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Organic Farming Manual

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Although many European countries financially support their farmers' organic production practices, the United States has made small gains in this area. In Iowa, the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) offers organic farmers $50/acre during their transition to organic farming through the Environmental Quality Indicators Program (EQIP). and through the new organic cost-share programs with the 2002 Farm Bill. Check with local NRCS or FSA offices regarding deadlines and required documents. Other conservation practices used on organic farms (e.g., riparian buffer strips, filter strips, and crop rotations) also may qualify for cost sharing.

The basis for all organic farming systems is the health of the soil.

The Soil Food Web

The Soil Food Web

Organic Matter

Waste, residue and metabolites from plants, animals and microbes

Organic Matter

Waste, residue and metabolites from plants, animals and microbes

First trophic level:

• Photosynthesizers

Second trophic level:

  • Decomposers ■ Mutualists
  • Pathogens,
  • Root-feeders



trophic leva


• Shredders

a Predators

• Grazers

• Higher level predators

Fifth and higher trophic levels:

■ Higher level predators

Soil Health:

The Basis for Organic Farming

Organic farmers strive to maintain adequate fertility as well as biologically active soil with the microbial populations required for nutrient cycling. Crop rotation provides nutrients such as nitrogen from legume crops and carbonaceous biomass upon which beneficial soil microorganisms depend for survival. Naturally mined lime products, manure, and composted manure are the most common forms of soil amendments for organic operations. Iowa rules specify the number of months prior to harvest that manure should be applied to allow adequate decomposition and to avoid bacterial contamination of produce. Manure cannot be applied for a minimum of four months prior to the harvest of horticultural crops and for three months prior to agronomic crop harvest. Raw manure cannot be applied to frozen or snow-covered ground.

Composting, the preferred method of stabilizing manure, is a controlled process in which nitrogen-containing materials are mixed with a carbon-containing source to produce a substance preferably in a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) of 30 to 1. Compost temperatures must reach 131-170°F for 15 days, and be turned a minimum of 5 times to aerate the pile. Additional information on composting practices is listed in the references.

Though many soil amendments are available for organic farming, these materials must be naturally based. In addition to manure-based fertilizers, many organic farmers rely on fish emulsion and seaweed preparations to supply nitrogen and other

In trials at Iowa State University, organic peppers fertilized with compost produced equivalent yields compared with non-fertilized plants.

elements. When phosphorus and potassium limit crop production, rock phosphate and naturally mined potassium chloride are allowed. It is imperative that organic farmers check with their certification agencies before applying any materials. Certification may be revoked for up to three years if a material contaminated with prohibited materials is applied.

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Have you always wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn't know what to do? Here are the best tips on how to become a true and envied organic gardner.

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