October 13, 2005: Organic farmers can’t
turn to chemicals to eradicate a pest problem that may develop in
their fields but that doesn’t mean they are without options.
There are many tools in the organic farmer’s arsenal--trap
crops, pheromones, beneficial insects. Let’s start by reviewing
the NOP requirements.
According to section 205.206 of the rule, farmers, in order to
be certified organic, must prevent pest problems by implementing
crop rotations, fertility management systems and sanitation measures,
such as removing habitat for pests.
Organic farmers are also required to use cultural practices that
enhance crop health. This means using a selection of plant species
and varieties that are well-adapted to site-specific conditions
and resistant to prevalent pests. As inspectors assess the health
of crops in the field, they will check seed tags to see that these
species and varieties are being grown.
If pests are still a problem once the preventative strategies described
above are in place, pests may be controlled through mechanical or
physical methods including:
- Augmentation or introduction of predators or parasites of the
- Development of habitat for natural enemies of pests; and
- Nonsynthetic controls such as lures, traps, and repellents.
As an inspector, I always find it interesting to see the innovative
lures, traps, and repellants that farmers use.
Despite our best efforts sometimes prevention is not enough. In
these cases, a biological or botanical substance or a substance
included on the National List may be used. The National List consists
of all synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.
Insecticides on the National List are:
- Ammonium carbonate—for use as bait in insect
traps only, no direct contact with crop or soil;
- Boric acid—structural pest control, no direct
contact with organic food or crops;
- Copper sulfate—for use as tadpole shrimp control
in rice production, is limited to one application per field during
any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to levels which
do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe
agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent;
- Elemental sulfur;
- Lime sulfur—including calcium polysulfide;
- Horticultural oils — narrow range oils such as
dormant, suffocating and summer oils;
- Insecticidal soaps;
- Sticky traps/barriers; and
If you plan to use a botanical or biological pesticide or a synthetic
pesticide on the National List, make sure that the formulated (brand
name) product you intend to use is approved by your certifier prior
to applying it to your crop or land. Keep in mind that most insecticides
contain inert ingredients as carriers and/or fillers. Synthetic
inert ingredients that are classified on the Environmental Protection
Agency’s List 4 “Inerts of Minimal Concern” may
be used. Inert ingredients on EPA’s List 3 “Inerts of
Unknown Toxicity” may only be used in passive pheromone dispensers.
If you are unsure about a product’s inert ingredients, check
with the manufacturer or supplier, and make sure that the product
is approved by your certifying agent.
As an inspector, I am looking not only to see that the measures
outlined in the rule are in place, but that they have been used
properly. For example, when reviewing a farmer’s field history
sheets during an inspection, I look to see that soil building crops
are included in the rotation and that crops in the same families
were not planted in the same fields year after year.
some excellent publications on approved pest control strategies,
such as Bug Vacuums For Organic Crop Protection;
Colorado Potato Beetle: Organic Control Options;
Flea Beetle: Organic Control Options; and Organic
Control of Squash Vine Borer. These can be downloaded
Any substance used must be fully documented in your organic system
plan including name and condition for use. The inspector will review
the organic plan to make sure that all pest control inputs being
used or intended for use are listed. Farmers often forget to write
down all of the pesticides they use, or start using new pesticides
after the organic plan was submitted. Inspectors also examine product
labels, usage records and receipts for all pest control inputs used.
Without an assortment of chemicals at his or her disposal the organic
farmer must rely on a multi-tiered approach to controlling insect
populations but if you keep these guidelines in mind as you map
out your pest management plan insects - and your inspector - shouldn’t
bug you too much!