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North Dakota State University Organic Field Day

NDSU collage
Photos by Brenda Frick and Jessica Valois. Collage by Jessica Valois.

  • Nearly 200 people met in the Dakota Lodge at the Days Inn in Dickinson. Unfortunately, the previous rain and the forecast kept us out of the field.
  • Brad Drummond told us that NDSU has 10 ac of certified organic land at Dickinson, 16 ac in transition and another 4 ac certified at Carrington. They also conduct studies with organic farm cooperators.
  • Pat Carr, also from NDSU, discussed a National Organic Farmer Survey. They found that weeds were the top priority for organic farmers and integrated crop-livestock managers. At Dickinson they are looking for ways to reduce weeds while minimizing soil disturbance. Their priorities are strategies for transitioning, methods for providing adequate NPK fertility, novel approaches to weed control that are not based on intensive tillage, and variety selection.
  • Kathleen Delate from Iowa State University told us that her university felt compelled to hire a faculty member to work on organics several years ago, due to the rising popularity of organic production and especially when the number of organic producers in the state reached 500. Even in the face of the recession in the US, organic sales were growing at 17%. Kathleen equated diversity with stability, and emphasized cover crops, crop rotations, and mulch.  She said that yields for organic were equivalent or better than conventional, and that total soil organic carbon was higher in organic, even with 4 tillage operations. She said that soils under organic management cycled more efficiently and stored more carbon. Organic returns were twice conventional, even considering increased labour costs. She recommended a mixture of hairy vetch and fall rye as a cover crop for corn-soy-oat rotations and for horticultural production.To find out more go to:
    http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/organicag/default.htm and click on 'Research & Education' 
  • Erin Silva from University of Wisconsin conducts vegetable selection trials on organic and on conventional land. She found that the two do not produce the same results. The organic plots tend to have different disease and pest ecologies compared to the conventional plots, and thus different varieties do best.
  • Frank Kutka and Pat Frank talked about SARE farmer/rancher grants. These are available to farmers and ranchers wishing to test the applicability of new technologies to their environments. Projects approved so far include those on water conservation, cover crops, crop diversity, nutrient management, wildlife conservation, agroforestry and alternative marketing. Bill Wilcke suggested that SARE grants are available to improve economic, environmental and social sustainability, and that 11% of them have gone to organic projects.
  • Jeff Moyer from the Rodale Institute discussed the roller/crimper project. This was initiated as a response to the challenge of reduced tillage increasing weed pressure.  His goal was to have the soil work longer, and be covered as much of the season as possible. He used cover crops in a two step system that involves using a roller to terminate the cover crop at the front of the tractor, and seeding the cash crop at the back. The second step then is harvest. They found that they needed 5000 lb dry matter per acre to suppress annual weeds. Perennial weeds still require some tillage. To find out more go to: http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/no-till_revolution
  • Carman Fernholz and Paul Porter from University of Minnesota discussed cover crops further. They suggested the goals farmers have for cover crops are to suppress weeds, increase weed seed predation, protect the soil from rain and run off, improve soil aggregate stability, reduce surface crusting, add active organic matter to the soil, break hardpans, fix nitrogen, scavenge soil nitrogen and suppress diseases and pests.
  • Bob Quinn, an organic producer from Montana told us about his operation. He told us he was an organic farmer because it answers today's agriculture, energy and health crises, it is emotionally fulfilling, scientifically sound, financially rewarding, and fun. He finds the keys to be in diversification, soil building and flexibility. He considers his farm a living organism rather than a factory. The rules he suggests are keeping good records, experimenting with new crops and techniques (but always using controls), managing the farm by walking the fields and responding to the first signs of trouble, marketing the production, and planning for some failure. He has found that dryland vegetables are a possibility, strengthening the local food supply and reducing shipping. Weed control is important.
  • Other research links:
    University of Minnesota Organic Ecology program - www.organicecology.umn.edu <http://www.organicecology.umn.edu>
    Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society - www.npsas.org <http://www.npsas.org/>