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 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
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
Even if you are certified, I recommend you practice with new technologies
on a small scale before incorporating them into your entire farm
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
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.
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
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,