From the ground up - healthy plants stem from healthy soils
Healthy soil is an essential part of any farming system. In an organic farming operation, an effective nutrient cycle becomes even more important as producers can only use fertilisers which are acceptable according to organic standards.
By correctly managing inorganic elements and organic matter in the soil and maintaining good soil structure, organic farmers can grow healthy crops and pastures. Organic matter can be added to the soil through composted animal and poultry manure, approved composted industry waste, green manure or cover crops.
The use of compost is a common practice. With the aim of closing the nutrient cycle to minimise outside inputs, compost is an ideal way to use any available animal and plant waste to improve soil conditions.
Yields can also be improved by strategies such as sowing crops suitable for green manuring, accurate fertiliser placement, reducing weed competition, timing the application of fertiliser with appropriate soil moisture levels and minimising cultivation and waterlogging.
Regular soil tests are important so that nutrient input can be matched with existing soil conditions and anticipated plant needs.
Weed, pest and disease management often pose the most problems for organic farmers, during the conversion phase and also once an organic system has been established. Instead of simply replacing synthetic herbicides and pesticides with naturally occurring products, system design and management are the key to success.
Weed control methods for organic farming include cultivation, competition, thermal weeding, solarisation, crop choice, sowing density, fertilisation, irrigation, hand weeding, suppression, mechanical control, crop rotations, surface mulch, livestock and biological controls. Natural herbicides like acetic acid, pine or citrus oil may be permitted in some cases.
Reducing the weed burden prior to production is very important and early timely control when weeds are small is crucial for effective management.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is an important part of any pest control program and organic farmers have a wide range of cultural, biological and natural pesticides available to control various common pests.
These products include beneficial insects, biological pesticides, soaps, natural oils, seaweed, vinegar, sulphur and carbon dioxide gas. Target specific treatments are much preferred as these cause less disruption to the beneficial organisms that help maintain an ecological balance.
The role of livestock
Livestock can play a vital role in an organic production system as they aid nutrient cycling and can provide an effective form of weed and pest control.
Organic livestock management differs from conventional livestock management as synthetic chemicals cannot be used to treat animal health problems. This means alternate management practices are required which can provide some challenges when dealing with parasites and disease.
There are a number of ways to minimise the likelihood of disease and pest outbreaks in livestock, much of which centres around ensuring animals are grown on healthy soil and pasture, along with appropriate stocking density, rotational grazing, balanced diet and sound biosecurity practices.
Is organics for you?
Making the decision to become an organic producer is a big decision in any farm business. More often than not farming practices will need to change significantly and the accreditation process alone will take considerable time.
To retain their organic status farmers need to follow rigorous procedures across the production line, from paddock preparation to distribution and marketing.
Producers considering embarking on organics will benefit from a range of information resources to help them in their decision.
Achieving organic status and forging a future as an organic producer certainly has its rewards and can provide considerable personal satisfaction.