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Organic Practices for conventional producers

Even farmers who have no intention of going organic can learn something from successful organic practices

Organic farming has become mainstream and is an ever-growing market. What can conventional farming learn from organic farming?

Larry and Pat Pollock are certified organic farmers, farming 600 acres just east of Brandon, Man. “We take great pride in the grains that we produce each year,” said Larry Pollock. “Organic farming does have its challenges, but the rewards are there.”

The Pollocks grow different types of cereal grains like barley, rye, oats and spelt (an ancient wheat grain). They also produce forage seed and alfalfa. Larry has been farming for 46 years, and has been growing organic crops since 1998. The Pollocks also sell organic vegetables to local farmers markets.

Diverse crop rotation

The Pollocks believe the most important practice conventional producers should try is a diverse crop rotation. “You want to make sure that no insects, diseases, or weeds become adapted to the area,” said Larry. “A good crop rotation will always keep pathogens and pests under control. You want to be careful when selecting your rotations in making diverse decisions for any particular field.”

Joanne Thiessen Martens, an assistant agronomist at the University of Manitoba, agrees that a diverse crop rotation can help conventional producers manage their problems. “All producers should create a four to six year crop rotation that should include cereals, oilseeds, legumes and perennials like alfalfa,” she says. “You want to plant crops that have different habits in growing in order to upset any problems the field may have. This can include cool to warm temperature crops, and even fall seeded crops like fall rye and winter wheat.”

The Pollocks have definitely noticed the difference that comes from using a diverse crop rotation on their organic farm. “When you look across the field, the difference is astounding. The amount of weed pressure has decreased and we have been able to take care of any problems when they are little,” says Larry.

Green manure plow down

Joanne Pollock recommends that conventional farmers practice a “green manure plow down.” This involves seeding an annual legume every third year in a crop rotation. The legumes grow until the flowering stage, then the plant material is worked into the soil.

“The legumes fix the nitrogen in the soil, which is so important in having good growth,” says Joanne. Green manure plow down offers nitrogen to the soil without the farmer having to add it in the liquid or granular forms.

The Pollocks have noticed a huge change in their input costs since they added a green manure plow down practice. “Our costs have dropped dramatically since going organic,” explained Larry. “The reduction in fertilizer and fuel has saved us so much without jeopardizing our yield production.”

Green manure plow down also provides carbon from the plant material that is needed in the soil structure to hold nutrients. Plant material being worked into the soil from the previous year’s crop also provides organic matter. Implementing a green manure plow down into a crop rotation provides great competition towards any weeds and diseases.

Other tips

Other organic-style tips include seeding early and heavy, crop scouting often, and harrowing to reduce weeds.

Crop scouting allows farmers to address problems early. Harrowing reduces weed growth to give crops a better chance.

The Pollocks believe everyone, organic or not, should follow these practices. They’ve learned from trials and tribulations. It took time for them to find out which practices work for them, but they would never go back.

“If I knew what I know today 10 years ago, I would have gone organic years sooner,” said Larry. As trends come and go, all farmers should take a step back and “think organic” more often. †

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