17, 2008: Let me start by saying…Happy New
Year to everyone!
2008 is off and running and as most farmers, I’m looking
forward to good weather all year and great crops. We all know
that won’t be the case for all of us or maybe any of
us, but we’ll start off the year on the right foot by
thinking that way.
One thing that does seem certain: the prices for the foodstuffs
and the commodities we grow and produce will remain high.
Just as certainly, costs for the products, labor and equipment
we use to produce them will also climb. That means we all
need to pay close attention to both our marketing plan as
well as managing those changing production costs—if
we want to be on the positive side of the financial balance
sheet come next December.
my column last month I discussed several reasons why now
is a good time to transition to a certified organic production
system. This month I’d like to discuss how to go about
Learn, practice new practices
First of all, I think it’s important to understand
and learn what it means to be certified organic and what the
USDA National Organic Program rules are regarding the process.
I would also suggest you think about practicing some of the
techniques you’ll be expected to master in order to
raise crops organically. For example, I’ve been working
on an organic no-till system that uses a combination of dense
stands of intensively managed cover crops and a roller/crimper
tool to kill the cover crop without the use of chemical herbicides.
There is no reason not to try using the roller/crimper, mastering
the use of soil-building cover crops, or even using a mechanical
cultivator to manage weeds—while still farming conventionally.
These are practical but meaningful changes. These and more-dramatic
steps in your production system should be worked on gradually
while the “safety net” practices of your conventional
tool box are still available to use as a rescue procedure,
should they be needed.
Even if you are certified, I recommend you practice with
new technologies on a small scale before incorporating them
into your entire farm operation.
Learn organics here
For those of you who are ready to make the move to work on
getting your organic certification, I suggest looking into
the beta version of The
Rodale Institute’s new on-line transition course.
Doing the conversion paperwork just got a lot easier. This
tool is hosted by none other than myself. I share what I’ve
learned in 30 years of organic farming here and surround that
with the combined knowledge of dozens of experts on what’s
involved in being organic and how to design your own farm
plan. This is a self-paced, easy-to-take course that has no
tests or quizzes.
You don’t need to register to begin the learning process;
you simply enter the site and begin. Best of all, it’s
free. As you work through the course chapters you’ll
actually be able to fill out the necessary forms to build
System Plan (OSP), which is a necessary document to submit
to an accredited certifier. We give you a carefully constructed
set of forms to complete online, with lots of help for filling
them out. They contain the basic information for the farm
plan and should be widely applicable for many certifiers.
If you wish, you can contact a certifier to see if you can
start with their forms.
To begin filling in your plan online you will need to register
so your information can be saved between sessions. This allows
you to start work now, and come back whenever you wish. This
new tool should really speed up the transition process by
giving you a clear road map from where you are to becoming
certified. If you are already certified, consider using the
OSP tool to track changes in your operation and fill out your
annual renewal forms using the tool’s farm plan update—it’s
that simple! You can also download the form and use a pencil.
The farm plan helps you to see if you’ve understood
the principles of the course well enough to put them into
practice on your farm. Feel free to return to the course when
you want more details.
The world of organics is constantly changing. We have discussed
many of the reasons to transition to organic, we’ve
discussed several tools available to build information bridges,
and we’ve developed some new tools that can save you
time, energy and money like the cover crop roller/crimper.
These all make the transition easier than ever.
Finally, here’s a quick update from my work on the
National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). This is the cross-sector
organic industry group that advises the USDA on its National
Organic Program. The board has dedicated and hard-working
people who wrestle with serious issues that affect all of
us—producers, processors and consumers.
We continuously receive petitions to review new items for
the National List of approved materials. Some will get approved
and others will not. Right now, we’re intensely involved
with the aquaculture working group to develop a comprehensive
recommendation for fish-production standards. Formal rules
for raising fish are desperately needed as more and more folks
turn to fish as a source of protein.
I strongly recommend you check out the USDA’s
organic program website and review the newly approved
rules and materials, along with all the issues the board has
on its plate. Believe me, it’s important that you stay
informed and involved in shaping the U.S. organic program,
and helping the board respond to changes and challenges in
a constructive way.
As farmers, we need to let our voices be heard among all
those involved in this fast-growing industry. Let’s
tackle 2008 with optimism and energy as we figure out better
ways to work
From One Farm to Another,