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Assignment 6

 

Organic Production Systems

Getting Started by Thinking "Organic"
Read the frequently cited notions about organic foods presented at the following Web sites:

Why Grow Organically?

Organic Foods - FAQ

These represent some commonly held observations (and emotions) about the benefits of organic food production and consumption.

Public advocacy groups such as the Environmental Working Group have launched another major public relations blitz to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Alar incident. Pesticide residues on apples, particularly as they relate to suspected doses in children, are a major target. Go to the FoodNews site and examine your favorite foods!

Definition of Organic Production
The Texas Department of Agriculture in the Texas Administrative Code Title 4, Part I, Chapter 18 defines organic farming as "a system of ecological soil management that relies on building humus levels through crop rotations, recycling organic wastes, and applying balanced mineral amendments and that uses, when necessary, mechanical, botanical, or biological controls with minimum adverse effects on health and the environment."

Organic food is "food for human or livestock consumption that is produced under a system of organic farming and that is processed, packaged, transported and stored so as to retain maximum nutritional value without the use of artificial preservatives, coloring or other additives, ionizing radiation, or prohibited materials. (Texas Admin Code 4, I, 18, 33).

Growth of Organic Crop Production
Organic methods are not new. Recognition of the potential harmful effects of food additives, pesticide residues, and inappropriate use of agricultural chemicals (including soil amendments and fertilizers) is well documented.

What is driving the broader scale interest in organic production systems is a consumer demand that is rising at a rate faster that the demand for traditional food stuffs. The following facts were gleaned from the February 23, 1998 business section of Time Magazine.

  • sales of organic products have increased from $178 million in 1980 to over $4 billion in 1998;
  • sales of "natural products" (generally recognized as including organic) have tripled in the 1990's and now exceed $12 billion;
  • organic and "natural" foods business is growing in excess of 20% per year (compared to 2 to 3 % for traditional);
  • the fastest growing national chain is Whole Foods Market, founded in Austin, Tx in 1980; Whole Foods has grown by 900% in the 1990's, and is now a billion dollar firm with 78 stores in 17 states;
  • Whole Foods was recently named by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 100 places to work, in recognition of its policy of employee management participation;
  • traditional food stores (Albertson's and Safeway) have increased their natural foods offerings dramatically in recent years, and will likely represent formidable competition in the specialty foods markets.
  • a recent market basket survey revealed that organic produce costs 20-30% more than traditional produce.

Principles of Organic Crop Production
Organic crop production is a strategy for producing food crops and food animals on farms that are free of "synthetic" or "non-natural" inputs. Certification is a critical component of organic farming, insuring that produce and animals were grown in accordance with recommended guidelines. A certified seal or logo on organic foods distinguishes that food from other "natural" produces and establishes a justification for a higher price to the consumer.

National standards for organic food production systems
have been developed under the auspices of the National Organic Food Production Act of 1990.

The organic standards require that:

  1. each organic farmer and food handler develop an organic plan for their operation;
  2. the plan would be evaluated and approved by an accredited certifying agent;
  3. the farmer/handler would abide by the list of approved substances for their system;
  4. imported organic products would be recognized as equivalent if they were produced in accordance with the national standards (or under stricter standards).

Other important elements of organic crop production in Texas:
auditable records of all aspects of crop production must be kept by the grower;
area in which organic crops are grown must have been free of non-listed chemicals for 3 years prior;
grower must submit to periodic inspections;
certification fees vary by operation size ($40 for less than 1 acre; $140 up to 100 acres; separate scale for greenhouse operations).

Allowable Management Practices:

  • fertility managed by managing soil organic content;
  • cover crops, leguminous crops, manures and composts are allowable;
  • crops should be rotated according to an approved rotation plan;
  • irrigation management must conform to "recognized organic practices and water conservation principles;"
  • irrigation water that is contaminated with a substance not on the approved list may not be used (some discretion with prior approval and demonstration that residue does not accumulate in food);
  • weed management will be by mechanical or hand cultivation, crop rotations, smother crops, mulching, etc.
  • herbicidal soaps and oils may be used, as can plastic mulch and mulch made of recycled newspapers;
  • disease and insect management will be primarily by production scheduling, crop selection, use of resistant varieties, crop rotations, etc.
    Note: The current national organic plan DOES NOT ALLOW USE of genetically engineered crops with Bt strategy
  • other pest management must conform to substances on the approved list;

Resources
The National Organic Program
Economics of Organic Production and Marketing
Guide to Marketing Organic Produce
Texas Organic Standards and Certification
USDA National Organic Program Home Page
National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances

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