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
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
10, 2005: We have discussed the requirements, principles,
and objectives for soil building crop rotations in the two
preceding Notebook articles. It’s time to discuss designing
a crop rotation and give some examples.
Nine steps to designing a crop rotation
- Draw a map of your farm, with each field delineated.
Assign a unique number to each field. Make several copies
to work with and for subsequent years.
- If possible, divide your fields into relatively even
acreages so that when crops are rotated to different fields,
the total crop planted doesn’t vary much from year
to year. In needed, keep 2 or 3 fields grouped together
to equal another field.
- Divide your fields according to their specific characteristics,
i.e., wet ground, low lying fields where late frost occurs,
well drained soil, steep land, sandy soil, etc.
- Sort crops you want to grow with similar limitations,
i.e., brassicas or greens planted in cooler fields, tomatoes
and sweet corn in well-drained sunny locations.
- Plan the amount of acres you need for each crop.
- List any alternative crops, such as green manure, catch,
or cover crops you might also grow.
- Use a field-history form supplied by your certifier or
make a chart with “Field #1, Field #2, Field #3”,
etc., as the 1st column and specific years as the remaining
columns, i.e., “2002, 2003, 2004, 2005…”
Make several copies so you can experiment on paper with
different plans. Use a pencil so you can easily change the
crops as you develop your plan. You will want to be able
to add up the total acreage of each crop for each year.
- Establish your crop plan for next year by first writing
in your most important crops in specific fields, keeping
track of acreages. Then add in green manure and cover crops.
- Evaluate your plan. Refer back to the objectives, requirements,
and tips discussed in the previous two articles to evaluate
your crop rotation plan. Look both at the crop history for
each field and the future rotation plan for the field. Does
the plan for each field meet the crop rotation objectives?
Does the plan for your entire farm meet the objectives?
Are there fields that need to be on different rotation cycles
due to their soil type, topography, etc.?
You may want to divide fields into groups, with a different
crop rotation for each group. Vegetable growers can use this
same method if fields are sub-divided into “beds”.
Number each bed and follow the procedures outlined above.
Group beds that follow the same rotation sequence together
in your plan.
Here are some examples of common crop rotations used on organic
- Row crop farm:
Corn - soybeans - small grain (oats, barley, wheat)/new
seeding of legume such as alfalfa for hay – hay -
corn; hay can be repeated for 1-4 years, depending on the
quality of the stand and need for organic hay. The legume
hay may be used as a plow-down the following spring for
planting back to corn.
- Row crop farm:
Small grain/hay - hay/pasture - hay/pasture - hay/pasture
- buckwheat - soybeans - small grain/hay.
- Dairy farm:
Corn - small grain/hay - hay/pasture - hay/pasture - hay/pasture
- corn. Soybeans can be substituted for corn or added as
a separate crop, if needed for a cash crop or used for feed.
Hay fields may be used for fall pasture instead of taking
a final cutting.
- Dairy farm
with relatively level fields: Corn - winter cover crop of
rye/vetch - corn - small grain/new seeding of alfalfa -
alfalfa hay - alfalfa hay - alfalfa hay - corn.
• Produce farm: Sweet corn - winter cover crop of
rye/hairy vetch – early potatoes followed by buckwheat
cover crop – squash - oats/red clover plow-down -
- Produce farm:
Tomatoes or other heavy feeders - winter cover crop of rye/vetch
- cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, melons) - brassicas (cabbage,
broccoli, etc.) - winter cover crop of rye/vetch - greens
(spinach, lettuces) or annual herbs - carrots or other root
crops - winter cover crop of rye/vetch - peas, green beans,
or edamame soybeans - winter cover crop of rye/vetch –
tomatoes. Buckwheat can be planted between lettuce crops
or after peas.
There are many variations for crop rotations, especially
for vegetable growers. If you are a vegetable grower, you
might want to divide your crops into heavy feeders (beets,
brassicas, celery, corn, cucurbits, eggplant, kale, lettuce
and other greens, kohlrabi, okra, radishes, spinach, and tomatoes);
light feeders (carrots, garlic and other alliums, parsnips,
peppers, potatoes, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, swiss chard
and turnips); neutral (all beans – dry, green, lima,
peanuts, peas, soybeans); and soil builders (rye, vetch, alfalfa,
clover, buckwheat, and other plow-downs).
Good luck and