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Can I Use This Input on My Organic Farm?

eOrganic authors:

Nick Andrews, Oregon State University

Brian Baker, Organic Materials Research Institute

Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

Assessing Inputs

The National Organic Program (NOP) final rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000) emphasizes the use of preventive and cultural methods such as crop rotation, cover cropping, sanitation measures, and nutritious feed rations to build soil fertility, prevent pest problems, and maintain livestock health. In fact, the NOP requires that management practices to prevent pests, weeds and diseases, including soil-building crop rotations; sanitation measures to remove disease vectors, weed seeds, and pest habitat; selection of site-suitable and resistant plant and livestock species and varieties; release of pest predators and parasites; development of habitat for pest predators; lures, traps and repellants; mulching, mowing, grazing, mechanical, flame, and/or hand weeding; and cultural practices to prevent weed, pest and disease problems must be implemented, and found to be insufficient, prior to the use of any input.

Many organic farmers save money and produce high-quality crops with little or no off-farm inputs, but most producers rely on at least some purchased inputs. Purchasing inputs brings up the question: Is this product allowed? Given that most agricultural inputs are not produced with NOP standards in mind, those of us trying to meet the standards have to ensure that we use only approved products.

With full implementation of the National Organic Program regulations on October 21, 2002, it’s the National Organic Program (NOP) that allows or prohibits a material, via the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List). This is a generic materials list. The NOP does not publish a brand name materials list. Brand name lists evaluate a formulated product’s compliance to the requirements of the National List, but do not carry any regulatory weight. Of course, you are free to use brand name lists for guidance (as most organic certifiers do), but certification agencies are responsible for evaluating materials to be used by producers and handlers for compliance with the National List requirements. As a producer, this means that you must submit a list of all inputs you use or intend to use as part of your Organic System Plan, and your certification agency will determine if the substances are allowed for organic production.

Making Sense of the National List

The portion of the NOP concerned with the National List begins at section 205.105 (see “NOP on materials” below). Simply put, it says we cannot use products with synthetic ingredients for organic crop or livestock production, unless they are specifically allowed and appear on the National List (see definition in “NOP on materials”). Some nonsynthetic (natural) substances are also prohibited (see sections 205.602 and 205.604). In other words, synthetic materials cannot be used unless they are specifically approved, and natural materials can be used unless they are specifically prohibited. The National List specifies the allowed synthetic substances and prohibited nonsynthetic substances (see section 205.601), along with specific restrictions, or annotations, regarding the source or use of the substance. The National List doesn’t include numerous natural, nonsynthetic substances, such as gypsum, limestone, or rock phosphate, which are allowed by definition.

Reading Labels

Next stop is the product label. If the ingredients are nonsynthetic and not included as prohibited in section 205.602, they are allowed. If there are synthetic ingredients, check to see if they are specifically allowed. Be sure to check section 205.601 for crop and 205.603 for livestock annotations. These annotations are where I’ve seen some challenges for growers. The annotations often regulate or place certain restrictions on the manufacturing processes or the use of a material. For example, Lidocaine is allowed as a local anesthetic, but its use requires a withdrawal period of 90 days for livestock intended for slaughter and seven days for dairy animals. Compliance with restrictions must be documented when an annotated material is used.

Reading the label may not be enough to determine if a product complies with National List annotations. Labels frequently do not provide all the information about the manufacturing process. For example, liquid fish products are allowed as plant or soil amendments (see §205.601.j.7). They “can be pH adjusted with sulfuric, citric or phosphoric acid. The amount of acid used shall not exceed the minimum needed to lower the pH to 3.5.” Ingredient lists on liquid fish do not address this issue. Before purchasing or using a liquid fish product, a grower should contact the manufacturer or confirm that the product is listed on a brand name list of NOP compliant products.

Non-active or inert ingredients in pesticide formulations are classified according to the level of toxicological concern. EPA has changed how it lists inert ingredients, and the NOP has taken over the maintenance of the list of substances used as inert ingredients that EPA determined to be of minimal concern prior to 2004. To be NOP compliant, all synthetic inert ingredients in pesticides must be classified as minimum risk, appear specifically on the National List, or be used in passive pheromone dispensers. Inert ingredients do not appear on labels, so verifying compliance with this annotation requires the cooperation of the pesticide registrant.

If you contact manufacturers, try to get answers in writing or at least record what you learn. If you are unsure of the information that you need, contact your certifier for guidance and they should be able to help you ask the right questions. When considering a new product, be sure to plan ahead. In trickier cases, a simple “yes” or “no” answer may not be possible over the phone.

As the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” It’s these tricky cases that cause the headaches. It’s tempting to just refer to a brand name materials list and use those products. But remember, just because a product is not on a particular brand name materials list does not necessarily mean that it is prohibited by the NOP. Also remember that only the NOP carries regulatory weight; all other lists are based on evaluations of compliance to the rule. 

Brand Name Material Lists

The NOP established a policy that each Accredited Certifying Agent (ACA, certifier) is responsible for conducting its own reviews of inputs for agricultural production, such as formulated pesticides and soil amendments. The NOP also allows certifying agents to recognize reviews conducted by other certifying agents and competent third-party reviewers as described in a letter to organic certifiers on verification of materials (Robinson and Bradley, 2008), and later confirmed by a Policy Memo in the NOP Policy Handbook. All ACAs are required to verify, along with their clients, that all materials used or planned for use by certified organic operations comply with the NOP. To paraphrase, ACAs have three options available to determine whether branded or formulated products comply:

  1. ACAs can contact the manufacturer to obtain disclosure of the contents of the product and verify that they all comply;
  2. ACAs may consult with another ACA that has reviewed the information and accept their determination that the material is NOP compliant; or
  3. ACAs may consult with a reputable third party source, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), that reviews materials for compliance with the NOP regulation.

ACAs must document their determinations and verify that the inputs are used according to the regulation. ACAs must either have the capacity and expertise to review products, or contract with organizations accredited do so. Many ACAs contract with OMRI, a non-profit initially established by certifiers specifically for that purpose. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) also reviews products according to the NOP and publishes a list of brand name products that other ACAs use. These lists are not comprehensive, so there may be other brand name products that can be used. However, in order to be sure that a product complies, the manufacturer must fully disclose all ingredients and manufacturing processes to an ACA or a third party contracted by the ACA. All ingredients must comply with the standards described above.

One Step at a Time

Before using a new product, check for recent OMRI or WSDA approval of the product. If it isn’t listed, follow these steps:

  1. Evaluate each label ingredient for compliance with the NOP and any annotations on the National List. The OMRI Generic Materials List may also be helpful.
  2. Contact the manufacturer if necessary.
  3. Document compliance with all NOP crop and livestock annotations.

Since this process can take some time, be sure to plan ahead when developing or updating your Organic System Plan (OSP). Keep records of all communications with input manufacturers, certifiers, and input review services. Keep labels, receipts, shipping invoices, and input application records. The documentation required to demonstrate compliance with the NOP can seem daunting and sometimes takes time away from working the land. However, this careful verification gives organic consumers confidence in the organic standard they have grown to trust.

NOP Citations on Materials

§ 205.105 Allowed and prohibited substances, methods, and ingredients in organic production and handling.
To be sold or labeled as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)),” the product must be produced and handled without the use of:
(a) Synthetic substances and ingredients, except as provided in § 205.601 or § 205.603;
(b) Nonsynthetic substances prohibited in § 205.602 or § 205.604;
(c) Nonagricultural substances used in or on processed products, except as otherwise provided in § 205.605;
(d) Nonorganic agricultural substances used in or on processed products, except as otherwise provided in § 205.606;
(e) Excluded methods, except for vaccines, provided that the vaccines are approved in accordance with § 205.600(a);
(f) Ionizing radiation, as described in Food and Drug Administration regulation, 21 CFR 179.26; and
(g) Sewage sludge.

§ 205.206 Crop pest, weed, and disease management practice standard
(e) When the practices provided for in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section are insufficient to prevent or control crop pests, weeds, and diseases, a biological or botanical substance or a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases; Provided, That, the conditions for using the substance are documented in the organic system plan.

§ 205.602 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.
In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, That, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. Substances allowed by this section, except disinfectants and sanitizers in paragraph (a) and those substances in paragraphs (c), (j), (k), and (l) of this section, may only be used when the provisions set forth in §205.206(a) through (d) prove insufficient to prevent or control the target pest.

Composting to Reduce Weed Seeds and Plant Pathogens

eOrganic author:

Ed Zaborski, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


A key feature of organic farming systems is the utilization of organic residues as soil mulches and amendments in an integrated system to maintain and improve soil quality. Organic residues used for these purposes may be produced on the farm, or they may be imported from off-farm sources. Often, fresh organic residues produced in place are used in these practices, such as when cover crops are plowed down as a green manure to build soil organic matter and improve soil fertility, or rolled as a mulch in organic no-till systems to suppress weeds, reduce soil erosion, and conserve soil moisture. Organic residues may also be processed before being used to attain desirable qualities, such as when animal manures are composted to reduce volume and improve stability. Regardless of the circumstances, organic residues that are handled incorrectly can introduce otherwise avoidable problems to the farming system. For example, raw cattle manure may contain viable weed seeds and may spread an otherwise isolated weed infestation more broadly across the farm or, if the manure is imported from outside the farm, introduce a weed problem that previously didn't exist. Similarly, plant residues may be infected with pathogens that can infest subsequent crops. This article provides a brief description of the composting process, discusses the use of composting to reduce weed seeds and plant pathogens, and identifies issues that can lead to the failure of composting to reduce weed seeds and plant pathogens.


What is composting?

For the purposes of organic certification, the National Organic Program rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000) defines compost as:

"The product of a managed process through which microorganisms break down plant and animal materials into more available forms suitable for application to the soil. Compost must be produced through a process that combines plant and animal materials with an initial C:N ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1. Producers using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system must maintain the composting materials at a temperature between 131 °F and 170 °F for 3 days. Producers using a windrow system must maintain the composting materials at a temperature between 131 °F and 170 °F for 15 days, during which time, the materials must be turned a minimum of five times."
–7 C.F.R. § 205.2 (2000)

Composting is the controlled management of the normal biological process of aerobic (in the presence of oxygen) decomposition of organic residues by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes. This process is optimized when the various organic residues are mixed to provide certain conditions:

  • a balance of energy (carbon, C) and nutrients (primarily nitrogen, N), with an initial C:N ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1
  • sufficient—but not excessive—moisture (typically 40–60% by weight)
  • sufficient oxygen to support an aerobic environment (typically 5% or more)
  • a pH in the range of 6–8

Under these conditions, populations of microorganisms will thrive and organic residues will be decomposed, consuming oxygen and releasing intermediate breakdown products, carbon dioxide, and heat. As the temperature of the pile rises, the community of microorganisms will go through a succession, culminating in thermophilic (heat-loving) organisms at temperatures above 113 °F (45 °C). If the mass of the compost pile is large enough to be self-insulating, temperatures within the pile during this active phase of composting may reach 131–170 °F (~55–70 °C) within 1–3 days. To maintain biological activity and to bring the active phase to completion, temperatures should be monitored and compost moisture and aeration should be maintained. After the most readily decomposable organic matter in the compost is consumed, biological activity will decrease in intensity, and temperatures and oxygen consumption will decline. The compost then enters the curing phase, during which decomposition proceeds more slowly and organic matter is converted to stable humic substances—the finished or mature compost.

See the related article, Making and Using Compost in Organic Agriculture, for more information about composting.

How does composting reduce weed seeds?

Several factors contribute to weed seed mortality during composting. In compost systems assembled and managed in accordance with requirements for organic certification, the most important factors are the interaction between weed species, temperature, time, and moisture (Eggley, 1990; Shiralipour and Mcconnell, 1991; Eghball and Lesoing, 2000; Larney and Blackshaw, 2003; Dahlquist et al., 2007). In general, the higher the temperature to which weed seeds are exposed during the active phase of composting, the higher the weed seed mortality. Similarly, the longer the duration of high-temperature exposure, the higher the weed seed mortality. Thus, Dahlquist et al. (2007) estimated that three of the six weed species they examined under controlled laboratory conditions were unaffected by temperatures of 108 °F, but 90% of the seeds of all six species were killed after less than three hours at 140 °F (Table 1). Furthermore, all six species suffered 100% mortality after less than an hour at 158 °F. Similarly, in Texas, Weise et al. (1998) found that, in composting manure at 35% moisture, barnyardgrass, pigweeds, and kochia seeds were killed after three days at 120 °F; Johnsongrass seed was killed with three or more days of exposure at 160 °F; but field bindweed seeds were killed only after seven days at 180 °F.

Table 1. Estimated number of hours required to kill 90% of seeds (after Dahlquist et al., 2007).   Temperature (°F)   140 122 115 108   time required to kill 90% of seeds (hours) Annual sowthistle <1.0 2.1 13.3 46.5 Barnyardgrass <1.0 5.4 12.6 unaffected London rocket <1.0 4.0 21.4 83.1 Common purslane 1.3 18.8 unaffected unaffected Black nightshade 2.9 62.0 196.6 340.6 Tumble pigweed 1.1 107.0 268.5 unaffected

Susceptibility of weed seeds to thermal mortality, however, is influenced by the moisture content of the compost; weed seeds in a dry environment are able to survive higher temperatures for longer times than seeds in a moist environment. Some (Egley, 1990; Thompson et al., 1997) have suggested that thermal mortality may be greatest for fully imbibed seeds—seeds that have absorbed water and split their seed coat in the process of germination. In Nebraska, Eghball and Lesoing (2000) showed that adding water to beef manure compost greatly enhanced weed seed destruction; moist compost was faster and more effective at killing cocklebur, morningglory, pigweed, sunflower, velvetleaf, foxtail, smooth brome, and shattercane than dry compost, in part due to higher compost temperatures.

Other factors are thought to contribute to weed seed mortality during composting. Larney and Blackshaw (2003) observed considerable variability in the relationship between temperature exposure in windrows and seed viability for a number of weeds, and concluded that additional factors, such as germination into lethal conditions or pathogen infestation, were contributing to weed seed mortality. Others have implicated plant-toxic compounds that accumulate to sufficiently high concentrations during composting (phenols, ammonium, and acetic acid, for example) in weed seed mortality and suppression of germination (Eghball and Lesoing, 2000; Shiralipour and Mcconnell, 1991).

How does composting reduce plant pathogens?

Several factors are known to contribute to the eradication of plant pathogens and nematodes during composting (Noble and Roberts, 2004):

  • heat generated during the active phase of the composting process
  • the production of toxic compounds such as organic acids and ammonia
  • lytic activity of enzymes produced in the compost
  • microbial antagonism, including the production of antibiotics and parasitism
  • competition for nutrients
  • natural loss of viability of the pathogen with time
  • the production of compounds that stimulate the resting stages of pathogens into premature germination

Of all these factors, heat generated during the active phase of the composting process appears to be the most important in pathogen destruction.

Bollen et al. (1998) found that only two of 17 plant pathogens investigated—Olpidium brassicae and one form of Fusarium oxysporum—survived when exposed to small-scale static pile composting of infected plant residues, and then only at greatly reduced levels. Thermal mortality during the active phase of composting was found to be the most important factor affecting pathogen destruction.

In California, Downer et al. (2008) found that unturned piles of fresh and aged green waste (note that these piles would not have satisfied organic certification requirements) did not uniformly expose pathogens to lethal temperatures. They recommended that green waste stockpiles should be turned intermittently to mix pile contents and move propagules to a part of the pile where they would be more likely to be killed by heat, microbial attack, or chemical degradation that occurs during active aerobic composting.

What can go wrong?

In general, adherence to a composting process that meets the requirements of organic certification should result in substantial—if not complete—destruction of weed seeds and plant pathogens. Incomplete composting, on the other hand, can result in the survival of weed seeds and/or plant pathogens.

Improperly assembled and maintained piles or windrows may not reach high enough temperatures during the active phase of composting for killing all weed seeds and pathogens. Failure to reach adequate temperatures can have several causes:

  • Too high a C:N ratio of initial ingredients, too little water, or too little oxygen can inhibit the rate of decomposition, and thus the production of heat.
  • Too much water can starve the pile of oxygen and result in anaerobic decomposition.
  • Accumulation of toxic products may inhibit fungal and microbial activity, thus slowing the rate of decomposition.
  • Too small a pile or windrow may loose heat too quickly to reach adequate temperatures, whereas too large a pile may have inadequate aeration to support aerobic decomposition.

To avoid these problems, assemble raw materials carefully to achieve the proper starting conditions of C:N, moisture, pile porosity, and size; monitor temperature and moisture conditions; and turn/aerate as needed to maintain a biologically active, aerobic environment. Excellent resources providing detailed instructions and guidelines for composting include The Art and Science of Composting (Cooperband, 2002), Composting on Organic Farms (Baldwin and Greenfield, 2009), and On-Farm Composting Handbook (Rynk, 1992).

Temperatures at the edges and surface of compost piles and windrows may not be sufficient to kill weed seeds and pathogens. This is an especially important risk in static piles that are not turned and mixed during the active phase of decomposition, but rely on forced aeration to maintain an aerobic environment. Thorough mixing or turning during the active phase is essential to ensure that all the material achieves elevated temperatures for a long enough period of time to kill weed seeds and pathogens.

Dry heat is less effective than moist heat at killing weed seeds. Ensure that moisture content of the pile or windrow is maintained at 40–60%.

Contamination with soil or uncomposted residues, especially after the active phase of composting has finished, can lead to the reintroduction of weed seeds or plant pathogens. Avoid adding fresh material after the active phase.

Finished compost can become recontaminated with weed seeds if weeds are allowed to grow and go to seed on or adjacent to the pile or windrow. Similarly, compost can become contaminated with vegetative reproductive structures from some weeds—Canada thistle and rhizomateous grasses, for example—if they are allowed to grow on or adjacent to the pile. Keep vegetation adjacent to stored compost mowed short, and tarp piles or windrows to prevent contamination by wind-blown weed seeds. When moving or spreading finished compost, avoid picking up soil or other contaminants from under or around the pile or windrow.

References Cited
  • Baldwin, K. R., and J. T. Greenfield. 2009. Composting on organic farms. Organic Production Publication Series, Center for Environmental Farming Systems. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, Raleigh. (Available online at: (verified 20 March 2010).
  • Bollen, G. J. , D. Volker, and A. P. Wijnen. 1989. Inactivation of soil-borne plant pathogens during small-scale composting of crop residues. Netherlands Journal of Plant Pathology 95 (Supp 1): 19–30.
  • Cooperband, L. 2002. The art and science of composting. Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin, Madison. (Available online at: (verified 20 March 2010).
  • Dahlquist, R. M., T. S. Prather, and J. J. Stapleton. 2007. Time and temperature requirements for weed seed thermal death. Weed Science 55:619–625. (Available online at: (verified 17 Nov 2009).
  • Downer, A. J., Crohn, D., Faber, B., Daugovish, O., Becker, J. O., Menge, J. A., and Mochizuki, M. J. 2008. Survival of plant pathogens in static piles of ground green waste. Phytopathology 98:547–554. (Available online at: (verified 29 June 2010).
  • Eghball, B, and G. W. Lesoing. 2000. Viability of weed seeds following manure windrow composting. Compost Science & Utilization 8:46–53.
  • Egley, G. H. 1990. High-temperature effects on germination and survival of weed seeds in soil. Weed Science 38:429–435.
  • Larney, F. J., and R. E. Blackshaw. 2003. Weed seed viability in composted beef cattle feedlot manure. Journal of Environmental Quality 32:1105–1113. (Available online at: (verified 17 Nov 2009).
  • Noble, R., and S. J. Roberts 2004. Eradication of plant pathogens and nematodes during composting: A review. Plant Pathology 53:548–568. (Available online at: (verified 29 June 2010).
  • Rynk, R. 1992. On-farm composting handbook. Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service, Ithaca, NY. (Partially available online at: (verified 20 March 2010).
  • Shiralipour, A., and D. B. Mcconnell. 1991. Effects of compost heat and phytotoxins on germination of certain Florida weed seeds. Soil and Crop Science Society of Florida Proceedings 50:154–157.
  • Thompson, A. J., N. E. Jones, and A. M. Blair. 1997. The effect of temperature on viability of imbibed weed seeds. Annals of Applied Biology 130:123–134. (Available online at: (verified 17 Nov 2009).
  • United States Department of Agriculture. 2000. National organic program: Final rule. Codified at 7 C.F.R., part 205. (Available online at: (verified 14 June 2010).
  • Wiese, A. F., J. M. Sweeten, B. W. Bean, C. D. Salisbury, and E. W. Chenault. 1998. High temperature composting of cattle feedlot manure kills weed seed. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 14:377–380. (Available online at: (verified 29 June 2010).
Additional Resources
  • Composting | Reduce, Reuse, Recycle | US EPA [Online]. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Available at: (verified 29 Jan 2010).
  • Composting. WSU - Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources [Online]. Board of Regents, Washington State University. Available at: (verified 29 August 2011).
  • Cornell Composting. Cornell Waste Management Institute [Online]. Cornell University. Available at: (verified 16 Dec 2009).
  • LeaMaster, B., J. R. Hollyer, and J. L. Sullivan. 1998. Composting animal manures: Precautions and processing. University of Hawaii, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Available online at:

Adoption Potential and Perceptions of Reduced Tillage among Organic Farmers in the Maritime Pacific Northwest

eOrganic authors:

Dr. Andrew T. Corbin Ph.D., Agriculture and Natural Resources Faculty, Washington State University Extension Snohomish County

Dr. Douglas P. Collins Ph.D., Small Farms Extension Specialist, WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources

Dr. Rose L. Krebill-Prather Ph.D., Research Associate, Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, Washington State University

Chris A. Benedict M.S., Agriculture and Natural Resources Faculty, Washington State University Extension Whatcom County

Dr. Danna L. Moore Ph.D., Interim Director, Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, Washington State University

Want to reduce your tillage? Find out what Northwest growers are learning.

Reduced tillage (RT) is a desired yet challenging strategy to achieve for many organic farmers. In the maritime Pacific Northwest, organic RT systems are not widely adopted due to the required technologies and practices that are new to producers in this region. The lack of adoption of these practices provides a unique opportunity to examine producer perceptions about soil quality and barriers to adoption of new soil improvement techniques. During the spring of 2011, three organic vegetable producer focus groups were conducted in western Washington to learn about producer knowledge, attitudes, practices, and the perceived benefits and risks of implementing RT technologies. Focus group participants were eager to share their experiences relative to organic RT practices. Farmers reported to understand the benefits of tillage reduction and cover cropping, but acknowledged there are significant obstacles to overcome before successful implementation can occur on their own farms. The obstacles encompass aspects of organic vegetable production in the maritime Northwest where there is higher soil moisture, a shorter growing season, and smaller scale farms relative to other regions where the RT practices are used successfully. While RT methods improve soil quality, farmers lose the beneficial aspects of tilling the soil related to aeration, soil moisture levels, soil temperature, and weed management. Other concerns pertained to the equipment needed for the RT practices and whether the equipment has been cost-effectively adapted to smaller scale farms. Results from these focus groups have assisted our team to more effectively proceed with RT research and outreach efforts.

Cover crops (barley) terminated by flail mower and roller/crimper (pictured) in preparation for vegetable transplants at the Washington State University Northwest Research and Extension Center, Mount Vernon, WA. Photo credit: Andrew Corbin


Washington State has the third highest number of organic farmers and the second highest organic farmgate sales in the United States (NASS, 2010). Organic agriculture in western Washington is a vibrant and growing industry composed of more than 266 certified organic farms and 25,900 certified acres, up 140% and 280% respectively since 2005 (Kirby and Granatstein, 2012). Growth in western Washington organic agriculture is driven by strong consumer demand in regional metropolitan areas such as Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, and Vancouver, B.C.

Without access to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, organic farmers are more reliant on cultural management tactics and healthy soils to manage weeds and provide fertility. In addition to a relatively short growing season common to other northern latitude regions, maritime Pacific Northwest farms experience high winter rainfall that encourages erosion, soil nutrient leaching, and soil compaction. These conditions, which escalate the risk of decreasing soil quality and ultimately profitability among organic farmers in this region, may encourage adoption of alternative production strategies.

Weed management is a primary concern for organic vegetable growers (Walz, 2004). Crops and weeds fill the same ecological niche and compete for the same resources. To be productive, growers need to structure an environment that is beneficial to the crops, with minimal weed pressure (Di Tomaso, 1995). In conventional agriculture, herbicides are used to suppress weeds, but most selective herbicides are not permitted in organic farming (Gruber and Claupein, 2009). Primary tillage (plowing/disking) and secondary tillage (cultivation) are methods of suppressing weeds compatible with organic production standards. Most research on reduced tillage (RT) systems has focused on conventional agriculture where herbicides are used (Kaval, 2004). Recent work suggests organic production systems may successfully maintain yields under higher weed pressures as compared to conventional systems (Ryan et al., 2009).

Certified organic growers must use tillage and cultivation practices that “maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil” (USDA-National Organic Program [NOP], 2000). Frequent tillage contributes to the deterioration of soil quality, which threatens the sustainability of western Washington organic vegetable farms. Regular tillage with multiple passes is a routine practice of growers who rely on tillage to suppress weeds. Unfortunately, over-tilling damages soil structure and promotes erosion (Montgomery, 2008). Frequent tilling also requires labor, machinery and fuel, and expensive inputs that have negative environmental impacts (Grandy et al., 2006; Grandy and Robertson, 2006; Robertson et al., 2000). High biomass, mechanically terminated cover crop mulches associated with RT have been shown to inhibit weeds (Altieri et al., 2011; Mirsky et al., 2011; Ryan et al., 2011). Therefore, researchers are interested in evaluating RT production systems to help farmers improve the economic and environmental sustainability of their operations.

Farms provide regionally important ecosystem services (Costanza, 1997), including flood protection, erosion prevention, increased biodiversity, and carbon sequestration. RT organic farms have fewer negative externalities and more positive externalities in the form of enhanced ecosystem services (Kocian et al., 2012). Decreasing tillage activities reduces wind and soil erosion and creates benefits to society both off-site and on-site. In the United States, off-site soil erosion damage is estimated to cost $37.6 billion annually (Uri, 2001). On-site erosion impacts the future productivity of the land (Walker and Young, 1986). Farmers will also need access to machinery, whether through low-interest loans or special programs like those currently underway by Conservation Districts in Washington and Oregon, the University of Idaho, and WSU Extension (Meyer, 2009). These programs address knowledge barriers and lower risks associated with adopting new technologies by promoting communication and mentoring among farmers.

Recent research has found that traditional predictors of adoption of new innovations such as education, length of time farming, and farm structure, have little or no relationship to the adoption of more complex innovations like broader forms of conservation (Coughenour, 2003; Napier et al., 2000). Adoption of RT practices involves accepting a “loosely coupled system” composed of components that vary independently where farmers choose from a collection of practices based on their personal preferences, farm characteristics, perceived needs, level of knowledge, labor availability, and many other factors. Certain techniques may even be adapted by farmers to fit their specific farm or marketing needs. Because of the flexibility in choosing what, where, why, and how to adopt, no two organic farmers are alike in what they practice or grow. Moreover, each organic farming practice is associated with a different set of perceived adoption constraints (Goldberger, 2008). Fundamental to RT is that growers have knowledge and experiences that lead them to appreciate the complex interaction and relationships of their specific production practices and how these can impact (enhancing or eroding) soil quality and soil biology for their regional growing circumstances. An example of this is while more conventional tillage manages weeds, soil quality is reduced through greater erosion and earthworm populations decrease (Chan, 2001). Additionally, Rogers' (2003) theory of diffusion underscores the importance, advantage, and compatibility that a new technology must have in order to be widely adopted.

Preliminary experimental results and demonstration of the best methods to grow crops using RT will likely facilitate adoption of RT methods and technologies. In addition to these traditional Extension tools, adoption of conservation practices may be enhanced by internet-based outreach tools, including interactive webinars, web-pages, and web-videos (Case and Hino, 2010; Sobrero, 2008).

Coughenour (2003) found that, in adopting these more complex practices, connections between farmers may be as or more important than connections between farmers and representatives of the scientific community. In other words, conversations between farmers at the local coffee shop or feed store might be more important than the research field or laboratory. Perhaps more importantly, they rely on their peers (who have similar circumstances and similar problems) for informal “expert” consultation. This connection between farmers appears to be related to the ability of other farmers to model implementation of new practices, to talk about it in a way that is easily understood, and to potentially be available for appropriate and immediate help. On-farm trials and demonstration projects can be used to develop expertise among early adopters. Recent economic research has also shown that adoption can be better understood by looking at the demand for specific traits or qualities in complex technologies (Useche et al., 2009). It is also necessary to account for factors that go beyond profitability, including land ownership, scale of production, farm/farmer characteristics, and the life cycle of existing capital–all of which help explain why technologies are not adopted even when it appears they would improve profitability (Isik, 2004; Purvis et al., 1995; Carey and Zilberman, 2002; Barenklau and Knapp, 2007).

Developing a Reduced Tillage Research and Extension Project in Western Washington

Research and Extension efforts to reduce tillage on organic farms in western Washington began in 2008 with the formation of a stakeholder advisory group, an on-farm trial, and a symposium. The symposium, supported by a USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) planning grant, brought together 72 regional organic vegetable growers, agricultural professionals, and national RT specialists. National and regional organic RT specialists were invited to present successful examples and discuss their RT organic production methods. The first day culminated with a field trip to an on-farm trial. The second day focused on understanding local needs and opportunities, and describing how WSU should be involved in research and outreach. Three priorities were identified by the group: 1) Identify production methods that integrate cover crops and RT technologies to improve soil quality and reduce weed populations; 2) Evaluate the economic impact of adopting RT technologies in terms of average profitability, the variance of profits, and factors influencing the likelihood of adoption; 3) Facilitate adoption of RT technologies and ideas, and identify the most effective strategies for encouraging behavior change. Core members of the producer advisory group formed during the symposium have remained engaged as research participants in on-farm and research center trials and have guided the direction of the project to ensure relevance.

Washington Organic Farmer RT Focus Groups

Focus groups were chosen at this stage because they are a useful way to examine grower beliefs and perceptions, and to understand the decisions made on operations. Focus groups are an effective method for interacting with stakeholders and engaging them to learn more broadly about their concerns, knowledge, experiences, and barriers to implementation of RT (Krueger and Casey, 2000; Morgan and Krueger, 1998). The discussion format and what individuals had to say in response to our questions and topics provided information about their attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and their underlying values with respect to RT implementation in agriculture as well as in the high moisture areas where they manage their small to medium size organic vegetable production systems. The goal of the focus groups was to help the project team identify major bridges and barriers in the design, adoption and dissemination of RT production systems for organic vegetable crops in western Washington.

In spring 2011, the RT Working Group, made up of western Washington Extension and research faculty, worked collaboratively with faculty and staff of the WSU Social & Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC) in the development of the focus group pre-survey, moderator's guide, focus group participant screening and selection, as well as the implementation of focus group sessions.

Focus Group Participants

For focus groups to be an effective methodology, participants need to be randomly recruited from the target population to achieve a mix of contributors comprised of the types of producers to which the research is directed (Krueger and Casey, 2000; Morgan and Krueger, 1998). Both men and women often work in small farming operations. Furthermore, there is an ethnic diversity of people who participate in area Extension programs for organic vegetable production. Specifically, western Washington has an increasing number of Latino growers involved in organic vegetable production. Focus groups with culturally diverse populations that encompass a much smaller proportion of growers and who are concentrated in some local areas more than others have not been elaborated in the literature for focus groups or Extension programs. In this research, Latino growers participated and engaged in the same session discussions with other area growers about the use of RT.

The RT Working Group provided the SESRC with a list of growers who participated in the 2009 symposium entitled “No-Till Organic Vegetable Production in Western Washington”. These farmers, along with a list of organic vegetable producers gathered from the Washington State Department of Agriculture were selected from the following western Washington counties: Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam, Kitsap, Island, and San Juan (Fig.1). Other names suggested by WSU Extension personnel involved in the project from the counties of interest were provided to the SESRC for a total of 145 potential farmers for screening and selection.

Participants were screened for the person on the farm who makes decisions regarding cropping practices and other farm management decisions and who was 18 years of age or older. Participants also needed to have at least one acre of organic vegetables produced on their farm, but they did not have to be certified organic. The goal for each session was to have approximately ten individuals confirmed for each session.

Figure 1 Western Washington Counties and focus group locations

Implementation of Focus Groups

In spring 2011, focus groups were scheduled in three different locations in western Washington: Mount Vernon, Everett, and Olympia (Fig. 1). Each focus group session was planned for a two hour block of time. One of the SESRC principal investigators served as the focus group moderator while the other principal investigator took notes. In addition, audio recordings were taken during each focus group. The focus group moderator guided the discussion through the main topic areas (Table 1). The same set of topics was used at each focus group session to ensure consistency. A written pre-survey with questions about farm characteristics and a self-rating of RT knowledge was completed by farmers prior to the discussion. Farmers were also given a $50 honorarium for their participation.


Table 1. Focus Group Discussion Topics 1. From your perspective, what are the main reasons farmers use reduced tillage practices? What tillage practices do you currently use? 2. What are the main reasons farmers use cover crops? What cover crop practices do you currently use? 3. What concerns do you have about adopting reduced tillage practices and cover cropping? Identify any barriers. 4. What tillage equipment do you currently have? What new equipment would be needed in order to adopt reduced tillage practices? 5. How does your access or lack of access to the proper equipment affect your willingness to adopt new practices? 6. How do you learn about new farming practices? What factors influence you to make changes in your practice? 7. What factors/facts would most convince you to adopt reduced tillage practices?

At the Mount Vernon focus group, a Spanish speaking interpreter provided a simultaneous translation for the four Spanish-speaking participants during the discussion. The translator relayed their comments and questions to the larger group and then provided back discussion comments. This allowed for an interchange that offered insight into their unique practices and perceptions of RT and also allowed them to learn about and ask questions of their English-speaking grower counterparts.

Project researchers from the RT working group played a key role in the discussion by interjecting information and clarifying critical points regarding the current project-related research. Researchers also answered questions and provided clarification on RT and cover cropping practices. The sessions encouraged communication between researchers and participants by developing questions that led the conversation around the chosen topics. Farmers from this working group were committed to supporting and promoting the comprehensive resources being developed during this integrated research and Extension project.

Compilation of Findings

After the focus group sessions were completed, SESRC personnel prepared typed transcripts of each session. The data generated from the focus groups is qualitative. The power in focus groups is not a quantitative measurement but rather capturing the breadth of the topics and issues that surface from participants interacting with each other in dialogue during the sessions. Focus groups are a way to listen to people and learn from them. Often the synergy, group dynamic and questions that participants pose to one another in addition the moderator's questions explores new depths and aspects not often uncovered in surveys or other means of capturing interview data.

Results Participant Profile

In the pre-survey, the majority of participants across focus groups indicated familiarity with RT practices and though most were not using the specific strategies being studied by the RT Working Group, they have tried to reduce the amount of tillage they do in one form or another (Table 2). Twelve Mount Vernon participants, six Everett participants, and six Olympia participants indicated they have used some form of RT on their farm, although the focus group discussion revealed that individual farmers' definition of RT ranged widely. The remaining participants from each of the three locations indicated “No”; they have not used RT practices on their farm. However, all participants indicated a high level of interest in RT for various reasons.

Farmer participants rated their own current level of knowledge about RT in organic vegetable production. While these results have too few respondents to be considered a survey with statist

Graduate Student Sustainable Agriculture Projects for FY2015 Announced

Projects funded include research on pollinators, high tunnels, trap cropping, Farm to School, and cover crops.

Resources for Organic Certification of Research Sites and Facilities

eOrganic author:

Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

  • Agricultural Marketing Service - National Organic Program [Online]. Agricultural Marketing Service United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, DC. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service [Online]. Spring Valley, WI. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: organic farming, sustainable ag, publications, newsletters [Online]. National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). Fayetteville, AR. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • USDA ERS- Organic Agriculture [Online]. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Washington, DC. Available at: (verified 24 August 2015).
  • Organic Farming Research Foundation -- Home [Online]. Organic Farming Research Foundation. Santa Cruz, CA. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • OMRI - Organic Material Review Institute [Online]. Eugene, OR. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • Organic Trade Association [Online]. Greenfield, MA. Available at: (verified 17 Dec 2008).
  • New Farm For Farmers | Rodale Institute [Online]. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • The Organic Center [Online]. Boulder, CO. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • How to Go Organic - Resource for transitioning to organic [Online]. The Organic Trade Association. Greenfield, MA. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • Organic Agriculture: Organic Agriculture Home [Online]. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy. Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).
  • Organic Ag Info [Online]. Organic Agriculture Consortium (OAC)/Scientific Congress on Organic Agricultural Research (SCOAR). Available at: (verified 16 March 2010).


This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

eOrganic 727

How can I control internal parasites in my sheep?

Answer: If not controlled, internal parasites can cause illness in animals. Symptoms of parasitism include weight loss, loss of appetite, depression, weakness, lagging behind or separating from the flock, and possibly anemia, bottle jaw, or diarrhea. Livestock producers want to raise healthy animals, and so they may treat the sick animals with dewormers. But that is a temporary fix at best because unless there is a management change, animals will soon be reinfected. Also, most dewormers are no longer working because the internal parasites have developed resistance to the chemicals.

A better approach than relying on dewormers is to prevent illness in the first place. A strong immune system will help an animal resist or tolerate parasites; this strong immune system stems from the following:

• Genetics. Some breeds and some individuals are better able to fight parasites.
• Age. Young animals have no immunity; with time and exposure, sheep will build immunity around 4 to 9 months of age.
• Good nutrition. A properly nourished animal will be better able to fight internal parasites. The minerals copper and zinc are important for the immune system, and extra protein also helps animals battle parasites.
• Low stress. Clean, calm environments reduce animals’ stress.

In addition to having a strong immune system, livestock need to be protected from consuming too many internal parasites. This is accomplished through sanitation (clean water tanks and feed troughs) and through pasture management.
Good pasture management can help animals stay healthy in two ways: by reducing exposure to internal parasite larvae and by supporting animal health.

Numerous strategies can reduce exposure:

• Maintain proper forage height; don’t graze shorter than four inches.
• Maintain proper stocking rate.
• Rest contaminated areas for at least 60 days if possible; longer is better.
• Give access to browse and tall-growing forbs.
• Use resistant animals and alternate grazers (cattle and equines can alternate with sheep or goats).
• Provide clean pastures for young and other susceptible stock, such as lactating animals.
• Graze animals on regrowth from silage or hay crops.
• Use annual forage crops, such as rye, turnips, or chicory (cool season) and sunn hemp, cowpeas, sorghum, or soybeans (warm season).
• Rotate animals away from larvae before they are infective, which means within four days during optimum parasite conditions, such as during a humid summer.
• Keep animals out of wet areas.

Several strategies provide support:

• Provide excellent nutrition, especially energy, protein, and minerals, to susceptible classes and during stressful times.
• Allow limited exposure to parasite larvae to maintain immune response.
• Provide diverse forages, such as browse, tannin-containing forages such as sericea lespedeza, and a wide variety of plants to encourage animals to eat more and give some medicinal benefits.

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Small Ruminants: Pasture Management. This publication offers a full discussion of pasture management and the interaction between animals and internal parasites. It includes three assessment sheets: pasture, livestock nutrition, and internal parasite management. These assessment sheets can help producers refine their management and improve the health of pastures and animals. The publication is available at

Original post blogged on b2evolution.

NMPAN Webinars


Upcoming NMPAN webinars:  

Sept. 30, 2015: Validation of Dried and Fermented Meats: Tools for Small Processors

All NMPAN webinars are recorded and archived here, by topic.
A few selected webinars from other groups are also listed.

Click on a webinar's title for the slides, speaker info, and recording.

Topic Areas (click to jump to a topic):


Local Meat and Poultry Processing: the Big Picture Local Meat Processing: Successes and Innovations Date: April 19, 2013 Duration: 90 minutes Host: National Good Food Network

Local meat and poultry can’t get to market without a processor, but processors are pulled in many directions: Farmers would like more processing options, but the kind of processing needed depends on the market, the regulations are complex, and even with premium-priced meats, the profit margins are slim.

So how can local meat processing survive ... and even thrive? On this webinar, Lauren Gwin and Arion Thiboumery, co-founders and co-coordinators of the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, share the results of their research on this topic, featuring innovations and lessons learned from successful processors around the country.  We also heard from several regional support efforts -- in Vermont, New York, and North Carolina -- to improve access to local processing.


To Build or Not to Build: Lessons Learned from New Processing Ventures Date: September 28, 2011 Duration: 1 hour Finding a processor that does what you need, when you need it, can be challenging. Building a new facility to meet that need might seem like a good idea. Sometimes it is, but often it isn't. On this webinar, we'll discuss what works -- and what doesn't work -- when building new processing facilities. Our speakers share lessons learned, with real examples from the field.   Building the Capacity of Small Meat Processors: Successes and Lessons from North Carolina Date: January 7, 2015 Duration: 1 hour Local meat and poultry markets rely on small processors with a range of skills and services.  NC Choices, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State University, spent two years working with a set of small processors in North Carolina, providing a range of technical assistance and support. The goal? Improve the quality and quantity of processing services available to the state's livestock producers and to enhance the economic viability of both producers and processors.  On this webinar, NC Choices and two processors who participated in the project will tell us how they did it, what they accomplished, and why it matters.   Talk is Cheap ... and Efficient! Facilitating value chain development without costly new infrastructure Date: January 22, 2015 Duration: 90 minutes Host: National Good Food Network

Let's face it: food hubs are sexy! So are other Good Food infrastructure projects, such as regionally-scaled meat processing plants.  And for good reason: these businesses are often filling gaps or bottlenecks in regional and local food systems.  However, sometimes it's not a LACK of infrastructure that leads to bottlenecks; it is incomplete or inefficient USE of the infrastructure that stymies the system.  "Value Chain Coordinators" are people who work to connect the dots in a value chain. They ensure the right people, goods and resources connect with each other. Most often value chain coordinators work outside day-to-day business operations, a vantage point that offers a unique perspective on the optimal solutions in a regional market.  This expanded webinar dives deep into the approaches people across the country are taking to improve the food system without costly new infrastructure.  NMPAN Director Lauren Gwin discusses the critical role of the value chain facilitator in local and regional meat processing. 


Regulations and Policy Cooperative Interstate Shipment: How's It Working Out? Date: Feb. 4, 2014 Duration: 1 hour The Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program, authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill and launched by USDA-FSIS in 2012, allows state-inspected meats from qualifying plants to be shipped across state lines. The goal of the program is to expand market opportunities for small meat and poultry processors. Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Dakota were the first three states to qualify, and Indiana is working on it. On this webinar, we heard from state inspection program directors, processors, and others about their experiences with the program so far and what it took to qualify. An official from FSIS provided background on the CIS program.     Cooperative Interstate Shipment: Updates from FSIS Date: Sept. 18, 2014 Duration: 1 hour On this webinar FSIS discusses the current status of the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program in Ohio. Speakers and representatives from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, FSIS, and USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) initiative provide an overview of CIS and information on USDA assistance and available resources for small and mid-scale meat and poultry processors.    USDA-FSIS Draft Compliance Guide for Mobile Slaughter Units Date: July 13, 2010
Duration: 1 hour
On May 24, 2010 USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a draft “Mobile Slaughter Unit Compliance Guide.” The guide was written for owners and managers of a new or existing red meat or poultry MSU who want to operate under federal inspection. On this webinar we explain the guidance and answer questions with the help of a Policy Officer from USDA-FSIS.   Interstate Shipment of State-Inspected Meat Proposed Rule Date: October 20, 2009
Duration: 45 min.
The 2008 Farm Bill included a provision to allow the interstate sale of state-inspected meat and poultry. In September 2009, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service published proposed rules for how this program will work. On this webinar, we explain the proposed rules, discuss "messy details" and areas of controversy, and give background on the issue.   Meat Labels and Label Claims Date: July 8, 2009
Duration: 90 minutes
Meat labels can be confusing for producers, processors, and consumers. Officials from USDA/FSIS Labeling and Program Delivery Division and Iowa Meat and Poultry Inspection, and the operations manager of Organic Valley's meat division explain the label approval process, voluntary label claims, updated requirements, and how FSIS interprets claims defined by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.   Poultry Processing Exemptions Date: March 10, 2009
Duration: 90 Minutes
Poultry processing exemptions can be difficult for producers, processors, and even regulators to sort out. Recognizing that states have the ability to individually modify these regulations, this webinar attempts to clear up some confusion by offering both an FSIS and a state perspective. Additionally, three exempt processors overview their operations.   Poultry Processing Exemptions II (2010) Date: December 7, 2010
Duration: 1 hour
The federal poultry processing exemptions remain confusing for producers, processors, and even regulators, especially since most states have added their own modifications to the federal regulations. In this webinar, a policy official from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service explains the exemptions, and a state official from North Carolina explains how that state recently decided to allow one of the most important federal exemptions.   Nutritional Labeling of Meat and Poultry: the New Rules Date: October 4, 2011
Duration: 1 hour  USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service finalized new rules in 2010 about nutritional labeling of meat and poultry products. The new rules are effective on January 1, 2012 -- that means everyone must be in compliance.  On this webinar, FSIS explained the rules and what you need to know to comply. Also, Brynn Kepler of the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) described their labeling resources.   NACMPI is Seeking Nominations: Learn More and Apply Date: May 15, 2014 Duration: 30 min. On this webinar, Keith Payne, Deputy Director of FSIS's Outreach and Partnership Division, and Steve Warshawer of La Montanita Co-Op and Mesa Top Farm and a current NACMPI committee member, explain the purpose and mission of the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI) and tell you how to submit your application to serve, if you are interested.  Please note, this webinar is time sensitive: applications are due on June 16, 2014.   

Management and Accounting Tools for Processors Product Costing for Meat Processors and Marketers Date: October 21, 2010
Duration: 1 hour
A processor and a marketer, both specializing in niche meats, explain the ins and outs of how to cost out products efficiently and effectively, including insights on inventory management.   Order & Inventory Management Date: April 27, 2010
Duration: 1 hour
How to keep track of everything? Three meat companies showcase the computer systems they are using: why they use them, how they work, and how much they cost.   Third-Party Audits for Small and Mid-Sized Meat Processors Date: April 5, 2011
Duration: 68 minutes
Small and mid-sized meat processors are increasingly being asked by their customers to go through third party audits for a range of standards and practices. On this webinar, auditors explain what to expect from – and how to prepare for – audits for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), food safety, animal welfare, and certified organic. A processor with ample audit experience will also offer tips and perspective.   Cost Analysis: Are You Making Money? Date: March 19, 2014 Duration: 60 minutes Many meat processors watch their checkbook balances and hope for the best.  Some wade through P&L statements looking for answers and often come up short.  Most small processors don't fully understand why they are or aren't making money and what they can do about it.  Learn how to develop systems that will give you the financial information you need to make decisions that improve your business' performance.   The Business of Dry Curing Date: June 25, 2014 Duration: 60 minutes

There has been significant consumer interest in dry cured charcuterie products, like salumi, in recent years.  Consumers love it, chefs want it and it is a good way for producers and processors to get more value out of a carcass and/or really set their brand apart.  Yet making dry cured products can be challenging and not always cost effective. On this webinar we'll cover the Business of Dry Curing: we'll hear about the growth of artisan cured meats, the basics of the business and talk to two charcuterie processors about how they got started, their day to day operations and the costs and revenue for dry curing.


Plant Management Strategies to Reduce Fall Season Stress Date: Sept. 9, 2014
Duration: 1 hour

Small Plant Operators: do you dread the busy fall season? It can be the most lucrative time of year for small meat processing facilities, but is also often the most stressful. Your plant is at full capacity between fee-for-service processing customers, hunters and holiday orders, customers want it all and they want it right now, overtime pay spikes, equipment breaks down, and you and your employees are stressed out.  Sounds familiar?  On this webinar, Nick McCann shares real life examples and proven strategies for solving common problems in meat plant management: excessive overtime, stressed out employees, customer complaints, and quality problems that often occur during the busy fall season.  (SLIDES ONLY: RECORDING NOT AVAILABLE)

  Profiles in Small-Scale Processing: Blue Ridge Meats Date: May 28, 2015
Duration: 1 hour

What makes a small-scale processing plant successful? We get asked that question on a regular basis, by NMPAN members and many others. People want to hear from operators who are making it work, using creative and innovative approaches to tackle the difficult challenge of profitability for a small-scale plant.   

On this webinar, we got a "behind the scenes" peek at Blue Ridge Meats, a small, USDA-inspected slaughter and processing facility in Front Royal, VA. Lois Aylestock, VP, described how they manage day to day operations, getting and keeping customers, bookkeeping, employee management, and more.  She told us about systems they've developed, what has worked (and what hasn't), and — this is a big one — what she wishes she knew before they got started. 


Humane Handling at the Processing Plant Date: June 17, 2015
Duration: 1 hour

On this webinar, we learned about humane handling practices at the processing plant.  We discussed steps producers and processors can take to ensure humane treatment and how animal handling impacts meat quality.  We spoke with two humane handling experts, Anna Bassett and Tim Holmes, about the research that backs AWA's technical info and slaughter standards as well as their Animal Welfare Officer and Poultry Welfare Officer courses.  


Business Planning and Plant Design Innovations in Wastewater Management for Small Meat Processors Date: July 23, 2013 Duration: 50 minutes Wastewater management can be very challenging and expensive for small meat and poultry processors. On this webinar, you'll learn about an innovative and cost-effective solution -- constructed wetlands -- being used by a small, USDA inspected poultry and red meat slaughter and processing plant in rural Indiana.     The Business of Meat Processing: Planning and Profitability

Managing Manure Fertilizers in Organic Systems

eOrganic author:

Michelle Wander, University of Illinois

This article reviews the basics for manure management in organic systems. Topics covered include National Organic Program regulations, the risk of contaminants in manures, guidelines on how to manage nutrients in manure, and testing manure or compost. Some of the challenges of nutrient supply and test interpretation associated with the repeated use of manures are discussed along with tips and tools you might use to determine manure application rates.

Introduction, Rules, and Concerns

Livestock manure is a key fertilizer in organic and sustainable soil management. Manure provides plant nutrients and can be an excellent soil conditioner. Properly managed manure applications recycle nutrients to crops, improve soil quality, and protect water quality. It is most effectively used in combination with crop rotation, cover cropping, green manuring, liming, and the addition of other natural or biologically-friendly fertilizers and amendments.

Use of manure imported from conventional farming operations is allowed by National Organic Program (NOP) standards. There are, however, application restrictions. Manure may only be used in conjunction with other soil-building practices and be stored in a way that prevents contamination of surface or ground water. Many certifiers specify that manure application must not exceed “agronomic application rates”, which means the amount applied must be less than or equal to the requirements of the crop. Manure cannot be applied when the ground is frozen, snow-covered, or saturated.

The NOP regulation (§205.203(c)(1)) specifies that "raw" fresh, aerated, anaerobic, or "sheet composted" manures may only be applied on perennials or crops not for human consumption, or such uncomposted manures must be incorporated at least four months (120 days) before harvest of a crop for human consumption, if the crop contacts the soil or soil particles (especially important for nitrate accumulators, such as spinach). If the crop for human consumption does not contact the soil or soil particles (e.g. sweet corn), raw manure can be incorporated up to 90 days prior to harvest. Biosolids, sewage sludge, and other human wastes are prohibited. Septic wastes are prohibited, as well as anything containing human waste.

Composted plant and animal manures (§205.203(c)(2)) are those that are produced by a process that: (i) established an initial C:N ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1; and (ii) maintained a temperature of 131°F to 170°F for 3 days using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system; or (iii) a temperature of between 131°F and 170°F for 15 days using a windrow composting system, during which period, the materials must be turned a minimum of five times. Alternatively, acceptable composts must meet the November 9, 2006 NOSB Recommendation for Guidance Use of Compost, Vermicompost, Processed Manure and Compost Tea that identifies materials and practices that would be acceptable under 205.203(c)(2). For more information see Making and Using Composts in Organic Systems.

Processed manures are addressed in section §205.203(c)(3). Heat-treated, processed manure may be used as a supplement to a soil-building program, without a specific interval between application and harvest. Producers are expected to comply with all applicable requirements of the NOP regulation with respect to soil quality, including ensuring the soil is enhanced and maintained through proper stewardship.

According to the NOP's July 17, 2007 ruling, “processed manure products must be treated so that all portions of the product, without causing combustion, reach a minimum temperature of either 150°F (66°C) for at least one hour or 165°F (74°C), and are dried to a maximum moisture level of 12%; or an equivalent heating and drying process could be used." To achieve equivalency status, processed manure products can not contain more than 1x10³ (1,000) MPN (Most Probable Number) fecal coliform per gram of processed material sampled and not contain more than 3 MPN Salmonella per 4 gram sample of processed manure.

As always, organic vegetable growers should get label information and check with their certifiers before using purchased compost or processed manure products. See Can I Use This Input On My Organic Farm? for more information.

Some manures are contaminated with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, disease organisms, heavy metals, and other undesirable substances. Many of the organic compounds, pathogens, protozoa, or viruses can be eliminated through high-temperature aerobic composting. Caution is advised, however, as some disease causing agents, e.g. Salmonella and E. coli bacteria, may survive the composting process. Manure and compost testing is available through commercial labs and is recomended in situations where there is any doubt about the purity of manures. Manure testing is required by the European Union and Canadian standards. The possibility of transmitting human diseases discourages the use of fresh manures and even some composts as pre-plant or sidedress fertilizers on vegetable crops. Apply animal manures at least 90 or 120 days, as applicable, prior to harvest of any crop that could be eaten without cooking.

Best management practices recommended for manure are as follows:

  1. Avoid manuring after planting a crop to be harvested.
  2. Incorporation before planting is recommended.
  3. Do not use dog or cat (fresh or composted) because these species share many parasites with humans.
  4. Wash all produce from manured fields thoroughly before use.

Cautions or concerns include the following:

  1. Manures imported from conventional farms can contain residues from hormones or pesticides. (For more information, see Antibiotics and Hormones in Animal Manure Webcast.)
  2. In rare cases, carryover of persistent herbicides can occur. Most herbicides break down rapidly after application or during normal composting. However, some of those in the pyridine carboxylic acid group such as clopyralid, which is commonly used on grass lawns, break down slowly, even during composting, and are not degraded when ingested by animals because they pass into the urine quickly. Application of manures or composts derived from grass treated with clopyralid is restricted during the “growing season of application” for all farms, not just those that are organic.
  3. Heavy metals (e.g., As, Cu, and Zn) are fed to livestock and then added to soils in the form of manures. Unlike sludge, metal content does not influence manure application rates to soils but should be considered as metals persist in the soil and will accumulate with repeat application. Concerns over heavy metals, other chemical contaminants, and salinity are most often raised in association with poultry litter. Under federal organic standards, certifiers may require testing of manure or compost if there is reason to suspect high levels of contamination.
  4. Weed seeds and plant diseases can be effectively controlled by high temperature aerobic composting of manures.
Manure Handling: Raw Stacked or Composted

The NOP regulation also requires that manure and other fertility inputs must be managed so that they do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by excess nutrients, pathogens, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances. Whether animals are raised on farm or manures are imported, organic farmers are likely to need to store manure on farm prior to application. Proper manure storage conserves nutrients and protects surface and groundwater. Storing manure can be as elaborate as keeping it under cover in a building, or as simple as covering the manure pile with a tarp. The important point is keeping the pile covered and away from drainage areas and standing water. The storage location should also be convenient to your animals and crop production.

When you are looking for organic forms of nutrients for crop production, manure and manure composts are two of the logical choices. Composting is more than just piling the material and letting it sit. Composting is the active management of manure and bedding to aid the decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms under controlled conditions. Weed and disease problems associated with raw manures can be alleviated with proper composting. Use of composted manures can also reduce P transport to waterbodies (Evanylo et al. 2008).

Organic producers making their own compost must keep records of their composting operation to demonstrate that the compost was produced according to the definition cited above. If the compost is purchased, the grower should ask for documentation from the supplier showing that the compost meets NOP requirements. Keep this documentation, along with purchase receipts, with your other records. If the compost is 100% plant-based, without any animal excrement or by-products, there is no requirement for heating or turning.

Table 1. Comparison of composted and raw manures (from Bary et al., 2000). Compost Manure slow release form of nutrients usually higher nutrient content easier to spread sometimes difficult to spread lower potential to degrade water quality higher potential to degrade water quality less likely to contain weed seeds more likely to contain weed seeds reduced pathogen levels (e.g. salmonella, E. coli) potential for higher pathogen levels higher investment of time or money lower investment of time or money more expensive to purchase less expensive to purchase fewer odors (although poor composting conditions create foul odors) odors sometimes a problem improves soil tilth improves soil tilth Managing Nutrients in Manure

Manure nutrient contents are highly variable and growers must be able to understand and reduce this variability to make the best agronomic and environmental use of these resources. Manure must be carefully managed to prevent over- or under-application and to account for the cumulative environmental effects of application as well as storage. Balancing crop nutritional needs with manures is an ongoing challenge. Finding out about manure composition is critical to its efficient use. Applying too little can lead to inadequate crop growth because of lack of nutrients. Over-application can reduce crop quality and increase the risk of plant diseases. Over-application will also increases the risk of contaminating surface or groundwater.

There are three main sources of variability and uncertainty when using manure:

  1. Nutrient and moisture content of the manure.
  2. Material heterogeneity and application variability.
  3. Availability of nutrients to crops.

Figure 1. Nutrient flow from manure resources to storage facilities and then to field. Nutrients can be lost from all locations but only those arriving on the field have the chance to feed plants. Figure credit: Michelle Wander, University of Illinois.

Manure composition varies with the species of animal, feed, bedding, and manure storage practices. Table 1 shows typical published values for livestock manure. These values may not accurately represent your situation. Nutrient values can vary by a factor of two or more from the values listed in Table 2. This is why it is important to test materials applied instead of guessing.

Table 2. Typical nutrient content of manure (from Koelsch and Shapiro, 2006). Because of variability between farms, individual manure analysis is preferable to the estimates below.   % Dry Matter Ammonium–N Organic–N P2O5 K2O Slurry Manure (lb. of nutrient per 1,000 gallons of manure) Dairy 8 12 13 25 40 Beef 29 5 9 9 13 Swine (finisher, wet-dry feeder) 9 42 17 40 24 Swine (slurry storage, dry feeder) 6 28 11 34 24 Swine (flush building) 2 12 5 13 17 Layer 11 37 20 51 33 Dairy (lagoon sludge)* 10 4 17 20 16 Swine (lagoon sludge) 10 6 16 48 7 Solid Manure (lb. of nutrient per ton of manure) Beef (dirt lot) 67 2 22 23 30 Beef (paved lot)* 29 5 9 9 13 Swine (hood barns) 57 4 13 20   Dairy (scraped earthen lots) 46 3 14 11 16 Broiler (litter from house) 70 15 60 27 33 Layer 40 18 19 55 31 Turkey (grower house litter) 70     15 30 Liquid Effluent from lagoon or holding pond (lbs. of nutrient per acre-inch) Beef (runoff holding pond) 0.25 71 8 47 92 Swine (lagoon) 0.40 91 45 104 189 Dairy (lagoon) 2 317 362 674 1082 Value based upon ASAE, 2005, D384.2; Manure Production and Characteristics with exception of those marked with an "*". Manure Sampling and Testing

Commercial laboratories can measure the nutrients in manure and save you from guessing based on table values. Testing laboratories typically charge from $30 to $60. It is important to use a laboratory that routinely tests animal manure, as they will know the correct type of analysis to use. Extension offices can provide you with publications that list manure testing laboratories in most regions; for example, see the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's listing of manure testing laboratories certified for 2009.

A nutrient analysis is only as good as the sample you take. The best time to sample by far is right before you apply the material because N loss in storage is accounted for. Also, if you use manure repeatedly from the same source, you can develop a running average analysis of that manure (over a 3+ year period). A running average is more likely to be accurate than a single sample taken from a storage pile or lagoon. Samples must be fresh and representative of the manure. Follow these steps:

  1. Ask the laboratory what type of containers they prefer and make sure the laboratory knows when your sample is coming. Laboratories should receive samples within 48 hours of collection. Plan to collect and send your sample early in the week so the sample does not arrive at the lab on a Friday or a weekend.
  2. If you have a bucket loader and a large amount of manure, use the loader to mix the manure before sampling.
  3. Take 10–20 small samples from different parts and depths of the manure pile to form a composite sample. The composite sample should be about 5 gallons. The more heterogeneous your pile, the more samples you should take.
  4. With a shovel or your hands thoroughly mix the composite sample. You may need to use your hands to ensure complete mixing. Wear rubber gloves when mixing manure samples with your hands.
  5. Collect about one quart of manure from the composite sample and place in an appropriate container.
  6. Freeze the sample if you are mailing it. Use rapid delivery to ensure that it arrives at the laboratory within 24–48 hours. You can refrigerate the sample if you are delivering it directly to the lab.

Figure 2. Example of a manure analysis report. Note, the report includes "additional information" about the relative value of nutrients which is subject to change. By convention, available nutrient contents are expressed in terms of reference materials used in fertilizer labels.

Laboratories report results on an as-received or a dry weight basis. As-received results usually are reported in units of lb/ton, while dry weight results usually are reported in percent, ppm, or mg/kg. The “as-received” results, as shown above, are easily used to determining application rates. Dry-weight results can be used to compare analyses over time and from different manure sources.

To convert manure analyses reported on a dry-weight basis (in percent) to an as-received basis (in lb/wet ton), multiply by 20 to convert the dry weight percent to lb/ton; then multiply by the decimal equivalent (23%/100) of the solids content.

Example: For beef manure at 23% solids and 2.4% nitrogen (N) on a dry weight basis:
Step 1. 2.4% x 20 = 48 lb N/ton dry weight
Step 2. 48 lb N/ton dry weight x 0.23 = 11 lb N/ton as-is.

Analyses typically include total nitrogen, ammonium nitrogen (NH4+–N), total phosphorus, total potassium, electrical conductivity, and solids (dry matter). If the manure is old or has been composted you may also want to test for nitrate–N. Total carbon (C) and pH are also u

Fire Blight Control for Organic Orchards: Moving Beyond Antibiotics

eOrganic author:

David Granatstein, Washington State University


Fire blight is a serious disease of apple and pear caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. It originated in the United States and is now found in many parts of the world. Most domesticated apple and pear cultivars have some degree of susceptibility to infection. Damage is not cosmetic, but reduces crop yield and may kill entire trees. Prior to implementation of the National Organic Program (NOP), a number of U.S. certifiers allowed the use of the antibiotics oxytetracycline and streptomycin for control of this disease, as they are naturally occurring molecules produced by soil microorganisms. However, the NOP classified them as synthetics but allowed their use for fire blight control only. The National Organic Standards Board has voted to remove these antibiotics from the national list of allowed materials, and their use will be prohibited after October 2014. Due to the potentially devastating damage from this disease, organic apple and pear growers are looking for viable non-antibiotic control measures.

Breeding for Resistance

The ideal solution to fire blight is genetic resistance bred into both the scion (fruit-bearing portion) and rootstock of the tree. The ‘Geneva’ series apple rootstocks do exhibit a high level of resistance to fire blight, but do not confer resistance to the scion grafted onto them. No highly resistant scion cultivars have been identified that also have the requisite fruit quality characteristics needed for commercialization. Several cultivars of pear developed by the USDA and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada do exhibit increased resistance. Breeding programs are looking at sources of resistance in other wild apple species that have better fruit quality potential, and progress can be expected over the next 10-15 years.

Biological and Chemical Control

Application of antibiotics has been the primary practice used to manage fire blight for more than 50 years. Antibiotics are effective and fast-acting, and can be used in concert with disease prediction models (e.g., COUGARBLIGHT, MARYBLYT) so treatments may only be made when risk of infection is high. Research on biological control practices has been conducted since the 1980s, and several products have been commercialized such as Blight Ban®A506 (Pseudomonas fluorescens strain A506). However, until recently, no products exhibited efficacy similar to antibiotics. In 2012, the yeast product Blossom Protect™ (Aureobasidium pullulans) debuted in the U.S. market and has performed well for the past two seasons. Other materials such as Serenade® MAX (Bacillus subtilis), Double Nickel 55™ (Bacillus amyloliquefaciens), and soluble copper (e.g., Cueva®) are also available and organic-compliant, providing growers with several options to combine into an integrated fire blight management program. In addition, lime sulfur, commonly used by apple growers as a blossom thinner to reduce crop load, has been shown to exert control of fire blight when applied during bloom.

IMPORTANT: Before using any pest control product in your organic farming system:

  • Read the label to be sure that the product is labeled for the crop and pest you intend to control, and make sure it is legal to use in the state, county, or other location where it will be applied
  • Read and understand the safety precautions and application restrictions

  • Make sure that the brand name product is listed in your Organic System Plan and approved by your USDA-approved certifier. If you are trying to deal with an unanticipated pest problem, get approval from your certifier before using a product that is not listed in your plan—doing otherwise may put your certification at risk.

Note that OMRI and WSDA lists are good places to identify potentially useful products, but all products that you use must be approved by your certifier. For more information on how to determine whether a pest control product can be used on your farm, see the article, Can I Use This Input On My Organic Farm?

Time to Test Alternatives

Organic growers exporting fruit to the European Union were prohibited from using antibiotics, and they tested various approaches and products that were successful in certain locations and with certain cultivars. More recently, an organic fire blight control project for Oregon, Washington, and California, led by Dr. Ken Johnson of Oregon State University, has made significant progress in testing many of these materials and evaluating their efficacy as well as potential combinations and timings for best results. Growers need to test alternative controls on their own sites with their specific cultivars to prepare for the loss of antibiotics.

The following resources are available to help organic growers learn more about fire blight control alternatives. These include eOrganic webinars by Dr. Johnson, a new publication Grower Lessons and Emerging Research for Developing an Integrated Non-Antibiotic Fire Blight Control Program in Organic Fruit from The Organic Center, a recent journal article (Johnson and Temple, 2013) Evaluation of strategies for fire blight control in organic pome fruit without antibiotics), and an annotated powerpoint by Dr. Johnson summarizing the research progress to date. The applicability of the information presented in these various sources will undoubtedly vary by region, crop, orchard age, training system, and cultivar, so growers should be conducting some simple field evaluations of their own while the research proceeds.

One issue not fully resolved is that of fruit marking or russetting—a cosmetic defect on the skin of fruit caused by phytotoxicity of control materials when applied at a susceptible fruit stage. If a material provides a high level of fire blight control but russets fruit and renders it unmarketable in commercial channels, then it will not be an acceptable material for most growers.


Significant progress has been made in the past several years on non-antibiotic fire blight control methods that would be compliant on organic orchards. Well-vetted recommendations are not yet available, and thus growers need to be testing these new materials and ideas on their own orchards in the meantime. Ultimately, genetic resistance to the disease will provide the most sustainable alternative but this is likely decades away. However, growers can test small plantings of some of the reputedly more resistant cultivars now, observe their resistance, fruit quality, and horticultural needs, and develop their own markets for those new cultivars. The demand for organic apples and pears continues to increase, and growers need well-proven fire blight control approaches to allow them to respond to this demand while minimizing risks from the disease.

References and Citations Additional Resources
  • Granatstein, D. 2014. Fire blight control in organic apples and pears web page. Washington State University Extension, Wenatchee, WA. (Available online at: (verified 3 March 2014)
  • Smith, T. 2012. Fire blight management in the Pacific Northwest USA. Washington State University Extension website. (Available online at: (verified 3 March 2014)
  • Sobiczewski, P., M. Kaluzna, and J. Pulawska (eds.). 2011. XII International Workshop on Fire Blight. Acta Horticulturae (ISHS) 896. This is the proceedings of an international fire blight workshop held every three years. (Parts are available to the public online at: (verified 3 March 2014)


    This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

eOrganic 10624

Making and Using Compost for Organic Farming

eOrganic authors:

Emily Marriott, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ed Zaborski, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Composting transforms raw organic residues into humus-like material through the activity of soil microorganisms. Mature compost stores well and is biologically stable, free of unpleasant odors, and easier to handle and less bulky than raw organic wastes. In agronomic and horticultural operations, compost can be used as a soil amendment, seed starter, mulch, container mix ingredient, or natural fertilizer, depending on its characteristics. Composting can also reduce or eliminate weed seeds and plant pathogens in organic residues.

Compost provides many benefits as a soil amendment and a source of organic matter by improving soil biological, chemical, and physical characteristics:

  • Increases microbial activity
  • Enhances plant disease suppression
  • Increases soil fertility
  • Increases cation exchange capacity
  • Improves soil structure in clayey soils
  • Improves water retention in sandy soils
  • Reduces bioavailability of heavy metals
Overview of the Composting Process

Microorganisms drive the composting process, so creating an optimal environment for microbial activity is crucial for successful and efficient composting. Assembling an appropriate mix of organic residues or feedstocks and maintaining adequate moisture and oxygen levels are all necessary.

As soon as feedstocks are compiled, the composting process begins. As microorganisms begin to decompose the organic materials, the compost pile heats up and the active phase of composting begins. During this phase of rapid decomposition, temperatures in the pile increase to 130–150°F and may remain elevated for several weeks. Maintaining adequate aeration during this phase of intense microbial activity is especially important because aerobic decomposition is most efficient and produces finished compost in the shortest amount of time. As readily available organic matter is consumed and decomposition slows, temperatures in the compost pile decrease to around 100°F and the curing phase begins. At this stage, the compost can be stockpiled.

Common methods of on-farm composting include static piles, windrows (elongated piles), and in-vessel (enclosed) composting. Static piles are compost piles that are not turned. To meet National Organic Program requirements, static pile systems must be aerated to sustain microbial activity and adequate temperatures. To that end, perforated pipe is installed at the base of the pile and in some cases fans or blowers are used to force air through the pile.

Figure 1. Static compost piles with passive aeration tubes. Photo credit: Robert Rynk, Compost Education and Resources for Western Agriculture project, Washington State University.

Windrows, or enlongated piles of compost feedstocks, are turned or mixed regularly to aerate the pile and to reestablish pore space.

Figure 2. Profiles of compost windrows at a dairy in eastern Washington. Photo credit: David Granatstein, Compost Education and Resources for Western Agriculture project, Washington State University.

Figure 3. An example of in-vessel composting. This farm-scale rotating drum is used at a Texas site. Photo credit: Robert Rynk, Compost Education and Resources for Western Agriculture project, Washington State University.

How to Compost

Several comprehensive resources providing detailed explanations of the composting process and specific information on how to make compost are available; examples include The Art and Science of Composting (Cooperband, 2002a), Composting on Organic Farms (Baldwin and Greenfield, 2009), and On-Farm Composting Handbook (Rynk, 1992).

Large-scale composting is regulated in most states. Check with your state government to ensure compliance with composting regulations.

Compost and the National Organic Program

The use of composted plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter is supported by the National Organic Program (NOP) final rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000):

The producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances.

~ 7 CFR 205.203(c)

The composition, production, and use of compost in organic production systems is regulated by the NOP final rule; the NOP provided clarification of these regulations in guidance on the allowance of green waste in organic production systems (NOP, 2010a) and in draft guidance on compost and vermicompost in organic crop production (NOP, 2010b). In addition, the NOP provided guidance on uncomposted, processed animal manures in organic crop production (NOP, 2010c).


According to NOP's guidance on the allowance of green waste in organic production systems (NOP, 2010a) and draft guidance on compost and vermicompost in organic crop production (NOP, 2010b), approved feedstocks for compost include:

  • Plant and animal materials, such as, crop residues, animal manure, food waste, yard waste
  • Nonsynthetic substances not prohibited by 7 CFR 205.602
  • Synthetic substances specifically allowed for use as a compost feedstock per 7 CFR 205.601 [only "newspapers or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks"]
  • Synthetics approved for use as plant or soil amendments

NOP regulation states that compost that is produced with prohibited feedstocks (urea, recycled wallboard, or sewage sludge, for example) is prohibited, and it does not permit the use of compost that contains synthetic substances that are not on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production (see Can I Use this Input on My Organic Farm?). However, recognizing that background levels of pesticides are present in the environment (referred to as unavoidable residual environmental contamination—UREC—in the regulations) and may be present in organic production systems, NOP regulation does not mandate zero tolerance for synthetic pesticide residues in inputs, such as compost. According to NOP guidance,

Green waste and green waste compost that is produced from approved feedstocks, such as, non-organic crop residues or lawn clippings may contain pesticide residues. Provided that the green waste and green waste compost (i) is not subject to any direct application or use of prohibited substances (i.e. synthetic pesticides) during the composting process, and (ii) that any residual pesticide levels do not contribute to the contamination of crops, soil or water, the compost is acceptable for use in organic production.

~ NOP, 2010a

What constitutes "contamination of crops, soil or water"? The NOP final rule states (USDA, 2000, 7 CFR 205.671) "When residue testing detects prohibited substances at levels that are greater than 5 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency's tolerance for the specific residue detected or unavoidable residual environmental contamination, the agricultural product must not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced." NOP is thus far silent on what constitutes contamination of soil or water.

Compost feedstocks may contain synthetic pesticide contaminants that are not degraded in the composting process, and can contribute to crop, soil, or water contamination. This was the case for the herbicide clopyralid, which was used on turfgrass as well as in agriculture. It passes through animals in the urine, and therefore if they eat forage with clopyralid residues, the herbicide ends up in the bedding and potentially in the compost. Similarly, clopyralid can contaminate compost made from clippings from treated lawns. The uses of this herbicide have been restricted to avoid this problem, but it is advisable to ask the compost vendor or the provider of raw feedstock materials about such potential contaminants. For more information, see the Washington State University Puyallup Research Center publications on clopyralid in compost.

The source of all compost feedstock materials should be known to ensure that they are allowed for use in organic production. Knowing the feeding practices used for manure sources and having the manure tested can also provide information about possible antibiotic and heavy metal contamination. The use of compost containing these contaminants is not permitted in organic crop production; however, the organic rule does not require that manures come from organic livestock farms to be used in organic compost production.

The use of broiler litter as a feedstock for compost production poses some additional concerns. Arsenic is a component of some feed medications or growth promoters used in commercial broiler operations. The majority of arsenic consumed by poultry is excreted and incorporated into the litter, leading to the potential for build-up in the soil and leaching from compost piles into lakes and streams. For more information, consult the ATTRA publication, Arsenic in Poultry Litter: Organic Regulations, by Bellows (2005).

Increasing use of copper in broiler and hog operations may result in manures with high concentrations of copper. Copper foot baths are also common in cattle production. While copper is a necessary plant nutrient, it can become toxic in very high concentrations. Sustained use of compost from these sources could contribute to copper build-up in the soil in the long-term, especially in operations that rely on copper as a pesticide.


The NOP regulations refer to production methods for compost in the context of managing plant and animal materials to maintain and improve soil organic matter content:

The producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances. Animal and plant materials include:

   (2) Composted plant and animal materials produced though a process that:
      (i) Established an initial C:N ratio of between 25:1 and 40:1; and
      (ii) Maintained a temperature of between 131°F and 170°F for 3 days using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system; or
      (iii) Maintained a temperature of between 131°F and 170°F for 15 days using a windrow composting system, during which period, the materials must be turned a minimum of five times.

~ 7 CFR 205.203(c)(2), USDA, 2000

The NOP's draft guidance on compost and vermicompost in organic crop production (NOP, 2010b) identifies these processes as examples of methods for producing acceptable composts, and states that:

An example of another acceptable composting method is when:
   a. Compost is made from allowed feedstock materials (either nonsynthetic substances not
prohibited at §205.602, or synthetics approved for use as plant or soil amendments), and
   b. The compost pile is mixed or managed to ensure that all of the feedstock heats to the minimum of 131°F (55°C) for a minimum of three days. The monitoring of the above parameters must be documented in the Organic System Plan in accordance with §205.203(c) and submitted by the producer and verified during the site visit.

~ NOP, 2010b

NOP compost requirements can also be met by vermicompost (compost produced by the action of earthworms), so long as:

a. It is made from allowed feedstock materials (either nonsynthetic substances not prohibited at §205.602, or synthetics approved for use as plant or soil amendments);
b. Aerobicity is maintained by regular additions of thin layers of organic matter at 1–3 day intervals;
c. Moisture is maintained at 70–90%; and
d. The duration of vermicomposting is at 6–12 months for outdoor windrows, 2–4 months for indoor container systems, 2–4 months for angled wedge systems, or 30–60 days for continuous flow reactors.

~ NOP, 2010b

Compost production practices, including the type and source of all feedstock materials, temperature monitoring logs by date, and practices used to achieve uniform elevated temperatures, should be described in the organic system plan (OSP).


Compost made in accordance with the above production criteria may be applied in organic production systems without restriction on the time interval between application and crop harvest.

Composts that don't meet the above production criteria may still be used in organic farming. However, if they contain animal manure, they must be applied to agricultural land in accordance with NOP regulations for manure, which state that raw animal manure must be composted unless at least one of the following conditions is satisfied:

  • Applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption
  • Incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles
  • Incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles

~ 7 CFR 205.203(c)(1), USDA, 2000

Compost Quality

Compost quality varies depending on the raw organic materials (feedstocks), the composting process used, and the state of biological activity. Before using compost as a soil amendment, it is a good idea to evaluate its quality by determining moisture content, organic matter content, C:N ratio, and pH (Table 1).

Table 1. Qualities of compost for on-farm use and how to test (after Cooperband, 2002a). Quality Optimum How to test Source of organic matter Should have a good organic matter content (40-60%) Have organic matter tested by a soil lab Source of nitrogen 10–15:1 C:N ratio Have C:N ratio tested by a soil lab Neutral pH 6–8 Use soil pH kit at home or have pH tested by a soil lab Low soluble salts If compost will be spread in the fall, no test necessary N/A If compost will be spread before planting, levels should be below 10 dS Have soluble salts tested by a soil lab No phytotoxic compounds Good seed germination (>85%) Plant 10 seeds in a small pot Weed-free No or few weed seeds Moisten compost and watch for weed seedling growth Compost and Disease Suppression

Compost can be effective at controlling some soil-borne diseases, particularly root-rot diseases. By providing a favorable environment and food source, compost encourages the growth of microorganisms that compete with, parasitize, or produce natural antibiotics against plant pathogens. Additionally, increased plant vigor due to compost application can increase resistance to plant pathogens. For more information see the chapter on Compost and Disease Suppression in the ATTRA publication Sustainable Management of Soil-Borne Plant Diseases by Sullivan (2004). See a related article to learn how composting can reduce or eliminate weed seeds and plant pathogens in crop residues and other organic feedstocks.

Compost and Soil Fertility

Generally, compost can be considered more as a soil conditioner than as a fertilizer substitute because it improves plant productivity primarily by improving physical and biological soil properties and increasing soil organic matter, rather than by directly supplying significant amounts of plant-available nutrients. By increasing soil organic matter content, which fuels microbial activity and nutrient cycling, compost applications will increase overall soil fertility. Over subsequent growing seasons, the nitrogen applied in compost will become plant-available.

Compost Application Rates

Compost should be considered a slow-release source of nitrogen. Most nitrogen remaining after completion of the composting process is bound into organic forms and thus not available immediately for plant uptake. Compost routinely applied at rates high enough to meet immediate crop N requirements will almost always result in excess P and K application. Excess P can result in surface water pollution (and potentially threaten organic certification). In some cases, excess K can upset crop nutrition balance.

Compost application rates can be calculated using fertilizer recommendations from soil tests, compost nutrient analysis, and methods similar to those used to determine manure application rates. When using this method, nutrient availability in compost must also be taken into account. General guidelines suggest that 10 to 25% of compost N will be plant-available during the first year of application. Estimates for P and K availability in the first year are higher, 40% and 60% respectively. It is important to keep in mind that these are only estimates and actual availability will depend on the nature of the compost and—for N especially—conditions during the growing season that affect

Organic Certification and Soil Conservation Compliance

eOrganic authors:

Michelle Wander, University of Illinois

Susan Andrews, USDA - Natural Resource Conservation Service

This article reviews the conservation goals for organic farming systems and considers how well organic certification standards line up with the Natural Resources Conservation Services's programs (EQIP, transition payments) and objectives. It provides research results from an Integrated Organic Program study evaluating organic transiton strategies and compares measured trends in soil organic matter with ranks produced by NRCS tools (soil conditioning index and soil and water eligibility tools) developed to estimate conservation outcomes.  It introduces the new Conservation Management tool that will be used to implement the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Introduction: Goals and Approach of Organic Standards and NRCS Programs
Implementation Varies by State
Organic Concerns About NRCS Enrollment Tools
Tool Performance in the Windsor Organic Research Trial
Additional Resources
References and Citations

Introduction: Goals and Approach of Organic Standards and NRCS Programs

The National Organic Program (NOP) and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) share the goal of natural resource protection. The NOP defines organic production as “production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Promotion of ecological balance and conservation of biodiversity are defining principles of organic agriculture. The NOP requires that organic producers must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality, and minimize soil erosion. Organic growers comply with these requirements by implementing conservation practices, such as crop rotations, cover crops, grass waterways, and contour strips. Many also grow annual and perennial flowering plants (farmscaping) to provide food and habitat for pollinators, natural enemies of insect pests, and other beneficial organisms. Some also erect bird and bat houses to enhance biodiversity and improve pest control.

The NRCS is a Federal agency that pursues natural resource protection goals through the delivery of technical assistance to land owners and attempts to tailor this information to address client needs. The institution administers federal conservation programs that provide cost share and technical assistance for conservation implementation, and, in some cases, financial incentives. Participation in NRCS programs is voluntary and only people managing private lands are eligible. Resource concerns of the agency include: soil quality, water quantity and quality, air quality, production animal and wildlife management, and plant health and suitability. The NRCS maintains the Organic Initiative Practice List and National Organic Program Rules Matrix (PDF; 52KB) which correlates the organic system plan and organic certification requirements with NRCS conservation practices. (Not all practices are appropriate in all areas.) It provides guidance on land management practices as varied as Aquaculture Ponds, Channel Stabilization, Pest Management, Residue and Tillage Management, Conservation Rotation, and Cover Crops for croplands, forests, and pastures. The NRCS standards and practice criteria are fully compatible with organic farming systems and can be readily applied to, and adopted on, organic farms. National practice standards are reviewed and updated every five years (or sooner, if warranted by technology change).

Both the NOP and NRCS approaches appreciate the site-specific nature of farming and conservation concerns. NRCS programs vary across the country because state offices are asked to modify national standards to make them more applicable to their local conditions. States may also propose new standards, introduced as interim standards, that upon review may become national standards after three years. Job Sheets and Technical Notes provide specifics about how to implement practice standards.

USDA provides information about relevant practices and resources specifically for organic systems.


Figure 1. Mulching of staked tomatoes. In addition to protecting the soil from erosion, this practice conserves water and reduces the need for irrigation. Figure credit: Michelle Wander, University of Illinois.



Implementation Varies by State

The NRCS programs and National Organic Program regulations both assess management practices, such as rotation, fertilizer additions, and tillage, as a way to evaluate stewardship. In some cases, NRCS uses producer records of practices to run models or evaluation tools that predict outcomes such as erosion, changes in organic matter, water quality, and biodiversity. Self-reporting of practices, with later field visits for verification, is also used. Organic farmers also depend on self-reporting of practices in the form of a farm management plan, called the Organic System Plan (OSP), that is a required part of their certification document. As a part of this document, organic farmers describe the practices they use to prevent runoff, manage water movement onto their farm, and prevent nutrients from leaving the farm. In addition, organic farmers are required to monitor their practices to demonstrate compliance, and maintain records of all inputs, activities, and transactions; these are examined at least annually during the certification inspection. For more on organic certification documents, see Organic Certification of Vegetable Operations.

The retains and expands several areas of support for organic. This includes support provide through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in the form of payments and technical assistance for conservation practices, and for transitioning an operation to organic production, and through cost share

The Agricultural Marketing Service offers two organic certification cost share programs in 2015 to help certified organic operations defray the costs associated with organic certification. Organic operations may receive up to 75 percent of their certification costs paid during October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015; not to exceed $750 per certification scope. The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) is available to producers and handlers in all 50 States and territories. Finally, the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Organic Certification Cost Share Program is available to certified crop and livestock operators in 16 states (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming). It provides $900,000 in assistance in fiscal year 2015.

Organic Concerns About NRCS Enrollment Tools

The Conservation Security Program (CSP) was first introduced in the 2002 Farm Bill. Working lands provisions provided an opportunity to reward land managers already implementing conservation practices with "green payments". The initial roll out of the CSP program caused some concern by organic farming groups that felt the program was biased against organic growers because the initial enrollment tool, called the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI), tracked tillage disturbance as a primary factor in reducing soil quality. Many producers who farm organically or live in the warmer climates have had difficulty meeting the minimum criteria for eligibility despite their strong conservation efforts. NRCS has followed up by placing greater emphasis on soil building activities, such a cover crops, mulching, compost additions and by providing expanded training for field agents evaluating practices and giving credit for improving soil biodiversity, which aides nutrient cycling, breaks pest cycles and contributes to increase soil structure, by giving credit for reduced pesticide use and diverse rotations.

Efforts to improve new tools and evaluate performance on organic farms are underway as NRCS works to implement the revised Conservation Stewardship Program contained in the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2008 Farm Bill made many improvements that should be attractive to organic farmers.  One key difference is that it seeks to reward producers who have historically used good stewardship practices as well as provide iincentives for those who want to do more. It is no longer watershed based and considers the managment of the farm as a whole, not just individual fields.  The new Conservation Stewarship Program will include a crosswalk to help organic and specialty crop producers access the program, as well as outreach and technical assistance to organic and specialty crop producers. It also includes a mandate for NRCS to establish a standard of care for soil, water, and biodiversity that will be predicted based on management practices. NRCS must now establish quality criteria to establish the minimum treatment level necessary to adequately address identified resource concerns for a particular land area. These criteria are described in NRCS’s Field Office Technical Guide. While there are a set of national criteria, each state may add to the criteria to make them more relevant to local conditions.

Tool Performance in the Windsor Organic Research Trial

The NRCS is working to develop and validate tools used to decide which farms—including organic farms—are eligible for program participation.  This section reviews some tools that have been used and introduces the new CMT.   New tools will build on existing resources including the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI), which evaluates management practices and their influence on soil status.  The SCI is currently embedded in RUSLE2 (Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation 2).  RUSLE2 a detailed process model that predicts long-term, average-annual erosion by water. The SCI focuses on organic matter and is computed with a weighted function:

SCI = (Organic Matter x 0.4) + (Field Operations x 0.4) + (Erosion x 0.2)


Organic Matter accounts for organic material additions, biomass produced, and decomposition;
Field Operations represents physical disturbance from field operations; and
Erosion is the estimated loss of soil material by sheet, rill, irrigation and/or wind erosion.

When the SCI score is negative, soil organic matter is predicted to be decreasing; for zero or positive SCI scores, soil organic matter is predicted to be stable or increasing. For the history of this tool see Zobeck et al. (2007).

The SCI is estimated for a particular field by running the RUSLE2 model.  Users provide information about the soil type and location of the field. Evaluations by NRCS suggest that tool failures often result from problems with model calibration or simple user error. NRCS is working on new expert systems, including the Soil and Water Eligibility Tool (SWET) and products derived from this tool. SWET evaluates management practices based on their contribution to each soil function or water quality concern. The soil properties that SWET scores include organic matter, nutrient cycling, soil habitat, physical stability, and moisture management. The water quality properties SWET scores are sediment, salinity, and surface and groundwater pesticides, nitrogen, and phosphorus. A new conservation compliance tool that is based on SWET is now under development and will be used to determine eligibility for future NRCS programs. Fig. 2 shows the entry screen for this prototype tool. An expert system will be used to determine what practices meet the standards of care established for soil and water resources. Assumptions about practice impacts on soils predict outcomes for soil (organic matter, nutrient cycling, soil physical condition, soil biotic habitat, and soil moisture salinity management) and water quality (leached N, P, and pesticides; sediment loss). Initial validation efforts have compared tool results with measured soil quality data from medium- and long-term research plots (Wienhold et al., 2007; Zobeck et al. 2007).

Figure 2. Screen shot from the SWET tool. The NRCS has already adapted this and incorporated it into a new Conservation Management Tool (CMT).

Table 1 shows the results from an evaluation of NRCS tools (SWET and SCI) and compares them with the soil organic carbon (SOC) concentrations actually measured in the surface soils of replicated research plots in an organic transition experiment in Champaign, IL. Three transitional cropping systems (intensive vegetable, row crop, and perennial pasture or ley), each with three approaches to fertility (crop and cover crop residues only, and residues supplemented with either manure or compost additions), were compared during 2003–2005. For all treatment combinations, the SOC levels increased slightly during the study compared to baseline samples taken at the beginning of transition.

Table 1. Soil quality characterization after three years under different cropping system and soil amendment treatments.   SWET2 SCI3 Year 3 SOC Treatment1 Score Eligible? Score Eligible? (%)4 VEG 44 no -0.46 no 2.45 ± 0.72 VEG + manure 52 no 0.86 yes 2.36 ± 0.80 VEG + compost 52 no 2.80 yes 2.39 ± 0.63 ROW 64 yes -0.12 no 2.17 ± 0.41 ROW + manure 72 yes 1.60 yes 2.28 ± 0.58 ROW + compost 72 yes 3.60 yes 2.37 ± 0.40 LEY 101 yes 0.98 yes 2.50 ± 0.31 LEY + manure 109 yes 2.40 yes 2.55 ± 0.38 LEY + compost 109 yes 3.70 yes 2.24 ± 0.63 1 Cropping system and soil amendment treatment. VEG = diversified vegetable rotation; ROW = grain and oilseed rotation; LEY = perennial grass and legume forage.
2 SWET - Soil and Water Eligibility Tool
3 SCI - Soil Condition Index
4 Soil organic carbon, mean ± s.d., n=4

The SWET scores in Table 1 suggest the more-intensively managed vegetable cropping system would degrade soil and water quality, and thus be ineligible for CSP participation. Measurements of SOC suggest this prediction would be false at this site. SWET scores tended to be lower for scenarios without organic matter additions but not enough to change eligibility status based on SWET. Manure and compost addition made a bigger difference in the SCI predictions. Negative SCI scores for the vegetable and row cropped systems without supplemental manure or compost additions predicted a decline in soil organic matter that would have made them CSP ineligible. SOC measured indicate organic matter levels held even where cover crops were the sole source of fertility. In our comparison, both SWET and SCI appeared to overvalue the benefits of supplemental organic matter (particularly compost) additions and the use of perennial pasture and undervalue the benefits of cover crops, particularly in the vegetable cropping system. 

Additional Resources

Food System Assessments and Toolkits

eOrganic authors:

Garry Stephenson, Oregon State University

Debra Sohm-Lawson

Food System Assessments
  • The report Supply Chain Basics: The Dynamics of Change in the U.S. Food Marketing Environment from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service focuses on helping small- and medium-sized farmers take advantage of the shifts in today's retail food marketplace.
  • The Dynamics of Change is the latest link in the Supply Chain Basics series of reports that help farmers understand the changing nature of today's food marketing environment. Other reports in the series focus on logistical technology (Technology: How Much-How Soon) and niche marketing (The Logistics of Niche Agricultural Marketing).

    This report examines the changes in the retail marketing environment, especially as it affects the relationship between grocery stores and their vendors. It covers such areas as consolidation in the retail food marketing sector, increases in direct collaboration between retailers and vendors, and the ways retailers can differentiate themselves from their competitors by featuring greater varieties of specialty or locally produced or manufactured items. This evolving marketing environment, combined with the increasing flexibility of individual stores to make procurement decisions, offers new opportunities to smaller-scale growers and processors. The report discusses ways to highlight their unique product offerings and geographic proximity to retail buyers as a competitive advantage.

    "Small farmers who are seeking alternative ways to market their products will find this report extremely useful," said AMS Administrator Lloyd Day. The report brings food producers up to speed on the evolving nature of the food marketing environment.

  • The paper Comparing apples to apples: An Iowa perspective on apples and local food systems by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture contrasts and discusses two representative apple food systems and examine their implications for other local food systems.
  • Many consumers do not understand the current national and global food production system, where much of the food production and processing takes place far away from where consumers live and buy their groceries. Several recent market studies, however, have described a market segment of 25 percent of the U.S. population whose purchasing decisions are increasingly guided by their social and environmental values. Many farmers want to better understand the current food system and modify it so they can receive more of the consumer dollar for the food they produce. Local food systems provide an opportunity for farmers and consumers to build mutually beneficial relationships around food.


Food System Evaluation Toolkit
  • The expanded and comprehensive third editions of the Community Food Project Evaluation Handbook and The Community Food Project Evaluation Toolkit from the Community Food Security Coalition are packed with detailed information and worksheets. The CFP Evaluation Handbook will walk the reader through all stages of developing and implementing outcome based program evaluation, specific to community food security projects. The Toolkit includes evaluation protocols and template surveys for program satisfaction, training and technical assistance, focus groups, farmers' markets, community gardens, community support agriculture projects, farm to school projects, coalitions and the Common Output Tracking Form.
  • Supply chain basics: The dynamics of change in the U.S. food marketing environment. D.Tropp, E. Ragland, and J. Barham. 2008. Agricultural Marketing Service, United States Department of Agriculture. (Available online at: (verified 5 Mar 2010).
  • Comparing apples to apples: An Iowa perspective on apples and local food systems. R. Priog and J. Tyndall. Undated. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Iowa State University. Ames, IA. (Available online at: (verified 5 Mar 2010).
  • Community food project evaluation handbook and the community food project evaluation toolkit. Community Food Security Coalition. Portland, OR.


This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

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Northeast Beginning Farmer Project Offers Online Courses

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Introducing Gulfsnow, a New Peach Variety from ARS

Agricultural Research Service | USDA - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 2:24pm
Introducing Gulfsnow, a New Peach Variety from ARS / August 20, 2015 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service Read the magazine story to find out more.

Gulfsnow, a new peach variety developed by ARS and collaborators, will produce attractive fruit with less winter chilling. Click the image for more information about it.

Introducing Gulfsnow, a New Peach Variety from ARS

By Sharon Durham
August 20, 2015

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), University of Georgia and the University of Florida scientists worked cooperatively to develop Gulfsnow, a new peach variety.

The new variety should give growers in the southeastern lower coastal plain an edge in commercial production, and it offers consumers a more reliable supply of early-summertime peaches.

Gulfsnow, requires only 400 hours of chilling to flower and set fruit. By comparison, June Gold, a variety commonly grown in the targeted production area, requires 650 hours of chilling. In years when winter chilling is insufficient, June Gold can't reliably set fruit, resulting in reduced crop yields.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) horticulturalist Thomas Beckman, at the Fruit and Nut Research Laboratory in Byron, Georgia, developed Gulfsnow to overcome the chilling problem, which has become worse in recent years as wintertime temperatures have trended warmer and chilling hours have declined.

According to Beckman, Gulfsnow will probably be used as a fresh-market fruit. It has 50 to 60 percent red skin blush over a cream ground color. The round-shaped peach has flesh that is cream-white and firm. Gulfsnow ripens in early June in Attapulgus, Georgia, about 10 days after Gulfcrimson, another ARS-developed peach, ripens. New peach varieties with different harvest times help growers produce fruit for a longer period of time each summer.

ARS has previously developed other "Gulf" series peaches—Gulfprince, Gulfking, Gulfcrest and Gulfcrimson—all considered by nurseries to be very reliable fruiting varieties.

Gulfsnow has displayed good fruit shape, appearance, eating quality, firmness and a very low incidence of split pits, making it attractive to commercial growers, according to Beckman.

A plant patent (US PP25299 P2) was awarded for the variety in February 2015. A propagation agreement is available through Florida Foundation Seed Producers, Inc., Gainesville, Florida.

Read more about this research in the August issue of AgResearch. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

A "One-stop Shop" for Wasp Identity Information

Agricultural Research Service | USDA - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 11:26am
A â€oeOne-stop Shop†for Wasp Identity Information / August 19, 2015 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service Read the magazine story to find out more.

ARS helped compile a new interactive, image-based online resource to identify wasps in superfamily Cynipoidea, which includes many of the parasitoid wasps. Click the image for more information about it.

A "One-stop Shop" for Wasp Identity Information

By Jan Suszkiw
August 19, 2015

Determining the identity of parasitic wasps—some measuring less than a millimeter long—can be a time-consuming process that includes comparing their features to descriptions in published works and disparate specimen collections. Now, the same task could begin with the click of a mouse, thanks to an international team of researchers, including one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The team has published (ZooKeys, April 2015) a new online document called a â€oemonograph†that consolidates the latest information on the wasp superfamily Cynipoidea. The monograph uses pairs of interactive, image-based identification keys—including those of wing shape, body segmentation and other characteristics—to help users navigate to the correct genus or species of the wasp of interest, along with available biological, geographic and other information about the insect, including locations of existing specimens.

Cynipoid wasps are critical components of natural and agricultural ecosystems, attacking the larval stages of pest flies, such as leaf-mining flies and fruit flies, according to Matt Buffington, a team member and entomologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Washington, DC.

The monograph focuses on species from the Afrotropical Region, an area encompassing all of Africa south of the Sahara Desert as well as the southern Arabian Peninsula, Madagascar and surrounding islands. The monograph will not only make it easier to identify and categorize new species as they’re discovered, but it will also broaden scientific understanding of their taxonomic associations and biological diversity. This could prove especially important in identifying wasp species that have potential as biological control agents, such as those that parasitize crop-damaging flies.

Buffington collaborated on the monograph with Simon van Noort, with the Natural History Department at the Iziko South African Museum, and Mattias Forshage, with the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

You can read more about their research in the August issue of AgResearch. ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

Tumlinson Delivers 2015 ARS Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lecture at ACS Annual Meeting

Agricultural Research Service | USDA - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 10:49am
Tumlinson Delivers 2015 ARS Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lecture at ACS Annual Meeting / August 18, 2015 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

James Tumlinson

Tumlinson Delivers 2015 ARS Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lecture at ACS Annual Meeting

By Kim Kaplan
August 18, 2015

"Insect Herbivore Pest Management with Chemical Ecology" is the subject of James H. Tumlinson's 2015 ARS Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lecture, which he delivered today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) annual meeting in Boston.

Tumlinson, Ralph O. Mumma professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University and a member of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Science Hall of Fame, is internationally recognized for his work on pheromones, insect chemical communication, and plant signaling and defenses, especially in insects that are pests of row crops. His research has had important impacts in insect pest management and the development of sustainable, environmentally safe pest management programs.

The Lecture was established in 1981 by ARS to honor the memory of Sterling B. Hendricks and to recognize scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the chemical science of agriculture. Hendricks contributed to many diverse scientific disciplines, including soil science, mineralogy, agronomy, plant physiology, geology and chemistry.

Tumlinson is known for identifying insect pheromones and other semiochemicals, including the boll weevil pheromone, a key component of the boll weevil eradication program. He has also increased our understanding and knowledge of the biochemical mechanisms by which chemical signals are produced and released by insects, and the behavioral responses, including learned responses, of insects to chemical cues.

Most recently, he has been investigating the interactions among herbivorous insects, their host plants and their natural enemies. In one example, he found that plants damaged by caterpillar feeding can synthesize and release volatile chemicals. Tiny wasps use these released volatiles as cues to locate and parasitize the caterpillars.

Tumlinson summed up his presentation by pointing out that "plants successfully employ a broad array of chemicals to defend against insect herbivores. If we can discover and understand the chemical and biochemical mechanisms used in natural plant defense systems they may be exploited for crop protection from insect pests."

Klee Delivers 2015 ARS B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture at ASHS Annual Conference

Agricultural Research Service | USDA - Wed, 08/05/2015 - 11:08am
Klee Delivers 2015 ARS B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture at ASHS Annual Conference / August 5, 2015 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Renowned tomato flavor expert and molecular biologist Harry Klee presented the ARS B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture today at the ASHS annual meeting. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.

Klee Delivers 2015 ARS B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture at ASHS Annual Conference

By Kim Kaplan
August 5, 2015

"A Different Approach to Plant Breeding: Integrating Consumers with Genetics" is the title of Harry J. Klee's 2015 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture, which he delivered today at the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) annual conference.

Klee, who is the Lyle C. Dickman chair for plant improvement in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, could be called the trustee of true tomato taste. One of his major accomplishments is establishing a "consumer-assisted" breeding program dedicated to improving tomato flavor.

This program starts with finding out what consumers want in a tomato and then systematically works back from those desires to determine the chemical composition and then the biochemistry that provides it. Ultimately, the aim is to find the genes that control how the plant makes what consumers want.

The B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture series was established in 1968 by ARS to honor the memory of Benjamin Y. Morrison (1891-1966), to recognize scientists who have made outstanding contributions to horticulture and other environmental sciences, to encourage the use of these sciences, and to stress the urgency of preserving and enhancing natural beauty. Morrison was a pioneer in horticulture and the first director of the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Klee's large-scale genomics approaches for improving tomato flavor initially focused on varieties for the home garden market and then expanded into commercial germplasm. He now has access to more than 300 complete tomato genome sequences responsible for aspects of flavor, a number of them are the result of a major collaboration with researchers in China.

Klee summed up his presentation by pointing out that "flavor is the most important of consumer traits. Yet it is also the least understood and most difficult challenges for breeding. We seek to understand the underlying chemistry of flavor preferences and turn that knowledge into a molecular toolkit for breeders. Ultimately, the goal is to understand precisely what the consumer wants and deliver that product in a way that drives consumers to adopt healthier diets."

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) principal intramural scientific research agency.

Consumers Missing Out on Health Benefits of Seafood Consumption

Agricultural Research Service | USDA - Tue, 08/04/2015 - 10:24am
Consumers Missing Out on Health Benefits of Seafood Consumption / August 4, 2015 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Americans should be eating more seafood, which would help them meet the Dietary Guidelines and contribute to a healthier diet, according to ARS studies. Click the image for more information about it.

Consumers Missing Out on Health Benefits of Seafood Consumption

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
August 4, 2015

While most U.S. consumers eat some seafood, the amounts are inadequate to meet federal dietary guidelines, according to studies conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists. Both fish and shellfish, referred to as “seafood,” are nutrient-rich protein foods, and consumption has been associated with reduced heart disease risk.

Seafood contains healthful natural compounds known as “omega-3 fatty acids.” The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, recommends eating two servings of seafood (about 8 ounces) weekly to get at least 1,750 milligrams of two omega-3s known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) weekly.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) nutritionist Lisa Jahns led a study with colleagues based on an evaluation of food-intake data collected from a representative sampling of the U.S. population. The data were collected during the national survey known as “What We Eat in America/NHANES.” Overall, about 80 to 90 percent of U.S. consumers did not meet their seafood recommendations. Jahns is with the ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center (GFHNRC) in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Additionally, a review of published studies that explored fish consumption’s link to heart health pointed to consistent evidence supporting a reduced risk of heart disease due particularly to eating oily fish. The review was led by GFHNRC nutritionist Susan Raatz. EPA and DHA are abundant in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, trout and tuna.

In the published study, Raatz and colleagues concluded that getting the message of the benefits of fish consumption to consumers is key and suggested a public-health education program on the health benefits of eating fish.

Both studies were published in the journal Nutrients. Data on the nutrient content of seafood can be found in the USDA-ARS National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

Read more about this research in the August 2015 issue of AgResearch. ARS is the USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

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