Certified organic farmers do an odd thing – they
pay people to visit their farms with a critical eye
to assure they are adhering to every aspect of the USDA’s
national organic standard.
The farmers should already be trying to produce, harvest
and market their organic crops, livestock and related
products by these rules. The on-farm review of fields,
facilities and records by an approved inspector sent
by the farmer’s accredited organic certifier is
the critical point in confirming that the farmer and
the farm meet the organic standards – and can
prove it to anyone who needs to know.
The visits are pivotal for applying farmers to become
certified, and for certified farmers to keep that certification.
For the good of organics, we want to help build the
foundation for effective inspection visits. We’ve
asked Jim Riddle to provide an inspector’s inside
view to help farmers understand an inspector’s
role, responsibilities and limitations.
In the months ahead, Riddle will elaborate on many
items to help farmers understand regulations that apply
to them, and how to document their compliance.
Jim Riddle has been on hundreds of farms in the inspector
role, and he’s been inspected himself during his
time as a farmer. His leadership in bringing professional
training to inspectors helped to earn greater acceptance
of organic farming in the U.S. He serves as vice-chair
of the National Organic Standards Board, which advises
the USDA on organic agriculture policies and regulations.
He has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector,
educator, policy analyst, author, and consumer.
Jim Riddle serves as vice-chair of the USDA’s
National Organic Standards Board and organic policy
advisor for NewFarm.org. He was the founding chair of
the Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA).
2005: I see a lot of good examples of crop rotations on
the farms I inspect. The best rotations are the ones designed to
meet the objectives described in my previous
article including improving soil, providing nutrients to the
plant and erosion control.
|The National Organic
Program defines crop rotation as “the practice of
alternating the annual crops grown on a specific field
in a planned pattern or sequence so that crops of the
same species or family are not grown repeatedly without
interruption on the same field."
Rotation planning and implementation should begin during the transition
period from conventional to organic. During transition, you should
use your crop rotation to build fertility, break pest, weed and
disease cycles, and prevent soil erosion. It is also a good time
to experiment with different rotational crops to find out which
ones work best on your farm.
In addition to the issues discussed in Part
1, factors to consider when designing your crop rotation include:
- Cropping history –
transition using pasture, hay, legumes, or smother crops; do not
use heavy feeders such as corn, grains, or vegetables
- Soil building –
use legumes and grasses; try intercropping; watch organic matter
and microbial activity
- Conserve nutrients
– keep in mind catch crops, cover crops and plow-downs
- Erosion control
– cover crops are key, also, soil structure, aeration, moisture
retention and filtration of runoff
- Weed suppression
– try smother crops, allelopathic crops, mowed or grazed
- Pest control –
pest resistant crops, intercropping, strip cropping and companion
plants work well; avoid alternate hosts but provide habitat for
beneficials and pollinators
- Disease management –
break disease cycles by selecting resistant varieties, using disease
suppressing plow-downs and alternating crop families
- Maximize use of on-farm resources
– including seeds, equipment, labor, knowledge, timing and
- Crop value – don’t forget markets, contracts, livestock
feed, seed needs and quality demands
- Impact on subsequent crops
– inhibit seed germination, ease of incorporation, impact
on nutrient availability to digest crop residues with high carbon
When introducing new crops into a rotation, experiment with the
new crops on a limited scale--make sure that they fit into your
system before “betting the whole farm.”
Here are a couple of excellent options to consider working into
your rotation. Winter rye grain (not the same as ryegrass) planted
after crop harvest is a great way to improve soil organic matter
content, manage deficient or excess plant nutrients, suppress weeds,
and provide erosion control. Rye will even germinate after frost.
When used as a plow-down in the spring, rye has an allelopathic
effect on annual weeds. On our farm, we always plant rye mixed with
hairy vetch as a winter cover crop. The vetch adds nitrogen.
Buckwheat is an excellent choice for summer plantings, especially
for vegetable growers. Planted in warm soil, buckwheat germinates
and grows rapidly, helping to control thistles and other weeds.
Buckwheat also improves soil fertility by accumulating phosphorus,
potassium and calcium and helping to make these and other nutrients
available to the following crop. To avoid problems with volunteer
buckwheat appearing later as a “weed”, it should be
tilled in before it forms viable seeds (about 4-6 weeks after planting).
In the concluding article in this series, I will present steps
to follow to design your crop rotation plan and give examples of
crop rotations for various types of farming operations. Stay tuned…