Article by: Hari Yellina
The USDA National Organic Program has a love-hate relationship with many vegetable growers. There are numerous aspects of the certification that you will appreciate. First and foremost, it has significance. For their crops to be certified organic, growers must meet a high standard. The guidelines support what organic farmers already strive for. Paul Harlow, president of Harlow Farms LLC, a 400-acre organic farm in Vermont, states, “We utilise organic farming methods because we believe they are significantly better for the health of the soil than conventional.” “We view ourselves as stewards of the land we farm, and we do everything we can to protect it for the sake of our business and future generations.”
However, those rules can occasionally conflict with the intentions of environmentally conscious producers. “Sometimes organic production allows things that aren’t really as safe as they should be,” says Aaron Nichols, co-owner of Stoneboat Farm in Hillsboro, OR. It certainly doesn’t require the farm to be sustainable in the sense that it’s making the land it’s on stronger, less contaminated, and able to continue production into the future. Stoneboat Farm, therefore, is not certified organic at this time.
Organic approaches, on the whole, lessen pest pressure. “Over the years, we’ve observed how organic activities like crop rotation, composting, and tilling in cover crops increase organic matter and reduce the need for extra fertiliser.” “It also minimises weed and insect pest pressure,” Harlow adds. It might be difficult to stay on top of things after weeds or illnesses have broken through. “Excessively wet years can be difficult because disease is more prevalent and we can’t treat it with chemical fungicides,” Harlow explains. “Weed control is even more difficult during wet years since weeding time is critical, and if we can’t get into the fields, things may quickly spiral out of control.” “I try not to use copper as a fungicide unless it’s really necessary.” It’s bad for the soil and groundwater, but it’s sometimes necessary. “It would be fantastic if there were better organic fungicides available,” Harlow adds.
Harlow Farms does everything it can to prevent weed populations from growing. “We employ mechanical cultivation to control weeds in our weed control programme. Hand weeding is reduced as a result. “It has to be done at the correct time so the weeds don’t get too big,” he explains. He also employs a technique that isn’t widely used. “For root crops, we employ flame weeding. This entails lighting a propane burner over the seed bed just before the seedlings emerge to eliminate any weeds. He claims that it only works if the weeds are little. Finally, Harlow’s team has discovered that transplanting mature seedlings greatly aids weed management.