Tips For Growers To Manage Top Organic Production Challenges

As consumers request more organic produce to fill their plates, an increasing number of growers are adding acreage to their operations or are transitioning to organic production to supply the demand.

However, organic crop management requires a highly integrative approach and a delicate balance of plant systems to make sure crops are strong and healthy enough to reduce the threat of pests and diseases.

Here, Vicki Morrone, Organic Farming Specialist at Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, addresses the top challenges organic growers face and what steps you can take to manage those challenges more effectively.

Weed Management
When asked about the No. 1 challenge facing organic growers today, Morrone names weed management without hesitation.

“Weed management is a challenge in that growers acknowledge the potential harm to soil from over-tillage, but they also understand the implications if they don’t manage their weeds in a timely way,” she says.

As a result, Morrone says a lot of research is being done with reduced tillage systems, and combining different weeder systems such as finger tines and basket weeders, implements that have a minimal plowing effect on the soil but can still adequately manage weeds.

Strip till, a technique used in combination with cover crops, is one technique Morrone is currently researching with Dan Brainard from Michigan State University in collaboration with Cornell University and the University of Maine, with a goal to help control weeds with reduced tillage in organic systems.

“Strip tillage opens up a strip in between the cover crops, creating access to soil for planting your crop. Then the tillage cover crop provides a mulch around the crop and you are not disturbing the soil as much,” she says.

Morrone also mentions spring tillage as an option for weed management, which (combined with the use of winter-killed cover crops) can be an effective control for weeds and bed preparation.

“You can use that pass to incorporate manure into the soil, and it also opens up the soil to provide a flush of oxygen in the spring, which aids the soil microorganisms, giving them a kick-start to stimulate growth and reproduction,” she explains.

Cover Crops
Marrone also says the use of cover crops is one of the most important tools for organic growers to have in their toolkit.

“They offer an abundance of benefits, from building soil organic matter, reducing erosion, loosening heavy soil, biofumigation using various mustards, contributing nitrogen through legumes, and reducing nitrogen leaching,” she says.

In Michigan, Morrone says buckwheat is a valuable cover crop for growers in that it has a short window of growth in the warm months — ideal for Michigan conditions — providing four months of biomass production.

“After six weeks in the summer, it starts to flower, and those flowers are really valuable to pollinators,” she explains. “Those pollinators can include bees and other beneficial insects. Those beneficial insects are not only looking for the caterpillars to sting, but they’re also looking for a nectar source, and that nectar source can come from flowering cover crops like clover and buckwheat.”

Pest And Disease Control
According to Morrone, pest and disease control in organic systems is more than just a checklist of which insecticides or fungicides are certified — it involves a whole library of tools and begins with building your soil health.

“This requires not just making sure there are enough nutrients in the soil, but also building the organic matter so there is good water-holding capacity, good drainage, and you get a stronger crop,” she says. “A stronger crop means it’s more resilient to outbreaks of pests and periods of drought.”

Variety selection is another way to manage disease, and it’s important to make sure you’ve selected varieties that are resistant to pests specific to your region, Morrone says.

Understanding how pests attack the crop as well as their lifecycle also might improve management, trying to break their cycle.

“Understanding the pests’ behavior, learning how to monitor them, how and when to scout, and at what population levels you should be reacting are all questions to ask,” Morrone says.

She also suggests using tools such as floating row covers to help control pests in crops like leafy greens and small transplants before they start to flower. While the row covers will have to be taken off for pollination, they can help control pests such as insects or birds, and can help retain heat during cooler times of the year.

The Role Of Biocontrols
The use of biocontrols is another control option for vegetable growers, but Morrone says they come with their own set of challenges for open-field production.

“If you’re ordering beneficial insects, your timing for purchasing has to be correct. You have to make sure they’re healthy when you get them; and when you release them, your pest population has to be adequate to keep them around,” she says.

High temperatures also may be a concern for the health of some beneficials, and it is important to create a buffer zone where they can rest in the heat of the day.

“Because parasitoids are not preying on the insects and they’re just reproducing in them, they need a food source,” she explains, “and that food source comes in the form of nectar from flowers. For this reason, it’s important to have a buffer zone of flowering plants within the farm area or garden area so the insects can hang out in the heat of the day and have a food source.”

Marketing And The Benefits Of Certification
Another challenge some organic growers are facing is competition in pricing with other growers who are not certified, but are selling their produce as organic.

“Those that have been long-term certified are being hurt by this, because often these new farmers are connected to food hubs and different local food distribution groups, and they say ‘my food is organic’ and they’ll retail it to the less savvy consumer who does not realize the difference between certified and not,” she explains.

Growers who have gone through the time and expense to get certified are not getting the benefit of accessing the buyer seeking organic produce. As a result, Morrone says they are not getting the price premium they are entitled to as an organic grower.

If growers who are producing organically are worried about the cost associated with certification, Morrone suggests applying to one of USDA’s organic certification cost share programs, which can provide up to 75% of their costs with a cap of $750.

More information can be found at https://is.gd/organic_cost_share.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Tips For Growers To Manage Top Organic Production Challenges

  1. I find it interesting the no mention was made of the availability of quality organic fertilizers and minerals, both of which are crucial to successful growing, whether organic or not. This is the whole reason that my company, MightyGrow Organics, even exists. When a farmer has access to good quality, easy to use organic fertilizer, his/her job becomes a whole lot easier.

Organic Stories
Organic
May 8, 2017
The Small Organic Farm Life
Full Moon Farm provides Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor, David Zuckerman, and his wife, Rachel Nevitt, creative outlets and the freedom to pursue their passions. Read More
Organic
May 3, 2017
Smackdown: Hydroponics vs. Soil-Based Organic Growing
A major debate is roiling the organic growing industry. Since hydroponically grown plants do not include soil, should they be able to earn organic certification? Read More
Fruits
April 28, 2017
Organic Farms Continue To Grow
The 13% increase from 2015 to 2016 marks the highest growth rate in nearly 10 years. Read More
glass of red wine
Grapes
April 20, 2017
Would You Be Willing to Pay More for Organic Wine?
While consumers might be ready to fork over more for organic produce, study says the feeling isn't quite the same when it comes to the adult beverage. Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2017
Organic Trade Association Rallies Support for Research
Group is encouraging consumers to tell USDA they support an organic research and promotion program. Read More
Fruits
February 4, 2017
Pests, Diseases in Organic Growing the topic of Washington State University Fruit School
Biology, ecology of organic production the focus of two-day event. Read More
Urban vegetable farm in rural Cuba
Citrus
January 15, 2017
New Transitional Certification Program to Foster Organic Growth Receives USDA Approval
The program will be based on standards developed by the Organic Trade Association. Read More
Organic
January 10, 2017
Industry Veterans Form Organic Produce Network
Former vice presidents of two California vegetable giants join forces to create new company to connect the organic produce community. Read More
Urban vegetable farm in rural Cuba
Citrus
January 2, 2017
New Organic Farming Cost Share Options Available
Organic growers may apply for certification cost share reimbursements; expanded eligibility for transition and state certification costs. Read More
Citrus
December 27, 2016
$3M Available for Organic Produce Research
USDA grants to help research, develop practices to strengthen the organic industry. Read More
Fruits
November 29, 2016
Orchard Spray Oil Now OMRI Listed
Orchex 796 Orchard Spray Oil can be used on number of tree and nut crops. Read More
Citrus
October 11, 2016
$21.4 Million In Grants For Organic Research, Extension
Projects funded to help improve business operations and transition to organic production. Read More
Organic
October 5, 2016
Cover Crops: An Effective Weed Control For Organic Vegetable Production
Successfully suppress troublesome, unwanted plants with the help of cover crops. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2016
$56M Available For Organic Research, Local Food; $48.1M For Specialty Crops
USDA announces funding to bolster local, regional food systems and address long-term solutions in productions. Read More
Urban vegetable farm in rural Cuba
Organic
October 2, 2016
Tips For Growers To Manage Top Organic Production Challenges
A strong IPM program that combines strategies to build healthy soil is the best line of defense for vegetable growers. Read More
The Latest
Organic
May 24, 2017
Organic Growers in Turmoil (Opinion)
Although consumers are demanding, and getting more organic produce options, growers are grappling with fundamental questions. Read More
Crop Protection
May 23, 2017
Valent Grants Organic Farming Scholarshi…
University of Florida Doctor of Plant Medicine student receives $1,500 toward the development of training materials. Read More
Fruits
May 19, 2017
Representatives Introduce Bill to Boost …
As organic production continues to grow, legislators seek to boost research funding, which has remained stagnant for many years. Read More
Organic
May 8, 2017
The Small Organic Farm Life
Full Moon Farm provides Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor, David Zuckerman, and his wife, Rachel Nevitt, creative outlets and the freedom to pursue their passions. Read More
Organic
May 3, 2017
Smackdown: Hydroponics vs. Soil-Based Or…
A major debate is roiling the organic growing industry. Since hydroponically grown plants do not include soil, should they be able to earn organic certification? Read More
Fruits
April 28, 2017
Organic Farms Continue To Grow
The 13% increase from 2015 to 2016 marks the highest growth rate in nearly 10 years. Read More
Grapes
April 20, 2017
Would You Be Willing to Pay More for Org…
While consumers might be ready to fork over more for organic produce, study says the feeling isn't quite the same when it comes to the adult beverage. Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2017
Organic Trade Association Rallies Suppor…
Group is encouraging consumers to tell USDA they support an organic research and promotion program. Read More
Fruits
February 4, 2017
Pests, Diseases in Organic Growing the t…
Biology, ecology of organic production the focus of two-day event. Read More
Citrus
January 15, 2017
New Transitional Certification Program t…
The program will be based on standards developed by the Organic Trade Association. Read More
Organic
January 10, 2017
Industry Veterans Form Organic Produce N…
Former vice presidents of two California vegetable giants join forces to create new company to connect the organic produce community. Read More
Citrus
January 2, 2017
New Organic Farming Cost Share Options A…
Organic growers may apply for certification cost share reimbursements; expanded eligibility for transition and state certification costs. Read More
Citrus
December 27, 2016
$3M Available for Organic Produce Resear…
USDA grants to help research, develop practices to strengthen the organic industry. Read More
Fruits
November 29, 2016
Orchard Spray Oil Now OMRI Listed
Orchex 796 Orchard Spray Oil can be used on number of tree and nut crops. Read More
Citrus
October 11, 2016
$21.4 Million In Grants For Organic Rese…
Projects funded to help improve business operations and transition to organic production. Read More
Organic
October 5, 2016
Cover Crops: An Effective Weed Control F…
Successfully suppress troublesome, unwanted plants with the help of cover crops. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2016
$56M Available For Organic Research, Loc…
USDA announces funding to bolster local, regional food systems and address long-term solutions in productions. Read More
Organic
October 2, 2016
Tips For Growers To Manage Top Organic P…
A strong IPM program that combines strategies to build healthy soil is the best line of defense for vegetable growers. Read More