Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Extension announces risk management guide for organic production

A new web-based guide for organic producers and those contemplating organic production has been developed by the University of Minnesota.

The guide is available at It has 14 chapters written by 11 authors who cover a wide range of production topics relevant to organic producers and those transitioning to organic production. Chapters include the importance of rotation, soil health and fertility, weeds, cover crops and crop profiles. There are also chapters on organic production of corn, soybeans, small grains and forages.

"We believe that organic agriculture has greater production risk than conventional agriculture and this guide focuses on practices to reduce that risk for field crops," said Craig Sheaffer, a professor in Agronomy and Plant Genetics who led the development of the web-based guide.

"Organic agriculture has complex crop management issues such as fertility, weed control and pest control," said University of Minnesota Extension weed scientist Jeffrey Gunsolus, one of the University scientists who co-authored the guide. "Organic producers lack the many synthetic fertilizers and inputs for more flexible risk management."

A recent survey by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) identified the greatest production risks facing organic crop producers. Weed control is the leading concern, but other factors, including soil fertility, contribute to the risks facing producers.

As part of the project, the authors talked with organic farmers, and their concerns matched up closely with those of the MDA survey. The knowledge and practices of current organic farmers are among the most important aspects included in the project, along with University-based research supported by the USDA Risk Management Agency and the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

There continues to be a strong demand for organic food products.  In response, the number of certified organic farms in Minnesota has increased from 382 to 543 (42 percent) from 2000 to 2008. Corn and soybeans continue to be the largest Minnesota crops for organic growers. From 1995 to 2005, organic corn production nationwide increased four-fold.  Minnesota is the leading organic soybean producing state. 
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