New organic production manual updates science details

The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate has released its new production manual, Organic Farming on the Prairies, second edition.

The original edition focused on organic grain production and combined practical how-to information with principles and research. It was incredibly popular, a text for introductory workshops and courses and a reference for practitioners.

The second edition retains the balance of practical information and guiding principles and updates the science behind organics.

Of course, grain production is still pivotal, but the second edition adds chapters on fruit, vegetable and livestock, as well as an expanded em-phasis on marketing.

Topics range from crop production to the philosophy and history of organics, while crucial topics such as soil fertility and weed management are expanded.

Specifics and practical information are shared for each crop type. As well, sections on the principles behind the techniques are provided so that producers have a more solid foundation from which to experiment.

All major chapters are team efforts, bringing together the expertise of academic researchers, government specialists, subject specialists, and of course, the true experts, organic practitioners, who understand what happens when philosophy meets reality.

Featured throughout the second edition are more than 20 profiles of producers and businesspeople, who share their passion and first-hand experiences.

They offer a wealth of wisdom, and I thought it might be interesting to hear a little from each of them in this column. Some discuss why they went organic.

For instance, Keith Neu of Etomami Community Organics near Hudson Bay, Sask., said: “Desperation got us into organic farming. We figured there had to be a better way than giving all our profit to the chemical companies.”

When it comes to weed control, Alvin Boyko of Boyko Farm near Yorkton, Sask., said: “People sometimes think you have to kill all the weeds; you don’t. You just have to slow them down a little bit. Even pre-emergent harrowing works a few days after seeding. You cover up some of the shallow weeds and you give the grain a bit of a head start.”

Feeding the soil from the point of view of Steven Snider of Little Hen Mills near New Norway, Alta., is described this way: “More plant species in the green manure provide better competition for weeds and bigger biomass. The legumes provide nitrogen and the cereals add bulk fibre and energy to feed soil organisms, and the benefits to the soil are obvious.”

On paying attention to Mother Nature, Jerry Kitt of First Nature Farms near Goodfare, Alta., said: “Shoot your TV. Spend time outside and learn from observation.”

Organics, like any good agriculture, requires planning, and Dwayne Logan of Logan Farms Organic Meat near Nesbitt, Man., said: “Start small and manage growth. Pencil out and plan the farm season in the fall and winter, map out a budget and be prepared to be flexible.”

Marketing is key to success in organics, and Tony Marshall of Highwood Crossing Foods near Aldersyde, Alta., suggests that farmers should “go where you are loved.… Discover your special niche in the market and go after it.”

Anita Oudshoorn of Fairwind Farm near Fort McLeod, Alta., suggests that farmers should “be passionate about your products. Love them and eat them yourself.”

On how organics has worked for them, Terry Toews of Penny Lane Organic Farm near Swift Current, Sask., said: “I think it’s good for us, it’s good for the soil and I really think it’s important to give consumers a choice in the marketplace.”

Doug Bone of Greenan Organic Growers near Elrose, Sask., said: “I doubt very much I would be farming today if I hadn’t made the switch. You have to have the moxy to just go out and do it.”

Angie Schmidt of Meridian Organics near Rockglen, Sask., said: “When we farmed conventionally, it seemed we were fighting nature all the time, whereas now we don’t. We put in a green manure. We go about our business and it grows.… Farming this way, we are working closer with nature instead of trying to control it.”

These experts, combined with the expertise of scientists and other specialists, offer enough insights to keep a reader thinking for the whole winter.

Is it time, once the crops are in and the bills are paid, to look again at the possibility of going organic? Are you wondering what new techniques and options might be available? Wanting to consider some tweaks to your existing system?

Perhaps it is time to settle in with a good book. The Organic Farming on the Prairies, second edition, is available at www.saskorganic.com.

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