Newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.
Growing Organic Small Grains
The local-food movement has created a demand for locally produced grain. Most American grain is now produced in the Northern Plains states, where the dry climate and cold winters create ideal growing and storage conditions. Would-be organic-grain producers in warmer and more humid areas must overcome serious pest and disease problems. This ATTRAnews considers the best methods for growing organic small grains.
Articles in this issue are adapted from a forthcoming series of ATTRA publications about organic small grains. NCAT agronomist Susan Tallman is the author of the series, which will cover
The first of the publications will be published in spring 2011 and will be available to download.
In this issue:
Opportunities and Challenges
Susan Tallman, NCAT Agronomist, Certified Crop Adviser
Weed management, soil fertility, soil moisture, tillage,
rotation design, and marketing present a unique set
of obstacles to organic-grain farmers.
Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative
New ways to produce, process, market local grains and beans
“Southeast Ohio has great local markets for fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats,” says Jaeger. “But there is an absence of grains. We started with test plots to see how some beans and grains performed in our area. Before the seeds were even planted, we started to get calls from folks who were interested in buying local grains. Once we saw the demand, we started to identify the issues of harvesting, processing, and storage. We hope that it will be easy to scale up our model so that local grains become an integral part of our food system. This will not only financially benefit the farmers, but also the local businesses and the economy.”
Managing Diseases in Organic Grain Fields
Susan Tallman, NCAT Agronomist, Certified Crop Adviser
Prevention is truly the best strategy for managing diseases and insects in an organic system. Many of the basic practices of organic production, especially crop rotation, help minimize pest pressure and promote the biological diversity that suppresses pests. Farmers must stay ahead of outbreaks by selecting resistant varieties, practicing vigilant monitoring, and implementing a long, diverse rotation.
Disease Management—Regions with low rainfall generally have relatively few disease problems. In warmer, humid parts of the country, grain crops are more susceptible to diseases and fungi. Growers in those areas need to consider carefully whether organic small-grain production is right for them.
Resistant Varieties—Choose varieties specific to your area, bred to resist local diseases. State Cooperative Extension stations conduct annual variety trials comparing resistance levels of different varieties.
Seed Quality—Find the plumpest, highest-germinating seed you can, and plant in high density to offset losses due to damping off. When possible, select certified seed from a reputable dealer. In general, certified seed should be purchased every third year. Certified seed will help manage seed-borne diseases such as smut and bunt.
Delayed Planting—To help manage soil-borne fungi such as Pythium and Rhizoctonia, plant when soil temperatures are warmer.
Irrigation Timing—Do not irrigate your grain crop when it is flowering. Flowering is the susceptible period for Fusarium head blight and ergot.
Crop Scouting—Crop scouting is an essential part of disease management. The earlier you detect diseases in the field, the more time you have to respond. Hone your skills in disease diagnosis. If the disease is not a serious problem, you may choose simply to live with the reduced yield. Extreme cases may require terminating the affected portion of the crop before the disease gets out of hand.
Storage Environment—Storage mold can be managed by constantly checking grain moisture during harvest. Discontinue harvest when grain moisture exceeds 12%. If there is concern about the grain’s moisture content, use aeration in the bin to dry the grain. High moisture levels and high bin temperatures lead to mold, grain deterioration, and insect infestation.
Top 10 Tips for Growing Organic Small Grains
Managing Insect Pests in Organic Grain Production
Diverse crop rotations can help to break the pest insects’ cycle. Organic farmers tend to have fewer sawfly problems, for example, because of crop rotation practices and the biodiversity in their fields. Rotation to crops that are less attractive to cutworms and wireworms may also help to break the life cycles of these pests.
Trap crops should be extremely attractive to pest insects and should stay green longer than the harvested crop. Plant a trap crop on the border of your grain field. When it fills with pests, till it into the ground.
Dealing with Stored-Grain Insects
In colder states such as Montana and North Dakota, grain can be stored for two to three years with no insect or mold problems if the grain is carefully monitored for changes in temperature and insect numbers.
Farmers in warmer states usually store grain over only one winter to avoid insect and mold problems. This issue of storage time affects a farmer’s marketing plan, since some specialty organic grains can take more than a year to sell after harvest.
When placing organic grain in bins, make sure the bins have been thoroughly cleaned and all cracks have been sealed. Never put new grain on top of old grain.
Use smaller bins to reduce the risk of spreading insect or mold problems. The standard 3,000- to 5,000-bushel bins should be small enough, but avoid using 50,000-bushel bins. Air does not circulate well in the bigger bins, and small infestations soon become very large problems. One infestation can ruin an entire crop if it’s all in the same bin.
Resources for Organic Small-Grain Producers
The following publications can be downloaded from ATTRA’s website. Or call 800-346-9140 for a free print copy.
ATTRA’s Organic Small Grains webinar is free online.
From Conventional to Organic Cropping: What to expect during the transition years. From Montana State University Extension.
Iowa State University’s Long Term Agroecology Research Site compares conventional and organic grain and bean rotations.
Ohio State University’s Organic Food and Farm Educational Research.
Organic Field Crop Handbook is available from the Canadian Organic Association.
Montana State University’s Soil Nutrient Management on Organic Grain Farms in Montana.
University of Manitoba’s website on various crop rotations in no-till and organic systems.
University of Minnesota’s Farm Financial Database: 2009 Organic Farm Performance in Minnesota.
University of Nebraska’s Organic Working Group conducts organic grain variety trials at various locations.
New and Updated ATTRA Publications
We Want to Hear About Your Alternative Farm-Energy Experiences
ATTRAnews is the bi-monthly newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The newsletter is distributed free throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.
Teresa Maurer, Project Manager
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