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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What can you tell me about persimmon production?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on persimmon production in Iowa. Please refer to ATTRA's Persimmon Production publication.

There are two types of persimmon in the U.S.—the native Diospyros virginiana (common persimmon) and D. kaki (or Oriental persimmon). Common persimmon grows in a humid climate throughout its range. Its best commercial development is in areas that receive an average of 1220 mm (48 in) of precipitation annually, about 460 mm (18 in) of which normally occurs during the growing season. Over the range of persimmon, the average maximum temperatures are 35° C (95° F) in the summer and -12° C (10° F) in the winter. (1)

Iowa State University Cooperative Extension publishes Native Woods of Iowa. Twenty-four species are listed. Common persimmon is not among them. This species has not been improved to make it commercially feasible even in its native range.(2)

Purdue University Extension advises against trying to plant Oriental persimmon in Indiana. The same advice would apply to Iowa and all of the Midwest. The oriental persimmon, Diospyros kaki, is not native to Indiana and is not adapted to Indiana conditions. Hoosier winters are too cold to permit cultivation of this species, except in rare and very protected situations. It is not hardy below about 10 F. This is the species of commerce and is grown commercially in southern areas of California. The fruit ranges to 3 inches across and is seedless in most varieties. Nursery catalogs frequently advertise this species, but Indiana gardeners are cautioned against purchasing plants of D. kaki.

This map shows the native range of persimmon.

1) Halls, Lowell K. n.d. Common Persimmon.

2) Holdeman, Quintin Lee. 2000. Persimmons for Louisiana’s children—Young and old. 26 p.



Permalink What are some agricultural options for my dryland farming operation?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on agricultural enterprise opportunities for a small acreage in east-central Colorado.

According to the soil survey (USDA, 2007b) your soils are mostly sandy and sandy loam. The ecology of the region is historically mid-grass prairies, with a climax plant community of such perennial grasses as prairie sandreed, little bluestem, needle and thread, sideoats grama, western wheatgrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, and sand bluestem. During an average year (regarding annual precipitation) the annual air-dry forage yield from dryland native grasses can be expected to fall between 1000 and 1400 pounds per acre.

The region is suited for irrigated alfalfa production and non-irrigated small grains such as barley. Irrigated alfalfa yields from your soils will typically produce 3 to 4 tons of hay per year. Non-irrigated barley yields may fall between 15 to 25 bushels per acre.

Livestock Production

Based on the soils and native vegetational characteristics of your land (such as species and annual productivity), and proper grazing management (see below), the forage availability (on your land) for grazing livestock on a normal year is approximately 0.33 animal unit months (AUM) per acre.

The assumptions for grazing management for these calculations are that (1) you will graze only 50% of the forage to leave enough leaf area for re-growth, and (2) 50% grazing efficiency (to take into account trampling, wildlife use, insect damage, etc).

An animal unit is roughly one 1000 pound cow (or 6 goats or sheep), and an animal unit month is the amount of dry forage an animal unit will need for one month. By multiplying 0.33 AUM/acre by 40 acres, we get 13.2 AUM’s total for the farm for one year. This means that there is enough forage (given the above assumptions) for one animal unit for 13.2 months. This figure can be manipulated based on animal numbers and actual grazing season. For instance, 13.2 AUM’s also means that you can graze 13 animal units for one month, or 6 animal units for 2 months, and so on. For more information on deriving AUM’s see the References below.

The AUM’s for this farm could be much higher if the plant community consists in more productive species. There are some very good introduced grass species that are adapted to dryland range conditions that would increase your forage production and subsequently increase your carrying capacity. For instance, intermediate wheatgrass or pubescent wheatgrass can, when successfully established, increase forage production by 1.5 to 2 times over native species, and they are more tolerant of grazing. For species information and planting recommendations I suggest getting the booklet Intermountain Planting Guide, developed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Utah State University, Logan, Utah. It can be ordered from USU Extension Publications at or by calling 435-797-2251.

Technical information on appropriate plant species, as well as government cost-share conservation programs can be obtained from your local USDA Service Center. You can contact your local service center at:

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Brighton Service Center
57 W. Bromley Lane
Brighton, CO 80601-3025

Sustainable Livestock Production

Sustainable livestock production on small dryland farms is difficult but not impossible. It requires careful attention to grazing management and stocking rate. For instance, meat goats are finding a niche market in many urban areas for the meat, and some farmers are even contract grazing with other landowners to control noxious weeds. For more detailed information on using livestock to control noxious weeds see Targeted Grazing: A Natural Approach to Vegetation Management and Landscape Enhancement, a handbook on grazing as a new ecological service.

If you are considering livestock production as a possible farm enterprise, I recommend the following ATTRA publications:

Cattle Production: Considerations for Pasture-Based Beef and Dairy Producers

Goats: Sustainable Production Overview

Sustainable Sheep Production

Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management

Crop Production

The irrigated crop capability class for these soils suggest moderate to severe limitations to productivity. What this means is that to successfully produce irrigated crops, conservation measures such as no-till and water management should be developed and implemented. The non-irrigated crop capability class suggests severe limitations and utmost attention to soil and water management must be implemented to produce crops and avoid environmental degradation such as erosion.

Commodity crop production such as alfalfa and small grains may not be economically feasible on a small acreage. However, many farmers on small acreages are finding opportunity in intensive vegetable production. With intensive production, a farmer can have more control on a smaller parcel of land, and can effectively build soils and manage water use through such practices as cover cropping, rotations, and appropriate species selection. In addition, the market for locally-produced food is growing nation-wide. Farmers are finding opportunities to market produce to restaurants, through farmers markets, and directly through such projects as Community Supported Agriculture.

If you are considering intensive vegetable production as a possible farm enterprise, I recommend the following ATTRA publications:

Market Gardening: A Start-up Guide

Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production

Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners

Organic Certification Process

Community Supported Agriculture

Farmers Markets

Selling to Restaurants

Another possible crop for your area is organic alfalfa hay. Do some research on farms in your area and determine if there is demand for organic hay. Organic dairies are usually the best customers for organic hay producers. If you would like more information on organic hay production, contact ATTRA at 1-800-346-9140 or


Lacey, J., E. Williams, J. Rolleri, and C. Marlow. 1995. A Guide for Planning, Analyzing, and Balancing Forage Supplies with Livestock Demand. Bozeman: Montana State University Extension.

USDA. 2007a. Montana Grazing Animal Unit Month (AUM) Estimator. Montana: Natural Resources Conservation Service.

USDA. 2007b. Web Soil Survey. Natural Resources Conservation Service.



Permalink Where can I find camelina seed for use in biodiesel production?

South Dakota

Answer: This oilseed brassica, cultivated in Eurasia since the Bronze Age, was widely grown right up to the end of WW II, when it was superseded by the introduction of oilseed rape (Canola is the low-erucic-acid type) at a time when benefits of oils containing a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids were poorly understood. A weedy type occasionally occurs in flax fields in the Upper Midwest. An out-of-print 1987 Minnesota Research Station Bulletin calls C. sativa a "useful research crop and potential oilseed."

As you may know, in Montana Camelina is being actively pursued as a potential biofuel oilseed for biodiesel production. Gary Iverson at (406) 937-3613, 206 Railroad Ave, Sunburst, MT 59482 is the Executive Director of the Great Northern Growers Cooperative which is pursuing larger scale production of Camelina and may have info on seed sources. Their web site is:

Sourcepoint Seeds in Colorado, is offering C. sativa this year through the Seed Savers Exchange, and you may be able to negotiate a larger quantity by inquiring by letter.

You might also be able to secure C. sativa seed from either B&T World Seeds, France or B&T World Seeds, UK. J.L. Hudson Seedsman might also be able to find it for you through their seed search service. It will probably not be cheap. If you plan to save your own seedstock for planting, you need to take care that it does not become contaminated from nearby wild or cultivated brassicas.

Some of the companies in our online database of seed suppliers might possibly be able to find this variety for you in the amount you require.

Seedtec-Terramax, a Canadian research and crop development company based in Regina, Sasketchewan, is offering camelina seed in carload lots through their Canadian Web site. There is no assurance that their camelina is not genetically engineered. Contact information is at



Permalink What can you tell me about organic cherry production?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding organic cherry production.

Please refer to the ATTRA publication “Organic Tree Fruit Production.” This publication provides a good introduction to the principles of organic tree fruit production. Many of the general principles of organic weed management, soil fertility, and general pest management apply to organic cherry production, so I would encourage you to look at this publication as a resource. This publication also emphasizes that ecological management of the orchard floor can have positive impacts on tree health and pest management. I will address some specific pests and economic considerations for organic cherry production in this letter, however.

Pest Management:
Choosing disease resistant cultivars is a good starting place for minimizing reliance on pesticides. To begin with, sweet cherry varieties are much more susceptible to brown rot and bacterial canker than tart cherries. Some sweet cherry cultivars--Angela, Chinook, and Early Burlat--are resistant to buckskin disease (1), a virus-like disorder which may or may not be a serious disease in your area.

Both powdery mildew and leaf spot can be controlled with regular sprays of sulfur (sulfur is considered "organic" by most certifying organic growers' groups). Bordeaux mix (also considered organic) may be more effective for leaf spot than sulfur.

Brown rot can be a severe problem on sweet cherries if favorable conditions (high heat and humidity) occur. An organic control program for brown rot should probably include the following:

* Encourage air movement with site selection and open pruning.
* Prune out all dead wood and cankers and destroy them.
* Remove mummies--the shriveled, rotted fruit from last season.
* Remove and destroy infected fruit promptly.
* Apply wettable sulfur every 10 to 14 days from petal fall until harvest. Spray more often during wet seasons. Sprays may not be needed in dry seasons or dry climates if the other steps are followed.

Control of brown rot involves the integration of several tactics. Cultural practices and orchard sanitation are the first line of defense. Planting-site selection and pruning are critical to providing sufficient air circulation within the canopy. Good air circulation through the tree facilitates rapid drying of the foliage and flowers after rain or overhead irrigation. Thinning branches to open the center of the tree is a good practice—this can be done in July, as well as during the regular dormant-season pruning. Orchard sanitation practices include pruning and removal of infected twigs and cankers and disposal of dropped, culled, or mummified fruit.

University of California researchers determined that excessive nitrogen fertilization increases fruit susceptibility to brown rot. They also found that pre-harvest sprays of calcium reduced brown rot infection over non-sprayed trees but were not equal to fungicidal control. (3)

Organic growers have traditionally relied on sulfur to control brown rot. The first application of sulfur should be done at the "pink" stage, just before the petals open. This should be repeated at seven-day intervals, especially if rain occurs, for a total of three applications. Two other applications should be made—one at petal drop, the other at sepal drop (usually about 10-14 days after petal drop). The crop is still susceptible to infection later in the season, but treatments during the early "critical" stage will reduce the amount of crop loss without leaving a sulfur residue at harvest. When the weather is hot and dry, the need to spray is not as great.

A promising organic control strategy for brown rot, according to Dr. Michael Glenn at USDA's Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia, is to combine sulfur with Surround™ WP Crop Protectant. Derived from processed kaolin clay, Surround is an OMRI- (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved pest control product shown to control or suppress certain insects and diseases. The mechanism by which Surround suppresses powdery mildew, sooty blotch, fly speck, and fire blight (but not scab) in apples. While no studies have been conducted on cherries, I imagine that the response would be quite similar. (6)

Carl Rosato of Woodleaf Farm, Oroville, CA, consulted with ATTRA about his techniques in managing brown rot on his organic peach orchard. He relies primarily on a spray mixture of micronized sulfur + rock dust (e.g., Azomite™). However, for a dynamic foliar spray that provides both nutritive and pest-control benefits, Rosato likes to blend a foliar "brew" for all pre-bloom, bloom, and post-bloom sprays. A common tank mixture (per acre) may include: 6-8 lbs Azomite; 5-15 lbs micronized sulfur; 5 lbs soluble potassium sulfate; 1 lb Solubor™ (boron); 5 lbs kelp; and a yucca extract for a sticker. For the pre-bloom spray, he adds copper specifically for brown rot control. Bloom sprays begin at one-third bloom and proceed every 5-7 days all the way through petal fall, for a total of 3-4 sprays altogether. Post-bloom sprays depend on the weather. When rain or humidity approaches, he religiously applies a brew spray as a prophylactic before weather arrives, again every 5-7 days depending on environmental conditions. Brown rot pressure decreases dramatically when it is hot and dry—around 85-90° F. (7)

Bacterial canker is a serious bacterial disease which affects cherries. Bordeaux mix, or other copper-containing fungicides, will exert some control over bacterial canker. However, this control will probably be imperfect, which points out the importance of taking whatever steps possible in eliminating the predisposing factors to bacterial canker--primarily freeze damage. Whitewashing trunks and avoiding drought stress or nutritional stress (especially as the trees are preparing for dormancy) should help to minimize the risk of freeze damage.

Choice of cherry rootstocks may also have an impact on disease management. The two most commonly used rootstocks are Mahaleb and Mazzard. Mahaleb is susceptible to phythophthora root rot in heavy or poorly drained soils. Mazzard is better suited to heavier soils, but it is susceptible to crown gall and several viruses.

Dwarfing rootstocks are also being evaluated in the US to make cherry production more efficient. Recently some new rootstocks such as Colt and the Gisela series produce fruit trees from standard size down to 45% of normal. These new root stocks are not yet widely tested in B.C. Semi-dwarf cherry trees may be kept at 12 ft high (3.6 meters). At the present time dwarf sweet cherry trees are not as small as dwarf apples. Gisela 5 seems to be the most widely used of the two and is about half the size of Mazzard. It is also more susceptible to pests than Gisela 6, something to consider when using organic production practices (4). I have enclosed a publication that lists the more commonly-used cherry rootstocks and their characteristics. This will help in determining what is best for your farm and preventative strategies in organic production.

Insect Pests
One of the major insect pests of cherry is the cherry fruit fly (Rhagoletis cinulata and R. fausta). Failure to adequately control this pest can cause severe crop loss due to the presence of fruit fly larva (maggots) in the cherries at harvest. Both federal (USDA) regulations and consumers demand a zero tolerance for maggots in fruit at harvest. Regarding insect pests, if you plan to wholesale the fruit, you may have few non-chemical options available to you since cherry processors and wholesalers maintain what amounts to zero tolerance for cherry fruit fly maggots. Recently the use of Spinosad has been quite effective at controlling Cherry Fruit Fly. Spinosad is derived from a naturally-occurring bacteria and it is approved for use as a pesticide in cherry production. It has been used in combination with bait as well as applied as a foliar insecticide. While it has not proven to provide 100% control of Cherry Fruit Fly, it has reduced population numbers significantly. A bait (GF-120NF) is an attractive substance with spinosad as the active ingredient. It is lethal to flies that feed on it while "grazing" on the tree. This bait is "squirted" and spattered on the trees weekly at 20 fluid ounces per acre diluted in about 1.5 to 2 gallons of water per acre. Entrust is a spinosad-based product that kills flies both by contact and residue. It is generally applied by air-blast sprayer every 7-10 days and has had excellent results. (5)

Lastly, for diseases and pests, sanitation is always helpful. Removing and destroying prunings, cutting out disease-infected wood, and roguing out wild plum and cherry trees in the orchard vicinity are all examples of good orchard sanitation practices.

The major impediment to growers who might wish to convert to organic production is the three-year mandatory conventional-to-organic transition period. During this transition, fruit must be sold under a conventional label, though the cost of production is often significantly increased by following organic production methods. Costs for organic production (hand weeding, organic fertilizers, and organic pesticides) are often higher than conventional farming costs, but organic producers can command a higher price for their produce. I was not able to find the current price for organic but most organic cherry growers have developed local market and diversified dissemination chains. Referenced below is an article featuring the marketing techniques of an organic cherry grower in Montana.

Grower profiles and networking is always very helpful in transitioning to organic. I have listed contact information for an organic cherry grower, Cynthia Lashbrook, under “further resources” below. She is also an organic crop advisor and would be an excellent resource in your transition to organic cherry production.

1) Stebbins, R. L. and L. Walheim. 1981. Western Fruit, Berries, and Nuts. HPBooks, Los Angeles, CA. p. 96.

2) Hall-Beyer, Bart and Jean Richard. Ecological Fruit Growing in the North, Jean Richard Pub., Trois Rivieres, Quebec, 1983, p. 78.

(3) Hansen, Melissa. 1996. No Magic Bullet Exists for Brown rot Disease Control. The Good Fruit Grower.

(4) Hansen, Melissa. 2006. Growers Worldwide Choose Productive Rootstocks: the perfect cherry rootstock has yet to be found. The Good Fruit Grower. V. 15 No. 10. May 15th, 2006.

(5) Smith, Timothy. (no date). Western Cherry Fruit Fly (Rhagoletis Indifferens Curran) and its Management in The Pacific Northwest United States. Washington State University Tree Fruit Program.

(6) Glenn, D. M., T. van der Zwet, G. J. Puterka, E. Brown, and P. Gundrum. 2001. Efficacy of Kaolin-based particle films to control diseases in apples. Plant Health Progress an online journal. doi : io. 1094/PHP-2001-0823-01-RS.

(7) Peach Brown Rot Control. Organic Farming Foundation Research Report, Grant 92-26. Carl Rosato, Woodleaf Farm, Oroville, CA. Accessed July 2002. (PDF / 3 M)


Stromnes, John. 2006. Bugged to death by flies—Growing organic cherries is tough but getting easier. Western Montana InBusiness Monthly. Vol. 4, No. 7.

Hansen, Melissa. 2006. Growers Worldwide Choose Productive Rootstocks: the perfect cherry rootstock has yet to be found. The Good Fruit Grower. V. 15 No. 10. May 15th, 2006.

Further Resources:
Cynthia Lashbrook--
PCA and Org. Grower
Four Seasons Agricultural Consulting & Riverdance Farm
12230 Livingston-Cressey Road
Livingston, CA 95334
cell: 209-761-0081



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