Question of the Week
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Answer: Production practices have a tremendous effect on the quality of fruit at harvest, postharvest, and during shelf life. For example, some cultivars are known to have a longer shelf life and to ship better than others. Because of this, you should consider your market before considering which varieties to plant. In addition, environmental factors such as soil type, temperature, frost, and rainy weather also have unfavorable effects on the crop’s harvest quality. For example, some tomato varieties have a tendency to crack after a rain. Therefore, choosing varieties such as Sapho and Mountain Fresh, which are resistant to cracking, may help alleviate the problem of poor fruit quality at the time of harvest. Management practices such as too little or too much water, mechanical injury, or high fertilizer rates can also affect postharvest quality.
Tomatoes should be harvested during the coolest time of the day, which is typically in the morning, and produce should be kept shaded in the field. Harvesting tomatoes requires extensive labor; harvesting may be done every day during the peak of the season along with continuous discarding of culled fruit from the field to prevent the spread of diseases and pests. Harvesting is done either by hand or with a harvesting aid; only process¬ing tomatoes are harvested by machine due to increased bruising of the produce. Produce should be graded, separating the marketable tomatoes from the cull tomatoes that show signs of bruises, cracking, spots, rots, or decay. Damage such as this can be prevented if tomatoes are handled with care at the time of harvest, harvested at proper maturity, harvested during dry weather, and handled minimally. Tomatoes should be harvested with no more than two to three stacked deep into strong cardboard or stackable flat boxes. Growers have used bread racks in the past with great success. Check with a local bakery to see if they would be willing to sell some to you.
Tomatoes are very susceptible to chilling injury; therefore, maintaining precise storage temperature is critical for postharvest storage quality. Storage temperatures differ with the maturity of the fruit. Tomatoes picked with a slight pink color all the way up to a mature red color should be stored at temperatures between 48ºF to 50ºF. These fruits will have a maximum shelf life of two weeks. Tomatoes that are picked green are best stored at temperatures between 58ºF to 60ºF and have a three- to four-week shelf life.
Proper sanitation is of great importance in preventing postharvest diseases and the spread of foodborne illnesses. Thus, strict regulations of sanitary facilities and the use of disinfectants in wash water are used to help prevent both the spread of postharvest diseases and foodborne illnesses. Disinfectants such as chlorine, at a residual of 4 ppm, or hydrogen peroxide, at a concentration of 0.5%, have been effective disinfectants in organic programs. Always check with your certifying agent to see what concentrations are allowed under the regulations.
You can learn much more on this topic in the ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production. It focuses on the specific production challenges, including site selection (soil and climate), variety selection, sources of organic seeds and organic annual transplants, organic grafting, planting and training/staking arrangements, soil fertility and fertilization, crop rotation, and pest (insect, disease, and weed) management. Harvest and yield/productivity are closely related to marketing possibilities. While market conditions are extremely region-specific, this publication also addresses a few general principles on marketing and economics of organic tomatoes.
In addition, the ATTRA publication Postharvest Handling of Fruits and Vegetables is an excellent source for additional information on postharvest and storage considerations.
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Answer: Fall/early winter planting is recommended in all parts of the U.S. A cold period is required in order for the mother bulb to split into cloves. The bolting cultivars of garlic require a cold period to trigger cellular division. For spring planting, which is not recommended, the bulbs need to be refrigerated at 40°F for 40 days. By planting garlic in the fall, the plants obtain significant root growth before the ground freezes. Then in the spring the plant focuses its energy on sprouting, leaf growth, and ultimately bulb development. If the garlic is planted too late in the fall to obtain significant root growth, this will ultimately detract from bulb size the following summer. Fall-planted garlic grows rapidly when the weather warms in spring.
Bulb growth in garlic, like many alliums, is dependent on the lengthening of the day and the accumulation of degree days (heat units). In northern latitudes, most growers plant garlic in October before the ground freezes. This gives the plant time to make good root development but not enough time to make leaf growth. Where winter sets in earlier, growers are recommended to plant garlic two to three weeks after the first frost (below 32°F) (Rosen et al., 1999). Where winters are milder, garlic can be planted as late as mid-December. In some parts of California, it can be planted as late as February or March. ATTRA recommends talking with local producers and your county Cooperative Extension to determine the best time to plant garlic in your region.
The ATTRA publication Garlic: Organic Production offers more information on most aspects of garlic production, including seed sources, organic fertility management, pest management, and harvesting and storage.
Rosen, Carl et al. 1999. Growing Garlic in Minnesota. University of Minnesota Extension service. Regents of the University of Minnesota.
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Answer: Without rain or overhead irrigation, some bulky organic fertilizers—e.g., compost—will not readily break down and move into the soil. And because the fruit crops are usually perennials, cover crops cannot be relied upon for nutrition after the initial planting. This emphasizes the need for pre-plant consideration of nutritional needs of the plants, beginning with a soil test. For instance, adjusting soil pH with lime or sulfur should occur before the tunnel's cover goes on. Likewise, if soil organic matter needs improvement, cover crops or applications of manures or composts should happen before the high tunnel is covered. Allow time for breakdown and mechanical or natural incorporation of these into the soil.
Post-planting nutritional needs are going to be met with fertigation (running liquid fertilizers in the irrigation system), by precision hand-application of compost or pelletized organic fertilizers, or by hand-application of liquid organic fertilizers via watering buckets or hoses with fertilizer attachments. Regarding fertigation, liquid organic fertilizers, like fish emulsion or compost tea, have a reputation for clogging or gumming up the drip emitters (manufacturers of some of these products are now touting some formulations as "fertigation friendly" in order to address this problem). In such cases, proper filtration is the first line of defense. If clogging still occurs, there is an organically acceptable cleaner, Cleardrip-O.
Fertigation in Organic Vegetable Production Systems is an excellent primer on organic fertigation, as relevant to perennial fruits as it is to vegetables. It discusses the necessary equipment, fertigation products, how to calculate rates, and more.
If you're going to apply dry fertilizer materials, they will have to be placed where the soil is wet from the irrigation; otherwise, the nutrients from such materials will not move into the root zone to be available to plant roots.
Lastly, it's advisable to remove the plastic cover every winter in order to insure that the trees meet their chill requirement but also to allow rain to rinse out excess salts from the fertilizers. This is also a time when manure or compost could be applied with some confidence that it will be "washed" into the soil by rain and melting snow. Compost, especially compost made from plant matter and not animal manure, contains less salt and so should be considered a superior organic fertilizer material for most high tunnel applications.
Want to learn more? The ATTRA publication High Tunnel Tree Fruit and Grape Production for Eastern Growers. This publication identifies fruits that hold the most potential for profitable high tunnel culture. It also identifies several limitations and potential pitfalls growers must recognize if such a venture is to be profitable.
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Answer: Important considerations in site preparation include alleviating soil compaction, enhancing fertility, adjusting soil pH, and managing weeds, pests, and diseases. Attention to the details of site preparation can help reduce weed and disease problems and assure a vital planting through soil improvement. What needs to be done depends on the previous use of the land, including crops grown; current vegetation; and the presence of pests and diseases. Many growers rip or chisel the soil to loosen layers of compaction before they plant a new orchard or vineyard because deep tillage will be disruptive once the trees are established.
Before establishing an orchard or vineyard, it is important to adjust the soil pH to best suit the crop you’ve selected. Soil tests can assess current soil conditions, including pH, mineral levels, and their relative proportions. Traditionally, pH has been adjusted through applications of lime (to raise the pH) or sulfur (to lower pH). Most fruit plants perform best around pH 6.5, although they tolerate a pH range between 5.5 and 7.2. Blueberries are an exception. They require an acid soil—ideally pH 4.8 to 5.2. Soil test results help guide applications of soil amendments, such as compost, lime, gypsum, or other rock powders, to provide good soil conditions that meet the nutritional needs of the orchard.
In general, fruit crops do not require highly fertile soils for good production, though this varies with the species. Highly fertile soils, rich in nitrogen, can promote too much vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting in trees such as apples. A nutritionally balanced soil, proper soil pH, and plentiful organic matter are the fundamentals of an organic fertility-management plan for fruits. Pre-plant soil improvement for organic fruit plantings usually involves some combination of cover cropping and applications of compost, natural minerals, or other organic fertilizers.
The perennial nature of fruiting trees, bushes, and vines allows for a more permanent, sustainable agriculture based on healthy soil. The ATTRA publication Soils and Sites for Organic Orchards and Vineyards discusses site selection and soil preparation for fruit plantings. It also describes cover crop and mulching options for orchards and vineyard floors, and discusses fertilization and the role of mycorrhizae in maintaining healthy fruit plants.
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Answer: Cucumber beetle is a common name given to members of two genera of beetles, Diabrotica (spotted) and Acalymma (striped), both in the family Chrysomelidae. Cucumber beetles are present throughout the United States and cause serious damage to cucurbit crops. Overwintering adult insects feed on young plants, larvae in the soil feed on plant roots, and second-generation adults feed on plant leaves, blossoms, and fruits. Furthermore, adult cucumber beetles serve as vectors of bacterial wilt and squash mosaic virus.
Although cucumber beetles prefer flowers and leaves, they can also cause cosmetic damage to the surface of the melon that reduces the value of the crop. They are difficult to control through IPM strategies. They do have natural enemies, but introducing these is usually not enough to protect marketable yields of fruit; nor are insecticides particularly effective, as the two major beetle varieties either develop outside of the fields being treated or lay their eggs at the roots, where larvae are difficult to control.
Organic and biointensive IPM measures include delaying planting until beetles have already laid their first generation of eggs and using trap crops, floating row covers, parasitic organisms (such as the Tachinid fly Celatoria), and botanical pesticides. Field scouting or yellow sticky traps can help growers monitor insect populations. Trap crops provide attractive scents and colors for the beetles. These may include zucchini, squash, and pumpkins. Sow 5% or more of the land in strips alongside the crop or in adjacent plots with trap crops; these plants produce cucurbitacin, a feeding stimulant to cucumber beetles. The traps can either be destroyed or sprayed with a highly concentrated (30ml per gallon of water) citrus oil solution to destroy the adult cucumber beetle population.
The ATTRA publication Cucumber Beetles: Organic and Biorational Integrated Pest Management reports that some squash varieties have greater amounts of the cucumber beetle attractant cucurbaticin:
• Black Jack zucchini
• Big Max pumpkin
• Cocozelle summer squash
• Green Eclipse zucchini
• Seneca zucchini
• Senator zucchini
• Baby Boo pumpkin
• Super Select zucchini
• Ambercup buttercup squash
• Dark Green zucchini
• Embassy Dark Green zucchini
• Caserta summer squash
• Classic melon
Large-scale pest vacuums have also proven effective in removing beetles. Insecticides such as pyrethrums, which are derived from the extract of chrysanthemum flowers, can be used to help control beetle infestations. However, it should be noted that these generally not only have long residual activity but also are highly toxic to some beneficial insects. Moreover, their use may destabilize insect populations and result in outbreaks of secondary pests like aphids. Note that while pyrethrums are natural (though potent) insecticides that are generally approved for certified organic crops, pyrethroids are synthetic versions that are not approved for certified organic crops.
According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Adios (a Sevin bait) has proved moderately successful in controlling cucumber beetles. Although used as a foliar spray, Adios acts as a bait because it contains a cucumber beetle-feeding stimulant along with 13% carbaryl insecticide. When Adios is sprayed on foliage, beetles are stimulated to feed on the compound and are killed by the carbaryl. In field tests, Adios has provided cucumber beetle control ranging from less than to equal to foliar insecticides. It has no harmful effect on beneficial insects, including pollinators, because insects other than cucumber beetles are not stimulated to feed on the compound. However, Adios (Sevin) is not allowed in organic production.
Note that although Adios is a formulation of Sevin, Sevin itself should be avoided because it is toxic to earthworms, pollinators, and wasps (several of which are beneficial insects) and its use can lead to secondary insect pest infestations. Neem has been found to have little effect on beetle survival or mortality, but its anti-feedant trait significantly reduced plant damage caused by beetles. Rotenone and cryolite were both moderately effective. Entomophagous nematodes can control the larval stage in the soil. More information is available in the ATTRA publications Cucumber Beetles: Organic and Biorational Integrated Pest Management and Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control.
Learn more in the ATTRA publication Specialty Melon Production for Small and Direct-Market Growers. This publication provides an overview of production and marketing of numerous different species and varieties of specialty melons. It addresses production considerations including seed sources, planting needs, soil preparation, and insect pest and disease control. It also discusses marketing outlets for producers to sell their melons and summarizes results of current melon research.
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Answer: One of the oldest insect pests of grain crops is the grasshopper. This insect can be difficult to control with organic methods, because it can move from a control area to a non-control area and vice-versa. There has been some limited success with the use of Nosema locustae, a parasitic fungus that is combined with wheat bran bait for field use. Often, the results of Nosema are seen over several years of use, with mixed results when used on large areas. Several brand names of Nosema are available and information about them can be found in ATTRA's Biorationals: Ecological Pest Management Database.
Pest scouting is an essential part of using Nosema successfully. The most effective time to use it is when the grasshoppers are young (third instar stage). Usually, when you notice a large infestation, it is too late to use biological controls. Make sure you are watching for grasshoppers before they become a problem.
Mowing around grain fields may also help control grasshoppers. The shorter plants limit their food supply and make them more vulnerable to predators. The larger the field, the wider the mowed strip will need to be.
Chickens are voracious grasshopper eaters, and on smaller acreages chickens may be an effective means of grasshopper control. However, chickens do require adequate water, housing, and protection from predators. Mobile chicken coops, sometimes called "chicken tractors," provide protection and shelter, and also allow for easy movement to different parts of a field.
Learn more in these ATTRA publications:
Disease and Insect Management in Organic Small Grains
This publication outlines various strategies that make up a good organic disease and insect management plan, as well as to describe some specific diseases and insects that affect small grain crops. Although this publication pertains to various regions of the country, the main focus is on the Plains states—where most organic small grains are grown.
Grasshoppers – Botanical Control Formulations
This brief publication discusses the use of neem, garlic, mint, and eucalyptus to manage grasshoppers botanically.
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Answer: The two related fungi (Leucocytospora cincta and L. leucostoma) that incite cytospora canker are opportunists, invading sites where damage has occurred due to mechanical injury, cold, poor pruning techniques, improper pruning time, borers, or other causes. The first visible symptom is the oozing of gummy sap near the wound, beginning when temperatures warm in the spring. Since peaches exude this gummy sap in response to almost any wound (e.g., borer attack), it can be difficult to diagnose this disorder correctly. One diagnostic clue is that cytospora cankers usually have an elongated or elliptical shape because the fungus advances more rapidly up and down the branch than around the branch. The bark dries out and dies but usually remains intact the first year. In succeeding years the bark becomes broken, disfigured, and covered with a black fungus overgrowth. The disease progresses slowly, and a tree with cytospora can survive for many years past the initial infection.
While cytospora can be found in California (more commonly on European plums), it is a much more serious disease on peaches in the eastern half of the country where winter temperatures— especially fluctuating winter temperatures—often lead to tissue damage. In fact, it is probably the leading cause of peach tree death in much of the eastern United States.
Control is limited to cultural techniques. Management begins by choosing planting sites away from older peach and plum trees and eliminating wild or untended plums and peaches near the orchard. Because a cold-damage area is often the primary infection site, painting trunks with white latex paint to refl ect the winter sun can be helpful, although this practice is not allowed in organic production. Avoid planting on a southor southwest-facing slope because such a site can induce the trees to warm up too soon in the early spring or late winter, resulting in cold damage if temperatures fall.
Other management techniques likewise center around minimizing damage to the trees, thus denying infection sites to the pathogens. Such techniques include pruning only in the early spring when temperatures have warmed, avoiding leaving pruning stubs, removing dead and diseased branches, and controlling borers.
You can find much more information in the ATTRA publication Peaches: Organic and Low-Spray Production. This publication describes the major diseases and insect pests of peaches and discusses organic or least-toxic control options for each. It emphasizes the considerable climatic differences between the arid West, which is relatively amenable to organic peach production, and the humid East, where it is more difficult to grow peaches without synthetic fungicides and insecticides.
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Answer: Commercially produced bee blocks, consisting of a wood block drilled with a series of dead-end holes, are now widely available. These types of bee nests were initially developed in the 1960s by alfalfa seed producers in the western United States to attract and manage large numbers of the non-native alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata).
More recently they have been modified to manage the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria), a bee that is active only in the spring and will not pollinate later-flowering fruits and vegetables. Consequently, all of the nest tunnels are a uniform size and depth, which may be either too large or too small for many other species. Nest blocks with a greater diversity of hole sizes and depths are necessary to attract a variety of bees that are active throughout the year.
Under the best circumstances these nests can attract large numbers of cavity-nesting bees and boost their local populations. However, because these nests concentrate bee populations in unnaturally large numbers in a small space, they can become infested with parasites and disease spores after several seasons. Without regular sanitation or the phasing out of nest materials, these parasites and diseases threaten long-term pollinator health wherever they are used. Because contaminated nest blocks left unattended in the landscape continue to attract wild bees from the surrounding area, they have the potential to do harm. Only with proper management can these nests maintain healthy bee populations indefinitely.
Use preservative-free dimensional lumber to construct wooden nest blocks. A four-by-four is appropriate for blocks with smaller diameter holes. A four-by-six works for blocks with larger diameter holes.
In one side, drill a series of nest holes of appropriate sizes and depths. Nesting holes should be between 3⁄32 and 3⁄8 inch in diameter. Holes of 1⁄4 inch or less in diameter should be 3 to 5 inches deep. Holes larger than 1⁄4 inch should be 5 to 6 inches deep. The female bee controls the gender of her off spring and usually finishes the nest with a few male brood cells. A deeper hole ensures space for more female brood.
The holes should be about 3⁄4 inch from center to center and no closer than that to the edges of the block. Attach a backing board if you drill all the way through your block, because bees will not use a drilled hole that is open at both ends. With smaller diameter drill bits, you may not be able to achieve the 3-inch minimum recommended depth. If that is the case, simply drill as deep as you can; bees that use holes of smaller diameters will often nest successfully in ones that aren’t as deep.
Bees may avoid a rough interior, so your holes should be perpendicular to the wood’s grain and drilled with a sharp bit. You can buy paper straws to line the holes, although it may be hard to find straws that fit all diameters. One solution is to wrap your own paper straws out of parchment or newspaper using dowels of various diameters that match the inside diameters of your drilled holes. Paint the outer tips of the straws black to help attract bees.
The exterior of the block can be any color, although there is some anecdotal evidence that bees are most attracted to dark blocks, which can be achieved by lightly charring the front surface with a propane torch. Whatever the color, bees are likely to use the block as long as the holes are of appropriate diameters and depths, and hung in an appropriate location. As a final step, you can attach an overhanging roof to provide additional shelter from the rain.
Colonization is often more successful when blocks are attached to a large visible landmark such as a building. The actual height from the ground does not much matter, although if the nest is too low (less than a few feet), rain splash may dampen it and vegetation may cover it. Nest blocks should be hung in a protected location where they receive strong indirect sunlight. Direct sunshine in the morning will help bees warm themselves up to flight temperature, so you may wish to place nests facing east, allowing the morning sun to fall on the entrance holes. Direct sunlight later in the day can be detrimental, causing eggs or developing brood to overheat and die.
Since these types of nests mimic trees frequented by woodpeckers, do not be surprised if one finds your nest. To protect against damage, you might want to store your nests in an unheated building at the end of the season. Alternatively, you can protect nests over the winter by surrounding them with hardware cloth. Be sure to remove the cloth before nesting resumes because hardware cloth can disorient nesting bees and damage their wings.
In addition to wooden blocks, artificial nests can be constructed with bundles of reed, teasel, cup plant or bamboo cut so that a natural node forms the inner wall of the tunnel. Cut each stem below the nodes (usually indicated by a ridge) to create a handful of tubes, each with one open end. Strap the tubes together into a tight bundle with wire, string or tape, making certain that the closed ends of the stems are all at the same end of the bundle. A variation on this is to tightly pack the stems – open ends out – into a tin can, paper milk carton, square plastic buckets or short section of PVC pipe. The bundles should be placed in a sheltered location (such as the side of a barn or garden shed) with the stems horizontal to the ground.
To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Alternative Pollinators: Native Bees, which provides information and resources on how to plan for, protect and create habitat for native bees in agricultural settings.
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Answer: Harvest and processing of your lambs are cornerstones in the successful marketing of your product. In most cases, they are also the components in the production chain over which you have the least direct control. All of your skill in producing and marketing your lamb comes to no avail if you do not succeed in securing the successful harvest of your lambs. For this reason, employing the services of a knowledgeable and reputable meat processor is of utmost importance. Remember that the processor must have appropriate inspection for the way you intend to sell your meat. For example, if you are selling to stores, restaurants, or farmers markets, State or Federal inspection is required. Federal inspection is required when selling across state lines. See the ATTRA publication Tips for Marketing Sheep and Goat Products: Meat for more information.
Ideally, the processor should be relatively close to your farm. This limits the stress of hauling, allows you to easily view the hanging carcasses, and eases your transportation costs. Often, we producers know much more about the production part of our business than the processing end. A knowledgeable butcher who is willing to teach you the value of a good carcass and how to cut it expertly is invaluable. In my own experience, my operation has profited immensely from our meat cutter and processor. For more on lamb processing and how you can foster good relations with your butcher, see the ATTRA video Creating an Excellent Relationship with Your Lamb Processor.
Meat processors are busy people. Key to their success is keeping up plant throughput over the entire year. Anything you can do to make their life easier (especially communication) will be appreciated and earn you dividends in cooperation. Good processors are very hard to find; nurture the relationship with yours.
To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Direct Marketing Lamb: A Pathway. This publication describes an alternative to marketing lamb other than as a commodity—and capturing the economic benefits. Successful marketing techniques are described, beginning with the finished lamb and continuing through the processing, pricing, and sale of whole and boxed lamb to today's eager local foods customer.
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Answer: For any market garden, it is important to consider which market is right for you and your farm. In order to assess the types of markets it is important to ask yourself these questions:
Is my farm location conducive to direct marketing? Are you near lucrative farmers markets, restaurants, and specialty food stores? If not, you might need to consider wholesale marketing.
Do I enjoy interacting with people? If so, farmers markets might be perfect. If not, something that does not require as much personal interaction might be a better fit.
Many of the crops described here are unique and could provide a great draw to a farmers market stand throughout the season. If you are using these season-extension techniques on your farm, chances are that your harvest season extends past the season of operation for a typical farmers market or other seasonal direct market. The following discussion describes some options for marketing specialty vegetables and fruits beyond the typical farmers market.
Winter Farmers Markets
The farmers market season is extending in many locations across the U.S., with year-round markets, special winter or holiday markets, or simply a longer season that runs through December. It is important to decide to produce for these markets by late summer/early fall. The crops that you would like to market in late fall need to be planted in the field or hoop house in late July or early August in order to achieve optimum yields in the limited light and cold days of winter. If you currently sell at a farmers market, ask the market coordinator to consider extending the market into the winter months.
Many restaurants are interested in local foods and will pay a premium. They can be a lucrative market, especially if you are located in an area with several high-end restaurants. In order to receive a price premium for your product, there are a few general guidelines. Make a personal visit to the chef, and bring a sample of one of your products—something that sets you apart. Make sure that your product is clean, you are clean, and that you visit when they are not busy—at an off-time during restaurant hours. It is generally a good idea to avoid the hours during lunch and dinner and you should always call the executive chef first.
Chefs appreciate knowing what is available every week. They also appreciate knowing what is in season. Faxing or emailing a weekly availability list that includes prices will remind chefs that you have product available to sell. When you deliver, put on clean clothes and make sure your delivery boxes are clean and presentable.
Gourmet and Specialty Food Markets
Gourmet and specialty food markets will appreciate local specialty vegetables and fruits such as those described above. It is important with some of the fruits, especially the wild fruit varieties, to know the shelf life of these products and have an understanding of the post-harvest handling techniques required to keep them fresh.
These types of markets may have food safety requirements that are more stringent than farmers markets, such as a GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) plan. They also may have standardized packing requirements that are foreign to many small growers. When approaching a specialty store, contact the produce buyer and ask what type of products the market is interested in and what the packing and food safety standards are.
For more information on GAPs, see the ATTRA publication An Illustrated Guide to Growing Safe Produce on Your Farm, as well as the ATTRA tutorial Produce Safety.
To learn more about specialty crop production, consult the ATTRA publication Specialty Crops for Cold Climates.
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Answer: Peach leaf curl, caused by the fungal organism Taphrina deformans, is a common disorder in peach and nectarine orchards, especially during wet springs. Infected leaves become misshapen, deformed, and necrotic, resulting in premature defoliation with subsequent re-sprouting of new leaves. This kind of stress reduces fruit yield and predisposes the tree to pest attack.
The infection period for leaf curl is when new leaves start emerging from buds in the spring. Spraying now is ineffective because infection takes place as the young leaves emerge, and the fungus develops inside the leaf. Accordingly, sprays must be applied during the trees' dormant period—after the leaves have fallen and before the first budswell in the spring. Many orchardists spray just prior to budswell during the months of February and March. Orchards with a history of severe peach leaf curl benefit from a double application: in the autumn at leaf fall and again in late winter or early spring just before budswell. The best and safest material to spray is lime-sulfur.
Severe leaf curl infection can cause the tree to shed many of its leaves and to replace them with a second flush of growth. At this time the tree will benefit from a soil application of a quickly-available soluble fertilizer such as compost tea or fish emulsion to help it recover.
There are various levels of resistance to leaf curl among varieties; however, because of the relative ease of controlling the disease, breeding for resistance has not been a priority. Redhaven, Candor, Clayton, and Frost are some of the cultivars with resistance to leaf curl, though none is immune.
To learn more, consult these ATTRA publications:
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Answer: Because astringency of the fruit can be such a powerful disincentive to eating persimmons, it is important that the marketer either sell only properly ripened fruit or provide good information to the end consumer about how to ripen the fruit properly at home.
Packing is another important consideration. The fruit of the American persimmon when ripe is very soft, so extreme care must be taken when packing for market, or you will be trying to sell flats of mush. Stacking more than a few fruits on top of each other will lead to an unsalable product.
Asian persimmons should be packed for market when the cultivar’s full color has developed. The nonastringent cultivars can be shipped and eaten while still a little firm, but they are still prone to bruising. The astringent types are marketed while firm because by the time they are full-ripe and nonastringent, they often need to be eaten with a spoon. So, careful handling is the rule.
Direct Marketing Ideas
Because only folks with a rural background are likely to have had any exposure to American persimmons—and many of those will have had a bad experience (probably initiated by an older sibling or someone else “in the know” who convinced the person to bite into one as a practical joke)—the challenge and opportunity will exist to introduce a clientele to something new that can be extremely delicious and nutritious. Perhaps signage that translates the Latin genus name would be a good start: “Diospyros = Food of the Gods!”
Another marketing idea helpful for all kinds of direct-marketed crops is to provide recipes and other ideas for their use.
American persimmons, most often gathered from the wild, do sometimes show up at farmers markets in their climatic range in autumn, so persimmons do have at least some minor commercial appeal already.
Relatively small amounts of frozen and canned pulp do get sold (visit www.persimmonpudding. com for sources and ideas on processing the persimmons). Jerry Lehman and other persimmon aficionados in the Midwest are leading the way to commercialization of the American persimmon and held a conference in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 2002 to that end. The information from that conference and much more about persimmons appears at persimmonpudding.com. Another source for marketing ideas is the Mitchell Persimmon Festival () in Mitchell, Indiana, which boasts persimmon pudding contests, persimmon fruit taste competition, and more.
Commercial Possibilities for Asian Persimmon Culture Outside California
Up to the present, commercial Asian persimmon culture has been almost exclusively a California enterprise, but growing conditions in much of the Deep South should be conducive to Asian persimmons, and the widespread survival and success of Asian persimmons as dooryard trees is at least partial proof of that. The upper- and mid-South regions are probably too risky for commercial production, as the Asian persimmon can be killed to the roots by temperatures near 0˚F and suffer significant damage any time temperatures dip below 20˚F.
Another encouraging factor for potential growers outside California is the growing populations of ethnic Asians in most American towns and cities. Until apples were introduced, the Asian persimmon, with more than 1,000 named cultivars, was the most widely grown fruit in China and Japan. So, with growing populations of ethnic Asians in the U.S., there should be a parallel growth in marketing possibilities.
Learn more about persimmon astringency problems, culture, and marketing in the ATTRA publication Persimmons, Asian and American.
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Answer: Alternative saps are becoming more popular for making syrups and other value-added products. Collecting and boiling sap from trees such as black walnuts, birches, and box elders offers a niche product that can have a higher price point than maple syrup. In addition, these maple alternatives can extend the sugaring season, as the sap run from these trees tends to occur later than maples, often hitting its peak when the volume and quality of maple sap starts to diminish.
However, the sap yield and sugar content of these trees is typically lower than sugar maples, often making it challenging to have enough sap to support the enterprise economically. For example, a 60:1 sap-to-syrup ratio would not be uncommon for trees like black walnuts and box elders, and a 100:1 ratio for birch trees. The Wild Foodism website provides information on 22 species of trees that can be tapped for making syrup.
You can learn much more on this topic in the ATTRA publication Maple Sugaring: An Introduction to Small-Scale Commercial Production. It provides an overview of maple sugaring, including business planning, financial considerations, marketing, equipment and supplies, value-added products, organic certification, regulations, and quality control. It also includes resources for acquiring more knowledge on maple syrup production and determining if maple sugaring is a viable addition to a farming operation.
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Answer: Poor soils for fruit plants can be those that are too rocky, clayey, poorly drained, too well drained (droughty), acid, and/or infertile. Luckily, there are remedies for almost all of these, and, once established, woody plants are often quite tolerant of these conditions. Read on for some simple ideas on how to deal with soil problems.
Adding organic matter helps break up clay soils, gives life to sandy and rocky soils, improves water absorption and retention, and adds nutrients. However, there can be too much of a good thing. When planting in a clay or rocky soil, for instance, if the grower fills the hole with too much organic matter, he or she can unwittingly be producing a situation like growing in a pot: the roots don't extend beyond the nice hole with all of the good soil and can even become tangled and "pot-bound." So, in a clay or rocky soil, no more than 25% of the backfill in the hole should be potting soil or compost or some other organic matter-rich material. You want to encourage the roots to extend out into the surrounding soil. Unlike a clay soil, it's hard to add too much organic matter to a sandy soil; the roots will easily extend into the sand.
You can also encourage the roots when first planting in a clay soil by making sure that the sides of the planting hole are not perfectly round and/or glazed. A typical shovel can glaze the sides of a hole dug in clay soil, but an auger is really bad for creating that condition. The simple remedy is to score or rough up the sides of the hole with your shovel and make sure you don't curl or bend the roots when placing the plant in the hole. It's better to prune back the roots a little than to bend them, but better yet would be to dig a square hole or otherwise provide channels for root extension. In other words, avoid root constriction.
Regarding drainage, there is internal drainage based on soil texture (clay, sand, and loam) and external drainage based on topography. Clay provides poor internal drainage; a very sandy soil can be too well-drained (droughty). A sandy loam soil is best for most fruit plants, though additions of organic matter make it better still. Our common red and orange clays are indicative of some soil oxygen as these colors are the result of iron oxides (rust) in the soil, so such soils can be used for planting and made better by adding organic matter and taking care during planting as described in the preceding paragraph. Black, white, and gray clays should be avoided altogether because they are usually too wet and, wet or dry, do not provide enough oxygen for plant roots; not much can be done with them for the purposes of fruit growing.
External drainage refers to the water flow over a piece of land. All fruit species adapted to the Ozarks are intolerant of standing water, so avoid boggy spots or areas where the water drains out too slowly. Stone fruits, like plums, peaches, and cherries, are especially intolerant of poorly drained conditions.
If the soil is excessively droughty because it's sandy and/or on a slope, provide a slightly raised berm on the downside of the hole to encourage the water to collect and drain out more slowly.
Acid soils (technically, anything below pH 7) are the norm in the Ozarks; in fact, undisturbed forest soils of the Ozarks are usually around pH 5.2 to 6.0. Fortunately, most fruit plants are tolerant to anything down to pH 5.7 or thereabouts. Blueberries require a highly acid soil (ideally between pH 4.8 to 5.2), so a blueberry grower might actually need to further acidify the soil with a sulfur-based product (but do it according to a soil test). Pears are generally fine with the native pH. Other fruit plants will usually do best in soils that are only slightly acidic (pH 6.0 to 6.5), but they are generally tolerant and can perform well enough in any soil from pH 5.8 to 7.2. The grower will need to have a soil test to ascertain soil pH. The remedy for an acid soil is agricultural-grade crushed limestone applied as per instructions that will come with your soil test results.
Soil samples can be submitted to your county Cooperative Extension office, or you can buy simple soil-testing kits online. Ozark soils are notoriously poor in nutrients, but most trees, including fruit trees, are not particularly demanding. Adding nutrients in elemental form, as in most commercial fertilizers, should be done in accordance with a soil test, but annual or semi-annual applications of compost and mulch on top of the soil (don't put any type of fertilizer in the planting hole) usually provide adequate fertility for home growers. Though technically not organic or "natural," products like Jobe's Tree and Fertilizer Spikes™ are safe and effective ways to provide season-long, slow-release nutrition to young fruit plants.
Past three years of age, most fruit plants do well enough on the fertility provided by decaying mulch and maybe a shovel or two of compost. If you detect nutrient deficiency symptoms like yellow leaves or stunted growth (fruit trees should put on a minimum of about 12 inches of new growth every year), increase applications of compost or winter applications of manure. If fertility issues seem pressing, consider quick-release fertilizers like compost tea or manure tea, fish emulsion, or non-organic liquid fertilizers like Miracle-Gro™.
For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Fruit Trees, Bushes, and Vines for Natural Growing in the Ozarks. This publication discusses how to overcome common challenges of growing fruit trees, vines, and bushes in the Ozarks and suggests what to look for when choosing a variety that will thrive locally.
Note: The mention of specific products or brand names is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.
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Answer: Food hubs can help agricultural producers achieve and maintain profitable businesses. A 2011 survey found that a food hub working with a median of 40 suppliers has the ability to increase producer profitability by enhancing access to commercial markets, purchasing seed, scheduling planting dates, and projecting sales for the season (Barham et al., 2012). As with any farm enterprise or marketing outlet, working with a food hub requires careful planning. This includes evaluating the relationship between working with a food hub and the goals established for the farm. It requires a careful examination of current on-farm resources, such as labor, equipment, and infrastructure, as well as what is needed in order to meet the needs of the food hub. Filtering the opportunity to work with a food hub through a farm’s mission statement and business plan will help determine whether or not the food hub is a good marketing outlet to pursue.
Costs of Production
Understanding costs of production can provide a basis for determining the success of a farm enterprise. Accurate recordkeeping and cost analysis will help determine whether producing a specific product is profitable and can help in determining labor, equipment, and infrastructure needs for selling that product to a food hub. Having accurate information on farm income and expenses will also help determine the price and revenue you will need in order to make a profit by selling through a food hub. It will also allow you to review whether or not it is cost-effective to implement certain production practices that differentiate and add value to your products, such as being certified organic or GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified. Crop and livestock enterprise budgets are important decision-analysis tools useful for understanding costs of production and developing a whole-farm budget.
Working closely with producers is a defining characteristic of a food hub. Food hub operators not only manage the supply and demand of products between producers and buyers, but also play an important role in providing technical assistance and logistical support to their producers. By providing producers with information related to production costs, including processing, distribution, and marketing, food hubs better equip those producers to determine if a product will be profitable. This requires the producers to receive timely access to information, knowledge, and tools and materials they need to succeed. Sharing knowledge and coordinating planting dates, crop varieties, harvest dates, and quantities can result in access to higher quality and more competitive markets that deliver premium prices to the producer.
Crop planning is an important component for producers in working with food hubs. In order for a food hub to manage an account, they expect a certain quantity at a specific date from a producer. From a crop-planning prospective, a producer needs to determine what crop(s) and/or variety to grow for a food hub, how much to grow, where it will be planted, and dates for starting seed and transplanting that correspond to each harvest date. Many food hubs work with producers and buyers prior to the growing season to coordinate production planning. This not only provides peace of mind for the producers in knowing that there is a market and acceptable price for their products; it also allows growers to cut costs by purchasing bulk seed, fertilizer, and other supplies together. Crop planning starts with organizing the production within a single year. It relies on matching the cultural needs of crops to your farm soil types and climate and evaluating the frequency of succession plantings for a consistent supply. Using methods for extending the season and planting extra crops can help manage supply risks. Annual crop plans then become part of a long-term rotational plan for increasing soil fertility and yields.
Once a food hub has established a market for a product, it will allocate the production among producers and determine how much each will supply. Although a buyer is primarily interested in a crop in general, it is important for the producer to pay attention to variety selection. A crop variety must not only be suitable for your farm's soil and climate, but must also meet the specifications of the buyer, such as size, appearance, and shelf life. The producer has the option of choosing a variety that will offer higher yields or disease resistance, as long as that choice doesn’t jeopardize either the buyer specifications or the farm’s bottom line. Evaluating varieties for better storability may also be critical in producing for a food hub, with the understanding that as a crop’s shelf life increases, quality, including taste and appearance, decreases.
I recommend that you consult the ATTRA publication Food Hubs: A Producer Guide to learn much more on this topic. This publication focuses on providing producers with information, resources, and case studies specific to understanding how food hubs can provide new marketing outlets. In includes a list of further resources that can serve as additional avenues of study.
Barham, James, Debra Tropp, Kathleen Enterline, Jeff Farbman, John Fisk, and Stacia Kiraly. 2012. Regional Food Hub Resource Guide. USDA-AMS, Washington, DC.
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Answer: Flatweed, or false dandelion, can infest pastures that have been disturbed or have been overgrazed. Control is possible but takes a comprehensive, multifaceted approach including grazing management and possibly a low-toxicity herbicide. Creating a favorable environment for forage growth is important to prevent re-infestation.
I recommend a few options that can be combined for a holistic approach. First, if it's feasible, you can dig out the crowns if the infestation is sporadic, or use of low-toxicity herbicide as a spot treatment early in season (vinegar and citrus oil). Organic herbicides are less effective when the plant matures. For serious infestations, cultivation, cover cropping, and then replanting with perennial pasture will likely be in order, and may take two years of cultural management if pastures are heavily infested.
If cultivation is warranted, you could go in this spring with a disc, and turn the soil lightly to uproot the crowns. Be advised that false dandelion can still regrow from broken crowns, but you can help reduce the stand if you come in with an oat cover crop for the summer. You can graze the oats, and disc again in the fall and plant a diverse cover crop of something like annual rye, red clover, or crimson clover. Annual ryegrass also works well. The point of the cover cropping is to: (1) provide high plant competition to reduce the likelihood of false dandelion re-emergence; and (2) provide lots of soil carbon to feed soil microorganisms and add organic matter for building a healthy, resilient, fertile soil for the forages. Then, the following spring you could harvest the cover crop by mowing or grazing, and disc again if the weeds are still present. At this point, depending on the extent of the infestation, you could plant an annual once again, or plant a perennial pasture mix of grasses and legumes.
Then, in order to keep the pasture stand healthy, you could develop a rotational grazing plan to control the time the horses are on the pasture, as well as the recovery time needed for the pasture plants to re-grow after grazing. Basically, a short grazing period of less than four days is best, with a recovery period from 25 to 60 days (depending on the season and soil moisture: less in the spring and fall and more in the summer). Four days is good for a grazing period because after this time plants begin to regrow, and horses find it hard to resist the fresh vegetation that has not fully recovered from grazing. When the horses are re-grazing plants that are trying to grow back and recovery is not complete, overgrazing occurs and the forage plants cannot compete with the weeds.
I recommend splitting the pasture into several paddocks, as many as you can, with electric wire or poly tape. If you have nine paddocks and keep the animals on each paddock for four days, this allows about 30 days of rest for each of the other paddocks before they are grazed again. This is a good way to control grazing and ensure the forage plants have the recovery they need.
For further study, the Livestock and Pasture section of the ATTRA website offers a host of related resources, including publications, tutorials, videos, calculators, and more.
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Answer: Bermudagrass is one of the most challenging pests in sustainable agriculture. Use of the herbicide Sethoxydim should reduce the initial infestation, and following up with the subsequent recommendations will eliminate the need for further use of herbicides in the future. The use of an oil concentrate with the product is recommended for additional benefit. Remember to read the label and follow all recommendations. It is important that the applicator wear personal protective equipment such as goggles, rubber gloves, rubber boots, and overalls.
Follow up practices include:
• Solarization for control of seeds and heavily infested areas. Be persistent in digging up stolon and rhizomes after the control process.
• Black plastic and weed fiber can suppress surviving stolon and rhizomes.
• Cover cropping with sorghum-sudangrass and a legume like cowpea in the summer can outcompete and smother non-cropped areas.
• Plant a native hedgerow on the periphery border to deter the surrounding grass from creeping back in. A hedgerow will add diversity, increase wildlife and insect habitat to your farm or garden. Hedgerow options include:
Ageratina havanensis (Havana snakeroot) – 2 to 6 feet tall, deciduous
Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) – 3 to 5 feet tall, deciduous
Eysenhardtia texana (Texas kidneywood) – 3 to 10 feet tall, deciduous
Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) – 12 to 25 feet tall, can be trimmed to hedge, evergreen
Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush) – 3 to 5 feet tall, evergreen
Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita) - 3 to 8 ft., evergreen
Senna lindheimeriana (velvet leaf senna) – 3 to 6 feet tall, deciduous
Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) - 5 to 10 feet tall, evergreen
Morella cerifera (wax myrtle)
Rhododendron maximum (great laurel)
Ilex glabra (inkberry)
Ilex opaca (American holly)
Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar)
The publication Market Farming with Rotations and Cover Crops: An Organic Bio-Intensive System, from the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, includes a section on dealing with bermudagrass that you should find very informative.
Learn more in the ATTRA publication Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms. This publication discusses several strategies, both proactive and reactive, as alternatives to conventional tillage systems. Options include mulching, competition, crop rotations, and low-toxicity control alternatives.
Note: The mention of specific brand names or products is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.
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Answer: Direct seeding requires contact between the seed and the soil so that the crop can establish itself once it germinates. Spin seeders are used for broadcasting cover-crop seeds at a set desired rate. They can be handheld or tractor mounted. Light harrowing, raking, irrigating, or adequate rainfall will help ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
Other types of seeders should be used for crops that need to be planted in the soil at a uniform spacing and depth. These include precision seeders, pinpoint seeders, stick- or jab-type seeders, and drills. Precision seeders can be manually pushed or tractor mounted and dispense individual seeds in a furrow. Seeds can be singulated through several different mechanisms, including cups, belts, vacuums, plates, and rollers. For small-scale farms, Glaser, Earthway, and Jang are brand names of precision push seeders that use plates or rollers. The Stanhay uses belts, and the Nibex uses cups—both are available as walk-behind push seeders or toolbar-mounted seeders. Many of these single-row seeders offer attachments that can connect seeders together for seeding multiple rows, attach seeders to a wheel hoe, or mount seeders with a fertilizer attachment.
Pinpoint seeders are designed to be manually pulled and perform well for greenhouse planting. Medium- to large-sized seeds can be hand planted through a stick- or jab-type seeder that can also plant through plastic mulch. Seed drills also are available for manual or tractor-mounted seeding. Discs can be set for the size of the seed, but thinning may be necessary to achieve proper spacing between plants. Planet Jr. is a classic name associated with vegetable drills. Drills can also be used for planting grains and cover crops.
Regarding transplants, setting them out helps to extend the growing season and harvest. Many farmers transplant crops by hand using a trowel, a dibbler, or a jab-style planter, but mechanical transplanters can speed up the planting process with more accuracy and less labor. Mechanical transplanters require one person to drive the tractor while a crew of one or more people drops transplants into the soil. Many farmers have designed simple sled-type transplanters that allow the crew to sit or lie down while they transplant by hand.
Commercial transplanters have a shoe, coulter, or some other device to open the planting furrow. They also have a closing wheel that packs the seedlings, which are held on trays, in place once they are planted. Water-wheel transplanters inject water into the hole after the plant is set. Other types of transplanters include the gripper type, the carousel, the spade type, and the no-till transplanter.
Learn more in the ATTRA publication Equipment and Tools for Small-Scale Intensive Crop Production. It details equipment and hand tools for soil preparation, planting, and weed management. The use of appropriate equipment and tools, both in terms of size and practicality, can increase production efficiency and profits while minimizing the disturbance to soil and to plant health. A list of further resources and tool and equipment suppliers is included.
Note: The mention of specific brand names or companies is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.
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Answer: Yes! Crop rotations limit the buildup of weed populations and prevent major weed-species shifts. Weeds tend to prosper in crops that have requirements similar to their own. Fields of annual crops favor short-lived annual weeds, whereas maintaining land in perennial crops favors perennial weed species. In a crop rotation, the timing of cultivation, mowing, fertilization, herbicide application, and harvesting changes from year to year. Rotation thus changes the growing conditions from year to year—a situation to which few weed species easily adapt. Rotations that include clean-cultivated annual crops, tightly spaced grain crops, and mowed or grazed perennial sod crops create an unstable environment for weeds. Additional weed control may be obtained by including short-season, weed-smothering cover crops such as sorghum-sudan or buckwheat. Crop rotation has long been recognized for its ability to prevent weeds from developing to serious levels.
Incorporating crops with allelopathic effects into the rotation adds another element of control. Such crops include sunflowers, sorghum, and rapeseed. Allelopathic plants are those that inhibit or slow the growth of other nearby plants by releasing natural toxins, or "allelochemicals." Weed-control ability varies among varieties and management practices. For example, sweet potatoes have been shown to inhibit the growth of yellow nutsedge, velvetleaf, and pigweed. Field trials showed a 90% reduction of yellow nutsedge over two years following sweet potatoes.
Managing croplands according to nature’s principles will reduce weed problems on horticultural crops, or row crops, in small and medium-sized operations. Creativity is key to devising sustainable cropping systems that prevent weed problems. You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms. This publication discusses several strategies, both proactive and reactive, as alternatives to conventional tillage systems. Options include mulching, competition, crop rotations, and low-toxicity control alternatives. A resource list provides sources of further information.
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Answer: What do you plan to do? Here you need to think about your farm goals. Do you want to sell market lambs or fi ne wool? Are you interested in conserving rare breeds or in selling meat at the farmers market? For goats, is it meat or milk that is your focus? Some breeds are better suited to a certain purpose than others. Choosing a breed that is well-adapted for the purpose will result in greater profitability and less stress.
Where do you live? Some breeds are well-adapted to a particular climate or region and will not do well elsewhere. For example, Angora goats thrive in the dry areas of the United States but may be very susceptible to parasites if moved to the humid South. Icelandic sheep are a great choice if you want to raise fiber in a cold climate, but heat stress may be a problem for them in the South. Consider the climate that will make the animals comfortable before choosing a breed.
What do other local producers raise? If no one else in your region is raising a particular breed, it may be because that breed does not thrive in your climate. It also might be true that a breed is just not well-known in your area, even though it is perfectly suited. In that case, you might fill a niche and create a demand by educating others about the breed. On the other hand, if no one else in your region is raising a breed, where will you need to go to purchase breeding stock? And who will buy the stock you raise? If you are raising Suffolk sheep and there are lots of 4-H members in your county who want market lambs to show, you have a ready market (assuming you have high-quality, healthy stock). Those same 4-H members may not be interested in Jacob sheep. Someone who wanted to draw people to the farm and also sell to handspinners would be VERY interested in those Jacob sheep, and not the Suffolks! So consider local availability and demand, along with farm goals and your interest in marketing.
What are your criteria for animals on your farm? This is related to the idea of the breed meeting your goals but takes it a little farther: let’s say I have decided my main focus is to raise lambs for meat. I will sell live lambs. And I want them to weigh 100 pounds in 120 to 150 days. A well-fed Suffolk might fit the bill; they are known for fast growth. On the other hand, let’s say I want animals that are parasite-resistant, hardy, and able to breed out of season. I also am interested in conserving a rare breed. Those criteria steer me away from the Suffolk and toward the Gulf Coast Sheep. But now we have to prioritize because they are NOT known for fast growth.
How do you plan to raise and market the off-spring? Again, this is an important factor in your decision. Using the comparison between Suffolk and Gulf Coast sheep, you might consider available feed and your personal values and decide that your farm is best-suited to raising sheep on pasture alone. The hardiness and parasite-resistance of the Gulf Coast breed then may make your decision easy. On the other hand, suppose your customer is a restaurant that wants large lamb chops: the larger breed would be preferred (unless you convince the restaurant of how "cool" it is to conserve a rare breed and encourage genetic diversity). An ethnic customer might be much happier with the smaller Gulf Coast lamb, available nearly year-round due to out-of-season breeding.
The question of which breed to buy is really impossible to answer without having all the background information. Then you must factor in personal preference; there is no sense in raising a breed you do not personally enjoy, no matter how many fi ne attributes it has. (For example, I will not raise Lamancha dairy goats because I do not like their ears.)
For many purposes, cross-bred animals will work better; they bring hybrid vigor and improved hardiness, as well as combining two sets of admirable traits. But the main thing to look for in breeding stock is not breed: it is health, local adaptation, and suitability for the market.
To learn more, consult ATTRA's Sheep and Goats: Frequently Asked Questions, which offers answers to many common questions about raising and marketing sheep and goats. You can find many more useful resources in the Livestock: Sheep and Goats section of the ATTRA website.
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Answer: Aphids overwinter as eggs and emerge in the spring, and continue to reproduce all season. They reach maturity in about 10 days, which makes for several generations each growing season. Because of their rapid life cycle, they are difficult to control with insecticides. Several species of predatory insects will feed on aphids, including ladybugs, green lacewings, and parasitic wasps.
Using insecticides will harm the good insects along with the bad, so spraying all season is seldom beneficial or economical. However, if you have an infestation and want to spray, I recommend a least-toxic pesticide such as insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, pyrethrins, or neem oil. A good source of information for least toxic and organic approved pesticides can be found in ATTRA's Biorationals: Ecological Pest Management Database.
Another useful resource is the ATTRA tipsheet Aphids — Botanical Control Formulations, which discusses the use of garlic, rosemary, papaya leaves, and mint to control aphids. Its references list can lead you to additional sources of information on this topic.
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Answer: Without rain or overhead irrigation, some bulky organic fertilizers—e.g., compost—will not readily break down and move into the soil. And because the fruit crops we’re discussing are perennials, cover crops cannot be relied upon for nutrition after the initial planting. This emphasizes the need for pre-plant consideration of nutritional needs of the plants, beginning with a soil test. For instance, adjusting soil pH with lime or sulfur should occur before the tunnel’s cover goes on.
Likewise, if soil organic matter needs improvement, cover crops or applications of manures or composts should happen before the high tunnel is covered. Allow time for breakdown and mechanical or natural incorporation of these into the soil.
Post-planting nutritional needs are going to be met with fertigation (running liquid fertilizers in the irrigation system), by precision hand-application of compost or pelletized organic fertilizers, or by hand-application of liquid organic fertilizers via watering buckets or hoses with fertilizer attachments. Regarding fertigation, liquid organic fertilizers, like fish emulsion or compost tea, have a reputation for clogging or gumming up the drip emitters (manufacturers of some of these products are now touting some formulations as "fertigation friendly" in order to address this problem). In such cases, proper filtration is the first line of defense. If clogging still occurs, there is an organically acceptable cleaner called Cleardrip-O.
Fertigation in Organic Vegetable Production Systems is an excellent primer on organic fertigation, as relevant to perennial fruits as it is to vegetables. It discusses the necessary equipment, fertigation products, how to calculate rates, and more. If you’re going to apply dry fertilizer materials, they will have to be placed where the soil is wet from the irrigation; otherwise, the nutrients from such materials will not move into the root zone to be available to plant roots.
Lastly, its advisable to remove the plastic cover every winter in order to ensure that the trees meet their chill requirement but also to allow rain to rinse out excess salts from the fertilizers. This is also a time when manure or compost could be applied with some confidence that it will be "washed" into the soil by rain and melting snow. Compost, especially compost made from plant matter and not animal manure, contains less salt and so should be considered a superior organic fertilizer material for most high tunnel applications.
Learn much more on this topic in the ATTRA publication High Tunnel Tree Fruit and Grape Production for Eastern Growers. It identifies fruits that hold the most potential for profitable high tunnel culture, as well as several limitations and potential pitfalls growers must recognize if such a venture is to be profitable.
Note: The mention of specific brand names or companies is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or the USDA.
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Answer: An excellent place to start is the USDA Small Farm Funding Resources http://ric.nal.usda.gov/small-farm-funding. This guide contains information about funding sources for beginning farmers, training, technical assistance contacts, organizations with resources and programs for beginning and experienced farmers, and more.
USDA's Alternative Farming Systems Information Center has compiled a list of useful resources and contacts that you should explore.
Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities and NSAC's Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs both offer information on federal grants and programs. These two guides can help you find programs that may fit your project. The FSA Microloan Program is a newer program that is typically easier to qualify for and access than some of the other grant and loan programs.
Also useful are the ATTRA publications Financing Your Farm: Guidance for Beginning Farmers and Federal Conservation Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching.
Here are some additional resources that you should investigate:
Crowdsourcing is a relatively new type of fundraising that raises money online through a large number of small donations. Some crowdsourcing websites include:
Finally, ATTRA posts funding opportunities daily on its website, which can help you identify potential funding sources.
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Answer: Crop rotations limit the buildup of weed populations and prevent major weed-species shifts. Weeds tend to prosper in crops that have requirements similar to their own. Fields of annual crops favor short-lived annual weeds, whereas maintaining land in perennial crops favors perennial weed species. In a crop rotation, the timing of cultivation, mowing, fertilization, herbicide application, and harvesting changes from year to year. Rotation thus changes the growing conditions from year to year—a situation to which few weed species easily adapt. Rotations that include clean-cultivated annual crops, tightly spaced grain crops, and mowed or grazed perennial sod crops create an unstable environment for weeds. Additional weed control may be obtained by including short-season, weed-smothering cover crops such as sorghum-sudan or buckwheat. Crop rotation has long been recognized for its ability to prevent weeds from developing to serious levels.
Incorporating crops with allelopathic effects into the rotation adds another element of control. Such crops include sunflowers, sorghum, and rapeseed. Allelopathic plants are those that inhibit or slow the growth of other nearby plants by releasing natural toxins, or "allelochemicals." Weed control ability varies among varieties and management practices. Sweet potatoes have been shown to inhibit the growth of yellow nutsedge, velvetleaf, and pigweed. Field trials showed a 90% reduction of yellow nutsedge over two years following sweet potatoes.
There are other beneficial approaches to weed management, as well, such as mulching, competition, crop rotations, and low-toxicity control alternatives. You can learn more about these in the ATTRA publication Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms, which discusses several strategies, both proactive and reactive, as alternatives to conventional tillage systems.
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Answer: A bacterial disease, blossom blast (causal organism: Pseudomonas syringae), may afflict pears, usually as a blossom blight resulting in reduced fruit set. It can also cause twig dieback and bark cankers and may lead to severe wood damage of Asian-pear cultivars in particular. Because the presence of blossom-blast bacteria allows ice crystals to form at higher-than-normal temperatures, the disease increases the incidence of freeze damage during cold, wet weather. Asian pears are especially affected because their early bloom makes them more susceptible to frost injury. Among Asian-pear cultivars, Shinko and Ya Li are moderately resistant to P. syringae.
Controlling this disease is difficult because its occurrence is widespread on many plant species and not easily predicted; once symptoms appear, control efforts are too late. Protecting orchards from frost damage can limit injury. An early application of BlightBan A506 can help reduce frost-damage potential by excluding the ice-nucleating bacteria. In California, the application of fixed copper at the green-tip stage followed by streptomycin at early bloom has provided reasonable control. This treatment has also been used in Oregon and Washington, where cool, wet weather makes blossom blast a particular problem in pear production. Streptomycin or terramycin applied at early bloom to control fire blight also helps to control blossom blast, but sprays timed for fire blight control cannot be assumed to control blossom blast because P. syringae is favored by cool, wet conditions while E. amylovora proliferates in warm, wet conditions. In other words, predictive models for fire blight could easily miss an infection period for blossom blast. There are no predictive models for blossom blast, so the prudent grower with a history of blossom blast in the orchard will apply copper at green tip and follow up with BlightBan or streptomycin at early bloom regardless of what fire blight predictive models might indicate.
For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Pears: Organic Production. It covers pear diseases, disease-resistant cultivars, rootstocks, insect and mite pests, and their treatment, Asian pears, and marketing. Two profiles of organic pear growers are included. Electronic and print resources are provided for further research.
In addition, ATTRA's Pear Diseases Identification Sheet is a handy guide that helps identify pear diseases and offers low-spray and organic solutions.
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Answer: It is necessary to consult with your veterinarian is necessary to devise a coccidiosis treatment program, which may include the feeding of ionophores, treatment with sulfa drugs or amprolium, and/or using alternative treatments. Note that livestock that are treated with ionophores or other medications that are not approved for use in organic production systems cannot be certified organic. If it becomes necessary to use these medicines on a certified-organic animal to achieve effective treatment, that individual animal will lose its organic certification.
Note also that most medications are not labeled for sheep or goats and, therefore, consulting your veterinarian is essential. Be sure to follow instructions carefully when not be labeled for sheep or goats (work with your veterinarian for off-label use) and are not allowed in certified organic production.
Alternative Treatment Options
Organic producers may not use any of the treatments listed above on organic animals. Those wishing to avoid using medications have some intriguing possibilities to explore. These include the following alternatives:
• Sericea lespedeza and other condensed tannin-containing plants, such as birdsfoot trefoil, acacia, sainfoin, panicled tick clover, pine bark, and quebracho
• Oregano oil
Use of these natural compounds offers organic producers some options to mitigate the effects of coccidia. Conventional producers may also want to consider these natural alternatives because overuse of conventional compounds may lead to resistance.
Sericea lespedeza has been shown to be effective in managing the barber pole worm and coccidia. Grazing standing lespedeza works, but if baby animals are born early in the year, sericea is not growing yet. In that case, sericea pellets (similar to alfalfa pellets) can be an effective tool. Unfortunately, these pellets are not widely available yet. The manufacturer, Sims Brothers, does not have the capacity yet to fill all orders for the pellets. Sericea hay is also effective and may be more available. See the ATTRA publication Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats: Sericea Lespedeza for more information. One difference in using sericea to control cocci rather than barber pole worm is that the effects of the sericea are long-lasting for controlling coccidiosis, while the barber pole worm “recovers” after the host animal no longer has access to the sericea. Feeding of sericea lespedeza should occur approximately two weeks before weaning to four weeks post-weaning to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative long-term effects, such as a potential mineral deficiency.
Pine bark has been ground up and added to feed supplement at the rate of 30% of the diet and fed to goats. The result was not only lowered numbers of gastrointestinal parasites and coccidia, but also increased gains and improved feed efficiency. Using pine bark in combination with sericea seems to be even more effective.
A caution for those using condensed tannin (CT)-containing plants: researchers have observed that the use of tannins may bind minerals, causing deficiencies. Dr. Joan Burke (ARS) has documented reductions in the trace minerals molybdenum, selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese. Also, perhaps because of mineral problems or lower intake or some other factor, lambs and kids do not gain as rapidly after six to eight weeks of the sericea diet. To overcome these problems, you may wish to increase mineral supplementation (being mindful, however, of possible toxicity) and offer a more diverse diet. Providing pastures that include a variety of plants will improve animal intake. However, if the amount of sericea eaten is not high enough, then anthelmintic benefits may not be realized. As with all nutrition, it is important to strike a balance.
Oregano oil may be helpful in controlling coccidiosis in some instances. Producers in Maine conducted an on-farm research project (ONE08-088) using Regano (oregano oil) on sheep and goats on four different farms. Oregano oil works by the same mechanism as ionophores, like monensin. The Maine project used young stock, beginning at four weeks of age, and fed test groups Regano with their normal ration at the rate of 2 grams/100 pounds daily. A total of 26 goats and 56 lambs were on the study. Coccidia were reduced in treated animals by 39% (sheep) and 51% (goats).
Two of the producers who participated in this study were pleased with results and planned to use the product again. The other two producers did not have such a positive experience. Note: Even though this treatment reduced coccidia in test groups, the reductions were not anywhere near the 95% level considered effective for dewormers. The report of this study is online here.
To learn more, and to access the references and studies mentioned here, consult the ATTRA publication Coccidiosis: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment in Sheep, Goats, and Calves.
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Answer: A wide variety of soil textures can be used for tomato production. Ideal soil textures range from sandy to fine-textured clays as long as the soil is well drained (tomato roots will not tolerate being waterlogged), has good structure, and is well aerated. Planting dates can be determined by the type of soil a grower has. For example, sandy soils are preferred for early plantings in California due to adequate drainage during wet weather and rapid increase in soil temperature in the spring, which, in turn, can lead to early growth. However, loam and clay loam soils are the most productive soils for production. A mixture of one-quarter to one-half sand, one-quarter to one-half silt, and no more than 27% clay gives loam soils the best possible properties for plant growth. These mixtures supply adequate drainage and good soil structure. Conversely, heavier clays can be a serious problem due to poor soil drainage and excess soil moisture for extended periods, making tomatoes more prone to disease.
One of the foundations of organic farming is maintaining and building a microbial-active soil enriched with organic matter and a balanced mineral diet. Humus-building practices and addition of minerals not only supply plant nutrients but also increase tolerance to insects and diseases, help control weeds, retain soil moisture, and ensure produce quality.
A typical organic fertility system revolves around a combination of practices such as using crop rotation, forage legumes, cover crops, green manures, composted livestock manures, and lime, rock phosphate, and other rock minerals, as well as supplemental organic fertilizers. Depending on the soil type, soils with no history of organic management will probably need additional fertilization to be incorporated during field preparation and bedding operations or banded to the side of the row at planting.
Soil tests provide a baseline for your soil. Most state Extension services provide tests for a nominal fee. For information that is specific to organic production, see the ATTRA database Alternative Soil Testing Laboratories. In general, tomato plants have a high requirement for the macro elements potassium (K) and calcium (Ca) and the micronutrients iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), and zinc (Zn). Without a good supply of both K and Ca for plant uptake and utilization, the fruits will lack the recommended soluble solids content (sugars) and will be more susceptible to physiological disorders such as blossom end rot. Smaller requirements of the elements nitrogen (N), magnesium (Mg), phosphorus (P), boron (B), and copper (Cu) also are needed for proper plant development.
Tomatoes need moderate to high levels of P and K. On deficient soils, most needs can be met by applying rock powders such as rock phosphate, colloidal phosphate, untreated (mined) potassium sulfate, and sulfate of potash-magnesia in advance of planting. Supplementary P and K may be added as indicated by the soil test results. Always conduct a soil test to determine the proper amount of nutrients to apply.
Depending on the soil type, fresh market tomatoes also require about 75 to 100 pounds per acre of N. Most, if not all, can be supplied by legumes in rotation; composts or manures can also fill in the balance. If manure is chosen as the supplemental fertilizer, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) regulations require that the manure be incorporated into the soil at least 120 days prior to harvest [NOP standard 205.203 (c)1]. Some farmers provide additional supplemental N at transplanting; a mixture of animal meal by-products, rock phosphate, and kelp meal is commonly used. If reliance is based primarily on supplemental fertilizers, about 50 pounds of actual N should be applied pre-plant and the remainder side-dressed when fruits are about nickel-size.
Tomato plants grow best when the soil pH is between 6.0 and 6.5. Liming to this range improves plant growth and optimizes fertilizer efficiency. If the pH is less than 5.5, Mg availability decreases significantly. Consequently, this increases the level of available Mn and aluminum (Al). Unless a deficiency of magnesium is noted, application of high-calcium (nondolomitic without magnesium) lime is advised. In addition, when a low pH is coupled with low Ca, blossom end rot is likely to occur. However, when soil tests are high in both P and pH levels, Zn will become insoluble, resulting in deficiency symptoms such as cupped leaves and splotchy chlorosis.
The ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production will serve as a useful resource to learn much more on this topic. This publication addresses practical questions on organic tomato production. It focuses on the specific production challenges, including site selection (soil and climate), variety selection, sources of organic seeds and organic annual transplants, organic grafting, planting and training/staking arrangements, soil fertility and fertilization, crop rotation, and pest (insect, disease, and weed) management. Harvest and yield/productivity are closely related to marketing possibilities. While market conditions are extremely region-specific, this publication also addresses a few general principles on marketing and economics of organic tomatoes.
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Answer: Draft animals can offer farmers the advantage of a low initial investment in farm motive power compared to the purchase of even a relatively small tractor. A prospective horse farmer can spend a great deal of money on registered stock, harness and equipment. But it's also possible to obtain perfectly serviceable trained animals, used harness and functional equipment at reasonable prices. If saving money by using draft animals is your motivation, you may be able to do so. Just don't cut corners on safety in the interest of cutting cost. For a novice operator, a well-trained animal is well worth the cost. Sturdy, complete harness is vital.
One advantage of using draft animals as farm power is that their fuel can all be generated on-farm. Opinions vary on whether working horses should be fed grass or alfalfa hay and supplemented with oats or corn. The point is that all of these feeds can be produced locally, if not on the farm itself. Unlike a tractor, draft animals fit in to the nutrient cycle of a farm, utilizing local inputs and providing an output of power with a fertilizer byproduct.
Draft animals can be exceptionally flexible in application. For example, the same team of horses can plow and plant in spring, cultivate in summer, haul in the fall harvest of crops and firewood and feed livestock and offer sleigh rides in winter. Once the team is in harness, it's as efficient to use them for a little task as a big one since they're not burning any more fuel. Maneuverable horses can turn within their own length and they’re a power unit that easily moves from one task to another and one place to another.
In the long view, some draft animals are even capable of producing their own replacements in the form of offspring, something no piece of machinery can do. However, even an enthusiast does well to consider that breeding and training animals are entirely different propositions from working with already trained stock.
The chief benefit of working with draft animals may be their sheer appeal. Some farmers find it especially fulfilling to work daily with a human-scale, living and breathing partner rather than a machine. And draft animals at work have a traffic-stopping appeal for the public that can build farm brand recognition and consumer loyalty more effectively than any paid advertising.
The ATTRA publication Draft Animal Power for Farming provides much more information on this topic, including considerations and benefits involved in using animal power, safety, equipment, and more.
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Answer: The protein and amino acid concentrations presented as a requirement by the NRC are to support maximum growth and production in fast-growing meat birds. Achieving maximum growth and production may not always ensure maximum economic returns, particularly when prices of protein sources are high (NRC, 1994). And maximum economic returns may not be the only goal. For some producers, product quality (flavor and nutrition) may be as significant as quantity produced. According to Sundrum (2005), there are no effects on animal health from feeding a suboptimal diet or low-nutrient diet, but the birds may not be fully realizing their genetic potential. In fact, breeding companies that sell specialty birds usually show expected growth performance on a high-nutrient diet as well as a low-nutrient diet designed for conventional and specialty production, respectively.
Low-nutrient diets or feed restrictions are often used in the starter phase to slow the growth of fast-growing birds in order to reduce metabolic disorders and lameness. Feed restrictions have also been implemented to reduce feed spillage and better document feed efficiency. Feed density can be increased later for compensatory gain (Sundrum, 2005). A bird’s ability to adapt to variations in feed supply still exists (Sundrum, 2005). However, fast-growing, high-yielding animals are more sensitive to suboptimal feed rations than slower-growing or low-yielding animals. Stress levels may increase due to sudden changes in a feed ration, leading to depressed levels of growth. U.S. organic poultry companies are concerned that fast-growing birds with reduced MET levels in their diet will not only perform poorly, but will also suffer impaired immune function, resulting in poor feathering, feather pecking, cannibalism, and mortality. The antioxidant mechanisms of sulfur amino acids and their compounds are important. Normally, cells are equipped with antioxidant mechanisms to deal with free radicals. If antioxidants are out of balance, problems can occur that cause decreased animal performance. Sulfur-containing compounds such as MET and CYS are powerful antioxidants that can prevent damage in cells (Anon, 2009). Elwinger and Tausen (2009) found that reduced MET levels reduce feather cover and egg weight, although the production of eggs was not affected. They also found that feed intake increased as feather cover deteriorated, thus reducing feed efficiency.
Ambrosen and Petersen (1997) studied the impact of protein levels in feed (11% vs. 19% crude protein) on cannibalism and plumage quality. The plumage improved with increased protein. Chickens supplemented with MET had better plumage quality and reduced feather pecking compared to the MET-deficient birds. However, Biedermann et al. (1993) did not show poor feathering with low protein levels. There are many factors involved in feather pecking beside the nutrient level, such as stress derived from living conditions. Feather pecking may occur even on farms with high levels of MET in the diet, for unrelated reasons.
To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Organic Poultry Production: Providing Adequate Methionine, which discusses organic husbandry including living conditions, health, genetics and origin, feed and processing as specified under the livestock requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program.
Ambrosen, T. and V.E. Petersen. 1997. The influence of protein level in the diets on cannibalism and quality of plumage of layers. Poultry Science. Vol. 76, No. 4. p. 559-563.
Biedermann, G. von, N. Schmiemann, and K. Lange. 1993. Investigations of the effects of plumage condition at different ages in laying hens. Archiv fur Gefl ugelkunde. Vol. 57, No. 6. p. 280-285.
Elwinger, K. and R. Tausen. 2009. Low-methionine diets are a potential health risk in organic egg production. European Symposium on Poultry Nutrition, Edinburgh, Scotland, August 23-27, 2009.
Sundrum, A. 2005. Possibilities and limitation of protein supply in organic poultry and pig production. Organic Revision: Research to support revision of the EU regulation on organic agriculture.
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Answer: Local foods purchasing has moved beyond farmers markets to mainstream grocery stores. As consumers become more interested in purchasing local foods, chain grocery stores from Walmart to Safeway tout their support of local farmers. At the same time, many established farmers want to move out of time-consuming farmers markets into wholesale markets.
A University of Wisconsin study pointed out that with the interest in local foods, "local food systems have the potential to borrow some of the economic and logistical efficiencies of the industrial food system while retaining social and environmental priorities."
It is important to plan for the expansion of your farm. Every time you increase the scale of your operation, you will experience growing pains. Planning for improvements and growth within your operation can help alleviate these. Questions you might ask when you consider increasing your production:
• Do you have the ability to move more product through your washing and packing facility?
• Do you have enough space in your cooler, delivery truck, etc.?
• How many more people will you have to hire, and do you have the management skills to handle a larger crew?
• Do you have a good farm administration system? As your farm increases in size, this will likely become more complex, including more taxes and stricter insurance requirements.
When economic prosperity is measured in economic growth, it is hard to question the expansion your farm. However, before considering expanding your farm, it is important to ask yourself why you want to do it. What are your farm and lifestyle goals? Is it going to significantly affect your quality of life—for better or for worse?
Consider revisiting your goals. If you have not developed goals for your farm or written your goals down, see the ATTRA publication Evaluating a Farming Enterprise for help.
The question of whether to scale up is not an easy one to answer, and doing so requires a lot of thoughtful consideration and assessment of your specific situation. The ATTRA publication Scaling Up Your Vegetable Farm for Regional Markets can help you decide if you are ready to expand your operations to serve wholesale markets or produce more for direct markets. It describes how organization and planning can help a producer meet the challenges involved in scaling up. This publication addresses important considerations such as land, labor, food safety, marketing, and insurance.