Organic Farmer February / March 2020


February/March 2020

Organic Poultry Production for Meat and Eggs

Drying and Processing Hemp

Optimizing Soil Fertility

& Plant Health for Organic Growers

Earthworms – the Good, the Bad and the Hungry

See page 17

for details

June 3, 2020

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June 24, 2020

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Organic Poultry Production

for Meat and Eggs

PUBLISHER: Jason Scott


EDITOR: Marni Katz




Phone: 559.352.4456

Fax: 559.472.3113







Drying and Processing


Optimizing Soil Fertility

and Plant Health for

Organic Growers

Ann Baier

Sustainable Agriculture

Specialist, National

Center for Appropriate


Danita Cahill

Contributing Writer

Steve Elliott

Western SARE and

Western IPM Center

Katelyn Jones


Neal Kinsey

President of Kinsey

Agricultural Services

Richard Kreps


Contributing Writer


Earthworms – the Good, the

Bad and the Hungry





Managing Nutrition for

Organic Vegetables

Rockey Farms Builds a

Tradition of Sustainability

Green Rush




Kevin Day

County Director and

UCCE Pomology


Advisor, Tulare/

Kings County

Steven Koike

Director, TriCal


Emily J. Symmes,


UCCE IPM Advisor,

Sacramento Valley

Kris Tollerup

UCCE Integrated Pest

Management Advisor,

Parlier, CA

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.

February/March 2020


Organic Poultry Production for

Meat and Eggs

B y : A N N B A IE R | S u s ta in a b le A g ric u ltu re S p e c ia lis t

N a tio n a l C e n te r fo r A p p ro p ria te Te c h n o lo g y

This article describes the

production system and handling

practices currently required to

market poultry products--eggs and

meat--as certified USDA organic. It

also discusses the substantive overlap

and continuum in goals and practices

among “organic” and “pastured”

and “humane” poultry production.

It addresses the main commonalities

and a few key distinctions between

systems and practices in the growing

field of poultry production. Finally, it

highlights the need for transparency

and integrity with respect to product

representation, both within and beyond

the organic label.


What image does the phrase “organic

poultry production” conjure up in the

mind of the American consumer? Many

people are likely to imagine idealized

happy hens on verdant pastures (like

the pictures in this article). Perceptions

of organic production system practices

may overlap, and descriptions blur

with less rigorous marketing terms,

such as “cage-free,” “free-range,” and

more rigorous “humane,” and “raised

on pasture,” to name just a few. Many

branding terms (paired with clever

packaging and graphics) vie for customer

attention in the marketing of

poultry products. The complexity of

terms and standards can confuse or

even mislead the uniformed consumer.

This article reviews the main sections

of the United States Department of

Agriculture (USDA) organic regulations

for poultry production and

discusses the different marketing terms

used. Laws lead to creation of regulations

that set standards for trade.

Government standards, such as grading,

food safety, and labeling are requirements

that every producer must meet

in order to sell their products. Beyond

government requirements, many voluntary

programs provide opportunities for

producers to differentiate products in

the marketplace, using terms with legal

definitions, unregulated descriptors, or

third-party certification programs. Some

of these have minimum standards to

qualify for certification; others provide

levels or steps, and expectations for

continual improvement (for details see

sidebar on Page 6).

Producers can choose to pursue such

voluntary certification options in

response to the priorities of buyers,

whether they are distributors or

direct-market consumers. Assurance of

clear standards and consistent enforcement

of those standards boost consumer

confidence and facilitate trade.

Producer priorities and consumer values

may include poultry health, production

efficiency, whole farm productivity,

environmental stewardship, animal

welfare, food quality, product accessibility,

and cost.

USDA Organic Regulations

While this article focuses on current

USDA regulations which are qualitative

and goal-oriented, it is appropriate

and important to acknowledge that, in

the words of USDA, “the variability in

outdoor access practices among organic

producers threatens consumer confidence

in the organic label.” National

Organic Program (NOP); Organic

Livestock and Poultry Practices. More

quantitative and prescriptive regulatory

language in USDA organic regulations

Continued on Page 6


Organic Farmer February/March 2020


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Label Claims Distinct from

Organic: Pastured and Humane

Poultry Production

Informed consumer choice relies on

transparency in trade with truth in labeling

and appropriate use of marketing terms

used to differentiate approaches to poultry


A few of many organizations promoting clarity

are listed below.

American Pastured Poultry Producers’

Association (APPPA) at is a nonprofit

trade association (not a certification

program) and network of producers for mutual

learning. Their website includes resources

for farmers and consumers, descriptions of

management practices, distinctions between

marketing terms, and designs for building

poultry shelter and houses.

Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) at offers welfareoriented

livestock and poultry farmers grants,

scholarships, free webinars, a livestock

guardian animal project, and an online

community to connect with other farmers.

Certified Animal Welfare Approved https://

is a certification program

that educates consumers and rewards farmers

for meeting a high standards, recognizing links

between natural animal behavior and wellbeing,

nutritional quality of food, the impact of

farming systems on wildlife, the environment

and wider society.

Certified Humane at

aims to “improve the lives of farm animals by

driving consumer demand for kinder and more

responsible farm animal practices.”

Continued from Page 4

would help level the playing field with

respect to outdoor access and would give

consumers more confidence in the organic

label. There is a significant contrast in

practices between two main types of

poultry operations that, at this point in

time, may both be certified organic: those

that use barn- or aviary-based production

with enclosed porches and no direct

contact with soil, and those whose understanding

of the organic regulations and

natural poultry behavior lead to free-range

or pasture-based production.

Organic System Plan and

Recordkeeping Requirements for

Poultry Operations

Every certified organic operation needs

to develop an Organic Production and

Handling System Plan (OSP) that describes

the operation. In general, an

OSP needs to include a description of

methods, materials, monitoring, and

recordkeeping to demonstrate how the

plan is being followed. For poultry

operations, this includes the following:

• Source of birds (purchase receipts

or brooding/hatching records)

• Feed (100% certified organic rations, fee

sources, receipts and labels for certified

organic feed, approved supplements and

additives, and production or purchase of

organic pasture, forage or other

feed crops)

• Housing and living conditions

• Preventative health care practices

• Handling practices and materials (meat

bird slaughter, packaging and sales; or egg

collection, washing, candling, grading and


• Production and sales records

• Labeling to be used

• Recordkeeping (documentation of all of

the above to show implementation of the

producer’s OSP and compliance with the

USDA organic regulations)

FREE online tutorials

on soil health, produce safety, and more

Global Animal Partnership program at has created a

5-step “meaningful animal welfare labeling

program, verified by audits conducted on every

farm, in order to influence the food industry,

raise consumer expectations, and create a

sustainable environment.”

Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network

(NMPAN) at is

a national community helping small meat

processors thrive with an active listserve,

a website with processing and food safety

regulations information for all kinds of meat,

and poultry specific resources.

eXtension at

complements the Cooperative Extension

system with research-based articles on poultry

production, health, marketing and economics

including “Poultry breakeven calculator for

small and backyard flocks” and a webinar on

how to use it.

How can ATTRA help you?

Trusted technical assistance for your ag challenges


Organic Farmer February/March 2020


Egg Handling and Meat Processing

In order to sell eggs or poultry meat as

organic, products must be processed

(handled) in certified organic facilities.

Washing organic eggs or processing

poultry meats may take place on- or offfarm

as long as practices and materials

are described in your OSP. Materials

used in egg handling may include

cleaners, sanitizers, and egg-coatings.

Materials frequently used for poultry

meat processing may include cleaners

and sanitizers used on scalders, evisceration

tables, chill tanks, scales, or any

other organic food-contact surfaces.

Egg handling and meat processing

methods materials must comply not

only with organic regulations, but also

other federal regulations, including

but not limited to the USDA’s and

Food Safety and Inspection Service,

Egg Products Inspection Act, Egg

Safety Rule, and the Food and Drug

Administration (FDA)’s Food Code.

Industry standards may also apply.

Selecting Your Poultry

USDA organic regulations require

livestock producers to choose species

and breeds that are well-adapted to

the site and climate where they will be

raised, and resistant to common diseases

and parasites in that environment.

Hatcheries provide breed descriptions

and productivity data. The experience

of other local producers can provide

valuable input to guide your selection.

Your buyers’ values, priorities, and

preferences are practical considerations

in designing your production system,

and selecting breeds that thrive in that

environment. Go to for a

link to ATTRA publications on organic

and pastured poultry production. Some

customers value outdoor production,

and seek birds they consider to be

more flavorful. However, breeds that

are well-adapted to outdoor production

are better foragers in pasture-based

production usually grow slower than

more conventional meat breeds.

Some buyers prefer the more familiar

large-breasted breeds. Fast-growing

birds tend to have more health and

mobility problems, but reach marketable

size several weeks faster on less

feed. Design your production systems

and select breeds with desirable characteristics

to balance the health and

productivity of the birds in your environment,

and sustain farm profitability

in varied markets.

Sourcing Birds / Hatcheries

Most poultry producers source their

young stock from commercial hatcheries

or specialized producer networks.

Some breeds and circumstances call for

sourcing eggs to brood on-farm (e.g.

quail, whose small chicks are delicate

to ship). According to USDA regulations,

organic management of poultry

must begin no later than the second day

of life. Although the type of hatchery

is not specified in organic regulations,

poultry farm advisors recommend

Continued on Page 8

February/March 2020


Continued from Page 7

purchasing only from breeding flocks

approved by the USDA National Poultry

Improvement Program (NPIP), which

certifies flocks to be free of certain


Vaccination against common diseases is

allowed in organic poultry production,

though vaccines must not be genetically

modified. Vaccination of chicks, duckings,

poults, or other avian stock by the

hatchery can be requested at the time of

ordering. Hatchery purchase records document

animal origin and some preventive

health. Other vaccinations may be done

later on farm, and farm records kept

for organic inspection and certification.

Vaccines commonly used in the United

States include those against Marek’s

disease, Newcastle disease (whether

this vaccination is recommended or not

depends on the region), and infectious

bronchitis. Other preventive health care

strategies are discussed further in the

health care section below.

Nutrition: Feed, Supplements

and Additives

Poultry need quality feed to grow well.

Good nutrition includes protein, amino

acids, fatty acids, energy sources, fiber,

vitamins, and minerals. All agricultural

ingredients in organic poultry feed must

be certified organic. Any non-agricultural

ingredients used must be allowed

by the USDA organic regulations. For

example, oyster shell may be used as a

calcium supplement to strengthen bones

and eggshells. All feed rations, additives,

and supplements must be listed in

the producer’s OSP with their complete

brand name, formulation, and manufacturer,

and must be approved by the

organic certifier prior to use.

Organic producers need to watch out

for feed additives that are not allowed

in organic production. For example,

“medicated” chick starter includes

a coccidiostat which is prohibited

for use in organic production. Some

non-organic rations include arsenic as

a feed stimulant and protozoan parasite

control. Arsenic cannot be fed to

organic livestock and is also prohibited

for organic crop production, so poultry

manure that contains arsenic must not

be applied to organic land.

Regulations specify that organic producers

must not use feed quantities or

feed supplements or additives beyond

what is needed for adequate nutrition

and health maintenance. Feeding

mammalian or poultry slaughter

by-products to mammals or poultry is

prohibited. Organic and non-organic

producers alike must not use any feed,

feed additives, and feed supplements in

violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and

Cosmetic Act. The U.S. Food and Drug

Administration (FDA) prohibits the use of

hormones in all poultry production operations

regardless of organic status.

The requirement that organic poultry

receive all-organic feed is the main distinction

between certified organic and other

non-conventional poultry production

systems such as free-range, humane, or

pastured. The cost of organic feed varies

significantly depending on regional proximity

to grain production and other factors.

However, perhaps the biggest price difference

is based on the quantities the producer

purchases. Fifty-pound sacks from the feed

store are considerably more expensive than

one-ton totes or bulk delivery of truckloads.

Poultry producers using humane,

outdoor, or pastured systems articulate how

they weigh this decision point: the value

of supporting organic production of feed

crops vs. producing eggs or poultry meat

that are economically accessible to more

consumers. Feed costs range around 70%

of poultry production costs; likely more

in organic. Organic production costs are

higher than non-organic production due,

in large part, to the higher cost of organic

feeds. To maintain a viable business,

higher production costs must be offset by

higher prices.

Organic products garner premium prices


Organic Farmer February/March 2020

USDA Organic Regulations for Poultry Production

The National Organic Program is part of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. In 2002, USDA began full implementation of regulations for

production and handling of organic crops and livestock. The goal was to create a uniform standard and a consistent certification process that would

build consumer confidence in the certified organic label.

Organic regulations specify that poultry or edible poultry products must be from birds that have been under continuous organic management

beginning no later than the second day of life. Livestock feed must be 100% organically grown, with allowed additives and supplements and provide

adequate nutrition. The livestock health care practice standard emphasizes preventative health care and humane treatment of animals. Organic

livestock living conditions require shelter, access to the outdoors, fresh air, direct sunlight, clean water, adequate space and opportunity to exercise

and express natural behaviors appropriate to the species. Some synthetic substances (such as methionine) are specifically listed as allowed, with

restrictions. Conversely, a few non-synthetic materials (such as arsenic) are prohibited for use in organic production and specifically listed as such

in the regulations. Facility management and organic handling regulations apply to egg washing and processing of poultry meat labeled as “organic”.

Lumber treated with prohibited materials is not allowed where it would touch soil, crops, or livestock. Some regulations apply to all organic

operations, including development of an Organic System Plan that describes production practices and substances to be used, recordkeeping systems,

and prevention of commingling and contamination, land transition requirements, and soil fertility and crop nutrient management.

Additional online resources:

• USDA National Organic Program includes links to USDA Organic Regulations 7 CFR 205; NOP Program Handbook; and

the Organic INTEGRITY Database of all organic operations certified by USDA-accredited organic certifiers.

• Market News and Transportation Data: USDA Certified Organic Poultry and Eggs

• United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Shell Eggs From Farm to Table


• USDA Quality Grading and Inspections:

• Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory

for their value as food, but also for their

perceived contribution to the greater

good, such as human health, social

benefits, animal welfare, and environmental

stewardship. Consumer trust

in a label is necessary for consumers

to be willing to pay a higher price for

what they value. Significant controversy

whirls amid discussion of the

value of organic compared with other

marketing claims. There are two main

currents in the discussion. One has to

do with the integrity of the organic

label itself. To be most credible, USDA

organic regulations provide a clear and

universal standard, practiced by all

organic producers, in alignment with

consumer expectations, with consistent

interpretation across accredited

certifiers, and third-party verification

of all producers seeking organic

certification. The cross-current is the

distinction between industrial type,

house-based operations and producers

who place a high priority on outdoor

access and pasture-based systems. The

pastured producer community eagerly

shows--and customers recognize--the

differences in quality--visual beauty,

flavor, and texture of eggs and meat

from birds raised on pasture. Research

shows differences in nutrition, including

higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids

in products when the animals’ diets

include fresh, green forage.

microorganisms work in the poultry’s

gut, by competitive exclusion, to

reduce disease-causing organisms like

Salmonella and E. coli.

Physical alterations of organic livestock

are not allowed unless they are

necessary for the animals’ welfare.

Preventative Health Care

Most organic producers find alterations

(such as beak trimming) to be

Organic regulations require preventative

health care of birds. Selection of unnecessary when their systems design

appropriate species/breeds and vaccination

programs are discussed above. prevent crowding and competition,

and husbandry provide enough space,

Poultry, like all livestock, benefit from a possibly include roosters to maintain

healthy environment to prevent diseases social order, and use other strategies

and minimize stress. Clean drinking to provide a low-stress environment.

water is required by organic regulations, The Organic Livestock and Poultry

and a mainstay of preventive health. Program (OLPP) would add definitions

Watering systems that keep water clean to the regulations, and prohibit some

reduce diseases such as coccidiosis, a alterations (See Sidebar on page 11 for

disease caused by a protozoan parasite. more information about OLPP).

Because poultry eat in proportion to

their drinking, poultry health, growth, Living Conditions

and productivity depend on a reliable Although the land on which organic

supply of fresh, clean water. In addition animals are raised must be certified

to vaccines, discussed above, probiotics,

or beneficial microbes may be used

to establish beneficial microflora. Good Continued on Page 10

February/March 2020


Continued from Page 9

organic, regulations do not require producers

to provide pasture as a feed source

for organic poultry. (Pasture is required

for organic ruminants since they are

natural grazers, and the regulations specify

minimum time and dry matter consumption.)

However, production of poultry

on pasture or forage generally provides

outdoor access and healthy living conditions--both

of which are required by USDA

organic regulations. To be certified organic,

pasture-based systems must also use all

organic feed, preventive health care, and

avoid prohibited materials.

The quality and quantity of outdoor access

is one of the main areas of debate that

needs more consistent interpretation and

verification by certifiers. Organic poultry

must have access to the outdoors, exercise

areas, shade, and direct sunlight, as

appropriate to stage of life, climate, and


Organic requirements prescribe a healthy,

low-stress environment that is key

to production. Good air quality is

extremely important to birds’ health.

Dust and high levels of ammonia

can cause respiratory problems,

Appropriate, clean, dry bedding, and

regular cleaning of poultry housing

contribute to healthy living conditions.

Young birds--chicks, ducklings, poults,

and other young birds need to be kept

warm and safe from predators.

Poultry must be able to express their

natural maintenance and comfort

behaviors, such as roosting, scratching,

and dustbathing. The OLPP and animal

welfare programs specify minimum

requirements for roost space, housing,

and outdoor access and exercise

areas, as well as limits on the size

and density of flocks. Current organic

regulations require outdoor access once

birds have adequate feathering. The

OLPP specifies quantitative timeframe

requirements. Any confinement of

poultry after this early stage of development

must be documented and justified

for inclement weather; stage of life;

animal health, safety, or well-being;








risk to soil or water quality; healthcare—

illness or injury; sorting or shipping and

sale; breeding; and for youth projects.

Supplemental lighting is commonly used

in layer operations to diminish seasonal

dips in rate of lay during winter months.

Currently, producers describe proposed

practices with respect to lighting in their

Organic System Plan (OSP) which is subject

to approval by the certifier. If/when the

OLPP is implemented, it would provide

specific 16-hour guidelines.

House-based systems can qualify for

organic certification provided there is

adequate access to the outdoors, direct

sunlight, fresh air, and all other regulatory

living condition requirements are fulfilled.

The OLPP clarifies the requirement for

soil and vegetation. With time and shared

experience, producer capacity, consumer

awareness, and policy clarification, each of

these systems may become further developed,

clearly defined, and transparently

represented for the benefit of poultry producers,

consumers, poultry themselves, and

the environments in which they are raised.

Predator management is necessary for

the survival, health, safety and well-being

of both poultry and predators. In the

interest of all creatures involved, predator

management practices should prevent

wildlife contact with livestock. Producers

may “train” each type of potential predator

NOT to perceive their poultry as food or

prey. Wildlife is specifically listed in USDA

organic regulations as one of the natural

resources that organic operations must


Organic Farmer February/March 2020

maintain or improve, so approaches should

be non-lethal. Predator management strategies

include a combination of physical

barriers, (housing, fencing, daytime cover

and night shelter); deterrents (“predator

eyes” lights, motion sensor sprinklers), and

management (regular presence of humans,

and well-trained guard animals).

Organic poultry are required to have

appropriate, clean, dry bedding, whether

in housing or nest boxes. If the bedding

material used is an agricultural crop that

may be consumed, it must be certified

organic. When forest products such as

wood shavings are used, they need not be

certified organic, but must consist only of

plant products that are not treated with any

prohibited materials.

Manure management is an important part

of managing an organic livestock operation.

Regulations state, “The producer

of an organic livestock operation must

manage manure in a manner that does not

contribute to contamination of crops, soil,

or water by plant nutrients, heavy metals,

or pathogenic organisms and optimizes

recycling of nutrients and must manage

pastures and other outdoor access areas in

a manner that does not put soil or water

quality at risk.” While hydrated lime is

allowed as an external pest control, it is

not permitted for cauterizing or to deodorize

animal wastes.

Each type of poultry production system

can and should become more transparently

represented for the benefit of poultry

producers, consumers, poultry themselves,

and the environments in which

they are raised. This process takes time,

persistence, producer capacity, consumer

awareness, political will, and clear legal

definitions for marketing terms. NCAT is

working, together with our project partners

and many farmers from whom we continue

to gain key insights, to develop reliable

information and make it accessible.

The National Center for Appropriate

Technology (NCAT) is a private nonprofit

organization founded in 1976. Its programs

deal with sustainable and renewable

energy, energy conservation, resource-efficient

housing, sustainable community

development, and sustainable agriculture.

ATTRA is a program developed and

Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule came about from a decades-long effort,

with significant public comment, to develop more specific and quantitative regulatory language to

resolve current ambiguities and provide for consistent interpretation and enforcement of a uniform

federal standard. The National Organic Program (NOP) Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final

rule was published in the Federal Register (82 FR 7042) on January 19, 2017. Although its current status

is “withdrawn,” producers and the public can still read the OLPP final rule in order to understand the

reasoning behind the changes and to inform their own production practices and purchasing decisions.

Look up: A Rule by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) 03/13/2018 to find links to all past

documents published in the process of developing these regulations. Before its implementation was

delayed and finally withdrawn, the USDA’s AMS published justification and the compelling need for this

new regulation.

What does this rule do?

This rule sets production standards for organic livestock and poultry, including transport and slaughter.

This action assures consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard by

resolving the current ambiguity about outdoor access for poultry. It also establishes clear standards for

raising, transporting, and slaughtering organic animals and birds. This rule will provide for effective

compliance and enforcement, as well as fair competition among organic livestock producers.

Why is the rule necessary?

A lack of clarity in organic livestock and poultry standards has led to inconsistent practices among

organic producers. For example, as a result of ambiguous standards for what constitutes “outdoor access”

for poultry, there are currently two very different organic egg production systems in the United States:

operations whose outdoor space consists of an enclosed porch with a roof, mesh walls and cement floor,

and operations that provide birds with access to pasture. Both production systems are currently able to

utilize the organic seal and capture a premium from consumers.”

What are the key components of the final rule?

1. The final rule addresses the following key points:

2. Requires that producers provide animals with daily access to the outdoors and that outdoor areas

include vegetation and/or soil. Additionally, exit doors must be distributed to ensure animals have

ready access to the outdoors. It does not allow enclosed porches to be considered outdoors or to meet

the requirement for outdoor access.

3. Specifies the amount of space required indoors for chicken broilers and layers, prohibits forced

molting, restricts the use of artificial light, limits the amount of ammonia in the air indoors, and

requires perching space for laying chickens indoors.

4. Describes when producers can confine animals indoors temporarily and codifies flexibility for

producers to confine animals when their health, safety or well-being could be jeopardized.

5. Adds humane handling requirements for transporting livestock and poultry to sale or slaughter, and

clarifies humane slaughter requirements.

6. Prohibits several kinds of physical alteration, like de-beaking chickens or docking cows’ tails.

7. Provides a phased implementation plan, allowing producers reasonable time to implement the rule.

Changes relevant to poultry production include addition of several terms, revision of livestock care and

production practices standard, and addition of two new sections on avian living conditions and transport

and slaughter.

managed by NCAT. The majority of funding for ATTRA is through a cooperative

agreement with the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service. We are committed

to providing high value, practical science-based information and technical assistance

to farmers, ranchers, Extension agents, educators, and others involved in

organic and sustainable agriculture in the United States.

For more information on organic poultry practices and other sustainable agriculture

resources visit

Comments about this article? We want to hear from you. Feel free to email us


February/March 2020


Drying and

Processing Hemp

By: Danita Cahill | Contributing Writer

Steve Knurowski holds A handful of dried hemp. All photos courtesy of Danita Cahill.


stretch of heavy clay fields that

spread alongside McDowell Creek

in Lebanon, Oregon was once

home to a Holstein dairy farm, operated

by Marty Bates’ granddad. Times

have changed for the smaller-scale

dairies. Competition with huge dairies,

which can turn a profit with their sheer

volume of cows and milk, elbowed aside

smaller dairy farmers. After the black

Propane hemp dryer.

and white spotted cows were gone, the

Bates family raised beef cattle and field

corn for cattle feed. With only 121 acres,

raising beef cattle also proved a challenging

way to turn a profit.

From Cattle to Hemp

“CBD started growing,” Bates said about

the hemp market. “My oldest son was

working in a lab in Portland.”

The Bates family decided to say goodbye

to cattle and hello to hemp.

Their first hemp crop was small – they

planted only two acres. That was three

years ago. “A learning experience,” Bates

said about that first year.

The second year was also part of the

learning curve. They didn’t buy good

seed. Bates shakes his head thinking

about it. Around 75% of the plants

turned out to be male and were worthless.

His family had about given up

growing a crop that year, but they found

a nearby grower with plants for sale and

bought a few hundred. “So we tilled up

a strip of dirt,” he said.

Marty’s most important message to

other beginning hemp growers: “Buy

good seed.”

Drying and Processing Facility

They turned the old milking barn into a

hemp-processing facility.

Bates stopped in to talk with hemp

growers Tyrel and Linda Rose at

another family farm in Lebanon. Their

crop is planted each year on Century


Organic Farmer February/March 2020

Farm land that’s been in the family

for years.

The Rose family was looking for a processor

and wound up processing their

hemp at the Bates. They all needed a

drying facility, too. So, the Roses put in

a dryer at the old Bates dairy, alongside

Marty Bates crosses through his young

hazelnut orchard to a harvested hemp field.

the old milking barn.

Last year, the Bates did hemp

processing for several other

farms, too. “Kept us busy most

of the year,” Bates said. This

year is no different. “We’ll go

right on into summer with

what we’ve got.”


Fall 2018 was dry and clear

into November. Not so for

the 2019 harvest season. “It

rained all through September,

making the hemp fields a

sticky, muddy mess. The

harvest was a real challenge.

Equipment got bogged in the

mud. Bates drove the harvester, and his

dad would pull him through the muddy

fields with a CAT.

“Luckily, we had the dryer right here.

That kinda saved our bacon a little bit,”

Bates said.

Hemp and ethanol go through several spin cycles

at the beginning of the process to extract CBD oil.

Rain and Mud Issues

A cloudy day in early December, 2019,

found Bates on a tractor in one of the

still-muddy hemp fields, pulling up the

used drip tape and cutting and pulling

up black plastic. “Some guys use this

Continued on Page 14

February/March 2020


Marty Bates pulls up used drip line and black plastic from a harvested hemp field.

Continued from Page 13

plastic, some don’t,” Marty said. He uses

the black plastic to retain soil moisture.

Normally, the Bates would work up

the hemp fields after harvest and plant

a cover crop. The plan was to plant

crimson clover. But because of the mud

Hemp processor at Bates Farm.

they can’t do it this year.

The rain causes other problems besides

mud. It also creates mold issues. “A lot

of people got mold,” Bates said about

the 2019 harvest season. Fortunately

for the Bates, their varieties – KLR

Farms #1 and #117 – are mold resistant.

They made it through October and

November mold free, but the weather

was cold and plants didn’t mature.

A week of freezing conditions down

into the 20s in October compounded

problems. “It just wasn’t gonna grow

after that.” Bates said. Still, they couldn’t

harvest it all at once, either. “Have to

chop it as the dryer is ready,” Marty

said. They harvested as fast as the dryer

could do its job, but towards the end

of harvest, still lost some of the plants

to mold.

Chopping and Drying

Marty and his family use the old dairy

equipment for the hemp. They harvest

with a corn chopper and load it onto the

dryer conveyor belt out of a feed wagon.

It travels up into a pre-dryer that warms

it up and gets it ready for the main

dryer, which finishes the process.

The propane dryer is a model from a

company out of Wisconsin. The original

design was meant to dry sand used as

cow bedding. The dryer can dry about

200 pounds of hemp an hour.

After the chopped hemp comes out of

the dryer, it’s kept under cover in silo


Organic Farmer February/March 2020

Marty uses a corn chopper and a feed wagon for harvesting hemp.

storage bags.

In the Willamette Valley, there is too

much moisture during fall harvest

season in the way of rain, fog, mist

and dew to cut and dry on the ground.

Marty said in drier parts of the state

they may be able to do that. Some hemp

farmers hand cut and hang the plants

from the rafters inside buildings to dry.

There are two drawbacks to that for the

Bates’ operation: It takes a lot of manual

labor, and a lot of space under cover to

hang dry hemp. Bates admits that hang

drying does make a superior product.

He tried hang drying some last year and

got a better CBD oil yield out of it.

As of early December, the Bates had

60,000 pounds of dried hemp stored

and waiting for processing. Bates said

they can process 700-800 pounds of

dried biomass per day.


The Bates use an ethanol extraction.

Ethanol is a solvent that dissolves the oil

in the plants. The ethanol and the dried

plant biomass go into the stainless steel

extractor, which holds 15 gallons. The

extractor runs on a vacuum. It spends

Continued on Page 16

Steve Knurowski inspects dried biomass.

February/March 2020


Hemp processor at Bates Farm.

Continued from Page 15

three minutes extracting, then nine

minutes of spin-dry cycles. The liquid is

filtered through a series of screens to get

out any particles. The finest-mesh screen

is one-micron.

The solvent is recovered and reused.

The process “basically evaporates it and

condenses it,” Bates said. What’s left is the

CBD “crude oil,” which looks rather like

black tar. The oil has to pass a solvent test,

which is a check for residual solvents.

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Marty’s son, Sterling, “learned a whole

lot of different extractions,” Bates said.

Sterling distills some of their crude oil,

which further concentrates it. When

that process is done, the oil looks more

like honey than tar.

Steve Knurowski, who farms six acres of

hemp in the Lebanon area, knows the

ins and outs of the stainless steel processing

equipment and helps the Bates

with processing chores. Marty’s wife,

Jenna does the books and the billing.

“It’s a lot,” Bates said.


The crude oil is stored

in plastic buckets

with lids. “Ideally,

we don’t store it for

long,” before it’s sold,

Marty said.

Most of Bates’ sales are

of the crude oil, which

is sold by the kilogram

or liter to other labs,

where it is further


The Bates have several

different customers. They deliver to some.

Others pick up their orders at the farm.


• Mold is difficult to deal with in the

Willamette Valley.

• Sometimes deer eat hemp plants.

• Last year they had some problem

with cucumber beetles.

• Bad seeds cause a real problem.

The Bates had very good results with seeds

from KLR Farms out of Albany, Oregon.

They planted 20,000 to 25,000 plants

and only about a dozen turned out male.

The Bates also planted a hemp field in

Lacomb, which is an outlying rural area of

Lebanon. They got no male plants at all in

that field.

Buying good seed is key, Bates said. “Don’t

go cheap on your seed.”

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When considering healthy soils

and plants, the greatest need in

terms of achieving vibrant plant

health and lasting vigor is to consider

“the trunk of the tree” instead of getting

hung out on a limb and never tackling the

core problem. To determine this certain

basic questions and answers should first

be considered and some of those may not

always come that easily into view.

As a whole, in this entire world someone

has responsibility over all the land.

Someone is put in charge of it and generally

has a say about what can or cannot be

done to that land and too often not with

a mind toward what would be best for

the land or what is produced on it. The

real bottom line is, when you give the soil

what it actually requires, only then can it

provide what is truly needed for optimum

soil and plant health! Anything less and

that much less is what you should expect

in return!

Various short term for profit programs

have allowed so many destructive actions

and so much degradation to the land that

there are now a host of programs that

“make it better” and are touted as basic

solutions to the problems the previous

thinking of past and present generations

have caused.

What works best? Is it when plants

improve soil health or when soil improves

plant health? In other words, can you

best use plants to improve the soil and

its fertility level, or the soil to improve

the plants and their health and nutritive

providing abilities? This is not like asking

the question, “Which one came first, the

chicken or the egg?” This question can be

correctly answered. And in the process

of answering such a question, what is best

for soil biology - the true life of the soil -

would need to be included.

So then what is the trunk of the tree

for deriving the most benefit from

agriculture? Is it making the most

money, or making the greatest yields?

Is it growing the best plants or the most

nutritious foods? It should be the key

to all of those packed into one logical

program with the most economical

approach being what can best be done

to most help the soil and the crops that

grow there.

The best answers to soil fertility, plant

growth and feed or food quality are not

geared to the philosophy of how much

can growers get for the least amount

they can give, whether that is money,

fertility or the amount of effort being

put forth.

However, most of the time the solutions

that get adopted are because it

can be shown that to do so means there

is substantial profit to be made by the

sale of something to the farmer. This is

not meant to even imply that anything

is wrong with increasing income from

the added value of work being done.

But if the bulk of the profit accrues to

those who are devising the program at

the expense of the soil and what grows

there, is it really true profit? And are

those programs being proposed the

actual solutions needed or just another

“band aid” as a stop-gap measure that

helps only temporarily improve the

situation in some way?

Dr. William Albrecht once described an

experiment his team tried for extracting

more nitrogen from the colloidal humus

once they learned to isolate that humus

from the soil. He said they tried every

conceivable acid and many “reasonable”

combinations, but could never find a

formula that would do the job.

But conversely, by extracting exudates

from plant roots and using an inordinately

large amount as compared to the normal

release from plants and crops, it was the

secret key to unlock that N. Yet they were

unable to duplicate that in the lab. So far

as is now known, no one ever has. When

science can’t even do that, it is hard to

believe that even the best team of scientists

would be wise enough to figure out

all that a plant really needs.

That said, a slow steady feed of what is

shown to be needed should generally be

of most benefit to both plants and soils.

However, in work with a company using

that approach on a 20,000 acre almond

operation for feeding nutrients through

the drip, the program still only provides

top results if the soil contains or receives

what nutrients can be measured and supplied

as needed first.

No matter how intelligent mankind may

be considered, taking care of the soil to

feed the total biological needs of the entire

“team” - then striving to provide needs for

the specific crop - works time after time.

But too many want to skip building up

soil fertility and just feed the crop. When

that happens, could growers be robbing

themselves of the greatest benefits in

terms of both soil health and the highest

yields and quality for whatever they are


Most likely there is no one who really

knows how to provide all of the exact

nutrients each plant will thrive on to do its

best. When anyone proposes to improve

upon what life in the soil can do in that

regard, even the best “guesstimate” will

likely fall far short of properly feeding the

soil- and thus will also rob the plant of its

full potential - to grow the best yields and

highest nutrition from the proper inputs.

So the question then becomes what is the

18 Organic Farmer February/March 2020

purpose of constant plant feeding? If it

is just to sell a product to feed the crop

without regard to the measurement of

the real needs and condition of the soil

in that field, it is not necessarily going to

be of the greatest benefit to the farmer

or provide the best outcome for what he

wants to grow based on the cost of return.

For many who claim to use the Albrecht

system or some other type program it is

just an excuse to sell a “feed the plant”

fertility program. As a rule, a farmer is

told he cannot afford to do anything more

than feed the crop. Is that actually the

truth, or just a sales pitch? Sometimes this

may be true, but generally speaking, it is

not the most productive approach.

For long-term solutions to soil fertility

and to best supply actual plant needs

sufficient time is needed to plan and

take a meaningful and careful approach.

When growers have a program that is

the best they can plan out or afford, even

though believing and choosing to follow

that program, they should still choose at

least one small field of average or better

production and split it in half for a test.

Follow the normally proposed fertility

program on half of it. On the other half

use a true soil building program such

as the one developed by Dr. William A.

Albrecht for use in organic production.

Spend the same amount of money for

fertility on both. But when using a feed

the soil approach use the most important

nutrients to feed the soil as shown

on the soil test by prioritizing the need

for all nutrients. If the budget doesn’t

cover it all, spend the money based on

prioritizing the needed nutrients and

put it where it makes the most difference.

That will usually be quite different

in approach as compared to a normal

program that just strives to “feed the

crop what it needs” and let the soil fend

for itself.

For client after client using the correct

guidance for testing this type of

program, they now say they must feed

the soil and let the soil feed the plant to

be most productive and most profitable.

Just about all of agriculture is not geared

to think that way today under the guise

that farmers and growers cannot afford

the cost in terms of time and money.

But how do you know if you have never

tried it?

Even on organic farms, most growers

still tend to try and cut corners with a

program that requires minimal inputs

in regard to time or money. Generally it

becomes a question of how can I maximize

production and still provide enough

to do that with as little inputs as possible.

When that is accomplished, too many

are satisfied with conditions that can just

help them remain where they are. This

type of thinking should not be considered

and will never correctly apply to

those who want a program that provides

true soil health.

Will the use of cover crops, crop rotations,

compost applications, striving for

the correct soil pH, and applying the

fertilizer that has provided top yields

in the past solve the real issues that are

needed to provide excellent soil health?

Continued on Page 20

February/March 2020


Continued from Page 19

When used as needed any one or a

combination of these measures may

help improve soil health, but this is still

not getting back to the trunk of the tree

which is needed as the foundation to

best provide real soil health. That is

because under normal conditions even

following all of these as accurately as

possible still will not completely provide

the real basic needs that are required for

excellent soil health.

Think about this for a moment.

Consider someone growing livestock

and trying to maximize profits, with a

stocking rate of one cow per acre. How

many will place their stock in a confined

area and expect the animals to fend for

themselves on whatever feed is left there

and thrive to the point of providing top

quality while doing so? Ridiculous,

right? But how many expect that very

thing from the life in the soil which by

weight is equivalent to feeding at least

one average sized cow per acre?

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the nutrients we apply to grow a crop

are not in the form the plant needs to

produce the best quality and yields

possible. What we apply must first be

converted by microbes to the form that

can best be supplied to the plants. In

fact, microbiologists who study the productivity

of the soil maintain that the

more life there is in the soil, the more

fertile that soil becomes. They measure

soil productivity by measuring the

amount of soil life that is present there.

Plant roots move throughout the soil

in search of moisture and nutrients,

and yet farmers and growers are told

to place the needed nutrients right up

close to the plants. How does soil life

and consequently the health of a soil

thrive when so much of that soil life

is “confined” to a very small area that

provides at best very limited means of

obtaining the nutrients they need that

have been applied outside that confined


Broadcasting needed soil nutrients

helps feed the entire population of

living organisms in the soil. To achieve




the utmost in terms

of soil health benefits,

the total area must

have sufficient nutrition.

Too little causes

nutrient shortages

and too much causes

nutrient toxicities

that results in other

needed nutrients

becoming unavailable

for crop use.

The second law of


states that life only

comes from life. In

the study of soil

biology this should be

a consideration since

the more life found to

be present in the soil,

from earthworms to

microbes, the more

healthy and productive

that soil proves

to be. Once that can

be measured, then

the question must be

asked and considered

as to what are the basic needs for all life?

There are four basic needs for life –

shelter, food, water and air. Which

one of these on average can more likely

be missing and life would go on the

longest? Shelter would be the answer

most of the time. Then between the

three that are left, food would be the

answer. Then water, with air being the

most critical of all since we can only live

a very short time without it.

The most critical need for sustaining

our life is also the most critical to the

soil for life. Now we are getting to

the trunk of the tree. But how many

consider that providing an adequate

amount of air to the soil as the most

critical step to building excellent soil

health? And even so, if the soil lacks

aeration, is there anything that can be

universally done to change or correct

that lack?

Most of those working in agriculture

fail to recognize the significance of

the need for just the right amount of

air in the soil, let alone the keys that

must be involved for correctly solving

this problem. That is one of the big

reasons it is not pointed out as the

greatest problem affecting soil life and

soil health.

Then when soil aeration is lacking,

how can farmers and growers know

that truly is the case? What provides

the proper amount of aeration to the

soil to best promote soil life and soil

health? That will be the topic for Part II

next time.

Neal Kinsey is owner and President of

Kinsey Agricultural Services, a consulting

firm that specializes in restoring

and maintaining balanced soil fertility

for attaining excellent yields while

growing highly nutritious food and

feed crops on the land. Please call 573

683-3880 or see for

more information.

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All photos courtesy of Danita Cahill

Earthworms are definitely the movers

and shakers of the soil world.

Ravenous creatures, even without

teeth, earthworms can eat half their body

weight every day. Since an adult night

crawler, Lumbricus terrestris, may reach

a weight of 0.39 ounces, that adds up to

approximately four and a half pounds of

soil consumed, digested and recycled by a

single adult nightcrawler each year.

The Good

The number of earthworms per acre

depends on the type of soil. The number

could be a hundred, or might even

number into the hundreds of thousands

per acre. For the farmer, that equates to a

whole lot of soil movement. The resulting

worm feces – or, in more polite circles,

worm castings – is a good thing. Once

organic matter has worked its way through

a worm, the nutrients in castings are much

easier for plants to absorb and utilize.

Earthworms also help aerate the soil with

their tunneling. Worms are most active

during the spring and fall months, and live

in various layers. Shallow-dwelling earthworms

live in the top 12 inches of soil.

They create random pathways as they feed.

Deeper dwelling earthworms live in lower

levels of soil – as deep as 6.5 feet. Their

burrows are semi-permanent.

Shallow dwelling worms are the most

beneficial to the top soil. Not only do

their burrows allow the movement of

air, but also the movement of water. In

areas of compaction or overuse, such

as land developed by urbanization,

or heavily-farmed land, the worms’

movement through the soil is especially


Nightcrawlers are surface feeders,

coming up from their burrows at night

to feed. They also store snacks for later.

They are the only earthworms known to

pull bits of leaves and plant debris down

into their burrows where it further

decomposes before they ingest it.

Worm populations often increase under

reduced tillage systems, according to

results from tests conducted in Indiana

and Illinois tilled and untilled corn and

soybean fields.

Worm Biology

Earthworms have no skeleton. The

earthworm’s digestive system is a tube

running from the mouth to the rear

of the body. Consuming and digesting

organic matter, such as fallen leaves,

allows worms to move nutrients such as

nitrogen and potassium from the surface

down into the soil.

Worms have a simple nervous system –

cutting a worm in half does not seem to

unduly stress it out. However, contrary

to popular belief, most worms chopped

in two will not grow into two separate

worms. If the head portion is long

enough, it may grow a new tail and continue

to live, but the tail portion will not

grow a new head, or new internal organs,

and will eventually die.

Earth worms have no lungs, instead they

breathe through their skin. This process is

known as diffusion. A worm’s skin must

stay moist to keep diffusion working. Too

much moisture, such as water saturated

soil from heavy rainfall is also detrimental

to worms. It doesn’t allow gases to diffuse

across the worm’s skin. In such a case, if

the worm doesn’t surface, it will suffocate.

In Germany, night crawlers are known as

“rain worms.”

An earthworm’s head is at the thicker,

rounder end. It has no eyes or ears, but

in addition to a toothless mouth it has

Continued on Page 24


Organic Farmer February/March 2020

February/March 2020


Continued from Page 22

a tiny lip-like appendage called a prostomium.

This is a sensory organ used to

navigate, or feel its way through the soil.

Although an earthworm has no eyes, it can

still sense light, especially with the head

end. Extended exposure to UV light will

paralyze a worm and cause it to die within

a short span of time.

An earthworm’s body is made up a series

of reddish-brown flexing segments. It uses

the segments to propel itself. Each segment

is covered with tiny bristles, called setae.

These bristles act as traction devices to

help the worm move. The setae also assist

the worm in navigation.

The Bad

Night crawlers are not indigenous to North

America. They originally came over from

Europe, and are now spread throughout

North America and Western Asia. It’s

suspected they came over in soil used as

ballast in the bottom of ships.

Still, there are many types of earthworms

that are indigenous to the US. There are

approximately 6,000 species of earthworms.

Around 120 of those species are

widely distributed around the world.

Earthworms are generally considered beneficial

to the soil, although there are times

when the presence of earthworms has a

negative effect.

After the glaciers retreated, the northern

forests evolved. The resulting ecosystem

does not benefit from earthworms.

Invasive species of earthworms from the

suborder Lumricina can have detrimental

effects on temperate forests.

These forests need thick layers of slowly

decomposing duff – such as the layer

of needles, bark and debris under pine

or fir trees. When earthworms invade

the forests, they consume and break up

the organic matter and spread it down

into the soil. This increases the cycling

and leaching of nutrients. Native forest

plants have adapted to the presence of

thick layers of slowly decaying organic

matter. With this thick layer broken up

too quickly by worms, the young plants

may face conditions in which they are

not evolved to adapt.

The change in the forest has resulted in

damages to some trees, such as sugar

maples, and to forest-floor plants such

as trout lilies, trilliums and some ferns.

Earthworms are blamed for the invasion

of Japanese barberry, and for buckthorn

overrunning oak forests.

The disappearance of forest duff equates

to the disappearance of insects and

small creatures that depend on the duff

layer for food and habitat. The loss of

insects as a food source results in a population

decline of other small creatures,

such as frogs and salamanders.

While earthworm tunnels are beneficial

to farmland and gardens with compacted

soil, the burrows in forest land

may speed the passage of water seeping

through the forest floor, which can have

a negative impact.

Eradicating earthworms from invaded

forestland is virtually impossible without

spraying pesticides, which would kill other

species as well. But organic growers with

cropland near forested ecosystems can take

measures to help prevent the spread of

earthworms. If you compost with the aide

of earthworms, you can stop using worms.

Although it may not be practical, freezing

compost material for at least a week before

spreading it will kill worms and their eggs.

The Hungry

Earthworms have the best of both worlds.

As hermaphrodites, worms are both male

and female. Although unlike slugs and

snails, they cannot self-fertilize. A worm

has a pair of ovaries and two sperm receptacles.

When the romantic mood strikes, a

worm meets up with another at the surface.

There they line up, join together and

exchange sperm.

That distinguishing pink bump around an

earthworm’s body is called a clitellum. Not

only is it the defining feature of this class

of worm, but it’s also part of the worm’s

reproductive system. After fertilization, the

clitellum forms a slime tube filled with albuminous

fluid. Albumin is a water-soluble

protein – the same protein found in milk,

blood plasma and egg white.

The worm wriggles forward out of the tube.

The tube first passes over the female pore,

which deposits eggs. As the worm continues

to crawl forward, the slime tube passes

over a male opening. The eggs are fertilized

with stored sperm from the other parent

worm. The tube closes off to form a tiny,

lemon-shaped egg case. This egg cocoon is

deposited underground. A worm produces

3-80 cocoons per year. Each contains from

1-20 fertilized eggs.

The gestation period for worms is from 2-12

weeks, depending on factors such as soil

type and temperature. Baby worms hatch

and emerge tiny, but fully formed. They

become mature enough to reproduce at 3-4

months. Night crawlers can grow to 14-15

inches and may live up to six years, although

two years is more likely.

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Abelardo Orozco, Duncan Family Farms Director of Farming Operations (Southern California and

Arizona) checks on a crop of baby spinach, while employees weed and survey the fields.

All photos courtesy of Danita Cahill.

It’s not generally possible to increase

the soil organic matter by more than one

percent. But even that one percent can

markedly improve soil fertility. “Feed the

soil to feed the plant” is the organic farmer’s

adage, and organic matter is the go-to

organic fertilizer option to do just that.

Organic matter is also a significant source

of micronutrients such as iron, copper and

zinc. As organic matter is mineralized, it

either becomes bound to soil minerals, or

it becomes available for plant growth.

With vegetable crops, color, product size

and uniformity are often as important

for market share as yield. To obtain these

attributes, nitrogen management is key.

But managing soil nitrogen levels with

organic matter is tricky, according to Nick

Andrews, Oregon State University (OSU)

Organic extension agent. “Nitrogen is

often the most limiting nutrient. It’s a little

bit more complex,” Nick said. The label of

an organic fertilizer gives the NPK (nitrogen,

potassium, phosphorus) numbers,

but those amounts won’t necessarily be

available to the plants.

Nitrogen (N)

Through the process of mineralization,

some of the nitrogen from organic

matter is changed into plant-available

minerals—ammonium and nitrate, for

instance. The problem is this process

doesn’t always coincide with crop

growth. Several factors are at play:

1) Temperature. Mineralization in

soil temperatures below 50 degrees is

insignificant. It does, however, increase

as soil warms.

2) Moisture. Soil moisture is important.

Mineralization happens rapidly in

moist soils, but slows considerably in

extremely wet or extremely dry soils.

3) Tillage. Tilling creates a surge of

microbial activity, but that burst doesn’t

last long—it subsides within weeks or

even days.

Some short season crops have low nitrogen

requirements. Using the available

nitrogen in soil organic matter, residues

from cover crops and/or applications of

compost, crops such as radishes and leafy

greens may still produce well.

Crops with longer seasons and higher

nitrogen needs will often need supplemental

sidedressings of organic nitrogen

fertilizers. Heavy feeders such as peppers

and tomatoes will benefit greatly from

additional nitrogen.

Nitrogen fuels green, leafy growth, which

helps plants photosynthesis, producing the

food required to set and develop fruits and


Here are some animal-based organic fertilizers

to supply nitrogen quickly.

These are good for cool season plantings:

Blood Meal, 13-0-0—Blood meal, made

from dried cattle blood, is a good nitrogen

source for early spring or fall plantings.

Chicken Manure, 1.0-0.8-0.5—Chicken

and other poultry manures are a good

choice if your crop needs a quick hit of

nitrogen. Poultry manures release nitrogen

rapidly—up to 75 percent is released into


Organic Farmer February/March 2020

the soil the first year. Most other manures

release only about a third of their nitrogen

the first year. Nick cautions against using

only manures for nitrogen. “If you’re using

enough manure to supply your nitrogen,

you’ll have more phosphorus and potassium

than you need.”

Fish Meal, 9-4-1—Fish meal is made from

ground-up fish. It’s an excellent nitrogen

source for cool-season vegetables, especially

for early spring plantings. Blood meal and

fish meal may attract animals, including


The following are organic fertilizers that

supply nitrogen slower. These are good for

later-season crops:

Feather Meal, 12-0-0—Feather meal, made

from ground-up chicken feathers, is a good

source of nitrogen for late-season growth.

Good choice for tomato and pepper crops.

Barnyard Manures—these are well-balanced

fertilizers, supplying small amounts

of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in

an organic base. Well composted and cured

manure should smell earthy. It shouldn’t

smell strongly of ammonia.

(50-60 parts per million). Phosphorus is

especially important early in the season

because it stimulates early shoot and

root growth.

Optimal crop yield calls for adequate

levels of soil phosphorus, the second

primary nutrient. Phosphorus helps

plants store and move carbohydrates, or

plant energy. It also promotes development

of roots, flowers and fruits. Low

phosphorus levels slow plant growth.

Only about one percent of the soil phosphorous

is available to plants. But too much

isn’t good, either. Excessive levels can create

field run off into streams and rivers, which

can cause algae bloom, resulting in oxygen

depletion and fish kills. Phosphorus soil

level is something to keep an eye on.

Potassium (K)

Potassium is the third primary nutrient.

It helps plants with root growth and disease

Continued on Page 28

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Different crops have different nitrogen

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and squash.

Crops with medium nitrogen needs

include carrots, onions and garlic. Also

with medium needs are lettuce, sweet corn,

pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini, rutabagas,

potatoes, scallions and watermelon.

Crops with higher nitrogen needs include

not only tomato and peppers, but cruciferous

vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels

sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. High

nitrogen is also needed by celery, kohlrabi,

turnips, cantaloupe and honeydew, squash

and eggplants, as well as cruciferous vegetables

like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.

Phosphorus (P)

Organic matter not only provides nitrogen,

it also provides phosphorus, a macronutrient.

Warm season vegetables require

less phosphorus (20-25 parts per million

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Organic Farmer February/March 2020

February/March 2020


Mixing the compost.

Continued from Page 27

resistance. Potassium also improves a plant’s

hardiness to cold and increases vegetable


Plants lacking in potassium are weak and

grow slowly. The fruit is small, sometimes

shriveled. Leaves show discoloration at the

margins and tips. Like with phosphorus,

only about one percent of the soil potassium

is available to plants.

In Western Oregon’s Willamette Valley, “a

lot of farms really don’t need more phosphorus

or potassium,” Nick said.

Aggregate Formation

Organic matter also helps with aggregate

formation, which is the process of sand, silt

and clay coming together to form larger-sized

granules. Larger granules create

nice, crumbly soil. Good soil structure

allows water to easily penetrate the surface.

Crumbly soil also creates better aeration,

better water infiltration, and a better ability

to retain water.


Although low in nitrogen, hummus is

the most mature soil component. In most

soils, hummus makes up 70-80 percent

of the organic matter. Increasing soil

hummus improves both soil and crop

growth. Adding hummus to the soil has

long lasting effects. Not only does it feed

the soil for the season, or even for the following

season—it breaks down slowly and

will continue to feed the soil for decades.

Sometimes hummus can last for hundreds

of years. Straw and cornstalks are high in

carbon and low in nitrogen. Both decompose

slowly and are efficient suppliers

of hummus.

Cover Crops

Cover crops—or green manure—build

nutrient-rich organic matter in the soil.

The plants collect the sun’s rays, which

powers photosynthesis. The plants take in

carbon dioxide from the air to produce

food for the plant, and food for the microorganisms

living in the root zone. Clean

oxygen is released into the atmosphere

during this same process.

place. So, in fields with high fertility levels,

a cover crop could save farmers money

in fertilizer costs. If farmers have a lot of

phosphorous in their fields, cover crops are

a good way to go—by adding nitrogen, Nick

said, without adding more phosphorous.

Nick suggests sending a cover crop sample

into a testing lab before incorporating it into

the soil. The lab can analyze for dry matter

and nitrogen content. Such a test can predict

how much nitrogen will be released in that

growing season.

OSU offers a free online organic fertilizer

and cover crop fertilizer calculator, with a

mineralization model. “It’s not the be all and

end all, but it’s useable and grower friendly,”

Nick said. This calculator is intended for

growing conditions in Western Oregon and

Western Washington.

Nick points out that farmers in different

regions with different soil types and precipitation

levels will need to check with

their local extension agents, or land-grant


Well-aggregated soil improves root growth.

It also provides a healthy habitat for soil

organisms. In turn, the organisms create a

favorable environment for plant growth.

Cover crops such as young legumes and

cereals are high in nitrogen. They decompose

quickly and produce less hummus

than chopped straw or cornstalks.

A cover crop works to keep nutrients in

Annual soil tests are the best way to determine

crop needs and monitor soil pH levels.

Comments about this article? We want to hear

from you. Feel free to email us at article@


Organic Farmer February/March 2020


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Photos courtesy of Rockey Farms.




Back in 1982, The Fixx had a hit with

the song “One Thing Leads to Another.”

In south-central Colorado’s high

desert, Rockey Farms has followed that path.

Beginning with integrated pest management,

the multi-generational family farm has experimented

and implemented one new farming

practice after another, steadily increasing

their sustainability, profitability, soil health

and crop quality.

And it began with IPM.

“My grandfather started the farm in 1938,

raising potatoes and he had some pasture

for sheep,” recalled Brendon Rockey, who

runs the farm now with his brother Sheldon.

“But the first shift for us as far as being more

sustainable came 25, 30 years ago when my

uncle wanted to really avoid toxic chemicals.

He didn’t like being personally exposed to

them, didn’t think they were good for our soil

and didn’t really think they were going to be

good for our consumers as well.”

So the farm started eliminating chemical

pesticides. It wasn’t a big success.

“We had such a dysfunctional system at the

time,” Rockey said. “We had poor soil health

and a real lack of diversity on the farm. We

really didn’t have a system created that could

handle getting rid of the chemicals.”

But instead of going backward, Rockey Farms

pressed on. They’d been rotating barley as a

cash crop with their potatoes, but a drought

in the already water-limited area made

that rotation impossible. They planted a

cover crop. Year one it was all sorghum. But

Brendon Rockey was already seeing the benefits

of diversity and in year two, the cover

crop was a seven-species mix.

“Watching these plants grow together, it just

made so much sense to me,” he said. “I could

see them interacting with each other. Diversity

became a foundation for us.”

Except for the potatoes. That was still a monoculture,

and that bothered Rockey.

“Then one day I was out in the potatoes and

came across a patch of field peas that was

growing volunteer,” he said. “And I remember

thinking, ‘Well, I don’t think those peas are

doing any harm.’”

So the next year, he pushed forward again.

Despite having about six inches of rainfall

annually to work with, Rockey intentionally

planted peas with some of his potatoes.

It worked.

“I was just so pleased with how well the two

plants interacted with each other,” he said.

“They weren’t creating competition, but were

actually collaborating with each other. We

didn’t end up using any more water, and we

had a slightly higher yield in the intercropped

blocks. I was always taught that any plant out

there that isn’t your cash crop is creating competition,

and that wasn’t the case.”

The next year, Rockey Farms pushed forward

again, planting diverse companion crops in

their potato fields, mostly legumes. Then

seeing an increase in insect diversity, they

added buckwheat and flower strips and companion

flowering crops.

“I started discovering all of these things were

stacking on top of each other and all the benefits

I was getting from these practices,” he said.

“It was amazing to me how many problems just

disappeared by simply bringing diversity into

the rotation.”

Higher quality – and profits – followed.

“I think a lot of times we get stuck in this

dynamic that we always think that we have

to grow more crops in order to make more

money,” he said. “We decided to do a higher

quality crop and really became more efficient

with our inputs. The way we’re farming now, we

feel like we’ve really eliminated a lot of expenses

of growing the crops. Every time we spend the

money now the focus is on investing in the soil.”

And Rockey doesn’t see these stacked benefits

ending at the farm boundary. He believes one

thing will continue to lead to another.

“For a while, we were stuck in this real linear

mindset that whenever we had a problem we’d

go out and try to kill the problem off,” he said.

“Adding living components to our farm are

now controlling those insect populations. We’re

growing a crop to feed other people, so it’s all

about life. It was really confusing to me that

with all this life, we were trying to solve our

problems with death.”

“So instead, now we want this dynamic living

system that functions properly and in the end

we end up with a good crop,” he said. “And it’s

helping create healthier human beings as well.

It’s all about this positive life.”

Brendon Rockey was interviewed for an

upcoming podcast series by Western SARE.

Please visit to listen to the


Comments about this article? We want

to hear from you. Feel free to email us at


Organic Farmer February/March 2020

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The green rush is on! With a lot of

people attempting to get into the

hemp market right now, the pace

is fast and furious. Unfortunately, the

horror stories are starting to emerge

in the mix of the big gains. It seemed

many people just jumped in with both

feet without truly thinking it out. Some

blocks were smaller than an acre, up to a

900 acre facility we visited in the desert

this year. Many “green thumbers” and

green house farmers attempted to grow

outdoors and found out there is more to

farming than just planting and watering,

in a bit more hostile environment.

For a few brave souls, the draw of bigger

returns compelled them to go the extra

mile and grow hemp for feminized seed.

As most of you know, growing hemp for

seed has its own rules and parameters.

You have to have a clean field, proper

spacing, great timing, no neighbors

with male plants (at least 3 miles away!),

and flipped females to males timed for

pollen production to match the flower.

And then the fun begins. Continual

testing for low THC levels, the threat

of mites, gophers and root issues, early

rains, dehydration, combining, sorting,

grading, germination and certification

caused many sleepless nights. No big

deal right? Right.

There are quite a few things to consider

if you are attempting to grow hemp for

feminized seed. Here are a few of our

most important items to consider:

Plan your field accordingly. If you have

the potential for gopher issues, you

can border up and flood your field to

eliminate most of them from the get

go. Get your field level, not only for

initial flood, but deviations in elevation,

especially at your perimeter make for

tough turns with a cultivator in tow. We

witnessed quite a few people try to plant

every available inch by stretching their

borders to the limits, only to have major

frustration with future tractor work.

Have an irrigation designer plan your

system. New technology and monitoring

will help dial in your water, pressure,

movement and soil moisture levels.

Knowing exactly how deep and wide

your water moves over time will allow

you to control your inputs with more

perfection. Spread your soil amendments

before bedding up to blend them

into the beds with more uniformity. If

you are planting your field on 60” beds

with a five row planter, leave skips on

every fifth row to eventually plant your

males when flowering progresses. It’ll

make planting the males from pots

much more efficient. On our personal

fields, we had to run additional surface

drip lines to accommodate potted male

plants in season, and it made for some

extra logistical hurdles. If you aren’t

growing and flipping your own male

Continued on Page 34









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Continued from Page 32

plants, contract with a reputable transplant

company and/or greenhouse to

ensure a timely delivery. Getting plants

late can have a dramatic effect on a good

pollination window. It is important

to start early with that process as well.

Placing male plants at 1 foot tall into

a field with 4 foot females can greatly

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reduce the even spread of pollen.

After pollination, be prepared to

leave the plants in the field until the

seeds are ready. Early harvest due

to weather can greatly diminish the

yield of your higher quality seeds.

Plan to have a dehydrator in place in

case weather eliminates the ability

to dry in the field. Your plants have

to be crispy if you are planning on

using a combine to extract seeds.

When the weather came this year,

many growers had to leave their

plants on drainable tarps in the

field and cover them with plastic in

wet weather. Removing the plastic

and letting them air dry in the sun

after rains is labor intensive and a

thought many won’t consider on

their budget. Having a dehydrator

ready can eliminate much of this

extra effort.

It is important to consider the effects

of weather, genetics and nutrition

on THC production. Pouring

thousands, hundreds of thousands,

or even millions of dollars into a

project only to have to disc it under

does not fit anyone’s profitability

plan. As seed production ramps up,

we have seen THC levels drop in the

flower, which can help if growing

plants for seed. But at any point,

government officials stepped in this

year and demanded field destruction

for many farmers. Good genetics

and happy, unstressed plants seemed

to weather the cycles much better

this year. Do your homework.

Last but not least, have a security

plan in place. The expense of

security, or lack thereof, and consequential

reduction in yield due

to theft is a significant line item.

Unfortunately, many of our growers

were not prepared for this and

lost as much as 5 acres to thieves

thinking it was traditional cannabis.

Think about that; five acres,

thousands of plants, gone overnight!

“No THC, Industrial Hemp” signs

posted around your property do not

dissuade thieves, as once they can


Organic Farmer February/March 2020






smell it, they think its cannabis and

the signs are just a farmer’s masked

deterrent. Hiring 24 hour security a

month or two before seed harvest is

going to be the norm. You have to

prepare for that in your budget and


The numbers are real. Variations

from $0.05 per seed to over $1.00

per seed were realized in 2019. 2020

should be no different as the market

continues to expand. The demand

seems to still be in effect for quality

seeds. Tens of thousands of seeds

per pound and several pounds per

acre can definitely happen. But

you have to be diligent, and more

importantly, prepared for all contingencies

to be successful with seed

production. We witnessed too many

operations this year that planted too

late, too hot, too dense, too close to

other farms, in areas with significant

early frost potential, with no plan for

processing, etc…. Don’t get caught

unprepared. The green rush is real

and he gains may last another year or

more, but so will the pitfalls. Hedge

your bet with preparation for the

contingencies and the green your

field will be the green in your return.

All your hard work and diligence will

have your friends green with envy!

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to hear from you. Feel free to email us


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