Is no till or strip till farming an option for organic farmers?

A number of organic farmers and university extensions are evaluating how no till and strip till farming can best be incorporated into large-scale organic production.

No till can be extremely difficult to manage in an organic production system because it removes the most effective organic weed management tools. However, there are also many benefits to long-term soil health such as increased soil biology and enhanced organic matter, with fields that have been under organic production for a number of years. It is key to minimize tillage and soil disturbance while maintaining great weed management to enhance long-term profitability and soil health.

What inputs are approved for organic crops?

There are many certified organic seed, fertility, and crop protection products on the market. As a certified organic producer, you can only use inputs approved by the certification agency you work with as part of your OSP.

Soil fertility and crop nutrition is mostly managed with poultry litter and/or manure, crop rotations, and cover crops. You can also supplement this with soil amendments such as lime, mineral calcium, or compost, but only if the manufacturing process aligns with NOP requirements. Animal by-products such as fish emulsion, fishmeal, blood meal, bone meal, or meat meal may also be allowed.

There are a variety of crop pests and diseases control products that are OMRI approved for organic production, as long as they are used in accordance with organic production standards and as outlined on the product label.

Organic operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available. GMO seeds and conventional seed treatments are strictly prohibited.

The organic crop input landscape is rapidly evolving and there are many products which make bold claims. Unfortunately, not all have proven track records for midwestern agronomic conditions and/or row crops. AgriSecure recommends utilizing the right inputs under the right conditions to secure the desired ROI.

What equipment is required on organic farms?

You will probably want to invest in a few key pieces of equipment to optimize your organic operation. It depends on your crop rotation, location, and number of organic acres, but generally you want to own or have access to a rotary hoe and a cultivator. And some farmers prefer to also add a tine weeder and/or flamer for weed management. The overall incremental investment in new equipment is frequently very manageable.

You will be able to use equipment in both your organic and conventional fields as long as the appropriate clean-out procedures are followed and documented. As such, you will be able to use your existing tractors, planters, combines, grain carts, etc. on your organic acres.

It is critical to find a reputable dealer in your area or online resellers.

What type of fields work best for organic production?

Large, relatively flatter fields that are regular in shape are generally best for organic row crop production because it makes tillage easier. You generally want to avoid point rows and short terraces because it reduces the number of crop types that can be effectively managed on them.

You also want fields that don’t get too wet over prolonged periods of the season, and this is especially critical in the period from planting through canopy. It can be challenging to get optimal results on fields with river-bottom or heavy gumbo soils.

With organic production, field type matters. But it’s also true than almost any field that can be cultivated using conventional methods can also be a highly productive organic field. The key to success is having a solid plan and executing on it.

What kind of yield drag should I expect?

Yield is difficult to predict in any production system. That said, organic farmers have come to realize they can close the gap versus conventional yields. And sometimes even exceed them.

Whether or not there is a yield drag really depends on the crop, the soil, and the execution. At AgriSecure, we have seen corn yields approach conventional rates when the right crop rotation is used. Organic soybean yields tend to be more challenging, usually because of weed management challenges, but even this can be overcome. At the end of the day, you want to focus on profit. And selling crops at a premium of 2 to 3 times conventional prices is a key part of earning attractive profits with organics.

How do you manage weeds without synthetic chemicals?

Weed management is one of the top concerns for organic farmers. The good news is that it can be done, and it can be done successfully without synthetic pesticides. In fact, organic fields can get nearly the same level of control as conventional fields. You just have to create a plan and stick to it, use the right tools and equipment, and employ proven organic weed management practices. It helps a lot if you’re willing to try new techniques and approaches, too.

Here’s the key steps to successfully manage weeds in organic production:

  • Develop and execute a proactive plan based on proven best practices – starting with the right transition plan.
  • Implement a robust crop rotation that minimizes the ability of crop-specific weeds to grow and persist.
  • Leverage cover crops to reduce weed pressure. Cover crops also provide a bunch of other economic and agronomic benefits over the long term.
  • Work the field prior to planting and all the way through canopy to make sure weeds don’t take hold.

If my CRP contract is ending, are those acres immediately eligible for organic production?

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays farmers to plant species that improve environmental health instead of growing marketable field crops. CRP land usually does not use synthetic chemicals or inputs prohibited in organic production. In those cases, CRP land frequently doesn’t require the 36-month transition period to be certified organic.

However, you will probably face challenges growing a profitable organic crop on former CRP land, especially in the first year for a variety of reasons. An Organic Consultant can outline the steps you need to take to restore the likely issues with fertility, drainage, and more. They can also work with you to choose the best crops and rotations to maximize your investment.

Will I qualify for reimbursement for my annual certification with the USDA?

Once you are certified, the USDA Organic Certification Cost-Share Programs can reimburse eligible operations up to a maximum percentage of their certification costs. Learn more here: Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) (usda.gov)

Can I get funds from the FSA to transition to organic?

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) can help you with the cost of transitioning to organic, organic certification, real estate, buildings, repairs, insurance, field buffers, routine operating expenses, storage and handling equipment, crop losses, soil and water conservation, mapping field boundaries, and acreage reporting.


Who “owns” my farm’s organic certification?

Organic certification permits a farming operation to sell crops grown in accordance with the USDA’s NOP regulations as “certified organic” on a field-by-field basis. The certificate will be issued to the farm entity for specific crops and fields approved as part of their OSP (Organic System Plan) on an annual basis.

How many years do I need to transition before being certified organic?

In order to sell a certified organic crop, you have to grow it on land that has not used prohibited substances or seed for a full 36 months prior to the harvest of the first organic crop. It is necessary to have documentation proving the last time prohibited materials were applied to the field.

An Organic Consultant can help you understand how best to accomplish the transition process over two crop years by managing your late-season and post-harvest activities appropriately before you start the transition process.

What is required for organic certification?

To receive organic certification for the first time and every year after that, a farm must provide:

  • An approved Organic Systems Plan (OSP) that details how the land will be farmed to comply with NOP standards
  • A list of fields that shows where the operation will farm organically. To qualify, there must be evidence each field has been farmed in a system that meets NOP standards for at least the past 36 months

Evidence of previous compliance can be provided two ways:

  • The farming operation is in possession of the necessary field and farming records for the past 36 months
  • The farming operation obtains an affidavit from previous operator stating it has been farmed organically

Without evidence, an entity cannot certify a specific field for organic production. As the farming entity, you retain significant influence in how (or if) the acres are able to be certified from one year to the next.

The organic certification application and recordkeeping process is not easy. AgriSecure recommends working with an Organic Consultant to reduce the headaches and stress of getting certified.

How do you insure an organic crop? Are crop insurance options available?

You can insure your organic crop. It is highly recommended that you secure crop insurance for your transition and organic crops as part of your risk management plan.

Organic crop insurance can create an attractive and profitable floor. Choosing the one best suited for your farm will require an agent with knowledge of organic crop insurance, and an Organic Consultant can help you with that.

What nutrients can I use while transitioning to organic acres?

A key focus during your transition period will be improving the fertility of the land previously used to grow conventional crops. Organic farmers primarily rely on poultry litter, manures, and other approved naturally-mined elements for soil nutrients. However, you need to ensure any products, including fertility, applied meet the standards for organic production.

During your transition to organic and after your certification, your Organic Systems Plan (OSP) must document the products you plan to use on your farm. An Organic Consultant can work with you to understand which products are appropriate for transition, what documentation is required, and (when the time is right) get the required approval from the certifier.

What crops should I plant during my farm’s transition to organic?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. It all depends on your farm and your land, your operating capacity, and your local crop markets. You can think of transition as a three-legged stool where you need to balance the economics, agronomics, and operational capacity to set your organic acres and farm up for long-term success.

An Organic Consultant can work with you to build a customized plan that takes your fields and soils into account, not to mention your profit goals.

Will I be able to make any money while transitioning?

Yes, it’s possible but there’s a caveat. It takes 36-months to acquire organic certification, and during this time you must comply with all organic production practices. You can sell the crops you grow, but during the transition period they can’t be sold as organic or benefit from the premium price tag. As such, your return during transition will be heavily tied to conventional commodity prices.

But there are still many ways to maximize your investment during the transition. The key is balancing the near-term economic upside with long-term agronomic benefits such as improved soil health.

How many acres should I put into organic production? How many acres do I need to start with?

AgriSecure believes each farm needs to determine the total number of organic acres needed to generate profits that will set your family farm up for long term success.

If you’re just getting started with organic production and have 1,000+ acres in your operation, we recommend you transition 25%-50% of your total acres in Year One. This allows for you to get some experience under your belt on a manageable scale. After that you can convert more acres at a pace that makes sense for you and your farm operation.

That said, we don’t encourage our members to start “too small” because you won’t be able to evaluate how organics will operate on a larger number of acres – and will kick yourself in the butt for not doing more after your first year of selling organic crops!

Follow the Goldilocks principle: Don’t start too small. Or too big. Find the number of acres that are just right. It’s all about economies of scale and efficiency.

If I transition to organic production, do I have to transition ALL my farm’s acres at once?

A farm operation can continue to farm conventional and organic acres by running a split operation. That said, you will need to follow the appropriate procedures when moving equipment from a conventional field to an organic field and keep the appropriate records. Many farmers continue to grow both conventional and organic crops.

Should I transition my farm to organic?

There are many benefits to organic farming. One of the biggest is that it lets you take control of your profits. With organic row crop production, you can generate more income and build a business that can be passed down for generations to come.

That said, organic production isn’t easy. It demands a much higher level of planning, execution, fieldwork and recordkeeping than conventional farming. As an organic farm, you will swap out synthetic chemicals and fertilizers for natural fertility, crop protection products approved for organics, and mechanical weed control. And, of course, you can only use non-GMO seed varieties. There are new challenges and a steep learning curve to overcome, but with the right mindset and support organic farming is extremely rewarding.

To start, organic production requires a 36-month transition period for each field. After which, an annual certification process, heavy on recordkeeping, is required.

But if you want to lead the way for your farm and your future, AgriSecure is here to help. We partner with farmers like you to create a plan, optimize execution, and track progress to ensure your success. Our platform and cloud-based app significantly reduces the effort and stress of recordkeeping, too, by capturing a detailed log of field activities and associated documents throughout the growing season.

Does AgriSecure certify farms as organic?

AgriSecure is NOT a certifying agency. We connect farmers with Organic Consultants that can help you combine the power of the MyFarm Platform with individualized advice and certification support.

Does AgriSecure buy grain?

AgriSecure does not buy or sell grain.

What is the AgriSecure MyFarm platform?

AgriSecure’s MyFarm platform allows farmers to build, execute, and report on organic row crop production while staying focused on optimizing profitability and minimizing headaches. With this cloud-based app, you can:

  • Plan. Build and review detailed crop rotations, field budgets and operational plans. And you can easily update them at any time.
  • Execute. Get the job done with informative work plan summaries, detailed field-by-field overviews, and insightful planning tools.
  • Track. Update work orders with a click of a button from your tractor or office. Seamlessly collect the data and records required for organic certification.
  • Report and Analyze. Leverage automated reports to reduce certification time and analytical tools to inform next year’s plan.

AgriSecure recommends working with an Organic Consultant in order to get the maximum value from the MyFarm platform. You can capitalize on their knowledge and experience to optimize the data and insights provided by MyFarm.