Weed management, soil health, and nutritional quality of organically produced foods are among the highest priority organic research topics according to organic farmers across the US, and abundant peer-reviewed research supports these perspectives. Utilizing innovative organic agricultural practices that improve soil health, combat weeds, and enhance the nutritional quality of staple foods will enable farmers to successfully meet the challenges of feeding a rising global population.
Farmer Training Programs
Peer learning helps farmers put knowledge into action. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that farmers consider other farmers their best sources of information and guidance. Farmers want to hear firsthand how other farmers make decisions and implement different strategies. They want to ask each other questions and get suggestions as they try new approaches. They want perspectives from those who have faced the same challenges and found viable solutions. They want to know what worked and didn’t and why.
This project investigates 20 promising ancient and heritage grain varieties to measure performance for farm scale organic growing conditions and will increase available seed of these 20 unique varieties to a minimum of 20 pounds each in 2020. Data will be collected on weed suppression, lodging, disease, and pest pressure as well as yield and height and environmental conditions at two sites- Ketchum, Idaho and Paonia, Colorado.
While research on cover cropping and compost application have surged in the past decade, organic growers are still struggling to maintain sufficient levels of available nitrogen (N) in vegetable cropping systems. Especially in semiarid regions like California, relying on N mineralization from banked reserves in soil organic matter has not provided enough N to support high crop yields competitive with conventional systems; an additional source of labile N may be needed during the season.
Wireworms, the larval stage of click beetles (Coleoptera: Elateridae), are generalist subterranean herbivores that cause significant damage in a variety of crops. Managing wireworms has been a challenge due to their long-life cycle, subterranean living habitat, and ability to survive wide range of host plants. Although there are a few insecticides available for conventional farming, there is no effective alternative control measure against wireworms in organic production.
Farmers and agricultural professionals have great interest in exploiting beneficial soil organisms, especially in organic systems with their focus on soil health and reliance on natural cycles to manage plant health and pests. Endophytes are microorganisms that form non- pathogenic symbioses with plants and can confer benefits including growth promotion and increased plant tolerance to environmental stresses that are predicted to increase with climate change.
Lentils are important for diversifying wheat-based cropping systems and are also beneficial in enhancing soil health. These benefits have contributed to the exponential growth in pulse crop acreage in The Northern Great Plains (NGP). There are several challenges facing organic lentil production. Lack of approved herbicide for use in organic pulse crop production provides a challenge to weed management.
Biosolarization is a new innovation in the realm of weed control. Different from the commonly known practice of solarization, which uses clear plastic sheeting on moist soil to thermally terminate a variety of pest species, biosolarization includes the use of organic matter in the form of compost, cover crops, manure or other materials such as pomace or nut hulls. The addition of organic matter can accelerate the process by encouraging anaerobic soil disinfestation. The carbon from organic material produces chemicals with bio-pesticidal activity.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), a four-county area in deep south Texas, is a promising region for organic farming with an estimated 2.1 million acres of arable land. With the sub-tropical climate prevailing in the region, the LRGV boasts a year-round growing season. However, this also poses agronomic challenges to farmers: year-round pest management and maintenance of soil health. For organic farmers, the major weed management technique is intensive tillage during the late summer months, exposing soils to the intense heat and high winds characteristic of this season in the region.
The object is to breed disease-resistant heirloom-quality tomatoes, especially those resistant to late blight and a number of other diseases. I have already crossed ten premiere heirloom tomato varieties—full-size red, pink, black, orange, and paste types—to the hybrid ‘Iron Lady’, which is resistant to late blight and a number of other relevant diseases. And I have developed the second-generation (F2) populations from each of these ten crosses.