Soil-saving and input-cutting practices
are good additions to any farm
Whether or not you choose to become certified organic, developing more skills improves your management options in responding to changing weather and markets.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute farm manager

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

611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

January 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.

In 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 this.

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 your Organic 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.

NOSB update

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 together.

From One Farm to Another,