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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What can you tell me about using weeder geese?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information on using weeder geese.

Listed below are materials that provide information on using weeder geese. They may be out of date, however the concepts are still appropriate. In order to make cost comparisons between geese and other weed control methods, you will need to keep a record of the time spent moving, feeding, and watering the geese. On the other side of the ledger, you might consider the aesthetic value of geese in the landscape, or the price you could charge for a holiday dinner goose at the end of the summer. For a list of hatcheries and equipment suppliers, please go to the Web site A good book on raising geese and using weeder geese is The Book of Geese available from many sources, including Metzer Farms.

Since most of these enclosures were compiled, one change of significance is the passage of National Organic Standards. These include rules and regulations on the use of manure in organic production. The elapsed time between the application of fresh manure and edible crop harvest must be no less than 120 days. If you are certified organic, or intend to be, you will need to work with your certifier to find out what practices they allow. The practices used must be written into your organic plan and approved by your certifier before using.


Anon. No date. Fowl friends on fields and fence-rows. 8 p.

Anon. 2003. Weedwhacker or just a pretty face? Common Ground. Fall. p. 1-2.

Clark, M. Sean, and Stuart H. Gage. 1996. Effects of free-range chickens and geese on insect pests and weeds in an agroecosystem. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. Volume 11, Number 1. p. 39-47.

Clark, M. Sean, et al. 1994. Using domestic birds for weed and insect pest management in non-chemical agroecosystems. Michigan State University, East Lansing. 6 p.

Cramer, Craig. 1992. Weeder geese boost berry profits $222/A. New Farm. May/June. p. 38-40.

Geiger, Glenn and Harold Biellier. 1993. Weeding with Geese. MU-Extension.

Dutton, David W. 1982. Chinese weeder geese: Do they or do they not weed in the nursery? 8 p.

Jackson, Sego, and Bev Reed. 1985. Using weeder geese. Permaculture Resources. 4 p.

Metzer Farms. 2006. Using geese to control weeds.

Olkowski, Helga, and William Olkowski. 1992. Using animals for weed management. Common Sense Pest Control. Spring. p. 5-15.

Ware, Alan. 1975. Geese in the strawberry patch. Kerr Center Newsletter. January/February. p. 3-4.



Permalink Can you help me find software to facilitate local organic food distribution?


Answer: There are many types of food distribution software available. I have copied information from several software companies below. You may also be interested in using the Oklahoma Food Cooperative software—it is available for free and may be what you need. Their Web site provides more information on their software.

Food Distribution Software Companies

• Entree
NECS Entree is a Food Distribution Software application for Windows that delivers both tremendous power and ease-of-use not seen in other food distributing software. With 1,500 distributors running their foodservice operation on NECS, it makes us the largest food distributing software vendor in this category. Ideal for full line distribution, meat distribution, seafood distribution, produce distribution and cheese distribution.

• foodManager
LightHouse Systems Group provides computer software and services for the food distribution industry that handles inventory, sales, pricing, credit, and production. Functions include simplified order entry, multiple query windows at the touch of a button (quick response to customer inquiries), dual unit-of-measure tracking capabilities by item (e.g. cases & pounds), full lot tracking w/ comprehensive reporting sub-system.

• TurningPoint
TurningPoint is a modular software system that streamlines information and processes across all areas of your business. With total integration of sales, inventory, purchasing, order entry, shipping, accounting, CRM, payroll and management, you can realize more profits, gain tighter control of your inventory and simplify your life. TurningPoint is an excellent option for companies who need better inventory and sales management at an affordable price.

• Produce Pro Software
Produce Pro is a uniquely customized, fully integrated resource management and accounting system, designed to support and streamline the fresh produce distribution cycle. Our strategic consulting, customized training programs, custom software development, support, and hardware integration services are unparalleled. Vendor profiling allows your staff to quickly and easily order products and supplies.
Produce Pro, Inc. Headquarters

• Blue Link Elite
Blue Link Elite is an integrated accounting, business management and inventory management software solution. Developed exclusively with Microsoft Technology, Elite delivers power and flexibility with ease of use and after-sales support. Modules include bank management, inventory control, order entry and invoicing, job costing, production control, contact management and payroll. Targeted at mid-size companies in the wholesale distribution sector with 5 - 100 employees in North America.

• Edible Software
Edible Software enables wholesale grocery, meat, produce, seafood, and general food distributors to increase their bottom line through increased efficiency and improved productivity. By streamlining sales and purchasing, and controlling inventory, quantities and costs, Edible Software provides management with the critical, timely information needed to make the right business decisions.

• Visual Produce
A software program designed to address the business needs of fresh produce Wholesalers, Distributors, Packers, Shippers, Processors, Brokers and Growers. Since 1982, Visual Produce has evolved into a premier Windows based ERP system focused exclusively on this area. We excel in addressing the unique business problems of companies involved in the production, processing and distribution of fresh produce to the marketplace.

• CSTA Financials
Aimed at small and mid-size enterprises, CSTA Financials, originally designed as a Food Distribution software, has incorporated a vast number of features that makes it excellent not only as a food distribution software, but also as an Accounting Distribution software for Consumer Products and most other products.



Permalink How do I go about converting unmanaged pasture to organic cropland?

South Dakota


I am pleased to provide you with information on converting unmanaged pasture into organic corn or oats.

This year you might think about putting the field into hay barley. It can be planted at about 100 pounds per acre, or you could interseed annual ryegrass with it at a rate of 60 to 75 pounds of barley and 15 pounds of annual ryegrass per acre and have some good late summer grazing that will extend into the fall, if you have livestock on your farm. After you take off the hay barley, the ryegrass will tiller and provide good soil cover and grazing. If you choose not to graze it, you could mow it just after flowering prior to seed set. Annual ryegrass comes back well from seed, so its best to manage it such that it does not go to seed.

Another intercrop you could use would be buckwheat planted into the barley. The summer growing buckwheat will come back after cutting the barley in mid summer and provide an excellent summer cover crop that can be incorporated into the soil in the fall in preparation for planting a winter cover crop. Consider winter peas as a winter cover crop. They will likely winter kill and make way for spring oat planting. If corn will be planted next year, winter rye and red clover or vetch would be a good choice of winter cover crop as they do not winter kill as easily as peas, and can be mowed in the spring. The corn can be no-till planted directly in to the stubble.

The main thing is to (1) get the soil covered with a plant that you can easily manage, like an annual grass or legume (or both), (2) choose a plant that will not compete with your cash crop, and (3) take advantage of soil-building characteristics of cover crops and intercrops. See below for more information on cover crops and intercropping.

Cover Crops

Using annual legumes (such as clovers, winter peas, and vetch) and annual grasses (such as rye, oats, or annual ryegrass) as a cover crop in row crops provides necessary soil cover, improved soil tilth (by increasing humus or organic matter), added nitrogen from legume nodulation, soil moisture retention, and increased biodiversity which in turn increases food and cover for beneficial organisms, including insect predators and pollinators.

The main purpose of a cover crop of course is to cover the soil. Therefore overall plant biomass production is a key consideration when selecting a planting method. High amounts of clover biomass can be obtained with either a 6 or 12 inch row spacing. Plant density is the goal, and you can get the same plant density with a narrow spacing as with a wide spacing by just slightly adjusting the seeding rate. To deal with competition from germinating weeds, consider wider spacings in no-till applications, and narrower spacings in harrowed fields.

The seeding rate for cover crops will generally be more than seeding rates for establishing forage crops because the goal is increased biomass and nitrogen production as well as weed suppression.

Living Mulch Intercropping

A living mulch is a cover crop that is intercropped with an annual or perennial cash crop, primarily for weed suppression and as a soil management practice. Living mulches reduce soil erosion, suppress weeds, increase soil organic matter, improve trafficability, increase water infiltration, and increase nutrient cycling. Legumes used as living mulches fix nitrogen from the air and can replace or reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers. Some living mulches also provide habitat for beneficial insects.

Establishment Methods
There are three basic ways to establish a living mulch:

[1] drilling or broadcasting a cover crop together with the primary crop at planting;
[2] drilling (interseeding) or broadcasting (overseeding) a cover crop at the last cultivation;
[3] drilling a cash crop into mechanically suppressed strips of a living cover crop.

Living Mulch Systems and Methods of Suppression

When managed incorrectly, living mulches can act like weeds and compete with the main crop for light, water and nutrients. Especially in low-growing vegetables—such as vine crops—an overgrown living mulch can interfere with flowering and fruit development. Thus, management of a living mulch is geared to getting good ground coverage and then suppressing its growth through mechanical means.

The first 4 to 6 weeks after planting is the most critical growth period for most crops. During this time, plant competition can reduce yields most severely, and living mulch growth may require suppression. Using a method of suppression becomes most critical where soil moisture is limited. When a vegetable crop is planted directly into strips of live vegetation, methods of suppression prior to planting may include mowing, tillage, flaming, and a technique known as rolling (see Recourses below for more information).

When an intercrop is established at planting or by overseeding, methods of suppression may include time of establishment (in the case of overseeding), use of dwarf type cover crops, and light mechanical cultivation.

Dying Mulch/Living Mulch Weed Suppression

A dying mulch is a cover crop planted out of season that puts on some growth—suppressing weeds as a living mulch—and then dies back out on its own without requiring the use of herbicides, mowing, or tillage to knock it back. Winter rye—planted in the spring—has been used successfully in this manner in several agronomic and horticultural crops.

Here's how a dying mulch has been used by several Midwestern vegetable growers. In mid-spring, the field is overseeded with winter rye at 120 lbs. per acre to establish a living mulch. In order for winter rye to tiller and produce a seed head, it requires a period of cold treatment, or vernalization. Since it never receives vernalization and thus never tillers, it remains short and eventually just "cooks out" in summer, leaving a weed-suppressive duff.

The success of this system is dependent on proper timing and good luck. Timing is critical to get the rye established early enough to promote germination when the soil temperatures are still relatively cool, but at the same time, late enough that a cold spell is avoided. Since vernalization can occur when the rye is exposed to only 10 days of 45° F. night temperatures, a sudden spring cold snap can result in the cover crop performing in an other-than-expected manner.

Choice of Living Mulch Species

Cover crops, like any other crop, require fairly specific growing conditions. Both grasses and legumes are being used as living mulches. Of these, there are both cool season and warm season types to choose from.

Factors affecting choice of living mulch cover crop include the primary crop, rotation sequence, growing season, method of establishment, and intended use (i.e., dying mulch, winter killed mulch, etc.). Most important in the selection of a living mulch is that the plant species chosen be vigorous enough to provide the benefits of a cover crop, but not so vigorous that competition with the main crop cannot be managed without killing it. The region of the country (e.g., agroclimatic zone) is also of great importance in selecting a living mulch. For example, subterranean clover is grown as a winter annual legume in the South, but as a spring annual in the North.

Some grass species used as living mulches include perennial ryegrass, dwarf ryegrass, turf type fescues, millet, and out-of-season winter cereal grains. Some legume species used as living mulches include white clover, hairy vetch, subterranean clover, Dutch white clover, dwarf English trefoil, Korean lespedeza, and crimson clover. Broad-leaved cover crops that have potential as living mulches include phacelia, buckwheat, and various crucifers. Rapid cycling brassica germplasm is under development at the University of Minnesota. These are low-growing, short-season brassicas that function as smother crops early in the growing season, then mature early and leave a weed suppressive duff.

ATTRA's Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures publication is a useful resource. It reviews the benefits and uses of cover crops and provides a number of useful resources on cover crops and seed sources.


Alberta Agriculture. 1990. Alberta Forage Manual. Edmonton, Alberta.

Diver, S. 2007. Mechanical roller-crimper equipment used in no-till production. Fayetteville, AR: ATTRA Project. Contact ATTRA for a copy of this report.

Forage Information System. 2006. “Cover Crops.” Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University.

Grubinger, V. Cover Crops and Green Manures. University of Vermont Extension.

Posner, J. and T. Mulder. 2006. “Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial Project.” Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

SAN. 2001. Managing Cover Crops Profitably, second edition.
Order hard copy at: Sustainable Agriculture Publications, PO Box 753, Waldorf, MD 20604-0753. (301) 374-9696

Singer, J. and P. Pedersen. 2005. Legume Living Mulches in Corn and Soybean. USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Iowa State University.

Zemenchik, R.A., K.A. Albrecht, C.M. Boerboom, and J.G. Lauer. 2000. Corn Production with Kura Clover as a Living Mulch. Agron. J. 92:698–705.



Permalink What can you tell me about regulations pertaining to ginseng and the cost of production of medicinal herbs?



Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on regulations pertaining to ginseng in your state and on cost of production for medicinal herbs. I can point to some production budgets for ginseng and provide a few links for other herbs.


Ginseng harvesting/growing is governed by both state and federal regulations. For information on the latest state regulations, please contact the following agency.

Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Services
Division of Product & Industry Regulation
Office of Plant Protection
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, VA 23209
Phone - 804-786-3515

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006 banned export of ginseng roots under 5 years old (as determined by stem nodes). For more information and many useful links, please go to the Web site

Crop Budgets
Virginia State University Cooperative Extension has published budgets for three main types of ginseng culture: shadecloth, woods-grown, and wild-simulated. See
Producing and Marketing Wild Simulated Ginseng in Forest and Agroforestry Systems [2000]
By Andy Hankins, Extension Specialist, Alternative Agriculture; Virginia State University

For an up-to-the-minute assessment of costs, contact Mr. Hankins, who is one of the foremost ginseng experts in the U.S.

Andy Hankins
Extension Specialist
Alternative Agriculture
Phone: (804) 524-5962
Fax: (804) 524-5714

Sample crop budgets for other medicinals have been published by the Canadian government (in Canadian dollars). For the herb links, see our publication Enterprise Budgets and Production Costs for Organic Agriculture.

Also see the 2004 ATTRA publication Ginseng, Goldenseal, and Other Native Roots. In 2006 the comprehensive Growing & Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal & Other Woodland Medicinals, by W. Scott Persons and Dr. Jeanine M. Davis, of North Carolina’s Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, was published by Bright Mountain Books, Fairview, NC.


Herb Production in Organic Systems



Permalink What are some low-input, soil management strategies I can use on my farm?



I am pleased to provide you with information regarding soil management strategies for your new farm. This letter is outlined to provide you with more details on developing a long-term soil fertility plan, preferably with less off-farm inputs.

On-Farm Composting:
Composting is certainly a way to reduce off farm inputs on your farm, if you have animals. If you do not, there are usually plenty of places willing to get rid of their waste. I have listed below an introductory publication on composting manure. It will provide you with some basic tips on how to get started on this process for your farm, including carbon to nitrogen ratios, materials that compost well, placement, etc. Also listed is the Rodale Institute’s “Making and using compost at The Rodale Institute Farm,” from their web site New Farm. They provide a good on-farm example and recommendations for developing a compost system on your farm, including methods of turning and sources of materials.

Some other useful resources to consider are “The On-Farm Composting Handbook” and the “Field Guide to On-Farm Composting.” These are practical handbooks which present a thorough overview of farm-scale composting and explain how to produce and use it. The information on where and how to obtain these books is listed below under “Further Resources.”

Cover Crops:
Cover cropping is another way to minimize off-farm inputs. Cover crops are soil-building crops that are not harvested, but are composted or tilled back into the soil. They can be part of a crop rotation, or can be used to prevent soil erosion and improve fertility. When choosing a cover crop you need to make several considerations. There are many ways to use cover crops in a production cycle:

• as a main crop during the primary growing season. Used as a rotational crop, the cover will exclude production of a cash crop.
• as a companion crop, or living mulch, the cover is planted between the rows of the cash crop—for example pumpkins interplanted with white clover.
• as a 'catch' crop for nutrients, planted after harvest of the main crop or between the rows of the cash crop to reduce leaching of nutrients.
• as an off-season crop grown to protect the soil, usually during the winter when there is no main crop—this is not the case in your farm, of course. This is the most common practice in temperate areas.

North Carolina State University has identified and listed several cover crops for climates such as yours. This list will help to guide your decision on which type of cover crop to use.

The University of California, Cooperative Extension, and the USDA have identified cowpea as an ideal summer cover crop for hot-summer areas. Cowpea cover crops are cost effective because they enrich the soil with organic matter, add over 100 lbs per acre of nitrogen, and have other harder to define benefits for crops grown in rotation with them. I have listed sources of Cowpea cover crop below.

Refer to the ATTRA publication “Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures.” This publication will help outline some of the cover crops used for the specific purposes that I outline above.

A rotation plan used in conjunction with cover cropping and compost is an ideal way for a vegetable farmer to increase fertility and organic matter, while minimizing off farm inputs.

In general, many farmers use the season in which the cash crop is produced as a rotation tool. E.g Spring/ fall crops, winter crops, short season cucurbits, solanaceous crops, etc. Farmers will often plant these “types” of crops in blocks and rotate the entire block each year. E.g. The winter crops of radishes, arugula, lettuce, and beets are planted in block one and rotated to block two next year. This “block” system meshes well with cover cropping, as you can simply have one block in cover crops at any one time. The best way to illustrate this is with some examples. Listed below is a “real farm” sample of crop rotation sequences for a diversified vegetable farm titled “CEFS Student Farm Upper Field Crop Rotation” from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State University. They grow several acres of vegetables year-round on their student farm.

You mentioned in the phone conversation that you were interested in having a 1/5 of your land in cover crops at any one time. This would be easy to incorporate into the rotation that I describe above. At any one time one block could be planted in cover depending on the season—winter annuals such as oats and peas or rye and vetch, or in the summer, cowpeas or sudan grass.

Cover crops in annual rotations

In annual cropping systems, cover crops are often chosen to maximize benefits such as biomass and nitrogen production. However, other factors must also be considered. For example, fitting a cover crop into the sequence of a crop rotation can be difficult. Therefore, fast-growing, drought-tolerant cover crops that require minimal management are preferred. Cover crops with fast germination and good seedling vigor are usually chosen because of their ability to compete with weeds. Also, species with the potential to reduce pest populations should be chosen, while those that harbor diseases or arthropod pests of the cash crops should be avoided.

Common cool-season legumes used as cover crops in annual rotations include vetches, winter pea and bell bean. Because clovers and medics grow slower and compete poorly with weeds and require more management (e.g., mowing), they are used less commonly in annual rotations. For similar reasons, cereal grains are usually preferred over other grass species, such as bromes, in annual rotations. Sometimes, however, the annual cereal grains can be used as a “nurse crop” for clovers and medics. They are seeded at the same time and the cereal grains are mowed once or twice. This system gives some shelter to the clovers and helps distribute the seed evenly.

In choosing warm- season cover crops, the ability to perform well with minimal irrigation is often of primary consideration. Legume species in this category include cowpea, hyacinth bean and sunnhemp. Typical grass cover crops for warm conditions include sudangrass and sorghum (1).

Also listed below is an excerpt of the excellent book, Managing Cover Crops Profitably (PDF/2.89MB), by Greg Bowman, Christopher Shirley and Craig Cramer. It describes several rotation and cover crop scenarios for vegetable farms. The Nordell Farm profile is particularly inspiring for many farmers.

It is important to have a sprinkler irrigation system to establish cover crops, but with your climate, it may be possible to time cover crop planting when there is rain forecasted. If you tend to have droughty summers, establish a drought resistant cover crop such as cowpeas with the spring rains.

I have listed many resources for you to follow up on below.

(1) Ingels, et al. 1993. Selecting the Right Cover Crop Gives Multiple Benefits. California Agriculture 43 (5):43-48.

Hopkinson, Tim. 2005. Composting Livestock Manure. Klickitat County Solid Waste Division. Goldendale, WA.

Sayre, Laura. 2004. Making and Using Compost at The Rodale Institute Farm. Rodale Institute. The New Farm.

Grover, Joel. 2005. CEFS Student Farm Upper Field Crop Rotation. Center for Ecological Farming Systems. North Carolina State University.

Sullivan, Preston. 2003. Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures. ATTRA Publication # IP024.

Bowman, et al. 1998. Managing Cover Crops Profitably. Sustainable Agriculture Network. Handbook Series 3. Pages 36-39.

Further Resources:
On-farm Composting Resources:
Rynk, Robert, ed. 1992. On-Farm Composting Handbook, NRAES-54, is available for $25.00 per copy (plus shipping and handling) from NRAES, Cooperative Extension, PO Box 4557, Ithaca, New York 14852-4557 or

Mark Dougherty, ed. 1999. Field Guide to On-Farm Composting. NRAES Publishing. Ithaca, NY.

Cover Crops:
Greg Bowman, Christopher Shirley, Craig Cramer. 1998. Managing Cover Crops Profitably. Sustainable Agriculture Network.
This book distills findings from published studies and on-farm experience into a user-friendly reference tool for farmers and agricultural educators. You will find detailed information on how to select cover crops to fit your farm, and how to manage them to reap multiple benefits.

Magdoff and van Es. 2000. Building Soils for Better Crops. Second ed. Sustainable Agriculture Network. Handbook Series 4.
Sustainable Agriculture Publications
Hills Building, room 10
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405
Call to order: 802-656-0484

Cover Crop Seed Suppliers:
Try a local feed or field crop seed supplier! They often carry many different cover crops.

Fedco Seeds
Organic Growers Supply
PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903
(207) 873-7333
Call to get a catalog

Johnny's Selected Seeds
955 Benton Avenue
Winslow, Maine 04901
Toll Free: 877-Johnnys (877-564-6697)

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
P.O. Box 2209
Grass Valley, CA 95945
To place an order, call toll free at 1-888-784-1722.

Turner Seed Co.
Source of cowpea cover crop seed.
211 County Road 151
Breckenridge, TX 76424-8165
Toll-Free Tel 800.722.8616
Fax Line (254) 559-5024

General Farming info:
Grubinger, Vern. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market
Publication number: NRAES-104
Cost: $38.00
Length: 280 pages
ISBN: 0-935817-45-X
Date of Publication: August 1999
Available from: NRAES Cooperative Extension
Phone: (607) 255-7654



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