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What is organic farming?

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Organic farming system in India is not new and is being followed from ancient time. It is a method of farming system which primarily aimed at cultivating the land and raising crops in such a way, as to keep the soil alive and in good health by use of organic wastes (crop, animal and farm wastes, aquatic wastes) and other biological materials along with beneficial microbes (biofertilizers) to release nutrients to crops for increased sustainable production in an eco friendly pollution free environment.

As per the definition of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study team on organic farming “organic farming is a system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed additives etc) and to the maximum extent feasible rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, off-farm organic waste, mineral grade rock additives and biological system of nutrient mobilization and plant protection”.

Need of organic farming

With the increase in population our compulsion would be not only to stabilize agricultural production but to increase it further in sustainable manner. The scientists have realized that the ‘Green Revolution’ with high input use has reached a plateau and is now sustained with diminishing return of falling dividends. Thus, a natural balance needs to be maintained at all cost for existence of life and property. The obvious choice for that would be more relevant in the present era, when these agrochemicals which are produced from fossil fuel and are not renewable and are diminishing in availability. It may also cost heavily on our foreign exchange in future.


The key characteristics of organic farming include


Protecting the long term fertility of soils by maintaining organic matter levels, encouraging soil biological activity, and careful mechanical intervention;


Providing crop nutrients indirectly using relatively insoluble nutrient sources which are made available to the plant by the action of soil micro-organisms;


Nitrogen self-sufficiency through the use of legumes and biological nitrogen fixation, as well as effective recycling of organic materials including crop residues and livestock manures;


Weed, disease and pest control relying primarily on crop rotations, natural predators, diversity, organic manuring, resistant varieties and limited (preferably minimal) thermal, biological and chemical intervention;


The extensive management of livestock, paying full regard to their evolutionary adaptations, behavioural needs and animal welfare issues with respect to nutrition, housing, health, breeding and rearing;


Careful attention to the impact of the farming system on the wider environment and the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats.

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Principles in Organic Farming

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The four principles of organic agriculture are as follows:

Principle of health

Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

This principle points out that the health of individuals and communities cannot be separated from the health of ecosystems - healthy soils produce healthy crops that foster the health of animals and people.

Health is the wholeness and integrity of living systems. It is not simply the absence of illness, but the maintenance of physical, mental, social and ecological well-being. Immunity, resilience and regeneration are key characteristics of health.

The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings. In particular, organic agriculture is intended to produce high quality, nutritious food that contributes to preventive health care and well-being. In view of this it should avoid the use of fertilizers, pesticides, animal drugs and food additives that may have adverse health effects.

Principle of ecology

Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

This principle roots organic agriculture within living ecological systems. It states that production is to be based on ecological processes, and recycling. Nourishment and well-being are achieved through the ecology of the specific production environment. For example, in the case of crops this is the living soil; for animals it is the farm ecosystem; for fish and marine organisms, the aquatic environment.

Organic farming, pastoral and wild harvest systems should fit the cycles and ecological balances in nature. These cycles are universal but their operation is site-specific. Organic management must be adapted to local conditions, ecology, culture and scale. Inputs should be reduced by reuse, recycling and efficient management of materials and energy in order to maintain and improve environmental quality and conserve resources.

Organic agriculture should attain ecological balance through the design of farming systems, establishment of habitats and maintenance of genetic and agricultural diversity. Those who produce, process, trade, or consume organic products should protect and benefit the common environment including landscapes, climate, habitats, biodiversity, air and water.

Principle of fairness

Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings.

This principle emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties - farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers. Organic agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life, and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty. It aims to produce a sufficient supply of good quality food and other products.
This principle insists that animals should be provided with the conditions and opportunities of life that accord with their physiology, natural behavior and well-being.

Natural and environmental resources that are used for production and consumption should be managed in a way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations. Fairness requires systems of production, distribution and trade that are open and equitable and account for real environmental and social costs.

Principle of care

Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

Organic agriculture is a living and dynamic system that responds to internal and external demands and conditions. Practitioners of organic agriculture can enhance efficiency and increase productivity, but this should not be at the risk of jeopardizing health and well-being. Consequently, new technologies need to be assessed and existing methods reviewed. Given the incomplete understanding of ecosystems and agriculture, care must be taken.

This principle states that precaution and responsibility are the key concerns in management, development and technology choices in organic agriculture. Science is necessary to ensure that organic agriculture is healthy, safe and ecologically sound. However, scientific knowledge alone is not sufficient. Practical experience, accumulated wisdom and traditional and indigenous knowledge offer valid solutions, tested by time. Organic agriculture should prevent significant risks by adopting appropriate technologies and rejecting unpredictable ones, such as genetic engineering. Decisions should reflect the values and needs of all who might be affected, through transparent and participatory processes.

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Steps to a Successful Organic Transition

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The transition from conventional to organic farming requires numerous changes. One of the biggest changes is in the mindset of the farmer. Conventional approaches often involve the use of quick-fix remedies that, unfortunately, rarely address the cause of the problem. Transitioning farmers generally spend too much time worrying about replacing synthetic input with allowable organic product instead of considering management practices based on preventative strategies. Here are a few steps new entrants should follow when making the transition to organic farming:

A) Understand the basics of organic agriculture and the organic farming standards

Since organic production systems are knowledge based, new entrants and transitional producers must become familiar with sound and sustainable agricultural practices. Transitional producers should be prepared to read appropriate information, conduct their own trials and participate in formal and informal training events. As mentioned, switching from conventional to organic farming is more than substituting synthetic materials to organic allowed materials. Organic farming is a holistic system that relies on sound practices focused on preventative strategies. Since there are often few organic remedies available to organic producers for certain problems, prevention is the key element in organic production.

B) Identify resources that will help you

Existing organic farmers are generally very helpful in sharing valuable technical information. A good mentor should be able to provide transitional producers with knowledge, practical experience and suggest appropriate reading materials. Mentors are able to identify some of the most important challenges transitional farmers will be confronted with. Mentors may also help source production materials that are otherwise difficult to find. Producers should also contact agrologists, veterinarians and other agricultural and financial consultants, in order to learn ways to improve their current farming practices.

The Internet is a valuable source of information, especially to new organic farmers. A broad range of reading materials are available from many organic/ecological organizations such as the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC), the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN), the Canadian Organic Growers (COG), the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC), the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Services/Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and the Agri-réseau/agriculture biologique- Quebec. Consider joining an organic organization or network to access these valuable resources and establish good working contacts.

C) Plan your transition carefully

Develop a transitional plan with clear and realistic goals. The plan should clearly identify various steps to be taken in making the transition to organic and be sure to include realistic timeframes. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Consider ways to address any weaknesses, while building on strengths. The business side of the transitional plan should contain a multiple year budget and an effective/realistic marketing strategy. Make sure your list of expenses is comprehensive. Include all prerequisites to begin the transition; such as, mechanical weeding equipment, specialized composting equipment and applicators, additional handling equipment dedicated to the organic products, and processing equipment. Although the demand for organic products is continually growing, growers need to make sure they have a reliable market for the organic products they plan to produce.

Careful planning is very important. During the early part of the transitional period, yields are often depressed and premium prices for certified organic products are generally not yet obtainable. Use realistic yields and prices when evaluating the feasibility of your project.

In some instances, it is preferable to continue using conventional measures early on in the transitional process in order to avoid dramatic yield reduction which could jeopardize the financial well-being of the operation. Farmers who are planning to convert their livestock operation should consider certifying their fields first. This allows time to learn more about organic livestock management requirements while, at the same time, starting to produce organic feeds. 
Although organic certifiers generally want to see the entire farm become organic, certifiers generally allow new entrants several years of transition time before the whole farm is fully certified.

Parallel production is the simultaneous production, processing or handling of organic and nonorganic crops, livestock and other products of a similar nature. Although this type of activity is highly discouraged by certifiers, some allow it, especially during the transition period. If permitted to practice parallel production, producers must be prepared to deal with significant record keeping in order to ensure traceability and organic integrity.

D) Understand your soils and ways to improve them

Since soil is the heart of the organic farming system, it is crucial that new entrants understand the various characteristics and limitations of the soils found on their farm. Soil suitability may vary significantly from one field to the next. Fields with good drainage, good level of fertility and organic matter, adequate pH, biological health, high legume content, and with less weed and pest pressure, are excellent assets. Often these fields are the first ones ready for transition and certification.

Many tools exist to assess soils. Soil chemical, physical and biological analyses, soil survey and legume composition field assessments, and field yield histories are very important and should be considered early in the transition. Unhealthy soils require particular attention.

If farmers plan to grow crops without raising any livestock, it may be necessary for them to source allowable soil amendments such as composted manure, limestone, rock dust, and supplementary sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micro-nutrients. Even with the best of crop rotations that include green manure crops like legumes (nitrogen fixing crops), transitional growers will be challenged if they want to obtain optimal yields without additional livestock manure, compost and/or other off-farm soil inputs. When these inputs are scarce or expensive, producers may benefit from integrating livestock on their farm.

Let’s not forget, under organic production, farmers must be able to recycle nutrients through proper nutrient management practices: recycling through good manure and compost utilization, crop rotations, cover crops (green manure, catch, and nitrogen fixing crops), and by reducing nutrient losses due to leaching, over-fertilization, as well as poor manure and compost management (storage, handling, and spreading).

E) Identify the crops or livestock suited for your situation

Before growing a crop or raising any livestock, consider the following: degree of difficulty to grow or raise the product organically, land and soil suitability, climate suitability, level of demand for the product, marketing challenges, capital required, current prices for conventional, transitional and organic products, and profitability over additional workload.

F) Design good crop rotations

Once the crops are chosen, carefully plan the crop rotation(s) and select the most suitable cover crops (green manure, winter cover crops, catch crops, smother crops, etc.). Crop rotations are extremely important management tools in organic farming. They can interrupt pest life cycles, suppress weeds, provide and recycle fertility, and improve soil structure and tilth. Some rotational crops may also be cash crops, generating supplemental income.

On some farms, land base availability may be a limiting factor when planning your crop rotations. The transitional plan should, therefore, include crop rotation strategies. Responding to external forces such as new market opportunities may also have a significant impact on crop rotations, so farmers need to consider the effect that growing new crops has on their crop rotations and land base availability.

G) Identify pest challenges and methods of control

It is important to know the crop’s most common pests, their life cycles and adequate control measures. For instance, Colorado potato beetle may be a pest of significant importance when growing potatoes; cucumber beetles in cucurbitaceous crops (cucumber, squash, and melons); flea beetle in many seedlings crops; clipper weevil and Tarnish Plant Bug in strawberry crops.

There are several measures available to reduce pest pressure: crop rotation, variety selection, sanitation, floating row covers, catch crops, flamers, introduction of beneficial insects, bio pesticides, and inorganic pesticides. Transitional growers should be prepared to use and experiment with some of these options. When considering a new type of production, discuss pest issues with your agrologists, IPM specialists and/or other existing organic producers to optimize your chances of success.

Availability of organic supplies has improved significantly over the past few years. New pest control products containing B.t., spinosad, kaolin clay are effective and currently available to organic growers. It is often reported that the types of weeds found on the farm evolve with time as growers change the way they grow their crops and control their weeds. By keeping track of the weed population, growers will be able to refine their crop rotations and improve their control measures.

Under organic livestock management, cattlemen must provide attentive care that promotes health and meets the behavioral needs of various types of livestock. With good herd health practices, farmers rarely need to rely on conventional medicine. Organic cattlemen should, however, try to familiarize themselves with alternative remedies such as herbal/aroma therapies, homeopathy,and immune system promoters.

H) Be ready to conduct your own on-farm trials

Successful organic farmers continuously try new and/or innovative management practices. Practices such as cover cropping, inter-planting, and use of various soil and pest control materials need to be evaluated regularly by organic farmers. Be prepared to try new approaches.

I) Be ready to keep good records

Record keeping is one of the most important requirements to maintain organic integrity. Farmers are expected to keep detailed production, processing and marketing information. This information includes everything that enters and exits the farm. Third party, independent inspectors require farmers to present the above mentioned documentation when inspecting the farm operation. Once the record-keeping requirements are understood and the reporting procedure established, paperwork becomes routine.

J) Avoid these common mistakes

• Underestimating the need for good transitional and marketing plans.
• Underestimating the need to fully understand the Organic Standard. Organic producers must understand the standard in order to know what is permitted and prohibited.
• Failing to think prevention. Transitional farmers should consider improving their crop rotation, soil and crop management skills, livestock management practices (feeding program, heard health program, grazing system, housing facilities, and husbandry).


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Conventional Vs Organic Farming

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Organic and conventional agriculture belonged to two different paradigms. The fundamental difference between the two competing agricultural paradigms as follows

Conventional Farming

Organic Farming







Domination of nature

Harmony with nature





In contrast, several agro-ecologically based researchers stress more the fluid transition between conventional, integrated and organic farming, as an outcome of different assessments of economic, ecological and social goals. Consequently, technique strategies such as integrated pest management of balanced nutrient supply might improve conventional agriculture to such as an extent that it may appear unnecessary to strictly ban pesticides and mineral fertilizers as required by organic standards.

However, there is scientific that organic agriculture differs from conventional agriculture not only gradually but fundamentally. Implementing organic methods consequently seems to provide a new quality in how the agro-ecosystem works. This functioning cannot be explained by summing up single ecological measures. Organic farming seems to improve soil fertility in a way and to an extent which cannot be achieved by conventional farming even if the later consistently respects some ecologically principles.

Organic agriculture is one of several to sustainable agriculture and many of the techniques used (e.g. inter-cropping, rotation of crops, double digging,, mulching, integration of crops and livestock) are practiced under various agricultural systems. What makes organic agriculture unique, as regulated under various laws and certification programmes, is that:

1) almost all synthetic inputs are prohibited and 2) Soil building crop rotations are mandated.

The basic rules of organic production are that natural inputs are approved and synthetic inputs are prohibited, but there are exceptions in both cases.

Certain natural inputs determined by the various certification programmes to be harmful to human health or the environment are prohibited (e.g. arsenic). As well, certain synthetic inputs determined to be essential and consistent with organic farming philosophy, are allowed (e.g. insect pheromones). Lists of specific approved synthetic inputs and prohibited natural inputs are maintained by all the certification programmes and such a list is under negotiation in codex. Many certification programmes require additional environmental protection measures in adoption to these two requirements. While many farmers in the developing world do not use synthetic inputs, this alone is not sufficient to classify their operations as organic.

Modern Farming

Today's chemical farms have little use for the skilled husbandry which was once the guiding principle of working the land. The emphasis today is solely on productivity - high input in exchange for high returns and productivity (mostly diminishing now however for farmers worldwide). Four important considerations - what happens to the land, the food it produces, the people who eat it and the communities which lose out - are overlooked.

Land exhaustion

The constant use of artificial fertilizer, together with a lack of crop rotation, reduces the soil's fertility year by year.


High yield levels are produced by applying large quantities of artificial fertilizers, instead of by maintaining the natural fertility of the soil.

Nitrate run-off

About half of the nitrate in the artificial fertilizer used on crops is dissolved by rain. The dissolved nitrate runs off the fields to contaminate water courses.

Soil erosion

Where repeated deep ploughing is used to turn over the ground, heavy rains can carry away the topsoil and leave the ground useless for cultivation.

Soil compaction

Damage to the structure of soil by compression is a serious problem in areas that are intensively farmed. Conventional tillage may involve a tractor passing over the land six or seven times, and the wheelings can cover up to 90 per cent of a field. Even a single tractor pass can compress the surface enough to reduce the porosity of the soil by 70 per cent, increasing surface run-off and, therefore, water erosion. In the worst cases, the surface run-off may approach 100 percent - none of the water penetrates the surface

Agricultural fuel

As crop yields grow, so does the amount of fuel needed to produce them. European farmers now use an average of 12 tons of fuel to farm a square kilometre of land; American farmers use about 5 tons (1987 figures).

Biocide sprays

The only controls used against weeds and pests are chemical ones. Most crops receive many doses of different chemicals before they are harvested.

Cruelty to animals

On most "modern" farms, all animals are crowded together indoors. Complex systems of machinery are needed to feed them, while constant medication is needed to prevent disease. The cruelty involved in managing, breeding, growing and slaughtering farm animals today is unimaginably repulsive and horrifying.

Animal slurry

With so many animals packed together in indoor pens, their manure accumulates at great speed. It is often poured into lagoons which leak into local watercourses, contaminating them with disease-causing organisms and contributing to algae-blooms.

Imported animal feed

Many farms are not self-sufficient in animal feed; instead they rely on feed brought into the farm. This often comes from countries which can ill afford to part with it.

Stubble burning

In countries where stubble is burned, large amounts of potentially useful organic matter disappear into the sky in clouds of polluting smoke

Loss of cultivated biodiversity

Large and other chemical farms tend to be monocultures growing the same crop and crop variety

Threat to indigenous seeds and animal breeds and species

Native cultivars and animal breeds lose out to exotic species and hybrids. Many native animal breeds are today threatened with extinction. The same holds true for many indigenous plant varieties which have disappeared within the space of one generation.

Habitat destruction

Agribusiness farming demands that anything which stands in the way of crop production is uprooted and destroyed. The wild animals and plants which were once a common sight around farms are deprived of their natural habitat and die out.

Contaminated food

Food, both plant and animal products, leaves the farm contaminated with the chemicals that were used to produce it.

Destruction of traditional knowledge systems and traditions

Rural indigenous knowledge and traditions, both agricultural and non-agricultural, is invariably connected to agriculture and agricultural systems.

Control of agriculture inputs and food distribution channel

The supply and trading in agricultural inputs and produce is in the hands of a few large corporations. This threatens food security, reducing the leverage and importance of the first and the last part of the supply chain - the farmer and the consumer.

Threat to individual farmers

Chemical agriculture is a threat to their livelihoods and changes their lifestyles, unfortunately not for the better.








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Organic Cultivation of Fruits

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Organic fruit production essentially excludes the use of many inputs associated with modern farming, most notably synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. To the maximum extent possible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral- bearing rock powders and biological pest control.  These components maintain soil productivity and tilth, supply plant nutrients and help to control insects, weeds and other pests.

Cultural practices

Site selection

All factors regarding site suitability for conventional fruit plantings (air and water drainage, etc.) apply even more and so to organic operations. While conventional farmers may fall back on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to compensate for poor site decisions, organic farmers largely give up such luxuries. The presence of certain weeds and forage species are also of particular concern to the organic farmer. Bermudagrass, Johnsongrass and several other species can be quite problematic to farmers and are difficult to control through nonchemical means.

Growing fruit crops offers an advantage to farmers interested in sustainable agriculture. Because fruit plantings are perennial, the soil may not require additional tillage or cultivation beyond that needed at establishment, thereby minimizing soil erosion. Because the potential for erosion is low, hillsides and other sites unsuitable for tillage agriculture can safely and successfully produce fruit crops.

Crop selection

Environmental constraints (climate, presence of certain pests and diseases, suitable soils, etc.) can greatly impact the suitability of a given site or even a bioregion for organic production of a given fruit crop. Generally speaking, some perennial fruits are easier to grow organically than others. The small fruits (berries) for example, seem easier to grow organically than the tree fruits in almost all locations. Lastly, successful organic fruit growing may depend largely on whether the venture is for home production or for commercial sales.

Site preparation

Attention to the details of site preparation can go a long way towards reducing weed and disease problems and assuring a vital planting through soil improvement.

In general, fruit crops do not require highly fertile soils for good production. In fact, highly fertile soils, rich in nitrogen, can promote too much vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting. A nutritionally balanced soil, proper oil pH and plentiful amounts of organic matter are the fundamentals of an organic fertility management plan for fruits. Preplant soil improvement for organic fruit plantings is typically accomplished through some combination of cover cropping/green manuring and the use of imported materials, which may include manures, compost, rock powders and organic wastes.

Of particular importance at this stage is the application of required amounts of lime or sulphur. The need for lime or sulphur is dependent on the crop to be grown and the results of soil testing. Adjusting the oil pH with lime (to raise the pH) or sulphur (to lower pH) is much more easily done before planting. Most fruit plants perform best around pH 6.5, although they tolerate a pH range between 5.5 and 7.2. Blueberries are an exception. They require an acid oil-ideally pH 4.8 to 5.2 soil testing should also be used to guide applications of manures and other rock powders to avoid nutrient imbalances.

Cover crops and green manures not only contribute to soil fertility but also can become part of an active plan for pre-plant weed suppression as smother crops. The basic strategy begins with ploughing under sod or other existing vegetation, planting a cover crop to suppress weed growth, tilling under the cover crop and setting plants. Sometimes several rotations of cover crops are used before setting plants.

Selection of specific cover crops and their management varies with location, depending on such factors as seasonal rainfall, soil type, soil erosion potential, available equipment and seed cost. For example, crotalaria probably performed less effectively than sesbania at different centre because it is poorly adapted to low, wet soils. Some other warm season cover crops that might be considered include aggressive maize varieties and forage soybean varieties.

Crops such as berries (strawberries) are often grown on raised beds to encourage drainage and reduce root rot disease problems.

Soil solarization

Another technique for site preparation is soil solarization. The process involves placing transparent polyethylene plastic on moist soil during the hot summer months to increase soil temperatures to levels lethal to many pests.
Solarization suppresses weeds and eliminates many potential soil disease and nematode problems.
Soil solarization is somewhat expensive and is not frequently used to prepare sites for perennial fruits, with the possible exception of strawberries.

Orchard Floor Management and Mulching

The floor or inter row areas of perennial fruit plantings may be managed in a variety of ways, ranging from clean cultivation to various combinations of cover crops and organic mulches. In terms of controlling erosion at least, a system that results in full or close-to-full ground coverage is best. If the decision is made to plant a between row ground cover, it should consist of a species adapted to the region and to the fruit farmer’s management plan. Where adapted, orchard grass and other cool season grasses are often recommended because they go dormant during the heat of the summer, thereby minimizing competition with the fruit crop for water. With proper fertility management these grasses may also provide plentiful material for mulch. Many warm season legumes are deep rooted and compete with the trees for water, they should not be allowed to grow under the tree canopy. However, legumes and the mulch made from leguminous ground covers can provide significant nitrogen to fruit trees or vines. Furthermore, even though they complete with the fruit plants for water, legumes (like the grasses) increase the water permeability of the soil. Increasing the organic matter content of the soil also increases the soil’s moisture retentiveness.

Subterranean clover reseeds itself in early summer and dies back during hottest part of the growing season leaving a relatively thick, weed suppressive duff or mulch. This system has shown applicability in apple and peach orchards and for a variety of orchard crops. Subterranean clover is not adapted to climates where winter temperatures regularly drop below 0 °F.

Many researchers have also investigated the relationship between orchard floor management and pest control. In some place apple orchards peach orchards, a diverse mix of cover crop spices provided habitat and food for an array of beneficial organisms, resulting in a decrease of orchard pests.

Mustards, buckwheat, dwarf sorghum and various members of the Umbelliferae and Compositae families support substantial numbers of beneficial insects without attracting as many pests.

After a planting is established, mulching with organic materials such as straw, leaves or sawdust can provide significant weed suppression. If applied thickly enough or supplemented with sheets of paper or cardboard as the bottom layer, complete suppression might be achieved. Application of mulch varies somewhat by crop. In strawberries for instance, mulch might cover entire aisles between rows or only be placed next to the bed to inhibit encroachment by creeping weeds. In vineyards and orchards, mulch might be placed only under individual trees or vines or along the entire row, ideally extending to the drip line.

Generally, mulch should be kept well away from the trunk to reduce damage from voles. This is especially important in winter. Keeping the mulch 8-12 inches away from the trunk also reduces the likelihood of crown rot and other diseases in susceptible species most notably applies on certain rootstocks. In mulberries, sawdust mulch is commonly spread along the entire row with extra sawdust mounded around the canes, often to a depth of 8 or more inches. In addition to controlling weeds, mulching with organic materials improves the soil by enhancing soil aggregation and water availability.

Varietal selection

Because the plants are perennial and represent a considerable investment in both time and money, it is important to start the fruit planting with the optimum varieties for location and markets.

Good information on varietal selection is available from Cooperative Extension, nurseries and local commercial farmers. It is also important to obtain clean planting stock. Buying from reputable nurseries that provide stock certified by certifying inspectors to be free of diseases and insect pests is recommended.

Genetic resistance refers to inheritable traits in the plants that inhibit disease and pest damage. Choosing genetically resistant cultivars is a very important control measure for organic farmers especially with regard to disease management. In some cases, such as bacterial spot in peaches, cultivar resistance is the best or only control.

Aphid resistant berries, Phylloxera resistant grape rootstocks, wooly aphid resistant apple rootstocks, mite resistant strawberry cultivars, and nematode resistant peach rootstocks are available. As important as this resistance is there is no cultivar of any fruit species with multiple insect pest resistance; therefore, means other than resistance will most likely have to be employed to protect fruit plant from a complex of several pest species.

Organic fertilization practices

Harvested fruit, being largely water, removes relatively few nutrients from the soil, compared to other crops. Therefore, a significant amount of the fertility needs of fruit crops can be met through cover crop management and organic mulches in systems which use them and by the application of lime and other slow release rock powders at the preplant stage. Still, supplementary fertilization is often required for optimum growth and production.
Some information useful to planning a supplementary fertilization program for perennial fruits include:

  • Organic farmers generally employ relatively non-soluble fertilizer materials, such as compost, manures, plant derived byproducts like cottonseed meal or animal byproducts like feather or blood meals. To insure adequate decomposition and timely nutrient release of these slowly available materials, early spring application is encouraged. Early application also reduces the tendency towards late season growth, which may result in winter damage.
  • Surface application of organic fertilizer materials without incorporation is sometimes wasteful of the nitrogen contained in those materials. This is especially true of manures. However, incorporation by tillage could damage the roots of the fruit plants and increase erosion.
  • To bypass some of the “problems” associated with slowly available organic materials, some organic fruit farmers choose soluble organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, soluble fish powder or water soluble blood meal in some cases applying these as a foliar spray. Since these are relatively expensive, the prudent farmer seldom relies exclusively on such materials.
  • Most organic fertilization programs focus on supplementing nitrogen as the key element since it is needed in the greatest amount for the crop. One way to determine a proper application rate for an organic fertilizer is to obtain a conventional chemical recommendation for the planting and calculate the approximate amount of an organic fertilizer required to meet it. For instance, if the recommendation for a berry crop is 160 kg of actual nitrogen per acre, a farmer choosing to use cottonseed meal (approximately 7% N) would need to apply about 2000 kg of that material to each acre. Such calculations are simplistic however and may lead to spending more on fertilizer inputs than in necessary. One reason is because biologically healthy soils fix and release greater amounts of nitrogen naturally than those which are not.
  • Further more, when making fertilizer calculations based on nitrogen, the farmer needs to credit the estimated contributions made by legume cover crops and or leguminous mulches, where these are used. A cover crop of subterranean clover, properly fertilized and inoculated, can fix from 200 to 1000 kg of nitrogen per acre annually in a living mulch system.
  • Basing application rates solely on nitrogen content can cause problems when the fertilizers themselves are imbalanced. Repeated use of poultry manure for example which is very high in phosphate, can lead to pollution problems and a zinc deficiency in the crop. These problems can be averted by regular soil testing and adjusting fertilizer selection and rates accordingly.
  • The most reliable means for determining whether fertilization is adequate is to combine field observations with soil and tissue testing. Poor yields, unusual colouration of leaves, and poor plant growth are all clues to a possible nutritional imbalance or deficiency. For example, less than 10 inches annual elongation of the branches of most fruit trees probably indicates a nitrogen deficiency. A corky bark on certain apple varieties may indicate an over availability of manganese in the soil.
  • A foliar analysis measures the nutrient content of the leaves and can identify a deficiency or excess well in advance of visible symptoms. It is more helpful than a soil test because the foliar analysis is a measure of what the plant is actually taking up, while soil analysis only measures what is in the soil, which may or may not be available to the plant. Annual foliar analyses generally provide the best guide for adjusting supplementary nitrogen fertilization.

Organic weed management

Research indicates that without some form of weed control in the fruit planting, crop yields and plant vigour will be greatly reduced. In organic farming, weed control is only one goal of a weed management system for perennial fruit crops. A good organic weed management plan should present a minimum erosion risk, provide a “platform” for the movement of farm equipment, not impact adversely on pest management or soil fertility, while minimizing weed competition for water and nutrients. This philosophy has already been demonstrated in discussions regarding three effective weed control tools: cover crops, mulches and soil solarization.

Organic insect and mite pest management

A major distinction between pest management in perennial fruit crops and in annual crops is that crop rotation is not an option (strawberries and to a lesser extent, brambles, are possible exceptions). The long term nature of fruit growing allows for the possible build up of a pest population over time. Conversely, it is also possible for such stable agricultural environments to sustain populations of beneficial organisms.

Plant health and vigour

Though it is sometimes overstated, maintaining the plant in general health and good vigour is important in pest management. For fruit plants, this adage is more applicable to indirect pests (those pests that feed on foliage, stems etc.) than to direct pests (pests that feed on the fruit). For instance, an apparently healthy plum tree may set a good crop of fruit, yet lose it all to the plum. On the other hand, the same tree might suffer significant defoliation by caterpillars early in the season; yet, if it is in good vigour, it can compensate and bounce back quickly still producing a marketable crop that year. There are some cases where general plant health and freedom from stress does impart a form of “resistance” not technically genetic resistance to certain pests. Two examples are apple trees in good vigour actually smothering with sap or casting out invading flathead apple tree borers and plants not suffering drought stress being much less attractive to grasshoppers.

Biological control

Biological control refers to the use of living organisms to control the population of a pest. Examples of beneficial arthropods that have been used to control pests in fruit crops include the predatory mites Phytoseiulus persimilisand Metaseiulus occidentalis, which attack spider mites; lady bird beetles and green lacewings which feed on aphids and Trichogramma wasps, which parasitize the eggs of several pests including codling moth.
Many beneficial insects can be purchased from commercial insectaries and released in fruit plantings. More economical, however is the management of cover crops and adjacent vegetation as insect refugia to attract and sustain native populations of beneficials. As a rule, it appears that beneficial arthropods are not a complete control measure for direct fruit pests at least for commercial farmers who have a low damage threshold for fresh fruit. Usually, additional control measures are required.

Organic and biorational pesticides

Pesticides approved for certified organic production are usually derived from natural sources, break down rapidly in the field and appear to have minimal impact on the environment. Examples include botanical extracts from plants, insect growth regulators, synthetic pheromone treatments that cause mating disruption, soaps, oils, minerals such as sulphur dust and biological pesticides. The term “biorational pesticide” is used to describe pesticides organically acceptable or synthetic, which have minimal impact on beneficial insects and the environment.

Biorational pesticides are considered those providing the least toxic control that can be applied against a pest. Biological pesticides (biopesticides) are both organically acceptable and biorational. Biopesticides differ from biological control in part because they are formulated, labeled and applied like standard pesticides but also because the organisms involved do not reproduce significantly in the field. Biopesticides are highly specific and do not harm humans or beneficial insects. Several biopesticides can be used in fruit pest management. To be effective, they must be used at a specific time in the pest’s development cycle.

The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is an example of a commonly used biological insecticide. Bt is not as effective against lepidopterous pests that spend their larval stage feeding inside stems, crowns, trunks, or fruit, etc. (e.g., peach tree borer, codling moth, grape root borer, etc.). Other microbial insecticides include Bacillus popilliaefor Japanese beetle grubs, a granulosis virus for codling moth, and insect parasitic nematodes for grubs and wireworms.

Botanical insecticides are formulated by extracting toxic compounds from plants that have pesticidal properties. They are naturally occurring, short-lived in the environment and do not leave harmful residues. However, many botanicals are broad spectrum poisons, affecting pests and beneficial organisms alike and are not always the biorational choice. Organic farmers, who are prohibited from using synthetic pesticides, frequently use botanical extracts. Some commonly used plant-derived insecticides are pyrethrum, rotenone, ryania and neem.

Specially formulated soaps that are high in fatty acids are effective against several soft bodied insects including aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers and spider mites. Insecticidal soap penetrates the insect’s body and disrupts the normal function of cells and their membranes, causing the contents to leak out.

Applying a thin layer of dormant oil to certain woody plants such as fruit trees, grapevines and bushes suppresses pests like leaf rollers, aphids, mites and scales by suffocating over wintering adults and eggs. Dormant oils should be applied prior to bud break and should never be mixed with sulphur because foliage damage may occur. So-called summer oils have a very low viscosity and can be used during the growing season to control aphids and mites without plant damage if label cautions are observed. Insect pheromones are chemicals produced by insects to help them communicate such things as mate availability and sexual receptivity. They are usually specific to a given insect species or genus.

Scientists have learned how to synthesize many of these pheromones and they are widely used for monitoring the emergence or simple presence of crop pests. This information is commonly used to time pesticide applications. New technology also allows pheromones to be used for mating disruption of certain pests. Mating disruption pheromones are available for the oriental fruit moth, codling moth and peach tree borer and grape berry moth.

Organic disease management

General disorders and cultural controls

There are however, some types of disease problems, which are common to almost all temperate zone perennial fruit crops. For instance, because of the relatively soft nature and high sugar content of most mature or nearly mature fruits, fruit rots are common afflictions. The organic farmer can help to minimize the chances of fruit rots by allowing good air circulation and sunlight penetration into the interior plant canopy. Sunlight and circulating air help to dry leaf and fruit surfaces, thereby limiting fungal and bacterial infections. In tree crops, this would mean proper pruning and training techniques. In brambles and berries, reducing plant density helps. In grapes, discouraging rank vine growth and removing leaves that shade fruit clusters is beneficial. For all fruit crops, a site that allows for good air circulation should be chosen.

Another problem common to many fruit crops is root rots and intolerance of poorly drained soils. Most pear rootstocks and some apple rootstocks are relatively tolerant of heavy of poorly drained soils, but even these crops will succumb to persistently waterlogged conditions. Prunus species (peaches, plums, cherries, etc) are very intolerant of poorly drained soils and are generally susceptible to root rotting organisms common in such soils. Other cultural aids in minimizing disease can include such things as maintaining plants in good health and vigour, removal through prunings from the planting site, rouging out of diseased plants, removal of alternate hosts or inoculum sources for the disease organisms.

Organic fungicides and bactericides

Copper and sulphur compounds are the principal fungicides and bactericides used by organic farmers, but they have drawbacks. These materials can cause damage to plants if applied incorrectly. Sulphur is also lethal to some beneficial insects, spiders and mites and can set the stage for further pest problems. Long term use of copper fungicides can also lead to toxic levels of copper in the soil. Furthermore, these fungicides are typically inferior to synthetic alternatives, and have to be used on a protective schedule requiring frequent applications. Research on biofungicides is encouraging. Several formulations of the fungus Trichoderma harzianium are now come to market as a control for grey mold (Botrytis). Other biofungicides now available include a control for powdery mildew in grapes and a protectant against tree wound pathogens.


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