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Principles of Organic Farming

Systems and Natural Resource

Common Goals: early 20th Century
Organic Farming Conservation

Agricultural pioneers USDA Soil Conservation

developed organic farming Service was founded to
systems to restore soil help farmers stop the
productivity, seed quality, devastating soil and crop
crop vigor, and livestock losses in the 1930s Dust
health. Bowl.
 National Organic  Natural Resources
Program Conservation Service
Our Common Goal
Change this: … to this:

Years of poor soil management

can lead to severe erosion (left).
Rotation of annual and perennial
crops in contour strips, and
sufficient organic inputs keep
sloping fields healthy (above).
Definition of Organic Production

A production system that is managed … to

respond to site-specific conditions by
integrating cultural, biological and
mechanical practices that foster cycling of
resources, promote ecological balance, and
conserve biodiversity.

NOP Final Rule, part 205.2

Site-specific: understand each farm as
a unique individual, considering:
• Soil – texture, type, condition
• Climate – temperature, rainfall, frost dates
• Crops, livestock, production system
• Wildilfe, beneficials, pests
• Farmer objectives and market needs
Integrated practices:
multiple tactics for each goal
Weeds are managed
• Crop rotation
• Cover cropping
• Optimum crop and
nutrient management Plastic mulch with in-row drip
• Timely cultivation irrigation, and timely cultivation
• Mulching followed by hay mulch in alleys
controlled weeds in this
vigorous pepper crop.
Integrated practices:
multifunctional components

Cover Crops:
• Prevent erosion.
• Add organic matter.
• Fix N (legumes).
• Take up surplus N
(grasses). A cover crop of sorghum-
sudangrass and sunnhemp in
• Suppress weeds. a field trial at Virginia Tech’s
Kentland Agricultural Research
Cycling of Resources
Recycle fertility resources
on the farm:
• Cover crops and green
• Animal manures
• Other on-farm residues
• Deep-rooted crops This cover crop of crimson
• Prevent nutrient loss clover and winter barley fixes
via runoff and erosion N, retrieves subsoil nutrients,
and prevents soil erosion.
Ecological Balance

• Maintain a healthy, living soil.

• Provide enough NPK – but not too much.

• Use cultural and biological pest controls.

• Utilize least-toxic pest sprays when needed.

• Evaluate off-farm impacts of all practices.


• Crops
• Livestock
• Insect life
• Native
vegetation This “farmscape” planting of mixed
• Wildlife habitat flowering plants attracted a diversity
of beneficial insects that controlled
• Soil life pests in nearby organic vegetable
plots at Virginia Tech’s research farm.
Livestock in Integrated Systems
• Manure provides crop
• Rotation to perennial
forage rests soil after
intensive annual crop
• Grazing reduces weeds
and crop diseases.
Sound rotational grazing can
• Crop residues and culls
improve pasture and restore
provide livestock fodder.
soil quality and fertility for
future crop production.
Some Key Conservation Practices
for Organic Farmers
• Nutrient Management – code 590
budget N and P, prevent water pollution
• Pest Management – code 595
minimize negative impacts on soil, water, air
• Conservation Crop Rotation – code 328
minimize erosion, improve soil, manage pests
• Cover Crop – code 340
reduce erosion, build OM, manage nutrients
NOP Rule: Soil fertility and crop
nutrient management practice standard

Maintain or improve the physical, chemical and

biological condition of soil and minimize erosion.

Manage crop nutrients and soil fertility through

rotations, cover crops, and the application of
plant and animal materials.
from Section 205.203
NOP Rule: Crop pest, weed, and
disease management practice standard
Use management practices to prevent crop pests,
weeds, and diseases, including:
• Crop rotation and nutrient management
• Sanitation
• Cultural practices that enhance crop health
• Habitat for natural enemies of pests
• Augmentation or introduction of predators or
parasites of pests
from Section 205.206
Nutrient Management:
the Organic Approach
• Based on soil life:
“feed the soil, and the
soil will feed the
• Legumes for N
• Slow-release organic
fertilizers as Sweetclover feeds the soil
supplements life, adds N, makes P
more available, recovers
• Less emphasis on
leached nutrients.
soluble fertilizers
Nutrient Management: Organic
Horticulture Challenges
• Difficult to do
precise nutrient
• N requirements of
vegetable crops
• N and P balance Spring broccoli requires
150 lb N/ac within 60-70 days
after planting.
Pest Management:
the Organic Approach
• Preventive practices (e.g.,
sanitation, crop rotation)
• Biologically based – uses
natural enemies of pests.
• Non-use of synthetic
pesticides protects water
and wildlife. Mixed flowers provide
• NOP-allowed pest control habitat for beneficial
materials only if needed. insects at this farm
in southwest Virginia.
Pest Management – Organic
Horticulture Challenges
• Diseases and some
insect pests difficult to
control organically

• Tillage and cultivation

for weed control –
impact on soil quality
Crop Rotation: Organic Options
• No herbicide
residues to limit
rotation sequences.
• Organic farming
systems are often
highly diverse.
• Crop–livestock An eight-year rotation of
integration widens eight vegetable and seven
rotation options. cover crops at an organic
farm in Vermont.
Conservation Crop Rotation :
Organic Horticulture Challenges
• Most vegetable crops
leave little residue.
• Conservation rotation
may entail income
• Complex crop mix
requires flexibility.
• Sandy soils and warm
climates burn up
organic matter.
Cover Crops: an Organic Advantage

Because herbicides
are not used for
weed control, cover
crop options are not
restricted by
herbicide carryover.
Alsike clover overseeded into
wheat and allowed to grow after
grain harvest at the Rodale
Farming Systems Trial.
Cover Crops:
Organic Horticulture Challenges
• NOP requires organic
seed if available.
• Tight rotations limit
cover crop niches.
• Cover cropping may
entail foregone income.
• Sandy soils and warm
climates burn up cover
crop residues quickly.
Organic Certification and the
USDA National Organic Program

An Overview
Purpose of Organic Certification

To maintain the integrity of “organic” and

assures the buyer that products were grown and
handled using organic practices that:
•Protect soil, water, and other resources.
•Exclude synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
•Protect products from prohibited materials.
•Provide humane conditions for livestock.
USDA National Organic Program (NOP)

• First implemented in 2002

• Uniform Organic Practice Standards
• National List of allowed & prohibited materials
• Accreditation of state and private certifiers
• National Organic Standards Board (NOSB):
– Reviews new products
– Recommends amendments to Standards
What makes a farm “Organic”?
• Production and handling standards outlined in
NOP Final Rule
• Organic System Plan
• Use of only allowed substances
o No prohibited substances for past 3 years
• Verification through:
o Certification by USDA accredited body
o Annual on-site inspection
o Record keeping
How a Farmer becomes Certified Organic

• Farmer chooses a Certifying Agent.

• Farmer submits completed application to Certifier.
o Includes Organic System Plan.
• Inspector reviews application, inspects farm.
• Inspector conducts exit interview.
• Certifier makes decision.
Organic System Plan
• Crops & livestock to be certified organic
• Seeds and seedlings
• Soil fertility management and inputs
• Crop rotation
• Weed, pest and disease management,
materials to be used, and justification
• Adjoining land use, buffers
“Can I use this product
on my organic farm?”
• National List at
• Organic Materials Review Institute listing at
o Generic product and Brand name listings
o Allowed, Restricted or Prohibited
• If still unclear, farmer should consult Certifier.
Materials Allowed for Use in Certified
Organic Production
Substances are classified as:
• Allowed – most naturally occurring materials
• Restricted – allowed under certain conditions
• Prohibited – most synthetic materials

This is a general guideline only!

Producer should verify status of each material
before first use.
Examples of NOP Allowed Materials

• Compost – precisely defined

• Plant-based soil amendments
• Limestone
• Low-solubility natural mineral amendments
• Biological pest controls

Need or rationale for inputs must be

documented in Organic System Plan.
Examples of Restricted Materials
• Uncomposted manure (raw or aged at <131°F)
Minimum 90 or 120 days before harvest.
• Chilean nitrate (mined sodium nitrate)
Maximum 20% of crop’s total N need.
• Botanical pesticides
Only when preventive and biological controls
do not suffice.

Use and justification must be documented in farm

Examples of prohibited materials
• Synthetic fertilizers, e.g. 10-10-10, muriate of
potash, diammonium phosphate
• Synthetic pesticides, e.g., carbaryl, malathion
• Synthetic herbicides, e.g., glyphosate, alachlor
• Fence posts treated with CCA or PCP
• Sewage sludge or biosolids
• GMO seeds, or seeds treated with synthetics
– Must use organic seeds if commercially available.
National List:
synthetic substances allowed with
restrictions specified
• Plastic mulches – remove at end of use
• Micronutrient compounds – document need
• Sulfur dioxide – underground rodent control
National List:
nonsynthetic substances prohibited


• Ash from burning manure

• Arsenic

• Tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate)

Does it pay to become
Certified Organic?
• Certification and inspection fees
• Market needs
• Premiums for Certified Organic
• Organic product differentiation

USDA Certification is required in order to label,

represent or market products as “organic.”
Other USDA Programs for Organic
• Organic Certification Cost-Share
 75% up to $750 per year
• Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
Organic Initiative
• Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
• Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Transition
• Research and Extension: SARE, Organic Research
and Extension Initiative, Organic Transitions