Organic Farmer Aug/Sept 2019

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August/September 2019

Adopting Diversified Organic Farming

to Increase Ecosystem Services

A Preliminary Evaluation of Using Drip

Irrigation in Organic Spinach Production

Using Concentrated Organic Fertilizers

SEPTEMBER 26-27, 2019

September 26th | 1:00PM - 9:00PM

September 27th | 7:00AM - 1:00PM

See page 25-29 for agenda details


Volume 2 : Issue 4


Effective Plant Nutrients

and Biopesticides






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Adopting Diversified

Organic Farming to

Increase Ecosystem


A Preliminary Evaluation

of Using Drip Irrigation in

Organic Spinach


Using Concentrated

Organic Fertilizers

Protecting the Whole

Organic Farm

Just Got Better

Organic Agriculture and

the New Biotechnology

Pasture Mixes to Improve

the Sustainability of

Organic Pasture-based


Transforming Agriculture

from a Problem into a


Water Management in a

Changing Climate



PUBLISHER: Jason Scott


EDITOR: Kathy Coatney




Phone: 559.352.4456

Fax: 559.472.3113




Subodh Adhikari

PhD, Postdoctoral

Researcher, University

of Idaho

Brian Baker

Contributing Writer

Stacie Clary

Western SARE

Glenn McGourty

Winegrower & Plant

Science Advisor,

UCCE Mendocino

and Lake counties

Ali Montazar

Irrigation & Water

Management Advisor,

UCCE Imperial and

Riverside Counties

Michael Cahn,

Irrigation & Water

Resources Advisor,

UCCE Monterey

County Alexander

Putman, Assistant



Kevin Day

County Director and

UCCE Pomology Farm

Advisor, Tulare/Kings


Steven Koike

Director, TriCal


Cooperative Extension

Specialist, UC


Jhalendra Rijal

UC Cooperative

Extension & Statewide

IPM Program,

Northern San Joaquin


Lauren Snyder

Education and

Research Program

Manager, Organic

Farming Research


Jeff Schahczenski

Agricultural and

Natural Resource

Economist, with the

National Center

for Appropriate



Rex Dufour, NCAT

Agriculture Specialist

Emily J. Symmes

UCCE IPM Advisor,

Sacramento Valley

Kris Tollerup

UCCE Integrated Pest

Management Advisor,

Parlier, CA


Importance of Integrated

Pest Management (IPM) in

Managing Arthropod Pests

in Organic Nut Production

in California


The articles, research, industry updates,

company profiles, and advertisements in this

publication are the professional opinions of

writers and advertisers. Organic Farmer does

not assume any responsibility for the opinions

given in the publication.

August/September 2019






By SUBODH ADHIKARI, PHD | Postdoctoral Researcher,

University of Idaho,

Figure 1. Monoculture based industrialized farming in

California ( These

large-scale farmlands are covered by a single crop for many

years providing a potential risk of pest outbreaks, ecosystem

instability, and reduced ecosystem services (see text for the

details). Photo courtesy of Kremen lab.


adopted in modern agriculture

are mostly monoculture-based,

relying heavily on the use of external

chemical (for example: pesticides

and fertilizers) inputs (Figure 1).

While these systems provide valuable

agronomic benefits, they could

result in declines of local and regional

biodiversity, soil erosion, selection of

pesticide resistance, greenhouse gas

emissions, and eutrophication (depletion

of oxygen in the water). Given the

environmental impact of conventional

agriculture, it is necessary to explore

and develop alternative, more environmentally

sensitive and resilient agricultural

systems. There is a growing

body of research regarding diversified

organic and ecologically-based

farming systems in California and

other states (Figure 2). Although the

mechanical (for example: tilling and

planting equipment) inputs used to

control pest populations, maintain soil

fertility, and prepare fields for planting

in many organic farms have negative

environmental effects such as soil

erosion and nutrient loss, diversified

organic farming helps by enhancing

biodiversity and ecosystem services

(see Box #1). While the beneficial

organisms provide a variety of ecosystem

services, enhancing biodiversity

can be both beneficial and detrimental

to our crop productions. However,

by focusing proper agroecosystem

management such as habitat management

for beneficial organisms can shift

biotic communities away from pest

species dominance. Following these

ecosystem dynamics can reduce the

need for farmer intervention or use of

any synthetic external inputs.


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

Box # 1: What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are the direct or indirect services or benefits that

ecosystems provide to humankind. Ecosystem services can be divided

into four major categories: (1) provisioning: food, fiber, fuel, and

genetic resources; (2) regulating and mitigating: pollination services,

disease and pest regulations, water quality, soil reclamation, climate

stability, and greenhouse gas mitigation; (3) supporting: nutrient and

water cycling, soil fertility, soil quality; and (5) aesthetic and cultural:

spiritual and recreational benefits from rural views and landscapes

[1]. Although difficult, the economic value of these services can be

estimated, showing us the profit or loss that can be gained or lost from

incorporating diversified organic and ecologically-based methods or

adhering to a more corporate model with its incumbent financial risks.

For example, global pollination services, in terms of monetary value,

are more than $200 billion, annually [2]. In the US only, it is more

than $70 billion [3]. If we monetize all the ecosystem services, the

total value would be beyond our imagination.

What Are the Advantages of

Diversified Systems?

Diversified or biodiverse ecosystems are

more structurally complex and stable

than the simplified monoculture-based

systems, and they are resistant to

external disturbances including species

invasions, diseases, and other disturbances.

Different species respond

uniquely towards any disturbance, so

there is a higher chance that at least

one species is highly productive against

external disturbances. If all niches

are already occupied in an ecosystem,

external species cannot invade easily.

Similarly, more diverse ecosystems

contain many species with similar

function (known as functional redundancy)

which is crucial in providing

the stability in the ecosystems. For

Figure 2. Diversified organic farming in California

( Studies

have shown that growing more than one crop

could be more profitable than a single crop.

Additionally, small-scale farmlands covered by

many crops and wildflowers provide food and

habitat to the beneficial organisms that help to

support better ecosystem services (see text for

the details). Photo courtesy of Rebecca


example, in biodiverse ecosystems,

if one species disappears, another

species can perform the same function

(known as the insurance effect)

which helps to avoid ecosystem degradation

and minimize future risk to

agricultural production. This robustness

in wild ecosystems is echoed in

the crop resilience encountered in

diversified farmed landscapes. Also,

many species can coexist to facilitate

each other’s growth while sharing

resources. Furthermore, highly biodiverse

communities may be able to

tap resources more effectively because

different species differ in strategies for

resource acquisition.

How can Ecosystem Services

Be Increased Through

Diversified Organic Farming?

Farmers can manage their agricultural

lands to support biodiversity and

enhance the ecosystem services that

biodiversity provides. One of several

examples to increase biodiversity in

these systems is intercropping. In

intercropping, farmers select crops

that do not compete strongly with

each other and can benefit at least

one of the crops. Intercropping can

be beneficial since it helps to improve

soils with nitrogen fixers, some deeprooted

species can benefit others by

bringing nutrients and moisture up

at the soil layers, and one species can

provide shade, support, or nursery

to others. One popular traditional

example of intercropping is planting

corn, beans, and pumpkin together.

Corn plants provide support to beans,

which fixes atmospheric nitrogen

and supplies to soil that corn also

uses. Similarly, both corn and bean

together provide shade and humidity

to pumpkin, which suppresses weeds

and benefits to corn and beans, too.

Crop rotation is commonly used

to break the lifecycle of many agricultural

pests, which also increase

farmland biodiversity. Studies have

shown that beneficial soil microbial

communities that support soil

health is also greater in diversified

organic farms, compared to

monoculture-based conventional farms

[4]. Cover cropping is another great

way to diversify our cropping systems

that helps to enhance soil health (e.g.,

enhance soil nutrients, soil structure,

organic matter, and soil microbial community),

reduce soil erosion, suppress

weeds, and break pest cycles, while

also supporting beneficial insects such

as pollinators and natural enemies.

Similarly, biodiversity in nearby uncultivated

or semi-natural habitat patches

also provides ecosystem services to

cultivated fields. The plant diversity in

these patches may support beneficial

organisms like pollinators, predators,

and parasitoids, by providing food and

shelter. In addition, many studies have

reported the positive role of hedgerows

and native wildflowers around cropland

to support beneficial organisms.

In addition to crop diversification at

field levels, farmers should consider

the restoration of semi-natural areas

and planting of native plant strips and

trees within agricultural landscapes to

enhance crop yield and other ecosystem


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November 20,2019 | 7:00AM - 1:00PM | Tulare, CA

Figure 3. A honey bee foraging on alfalfa flowers.

Alfalfa, a perennial plant that has deep rooting

and outcompetes many weeds, can be included

by organic farmers in their crop rotation schemes.

Photo courtesy of Subodh Adhikari.

Bees, that are part of biodiversity,

are important crop pollinators but,

agricultural intensification, habitat

fragmentation, exposure to pesticides,

parasites and pathogens, and reduced

floral resources have contributed in

declining bee biodiversity (Figure 3).

Continued on Page 6

August/September 2019


Continued from Page 5

California has several crops such as

almonds, apples, cherries, strawberries,

tomatoes, walnuts, and many more that

are benefited from pollination. But,

how can we support these pollinators

through diversified organic farming?

Here is our study from Montana on

how farming systems affect bee colony

fitness and bee-flower interaction


First, we put 60 bee colonies (i.e., hives)

at six conventional and six organic

spring wheat farms over two growing

seasons (2014-2015) in Big Sandy,

Montana, USA (Figure 4; see details in

[5]). We found that bee colony growth

rate, bee brood cells (eggs/larvae/

pupae), and nectar stores (honey storing

pots in bee colonies) were all greater

in organic farms in both years, than in

conventional farms (Figure 5 & 6, see

page 8 & 9). Our results suggested that

by increasing bee colony success, the

greater floral resources (Box #2-4, see

page 6 & 8) in organic farms provide

better biodiversity-based ecosystem

services even in the highly simplified

agricultural landscapes. Second, we

assessed the extent to which farming

systems impact bee-flower networks

(i.e., interactions between bees and

flowers: more the better) on nine

conventional and nine organic farms.

Our results indicated that diversified

organic farms had more connected (that

are supposed to be more stable) and

complex bee-flower interaction networks

(Figure 7 see page 8; see details

in [6]), compared to those of conventional


In a separate study, we also assessed

whether farming systems have a role

on pest (wheat stem sawfly: a serious

pest in Northern Great Plains wheat

systems) infestation and parasitism. We

collected winter wheat samples from

adjacently located nine organic and

nine conventional farms and compared

infestation by wheat stem sawfly and

subsequent parasitism across farming

systems. Our results showed that

organic farms had 75 percent lower

wheat stem sawfly pest infestation than

in conventional farms, which was due

to a significantly higher number of parasitoids

present in organic farms than

in conventional farms. These results

indicate that, by enhancing alternative

sources of pollen and nectar via

increased plant diversity, organic farms

support more beneficial insects such as

parasitoids and enhance pest regulation

or ecosystem services (see details in


Box # 2: Are weeds always bad?

Weeds are universally known

as one of the key limiting factors

in organic production. While

organic growers have been

using several weed management

practices such as mulching, weed

fabric, soil solarization, tillage,

organic approved herbicides,

steam treatment, flaming, mowing

or hoeing, mechanical weeding

or hand pulling, there are always

some weeds left in the farms. If

the weeds are under economic

injury level (i.e., not reducing

crop yield) and non-invasive, we

shouldn’t need any expensive

tool to control weeds. And, the

weeds under economic injury

level, can in fact provide floral

resources to beneficial insects

such as bees, parasitoids, and

generalists predators (see [5-8]).

In return, bees provide pollination

services to crops, vegetables,

and wild flowers, whereas parasitoids

provide pest regulation

services by controlling crop pests.

Additionally, since diversified

organic farming is associated

with crop rotation, cover cropping,

and multiple cropping,

farmland biodiversity is increased

so that we can reap the benefits

of biodiversity-based ecosystem

services (i.e., pollination and pest


How Is Agricultural Sustainability

Related to Diversified Organic


Agricultural sustainability can be

defined as an approach to food and fiber

production that it is environmentally

safe, ecologically balanced, economically

viable, and socially acceptable,

providing possible ecosystem services

without compromising its availability

to support future generations. To attain

the goal of sustainability in farming

systems it is required to recognize

and promote the system’s existing

ecological processes like nutrient/

water cycling and energy flow within

and between trophic levels (i.e.,

plants, herbivores, and predators) and

incorporating farmers’ experiences

and agro-ecological knowledges to

create a diversified farming system.

Continuously improving farm

management strategies by learning

from past experiences makes diversified

organic farming more resilient and

therefore more sustainable. Resilience

is defined as a tendency of a system

to retain its organizational structure

and productivity following any

external disturbances. For example,

crop diversification can improve

ecosystem resilience and agricultural

sustainability in a variety of ways such

as by enhancing pest suppression

and reducing pathogen transmission.

Such benefits point toward value of

adopting diversified organic farming to

improve agricultural sustainability, yet

adoption has been slow in many parts of

California and outside.

Continued on Page 8

Figure 4. A bee hive placed in a conventional

wheat field in Montana. Sixty bee hives were

used to compare bee colony success between

conventional and organic farms. Photo courtesy

of Subodh Adhikari.


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

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Continued from Page 6

Box # 3: Fear of lower crop yield?

As a conventional farmer enjoying

a good yield with heavy reliance

on synthetic inputs, if you choose to

adopt diversified organic systems

you may suffer from yield loss

initially. However, in the long run,

this will not be the case. The crop

yield and farm profit of diversified

systems that follows mixed and

rotational cropping with fewer

external inputs could be either

similar to, or greater than, those

in the conventionally managed

systems that follows higher agrochemical

inputs [9]. In many cases

farmers report an over-yield from

the mixed crops, then growing a

single crop. Most importantly, other

ecosystem services (see box #1,

page 4) provided by diversified

systems are higher than those provided

by intensified monoculture

systems [10].

Box #4: Who else can/should

help growers adopting diversified

organic farming?

The public can also reap the

benefits and services provided by

the ecosystems that the growers

manage. Federal/state agencies

and university extensions can

help growers and other stakeholders

on why and how to adopt

diversified organic farming and

produce vital ecosystem services.

For example, the federal government

compensates farmers

through its conservation reserve

program (CRP), and in similar

ways can support to diversified

organic growers. The public has

also demonstrated a willingness

to pay a high price or premium

for the organic products whether

they are produced from monoculture

or diversified farming. As an

example, we are well-aware that

local farmer’s markets are increasingly

popular, despite their higher

prices compared to the grocery

stores. However, for this, the public

should also be aware of the ecosystem

services that they have been

continuously taking for granted.

Brood cells

50 100 200



Lasioglossum sp.

Halictus sp.

Halictus rubicundus

Bombus impatiens

Halictus ligatus

Bombus sp.

Sisymbrium altissimum

Helianthus annus

Medicago sativa


Diversified organic farming systems, compared

to monoculture-based conventional

systems, do not use synthetic insecticides

and herbicides and often support a greater

diversity of plant species. These agroecosystems

also support greater abundance

and higher species richness of pollinators

and pest regulating beneficial insects

like predators and parasitoids, ultimately

providing greater ecological services to

farmers as well as to the public [9-11].

Hence, following diversified farming, you

can minimize future risk in your agricultural

production since you will have some

crops left to harvest even if one of your

crops is completely damaged by a pest


Diversified organic farming is not the

same as ecologically-based farming but


Lasioglossum paraforbesii

Pisum sativum

Halictus ligatus

Descruneria pinnata

Bombus nevadensis

Thalaspi arvense





Halictus spp.

Carthamus tinctorius


Lasioglossum spp.

Melilotus officinalis

Melissodes spp.

close to it. Ecologically-based farming

is an approach to agriculture that relies

on augmenting or intensifying ecological

processes to provide the functions

necessary for sustained production,

thus helping to reduce excessive use of

external chemical and mechanical inputs.

Examples of ecologically-based diversified

farming practices include integrated

crop-livestock production, crop rotations,

mixed cropping, biological control of

pests, reduced or no-tillage, and cover

cropping. Ecologically-based diversified

farming aims to be multi-beneficial by

providing food production, economic

well-being, environmental benefits, and

important ecosystem services such as

pollination, natural pest control, nutrient

and water cycling, increased soil organic

matter, pollution control, and erosion

control. While all diversified organic

farming may not provide these ecosystem

Bombus spp.

Nectar stores

0 100 200 300 400 500

Apis melifera

Bombus rufocintus

Megachile dentitarsus

Bombus impatiens


Lasioglossum (Dialictus)


Megachile spp.

Agapostemon virescens

Melissodes agilis

Melissodes lupina

Agapostemon femoratus



2014 2015

2014 2015



Figure 6. Effects of conventional and organic farming on number of brood cells (left) and nectar

stores (right) of bee colonies. Both brood cells (i.e., future offspring) and nectar stores (i.e., food

storage) were greater in organic farms than in conventional farms.

Figure 7. Bee-flower networks in conventional and organic farms. Conventional farms relying on

herbicides with no crop rotation had lower plant diversity supporting less bee-flower interactions,

compared to those of organic farms. In the landscapes with high plant diversity, even if we lose a

few species for some reasons, we still have other plants left to support pollinators.

Medicago sativa

Helianthus annus

Sinapis arvensis

Lasioglossum sisymbrii


Agapostemon spp.

Brassica napus


Halictus rubicundus

Salsola kali


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

services, majority of them do.

To adopt diversified organic farming, you

can follow these steps:

• Consult with university extension

researchers, federal/state employees, and

county extension agents.

• Consult with other farmers inside

and outside the state/country who have

already adopted and benefited from the

diversified organic systems.

• Reduce excessive use of chemical fertilizers

and pesticides and replace them with

cover crops and crop rotation to enhance

soil fertility and break pest cycles.

• Start mix cropping, intercropping, and

integrated crop-livestock production

whenever possible.

• Plant hedgerows, trees, and native wild

flowers and apportion uncultivated land

around your farm, to provide food and

habitat for the beneficial organisms at

your agricultural landscape.

Finally, you do not need to start converting

all your land into diversified organic

at once, but you can begin adopting some

of its elements. Gradually, you can learn

from your own experiments or experiences

and decide whether you want to

pursue the quest of diversified organic

farming and enhance ecosystem services

for the agricultural sustainability.


Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Organic Research and Extension Initiative

(OREI) to F. D. Menalled, Montana

State University, and partly by OCIA-

International to S. Adhikari.


1. Assessment, M. 2005. Ecosystems and

human well-being: wetlands and water.

World Resour. institute, Washington DC.

2. Gallai, N., Salles, J.M., Settele, J.,

Vaission, B.E. 2009. Economic valuation

of the vulnerability of world agriculture

confronted with pollinator decline. Ecol.

Econ. 68: 810–821.

3. USDA. 2007. Agriculture Secretary

Mike Johanns addressed the problem of

honeybee colony collapse disorder. USDA

Satellite News Feed July 5, 2007.

4. Ishaq SL, Johnson SP, Miller ZJ,

Lehnhoff EA, Olivo S, Yeoman CJ, et al.

2017. Impact of cropping systems, soil

inoculum, and plant species identity

on soil bacterial community structure.

Microb Ecol. 73: 417–434.

5. Adhikari, S.; Burkle, L.A.; O’Neill,

K.M.; Weaver, D.K.; Menalled, F.D. 2019.

Dryland organic farming increases floral

resources and bee colony success in highly

simplified agricultural landscapes. Agric.

Ecosyst. Environ. 270–271: 9–18

6. Adhikari, S.; Burkle, L.A.; O’Neill, K.M.;

Weaver, D.K.; Delphia, C.M.; Menalled,

F.D. 2019. Dryland Organic Farming

Partially Offsets Negative Effects of Highly

Simplified Agricultural Landscapes on

Forbs, Bees, and Bee–Flower Networks.

Environ. Entomol. doi:10.1093/ee/nvz056.

7. Adhikari, S., Seipel, T., Menalled, F.D.,

Weaver, D.K. 2018. Farming system and

wheat cultivar affect infestation of, and

parasitism on, Cephus cinctus in the

Northern Great Plains. Pest Manag. Sci.

74: 2480–2487.

8. Adhikari, S., Adhikari, A., Weaver,

D.K, Bekkerman, A, Menalled, F.D. 2019.

Impacts of agricultural management

systems on biodiversity and ecosystem

services in highly simplified dryland landscapes.

Sustainability, 11, 3223.

9. Davis, A.S., Hill, J.D., Chase, C.A.,

Johanns, A. M., Liebman, M. 2012.

Increasing cropping system diversity

balances productivity, profitability and

environmental health. PLoS ONE, 7

p. e47149.

10. S.P. Syswerda, G.P. Robertson. 2014.

Ecosystem services along a management

gradient in Michigan (USA) cropping

systems. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ.

189: 28–35.

11. Kremen, C. Iles, A. and Bacon, C.M.

(2012). Diversified Farming Systems: An

agroecological, systems-based alternative

to modern industrial agriculture. Ecol.

Soc. 17(4): 44.

Comments about this article? We want

to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

The projects mentioned in this article

were funded mainly by United States

Colony growth rate (g/wk)










2014 2015


Figure 5. Effects of conventional and organic

farming on bee colony (hive) growth rate. Colony

growth rate was higher in organic farm than in

conventional farm in both wetter and cooler 2014

and drier and hotter 2015.




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August/September 2019


A Preliminary Evaluation

of Using Drip Irrigation in

Organic Spinach Production

By ALI MONTAZAR | Irrigation & Water Management Advisor, UCCE

Imperial and Riverside Counties

MICHAEL CAHN |Irrigation & Water Resources Advisor, UCCE

Monterey County

ALEXANDER PUTMAN | Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist,

UC Riverside


CEA) is a leafy green quick-maturing,

cool-season vegetable

crop. Most conventional and organic

spinach fields are irrigated by solid-set

or hand-move sprinklers. However,

overhead irrigation could contribute to

the speed and severity of downy mildew

epidemics within a field when other

conditions such as temperature are

favorable. Downy mildew on spinach

is a widespread and very destructive

disease in California. It is the most important

disease in spinach production,

in which crop losses can be significant

in all areas where spinach is produced.

In the low desert of California, spinach

downy mildew typically occurs between

mid-December and the end of February.

Although fungicides are available for

the control of downy mildew in conventional

production systems, products

with similar efficacy are not available for

Continued on Page 12

Figure 1. A view of baby spinach trial under drip irrigation (80-inch bed). All photos courtesy of Ali Montazar.


Organic Farmer August/September 2019


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Irrigation treatment


4-dripline per bed

3-dripline per bed

Fall 2018

Fresh yield (lb/ac)

12,406 a

11,378 b

10,950 b

Winter 2019

Irrigation treatment Fresh yield (lb/ac)




13,281 a

12,414 ab

12,116 b

Table 1. Mean spinach fresh yield values of each irrigation treatment in each of the fall and winter experiments. Yields with different letters

significantly differ (p < 0.05) by Tukey’s test.

Figure 2. Visual comparison of the drip treatments versus the sprinkler treatment 38 days after planting in the fall experiment.

Continued from Page 10

organic production. Therefore, additional

strategies are needed to reduce

disease pressure, including irrigation


It is postulated that new irrigation

management techniques and practices

in spinach production may have a

significant economic impact to the leafy

greens industry through the control of

downy mildew. In addition to reducing

losses from plant pathogens, new

irrigation practices could reduce risks

to food safety (risks caused by overhead

application of irrigation water). For

instance, adapting drip irrigation for

high density spinach plantings could

be a possible solution to reduce losses

from downy mildew, improve crop

productivity and quality, and improve

crop water and fertilizer use efficiency.

Currently, no one uses drip irrigation

for spinach, and there is a lack of information

on the viability of drip irrigation

technology in spinach. This project aims

to evaluate the viability of drip irrigation

for organic spinach production and

assess its impact on the management of

spinach downy mildew.

Field Experiment

The field experiment was conducted

over two crop seasons (fall 2018

and winter 2019) at the University

of California Desert Research and

Extension Center in Holtville,

California (Figure 1, see page 10).

Two dripline spacings (three and

four driplines per 80-inch bed) was

studied versus sprinkler irrigation as

control treatment. A comprehensive

data collection was carried out to fully

understand the differences between

the irrigation treatments. Untreated

Viroflay spinach seeds were planted

in both seasons. True 6-6-2 (a homogeneous

pelleted fertilizer) and True

4-1-3 (a liquid fertilizer) were applied

as pre-plant fertilizer and as complementary

fertilizer through injection

into irrigation systems, respectively.

The emitter spacing on the dripline was

8-inch with nominal flow rate of 0.13

gph (gallons per hour) at 8 psi (pounds

per square inch). The beds were 80-inch

wide by 200 feet long. The experiment

was arranged in a randomized complete

block design with four replications. All

treatments were germinated by sprinklers.

In the winter trial, 6-spinach bed

was germinated and irrigated using

drip irrigation (four driplines per

80-inch bed) the entire crop season to

evaluate the possibility of using drip

throughout crop season including plant


Fresh Biomass Yield

In the fall trial, mean fresh biomass

yield for the sprinkler treatment was

12,406 lb/ac (pound/acre), approximately

9 percent more than the

4-dripline in bed treatment (Table 1). In

Continued on Page 14


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

Bio With Bite.

"However, the 7 percent yield difference between

the drip treatment (4-dripline per bed)

and the sprinkler treatment demonstrates

the potential of drip irrigation for a profitable

spinach production."

Continued from Page 12

the winter trial, mean fresh yield in the

sprinkler treatment was 13,281 lb/ac,

approximately 7 percent more than the

4-dripline in bed treatment. Statistical

analysis showed very strong evidence

for an overall effect of irrigation system

on spinach fresh yield in both the fall

and winter trials. While we couldn’t

find a significant difference between

the sprinkler and the 4-dripline per bed

November 20th, 2019

7:00 AM to 1:00 PM

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215 Martin Luther King Jr Ave, Tulare, CA 93274

treatment on spinach biomass yield in

the winter trial, there was statistically

significant yield differences between the

sprinkler and the 3-dripline irrigation

treatments in this trial. Figure 2 (see

page 12) shows a visual comparison of

the drip treatments versus the sprinkler

treatment 38 days after planting.

The yield difference between drip

irrigation treatments and the sprinkler

irrigation ranged between 7 percent (the

4-dripline per bed treatment against

the sprinkler treatment in the winter

trial) and 13 percent (the 3-dripline

per bed treatment against the sprinkler

treatment in the fall trial). The yield

difference may have likely been caused

by irrigation and nutrient management

conditions of the drip treatments. Since

drip irrigation was tested for the first

time for spinach, subsequent trials need

to plan for improvements and be conducted

in different aspects. However,

the 7 percent yield difference between

the drip treatment (4-dripline per bed)

and the sprinkler treatment demonstrates

the potential of drip irrigation

for a profitable spinach production.

This yield difference could be reduced

through optimal system design and a

better irrigation and nutrient management

practices for drip system.

Downy Mildew


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Downy mildew was not observed in the

fall trial but detected in the winter trial

on March 5, 2019 (Figure 3, see page

16). Downy mildew disease incidence

was low on March 11, 2019, with only

two beds exhibiting incidences above

0.1 percent level. Mean downy mildew

incidence in sprinkler irrigated plots

following seedling emergence was

approximately 3 to 11 times higher than

treatments irrigated with drip following

emergence. Statistical analysis indicated

strong evidence for an overall effect of

irrigation treatment on downy mildew.

Continued on Page 16


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

Figure 3. Spinach plants infested by downy mildew at the sprinkler treatment in the winter trial.

Continued from Page 14

The most likely mechanism for variations

in spinach downy mildew

incidences is the reduction in leaf

wetness under drip irrigation, which

is critical for infection and sporulation

by the downy mildew pathogen.

For instance, the data of leaf wetness

sensors revealed that sprinkler irrigated

crop canopies remained wet for 24.3

percent more time than crop canopies

under the drip treatment at a period of

12 days over the fall season experiment

(Figure 4).

Other Observation and

Lessons Learned

At the winter trial, a germination rate

test was conducted 10 days after planting

to evaluate the germination rate of

the sprinkler irrigation (germinated by

sprinkler) and beds germinated by drip

irrigation. Although plots germinated

by drip were not sufficiently replicated

and were not randomized among

plots with other treatments, it was

worth-while to have an initial idea of

germinating spinach with drip irrigations

for future experiments. Spinach

germination under drip irrigation was

approximately three days late compared

to the plots germinated by sprinkler

irrigation. Spinach germination rate

for the beds drip irrigated was averaging

3 percent lower than the sprinkler

irrigated beds.

The developed canopy crop curves

showed that the leaf density of drip

irrigation treatments (germinated by

sprinkler) was slightly behind (1-4 days

depending upon the irrigation treatment

and crop season) that of sprinkler

irrigation treatment in time.

In late November 2018, more

Probe output

(row counts)





irrigation + dew





Drip (4-Dripline)




28-Nov 30-Nov 2-Dec 4-Dec 6-Dec 8-Dec

Figure 4. The row counts of leaf wetness sensors at the sprinkler and 4-dripline treatments over a 12-day period in the fall crop season.


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

Kern County Ag Day

October 24, 2019 | 7:00AM - 1:00PM | Bakersfield, CA

differences were observed among

the treatments in several of the beds,

mainly yellowing of leaves in between

driplines (especially the 3-dripline per

bed treatment). A possible reason may

be that the fertigation did not move

the nitrogen between the driplines. The

values of total plant nitrogen content

and leaf chlorophyll content demonstrated

that nitrogen uptake at the drip

treatments was not as effective as the

sprinkler treatment, particularly in

the fall experiment. Nutrient management

issue in spinach drip irrigation in

combination with water management

is likely a critical issue that we need to

address, while it may affect the adoptability

and viability of drip for spinach


the impacts of irrigation and nitrogen

management practices in various soil

types and climates, and strategies to

maintain productivity and economic

viability of spinach. Assessing drip

irrigation for the entire crop season,

germination and remainder of crop

season, could be another research

interest since spinach is a short season

crop and combining sprinkler (for crop

germination) and drip for such a short

period might cause some practical


Acknowledgement: This research

was supported by the California Leafy

Greens Research Board.

Comments about this article? We want

to hear from you. Feel free to email us at


Drip irrigation demonstrated the

potential to be used to produce organic

spinach, conserve water, enhance the

efficiency of water use, and reduce

downy mildew disease incidences.

Statistical analysis of the data collected

indicated a strong evidence for

overall variation in irrigation system on

spinach fresh biomass yield and downy

mildew disease incidences. A lower

spinach yield could be likely caused by

irrigation and nutrient management

conditions under the drip irrigation

at this point, where it is tried for the

first and initial time. Subsequent drip

irrigation trials for spinach production

trials can be optimized with improved

practices when using drip irrigation.

Similarly, yield difference between drip

and in sprinkler irrigated spinach could

be reduced through optimal system

design and better irrigation and nutrient

management practices in drip irrigation

system. The results also demonstrated

an overall effect of irrigation treatment

on downy mildew, in which downy

mildew incidence was lower in plots

irrigated by drip following emergence

when compared to sprinkler.




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Further work is needed to comprehensively

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August/September 2019


Using Concentrated

Organic Fertilizers

By GLENN MCGOURTY | Winegrower & Plant Science Advisor,

UCCE Mendocino and Lake counties


programs start with soil building

practices that increase organic

matter with cover crops, compost

and fertilizer materials that mineralize

slowly over time so that there is an

adequate and steady supply of nutrients.

There are times when you may need to

boost the soil fertility to stimulate plant

growth when existing programs aren’t

providing what the plants may need.

Some reasons:

• Soils are cool.

• The crop that you are growing is

simply not finding enough minerals

needed for sufficient growth through

the existing supply in the soil.

• Compost or cover crops simply didn’t

have sufficient nutrients in it to supply

the crop that you want to grow.

• Routine soil and tissue tests show

that you are deficient in nutrients for

your crop and you need to take action

to remedy any problems.

It Is Not Just the Fertilizers

In organically farmed systems, you need

to have a healthy functioning microbiome

in the soil as the microorganisms

generally have to convert existing

plant and animal residues into useable

nutrients through microbial digestion.

Generally, most organic fertilizers do

not leach readily as the nutrients are

bound into more complex organic

molecules that are broken down by

microbes. Because of this, the soil needs

to be favorable for microbial activity.

Things that are required:

• Favorable pH: microbes grow best

when the soil is near pH 7 as this is

near ideal for the mineralization of

most plant nutrients. Acid soils need

to be amended with calcium (such

as lime) and alkaline soils need to be

acidified with sulfur. These actions

may take time. It is useful to have

amendment materials blended into

your compost if possible to simplify

application and there are no doubt

synergies to mineralizing and releasing

both calcium and sulfur into the soil

that you are applying the material to.

• Moisture: microbes don’t grow in dry

soil. You have to time your compost

applications and incorporation of

cover crops at a time of the year when

there is sufficient moisture in the soil

to allow microbes to do their work.

Fall applications of compost prior to

working up soil for seeding winter

cover crops is very favorable for

starting the nutrient cycling process.

If you are going to turn under cover

crops in the spring, it is best to do so

when the cover crops are flowering

and there is still moisture in the soil. If

you are applying concentrated organic

fertilizers, you also want to make sure

that they end up in an area that will

have sufficient moisture to mineralize

and work.

• Warmth: Microbes won’t grow well

in cold soil. Most decomposers need

temperatures of at least 60 degrees F to

grow. Applying concentrated fertilizers

to cold soil won’t work effectively until

the soil is around 70 degrees F.

• Air: While the soil microbes need

moisture, they won’t perform very well

under water logged conditions when

there is no oxygen in the soils. Under

these conditions, denitrification of

organic fertilizers can occur releasing

NO 2 which is a potent greenhouse

gas. If nitrates are present just ahead of

a long irrigation, they may get leached

right through the root zone, ending

up in the water table where they are

causing contamination. It is important

to irrigate following fertilization in

a way that provides for the needs of

the plant but doesn’t leach nutrients

beyond the root zone.

Strategies for Fertilizing

with Concentrated Organic


• Foliar sprays: These materials are

Continued on Page 20


Organic Farmer August/September 2019


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August/September 2019


Continued from Page 18

expensive and usually are used at key

times like flowering, pre-veraison or

other periods where you think you

need a boost of some key nutrients.

They are usually water soluble. Boron,

potassium and calcium are often used,

frequently applied with wettable sulfur

sprays around bloom time on grapes

to help set a crop. There are numerous

proprietary mixes that many growers

put on as a kind of insurance policy.

They can make a difference in fruit

set, particularly if you are farming on

low fertility soils. Long term, roots

are much better adapted to absorbing

nutrients and working through the

soil is the most cost effective way to

fertilize. Fish protein applied to the

leaves also can be a quick way to green

up foliage but use it early in the season

so that there is no residual tastes

or smells.

• Concentrated dry (and usually

pelletized) fertilizers: Almost all of

the nitrogen fertilizers are plant and

animal residue based. Most have pretty

low analysis of under 10 percent nitrogen

and less that 1 percent phosphorus

or potassium. They are functionally

time release fertilizers since they need

to be digested by microbes and then

will eventually release nitrate ions for

uptake. Depending on the source, this

can take from 2 to 12 weeks. Plant

sources include alfalfa meal and cotton

seed meal. Feather meal, bone meal

and other animal by products are

used, often mixed with plant derived

fertilizers as well. To work effectively

they need to be placed into the soil. If

the vineyard is drip irrigated, a shallow

hole should be made beneath drippers,

the fertilizer placed in it and then

covered back up. Another effective

way is put the fertilizer beneath the

dripper and then throw a shovel full of

compost or mulch over it. If you leave

it uncovered, it is likely to be a pretty

ineffective application and a great treat

for passing wild life since any animal

proteins are attractive to everything

from birds to dogs.

• Fertigation: Most organic fertilizers

are not truly soluble and have to

form a fine suspension in the irrigation

water in the drip tubes during

fertigation and then pass through the

emitters. A few key points: make sure

the material is suited for this application

method. It should be able to pass

through a 200 mesh screen. Also, inject

the material before your irrigation

system’s filters to avoid accidental clogging.

Start the system up and run water

into it 10 or 15 minutes to pressurize

everything and get water flowing. Then

inject the material required, running

for enough time after the material is

injected to send it out through the end

of the system completely followed with

enough water to get it into the soil.

This may require as much as an hour

or more after injection depending on

how your system is set up. Besides

nitrogen, solution grade potassium fertilizers

can be used (potassium sulfate)

and usually extra water is required

to insure that all of the material goes

through the system. Be careful with

any phosphorus materials—they can

permanently clog your system if you

have high calcium water. Best to use

soil applied materials for that task. If

you are making stock solutions, use

everything up as organic fertilizers will

become a microbial soup if left sitting

around and could be a health risk if

you are applying it to anything that

might be consumed uncooked.

Final Thoughts

Concentrated organic fertilizers are

expensive so they are best viewed as

a supplement to standard soil organic

fertility programs based on compost

and cover cropping. If your plants need

an additional nutritional boost at key

times such as bloom and fruit growth, it

is totally appropriate to consider using

some additional nutrients to improve

growth. Keep records, always leave

a few spots unfertilized to see if the

material that you applied actually made

a difference.

Comments about this article? We want

to hear from you. Feel free to email us at


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

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By Jeff Schahczenski | an Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist, with the National Center

for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)

Rex Dufour | NCAT Agriculture Specialist

ON JUNE 5, 2019 THE

Federal Crop Insurance Corporation

(FCIC), which oversees

the entire federal crop insurance program,

announced important changes

to the Whole Farm Revenue Protection

(WFRP) policy as a result of legislation

passed in the 2018 Farm Bill. We at

the National Center for Appropriate

Technology (NCAT) have been working

since 2008 to support and improve the

whole farm revenue approach to insuring

farms and ranches. The National

Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and

many others have also helped and after

these many years of effort there is now a

nationwide policy to insure the revenue

from the whole farm and not just a

single product.

Since its creation as part of the 2014

Farm Bill, there has been a general

upward trend in the use of WFRP with

the exception of 2018 as can be seen in

Table 1.

Though limited to farms with less than

$10 million dollars in gross revenue, the

WFRP program now provides the greatest

extension of federal crop insurance

coverage to all types of organic farmers

in the history of the federal crop

insurance program. Finally and perhaps

most importantly, WFRP is the first agriculture

insurance policy that provides

substantial premium discounts for those

who grow more than three crop or

livestock products. It is a product ideal

for organic and sustainable farming


Understanding and demonstrating the

recent change in WFRP can be seen in

the following example drawn from real

world data of an organic field crop farm

in Montana, my home state.

The organic farmers who provided this

example data are Doug and Anna Jones

Crabtree of Vilicus Farms, 50 miles

In addition to providing whole farm north of Havre, Montana very near the

revenue protection, WFRP offers a Canadian border.

means to provide some level of subsidized

crop insurance protection for Doug and Anna in any given year will

farms of all sizes and any type of crop grow over eight different types of grains,

or livestock product. Also, because oilseeds and legumes on 7,400 acres.

coverage is based on the farm’s historic Many of their crops are very specialized

adjusted gross revenue, the organic value

of the farm’s production is protected. Essentially, the recent change in WFRP

like for instance, emmer wheat.

Policies Liabilities Total Premiums

Sold (millions $) (millions $)


Policies Liabilities Total Premiums Indemnity

Sold 1122 (millions $) $1,146.0 (millions $) $53.0 Pay Outs

(millions $)

2015 2016 11222198 $1,146.0 $2,327.3 $53.0 $118.3 $70.0

2016 2198 $2,327.3 $118.3 $172.7

2017 2740 $2,842.5 $143.0

2017 2740 $2,842.5 $143.0 $153.5











* 1799 1799 $2,054.6 $2,054.6 $145.2 $145.2 $0

Table 1. WFRP History.


explained below will significantly improve

coverage for those using

this policy.

Smoothing Historic Revenue

The critical change made has been

to “smooth” the impact of historic

high-levels of revenue variability that

many farmers experience who use

WFRP. These changes are modelled

after the same “adjustments” that are

made to a farmer’s “actual production

history” (APH) in single crop revenue

policies that most major organic and

non-organic commodity farmers use.

The difference is that the adjustments

are made to historic revenue rather than

the historic yields of a single crop being


This example is based on Vilicus Farms

data and applied to a hypothetical 3,000

acre organic field farm in Hill County,

Montana. This is the same county

where Doug and Anna farm. The year of

insurance is 2018. Though hypothetical,

the estimates are roughly based on a

realistic expectation of what an organic

grain farmer’s revenue history could

be. Table 2 (see page 23) is the organic

grain farmers’ five years’ adjusted gross

revenue history experience.

Doug and Anna, Vilicus Farms, “Big Sky” Montana. Photo courtesy

of Vilicus Farms.


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

2018 Insurance Year

Year Gross Revenue

2012 $ 850,000.00



















Table 2. Organic Farm Historic Adjusted

Gross Revenue: Hill County, Montana.

The expected gross revenue for the insurance

year, 2018, is $1 million dollars,

which in this example, has been previously

approved by the farmer’s crop

insurance agent. In this example, 2017 is

a “skip year”, which is typical due to the

grower not yet having the final figures

of gross revenue from tax returns. Under

current policy rules, the premium

would be based on the $594,000 average,

and at an 85 percent coverage level,

the farmer could cover up to $504,900

of revenue in the insurance year. What

this means is that the farmer would not

receive any insurance indemnity until

revenue drops below $504,900. This is

called the “trigger” point.

Given the historic variability of the revenue

of this farm, the “average” does not

come very close to covering the realistic

expectation of the farmer to obtain $1

million dollars in gross revenue in 2018.

One could say the farmer is “under-insured”

in this case or at least it is a

high-deductible policy. Doug and Anna

assured me that this kind of volatility

in gross revenue is a realistic situation

for many farms in Montana and may

become even worse with further climate


There are three expected changes to

how the average historic adjusted gross

income will be determined. These “history

smoothing options” are:

1. Each year that the historic revenue

is below 60 percent of the producers’

average historic revenue will be replaced

with the average revenue, calculated

from the same set of years, with gross

revenue figures for 2013 and 2016

replaced with $356,400 (60 percent of

$594,000). Using these figures the average

gross revenue will be $722,560.

2. The lowest historic revenue year will

be dropped and the average will be

based on the remaining four years of

adjusted gross income. This calculation

would result in an average gross revenue

of $737,500. It’s not clear at this time

which average calculations (#1 or #2)

will take precedence.

3. The approved, insurable revenue for

the insurance year (in this case, 2018)

will be at least 90 percent of the previous

years. This prevents producer’s

insurance guarantee from dropping

dramatically year-to-year.

These changes to the WFRP policy have

been approved by the Federal Crop

Insurance Corporation (FCIC) in June

of 2019. The FCIC is the governing

body for all crop insurance in the US.

Details of implementation of these

policy changes have not been officially

released by United States Department of

Agriculture's (USDA) Risk Management

Agency as of publication date of this


So the adjustments to this example

would be:

• 60 percent of 594,000 is $356,400

and therefore this replaces the values

in 2013 and 2016. The new, recalculated

average with $356,400 replacing

the 2013 and 2016 figures is $722,560.

So, at an 85 percent coverage level, the

trigger point, or the revenue level at

which insurance indemnity kicks in is

when revenue drops below $722,560 X

.85=$614,176 instead of $504,900, as

currently calculated. The bottom line is

that more revenue is insured.

Continued on Page 24

FREE online ag resources

publications, podcasts, videos, and more

How can ATTRA help you?

Trusted technical assistance for your ag challenges

Call toll-free 800-346-9140 or 800-411-3222 (español)

August/September 2019


Continued from Page 23

• The approved revenue for the insurance

year is $1 million dollars, 90

percent of that is $900,000. “Approved

revenue” is the level of revenue that has

been approved for revenue insurance

by the farmer’s crop insurance agent.

Keep in mind that the highest level of

revenue insurance offered under WFRP

is 85 percent, so the insurable revenue

in this case is $900,000, but the trigger

point would be 85 percent of that figure:

$900,000 X .85= $765,000.

Bottom Line

These changes will make WFRP a better

product over the longer-term given

the often high degree of variability of

a farmer’s income, whether organic or

not. The total premium cost for this

new adjusted WFRP policy would have

been $103,923 dollars. With the federal

subsidy the farmer pays $37,571 dollars,

not an insignificant cost. However, it

is important to note that many of the

highly specialized organic crops grown

and used in this example, such as emmer

wheat and kamut, are very valuable

and uninsurable in any other way. Also,

it is critical to recognize that this unique

policy provides some protection against

revenue reductions, and not just losses

attributed only to yield loss. Revenue is

price X yield and both are at risk. Often

there are yield risk policies for unusual

specialty organic crops in some geographic

locations, but rarely are these

revenue policies. For example, I try to

grow fresh market tomatoes in beautiful

Butte, Montana but except for a WFRP

policy, I would be unable to insure from

price and yield risks.

Coming Attractions: Provisions Specific

to Hemp. WFRP will allow coverage

for industrial hemp production for

the 2020 crop year with the following


• Hemp must be produced in compliance

with applicable plan (State, Tribal,

or Federal).

• Hemp must be grown under a marketing


• No replant payments will be offered at

this time.

• “Hot” hemp will not be considered an

insurable loss at this time. Hot hemp

occurs when THC concentrations spike

above 0.3 percent due to crop stress and


Jeff Schahczenski, is an Agricultural

and Natural Resource Economist, with

the National Center for Appropriate

Technology (NCAT). NCAT also implements

ATTRA, the National Sustainable

Agriculture Information Service

through a cooperative agreement with

the United States Department of Agriculture’s

(USDA) Rural Business-Cooperative

Service. ATTRA’s website, www., has information about

sustainable and organic production of

crops and livestock, as well as an updated

version of Biochar and Sustainable

Agriculture. ATTRA runs two toll-free

lines which growers can call to ask any

question related to organic or sustainable

agriculture (800-346-9140, and

Spanish toll-free, 800-411-3222).


ATTRA., toll free

lines 800-346-9140 (Spanish: 800-411-


Particularly helpful publications, videos,

podcasts are available at ATTRA Crop


Documentation and Record Keeping

for Whole Farm Revenue Protection


National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition


Vilicus Farms

These changes will make

WFRP a better product

over the longer-term

given the often high

degree of variability

of a farmer’s income,

whether organic or not.

USDA Risk Management Agency


This site is an excellent resource for all

RMA programs, specific policies, and

general risk-management tools. The

following are some important links

within the website:

• Basic description of policy types

• State profiles of policies offered and

their use


• Maps detailing policies that are offered

in particular counties


• Premium Cost Estimator for all polices


• Crop insurance agent locator https://

• Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Policy


• Requesting insurance not available in

your county

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August/September 2019


Organic Agriculture

and the New


By BRIAN BAKER | Contributing Writer


that were up for debate in the

development of organic standards

in the 1990s, the most contentious

was likely the use of modern biotechnology

and genetic engineering techniques.

Early efforts to introduce genetically

modified organisms (GMOs) and their

products to organic farming and food

systems throughout the world were not

well received. In the United States, the

question was hotly debated by the thennew

National Organic Standards Board

(NOSB) and culminated in a recommendation

not to accept the technology. In

1997, the United States Department of

Agriculture (USDA) proposed allowing

specific applications of genetic engineering

and asked for public comment on a

blanket allowance. Public comments in

response overwhelmingly opposed allowing

recombinant DNA techniques and

the release of GMOs on organic farms. In

2000, the final National Organic Program

(NOP) rule prohibited genetic engineering

in the form of “excluded methods”.


Since that time, both organic agriculture

and biotechnology have continued to

develop. New techniques to manipulate

genetic information have been developed

in recent years and are now in the

process of being commercialized. Instead

of transferring genetic information from

one species to another—a process known

as “transgenics”—many of the new techniques

rely on modifying the existing genetic

structure within the species. These

include editing, deletion, multiplication

or manipulation of genetic sequences as

well as new techniques to induce mutations.

The proponents of the gene editing

describe the technology as being more

precise than previous methods of genetic



One of the new techniques that has

received attention is known as CRISPR,

which is short for “Clustered Regularly

Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”.

Cas9 is the CRISPR-associated protein

9, which is an enzyme that can be used

identify sequences, cut and splice them

into different sections of a cell’s genome.

The technique can also be used to silence

(turn off) genes, delete them entirely,

or duplicate them. Some claim that,

because the technique does not involve

the transfer of genetic material between

species, the same modifications could

result naturally from random mutation,

at least in theory.

Another genome editing technique is

known as TALEN, which stands for

Transcription Activator-Like Effector

Nucleases. While commercial applications

thus far are limited, the technologies

are receiving a lot of attention,

funding and investment in academic and

industrial settings because of the perceived

potential for the new technology

to replace classical breeding techniques.

The question has come up in the organic

community as to whether there might be

any applications of gene editing technology

that would be compatible with

organic farming systems.

Excluded Methods

In April 2016, the USDA’s National Organic

Standards Board (NOSB) determined

several gene editing and targeted

genetic modification techniques, including

CRISPR-Cas, zinc finger nuclease

(ZFN) mutagenesis and oligonucleotide

directed mutagenesis (ODM) to be excluded

methods. Gene silencing, reverse

breeding, synthetic biology, cloned animals

and offspring, and plastid transformation

were also included in the NOSB’s

findings and recommendations.

Cisgenesis, intragenesis, and agro-infiltration

were later added to the NOSB’s

list of excluded methods in November

2017. These are widely accepted to be

excluded methods in organic production

and handling systems and recommended

that the USDA issue a clarification. The

NOSB noted unanimous public comment

that supported adding these three

techniques to the excluded methods list.

The USDA did the same for cell fusion

techniques in 2013. The USDA has not

yet responded to these NOSB recommendations.

Those who were involved

in responding to the first proposed rule

find themselves in familiar territory. “I

see history repeating itself,” said former

NOSB Chair Michael Sligh. “Whatever


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

promises the new technologies have, they

are unlikely to reach their potential given

the lack of a holistic approach and the

larger issues of who owns the technology,

who decides how it will be applied and

who pays when it goes awry.”

Mandatory Labeling

The USDA has also developed mandatory

labeling regulations for bioengineered

foods. The status of foods developed using

these new techniques is still an open

question. If the foods can be developed

through conventional breeding technique

or are found in nature, then they are not

subject. Similarly, foods where bioengineering

techniques cannot be discovered

are also exempt. However, it is currently

unknown whether novel foods not found

in nature and developed with these new

technologies could be developed with

conventional techniques. Different laboratories

indicate that the ability to detect

foods made from the new techniques will

be possible given reference material that

has the “fingerprint” of the bioengineered

food. Companies that develop such food

are considered by laboratories and USDA

Accredited Certifying Agents to be likely

to use a marker or identifying sequence

to be able to protect their intellectual

property before they commercially release

such products.

Gene Editing

Academic and industry sources claim

that gene editing has several advantages

over earlier recombinant DNA (rDNA)

techniques, such as precision and predictability.

However, such advantages

are not obvious to various farmers, seed

companies, and others involved in the

organic community, who have expressed

skepticism in their public comments. The

companies that introduced the earlier

techniques made similar claims that

turned out to be inaccurate, at least in

some cases. While there are some organic

farmers who think that there may be

potential benefits someday, no known

existing applications are accepted. As

before, the proponents claim equivalency

with existing classical breeding, while at

the same time distinguishing it from classical

breeding in terms of novelty, speed,

and ability to modify the organisms to

get certain specific traits. Among plant

breeders, the distinction between the two

approaches is starker.

International Implications

The new technology is expected to have

international implications. The European

Court of Justice ruled in July of 2018

that CRISPR-Cas is a form of genetic

engineering and food produced by it is

subject to the European Union’s (EU) GE

food labeling law. The international organic

network IFOAM-Organics International

published a position paper on the

Compatibility of Breeding Techniques in

Organic Systems. The paper documents

the potential for new genetic disruption

caused by the release of the technology.

As in the US, the subject of the use of

genetic engineering techniques has been

the subject of a polarizing debate. Monika

Messmer of the Research Institute

for Organic Agriculture in Switzerland,

Continued on Page 32

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a plant breeder who is one of the authors

of the position paper, said in an email,

Organic breeders are very much against

mutagenesis and any type of genetic

engineering; conventional breeders claim

that they need the newest tool to combat

climate change and [a] growing population.”

Other Applications

One exception is the use of marker-assisted

breeding. Classical plant breeders

find the gene mapping to be a useful tool

in the selection of varieties suitable for

organic farming conditions. By having a

greater understanding of plant genomes

and using classical breeding, it would be

possible to accelerate the development of

varieties that are compatible with organic

farming systems. The NOSB has recommended

that marker-assisted selection

not be considered an excluded method.

These new techniques are applied to

more than plant breeding. More applications

are related to human health and

pharmaceutical research. CRISPR and

other related technologies could conceivably

be useful to organic farmers as

diagnostic tools for soil health. “We know

more about the surface of the moon than

we do about life in the soil inches beneath

our feet,” said organic farmer Klaas

Martens. “CRISPR and [other genomic

tools] could give us insights to better

manage these ecological systems.”

The use of cisgenic techniques in the

modification of animal traits has several

ethical, as well as health and environmental

concerns. However, animal

cloning is not considered compatible

with the current organic standards, at

least by consensus of the NOSB and

USDA’s Accredited Certifying Agents.

Other applications may involve the use

of gene editing to enable greater confinement

and higher stocking densities

in Confined Animal Feeding Operations

(CAFOs). One exception to excluded

methods in the organic regulation is the

use of animal vaccines. While the regulation

allows for the use of genetically

modified vaccines, the status of specific

vaccines is unclear.

Another new technology that has been

introduced since the first proposed rule

is the gene drive, which uses gene editing

techniques to delete functional genes and

manipulate a wild population to carry a

uniform or single allele. The technique

may be used to introduce insect pests

or weeds that would produce sterile or

otherwise non-viable offspring or seed,

potentially displacing the native population

in a few generations. The concern is

that gene drive technology permanently

and irreversibly alters ecological systems.

Once released, a gene drive organism

can no longer be controlled and has the

potential to become a pest or weed that it

is intended to displace. Organic farmers

are concerned that the presence of

gene drive organisms will can migrate to

organic farms and undermine stable and

resilient systems of ecological pest and

weed management.

Long Term Implications

Several of the sources interviewed for this

story raised questions about the longterm

and broader ecological implications

of the new biotechnology. Organic agriculture

is a holistic system, and biotechnology

techniques are based on reductionist

methods. Single-gene resistance

is used as one example. Breeding for

vertical resistance—complete immunity

based on a single gene—fails when the

pathogen evolves to overcome that plant’s

immunity. Multi-gene or horizontal

resistance may not provide the absolute

immunity of single gene resistance, but

the resistant variety will be more resilient

against subsequent mutations and the

evolution of strains of the pathogen that

overcomes the plant’s immune system.

Another aspect that is not understood is

what effects the new technology will have

on the soil biome.

Proponents of the technology acknowledge

that risks are involved, but claim

they are minimal and do not warrant

any additional regulatory oversight.

Others are skeptical and point to how

the government has reassured the public

for years that regulatory oversight has

prevented risky applications of GMOs

from being commercially released into

the environment. Off-target effects may

take years to discover. “We are already

seeing unintended consequences from

these new technologies” said Sligh.

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Organic Farmer August/September 2019

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Treatment NFC (%) WSC (%) Fat (%)





Pasture Mixes





b 11.0 a 2.9 b 2.78 b


19.0 cd 6.3 cd 2.5 d 2.59 d


17.8 e 6.3 cd 3.0 a

2.58 d


the Sustainability

18.9 cd




cd 2.3 f 2.48 e

Trmt. Type


21.7 a 6.8 b 2.4 b 2.73 a


Pasture-based Dairy






29.2 a

19.1 cd

18.7 d

19.6 c

20.8 b 8.4 b

6.4 cd

6.3 c

6.0 d

7.5 a 2.1 g

2.5 e

2.7 c

2.2 g

2.7 a 2.85 a

2.75 bc

2.75 c

2.59 d

2.61 b 1.26 a

1.19 bc

1.19 c

1.07 d

1.21 b

1.07 d

1.06 d

0.98 e

1.17 a

1.08 b

All photos are courtesy of Blair Waldron, USDA-ARS.


organic pasture-raised beef has

grown, so has consumer demand

for dairy products from pasture-based

cows. Producers are responding, with

organic pasture-based dairies making up

a larger share of the Western region dairy


The Organic Production System

This production system is not without

its problems and challenges. Dairies

such as these that use the most pasture

forage—anywhere between 75 to 100

percent of diet—have the lowest net

returns due to a 32 percent decrease in

milk production, according to Dr. Blair

Waldron, United States Department

of Agriculture (USDA)/Agricultural

Research Service (ARS). He notes that

reduced dry matter intake (DMI) by

grazing dairy cows is one of the major

factors limiting milk production.

Complicating matters more, dairy cattle

breeds are finicky-grazers, resulting in

even lower DMI of traditional pasture

species like tall fescue.

Additionally, nutrient-rich pastures may

reduce pregnancy rates, creating additional

difficulties for the producer.

Waldron heard these concerns directly

from Utah and Idaho producers. As

previous research had demonstrated

that mixtures of tall fescue and the

condensed-tannin Pasture: containing P < 0.01legume,

birdsfoot 19 Day: trefoil P (BFT), < 0.01 improved beef

steer performance, Pasture* Blair Day: and P his < 0.01 producer-partners

asked “are there grass-BFT


mixtures 15 that increase both tannins and

energy, and what will be their synergistic

effect 13on dairy cattle performance?”

BUN Concentration (mg/dL)




Waldron assembled a team to look

at this 7question, including the three



animal scientists, agronomists,

and a nutrient 0 management 35

specialist from Utah State University. Days The

research is funded by the USDA-Western













BW gain (kg)

Sustainable Agriculture Research and

Education (SARE) program and uses

university and on-farm trials to assess

dairy heifer DMI, growth performance,

reproductive health, heifer-replacement

economics, and impact on nitrogen

cycling in response to grazing grass-BFT

mixtures containing various protein,

energy, preference, and tannin levels. MONO The

research will identify pasture mixtures MIX

that can improve the sustainability of

organic pasture-based dairy.

While the team is still reviewing the data,

the 70project has shown 105 enough results that

each of the three producers has altered

their forages. They have planted new

ADG (kg/day)

69.8 a,2

0.67 a

69.2 a

0.66 a

63.9 ab

0.61 ab

63.0 ab

0.60 ab

57.2 bc

0.54 bc

56.6 bc

0.54 bc

53.6 c

0.51 c

52.0 c

0.50 c

40.8 d

0.39 d

50.7 b

0.48 b

63.6 a 0.61 a

1Treatments include: Meadow Bromegrass (MB), Meadow Bromegrass + BFT (MB+BFT) Orchard

Table 1. Effect Grass of (OG), different Orchard treatments Grass + BFT on (OG+BFT), heifer Perennial body weight Ryegrass (BW) (PR), for Perennial the 105 Ryegrass day grazing + BFT period.

1Treatments (PR+BFT), include: Total Meadow Mixed Bromegrass Ration (TMR), and (MB), as the Meadow mean of the Bromegrass monocultures + BFT and (MB+BFT) grass-BFT Orchard Grass

(OG), Orchard mixtures.


Grass + BFT (OG+BFT), Perennial Ryegrass (PR), Perennial Ryegrass + BFT (PR+BFT),

Means within each column that have a different superscript are different from one another (P <

Total Mixed Ration (TMR), and as the mean of the grass monocultures and grass-BFT mixtures.


2Means within each column that have a different superscript are different from one another (P < 0.05)


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

The research that led to this finding produced data relative

to growth, health, and reproductive capacity of the heifers

over two years. These measurements include, weight,

hip height, serum concentrations of blood urea nitrogen

(BUN) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), conception

rates, and fecal parasite load. More in-depth analysis

will look at and explain differences and trends.

Research to Date

The research so far demonstrates that heifers on different

grass-BFT mixtures had greater weight gain than with

their respective grass-only monocultures. The weight gain

of heifers grazing PR+BFT, MB+BFT, and OG+BFT was

equivalent to heifers receiving a traditional total mixed


Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) and the closely related Milk

Urea Nitrogen (MUN) values can be used to monitor

protein efficiency in cows. According to Waldron, high

BUN impacts fertility. The team is measuring BUN values

in the heifers undergoing different feed treatments. Heifers

that consumed pasture that included BFT had a higher (P

NAAIC field tour.

Continued on Page 36

pastures due to preliminary results of study, and other producers

are taking note.

“We love our new pasture of high-energy grass and BFT. Milk

production went up and milk components stayed the same,

which is rare. Basically that means more money in the bank,”

states Frank Turnbow, one of the producers.

Changes to Component Milk Pricing

During the course of this project, the organic milk company

changed their component pricing—paying less for fluid milk,

but more for high components of butterfat and, to a lesser

extent, protein. Since the feed largely influences these components,

there is even more reason these farmers are looking to

more data on forages.

“We continually find more and more interest from those in

organic milk production where grazing is such a big factor,” says


Additional Finding

As one of the Utah State University graduate students on the

team completed analyzing his data, an important finding was

that the addition of BFT to pasture increases growth and development

of replacement heifers. He found that mixed pastures

with BFT may be a sustainable alternative to feeding a total

mixed ration (TMR) in a confined setting in order to achieve

adequate growth of dairy heifers.

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21.7 a

20.8 b 6.8 b

7.5 a 2.4 b

2.7 a 2.73 a

2.61 b 1.17 a

1.08 b

Figure 1. Effect of Pasture on heifer BUN over the 105 d period. Pastures include:

Monoculture pastures without BFT (MONO), mixed pastures with BFT (MIX).

Demo RPM at Pasture Field day.

Continued from Page 35

BUN Concentration (mg/dL)









Pasture: P < 0.01

Day: P < 0.01

Pasture* Day: P < 0.01

0 35


70 105



< 0.01) BUN at all time points (Figure 1),

indicating an increased intake of protein/

nitrogen in those animals, but BUN levels

never surpassed concentrations thought

to be detrimental to reproduction (i.e.,

20 mg/dL).

Further findings illustrate that the highsugar

perennial ryegrass had greater

energy than the other grasses, whereas,

the high-sugar orchard grass often did

not. All grass-BFT mixtures had greater

energy than their respective grass


Waldron and his team will continue

summarizing heifer performance;

determine which herbage traits (e.g.,

protein, energy, tannins, etc.) are having

the biggest effect on heifer performance;

conduct economic analysis, and look at

the effect grazing on the nitrogen cycle.

Due to the impact this project could

have on the organic pasture-based dairy

industry, Waldron and his team place

a strong emphasis on outreach. They

have designed an innovative plan to

enhance communication among producers,

processors, marketers, researchers,

and extension personnel by building an

interactive multi-state communications

network facilitated by e-Organic. This

will include printed materials, webinars,

webpages, and video available to everyone


Comments about this article? We want

to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

Table 2. Estimates


of energy in the herbage from the different pasture treatments: Non-fibrous

carbohydrates (NFC), water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC), fat, metabolizable energy (ME), and

Net energy for gain (NEg).

Treatment NFC (%) WSC (%) Fat (%)









Trmt. Type















BW gain (kg)

ADG (kg/day)

69.8 a,2

0.67 a

69.2 a

0.66 a

63.9 ab

0.61 ab

63.0 ab

0.60 ab

57.2 bc

0.54 bc

56.6 bc

0.54 bc

53.6 c

0.51 c

52.0 c

0.50 c

40.8 d

0.39 d

50.7 b

0.48 b

63.6 a 0.61 a

1Treatments include: Meadow Bromegrass (MB), Meadow Bromegrass + BFT (MB+BFT) Orchard

Grass (OG), Orchard Grass + BFT (OG+BFT), Perennial Ryegrass (PR), Perennial Ryegrass + BFT

(PR+BFT), Total Mixed Ration (TMR), and as the mean of the grass monocultures and grass-BFT



Means within each column that have a different superscript are different from one another (P <





29.2 a

19.1 cd

18.7 d

19.6 c

27.3 b

19.0 cd

17.8 e

18.9 cd

21.7 a

20.8 b 8.4 b

6.4 cd

6.3 c

6.0 d

11.0 a

6.3 cd

6.3 cd

6.3 cd

6.8 b

7.5 a 2.1 g

2.5 e

2.7 c

2.2 g

2.9 b

2.5 d

3.0 a

2.3 f

2.4 b

2.7 a 2.85 a

2.75 bc

2.75 c

2.59 d

2.78 b

2.59 d

2.58 d

2.48 e

2.73 a

2.61 b 1.26 a

1.19 bc

1.19 c

1.07 d

1.21 b

1.07 d

1.06 d

0.98 e

1.17 a

1.08 b

¹Treatments include: Meadow Bromegrass (MB), Meadow Bromegrass + BFT (MB+BFT) Orchard Grass

(OG), Orchard Grass + BFT (OG+BFT), Perennial Ryegrass (PR), Perennial Ryegrass + BFT (PR+BFT), and

as the mean of the grass monocultures and grass-BFT mixtures.

²Means within each column that have a different superscript are different from one another (P < 0.05)


Organic Farmer August/September 2019



Pasture: P < 0.01

Day: P < 0.01


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August/September 2019 37

Transforming Agriculture

from a Problem into a Solution—

Sustainable Water Management

in a Changing Climate

By LAUREN SNYDER | Education and Research Program Manager, Organic Farming Research Foundation

Hay in flooded area.


Organic Farmer August/September 2019


the Intergovernmental Panel on

Climate Change predicts substantial

changes in precipitation patterns

around the globe, which has major

implications for freshwater resources.

Reduced rainfall and water scarcity are

likely consequences of climate change

in many regions. For example, desertification—an

irreversible reduction in

the productivity of land that was once

arable—is a growing problem in Africa

where water is already a scarce resource

and food insecurity an overwhelming

issue. In many places around the globe,

water is rapidly becoming a precious resource,

and the amount of land suitable

for agricultural production is shrinking.

However, a lack of water is just one

piece of the climate change puzzle we

must solve.

On the other end of the spectrum,

more intense and frequent rainfall is

presenting another obstacle to food

production. This year, the Midwest

experienced record flooding, affecting

millions of people and taking a huge toll

on U.S. agriculture. In Nebraska alone,

crop and livestock losses are expected

to exceed $1 billion. Given that extreme

weather events are predicted to become

the new norm, we will likely need to

strengthen relief programs currently in

place to ensure farmers and ranchers

are adequately compensated for their

losses. While no single weather event

can be attributed to climate change, the

increased incidence of unexpected and

extreme weather events over time is

indicative of a changing climate.

cipitation patterns in many areas of the

world were once relatively predictable,

allowing farmers to plan planting and

harvesting times. Yet, these patterns are

becoming increasingly erratic. As a result,

growers must be ready to respond

to rapidly fluctuating weather patterns,

which makes it harder for them to plan

and increases their vulnerability to

production risks.


While the Earth’s climate has changed

many times over the millennia, the rate

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Whether rainfall is too scarce or too

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and increase vulnerability to pests and

diseases. On the other hand, too much

water can wash away freshly sown seeds;

heavy rains can damage crops, reducing

marketable yields. Heavy rainfall early

in the growing season can also waterlog

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particularly those working with a

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© 2019, Trécé Inc., Adair, OK USA • TRECE, PHEROCON and CIDETRAK are registered trademarks of Trece, Inc., Adair, OK USA • TRE-1588, 7/19


PLEASE: ALWAYS READ THE LABEL *Based on USDA analysis global data base.

August/September 2019


Furrow irrigation in organic tomatoes at Park Farming Organics, Meridian, California.

Photo courtesy of Scott Park.

Continued from Page 39

of change we are currently witnessing is

much greater than anything nature has

previously experienced. Shifts in climate

that would normally occur over geological

time scales are happening within a

human lifetime; a clear indication we

do not have the luxury of continuing

business as usual. While many human

activities produce the greenhouse gases

largely responsible for climate change

(carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and

methane), mainstream agricultural

practices are a major contributor of the

latter two, which happen to be the most

potent greenhouse gases. Interestingly,

the rate of nitrous oxide and methane

emissions from agriculture is influenced

in part by soil moisture levels. For example,

spikes of nitrous oxide emissions

tend to occur when soil moisture levels

are high. Therefore, we can expect

emissions of these greenhouse gases to

1) Keep soil covered

2) Diversify crops

3) Maintain living roots

4) Minimize


fluctuate alongside changing precipitation

patterns. Given these changes,

it is essential we support the adoption

of agricultural management practices

that reduce greenhouse gas emissions

and increase resilience to the effects of

climate change we are already experiencing.

Healthy Soils

Enter the Organic Farming Research

Foundation (OFRF), a national

non-profit committed to improving

organic production systems and supporting

the success of organic growers.

Through national surveys of organic

producers and analyses of the latest agricultural

research, OFRF identified soil

health as a key management strategy

that can help farmers and ranchers mitigate

and adapt to the effects of climate

change. A large body of research clearly

indicates healthy soils provide a number

of valuable services that can help farmers

adapt to changes in water availability.

For example, healthy soils have greater

water holding capacity compared to

degraded soils, which means healthy

soils are better at retaining water when

it is scarce and absorbing excess moisture

when it is abundant.

The Natural Resources Conservation

Service has identified four key soil

health principles that support these services:

1) keep soil covered, 2) diversify

crops, 3) maintain living roots, and 4)

minimize disturbance. However, implementing

practices that achieve these

principles—such as conservation tillage

to reduce soil disturbance—can be at

odds with other production goals, such

as weed management. Moreover, there

are a number of different ways growers

can implement each of these principles.

For example, maintaining crop

diversity can be achieved by planting

polycultures, implementing diversified

crop rotations, and/or growing cover

crops. Growers need to understand the

benefits and challenges associated with

each of these strategies, and under what

conditions these practices are most

likely to succeed. To overcome these

implementation challenges, OFRF funds

innovative research on organic soil

health management so organic producers

have the knowledge they need to

confidently select strategies that make

sense for them.

Research by OFRF

Recently, OFRF funded a project

exploring the potential for soil health

practices to improve a farm’s resilience

to water shortages, research that could

help growers adapt to shifts in water

availability associated with climate

change. The project was led by Dr.

Amélie Gaudin at the University of

California, Davis in collaboration with

Scott Park, an organic grower in the

Sacramento Valley. A primary goal of

the project was to empirically test how

healthy soil practices, such as diverse

crop rotations, cover cropping, and

conservation tillage, affected water

use efficiency in tomato crops. Given

the water restrictions many California

farmers experienced during the recent

multi-year drought, it is critical to

develop new irrigation strategies that

reduce water inputs while maintaining

product quality. Specifically, the project

tested a standard irrigation schedule

(irrigation terminated 30 days before

harvest) against a deficit irrigation

Continued on Page 42


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August/September 2019


Continued from Page 40

schedule (irrigation terminated 45 days

before harvest) on organic farm fields

under sustainable soil management, and

on conventional fields characterized by

lower soil health metrics.

The study demonstrated that fields

under long-term organic management

experienced no significant loss in yield

when water inputs were reduced. Yield

losses on conventional fields were also

not significantly affected by deficit

irrigation. However, conventional fields

under deficit irrigation experienced

The study demonstrated

that fields under

long-term organic

management experienced

no significant

loss in yield when

water inputs were


an 8.6 percent yield loss, while tomato

yield in organic fields was only reduced

by 3.6 percent when water inputs were

reduced. While neither of these losses

are statistically significant, they have

practical significance for growers. Overall,

the findings of this study suggest

terminating irrigation slightly earlier in

the growing season is a viable strategy,

particularly for organic tomato growers,

to cope with irrigation water shortages

without harming their yields. Moreover,

organic fields exhibited significantly

better water holding capacity compared

to conventional fields, which suggests

that healthy soil practices could also

benefit farmers in situations where

water is too plentiful. Further research

in this area would be particularly useful

in light of the predictions for increased

flooding due to climate change.

Traditionally, agriculture has been

viewed as a major contributor to environmental

problems, such as climate

change. However, research such as that

conducted by Dr. Gaudin and Scott

Park highlights the opportunity to innovate

farming practices that ameliorate

these issues and demonstrates that we

do not have to accept business as usual.

OFRF’s Soil Health and Organic Farming

series of guidebooks and webinars and

all results from OFRF-funded research

projects are available for free at

Comments about this article? We want

to hear from you. Feel free to email us at


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

August/September 2019


Importance of Integrated Pest Management

(IPM) in Managing Arthropod Pests in Organic Nut

Production in California

By JHALENDRA RIJAL | UC Cooperative Extension & Statewide IPM Program, Northern San Joaquin Valley


MENT of Agriculture’s (USDA)

National Organic Standards Board

defines organic food as the food that

is produced without the use of conventional

pesticides, petroleum-based

fertilizers, sewage-sludge-based fertilizers,

herbicides, genetic engineering

(biotechnology), antibiotics, growth

hormones, or irradiation. The land that

produces organic food should not have

the prohibited substances used for at

least three years before the harvest of an

organic crop.

The demand for organic foods,

including tree nuts, has been on the

rise in the United States, and elsewhere.

Based on the survey data published by

USDA-NASS (National Agricultural

Statistics Service) in 2017, California is

the number one producer of the organic

food from 2,713 certified organic farms

covering 1.1 million acres of the land

which accounts for ~21 percent of

total U.S. certified organic land. Based

on survey, there have been over 150

farms with ~15000 acres of total nut

crop production in California (5897

acres walnut, 5954 acres almond, and

1520 acres pistachio) with crop value

exceeding ~65 million dollars (See

Figure), and this figure has likely

increased in the past four years or so.

Major Arthropod Pests

of Tree Nuts







Based on the survey data published by USDA-NASS

(National Agricultural Statistics Service), California is

the number one producer of the organic food from

2,713 certified organic farms covering 1.1 million acres

of the land which accounts for ~21 percent of total

U.S. certified organic land.



Total organic nut production and crop value

in California


(million lbs.)


Figure courtesy of USDA NASS 2017.


Crop Value

(million $)


A variety of insect and mite species

infest nut crops in California. These

include worm pests (lepidopterans:

navel orangeworm, oriental fruit

moth, codling moth, peach twig

borer, leafrollers), several species of

webspinning (two-spotted spider

mites, Pacific spider mites) and nonwebspinning

mite species (brown mite,

European red mite). In addition, several

species of large and small plant and

stink bug species often pose a threat

to almond and pistachio growers with

substantial damage in some years

and areas of the Central Valley. A few

species of aphids, mealybugs, ants and

scale insects are prevalent in nut crop

orchards and need attention in

many respects.

IPM in Organic Orchards

Integrated pest management (IPM) has

been a ‘mantra’ to manage crop pests,

and certainly, has been the case in

managing major pests in the nut crop

production systems in California. IPM

is the pest management strategy that

involves decision making by utilizing

the knowledge about the particular pest

and its phenology, economic thresholds,

and utilize preventative, and curative

control measures. The goal of IPM is to

manage the pest populations before it

hits the economically damaging level by

integrating all suitable and compatible


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

control options, including cultural,

biological, and chemical control as a

last resort. The success of IPM in nonorganic

production systems is often due

to availability of efficacious synthetic

chemical pesticides. However, due to

the limited availability of allowable

and efficacious active ingredients

in an organic production system,

it is imperative to follow other pest

management tactics carefully, and more

often so that the pest population has not

reached to the extreme level.

Available Pest Control Tools

and Research Gaps

Navel orangeworm (NOW) is the

most damaging pest across three

major nut crops grown in California.

Female moths lay eggs on susceptible

nuts (i.e., split nuts, and nuts that are

damaged by other causes) and larvae

burrow into the fruit and eventually to

the nutmeat and cause direct damage.

There are well established cultural

practices (winter sanitation, early

harvest) and newer options such as

mating disruption technique available.

Removal of the last year’s nuts which

carry overwintering NOW larvae,

from the trees and orchard floor

during the winter has been a proven

strategy in reducing the in-season navel

orangeworm population. This practice

should be the most critical for organic

production as in-season insecticides are

not very reliable and limited in number.

Also, harvesting the nuts before the

late generation’s egg laying is another

cultural strategy to minimize the navel

orangeworm damage.

Mating disruption is a proven and noninsecticidal

method for NOW control

in nut crops. It is a behavioral control in

which the mate-finding by male moth

is disrupted by applying a large quantity

of synthetic pheromone to the orchard.

The goal is to reduce the population

gradually over the generations,

and years, although growers can be

benefited from one season application

as well. At least two commercial mating

disruption products are currently

available for organic use. Consult your

pest control advisor (PCA) and local

farm advisor for further information

on this.

For the insecticide control, there

are a few organically acceptable

insecticides available to use in addition

to other IPM practices described

earlier for NOW control. Examples

include spinosad-based, pyrethrinbased

insecticides. There are several

newer organic insecticides in the

market, but we do not have enough

research based information yet for any

recommendations. Navel orangeworm

is unpredictable, and difficult pest to

manage, it is highly recommended

to utilize a combination of available

monitoring tools (i.e., pheromone

and oviposition-based traps, harvest

Continued on Page 46

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August/September 2019


Continued from Page 45

samples) to track insect and damage

activities in the orchard and use this

information for in-season management.

The second major group of the insect

pests of concern is true bugs, mainly

leaffooted bug and a few species of the

stink bugs. These bugs have piercing

and sucking type (i.e., straw-like)

mouthparts and attack on developing

fruits. The feeding can cause a

substantial crop loss due to the nut

abortion early in the season and by

producing defect kernels at harvest

from mid-to-late season infestations.

Visual and trap-based monitoring of

the orchard regularly is essential to

detect bugs while they are moving into

the orchard from their overwintering

habitat early in the season. Plant and

stink bugs are difficult to control with

other practices except for the use of

broad-spectrum insecticides, and the

insecticides for organic use are not

very effective. General practice is to

apply pyrethrin-based insecticide, some

neem-based products, and this is the

area where there has been a significant

lag in terms of efficacy trials looking

at various insecticides for organic

use. Now, with the spread of the new

invasive stink bug species, brown

marmorated stink bug (BMSB) to crops

including damage to almond, there is a

desperate need for exploring some new

tools to control these bugs, especially in

organic production systems.

The third group of the arthropod pests

of the nut crops is spider mites. Spider

mites can effectively be controlled by

following the IPM practices in nut crop

orchards. Predatory mites and other

mite predators are active along with

spider mites in nut crop orchards. In

recent years, we have seen the surge

of six-spotted thrips and spider mite

destroyer beetle (i.e., Stethorus beetle),

both are effective predators, throughout

the Central Valley almond orchards,

and there have been examples that these

predators keeping mite population

under control in San Joaquin Valley

almond orchards. The caveat is that

growers and PCAs need to follow the

available monitoring and sampling

practices to understand the phenology

of the pest and predators, plus apply

the pest management program that is

not disruptive to these natural enemies.

Some cultural practices such as a drier

orchard environment can foster the

mite population, and practices that

reduce these conditions can reduce the

mite population. If needed, oil-based

miticides are effective and available to

use against mites should they reach the

thresholds. See a recent article about

mite control in organic production by

David Haviland, UCCE Kern (https://

The fourth group of insects is relatively

small sucking insect pests such as

aphids, mealybugs, scale insects. These

insects often have a robust natural

enemy complex in the orchard. In most

cases, they are capable of keeping the

population below the threshold levels. It

is also critical to remember; these pestnatural

enemy interactions are often

in a delicate balance situation which is

likely to be disrupted easily when using

broad-spectrum insecticide, especially

early in the season. Conducting regular

monitoring and sampling is highly

recommended to track the insect pest,

and predator dynamics population

in orchards. UCIPM has published

protocols for sampling scale and mites

in almond, walnut, pistachio during

the dormant season. The sampling can

be done by examining pest and natural

enemy presence and abundance in

fruit spurs, scaffolds, branches, fruiting

woods, and recording the abundance.



Walnut: https://www2.ipm.ucanr.





For San Jose scale and non-webspinning

mites (brown and European red mites)

infestation in almonds can be treated

with the dormant oil (6-8 gallons/acre)

during the delayed dormant timing


Although demand and acreage for

organic crops have been rising, effective

tools for organic pest management

are limited. Organic growers need to

deploy available pest management

tools strategically that includes

utilizing monitoring tools, cultural

practices, biological control, any other

preventative options available as much

Adult spider mite destroyer, Stethorus picipes,

feeding on a mite. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark,

courtesy University of California Statewide IPM


Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, courtesy University of

California Statewide IPM.

Sticky panel trap with BMSB lure installed in an

almond orchard to monitor BMSB activity.

as feasible. Organic growers should

not solely rely on insecticides as they

are costly, and the majority of them

may not be very effective compared

to the chemical insecticides used in

conventional orchards.

Comments about this article? We want

to hear from you. Feel free to email us at


Organic Farmer August/September 2019


Navel Orangeworm Monitoring Systems

for conventional and organic tree nuts




Male Attractant System:


Female Attractant System:


NEW! Predator Detection System:


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• Detect mite predators, such as the

Six-spotted thrips and Stethorus beetles

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Note: Apply miticides based on UC-IPM Guidelines


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Contact your local supplier and order now!

Visit our website: or call: 1- 866-785-1313.




Your Edge – And Ours – Is Knowledge.

© 2019, Trécé Inc., Adair, OK USA • TRECE, PHEROCON and CIDETRAK are registered trademarks of Trécé, Inc., Adair, OK USA • TRE-1589, 7/19


Organic Farmer August/September 2019

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