ONE FARM TO ANOTHER
First taste of the NOSB: organics is alive and well
Determination to testify showed strong farmer commitment to keeping organics organic.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager
Posted May 12, 2006

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Click here

OR
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530
610-683-1420

Comments captured

Written testimony submitted before the NOSB meeting and comments on cards during the dairy symposium in April are available at the AMS/NOP site. Click here to read the public comments.

I want to start this month’s article by thanking all of you who have called, e-mailed or stopped me at a meeting to congratulate me on my appointment to the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board). It is quite an honor to serve and represent all of you as one of the designated “farmer” board members. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously and hope that I can live up to.

We had our first meeting of 2006 in State College, Pennsylvania in mid-April. I thought since many of you were not able to attend that meeting I’d give you my observations as a rookie attendee and board member. The official transcript of the meeting has just been posted on the USDA’s National Organic Program’s web site (www.ams.usda.gov/nosb/transcripts/transcripts.html) You will find 1,405 pages of transcripts for the NOSB-sponsored dairy symposium and the formal meeting, held April 18-20.

I found my first meeting to be fascinating and informative from the first phase of the orientation to the last public comment. Having so many interested farmers take the time out of their busy schedules to sit all day (and in some cases well into the evening) to have their five minutes in front of the board to express their concerns was rewarding to see. The passion for “organic” is alive and well in the hearts and minds of farmers and consumers. That goes for the board members as well. And it really came out at the April meetings.

As part of the national meetings there was a pasture symposium to educate the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) staff and the NOSB on the role pasture plays in an organic livestock system. This symposium was held in response to an urging form the organic community to have the NOP amend the regulations concerning pasture management for dairy and other ruminant livestock. The USDA recognized the need for stakeholders in the organic community to have an opportunity to have their positions heard and give input to the NOP. There is now an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) out there. The next step is a 60-day comment period which we are in now. Current comments can also be viewed on the USDA’s NOP web site.

You may have noticed that being involved with the NOSB for only 5 months has already made me part of the government’s alphabet soup crowd. USDA, NOP, NOSB, ANPR, etc etc. I’ll do my best to keep my head where it needs to be – on the issues of keeping organic… well… organic. While most of us know the intended farming approach of the federal rule, some folks want to change it to suit their own production system rather than change their system to comply with the rule or its intention.

It will be a never-ending struggle to keep the door open for more folks to come into the organic marketplace while keeping the standards high enough so organic holds its trusted position with the consumers who value our products.

No-Till Plus drawings: This month we are also finally—and I do mean finally (thanks for bearing with us)—posting the technical drawings for our cover crop roller. It’s been a long, difficult route to get them to you but here they are now available online for downloading. Click here to go to this month's no-till update (including the roller plans).

Many of you have been asking for these drawings and I’ve been promising them to you for months. With this set of drawings— produced in Auto-Cad but now in PDF format for easy access—- you should be able to duplicate the roller we built. Keep in mind our roller was built to hold water as a means of adjusting the weight of the roller to both soil and cover crop conditions. You’ll see where the water-tight plug was welded into the end of the roller. This also means your welds need to be water tight where the end caps of the roller tube are concerned. I’m sure you all weld better than I do, but it’s something to think about as you approach the project.

Some folks have already built rollers or purchased them from the same people who helped us with our project (I & J Manufacturing, www.croproller.com) and are beginning to roll cover crops this spring. I have heard from some guys out there who have had mixed results, particularly rolling rye. This spring has been dry here in the East. Much of the rye cover is extremely short, some less than 3 feet tall compared with heights up to 7 feet in a well-watered year. If the rye is short and hasn’t tillered much, the roller may not put it down and kill it the way we’d like.

Rye stunted, hard to roll down: Every year is a challenge and this one appears to be no different. If the cover crop doesn’t kill you have the option of re-rolling it after planting, coming back with a mowing operation or waiting ‘til the cash crop is up and growing and coming back with a high-residue cultivator and removing it that way.

The vetch cover crops are just the opposite this year—they look great. We have nice thick covers that seem to be ahead of schedule in terms of flowering. I’m hopeful!

Here’s an observation: soil in our reduced-growth rye fields is dry, while soil under our robust-growth hairy vetch is almost moist. Same farm, same soil types. Just the difference in how crops behave.

Whatever you experience this spring with cover crops and controlling them, give me some feedback. We’re compiling these pieces of agricultural dialogue so we can expand the knowledge base and speed up the learning curve for other farmers who are interested in trying this technology.

Hope all is going well on your farm.

From One Farm to Another

Jeff