Transitioning to organic farming

Feb 22, 2011

As the organic food trend continues to grow; more farmers are converting from conventional agriculture to organic production. One of the fastest growing markets in the U.S. is the production of organic milk. The growth of this industry has prompted many farmers to transition their land to organic feed grain production. With transition on the rise, it is necessary for these farmers to have effective and economical organic management practices.

A research team led by scientists from Penn State University and University of New Hampshire conducted a four-year study examining the impact of reduced-tillage and managed for hay and on the agronomic and economic performance of feed .

Two experiments were carried out in central Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2007. For the first year both plots rotated between a cover crop, corn and soybeans; one plot was managed with full tillage and the other with reduced tillage. Changes in weed populations, crop yields, and economic returns over the three year rotation were monitored by the research team.

From a weed management perspective, the results indicate that utilizing reduced tillage for organic production could present a challenge for some farmers. Weed populations were less responsive to the choice in cover crop than to the reduction in tillage. Weed populations dramatically increased in reduced tillage systems.

"This is a troubling result because the weed populations that increased included perennial species such as Canada thistle and bindweed which are very difficult to control without tillage once they become established. In a way, these perennial weeds can actually act as 'management drivers,' forcing organic growers to have to periodically utilize more intensive tillage practices to reduce their populations," says Richard Smith, University of New Hampshire.

The study also suggests that growers who want to transition to organic production while minimizing tillage may experience variable economic success depending on how they begin their rotation. Costs associated with manure and compost, which was purchased off-farm, also strongly influenced the economics of the systems. The authors conclude that integrated systems that include field crop and dairy production, where manure sources are available on-site or locally, would improve the economics of these systems. While tillage did not have a significant effect on cumulative net returns in either experiment, there did appear to be a trend for higher returns in the rotations that utilized full-tillage.

According to Smith, further research will be necessary to determine the most cost-effective approaches to reducing tillage in transitional and organic production systems. Research is ongoing at Penn State University.

Explore further: Implications for the fate of green fertilizers

More information: The full study can be found in the January/February 2011 issue of Agronomy Journal.

Provided by American Society of Agronomy

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tillage, rotation impacts peanut crops

Nov 10, 2008

The increasing popularity of reduced tillage on crops has not only been an important development in combating soil erosion, but it has also been associated with increasing organic material and producing high crop yields.

Can one-time tillage improve no-till?

Jun 28, 2010

A one-time tillage has no adverse effects on yield or soil properties on no-till land, according to field research conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Although tillage is another expense for farmers and generally ...

No-tillage plus

Jul 28, 2008

Tropical soils often behave differently than temperate soils when being farmed. In tropical regions, soils lose nutrients quickly when cultivated. With food shortages looming and soil quality declining rapidly, new farming ...

Analyzing long-term impacts of biofuel on the land

Feb 03, 2011

The growing development and implementation of renewable biofuel energy has considerable advantages over using declining supplies of fossil fuels. However, meeting the demands of a fuel-driven society may require utilizing ...

Recommended for you

Implications for the fate of green fertilizers

11 minutes ago

The use of green fertilizers is a practice that has been around since humans first began growing food, but researchers are warning that modern techniques for the creation of these fertilizers could have implications ...

Ditching coal a massive step to climate goal: experts

1 hour ago

Phasing out coal as an electricity source by 2050 would bring the world 0.5 degrees Celsius closer to the UN's targeted cap for climate warming, an analysis said on the eve of Tuesday's UN climate summit.

Monitoring heavy metals using mussels

4 hours ago

A research team in Malaysia has concluded that caged mussels are useful for monitoring heavy metal contamination in coastal waters in the Strait of Johore. Initial results indicate more pollution in the eastern ...

Climate change report identifies 'the most vulnerable'

6 hours ago

Extreme weather events leave populations with not enough food both in the short- and the long-term. A new report by the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at the School of Geography and the Environment ...

User comments : 0