing and best practices at the market, and value-added products. Participants receive a Certificate of Completion to display at their market stall.
- 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.
- Selling to Restaurants
The Local Food Marketplace recently published the “Food Hub’s Guide to Selling to Restaurants,” with tips on breaking into the wholesale market. The guide was written by Ryan Crum (a former chef), who offers insights on approaching a restaurant, developing a marketing plan, planning for growth, and a list of Dos and Don’ts.
- 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.
- 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
Tips from the 2014 MOSES Conference workshop “Farming in the City,” presented by Anne Pfieffer, Julie Dawson, Alex Liebman, and Claire Strader.
- 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:
Certified organic CBD hemp grows really well in our region—you could almost say it grows like a weed. Since the 2018 Federal Farm Bill allowed the production and distribution of hemp products with a limit of 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) for the first time in more than 50 years, the marketplace has exploded, but not to the benefit of farmers. Read more.
On our farm in southern Minnesota, we struggled with getting a late-season cover crop established prior to the snow. We got curious about the feasibility of interseeding a cover crop into the pepper fields earlier in the summer. While this was not a new concept, it was not widely practiced. We couldn’t find many recommendations for cover crop species, rates, and planting dates for interseeding in vegetable cropping systems. Read more.
With diverse markets for high-quality elderberry flowers and fruit, this native perennial crop deserves a closer look for small-scale growers wanting to diversify in a profitable and in-demand niche. Read more.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Organic Seed Alliance, and SeedLinked recently launched a collaborative project to support and connect farmers and independent plant breeders throughout the region who want to help develop regionally adapted vegetable varieties for the Upper Midwest. Read more.
Summer cover crops can supplement fertility inputs necessary to maintain crop health in organic systems. Nonetheless, it is crucial to narrow the purpose and use cover crops will have in order to determine what sort of management strategies are necessary to obtain such services. In May-September 2019, we evaluated a range of summer cover crops at the University of Minnesota-St. Paul campus to determine feasibility in organic rotation systems. Read more.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But what about when life gives you a COVID-19 pandemic that forces you to close your business doors? Take advice from Marie and Matt Raboin of Brix Cider and pivot, in their case reinventing their cidery and cafe into a regional food hub and community food delivery service. Read more.
Thanks to expanding cottage food laws nationwide, we farmers have an easy on-ramp for income diversification: selling baked goods made in our home kitchens. Read more.
Small farms and small businesses may experience extreme disruption this season due to closings and cancellations to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are four steps you can take now to build resilience on your farm during what may prove to be a tough year. Read more.
Farmers across the region teamed up with Ruth Genger from the University of Wisconsin between 2014 and 2018 to trial production of high-quality organic seed potatoes, and to learn about and engage in the on-farm selection of potato breeding lines from true potato seeds. Read more.
Growing hemp for CBD presents opportunities, challenges for farmers
September | October 2019
Hemp is a wild new frontier for American farmers. Farmers, marketers, processers, and researchers are scrambling to figure out best practices and develop reliable supply chains. This is especially true for hemp harvested for cannabidiol (CBD). Read more.
A hoop house can be an important addition to a diverse farm operation, providing a protected growing environment and extending the growing season. To help you decide if a hoop house might work on your farm, consider these insights harvested over the years from PrairiErth Farm. Read more.
Last year, the Federal Crop Insurance Program covered 335 million acres—that’s 90% of the nation’s farmers, purchasing 1.1 million policies. However, many specialty crop farmers—especially those farming organically—aren’t taking advantage of this protection. Read more.
While I’ve seen reports of some small farms calling it quits with their CSAs, I am also well aware of farmers who have successful CSA models with sell-out shares and high retention rates. As I head into our farm’s 10th year of CSA, I wanted to learn from those farmers and glean from their experience and knowledge. Read more.
With the advent of hybridization more than 100 years ago, who would have imagined that open-pollinated (OP) corn would still exist in the 21st century? By saving seed of traditional and newer varieties of OP corn we are able to enjoy their flavors, nutritional quality, colors, and the stories behind them. Read more.
Microbe-containing crop biostimulants or biofertilizers are popular among growers and a growing source of revenue for product manufacturers and suppliers. Yet, many questions are unanswered. Read more.
When starting a vegetable farm, farmers first need to consider where they intend to sell their produce. Most new farmers set their sights on direct-to-consumer markets, but this farmer has found wholesale is the way to go. Read more.
At this year’s MOSES Conference workshop on growing and marketing flowers, many farmers asked about easy-to-grow flowers that would add value to a veggie CSA or farmers market stall. Realizing other farmers would like to know about those, too, I’ve compiled a list of easy-care, beautiful blooms to add to your mix. Read more.
The UMN Fruit Research team has been developing an organic strawberry production system that extends the Midwest strawberry harvest from a few weeks in June to the entire growing season. In this research, we added functional biodiversity by planting an attractive floral resource to recruit wild pollinators. Read more.
If you’re a veggie farmer, you know it’s coming. Whether you’re the proactive type or the bury-your-head-in-the-sand type, the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule is likely to affect you in the near future. Read more.
A grower’s seed source and variety choice are just as critical to farm management as selecting the right implement to work the field or irrigate a crop. On-farm variety trials are an important tool for identifying varieties that thrive in a grower’s unique circumstance. Read more.
University partners with local farmers on greenhouses for winter production
January | February 2018
Through its Deep Winter Greenhouse initiative, the University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and five producers throughout the state are testing prototypes to see if it is possible to profitably grow crops in Minnesota winters. Read more.
Farmer to Farmer Podcast brings market farmers closer together
January | February 2018
The first Farmer to Farmer Podcast episode went online in February 2015 during that year’s MOSES Organic Farming Conference. Three years and 150 episodes later, the podcast has matured and gained tremendous popularity among market farmers. Read more.
CSA farmer struggles to find ways to boost members’ interest, participation
January | February 2018
This past year, in response to what I feared was going to be a monumental decline of CSA sign-ups, a decrease in farmers market sales, and general disinterest in legitimate local and organic food, I got real with my CSA program. It’s not fitting people’s needs anymore. Read more.
Most chefs choose to order from large food distributors, but for a handful of chefs committed to sourcing locally from farmers in their area, it’s more about relationships than efficiency.
Pack-shed design is just as important as laying out our farms’ fields, field roads, headlands, and annual crop plans. Good pack-shed design takes into consideration flow of product, surfaces, and material handling. Read more.
I advise consumers to make a wise investment in organic food, and encourage farmers to share these reasons with consumers.
Weed management is an endless challenge to small- and large-scale farmers alike. Several market farmers share their experiences and the methods that they prefer. Read more.
As the CSA model ages, and the food climate changes, many long-standing CSAs are struggling to fill annual member quotas. A workshop at the 2017 MOSES Organic Farming Conference, “The Resilient CSA,” covered the trends and solutions being considered by CSA farmers around the Midwest. Read more.
Business is blooming for the herb industry, but growers can find it challenging to access markets. One alternative that is gaining ground is forming a cooperative to source herbs from local, small-scale organic farms and aggregate orders to larger buyers. Read more.
Cottage food laws open doors to new sales opportunities for farmers by enabling us to create value-added products in our farm kitchens for public sale. Read more.
The market for herbal products is flourishing. This interest in herbal products offers organic farmers a unique opportunity to develop value-added products from herbs they grow. Read more.
Farm-to-school can be a good market for vegetable growers, orchards and value-added producers. These insights can help you get started. Read more.
Most farmers already are aware that insect, disease and weed pressure can be addressed through skillful use of cover crops. Now, think about cover crops as a way to “feed and care for your underground livestock” and you will have one more good reason to dedicate yourself to fitting cover crops into your vegetable rotations. Read more.
What makes a farm successful? Ask that question to just about any farmer and, while you’ll probably get a range of opinions and answers, there will be a few core common tenants: viable finances, a manageable workload…. Read more.
Farmers’ market produce labeling can be a tricky business. How do we best communicate our farming practices to our valued customers? Read more.
Ben Hartman’s The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work offers solutions to beginning farmer burn-out. Read more.
The U.S. FDA recently finalized two major rules—known informally as the “Produce Rule” and the Preventive Controls or “Facilities Rule”—under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Read more.
One of the biggest challenges for diversified vegetable growers, particularly those just starting their farm business, is determining their cost of production in order to set prices that ensure a profit. Read more.
Where once beer flowed off an assembly line, tilapia and leafy greens grow. Aquaponics facility, Urban Organics (UO) now grows thousands of pounds of fish and certified organic produce. Read more.
Cost of production is important in setting prices, which should differ with various markets. A price in each market should be based on the cost of production added to the cost to market, plus a margin of profit. Read more.
Bayfield Foods is proof that there often is great strength in collective marketing. The cooperative started when some local meat producers wanted to cross-market each other’s products…. Read more.
As a small-scale organic medicinal herb farmer myself, I was intrigued when I saw this recently published Chelsea Green book,The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer. Read more.
Through the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program, mushroom expert Joe Krawczyk has provided Jeremy McAdams with valuable insights…. Read more.
New Agrarians embody the movement for local, small-scale and sustainable food systems. These young farmers are passionate, resourceful and tech-savvy…. Read more.
Does the image of people dining on your farm, savoring meals made with your own farm-raised fare bring a smile to your face? Read more.
Biodegradable biobased mulch film was added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic production in October 2014. Read more.
Whether you operate your farm as a CSA or sell at farmers’ markets, transforming a bumper crop…. Read more.
Experts share tips for placing value-added products in stores
January | February 2015
You have a great product and you think you are ready to market it on a larger scale. Now what? Read more.
Seven years ago, Minnesota farmer Martin Diffley decided that sweet corn offerings in his seed catalogues weren’t cutting it. Read more.
Applesauce, tea, and maple syrup are among the goodies growers are making with the help of the USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program. Read more.
The potato is an important staple food—globally the fourth largest food crop after maize, wheat and rice. Read more.
Shoppers at People’s Food Co-op in Rochester, Minn. quickly snap up locally grown sweet potatoes produced by Sandy and Lonny Dietz at Whitewater Gardens Farm in Altura, Minn. Read more.
Through organic soil management practices, farmers foster a very important soil microbial and biochemical resource…. Read more.
This year I worked with a team of colleagues to start a teaching and incubator vegetable farm…. Read more.
As I got started in the world of market farming back in the early 1990s, Lynn Byczynzki’s magazine, Growing for Market, was a constant companion. Read more.
Urban agriculture means different things to different people. Community gardens, backyard plots, and educational youth gardens seem to be the most common…. Read more.
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.