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Organic - Soil Quality in Organic Agricultural Systems

Organic - Soil Quality in Organic Agricultural Systems

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Published by: dvskiwi on May 30, 2009
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IN ORGANIC AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS
Soil Quality
PM 1882 August 2003
B
Organic Farming Requires Quality Soil
Building and maintaining soil quality is the basis for successful organic farming.However, before developing a soil management plan focused on soil quality inorganic systems, farmers should become knowledgeable regarding the overallphilosophies, legalities, and marketing opportunities in organic agriculture. A brief overview of organic agriculture follows, but for further details, see Iowa StateUniversity Extension publication
Organic Agriculture 
(PM 1880). (See page 8 forordering instructions.)
 
Building andmaintainingsoil qualityis the basisfor successfulorganic farming.
Periodic soil testingwill help determinesoil quality.
   U   S   D   A    N   R   C   S
 
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I
IN ORGANIC AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS
Soil Quality
NF
What Is Organic Agriculture?
In order to sell your crop as certified organic, youmust follow USDA National Organic Program rules,and be certified by one of the accredited agencieslisted in
Organic Agriculture 
(PM 1880). State of Iowaorganic certification rules will require the following:No synthetic fertilizers for 36 months prior tothe certified organic crop’s harvest.No synthetic pesticides (fungicides, insecticides,herbicides) for 36 months prior to the certifiedorganic crop’s harvest.Crop rotations, including a soil-building legumeor small grain/legume mix following row crops,to break weed, insect, and disease cycles andmaintain soil fertility.No synthetic hormones or antibiotics forlivestockmay be used, and organic feeds andpastures must be fed.Soil fertility in organic systems is maintainedprimarily through crop rotations (usually corn-soybeans-oat-alfalfa or some variation of thissystem) and through applications of compostedor raw manure. Seaweed, fish emulsion, orplant/animal-based products, such as alfalfa-and feather-meal, can be applied as soil andfoliar amendments in organic systems.
Crop Rotations
For an organic crop to be certified, a crop rotationplan must be in place to protect against pestproblems and to maintain soil health. A goodgeneral rule is that no more than four out of fiveyears should be in row crops, and it is required thatthe same row crop cannot be grown in consecutiveyears in the same field. Legumes (e.g., alfalfa, redclover, berseem clover, and hairy vetch) alone, or incombination with small grains (e.g., wheat, oats,and barley), should berotated with row crops(corn, soybeans, amaranth,and vegetables) to ensurea healthy system. A typicalsix-year rotation in Iowa iscorn (with a cover of winterrye)-soybeans-oat (with anunderseeding of alfalfa)-alfalfa-corn-soybeans.Soybeans fix nitrogen andcan generally be grownwithout fertilizer in the firstyear. Subsequent cropsmust include rotations of grain crops and nitrogen-adding cover crops tomaintain adequate fertility. Horticultural cropsshould be rotated with a leguminous cover crop atleast once every five years.
Soil Amendments
Naturally mined lime products are used to adjustthe soil pH to within a range of 6.0 to 7.0(depending on crop requirements). In addition tolime, manure and composted manure are the mostcommon forms of soil amendments in organicoperations. Raw manure may be obtained fromorganic or conventional farms, provided the manureis applied at least 3 months prior to the harvest of an agronomic crop, or at least 4 months prior to theharvest of a horticultural crop. These rules weredeveloped in order to provide adequate time fordecomposition of manure and avoid bacterial con-tamination of produce. To prevent contamination of waterways, raw manure cannot be applied to frozenor snow-covered ground. Organic certificationagencies recommend manure should be compostedprior to land application (see photo on next page).Composting is the preferred method of stabiliz-ing manure. Composting is a controlled process in
For an organic cropto be certified,a crop rotation planmust be in placeto protect againstpest problems and tomaintain soil health.
 
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Compost can be made in a 50-gallon barrel,with a front-endloader or with a commercial windrow turner.
which nitrogen-containingmaterials (e.g., manure,yard waste, or kitchenwaste) are mixed with acarbon-containing source(e.g., corn stalks or cobs,straw, and wood chips) toproduce a mixture prefer-ably with a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) of 30to 1. The compost mixturemust reach and maintain atemperature of 
140°F forat least three days duringthe composting process inorder to limit bacterialcontamination. Adequatemoisture and temperatureare required for proper composting. Most organicfarmers utilize front-end loaders or windrow turnersto construct outdoor composting systems. Othercomposting systems include vermi-composting
The basis for all organicfarming systems is thehealth of the soil.
(utilization of earthworms in “beds” to decomposemanure and other wastes), in-vessel digesters, andanaerobic systems. Additional information oncomposting practices is listed in the references.Many soil amendments are available for organicfarming. The key, however, is that the material is
Naturally minedlime productsare used to adjustthe soil pH towithin a rangeof 6.0 to 7.0(depending uponcrop requirements).
   K .   D   E   L   A   T   E

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