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SPRING 2017

®

THE MAGAZINE OF ORGANIC FARMERS ASSOCIATION

ORGANIC SOLUTIONS Smart strategies that help farmers adapt to change

FARM BILL PRIORITIES HOOP HOUSE SUCCESS HOT COMPOST TIPS SPEAK UP! BE HEARD!

Join the Organic Farmers Association


CREATING A BETTER FUTURE

together.

REPRESENTING ORGANIC FARMERS AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL SPONSORED BY

For Organic Farmers. By Organic Farmers.

JOIN TODAY and direct our policy priorities! OFA MEMBERS ARE:

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· U.S. Certified Organic Farmers

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Organic Farmers Association provides a strong and unified national voice

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for organic producers.

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To register by mail, send this form with credit card information or check for $100 (individuals) or $250 (organizations) to:

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RODALE INSTITUTE

Farmers have always relied on other farmers—to share seeds, tools, and ideas; to set up markets together; to protect each other’s interests. For the last 70 years, Rodale Institute has been gathering and disseminating information—from our organic farm and others— and advocating for growers who choose methods that support healthy people and a healthy planet. In 2016, we took another step forward in our mission by launching the Organic Farmers Association, a farmer-led organization that will connect members with one another and provide a clear, unified voice on policy issues that affect our industry and businesses. We’ve now joined with another national grassroots group, the Organic Farmers Alliance, to form an expanded Organic Farmers Association sponsored by Rodale Institute. The new organization has appointed a farmer-majority interim steering committee (see below), led by Jim Riddle of Blue Fruit Farm in Winona, Minnesota, and will hold elections for a governing council in early 2018. While the OFA leadership is taking shape, we’ll be working on the challenges ahead. The 2018 farm bill will soon become a topic of debate in Congress (see page 4 for a preview), and the OFA will be there making organic farmers’ voices heard. Affecting policy is the OFA’s number one priority, but it will also focus on building a network that allows organic farmers to exchange ideas, knowledge, equipment, and even land. And we will collaborate with other groups on advocacy, educational programs, and more. You can join the effort by becoming a member. If you’re a certified-organic farmer, you pay $100 annually. Every certified-organic farmer who becomes a member—regardless of the size of the farm—has a vote on which issues are most important and how to address them. Membership plans are also available for noncertified farmers and other supporters. Get details and sign up at OrganicFarmersAssociation.org. (Or join by using the form on the opposite page.)

All members receive New Farm magazine, a tool that’s packed with information and inspiration. In this issue, you’ll meet upstate New York dairy farmers (page 22) who transitioned to certified-organic production for their family’s next generation. You can also see how farmers are using hoop houses (page 14) and what researchers and growers are learning about the changing water supply (page 18). Farmers have always relied on one another. Once, they talked across the fence line or at the feed store. Today, the Organic Farmers Association, along with New Farm magazine, makes it easier than ever to keep up on the issues and speak up about them—from the comfort of your own farm or tractor cab. Join us now to build a brighter future for organic farmers, consumers, and the planet we all share. Give us a call or send an email if you have questions or comments— we love to hear from you.

Jeff Moyer Executive Director, Rodale Institute, and Certified-Organic Farmer

OFA STEERING COMMITTEE Farmers: Dave Colson, New Leaf Farm (Maine); Jack Erisman, Goldmine Farms (Illinois); Phil LaRocca, LaRocca Vineyards (California); Nick Maravell, Nick’s Organic Farm (Maryland); Theresa Podoll (vice chair), Prairie Road Organic Seed (North Dakota); Bob Quinn, Quinn Farm and Ranch (Montana); Judith Redmond (treasurer), Full Belly Farm (California); Jim Riddle (chair), Blue Fruit Farm (Minnesota); Will Stevens, Golden Russet Farm (Vermont). Organizations: Isaura Andaluz, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; John Bobbe, Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing; Renee Hunt, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association; Maddie Monty (secretary), Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont; Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute, Skyhollow Farm; Michael Sligh, Rural Advancement Foundation International

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BOARD OF DIRECTORS Chairmen Maria Rodale Paul A. McGinley Members Drew Becher; Elizabeth Kucinich; Corby Kummer; Roberta Lang; Grant Lundberg; Helen Piszek Nelson; Maya Rodale; Louise Schorn Smith, CPA; Kimberly A. SpottsKimmel; Jeff Tkach TEAM LEADERSHIP Executive Director Jeff Moyer Director of Communications Diana Martin Director of Development Annie Brown Director of Research Kris Nichols, Ph.D. Director of Facilities Kim Schroeder Director of Finance and HR Elaine Macbeth Farm Manager Ross Duffield BLUE ROOT MEDIA Editor Scott Meyer Design Director Kimberly Brubaker Photography Director Rob Cardillo Copy Editor Diana Cobb Production Manager Nancy Rutman

Features

UNDERCOVER CROPS page 14 Hoop houses extend the growing season, reduce pest and weed pressures, improve water management, and more. by Melissa Pasanen GO WITH THE FLOW page 18 Find out how growers in different regions are dealing with a changing climate and water supply. by Ariana Reguzzoni NEXT GENERATION DAIRY page 22 Transitioning to organic has helped sustain a family farm in upstate New York. by Alison Fromme

In Every Issue

01 NEWS FEED page 4 Farm bill preview, bioponics, organic checkoff program

CONTRIBUTORS Heather Ainsworth, Monica Donovan, Alison Fromme, Barton Glasser, Steven Hoffman, Matt Hollenbach, Rachel Lane, Lee Leckey, David Nevala, Jean Nick, Melissa Pasanen, Ariana Reguzzoni, Bob Stefko

03 FIELD WORK page 8 Expert advice on compost management

NEW FARM is the magazine of the Organic Farmers Association.

05 FARM BULLETINS

Copyright 2017 by Rodale Institute

BARTON GLASSER

p. 14

SEND ADDRESS CHANGES, COMMENTS, AND INQUIRIES TO Rodale Institute 611 Siegfriedale Rd. Kutztown, PA 19530-9320 USA (610) 683-1400 RodaleInstitute.org

02 GROUND BREAKERS

page 6 Lynn Clarkson, pioneer of “identity-preserved” grains

04 MARKET REPORT

page 10 Global view, young consumers, cotton picking

page 28 Cuke beetle control, nitrogen sources, better oats

06 NEW FARMERS

page 32 Luke and Alison Howard, Millington, Maryland

COVER: Luke and Alison Howard, members of the Organic Farmers Association, at their Maryland farm. Turn to the back page to learn more about them. Photograph by Rob Cardillo

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No.

01

NEWS FEED

Legislation and Regulation

MAKING CHANGE

by Scott Meyer

TOP BILLING

The vote on the 2018 farm bill is at least a year away, but the issues are already being discussed by legislators, lobbyists, and farmers

Transition Help JIM RIDDLE: The bill needs to establish a robust and effective program that provides financial and technical assistance to American farmers who choose to transition to certifiedorganic production systems.

Soil Support JR: Programs that reward monocrop agriculture and create disincentives for farmers to implement soil-building crop rotations should be eliminated.

Jim Riddle Blue Fruit Farm, Winona, Minnesota

Domestic Growth JR: The United States imports 70 percent of its organic soybean supply and 40 to 50 percent of its organic corn. Instead of supporting foreign farmers, we need to help American farmers enter the organic market so the U.S. captures the economic and environmental benefits currently being lost to other countries.

During the three-year organic certification process, crops can be labeled “Transitional.”

A partnership between the USDA and the Organic Trade Association has established the National Certified Transitional Program, which will allow farmers to tell consumers about their progress toward organic certification during the three-year process so that they can earn premiums for their products while they are making the switch. Get more details at ota.com. 9

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POLICY PRIORITIES

A survey of 1,696 certified-organic farmers (11 percent of the total number in the United States) identified the following as important policy issues. • • • •

Crop contamination from pesticides and GMOs Funding practical organic agricultural research Organic education through the Cooperative Extension System F  unding seeds and breeds programs that support organic farming at land-grant universities

SOURCE: 2015–2016 National Organic Alliance Farmer Survey

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REFUND

Organic farmers can apply to the USDA for reimbursement of up to 75 percent (a max of $750) of the annual costs of organic or transitional certification. Learn more at fsa.usda.gov.

WINONA DAILY NEWS (RIDDLE), ROOM THE AGENCY/ALAMY (FARMER), N. DOUNGSODSRI/SHUTTERSTOCK (HYDROPONICS)

(including members of the Organic Farmers Association). Enacted every five years, the farm bill allocates funding for nutrition programs, financial and regulatory protection for farmers and the land, and much more. Workforce stability and immigration are expected to be hot topics when debate about the 2018 legislation begins. An estimated 75 percent of farm laborers in the U.S. were born in Mexico, and about 60 percent are undocumented. Elise Stefanik and Chris Collins, U.S. representatives from New York, have recently introduced the Family Farm Relief Act of 2017, which would move the H-2A agricultural visa program from the Department of Labor to the USDA. Leading voices among organic farmers have other priorities. We asked Jim Riddle of Blue Fruit Farm in Minnesota and chair of the Organic Farmers Association Steering Committee for his views on the most crucial concerns.


IS HYDROPONIC FOOD ORGANIC?

In many cities, hydroponic growers are meeting the demand for fresh, local produce year-round. The crops are grown indoors under lights in nutrient solution rather than soil. Unlike the inert soluble nutrients used in conventional hydroponics, the nutrients provided in an organic-based hydroponic system, or “bioponics,” require an active ecosystem for the plants to absorb them. An increasing number of bioponic growers have been seeking organic certification. The USDA’s National Organic Program regulations currently do not explicitly prohibit hydroponic production, and at least 52 growers have been certified organic. However, farmers and industry groups have questioned whether the indoor growers meet the standards. In September 2015, the USDA convened a task force to research these growers’ practices and examine how they fit with USDA organic regulations. The task force reported its findings at the fall 2016 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board. The report stated that “with regard to bioponics and container production and current USDA regulations, this Subcommittee believes that most areas of the standards can be followed as currently written.” Despite that conclusion, the board announced that “it is the majority [opinion] of the current members of the NOSB to prohibit hydroponic systems that have an entirely water based substrate.” However, the NOSB plans to revisit this issue at its spring 2017 meeting. WHAT DO YOU THINK? Join the Organic Farmers Association and help determine our policy position on hydroponics. Go to OrganicFarming Association.org or send in the form on the inside front cover of this issue.

The debate continues about whether crops grown without soil can be “organic.”

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NO SOIL: ORGANIC?

“The lack of soil building seems to clearly put such systems outside of the certifiedorganic claim. One can recognize the benefits of hydroponics while not accepting its inclusion into organics.” —Michael Sligh, director of the Just Foods Program at Rural Advancement Foundation International

CHECKOFF CHOICE Producers of pork, milk, corn, and other commodities contribute to USDA research and promotion programs, commonly called “checkoff programs.” These are designed to pool farmers’ resources in support of marketing and research efforts that benefit all of them. The Organic Trade Association has proposed the first checkoff program for certified-organic farmers. The Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic, or “GRO Organic,” could raise more than $30 million, according to proponents. The funds would come from an annual sales tax (onetenth of 1 percent of net organic sales) assessed on certified-organic farmers,

food processors and handlers, and other organic certificate holders with gross revenue greater than $250,000. Opinions about the merits of the program vary widely among farmers and industry groups. The USDA’s public comment period on the proposal ended on April 19, 2017. The next step is a referendum in which those subject to the tax will be eligible to vote. (More than 75 percent of certified-organic farms in the U.S. do not earn enough to be eligible but can still vote if they agree to be “voluntarily assessed.”) Approval by a majority of the voting stakeholders is required for implementation.

CALL TO ACTION

9

Learn more about the pros and cons of the checkoff program by visiting groorganic.net and noorganic checkoff.com.

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No.

02

GROUND BREAKERS People Leading the Way

Crop Connection

by Rachel Lane

Clarkson started his grain brokerage to help growers earn their fair share of profits.

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As a boy, Lynn Clarkson walked between rows of soybeans on his family’s farm in Cerro Gordo, Illinois, picking weeds and dreaming about not being a farmer when he was older. Clarkson has kept to his plan to stay off the tractor, but today he does play a leading role in producing organic, non-GMO food for consumers around the world. After his enlistment in the U.S. Navy ended in the early 1970s, Clarkson returned to his family’s farm and began asking his father why grain brokers earned higher profits than the growers did for the sale of their crops. The young Clarkson decided he wanted to help farmers do better, so he started talking to the food processors about what they needed most and discovered that consistency and traceability were in high demand. “They told me there’s too much variation in incoming raw materials,” Clarkson says. Each variety of corn, for example, has its own sugar, starch, and protein levels, and those differences between the varieties have a distinct impact on the quality of any product they’re used for. “That’s why we got into ‘identity preservation,’ he explains. “Providing a particular hybrid of corn or a particular type of soybean is important because it enhances the processing of the crop, its yield, or its end-product quality.” Clarkson spoke with farmers in his area, urging them to sign contracts to grow specific hybrids of corn or soybeans in demand by food processors, who entered into agreements with the newly formed Clarkson Grain to receive a guaranteed full year’s supply. The deal worked well for both sides: Farmers would have a commitment for their crops and earn a fair share of the profits, and the processors would be sure to get the exact varieties they preferred and enough of the crops to meet their needs. Clarkson Grain began as a source for food processors in the Midwest, but demand for its identitypreserved crops spread to the rest of the country and reached all the way to Japan, where the market was especially strong. Japanese buyers showed Clarkson why. “They rode with me through Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa in late August and early September, past fields that had not been harvested,” he says. “We stopped the car, ran into a field, and popped

BOB STEFKO

Lynn Clarkson has built a vital supply chain that links organic farmers and food processors.


some soybeans from the pod to taste them. The Japanese are very much interested in a bean’s taste and texture, the flavor of its oils; so they want a single variety. They do not blend.” The very first Japanese clients Clarkson worked with asked him to source organic soybeans for them. “After that phone call, I had to go find out what ‘organic’ meant,” Clarkson says now. The company he founded earned its organic certification in 1998. In the 1980s, before GMO crops were widely available in the United States, one of Clarkson Grain’s leading buyers asked Clarkson to avoid GMO products because Japanese consumers didn’t want them. Clarkson didn’t think about GMOs and organic food from a farmer’s perspective when he started as a grain broker. He was a businessman with potential clients that were asking for specific products. “My job is to respect the clients’ values,” Clarkson says. Following the needs of the customers, Clarkson

Grain became one of the first grain dealers to be non-GMO verified and certified organic. Today, Clarkson Grain operates its own commercial storage, cleaning, and handling facilities—as well as an organic soy processing facility, a barge station, and rail sidings— in central Illinois. The biggest challenge facing Clarkson and other organic, non-GMO suppliers these days is contamination from conventional farms growing GMOs. At the top of his concerns is Enogen corn. “It’s extraordinarily beneficial to the ethanol industry because its heavy starch content converts easily into burnable sugars,” he explains. But if other corn varieties are contaminated with even a small amount of Enogen corn, it can ruin a batch of tortilla chips or corn flakes. “We’ve got corn being raised in an open environment that’s wonderful for one industry but a disaster for other industries,” he says. “That’s a problem we’re still grappling with as a society. It’s a serious issue for agriculture.”

“After that phone call, I had to go find out what ‘organic’ meant.”

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No.

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FIELD WORK How-To for Farmers by Jean Nick

Heated Matter

A scientist shares insights and tips for managing your compost heaps. Compost is a vital resource for organic farmers—as a soil amendment and a way to deal with many common types of waste. And making compost couldn’t be simpler. “Compost happens—just give it time,” says Rick Carr, compost production specialist at Rodale Institute. But if you pay attention to a few key details along the way, the process will be very efficient and you’ll get the best possible results. Windrow compost used to grow food on certified-organic farms must have stayed between 131° and 170°F for 15 consecutive days before application.

RAW MATERIALS BASIC INGREDIENTS Start with materials you have on hand, including carbon-rich crop residues and high-nitrogen barnyard manure. Add fall leaves, grass clippings, and other homeowner-provided yard waste, which many municipalities can provide for farmers. Local food processors (such as grain mills, breweries, and coffee roasters) and food service operations (at sites like hospitals, schools, and supermarkets) generate compostable waste that they may deliver to local farms to avoid the cost of disposal. Chip large logs or branches before adding them to your compost pile, but don’t bother chopping up other materials, Carr says. “It might speed up the decomposition process, but the return on investment is rarely worth it. Time is free, so let it do the work.” BEST RATIO Achieving an effective ratio of carbon-based (brown) to nitrogen-rich (green) materials to maximize decomposition can be challenging for beginning composters, but with a little trial and error you can easily become a master. The trick is to always learn from your mistakes. Generally speaking, start by mixing browns and greens at a ratio of 5 to 1 and work from there. Keep in mind that carbon and nitrogen content will vary by feedstocks and shouldn’t be viewed strictly as green or brown but rather how much green is in a brown material and vice versa. MINIMUM SIZE You can just layer the different feedstocks on top of each other as you gather them—they ultimately blend together as you turn the heap. Most composters suggest an initial minimum pile size of a cubic yard, but you can make it as wide and high as your equipment can reach to turn it.

MICROBE MANAGEMENT ACTIVE ECOSYSTEM Like soil, compost has a complex food web that includes a diversity of microorganisms. The most critical actors are the countless microscopic bacteria and fungi that feed on dead plant materials. BACTERIA PROFILES The transformation starts with bacteria already present and surviving on the feedstocks. Heat is generated as feeding and breakdown accelerate in the pile. A shift in the microbial profile from mesophilic (thriving at moderate temperatures) to thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes begins to occur as the temperature continues to rise. Eventually, it

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ANDREA SANTINI/DREAMSTIME (COMPOST), COURTESY REOTEMP (THERMOMETER)

may reach near 170°F and hold for a short while until food resources become exhausted. The temperature will then decrease, and this could be used as an indicator for when to turn. Turning compost temporarily adds oxygen to the pile but more importantly exposes new surfaces for decomposition. As microbes digest plant matter, they release carbon dioxide, humic acids, and more heat. AIRFLOW NEEDS Aerobic bacteria are the fastest, most efficient decomposers during composting, and they release plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and magnesium. They require oxygen to function and survive—regularly turning the pile introduces the air they need. When they don’t get enough oxygen, anaerobic bacteria outcompete them for resources. These microbes produce organic acids and amines (sour-smelling ammonia-like substances), and they leave behind nitrogen that’s unavailable to plants. SUPPORTING ACTORS Actinobacteria—a more complex group of bacteria similar to fungi— work in a pile’s moderate heat zones, decomposing tougher materials such as cellulose, starches, and lignin. They also release nitrogen that plants can absorb from the compost. Actinobacteria give finished compost its pleasantly earthy aroma. Fungal mycelia also break down cellulose and lignin, taking over after faster bacteria have consumed readily available simple sugars. The fungi become the dominant decomposers at the end of the process, still feeding on woody materials. Don’t waste money on so-called compost activators, Carr advises. “Everything you put into a compost pile—plus the air itself—is all the microorganisms need.”

TEMPERATURE CONTROL ORGANIC STANDARDS The USDA’s National Organic Program specifies how certified-organic farmers must manage their compost heaps. The regulations state that the finished compost have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio between 30 to 1 and 15 to 1. Just as critical, the pile’s temperature must remain between 131° and 170°F for 15 consecutive days, and the whole heap must be turned at least five times within that 15 days to ensure that any human pathogens present in the raw materials are killed. Your composting process must be documented with temperature records. If the pile

does not hit the required temperature marks, the compost should be treated as if it were raw manure. (See “Taking Temperature” at right for thermometers and hints that get you reliable readings.) WEED KILLING Another reason to get your compost pile temperatures above 140°F is that the heat also kills plant pathogens (diseases) and weed seeds. HEAT PATTERN Once your pile has enough volume, the bacteria begin generating heat. (Cold air temperatures slow this down.) After a few days or weeks, the pile’s temperature plateaus and starts to drop. Then it’s time to turn the heap to add air, redistribute moisture, and give the microorganisms new surfaces to work on. Mix the pile thoroughly, moving material in the center to the outer surface and material from the outside to the inside. The pile will heat up again but may not get quite as hot as before; then it will cool down, signaling it’s time to be turned again. Repeat until no reheating occurs.

TAKING TEMPERATURE The Tool Rick Carr recommends a 36-inch Reotemp Super Duty Fast Response Compost Thermometer ($149, reotemp. mybigcommerce. com), which reads temperatures of 0° to 200°F.

FINISHING TOUCHES DONENESS TESTS The composting process is complete when the pile no longer heats up after being turned. You should see that the volume has decreased from what you started with, and the original materials (other than large woody bits) are no longer identifiable. A handful of finished compost is dark brown and crumbly, almost like chocolate cake crumbs, and smells earthy and kind of sweet. PROBLEM SOLVING If your pile isn’t heating up and the materials are dry, dampen them with water when you turn them. In very wet or very dry climates, cover the pile with a tarp to exclude or retain moisture. If your pile reeks and/or is wet and slimy, add more brown material or turn it repeatedly to dry it out. COOK TIME Once you stop adding fresh matter to a pile, the decomposition time will vary from three months to eight months, depending on how often you turn and manage the material. It’s not uncommon, however, for composters to allow their piles to process for up to 12 months. To ensure a steady supply of compost, start a new pile at least once a year.

The Process Insert the probe into the center of the pile and wait until the needle settles. If you are a certified-organic farm, you need to measure and record the temperature daily until you have met the National Organic Program’s 15-day requirement. After that, or if you are using temperature just to know when to turn the pile, measuring once or twice a week is sufficient, Carr says.

See Rick Carr’s webinar on the science of compost management at RodaleInstitute.org/ learn/webinars. RODALEINSTITUTE.ORG

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MARKET REPORT Organic Industry Trends by Steven Hoffman

Youth Movement SURVEY SAYS Younger people are more knowledgeable about organic food and are purchasing more of it than their elders. Nearly 75 percent of millennials—those between the ages of 18 and 35—spend time researching and educating themselves about natural and organic foods, says the Winter 2017 Hot Topic Report from Acosta, a food industry marketing agency. Organic products account for about 40 percent of the items millennials purchase on a typical shopping trip, compared to less than 30 percent for older generations.

GOOD FOR FARMERS Shoppers across all demographics want more transparency about ingredients and production, found the Acosta survey. The USDA label is trusted by consumers who buy certified-organic products.

Household income has a minimal impact on organic food purchases, says a report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service. It found that 42 percent of Americans with annual household income under $30,000 regularly buy organic foods, while 49 percent of households earning more than $75,000 do.

$$

l

A geographic breakdown of consumers in the same USDA survey shows that 54 percent of those in the West are likely to buy organic, compared with 47 percent in the Midwest, 43 percent in the South, and 39 percent in the East.

SOURCES: “Back to Our Roots: The Rise of the Natural/Organic Shopper,” Winter 2017; acosta.com. “Growing Organic Demand Provides High-Value Opportunities for Many Types of Producers,” February 6, 2017; ers.usda.gov/amber-waves

HIGH FIBER Certified-organic cotton has become a significant sector of the world’s fiber market.

$15.7 billion

worth of organic cotton is sold worldwide.

112,488 metric tons are harvested.

350,033 hectares

are planted in certified-organic cotton.

193,840 certified-organic farmers

around the globe are growing cotton.

SOURCE: Textile Exchange 2016 Organic Cotton Market Report

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MANGOSTOCK/BIGSTOCK (SHOPPER), IMAGESTOCK/ISTOCK (COTTON), CAFEBEANZ/DREAMSTIME (STORE); LEE LECKEY (INFOGRAPHIC)

WHY THEY BUY When asked why they buy organic food, millennials cite concerns for health and quality, and a connection to how food is produced. Parenthood is also a motivation for many. Of the shoppers who spend at least half of their weekly food budget on organic items, 64 percent have children.

Young people spend more time researching food choices and buy more organic items than older generations do.


Global Growth

125 .7

io ill

ic Acres Far rgan me O d n

W o

de wi rld

M

Organic agriculture continues to expand dramatically worldwide to meet the growing demand of consumers, especially those in economically developed countries. The United States generated more than half of the $81.6 billion in global sales in 2015, but certified-organic farmland is increasing to serve growing markets in western Europe and Asia.

Top 3 Countries Certified-organic acres farmed

FARMLAND 50.9 million certified hectares (125.7 million acres) farmed Largest organic agricultural area: Australia (56.1 million acres) Argentina (7.7 million acres) United States (4.9 million acres) Countries with the highest portions of farmland certified: Liechtenstein (30.2%) Austria (21.3%) Sweden (16.9%)

Percentage of farmland certified Certified-organic farmers

FARMERS 2 million certified-organic producers in 179 countries Countries with the highest concentrations of certified farmers: India (585,200) Ethiopia (203,602) Mexico (200,039)

SOURCE: “The World of Organic Agriculture 2017,” a report by IFOAM–Organics International; ifoam.bio

Club stores and supermarkets now account for more than half of organic food sales.

Big Box Tops The consumer market for organic products continues to grow faster than that of the food industry overall. U.S. sales reached a record $43.3 billion in 2015— up $4.2 billion from 2014—and increased more than 10 percent each year from 2012 to 2015, according to the Organic Trade Association. Mainstream supermarkets and club stores are capturing a majority of the annual sales of organic food, surpassing traditional natural and gourmet food stores as the leading sources. Costco and Walmart are now the top retailers for this category in the United States. Kroger, Aldi, and other major chains all continue to expand their selections. “Farm-fresh foods—produce and dairy—are driving the market,” says Laura Batcha, executive director of the OTA. “Together, they account for more than half of total organic food sales.” Almost 13 percent of all produce sold now in the U.S. is organic. Consumers also bought $3.6 billion worth of organic fiber, dietary supplements, and other nonfood items in 2015. With strong growth that continued through the economic downturn of 2008, “organic is a bright spot in agriculture and the economy of America,” Batcha says. RODALEINSTITUTE.ORG

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UNDERCOVER CROPS by Melissa Pasanen

“We can put down water how and when we want. It helps prevent disease, and we get better quality and flavor out of many vegetables.” —Corie Pierce, Bread & Butter Farm, Shelburne, Vermont


The hoop house is your secret weapon to extending the growing season, reducing pest and weed pressures, improving water management, and more.

MONICA DONOVAN (PIERCE), MARK CAIN (FLOWERS)

E

Hoop houses create opportunities to extend the seasons for high-value crops like salad greens (left) and cut flowers (right).

Early-spring snow can be a foot deep in northern Vermont, but in the hoop houses at Bread & Butter Farm, kale and spinach plants are tucked under an extra “blanket” of row cover. About 1,400 miles away, spring is quite a bit warmer in the Arkansas Ozarks where anemones and ranunculus bloom alongside greens like bok choy and chard in the six hoop houses at Dripping Springs Garden. Further west and 7,000 feet up into the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, hoop houses at Indian Ridge Farm protect salad greens and provide shelter for the overwintering laying flock. The hoop house, also called a high tunnel, has become over the last decade a valuable tool for organic farmers across the United States. Constructed from a tubular steel frame covered in heavy-duty plastic, it’s a type of passive solar greenhouse in which crops grow directly in the soil but are sheltered by the structure. With no artificial lighting or temperature controls, a hoop house is relatively inexpensive to buy and operate. The growth in hoop house production is due, in significant part, to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Its Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative transitioned from a pilot project to a standard practice in 2014 after its analysis of results showed that hoop houses are effective in helping farmers to not only extend the growing season but also to better manage plants, soil quality, and water; reduce nutrient and pesticide use; meet increasing demand for fresh, locally grown produce; and boost profitability. Between 2010 and 2015, the initiative provided

technical and financial assistance to build more than 14,000 high tunnels in all 50 states, plus U.S. territories, with a total cost-sharing commitment of $93 million.

YEAR-ROUND GROWTH Cold-weather season extension may be the most obvious use of hoop house production, but this kind of low-input, sheltered agriculture delivers many other benefits. Hoop houses protect plants from weather extremes like hot sun, wind, and storms; help prevent many disease and pest infestations; and enhance the quality and yield of specific crops. What’s more, they enable farmers to cultivate high-value items, such as grapes, dwarf fruit trees, and hops, outside of the climate zones where they’re usually grown. Year-round hoop house production helps “smooth out our income and even out the workload,” says Corie Pierce of Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne, Vermont. Beyond producing organic greens in winter, the farm’s two large, Gothic-roofed hoop houses churn out a bountiful, reliable vegetable harvest during the traditional farming season. “They allow us to re-create an ideal Central California–like growing environment where there’s no rain from March or April to October,” Pierce explains. “We can put down water how and when we want. It helps prevent disease, and we get better quality and flavor out of many vegetables.” In Huntsville, Arkansas, partners Mark Cain and Michael Crane put up their first hoop house 15 years ago to enable them to grow pricey flowers—like lisianthus and lilies— that struggled outside.

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“We get more solar radiation because we’re closer to the sun, so we use shade cloth on the hoop houses to help with that.” —Barclay Daranyi, Indian Ridge Farm, Norwood, Colorado

Pasture-raised chickens get shelter and clean up crop residues inside hoop houses.

During the summer, Dripping Springs Garden’s hoop houses protect vulnerable crops like sweet peppers and tomatoes from excessive sun and direct heat; they have even sheltered semitropical crops like ginger root. And in the mountains outside Norwood, Colorado, hoop houses are critical to the success of Indian Ridge’s high-altitude vegetable cultivation, says farmer Barclay Daranyi. In addition to having them house winter greens, Daranyi and her husband, Tony, use them to start crops such as tomatoes and eggplants earlier than their location would typically allow. “We also get more solar radiation because we’re closer to the sun, so we use shade cloth on the hoop houses to help with that,” she says.

Depending on size and style, production-scale hoop houses can cost between several thousand dollars and around $15,000 to install. “It’s important to focus on the highest-value crop you can grow in them,” says Cain. Both Cain and Pierce note that although the winter market for locally grown produce is less competitive than the summer one, staying in business during the slower season gives farmers a chance to capture loyal year-round consumers. Growing

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BARTON GLASSER (2)

COST TO BENEFIT


inside shelters also allows farmers to offer the earliest strawberries or tomatoes at premium prices. Pierce leveraged demand for winter greens into a unique partnership: An independent grocery store provided a short-term, lowinterest loan so Bread & Butter Farm could build a hoop house in exchange for feeding the store a steady supply of greens. At Dripping Springs Garden, hoop houses provide wind protection and shade that help flowers grow stronger, longer stems before they bloom, significantly increasing their market value. For small farms, a single-bay house with either a Quonset- or Gothic-style roof, each designed to withstand snow and wind in different ways, is a sensible structure to start with. The NRCS cost-sharing program has required farmers to purchase a manufactured kit, but you can also find build-your-own plans. Secondhand hoop houses may be available, but, Pierce warns, they can be more work than the savings are worth. When deciding on size, plan enough space for both farmers and plants to coexist comfortably. The ideal site is relatively level ground with good drainage and healthy soil, although it can be amended with a cover crop in advance of construction if needed. Access to an all-season water source is critical. With your geographic location and planned seasonal use in mind, orient the structure for optimal sun exposure in winter, but also be mindful of potential overheating in summer. Awareness of known wind currents can also help you position your hoop house for the best ventilation and protection from weather damage. Indian Ridge’s mesa-top location, for instance, sees such high winds that the farmers poured concrete footings for the cross-braces, but most sites will not require that. (Note that any permanent construction could have tax implications; hoop houses are normally considered temporary structures.) Although too much wind can be destructive, adequate vents and roll-up sides are essential for good air circulation, which will keep moisture and heat under control, Daranyi advises.

CROP MANAGEMENT After setting up your hoop house, take the time to lay out the beds to maximize square footage. “It’s expensive real estate,” Pierce says. Also consider how care and maintenance needs differ from farming in open fields. Plants that do not require trellising, staking, or regular prun-

ing outdoors often benefit from those tactics inside a hoop house. Winter crops grow more slowly. In colder zones like Vermont, greens need to be planted by late August or September to reach maturity for a November harvest, Pierce warns. The plants then go dormant under row covers until increasing warmth and light perk them up again in February. While farmers do control hoop house water application—most often through a drip irrigation system—moisture must still be carefully monitored. In winter, water should be applied sparingly to avoid freezing plants, and row covers should be kept off leaves to minimize condensation, which can freeze. Throughout the year, proper ventilation helps control diseases that thrive in moist, warm, still environments. Vents also provide access for pollinators and other beneficial insects. As with field cultivation, hoop house production relies on crop rotation to reduce the risk of soilborne diseases and pests. For that reason, having at least two structures is helpful. Between hoop house growing seasons, remove plant debris and materials such as trellising or stakes to prepare for future crops. NF Melissa Pasanen is food editor of Vermont Life magazine and a regular contributor to Vermont Public Radio. Her work has been published in the New York Times and Saveur.

RESOURCES FUNDING SUPPORT Go to nrcs.usda.gov and enter “Environmental Quality Incentives Program” in the search field for information about support for farmers who want to purchase hoop houses. You’ll find links where you can learn specifics about your state, including how to apply for funding. PRO REPORTS At the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education service’s website, sare.org, click on “Season Extension” (under “Hot Topics in Sustainable Agriculture”) for detailed reports on buying, setting up, and using hoop houses. BEST PRACTICES Experienced growers share insights about hoop house construction and use at hightunnels.org, a collaborative resource developed by extension specialists from around the country. RODALEINSTITUTE.ORG

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GO WITH THE FLOW The changing water supply is a critical concern for organic farmers around the United States. Here’s how a few of them are combating climatic challenges. by Ariana Reguzzoni

Fresh, clean water is of vital importance to every organic farmer, but extended droughts, unpredictable weather patterns, and toxic runoff threaten food producers’ access to an adequate supply. Many scientists and farmers see climate change as a key causative factor. They’re also finding that organic methods can help. We asked experts in California, Vermont, and Illinois to share their insights for dealing with these conditions.

Organic farmers are experimenting with traditional irrigation techniques, such as “surge flooding,” to try to reduce runoff.

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CALIFORNIA PROBLEM // DROUGHT DANGER

J. PARKIN/ALAMY (FLOODED FIELD), W. JONES (TORBERT), ANDIA/ALAMY (SPRINKLER), COURTESY D. PARKER

Even when California experiences a deluge of rain and snow, as was the case in the winter of 2016–17, the possibility of drought always looms there. In the Central Valley, where many vegetables sold in the United States are grown, the damage to groundwater supplies from pumping and overdrafting (taking out more than is replenished) might never be repaired. Following years of drought (2011 to 2016), the recent abundance of water is forcing scientists and engineers to reexamine reservoir management and water storage. Luckily, the years of scarcity have encouraged innovative and efficient irrigation techniques that are continuously studied and tweaked to create useful strategies for farmers. With most reservoirs in California now at or near capacity, it’s hard to argue that the state is still in a long-term drought, says Doug Parker, Ph.D., an agricultural economist and the director of the California Institute for Water Resources. “We got some good rain out of the recent storms,” he says, “but does that mean we can all start turning on taps and wasting water? Of course not.” Efficient use is crucial to the recovery of stored groundwater and aquifers, which provided more than 65 percent of irrigation water during the drought. Underground resources can be recharged (or “rewatered”) if managed like a “savings account,” Parker explains. When they are drawn

down during a drought, they need to be filled up during wetter years. One method farmers have used for years to do this is surge flooding, but the value of this strategy hasn’t been researched and well understood until recently, Parker says. It’s highly effective for certain crops, like dormant grapes (which are not damaged by flooding), but now scientists are studying how the strategy could work for almond trees or vegetable crops. And they’re exploring which soil types work best, and how nutrient loss and pesticide contamination can be avoided, when growers employ the technique. Emma Torbert and Katie Fyhrie take a different approach to drought management at Cloverleaf Farm near Davis, California, where they raise fruit trees and vegetables on 4 acres. With master’s degrees in horticulture and agronomy, the farm partners rely on their science backgrounds to conduct small experiments that test how much stress (through reduced water and fertilizers) their trees can handle. With microsprinklers fed only from a 200-foot well, they have been able to reduce water usage by almost 50 percent over the past five years. They apply water at night, when evaporation is at its lowest, and use new irrigation technology, such as soil moisture probes and gray-water washing systems. The partners are also trying out different native droughttolerant crops, such as elderberries and an overstory of oak trees from which they will harvest acorns to produce and market acorn flour. Additionally, they have experimented with dry-farming a variety of cantaloupe that thrived on leached water from a nearby corn crop. “I don’t think that one year of water is going to make many farmers relax,” Torbert says.

SOLUTION // NIGHTTIME IRRIGATION

FARMERS

Emma Torbert and Katie Fyhrie (not shown), Davis, CA

WHY THEY USE IT

Microsprinklers target crops directly. Irrigating after dark lets water soak in before sun and heat evaporate it.

SCIENTIST SAYS

Underground resources can be recharged if managed like a “savings account.” When they are drawn down during a drought, they need to be filled up during wetter years. —Doug Parker, Ph.D., agricultural economist

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PROBLEM // CLIMATE VARIABILITY In Vermont, opposite weather extremes—heavy downpours in summer followed by short droughts—are causing the most concern among farmers. Such extremes in a system that has been accustomed to slow, consistent rain can lead to soil erosion, which in turn can cause nutrient and sediment runoff into lakes and other aquatic habitats. A separate challenge is that slowly rising average temperatures in the state are making winters less severe and welcoming new pests and diseases. For organic farmers, these impacts mean more money spent on labor, drainage and irrigation systems, and new growing techniques, like the use of high tunnels in the summer to keep moisture off tomatoes. One of the most important ways farmers can protect their land and businesses from climate variability is to manage their soils to allow for better water infiltration and drainage, says Joshua Faulkner, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and the coordinator of the Farming and Climate Change Program at the university’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The main methods he suggests? Planting more cover crops and tilling less.

Increasing organic matter in the soil through legume cover crops, manures, and compost—instead of synthetic nitrogen—can help soak up rainwater and build the soil’s capacity to retain moisture. Plus, producing more nitrogen on the farm, as opposed to bringing it in, can help farmers improve their profits, he adds. If there is a silver lining to climate change, Faulkner says, it’s that the growing season is getting longer, allowing for the production of different crops and varieties—peaches, for example, or the okra, eggplant, sweet potatoes, and other warm-season produce that seventh-generation farmer Alan LePage is now growing on his 40 acres of certified-organic land in Barre, Vermont. Like his great-grandmother who introduced farmed strawberries to Vermont, LePage experiments with new crops. “Crop diversity on a small farm really helps,” he says. “If you lose onions and wheat, at least you’ve got okra and eggplant.” To prepare for storms that can bring 4 inches of floodproducing rainfall at once, LePage uses a customized bedraiser to build up rows to 18 inches above the soil level. In times of drought, he employs plastic mulch to conserve moisture in the soil for crops like melons that are extremely sensitive to water deficits.

SOLUTION // RAISED ROWS

FARMER

Alan LePage, Barre, VT

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WHY HE USES THEM

Building up planting rows allows excess water to drain away from crops during heavy rains.

SCIENTIST SAYS

Manage soil by reducing tillage to allow for better water infiltration and enhance the soil’s capacity to retain moisture. —Joshua Faulkner, Ph.D., soil scientist

T. NGUYEN/SHUTTERSTOCK (EGGPLANT,OKRA), A. LATYPOVA/ALAMY (MUSTARD), J. LARKIN (LEPAGE), T. SAMANTZIS/ALAMY (RAISED ROWS), COURTESY J. FAULKNER, COURTESY D. BISHOP, WHITEASTER/SHUTTERSTOCK (ALFALFA), COURTESY M. WANDER

VERMONT


A warming climate is allowing farmers in colder regions to grow long-season vegetables such as eggplant (far left) and okra (center). Mustard (near left) and other cover crops help soil retain moisture.

ILLINOIS PROBLEM // NUTRIENT LOSS Nitrogen runoff from farms in the Midwest has been much in the news in recent years. In 2015, Des Moines Water Works, a public utility, filed a pioneering lawsuit against three rural counties in Iowa over nitrate pollution in waterways, claiming that underground drainage tiles in the counties funneled high levels of nitrates from farm fields into the Raccoon River, a source of water for 500,000 central Iowa residents. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in January 2017 that Des Moines Water Works could not receive damages for the high levels of nitrates in the water, but the suit may prove successful in forcing drainage districts to seek permits under the federal Clean Water Act, increasing regulation for about 3,000 districts statewide, which would impact farmers too. Organic farming is part of the solution to the pollution problem, says Michelle Wander, Ph.D., a soil scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Although many organic farmers in the region are already using best management practices, awareness of how cover crops and the “4 Rs” of fertilizing (right source, right rate, right timing, and right placement) can effectively reduce pollution and save money

is increasing. But, she says, the challenge is how to determine these variables for individual farms and help farmers improve their methods. Two farmers in Central Illinois are examples of seasoned growers who have endeavored to learn about proper nitrogenand water-management practices to keep improving theirs. Allen Williams runs a 2,000-acre operation 15 miles east of Decatur, where he grows corn, soybeans, cereal grains, and pumpkins. He’s been using cover crops to try to improve the health of his soil and decrease nutrient runoff since 1972 and more recently has worked with the University of Illinois on a study of 16 different types. He is, according to Wander, also a master of the 4 Rs. Dave Bishop, owner and operator of PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, Illinois, since 1979, is another huge proponent of planting cover crops to sequester nutrients and improve soil biology, and he is planning to try no-till practices in the near future. But perhaps the most important way Bishop maximizes the nutrient content of his soil and bolsters his economic outlook is through biodiversity. He produces corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, vegetables, beef, pork, eggs, and honey. “Diversity on the farm is just like diversity in your investment portfolio,” he says. “Why would you put all your money in one crop?” Farmers who are really concerned about sustainability must shift away from nonreplaceable resources, he adds. Fertilizers you add are much more prone to runoff than soil-based nutrients are. NF Ariana Reguzzoni is an organic farmer and journalist based in Sonoma County, California. Her work has appeared on PBS and in publications including Time, Grist, and Civil Eats.

SOLUTION // COVER CROPS

FARMER

Dave Bishop, Atlanta, IL

WHY HE USES THEM

Cover crops, such as alfalfa (shown), sequester nutrients in the soil, reducing the need to add fertilizers that are prone to runoff.

SCIENTIST SAYS

Do a “fertilizer budget” to figure out the “4 Rs” (right source, rate, timing, placement) so you reduce pollution and increase your bottom line. —Michelle Wander, Ph.D., soil scientist

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Next Generation Dairy Transitioning to organic has helped sustain a family farm in upstate New York.

by Alison Fromme

On a spring day about 15 years ago, Chandler Benson sat at his desk in a cubicle in the Chicago skyscraper where he worked as an actuary. He looked out the window across Lake Michigan, felt the sunlight coming through the glass, and thought, “I can’t do this forever.” He picked up the phone and dialed. “Dad, I’m coming back to the farm in five years,” he said. He yearned to return to his family’s 300 milking cows in upstate New York, where he’d grown up in a big yellow house overlooking Cayuga Lake. He’d always enjoyed the peaceful serenity of milking. Chandler’s dad, Chuck Benson, was thrilled. He had made a similar decision, although under different circumstances. When he was a young man in the Peace Corps, advising Colombian cattlemen on hay crops and animal husbandry, he wrote a letter to his own father to ask about becoming a partner in the family dairy farm. When Chandler called from his cubicle, Chuck had already been dreaming about building his own energy-efficient earthen home for retirement. Chuck and his wife, Andra, knew that one day they’d have to consider selling the farm to an outsider if none of their eight kids decided to return. “We were just happy that we could put that off for another generation,” Chuck says today. “Our prayers were answered. It would have been very difficult to sell the farm,” adds Andra, who at the time was considering transitioning the farm to organic. “We literally had an epiphany [about going organic]. The cows would be healthier—we would be healthier—without chemicals, pesticides, and sprays. And when Chandler said he would be returning to the farm, we knew it would be better for the next generation of our family.”

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FARM FACTS Bensvue Farms, Lansing, New York Chandler and Aziza Benson: third-generation farmers 1,000 acres 300 dairy cows Certified organic since 2007


A DECENT PROPOSAL Soon after Chandler made the phone call, he proposed to his sweetheart, Aziza. They had met at the Coast Guard Academy and stayed together as she completed tour after tour, rescuing vacationers near Cape Cod, becoming an officer, and patrolling fisheries off the Pacific Coast. She had started dropping not-so-subtle hints to Chandler about getting married, saying things like, “You know…this nice church on Chicago’s North Side books up real fast…” Chandler bought a ring and mailed it to Aziza’s next stop in Alaska. When it arrived, he called to tell her to pick up the package immediately. When Aziza opened it, she first thought he’d sent a pair of earrings, but then she saw the ring. Inside were two cards. One read, “Will you marry me?” and the second said, “Let me be the first to congratulate you on your engagement.” Aziza neared the end of her commitment to the Coast Guard and was ready to begin her new chapter with her husband on the Bensons’

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farm. She says that although she grew up in inner-city Chicago, her family had always had a small garden. “We’re earthy people, so we were never too far removed from where food comes from,” she adds.

GROWING FAMILY The Bensons’ farm has always been a dynamic, changing place. Chandler’s grandfather bought the original 200 acres of land and started the dairy with just seven cows in 1946, the year Chuck (Chandler’s father) was born, and added innovations—a milking parlor, bunker silos, a freestall barn, a waste lagoon—as the family and the farm grew. Chuck and Andra took over the farm in the early 1970s, just as Chuck’s parents were ready to retire. In time, they grew the land to 1,000 acres, 300 milking cows, 300 replacement animals, and three barns. During the 1990s, they began pasturing the cows. For years, Chuck had been hearing the common refrain among dairy farmers: “Get big or get out.” But, he says, “going that way would

ABOVE AND PREVIOUS PAGE: © 2017 DAVID NEVALA FOR ORGANIC VALLEY; OPPOSITE: HEATHER AINSWORTH

The Bensons transitioned to organic practices to protect the fourth-generation family members growing up on the farm, including (from left) Andra, age 12; Zane, 10; and Zaylee and Abram, both 6.


“The environment you put the cows in is paramount.” –Chandler Benson


Bensvue Farms’ herd contains mostly Holstein (top, with Andra), milking shorthorn, and Jersey cows, plus some crosses. They are pastured from spring to fall and eat an organic feed mix in winter (right).

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OPPOSITE, FROM TOP: © 2017 DAVID NEVALA FOR ORGANIC VALLEY, HEATHER AINSWORTH

have taken away the advantages that drew us to this life in the first place. Becoming organic looked like the way to stay the same size and economically support our family.” Andra, who managed the bookkeeping, was frustrated with volatile milk prices, never knowing how much money to count on from month to month, never being able to make an accurate budget. She felt that milk-buying corporations appeared indifferent to struggling farmers, even when they offered onetime cash-signing bonuses. Both she and Chuck were uncomfortable with mixing chemicals and applying them on their fields. So when Andra learned that Organic Valley would help with their organic certification and offer stable pricing, she was excited to become a member-owner in the cooperative. She began the paperwork, had their pastures certified, and took out a loan to buy organic feed to sustain the animals while their cropland was in transition. And in 2007, the year they completed the certification process, she and Chuck relocated to their new earthen home built into a hillside just down the road from the original homestead and featuring a west-facing, passive-solar facade. Chandler and Aziza arrived that year with their 2-year-old twin daughters and another set of twins on the way, marking the fourth generation of Bensons on the farm and the seventh generation of twins in Aziza’s family. Chandler began working as farm manager while his parents continued to oversee the entire business. “As a kid, I didn’t appreciate what being in charge of it all would be like,” Chandler says, explaining that although he’d had plenty of experience working on the farm as a teenager, he still had much to learn about the importance of cow comfort, proper rations, and forage quality. “I lost a fair number of cows that first year. The environment you put the cows in is paramount.” In 2011, Chandler and Aziza became owners of the family operation, known as Bensvue Farms, just as their third set of twins was born. That summer, the region experienced extreme drought. The cows couldn’t graze much on brown pasture, and the crops didn’t yield enough feed to last through the winter. Because corn prices were high, the cows weren’t fed as much as usual and therefore didn’t produce as much milk. With circumstances like that, “it’s

hard being business owners,” Aziza says. They got by with relief from government and Organic Valley programs.

BETTER BUSINESS Chandler and Aziza keep looking to improve the business, as previous generations have. Recently, Aziza reconsidered their harvesting operations. The family had always done its own harvesting: mowing crops, merging windrows, chopping vegetation, and trucking it back to the bunker silos to ferment into silage or haylage. When equipment broke down, the farm manager worked to fix it. Aziza realized that a lot of the farm manager’s time was wasted on repairs when his expertise could be better used mentoring Chandler. What’s worse, adds Chandler, if an equipment failure interfered with the timing for the harvest, the forage was at risk of not fermenting properly, turning it into moldy waste. In light of these costs, Aziza proposed switching to an outside harvester. Now the family contracts the job to a person with a reliable workforce and new equipment, and the harvesting is finished in a third of the time that it was previously. With the help of an Organic Valley grant writer, Aziza also recently applied for a New York State grant to buy a baler so that the family can harvest fields of rye and triticale too small for the contractor. Chandler is investigating the possibility of having dedicated nursing cows feed and care for the calves, a system his neighbor uses to reduce human labor and improve calf health. For now, the eldest Benson daughters help Grandma Andra take care of the calves, and the younger kids feed the family chickens and collect eggs. One of Chandler’s brothers, who lives on the same road, serves as the farm’s large-animal veterinarian. Chuck and Andra continue to offer advice. “Farming as we know it is a family commitment,” Chuck says. “It’s important for the kids to see the value of hard work, of growing our own food,” Aziza adds. “This is a pure way of life.” NF Alison Fromme lives in upstate New York and has written for National Geographic, Discover, and other national publications. In 2015, she was awarded a National Association of Science Writers Career Grant. RODALEINSTITUTE.ORG

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No.

05

FARM BULLETINS

Nth POWER

Research You Can Use Edited by Scott Meyer

NO-TILL NUTRIENT BOOST SHORT VERSION Oats grown in no-till plots have higher concentrations of key nutrients than oats grown in tilled ones. THE DETAILS For the last 36 years, Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST) has allowed for side-by-side analysis of organically versus conventionally grown grains. In 2014, all 72 plots used in the trial were planted with oats to reset the trial and update upcoming rotations to reflect current agricultural trends. “This provided an opportunity to compare how the organic and conventional farming systems affected the nutritional quality of the same crop without confounding variables,” says Emmanuel Omondi, Ph.D., research director for the FST. The study included an analysis of the nutrient density of organically grown and conventionally grown oats, the nutrient density of the soil, and the links between traditional tillage and no-till practices in each of three farm management systems (a manure-based organic system, a legume-based organic system, and a synthetic input–based conventional system) and their effects on soil health and crop nutrition. Scientists from Penn State University College of Medicine and Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences collaborated with the team from Rodale Institute, where the oats were grown. The Penn State researchers had already been studying an amino acid called ergothioneine, a potent anti-

oxidant that occurs naturally in certain foods and is purported to protect developing red blood cells and help treat or reduce the risk of advanced-age-related chronic inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis. Recent research at Penn State has revealed an important connection between ergothioneine and the soil: The nutrient is exclusively “biosynthesized” by fungi and mycobacteria and captured by plants through their roots. Previous Rodale Institute studies have shown that reducing tillage increases microbial biomass, diversity, and activity. Together, both research teams investigated what effects such soil changes might have on concentrations of ergothioneine and other nutrients in the oats by evaluating samples produced in the tilled and no-till plots of the three FST cropping systems.

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Cover crops of all kinds build soil structure, suppress weeds, and stimulate microbial activity. Legumes also fix nitrogen that’s absorbed by the next crop. How much?

>150 lb

nitrogen/acre Alfalfa, hairy vetch

CONCLUSION No-till plots in each cropping system yielded oats with ergothioneine concentrations that were higher than those found in corresponding tilled plots. Additionally, vitamin B6 concentrations were higher in the oats from no-till plots. Finally, total protein concentration was significantly greater in the oats produced with the no-till organic legume system compared with those grown in the tilled organic manure system and the tilled conventional system.

“This provided an opportunity to compare how the organic and conventional farming systems affected the nutritional quality of the same crop without confounding variables.” 28

Crimson clover fixes nitrogen in the soil.

50 to 150 lb nitrogen/acre

Clover (crimson, red, white), field peas

<50 lb

nitrogen/acre Common beans Source: Northeast Cover Crop Handbook (Rodale Institute Soil Health Series), 1994


CUCUMBER PEST CONTROL

P. FURIAN/SHUTTERSTOCK (OATS), R. CARDILLO (CLOVER), RODALE INSTITUTE (FARM FIELD), YAY MEDIA/ALAMY (BEETLE), COURTESY G. JANOUT/CREATIVECOMMONS (AGAVE)

Strips of flowers and herbs attracted hordes of beneficial insects that prey on striped cucumber beetles (inset).

SHORT VERSION Insectary strips that provide habitat for beneficial insects improve organic cucumber yields. THE DETAILS The striped cucumber beetle is a major pest of cucumber and melon crops across the Northeast. Feeding beetles cause scars on fruits and plants and, worse, indirectly transmit a bacterial pathogen (Erwinia tracheiphila) that wilts plants and can eliminate a crop within a few days. In fall of 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture funded a two-year project at Rodale Institute to study biological control strategies for organic farmers. Gladis Zinati, Ph.D., associate research scientist at the institute, and Andrew Smith, Ph.D., director of the Vegetable Systems Trial, evaluated the impact of cover crop mixtures in rolled and plastic mulch—with and without the inclusion of flowering insectary strips—on population densities of striped cucumber beetles and beneficial insects, organic cucumber yields, and soil health. The plants in the insectary strips—alfalfa, ‘Bouquet’ dill, holy basil, ‘Resina’ calendula, alyssum, lemon balm, sunflower, fava beans, and peas—were chosen because they provide habitat for beneficial insects: ground predators, such as ground beetles and wolf spiders, and aerial attackers, including soldier beetles, ladybugs, honeybees, bumblebees, and parasitoids. Organic cucumbers were grown after two cover crop mixtures—rye/hairy vetch and rye/field peas—were either rolled and crimped for no-till production or tilled in and covered with plastic mulch. CONCLUSION Ground beetle populations were higher in the insectary strips, the grass perimeter, and the rolled-and-crimped plots than in the plastic-mulch plots. Densities of striped cucumber beetles were lower in the rolled mulch than in the plastic. Despite the greater ratio of pests to beneficial insects in the plastic-mulch plots, yields of premium organic cucumbers were not negatively impacted; in fact, in the plots that included insectary strips, they increased from 400 to 600 bushels per acre. What’s more, cucumber plants did not show any symptoms of wilting. The study will be repeated in the 2017 growing season.

Perennial crops such as agave excel at sequestering carbon.

CARBON FARMING Agroforestry and permaculture are key to solving both hunger and global warming, asserts Eric Toensmeier in his new book, The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security. “Perennial crops offer the highest potential of any food production system to sequester carbon, especially when they are grown in diverse multilayered systems,” he writes. The book delves deeply into the value of trees for both the atmosphere and food. It also includes an exhaustive list of perennial crops recommended for use in carbon farming, details about their nutrient content and other values, and guidance on how to choose among them.

Visit carbonfarmingsolution.com to learn more. Buy the book at amazon.com. RODALEINSTITUTE.ORG

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“Acres U.S.A. is the world’s leading forum for ecological food and agriculture. This magazine is not afraid to print the unspeakable and dares to challenge the most entrenched paradigms of conventional scientific thought. A true masterpiece.” — Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms, Swoope, Virginia

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MARKETPLACE Resources and Opportunities for Organic Farmers Business Set-Up Tax Planning 1031 Exchanges

LAW OFFICE of JAMES CLARK Succession Planning & Farm Transfers

Attorneys for Pennsylvania’s Farmers Lancaster, PA 17603 • (717) 464-4300 jayclark@jamesclarklaw.net • www.pennaglaw.com

JOIN THE ORGANIC COMMUNIT Y TO HONOR

A FARMER, SCIENTIST, AND BUSINESS WHO HAVE LED THE WAY IN

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For rates and to reserve space, contact Annie Brown at 303-241-0282, annie.brown@rodaleinstitute.org


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First year farming: 2002 Organic certification: 2005 Farm size: 400 acres certified organic, 200 transitioning Products: Vegetables, grain, poultry

LUKE AND ALISON HOWARD Homestead Farms T Millington, Maryland

OFA MEM

BER

S

Why did you become farmers? LUKE: We don’t know what else we could have done. I grew up on a farm and always wanted to farm. Why did you choose to become certified organic? LUKE: The price premiums that you receive for being organic provide a lot of needed cash flow for our enterprise as beginning farmers. ALISON: Economic advantages were a huge incentive, but now it’s important to us to have consumer confidence in what we produce. What are your toughest challenges? ALISON: We knew the most we’ve ever known about farming in that first year. Each year we realize how much less we really know. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started? LUKE: It takes three years to get the biology of the soil going. It’s actually fun to be an organic farmer because you’re always learning. What’s most rewarding about being organic farmers? ALISON: We love the connection we have with consumers and the trust that they have in the organic label and in us. Learn more about the Howards’ farm at freshorganicvegetables.com. To join them as members of the Organic Farmers Association, go to OrganicFarmersAssociation.org.

ROB CARDILLO

Milo (left) and Timber work alongside Luke and Alison.

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RODALE INSTITUTE.ORG

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PRSRT STD U.S. POSTAGE PAID Kutztown, PA Permit No. 92

611 SIEGFRIEDALE ROAD KUTZTOWN, PA 19530-9320 USA

Sustainable Products From the Ground Up. At Dr. Bronner’s we know that healthy, living soils are crucial to the health of planet and people. So we source major ingredients — coconut, olive, palm and palm kernel oil — from organic fair trade projects in Sri Lanka, Palestine, Israel, Ghana and Ecuador. Farmers are supported with organic compost and training on regenerative farming techniques. Byproducts from processing our oils are used for fuel, animal feed and fertilizer. Profits not needed to grow our business are invested in organizations that protect organic integrity and educate consumers on the benefits of regenerative agriculture.

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Dr. Bronner’s is proud to support Rodale Institute’s work in furthering regenerative organic agriculture.

Profile for Organic Farmers Association

New Farm -Spring 2017  

New Farm: Magazine of Organic Farmers Association. Spring 2017 Issue, Copyright Rodale Institute, 2017.

New Farm -Spring 2017  

New Farm: Magazine of Organic Farmers Association. Spring 2017 Issue, Copyright Rodale Institute, 2017.

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