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
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
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
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
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
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
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