May 12, 2005:
When inspecting organic fields and farms, I am always on the lookout
for signs of soil erosion. The National Organic Program (NOP) states
in several sections that production practices must provide erosion
control. NOP §205.200 states that “production practices
must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation,
including soil and water quality”; §205.203 states that
“the producer must select and implement tillage and cultivation
practices that….minimize soil erosion”; and §205.205
states that “producers must implement a crop rotation….that….provides
It is usually not too hard to see at least some evidence that the
farmer is taking care to prevent soil erosion. There are a variety
of ways to do this. Contour farming, strip cropping, terraces, and
permanent waterways are all farming practices that minimize soil
Erosion can be caused by a number of factors. One of the most important
is the lay of the land. Steeper areas, of course, have more potential
for soil erosion than flat fields but all fields have the potential
for erosion caused by spring snow melt or heavy rains. Crop rotations
which include several years of row crops can increase the potential
for soil erosion, especially if heavy spring rains come with the
field still open for planting. Interplanting a cover crop during
the last cultivation, or planting a winter cover crop after harvest
in the fall, provides some protection from erosion while also improving
soil organic matter content.
Farmers that maintain wildlife habitat areas—plant treelines,
windbreaks, or firebreaks, repair creek banks or retention ponds—not
only minimize erosion but also show that they are maintaining or
improving the natural resources of the farm. It is important to
mark these areas on your farm map to inform the certifying agent
and the inspector that these areas exist on your farm. You may even
explain in more detail what you are doing to maintain these areas.
Two of the questions in the Organic Farm Plan Questionnaire ask
how you monitor the effectiveness of your soil conservation practices
and how often you conduct this monitoring. Visual observation is
the most common method a farmer uses to monitor erosion problems.
While, a farmer should be on the lookout for soil erosion problems
every time he or she goes to a field, this is especially true after
a hard rain when erosion problems become more obvious. Making a
notation of any problems in your activity log is an easy way to
document your “monitoring” activities.
As an inspector, what do I do when I see soil erosion? The first
thing I do is to listen to what you have to say about its cause.
What are your field preparation, tillage, and cultivation practices?
Are these contributing to the problem? Secondly, I will want to
know how you plan to repair the erosion. If the farmer has already
thought out a plan, it is usually a good sign that he or she is
on top of the situation. I will also ask if the farmer has a conservation
plan on file with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, or
if the farm participates in any NRCS conservation programs. Finally,
I will ask—what are your plans to prevent such erosion in
If I see a problem, I will usually take a picture of the eroded
area to include with my inspection report so that future inspectors
can see if the area has been repaired. Depending on the situation,
you may need to seed down a permanent waterway or extend an existing
waterway. If soil erosion is commonly occurring from spring snow
melt, you may consider winter cover cropping the offending field.
If wind is the problem, treelines, windbreaks, or cover crops can
be planted to minimize the loss of soil.
Erosion is not an inevitable result of farming. It can be prevented.
Identify problems early and give some thought as to the cause and
possible solutions, this will help guarantee you have healthy fertile
fields for years to come and keep your certifier happy!