Planning for organic: Ohio State, OEFFA partner to teach beginning growers

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WOOSTER, Ohio — Growers who wish to market their crops or produce as “certified organic” must first complete a detailed systems plan, and have it approved by their certifying agency.

On Dec. 3, about 50 people from across Ohio and beyond gathered at Ohio State University’s Arden Shisler Center for Organics 201, a workshop introducing them to beginner-level concepts and the plan booklets they’ll need to complete.

Planning ahead

Most of the farm’s biographic and demographic information must be included, such as the types and amounts of each crop to be planted, the place where seeds will be bought and any anticipated soil treatments.

The workbook is partly to get growers to meet expectations of their certifying agency, and also to help them better understand their business plans, said Kathy Bielek, OSU program assistant.

Bielek said many in attendance had extensive histories as farmers, but were gearing up for the organic move.

“A lot of them (participants) have been farming conventionally for a lot of years, but are ready for organics,” she said.

Still opportunity

Despite a year that has seen high inputs, lower than usual commodity prices and a dairy industry that is suffering to survive, organics still has opportunity, said Mike Anderson, education specialist with Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

Anderson pointed to a couple studies that reveal there’s still more demand for organics than what is being produced.

The U.S. organic industry grew 21 percent overall to reach $17.7 billion in consumer sales in 2006, according to The Organic Trade Association’s 2007 Manufacturer Survey.

Anderson said a USDA report from the same time showed the country’s production was about 40 percent below demand.

“We’re really only growing 60 percent of the amount of (organic) food consumed in America,” he said.

Anderson said 2008-2009 was a down year for organic farmers, as well, and expects growth will not be as strong this year, but will continue a positive trend.

Workbook help

The workshop included help sessions for filling out the workbooks, and presentations by OSU staff. Doug Doohan, horticulture and crop sciences professor, discussed weed prevention.

His advice was to cultivate early and often, and to avoid letting weeds develop to the point they form seeds, which are easily dispersed by wind and human intervention.

Simply put, “Never let a weed get established on your farm,” he said.

Attendees were served lunch and snacks from two local restaurants that serve organic products — TJs trio of restaurants, and Broken Rocks Cafe.

A partnership

OEFFA has teamed together with OSU on various organic projects, and holds conferences and field days throughout the year.

This workshop was funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

More information about system plans is available at www.oeffa.org.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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