New crop production guide aimed at helping farmers tap growing organic markets

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- If you are an organic-crop producer in the Northeast or a farmer interested in transitioning to organic, there is a new resource available to provide the research-based information you need to be successful.

The newly published Penn State Organic Crop Production Guide -- believed to be the first and only organic field-crop production guide tailored to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions -- is among the most comprehensive university-produced guides in the country, according to Charlie White, sustainable agriculture extension associate in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"The guide provides science-based information on organic practices and ecological processes, all in one volume," White said. "It features case studies from farmers and other firsthand information gleaned from field days, workshops and networking events, tapping into the knowledge and experience of producers. In addition, it offers the expertise of partner organizations such as Pennsylvania Certified Organic."

The 243-page production guide also incorporates scientific information generated by Penn State research. The College of Agricultural Sciences conducts organic research on more than 40 acres of cropland at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, about 10 miles from the University Park campus in Centre County.

Recent Penn State research has explored such topics as weed management, environmental quality and profitability in organic feed and forage production; multifunctional cover-crop cocktails for organic systems; reduced-tillage organic feed-grains production; and organic production of heritage small grains.

Data from the Organic Trade Association indicate that sales of organic products in the United States jumped to $35.1 billion in 2013, up more than 11.5 percent from the previous year's $31.5 billion. In the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2008 Organic Survey, 551 certified organic farms in Pennsylvania reported sales of nearly $213 million.

According to USDA, rising consumer demand for organically produced goods provides market incentives for U.S. farmers across a broad range of products. The department points out that organic products now are available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly three out of four conventional grocery stores.

"One of the big opportunities for producers is the growing demand for organic livestock feed," White said. "Pennsylvania is an importer of feed, and there's a shortage of organic grain for dairy and poultry producers."

But transitioning to organic production is not a simple matter, he explains. For instance, because organic standards do not permit the use of synthetic chemicals, controlling weeds that compete with crops for soil nutrients, water and sunlight is among the biggest challenges for organic growers. He noted that the guide provides detailed recommendations for weed control in organic systems.

"Successful weed management in organic cropping systems is knowledge intensive and requires skill," he said. "Cultural and mechanical tactics must be highly integrated and may include crop rotation, tillage, mulches and cover crops."

The guide also contains sections covering soil health and management, soil fertility, cover crops, insect and disease management, marketing organic crops, planning crop rotations, organic field-crop budgets and other topics.

"The information will be useful to all levels of experience, whether someone is a seasoned organic producer or is just considering whether to make the transition," White said.

The Penn State Organic Crop Production Guide is available in print or in PDF format. A bundle that includes both versions can also be purchased. The guide can be previewed online.

To order, call toll-free 877-345-0691 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. All major credit cards are accepted. Checks and money orders payable in U.S. currency can be mailed to Publications Distribution Center, College of Agricultural Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, 112 Agricultural Administration Building, University Park, PA 16802-2602.

Last Updated February 27, 2015