Convert to Organic Farming
Demand for organic produce has boomed over recent years. Supermarkets from Australia to England now devote significant shelf space to organic produce, and organic certification schemes have emerged and flourished. Learn the systems and management techniques of organic farming for both crops and livestock. Study with tutors who are leading international experts with hands on experience in this field.
This course will develop the student’s ability to set up an organic farm, or convert an existing farm to organic practices.
There are ten lessons in this module as follows:
1. Introduction to Organic Farming
- benefits, scope, techniques
2. Integrated Farm Management Systems
- polyculture, biodynamics, permaculture, crop rotation, animal systems
3. Organic Management Issues
- certification, converting to organics, environmental concerns, marketing
4. Organic Soil Management and Crop Nutrition
- composting, mulching, green manuring, cover crops, organic fertilisers
5. Weed Management
- selecting appropriate techniques of control, weed identification
6. Pest and Disease Management
- livestock disease, animal health, plant pests and diseases
7. Livestock Management I
- beef, wool and meat production, mill
8. Livestock Management II
- poultry, deer, ostriches and emus, alpacas, goats, aquaculture
9.Organic Pasture Management
- grasses, legumes, site considerations, establishing pasture, grassland management
10. Broad-Acre Organic Crops
- wheat, mung beans, sesame seed, fibre plants.
WHAT YOU WILL DO IN THIS COURSE
Here are just some examples of the type of things you may do in this course:
- Investigate Organic industry such as, Certifying Organisations, Producers or organic farming groups in your locality or region
- Determine allowable inputs to an organic farm certifying in your area
- Discuss how an organic farm requires more labour than a conventional farm
- Visit an organic farm, either a real visit or virtual visit if that is not possible
- Prepare a plan for an organic farm.
- Describe the conversion process for one of the organic farms
- Investigate organic market potential
- Prepare a compost heap
- Prepare a diagram of a healthy soil food web
- Prepare a weed collection (25 weeds –either pressings or illustrations)
- Determine appropriate weed control within allowable organic farming limits.
- Describe the life cycle of three animal parasites
- Describe habitat requirements of various predatory insects
- Survey one or more farms regarding animal production systems
- How can the animals above be integrated into a vegetable or fruit production system
- Determine organic solutions to different farming problems
- Investigate different pasture management systems.
- Select appropriate organic management systems for different organic farms.
Understand the environmental, economic and political issues concerning organic farming.
Explain the role of living organisms and decomposing organic matter in creating and maintaining an appropriate soil condition for successful organic farming.
- Contrive and apply appropriate weed management practices for an organic farm.
- Select and apply appropriate pest and disease management practices for both animal and plant production on an organic farm
Design an appropriate system for organic production of cattle, sheep and pigs.
Design an appropriate system for organic production of poultry and other miscellaneous animals.
Design an appropriate system for organic pasture management.
Explain the broad-acre organic production of a grain or legume crop.
Duration: 100 Hours (you study at your own pace).
How To Make a Farm into an Organic Farm
It can be both disruptive and expensive to change an existing farm from a ‘traditional’ operation, to a ‘sustainable organic’ operation. The change should not, however, be expected to take place overnight. The conversion to a fully organic farm takes several years – most certifying bodies specify a minimum 2-year period between chemical usages on the farm to a fully organic operation.
A realistic approach is to start with a small area. This allows the farmer to identify possible problems and to become familiar with organic growing techniques. During this early period the farmer should join a certification body. The certifier will assess the farm’s chemical status (through soil tests and/or leaf tissue analysis) and advise on the farm’s level of certification (i.e. fully organic, in conversion, or not organic).
At the start of the conversion period the farmer should consider the following:
Knowledge – find out as much information as possible about organics. Find out where help can be obtained
Labour – do staff understand the principles and techniques used in organics? Are they prepared to put more time/labour into the farm?
Tools – are specialised tools needed?
The property – how suited is it to organic farming? Are their patches of soil with persistent chemical residues? Will neighbouring stock or crops affect the farm’s operation?
Inputs – is suitable seed or livestock readily available?
Finances – most farmers lose income during the early conversion period.
Markets – what markets and processors are available for the farm’s produce?
Making the change to organics will always involve some trade-offs. For example, the quality or quantity of production will probably decrease during the conversion period. However, the benefits in later years will most likely make up for the short-term financial loss.
This may not be necessary everywhere; but in developed countries it probably is.
The decision for a farm to become organic is not an overnight process. Although it can be started at any time, organic farming requires much planning and forethought. Changeover tends to be a transitional process that takes into consideration the state of the farm in its present condition and its suitability to organic farming methods. The type of organic classification the farm is pursuing (i.e. organic, biodynamic) will dictate what procedures, tests and methods must be used, and what time is involved. Contact your local or national certification board to obtain guidelines on what is involved in converting all or part of a property to organic growing.
A number of organic organisations have been established around the world to carry out quality assurance monitoring. In Australia, there are three main certification bodies – the Biological Farmers Association (BFA), the Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association of Australia (identified by the Demeter trademark), and the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture in Australia (NASAA). There are equivalent bodies overseas, working with the umbrella organisation, the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). There are several organic certification bodies within the UK all of which conform to the standards laid down by the EU including: Organic Farmers and Growers (AF&G), DEFRA, Soil Association Certification Ltd. The standards set by DEFRA conform to the minimum standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). As a matter of interest, Soil Association certification has it's own standards, which are more exacting than those laid down by DEFRA.
Certification is obtained through on-farm and produce inspections to ensure the product is what it claims to be. The produce is graded according to its organic status (eg. NASAA has three grades: A: Organic; B: Conversion to organic; C: not organic).
The certification bodies work with government agencies and equivalent bodies overseas to ensure that organic produce complies with national and international standards. One of the main aims of the standards is to restrict what is being sold as ‘organic’ and to provide more universal grading and packaging systems to reduce confusion among consumers.
It is in the organic growers’ interests to obtain certification. Within Australia, all major outlets such as supermarkets and all organic wholesalers around the country will deal only in certified produce. While it is not illegal to sell uncertified produce as ‘organic’, it is illegal to sell it as "certified organic".
In Australia exported organic produce is subject to more stringent rules. Any product carrying an organic or bio-dynamic label must be accredited by an AQUIS-accredited (Australian Quarantine Service) organic certifier such as the BFA or NASAA, and they must comply with the standards set down by the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements).
The certification process extends beyond the farm. The certifiers may also certify processors, input manufacturers and packers, transporters, packaging sheds, wholesalers, importers and exporters
RECOMMENDED BOOKS: All by our founder & principal, John Mason