Organic Crop Production

Organic Crop Production

Management Techniques for Organic Farming

  • Publisher: Apex Publishers
  • Author: Ted Goldammer
  • Publication Date: November 2017
  • Printing History: First Edition
  • ISBN (13): 978-0-9675212-8-2
  • Page Content: 381 pages
  • Book Structure: Soft cover/lay-flat
  • Binding: Sew and Wrap
  • Trim size: 7" x 10"
  • Book Art: Color
  • Tables: 26
  • Photographs: 93
  • Illustrations: 1
  • Printed in U.S.A.

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Organic farming is a growing a vibrant sector of agriculture in the United States and across the world. The Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic agriculture as “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.” Organic Crop Production: Management Techniques for Organic Farming provides an in-depth review of the practices used in growing organic crops. This book represents a current look at what we know about organic farming practices and systems, primarily from the United States perspective. Organic Crop Production is meant to be an easy-to-use guide that describes all aspects of organic crop production written in a nontechnical format designed to be practical and wellsuited for field application. The practices discussed are applicable to both small- and largescale organic crop production. The book is thoughtfully organized presenting a seamless flow of topics within chapters making it easy to find specific information that interests the reader. The text includes many photographs and tables to facilitate the comprehension of the material and van be used for quick reference. References are presented at the end of each chapter to acknowledge the sources in preparing the text and to suggest sources for further information on topics discussed. The text begins in with Chapters 1, which gives a brief overview of the history and philosophy of organic agriculture. Chapters 2 and 3 features a comprehensive discussion of the organic certification process, which allows a farm to sell, label, and represent their products as organic as well as what practices and substances are allowed and required; what is not regulated by the organic standards. Chapters 4 through 10 focus on soil fertility and crop nutrients that are managed through tillage and cultivation practices, cover crops, crop rotations, intercropping, and supplemented with manure and compost, and other allowed substances. Finally, managing pests (e.g., insects, diseases, and weeds) on an organic farm with an integrated pest management (IPM) system that relies on high level prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression techniques that are based on an understanding of pest ecology are discussed in Chapters 11 through 14.


Chapter 1. Introduction to Organic Farming

Chapter 2. Organic Crop Certification

Chapter 3. Approved Materials for Organic Farming

Chapter 4. Soil Management on Organic Farms

Chapter 5. Soil Tillage in Organic Farming Systems

Chapter 6. Cover Crops for Organic Farms

Chapter 7. Crop Rotation on Organic Farms

Chapter 8. Intercropping on Organic Farms

Chapter 9. Manure Management on Organic Farms

Chapter 10. Compost Management on Organic Farms

Chapter 11. Integrated Pest Management in Organic Farms

Chapter 12. Insect Pest Management for Oganic Crops

Chapter 13. Plant Disease Management for Organic Crops

Chapter 14. Weed Management for Organic Crops




Chapter 1

Introduction to Organic Farming

Organic farming is a system for crops that emphasizes environmental protection and the use of natural farming techniques. It is concerned not only with the end-product, but with the entire system used to produce and deliver the agricultural product. To this end, the entire farm cycle, from production and processing, to handling and delivery, excludes the use of artificial products such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and certain external agricultural inputs such as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic farmers rely instead on natural farming methods and modern scientific ecological knowledge in order to maximize the long-term health and productivity of the ecosystem, enhance the quality of the products, and protect the environment. Proponents of organic methods believe that it is a more sustainable and less damaging approach to the enrinoment.

Chapter 2

Organic Crop Certification

Organic certification verifies that your farm or handling facility located anywhere in the world complies with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic regulations and allows you to sell, label, and represent your products as organic. These regulations describe the specific standards required for you to use the word “organic” or the USDA organic seal on food, feed, or fiber products. The USDA National Organic Program administers these regulations, and validated by an accredited certifying agency. These agencies include private for profit and non-profit agencies, as well as public state-run certifying agencies. The standards are dynamic, and minor revisions are ongoing through a transparent process involving public notification, public comment, and federal rulemaking. All producers, handlers and processors who are certified are required to be compliant with the specific sections of the Final Rule that apply to their operation. Certified organic crop production is more than a list of acceptable and prohibited inputs or practices that can and cannot be used; rather, it is a holistic approach to sustainable and healthy food production that enhances the well-being of the consumer and protects natural resources.

Chapter 3

Approved Materials for Organic Farming

Agriculture, whether it is considered sustainable, conventional, organic or otherwise, requires material inputs to some degree on almost every farm. Materials that are used to produce and handle organic crops under the USDA’s National Organic Program must be selected for compliance and used in the context of organic principles for farming and handling practices. Materials are often referred to as “inputs” or “allowed substances” and these can range from soil amendments to seeds and seed treatments as well as production aids like surfactants. The organic standards regulate what types of materials, methods and ingredients can and cannot be used on operations that are certified organic. The standards attempt to identify the substances, methods and ingredients prohibited in organic production and handling as a way to further uphold the integrity of organic production and handling systems. Materials are relevant in multiple locations within the standards and it is important to be able to identify these standards and understand their meaning. Certified organic producers and handlers must use only materials that are approved for use according to the standards to which they will be certified. Use without pre-approval could lead to suspension or denial of certification of the affected land and/or products depending on the nature of the product and the use. Prior to using any material, certified operations must include in their Organic System Plan a list of all materials they use or plan to use, which is approved by their organic certifier.

Chapter 4

Soil Management on Organic Farms

Soil quality or health is generally seen as the foundation of successful organic crop production systems. Sustaining and improving soil quality over the long term are frequently identified by organic farmers as their primary management goals. Soil is a critical resource—the way in which it is managed can improve or degrade the quality of that resource. Soil is a complex ecosystem where living microorganisms and plant roots bind mineral particles and organic matter together into a dynamic structure that regulates water, air, and nutrients. In an agricultural context, soil health most often refers to the ability of the soil to sustain agricultural productivity and protect environmental resources. A healthy soil provides many functions that support plant growth, including nutrient cycling, protect the soil from erosion, biological control of plant pests, and enhances water field capacity and drainage. These functions are influenced by the interrelated physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil, many of which are sensitive to soil management practices. By understanding how the soil processes that support plant growth and regulate environmental quality are affected by management practices, it is possible to design a crop and soil management system that improves and maintains soil health over time. Nutrient inputs to organic production systems are focused on carbon-based nutrient sources (e.g., crop residue, compost, manure) and non-processed mineral sources (e.g., rock phosphate, lime, gypsum). As such, nutrient management in organic production systems is fundamentally different from that in conventional systems.

Chapter 5

Soil Tillage in Organic Farming Systems

Organic farmers share many of the same goals for building soil organic matter, fertility, and the capacity for supporting soil biological activity and productivity as conventional farmers. In organic farming this is achieved through integrated systems such as crop rotations, cover crops, and the incorporation or mixing of crop residues and organic amendments (e.g., manure, compost) as needed. The dilemma for organic farmers is that these approaches for increasing soil organic matter also require tillage. Specifically, tillage is required for the following reasons: (1) to eliminate perennial legumes or winter annual cover crops before planting annual crops; (2) to incorporate manure or compost to avoid nitrogen runoff and volatilization losses; (3) to facilitate more rapid mineralization and release of nutrients to the crop; and (4) to prepare a seedbed and control weeds. Since an increase in tillage intensity and frequency has been shown to lead to soil erosion and decrease soil organic matter, careful timing and equipment selection can limit these effects. Organic farmers should recognize the wide array of state-of-the-art tillage and planting equipment. Farmers utilizing modern equipment have become proficient at very complex and integrated organic cropping systems. For example, a number of modern tillage implements have been designed to manage residue and cover crops, helping to reduce soil vulnerability to erosion and organic matter losses. Organic farmers must fully understand the impact of tillage practices on soil quality. A tillage system goal of sustainability relies upon regular soil quality evaluation, especially focusing on soil structure, tilth, organic matter, soil fauna, nutrient cycling, and microbial activity.

Chapter 6

Cover Crops for Organic Farms

Cover crops are an integral part of organic and sustainable production systems. Today’s organic farmer relies on the use of traditional cover crops (e.g., small grains, clovers, vetches) to reduce erosion, control weeds, and provide organic matter and nutrients to improve soil quality. Organic farmers are also finding new benefits from non-traditional cover crops (e.g., forage radish, phacelia, black oats) to break up compacted soils, eliminate problem pests, and increase habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators. The purpose of cover cropping in organic farm systems do not differ from those in conventionally managed systems. However, the role of cover crops takes on greater importance in organic farm systems because the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides are generally not allowed. Because of the important role of cover crops in providing these benefits, the use of cover crops in organic farming systems must meet National Organic Program (NOP) requirements. Cover crops are often referred to as “green manures,” “catch crops,” or “living mulches.”

Chapter 7

Crop Rotation on Organic Farms

Crop rotation is a valuable management tool for organic farmers, which involves the cultivation of different crops in temporal succession on the same land chiefly to preserve the productive capacity of the soil. Usually the succeeding crop will be of a different variety and species than the previous crops. Crop rotations can be as simple as rotating between two crops and planting sequences in alternate years or they can be more complex and involve numerous crops over several years. Crop rotations can break host cycles for pests and diseases. Alternation of crops with different seasonal patterns and growth habits can also help to suppress weeds. Properly managed rotations can also help maintain and improve soil quality, provide many necessary crop nutrients, maintain soil and above-ground biodiversity, and provide a defense against erosion and maximize water use. Rotations often include a “rest” period for individual fields, where grass or a “green manure” such as clover is planted for a season or more, before being grazed or ploughed into the soil to add fertility.

Chapter 8

Intercropping on Organic Farms

Intercropping is defined as the growth of more than one crops simultaneously in the same field during a growing season. The crops may be seeded at the same time (mixed intercropping) or they may be seeded at different times (relay intercropping). Strip intercropping is a production system where different crops are grown in wide strips (usually the width of a seeder) in the same field. Row intercropping is the cultivation of two or more crops simultaneously on the same field with a row arrangement. Intercrops can be combinations of two or more species, including both annuals and perennials or a mixture. Intercropping is regarded as an important agricultural practice to improve crop production and environmental quality in the regions with intensive agricultural production.

Chapter 9

Manure Management on Organic Farms

Livestock manure is a valuable resource for organic and sustainable soil management. Manure is most, effectively used in combination with other sustainable and organic farming practices such as crop rotation, cover cropping, green manuring, and liming. In organic crop production, manure is commonly applied to the field as raw manure (fresh or dried). Manure is great for enhancing the physical condition of soil while building soil organic matter that serves as a slow-release reservoir of plant nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients. The timing of manure application is very important to ensure that the manure benefits the plants and soil. Manure, if applied and managed correctly, can be a great means of enhancing soil and crop quality, but there are some important aspects of soil health and food safety to consider when using it in an organic farm system. The National Organic Program (NOP) Rule requires that manure, either be composted or that the operator observes a minimum interval between the application of manure and harvest of crops for human consumption. The NOP Rule provides a strong incentive to use composted manure and places stringent restrictions on un-composted manure.

Chapter 10

Compost Management on Organic Farms

Composting is the decomposition of organic matter through a controlled microbiological process. Composting transforms raw organic materials (e.g., plant or animal materials) into a biologically stable, humic substance that makes excellent soil amendments. The use of compost has long been considered a defining feature of organic farming systems in building long-term soil fertility, soil structure, and soil biology by feeding the soil with a variety of natural amendments. While fewer nutrients are immediately available for crop growth, compost’s real agronomic value lies in the gradual release of nutrients that are slowly, converted from stable organic compounds into available nutrients. In addition to adding nutrients to the soil, compost can improve long-term soil health. Organic farmers are strongly encouraged to use compost because it reduces human, plant, and animal pathogens; destroys weed seeds; decomposes organic matter; and makes nutrients more available to plants.

Chapter 11

Integrated Pest Management in Organic Farms

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a balanced, tactical approach in managing diseases, insects, weeds, and other pests utilizing a wide range of pest control strategies or tactics. It involves taking action to anticipate pest outbreaks and to prevent potential damage to crops in the field. The goal of this strategy is not eradication but to prevent pests from reaching economically or aesthetically damaging levels with the least risk to the environment. IPM programs are very site-specific. IPM is based on the identification of pests, accurate measurement of pest populations, assessment of damage levels, and knowledge of available pest management strategies or tactics that enable the grower to make intelligent decisions in controlling pests. IPM is adaptable to all field-grown crops and involves specific techniques in managing pests. Successful IPM programs use a six-tiered implementation approach: (1) monitoring crops for pests; (2) accurately identifying pests; (3) developing economic thresholds; (4) implementing integrated pest control tactics; and (5) record keeping. The focus of IPM is to use a combination of integrated pest management control tactics— cultural, mechanical/physical, biological, biorational, and chemical—to deal with existing pest problems, rather than relying solely on pest control materials such as insecticides. This involves knowledge of pest life cycles and an understanding of crop production.

Chapter 12

Insect Pest Management for Organic Crops

Insect pest management presents a challenge to organic farmers. Insects are highly mobile and well adapted to farm production systems and insect pest control tactics. No single tactic, employed alone, is likely to give satisfactory control of chronic insect pests. Certified organic farmers can use a wide range of practices to create an integrated pest management approach that complies with the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP). According to the National Organic Standards, insect pest problems may be controlled through cultural, mechanical, or physical methods; augmentation or introduction of predators or parasites of the insect pest species; development of habitat for natural enemies of insect pests; and non-synthetic controls, such as lures, traps, and repellents. When these practices are insufficient to prevent or control insect crop pests, a biological, botanical, or chemical material or substance included on the National List of non-synthetic and synthetic substances is allowed for use in organic crop production to prevent, suppress, or control insect pests. The conditions for using these materials must be documented in the organic system plan.

Chapter 13

Plant Disease Management for Organic Crops

All species of plants, wild and cultivated a like, are susceptible to disease. The occurrence and prevalence of plant diseases vary from season to season, depending on the presence of the pathogen, environmental conditions, and the crops and varieties grown. Some plant varieties are particularly subject to outbreaks of diseases; others are more resistant to them. Plant diseases create challenging problems in commercial agriculture and pose real economic threats to organic farming systems. Plant pathogens are constantly changing and mutating, resulting in new strains and new challenges to growers. Also, given the local, regional, and international movement of seed, plant material, and farming equipment, new and introduced pathogens periodically enter the organic farming system to cause new disease problems. Disease management is complicated by the presence of multiple types of pathogens. For any one crop the grower must deal with a variety of fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes. If a plant pathogen is present, the severity of the disease it causes will be determined by the level of infestation, by environmental conditions, and the susceptibility of the crop. Organic farmers rely primarily on preventive, cultural, and integrated methods of disease management and to some extent biological and chemical control measures too. It is unlikely that all diseases can be avoided by utilizing any one of these management strategies alone. However, the damage of many plant diseases can be greatly reduced by the integration of these practices.

Chapter 14

Weed Management for Organic Crops

Weed management continues to be one of the biggest challenges for organic field crop producers. Weeds can be considered a significant problem because they tend to decrease crop yields by increasing competition for water, sunlight, and nutrients while serving as host plants for pests and diseases. Farmers who wish to become organically certified are restricted from using synthetic herbicides for weed control under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the National Organic Program (NOP), section 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 205, also known as the NOP Final Rule. They meet this challenge by selecting from a wide range of acceptable techniques and strategies, all with the goal of achieving economically acceptable weed control and crop yields. The primary weed control strategies for organic systems are cultural and mechanical, focusing on prevention, crop rotation, crop competition, and cultivation. Organic weed management is a holistic system involving an entirely different approach to managing a farming system. The organic farmer is not interested in eliminating all weeds but wants to keep the weeds at a threshold that is both economical and manageable. A farmer who manages weeds organically must be intimately familiar with the type of weeds and their growth habits to determine which control methods to employ.