IN ORGANIC AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS
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
(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.
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.
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.