Organics: Indiana Organics are Hot
Posted by Dani Kusner on October 09, 2018
As we move through harvest, I’m reflecting on another strong summer of field days, and I can’t wait until after harvest when we have more time to meet again this winter. This season, some of the most influential gatherings occurred in Indiana. This is a turnaround for the Hoosier state as they now have Michael O’Donnell, a full-time Field Extension Educator at Purdue University dedicated to supporting row crop farmers who are transitioning from conventional to organic production. Along with Michael, a number of farmers in the middle of their transition are stepping up as leaders to share valuable lessons learned.
At the most recent event, Indiana farmers, Mike Shuter, Rick Clark and Dan DeSutter, led conversations about conversion strategies. Special guest, Klaus Martens, an organic farmer from New York, wowed everyone with wisdom he’s gained through years of observing his weeds and soils, along with learning from his local farming community. Here are some highlights from those conversations to consider for fall and winter management strategies as we head into autumn:
- 500 pounds of lime applied in the fall can help to hold back grassy weeds, such as foxtail, which thrive in tightly-bound soils. The lime application helps to loosen the soil, allowing it to breathe; consequently, the foxtail cannot germinate in this well-oxygenated, flocculated soil.
- Apply manure in the fall, directly onto a cover crop, to help capture the nutrients in more stable forms until use in the spring. If manure is overapplied in the spring, it will likely cause a flush of broadleaf weeds, like pigweed and lambsquarter, due to its high soluble phosphorous.
- Keep a living root growing this fall into the winter. Soil aggregates begin to deteriorate after two months without root exudates (sugars) to feed the microbes that build soil. If you do not have a living root in fields this winter, your soil aggregation is remaining stagnant and not improving.
- Do not underestimate the power of frost-seeding red clover for its nitrogen contribution next season. According to Klaus, 4% of a young red clover crop is nitrogen. For three feet of growth—approximately three tons of biomass (6,000 pounds)—this equates to 240 pounds of nitrogen.
- “You can do organic no-till if your soil is healthy enough to give you a right to do it.” The #1 question I’ve received this past month is, “How much successful organic no-till have you seen out there?” This explanation from the field day is the perfect answer. A farmer has to earn the right to do organic no-till. It is not a perfect system and it will not work out every year, depending on multiple factors, so a farmer needs to be prepared with back-up options, including tillage.
- Do not look at this moment in time on your farm. You always need to keep the bigger goal in mind. Transitioning to organic production is a four-to-five year process to transform soils, increase microbiology and create resilience on your farm. When things aren’t going well, remember the long view.
This wealth of knowledge and the value of sharing it within the organic farming community is something that sets it apart. The success of farmers who are transitioning is most abundant and efficient when we gather to do it as a community. I am proud to see this unfolding in Indiana.
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