Principles of Organic Production

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Organic Practice Guide (PDF 122KB)
Management techniques for organic crop and livestock production. An essay on the origins, establishment, development, and growth of organic food in the region.

Transitioning to Organic Production (PDF 1.2MB)
USDA SARE program. Introduction, overview, economics, and case studies of transitions to organic farming from around the US.

Organic Farm Certification (PDF 190KB)
ATTRA. A guide for producers to getting a farm certified to National Organic Program standards.
En Espanol (PDF 509KB)

Overview of Organic Crop Production (PDF 967KB)
ATTRA. Basic approaches to producing organic crops.

Organic Livestock Workbook (PDF 368KB)
NCAT’s Organic Livestock Workbook is designed for use by organic and transitional producers with
livestock or mixed crop and livestock operations.

Organic Agriculture Training Broadcasts
Video streams, handouts and useful links from two satellite broadcasts sponsored by WSARE and Washington State University. National Organic Standards: What Do They Mean For You? (March 21, 2003) & Organic Livestock: Principles, Practices, and Prospects (October 29, 2004). 

Frequently Asked Questions About Organic Farming

Answers to fundamental questions about the nature and principles of organic farming, with background information on production practices and solutions.

What is organic agriculture?
Organic food production is based on a system of farming that mimics natural ecosystems that balance pest and beneficial organism populations and maintain and replenish fertility of the soil.  The term ‘organic’ in the United States is applied to the agricultural products produced on farms that adhere to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) Rule. More on the NOP Rule is contained in Section 3, with specific aspects related to materials review contained in Section 5.

How do organic farms manage fertility?

Organic farmers manage crop nutrients through a crop rotation that includes cover crops and the application of plant and animal organic matter, generally in the form of compost. Appropriate tillage and cultivation practices improve soil structure, organic matter content and soil microbial life. Mined minerals, and a few allowed synthetic substances are permitted as supplemental sources of nutrients, provided that soil, crop, and water contamination are avoided.

Do organic farmers take any precautions when they apply manure on organic farms?
Yes. Raw manure and other animal and plant material must be handled in a way that prevents water, soil and crop contamination. In order to be applied without a days-to-harvest restriction, manure must be properly composted. Crops for human consumption that have the edible portion in contact with the soil – including leafy greens – must be harvested at least 120 days after the application of uncomposted manure. Other crops for human consumption must be harvested at least 90 days following the application of raw manure.

How are insect pests managed on organic farms?

Organic farm systems protect crop damage by insect pests primarily through the use of biological and cultural practices such as crop rotation; diversification; habitat management; beneficial organism releases; sanitation; and timing.  Some natural substances, such as botanicals, and a few relatively non-toxic synthetic pesticides such as soap are permitted by the USDA National Organic Program Standards when used in conjunction with the farm plan and used according to the restrictions found on the National List.

How are weeds managed on organic farms?
Weed management on organic farms consists of cultural and mechanical techniques such as the rotation of crops that suppress weeds, mulching, tillage, cultivation, water management, and manual weeding. Weeds often help to conserve soil, improve organic matter, and provide beneficial habitat for natural enemies on organic farms. Plastic mulches are permitted provide they are removed at the end of the season. Insects and diseases can help to keep certain weed populations in check. There are a few natural substances that are also used to manage weeds, but the efficacy of these substances is still subject to question.

How are crop diseases managed on organic farms?

Soil-borne diseases are managed by improving organic matter and biological activity. Cultural, biological, and physical methods such as rotation, sanitation, pruning, and selection of disease resistant varieties are all part of organic disease management. Some natural substances, such as clays, and a few synthetic fungicides such as copper sulfate are permitted by the USDA National Organic Program Standards when used in conjunction with the farm plan and used according to the restrictions found on the National List.

What are the requirements for converting to organic dairy production?
There are two means of converting dairy animals to organic production:

  1. Animals from conventional sources must be maintained under organic management for 12 months prior to sale of any products as organic. Replacement animals may be added to the herd after a similar 12-month conversion period.
  2. If an entire, distinct herd is converted, a one-time allowance is granted to permit feeding of up to 20% non-organic feed for the first 9 months, followed by 100% organic feed for three months. If this type of conversion is made, all replacement animals must be managed organically from the last third of gestation.

How do organic animals meet their nutritional requirements?
All agricultural products provided in the feed ration must be organic, with a limited amount of supplementation and additives. Ruminant livestock must have a significant portion of their feed needs met by pasture.

How do producers maintain the health of organic animals?
Livestock health care must be based on preventive practices, such as balanced nutrition from organic feed, stress reduction, and preventative practices. Medications on the National List may be used only when necessary, and may not be administered in the absence of illness. Antibiotics are not permitted and products from animals treated with any prohibited medication must be diverted from organic marketing channels.

What methods are available to manage parasites in organic livestock?
Organic livestock producers rely on cultural practices to minimize parasite infestations. Synthetic parasiticides may be used only if they are on the National List and are prohibited for use in slaughter stock.

What are the living conditions for organic livestock?
All organic animals are required to have access to the outdoors and exercise areas, and must be provided with healthy living conditions. Ruminants are also required to have access to pasture.