2015 Certified Organic Survey Released

Sep 30, 2016 10:39:00 PM / by Admin

  • The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the results of the 2015 Certified Organic Survey. The survey, an inventory of all known certified organic producers in the United States, provides detailed data to define the scope and economic impact of certified organic production in the United States.

Several highlights from the study include:

  • Certified organic farms operated 4.4M acres of certified land in 2015, up 20% from 2014.
  • Of the $6.2B in organic commodities sold, $3.5B (57%) came from organic crops, $1.9B (31%) from organic livestock and poultry products (primarily milk and eggs), and $0.7B (12%) from organic livestock and poultry.
  • California ($2.4B), Washington ($626M) and Pennsylvania ($332M) were the top states for organic sales in 2015.
  • States varied in how organic producers market and sell their goods. The percent of farms selling directly to consumers was highest in southeastern and northeastern states and lowest in central states.
  • Three-fourths of certified farms sold some or all of their organic products within a 100-mile radius of the farm,

Read the whole study at https://www.nass.usda.gov/Surveys/Guide_to_NASS_Surveys/Organic_Production/index.php

Topics: USDABreaking NewsLiveStockCaliforniaWashingtonNOPOrganic certificationCrop, Pennsylvania

USDA Releases Improved Organic Portal

Sep 30, 2016 10:59:00 PM / by Admin

USDA recently launched an updated version of the organic portal to help new farmers, local and regional producers, veterans, and organic producers or handlers to understand the resources offered by the USDA. The new site features a user-friendly design with updated content that allows interested parties to more easily access USDA resources for the organic community from one centralized location.

This portal connects visitors with programs, services, and educational materials that can help your organic farm or business including organic certification cost share assistanceorganic price reportingorganic crop insurance, and conservation programs.


You can visit the new site at: www.usda.gov/organic.

Topics: USDANational Organic ProgramNOPOrganic certification

USDA Publishes National Organic Standards Board Meeting Proposals and Discussion Documents

Oct 14, 2016 11:09:00 PM

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published an updated agenda and other materials for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) fall meeting to be held in St. Louis, Mo., on Nov. 16 - 18, 2016. The public is invited to provide comments that address specific topics noted on the meeting agenda.

Organic meat and poultry producers can now use "Non-GMO" claim

Sep 26, 2016 11:10:00 PM

These products may also now use a “Non-GMO” label claim. Organic stakeholders have expressed an interest in using “Non-GMO” label claims to clearly communicate to consumers that organic products do not contain genetically engineered ingredients, and that organic animals were not fed genetically engineered feed. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) has added process improvements and labeling flexibilities. The new procedure released by the FSIS allows certified organic meat and poultry producers to obtain approval of non-GMO label claims based on their organic certification.


Read more here.

5 Tips on Preparing for your Annual Onsite Organic Inspection

“There are a lot of rumors circulating about how difficult organic certification is,” says Garth Kahl, “especially if I put myself in the shoes of a farmer who is new to the process."


Garth Kahl is a certified organic farmer and an independent organic inspector, inspecting crop, livestock and handling entities for compliance with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP). He and I are spending the afternoon casually discussing organic food production. Involved in the organic industry for more than three decades, Garth started out as an organic farmer himself and continues to this day. When he’s not inspecting farms in Belize, Mexico or rural land stateside, Garth can be found on his own organic pasture in Southern Oregon.


We narrow in on the topic of organic inspections. The onsite inspection, an in-person visit to an organic operation, provides consumers with a critical link in the organic food chain by validating the integrity of any product that carries the USDA Organic seal. The USDA NOP Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the rule governing distribution of the USDA Organic Seal to certified operations, requires that each production unit, facility or site that produces or handles organic products receive an annual onsite inspection. This inspection is used to determine if the organic certification of an operation should be granted or continue, based on proof of a producer’s compliance with USDA organic regulations.


“I see a lot of angst around certification and inspections,” explains Garth. “Specifically, people are concerned with recordkeeping,” he says. Recordkeeping can be a common pitfall for producers when it comes to maintaining organic certification. The NOP CFR requires that certified organic operations maintain records concerning production, harvesting, and handling of products sold, labeled or represented as organic. Records should be sufficient enough to demonstrate compliance with organic production requirements.


Garth proceeds to offer practical tips for operations when preparing for an organic inspection throughout the year.


#1 Your records should reflect organic integrity.


“The litmus test when it comes to recordkeeping," says Garth, "is, 'does it affect organic integrity?'" Records should validate the organic integrity of the operation. For example, a dairy operation needs appropriate feed records for organic alfalfa fed to cows. A processing facility claiming an organic cupcake mix Is 95% organic needs batch records to demonstrate the ingredient formulation. “An operation that is missing records so vital to the organic production process are big factors affecting our ability to verify organic integrity” says Garth.


#2: Your organic records should be doing double or triple duty.


Your recordkeeping system shouldn’t solely benefit your organic certification – it should also make your operation more efficient. “What I often tell people," says Garth, "is the type of recordkeeping that you need to keep for organic certification is the type of recordkeeping that you should already be keeping if you’re running a successful business. Really, there should not be duplication.”


An organic record can be helpful in making business, financial, marketing and/or tax decisions for your operation. Records, such as purchasing receipts, provide a good example of this. Purchasing receipts can help a producer when it comes to preparing end of year taxes, creating a marketing strategy or figuring out which enterprises in your farm are making money or which ones are losing money. “If you address your records with this mindset,” says Garth, “then it’s not an undue burden because it’s really something that you should be doing anyway."


#3: You should work with the record keeping process you're comfortable using, whether a desktop blotter calendar or your mobile phone.


“Some of the best organic records I’ve ever seen were kept by an older Mennonite grower in Oregon," recalls Garth. “Every night after work, he would sit down on the couch and on a paper calendar, in tiny little block lettering, he would write out what he had done that day on his farm,” says Garth. The detailed records in the farmer's logbook included application records, seed purchases and documented seed searches. The entire set of records sat next to his couch. “It was incredibly complete,” exclaims Garth, “and there’s no reason why a spiral notebook or Rite in the Rain® notebook from a farmer’s pocket or on the tractor cannot be very complete records." A key stipulation is that an operation must be able to present this sufficient information to an inspector when requested, during a planned or a surprise organic inspection.


#4: You, the organic farmer, should record anything applied to your ground that is not normally there.


Consider cows on pasture, for example. “If you let your cows graze and they apply manure to your fields naturally through the process of grazing, that does not require a manure application record,” Garth tells us. “However, if you take a manure spreader and spread manure onto your fields, then that activity should have a corresponding record,” he explains. Any activity resulting in an input added to the field should have a record or a document that it happened.


Maintaining a record of manure spreading is also a good example of a useful farm management principle. “This is the sort of thing I would want to know as an owner of a farm operation," says Garth. A record of manure application on a field will help document the quantity of what is being applied to each field. An operation can use this data in combination with other data to determine if the ground is providing a yield response. “If I’m dumping a bunch of manure on a field and I’m not seeing any big yield response,” says Garth, “then maybe it’s time to re-sow that field, or maybe it’s time to put in some drainage or improve the irrigation. If I’m putting a bunch of nitrogen on it and it is not giving me significant yield, then I’m basically throwing money at that field for no reason." Useful and well-documented records can help identify where these production gaps are or where there are areas for improvement.


#5: You should keep your receipts.


A common misstep at an organic inspection is the failure of an operation to have receipts. “These are the kinds of things that you would expect to have available if you’re going to fill out your Schedule F IRS Form at the end of the year,” explains Garth. “You would need to have receipts. We certainly do, and we’re a smaller operation." Receipts for things such as lime, feed, seeds, product ingredient purchases, are all examples of the types of receipts that are used to verify organic integrity.


“Recordkeeping is the biggest perceived barrier in organic inspections,” says Garth. However, with careful attention and logical management, an operation can ensure that time spent in managing information is useful, non-duplicative and valuable for continuing organic inspection. This can allow operations to get out and do what they are most passionate about – producing valuable organic supply for the industry as a whole.

Public comments invited for NOP 5036 - Notice of Draft Guidance on Treated Lumber

Sep 8, 2016 11:17:00 PM

This Notice of Draft Guidance on Treated Lumber clarifies that using lumber that has been treated with prohibited substances prior to certification does not affect a producer's timeline for obtaining certification, as long as the lumber does not contact crops; it alsooutlines where treated lumber can be located on organic farms and explains how organic producers can prevent crops and livestock from coming into contact with lumber treated with prohibited substances.


Provide public comment here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/08/31/2016-20808/national-organic-program-notice-of-draft-guidance-on-treated-lumber

What we're reading this week 10/12/2015

Oct 12, 2015 11:23:00 PM

The War on School Lunch

Modern Farmer

Surely, everyone would agree that our kids deserve to eat healthy food farmed on local soil. So how come the average public-school lunch still looks more like the tray on the right? Read more >>


Food Waste on Twitter: Lots of talk, But Can We Get Some Action? 

Food Tank

When John Oliver said on his show Last Week Tonight that “we all have to address our relationship with food waste,” Twitter responded in a big way. Oliver’s viral video clipcriticized America’s buffet and “all you can eat” obsession, uncovered the “farm to not table” epidemic, and exposed the truth about expiration dates in such a cleverly inspiring way, it was hard not to share. And that’s what Tweeters did: they shared and shared until #foodwaste started trending on Twitter, which just added more momentum to the conversation. Read more >>


Why entrepreneurs are suddenly finding the beauty in ugly produce

Washington Post

Ugly produce is midway through a massive makeover.Misshapen potatoes, multi-pronged carrots, and past-their-prime apples — rebranded as “cosmetically challenged” and “beautiful in their own way” — are coming into vogue. Campaigns aimed at reducing food waste are bringing these fruits and vegetables, previously reserved for hogs, compost piles and landfills, to the forefront of our minds, if not quite to our grocery shelves. Read more >>


Common Worms Could Solve our Global Plastic Crisis

Discovery Communication

Mealworms can safely and effectively biodegrade certain types of plastic waste, according to groundbreaking new research from Stanford University and China’s Beihang University.In two newly released companion studies, researchers reveal that microorganisms living in the mealworm’s gut effectively break down styrofoam and plastic into “biodegraded fragments that look similar to tiny rabbit droppings.” Read more >>


SC flooding expected to hit some farm crops hard


Heavy rain and flooding in the Carolinas and other parts of the Southeast are expected to result in significant losses to peanut,soybean and cotton crops — and the damage could extend to the region's tobacco and poultry operations, according to officials. Read more >>

USDA Announces Changes for Largest Conservation Program

 Sep 2, 2016 11:27:00 PM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 2016 – In response to customer and partner input, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced today a significant update to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the nation’s largest conservation program by acreage. Beginning with the new enrollment period planned later this year, the updated CSP will leverage redesigned planning and evaluation tools and an expanded array of new enhancements to provide conservation-minded producers with more options to improve conditions on working lands.


Read more at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/newsroom/releases/?cid=NRCSEPRD1288622

Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) to host GMO consultation overview & webinar

 Oct 14, 2016 11:28:00 PM

Join COTA for a webinar on September 12 at 2 p.m. EDT. Topics include: the state of GMOs in Canada and C-291 and the proposed GMO labeling bill in Canada that seeks to amend the Food and Drugs Act to ensure mandatory labeling of GMOs.


Read more at: http://www.newsfromota.com/ota-members/canadian-news/cotas-gmo-consultation-overview-webinar-2/


Registere here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/62762699538374146

What we're reading this week

Nov 17, 2016 10:59:02 AM

USDA Appoints Members to the National Organic Standards Board

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) announces Secretary Vilsack's appointment of five new members to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB): Ms. Sue Baird - Bunceton, MO; Dr. Asa Bradman - Berkeley, CA; Mr. Steve Ela - Hotchkiss, CO; Dr. David Mortensen - State College, PA and Ms. Joelle Mosso - Fresno, CA.

For full list of bios, visit: http://bit.ly/2fhKnAr

What’s organic? A debate over dirt may boil down to turf

Seattle Times

A high-profile topic at this week's NOSB meeting is a discussion over whether produce relying on irrigation to deliver nutrients to plants — through what is known as hydroponic and aquaponic systems — can be certified organic. Read more >>

As demand increases, experts dispel myths about organic food

Minot Daily News

Growing demand for organic food can introduce misunderstandings about what organic production consists of. Certification experts and farmers weigh in on organic production methods. Read more >>

How One Borderland Farm Is Planting the Seeds of Food Justice


One New Mexico farm - inspired by the opportunity to address hunger and poverty challenges along the border - uses principles of regenerative agriculture and community development to address the disproportionate poverty rate through mobile markets. Read more >>

Should carrageenan be used in organic food? An advisory board decides today


The use of carrageenan - harvested and processed seaweed - as a food additive in organic agriculture, is a widely debated topic and is up for decision by the USDA National Organic Standards Board at this week's meetingRead more >>

What we're reading this week

Dec 14, 2016 9:05:20 PM

Georgia sees historic growth of organic farms with ground breaking partnership

The Covington NEWS

Georgia Organics and Georgia Department of Agriculture set a goal to certify 100 organic farms by winter 2016 and surpassed it by spring 2016 ending the year with a 45% increase. This  brings the number of certified Organic farms and livestock operations up to 110. Read More>>

 This farm is trying to change the future of Organic pork

RODALE'S Organic Life

The Rodale Institute has created a system to give hogs the freedom to graze freely around 8 acres of field planted with small grains, oats, beets and more. This system could help drop the costs of running an operation if managed properly, the hogs loosen the soil and fertilize with their manure leaving the workers with healthy soil that doesn't need to be tilled as often. Read More>>

Webinar on International Organic Product Prices

News From OTA

OTA's International team will present an analysis on over 2,000 product prices on Dec.21 @ 2pm EST. Producers Interested in selling abroad the U.S. may find this information helpful. They will also be sharing the 2017 U.S. Organic Worldwide Program Calendar. Read More>>

USDA's NASS releases Organic Certifier Survey

News From OTA

NASS released the results for the 2014-2015 Organic Certifier Survey. The survey included a number of certified organic operations along with acres certified and the number of livestock and poultry certified. Read More>>

COTA attends Mexico Alimentaria 2016

News From OTA

The Secretary Of Agriculture in Mexico invited COTA to attend Mexico Alimentaria 2016 as a part of an International delegation. The team responsible for implementing the Mexican organic standards, SINESECA,met with COTA's Director of International and Regulatory Affairs. Read More>>

OTA Responds to Allegations of Organic Crop Insurance Fraud

News From OTA

The Farm Journal published an article on Dec. 9, " Organic Crop Insurance Abuse Hide in Plain Sight". The OTA Farm Policy Director, Nate Lewis submitted a response noting that some of the observations and conclusions made, "Make us question his understanding of crop insurance and organic production". Read More>>

Dairy Market News


A recent Organic Market News report indicated a general rise in Organic Milk Sales between 2015-2016. In Europe the average farm prices of organic milk are lower than a year ago but higher than previous months. The Northeast organic creamery producing organic grass-fed milk yogurt have doubled in sales, and New England report an increase in the utilization of organic milk. Read More>>

What we're reading this week

 May 2, 2017 5:37:58 PM

Taking the biscut! Self-styled organic food guru Prince Charles reveals he has persuaded Waitrose to introduces an oatake with SEAWEED


Prince Charles has convinced Waitrose to put seaweed in an oat biscuit. The biscuit are selling for £2.29. 


Read More>>

Green Thumbs: How Nandanam Arts College students turned a space smelling of urine into a lush, green organic vegetable garden


 This skill development initiative by the college is a part of the MHRD’s Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) scheme — a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) — that was launched in 2013, aiming at providing strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions. Read More>>

Organic produce growers win Agricultural Safety award


Duncan Family Farms has been honered for all four of their farming operations in Brawley, Nipomo, and New Cuyama, California and Arizona. Read More>>


Organic ingredient suppliers work to meet demand


More organic wheat, yeast, dough strengtheners, oils and other ingredients are needed to create enough organic food items to meet consumer demand. Read More>>

This 100-acre Kerala project could be the laragest organic farming foray by tribal people, ever


With the need for eco-friendly and chemical-free agriculture becoming increasingly evident, a tribal society in Wayanad in Kerala has decided to launcha project to carry out organic farming over 100 acres, possibly making this the largest tribal foray into organic farming ever, according to The Times of India. Raed More>>

USDA to Fund Agricultural Wetland Mitigation Banks in 10 States

 Aug 18, 2016 11:30:00 PM

New option to help producers comply with Farm Bill’s Wetland Conservation provisions.


WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2016 – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing more than $7 millionto fund agricultural wetland mitigation banks in 10 Midwest and Northern Great Plain states.


Read more at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/newsroom/releases/?cid=NRCSEPRD1261608

Roundtable to discuss consumers perception of "organic" claims

Aug 12, 2016 11:32:00 PM

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the USDA will co-host a roundtable on October 20 to better understand how consumers perceive "organic" claims for non-agricultural products. This webinar isopen to the public and public comment is invited.


The webinar will cover: consumers' interpretations of "organic" claims for products and services that are not within the scope of the AMS's National Organic Program; A recent FTC-USDA study on organic claims; and methods to address misconceptions.


Submit a public comment here: https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/organicroundtable/

What we're reading this week 10/6/2015

 Oct 6, 2015 11:35:00 PM

Virginia, nation seeing increase in organic farming and sales

Augusta Free Press


More than 28,000 acres of Virginia farmland were used for organic production in 2014. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released findings of its most recent survey of organic farms onSept. 17. The survey found Virginia had 167 organic farms—139 USDA-certified and 28 exempt from certification requirements—that accounted for 28,412 acres of production last year. They produced $41.3 million in organic products. Read more >>


Jeff Moyer, new head of Rodale Institute 

Rodale Institute


Rodale Institute, the nonprofit organization devoted to organic gardening and farming, recently announced that it has a new leader at the helm. Jeff Moyer is the organization's new executive director, but while he's new to the job, he's hardly new to the institute. Read more >>


Beyond the pink package: Do women need different sports nutrition products than men do?

Nutrition Business Journal


Do women need different sports nutrition products than men do? It’s a question few bothered to ask before 1972, when the historic passage of Title IX (the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in federally funded education programs) sparked a meteoric rise in women’s participation in high school and college athletics. More than four decades later, it’s still tough to answer with much scientific authority, as the vast majority of exercise physiology studies have been done on men. But as female participation continues to rise, even in sports like bodybuilding that were once nearly void of women, market researchers and entrepreneurs say the time may have finally come for a distinct category aimed distinctly at female athletes. Read more >>

What we're reading this week 1/26/2016

Meet The Most Pampered Vegetables In America



There's a small corner of the restaurant world where food is art and the plate is just as exquisite as the mouthful.In this world, chefs are constantly looking for new creative materials for the next stunning presentation.The tiny community of farmers who grow vegetables for the elite chefs prize creativity, too, not just in what they grow but in how they grow it. Read more >>



How ‘Natural Geoengineering’Can Help Slow Global Warming

Environment 360


An overlooked tool in fighting climate change is enhancing biodiversity to maximize the ability of ecosystems to store carbon. Key to that strategy is preserving top predators to control populations of herbivores, whose grazing reduces the amount of CO2 that ecosystems absorb.  Read more >>



Potential Contamination in Inputs: How it is addressed in the organic standards

Rodale Institute


Potential Contamination in Inputs: How it is addressed in the organic standards  Read more >>



What Happens to All the Salt We Dump On the Roads?



In the U.S., road crews scatter about 137 pounds of salt per person annually to melt ice. Where does it go after that?Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-happens-to-all-the-salt-we-dump-on-the-roads-180948079/#fMdk3D6Xv5WmVBpv.99Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGvFollow us: @SmithsonianMag on TwitterConsider how easily salt can corrode your car. Unsurprisingly, it's also a problem for the surrounding environment—so much that in 2004, Canada categorized road salt as a toxin and placed new guidelines on its use. And as more and more of the U.S. becomes urbanized and suburbanized, and as a greater number of roads criss-cross the landscape, the mounting piles of salt we dump on them may be getting to be a bigger problem than ever. Read more >>



10 Farmer Training Programs Helping Veterans Heal

Food Tank


As the global farmer population ages, it is imperative that new farmers are recruited and trained to feed the world’s growing population. Programs across the United States are looking to one highly-qualified group to fill this gap: military veterans. The U.S. armed forces are expected to shed 250,000 veterans per year for the next several years, and many of these men and women will be hoping to build a new life. According to the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), agriculture lends itself to the unique qualities and character of veterans. Growing food allows veterans to put these qualities to work in a way that helps them heal their wounds, feed their communities, and protect the environment for future generations. Here are ten programs around the country helping veterans transition to a healthy, happy life as farmers. Read more >>



Can Cover Crops Help Farmers Cut Back On Fertilizer?



“Eighty percent of [nitrogen fertilizer] production is from natural gas,” That puts corn and wheat among the most energy intensive crops grown in the U.S. But natural gas isn’t the only way to get nitrogen. Farmers can make their own, right in the field, by growing cover crops between one year’s harvest and the next year’s planting. Read more >>



Thou Shalt Not Toss Food: Enlisting Religious Groups To Fight Waste



The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday launched the Food Steward's Pledge, an initiative to engage religious groups of all faiths to help redirect the food that ends up in landfills to hungry mouths. It's one piece of the agency's larger plan to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. Read more >>

Drought Relief for Organic Ruminant Producers

 Oct 7, 2016 11:39:00 PM

In September 2016, Secretary Vilsack designated several counties located in the northeast United States as primary or contiguous drought disaster areas. As a result, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Elanor Starmer granted a temporary variance forthe 2016 grazing season to livestock producers located in certain counties in the northeastern U.S.


Here is a current list of Approved Temporary Variances for organic ruminant producers. This list provides more information on the counties and specific restrictions of the temporary variances.

What we're reading this week 11/9/2015

This Is How Much Water You Waste When You Throw Away Food



Tossing an apple is like pouring 25 gallons of water down the drain, and the average American does that 17 times a year.  Water plays a major role in food production, and as a result, food wastetranslates to an enormous amount of water wastage. Read more >>



‘The Soil Will Save Us’: A Manifesto for Restoring Our Relationship with the Land

Civil Eats


What if we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow enough food to feed our ballooning population using resources we already have? Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us, thinks we can do just that. And like a growing number of scientists, farmers, and good food advocates, she believes that in order to fix the problems in the sky, we need to put our eyes and ears to the ground. Read more >>


Urban Farming Hits the Big Leagues



Many stadiums throughout the United States have already begun the process of creating a more sustainable food system by planting urban gardens and shifting food procurement policies to provide fans with fresh, sustainable food. Read more >>


Rabbit Fever on the Rise in the U.S.



On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report that finds rates of rabbit fever—a rare disease often transmitted by these animals in the wild—are on the rise. Read more >>


Inside the World of Christmas Tree Farming

Modern Farmer


The competition for the United States’ $1 billion Christmas tree industry is fierce. Each year farmers who sell directly to customers must go head to head with tree lots and big box stores like Home Depot — the largest seller of Christmas trees — who offer low discounts and convenient locations.  Buying from a big box store may be the quickest fix for people who just want to grab a tree and be done with it. But it’s the people who want a little extra holiday spirit who keep small farms around the United States hauling in Santas, cocoas and sleighs year after year. Read more >>


Agriculture Linked to DNA Changes in Ancient Europe

The New York Times


The agricultural revolution was one of the most profound events in human history, leading to the rise of modern civilization. Now, in the first study of its kind, an international team of scientists has found that after agriculture arrived in Europe 8,500 years ago, people’s DNA underwent widespread changes, altering their height, digestion, immune system and skin color. Read more >>

Organic blueberry demand is ripe for the picking in Kentucky

 Sep 8, 2016 11:43:00 PM

“When our farm was certified in 2009, there wasn’t as much local buzz around organic” says Susan. Inthe following years, fellow Kentucky organic growers like Susan would search for information about becoming certified organic but find limited local resources. “I was the only person in our state Blueberry Growers Association that was certified organic. Growers would come to association to express interest in going organic, and the association would point them back to me!” Susan described. In those days, she became the go-to expert on organic farming for the association. “The practice of organic farming just made so much sense to me”, explains Susan about her search for natural growing methods. “I learned early on that the things that you eat can affect your health”, she explains. From cancer in the family to recurring migraines connected to nitrates in processed meat – early on in her career, Susan started a journey to find a natural way to do things. “If I can’t eat it, then I wouldn’t spray it on my plants” she ardently proclaims.


Local support has advanced in recent years, as demand for the state’s organic blueberries continues to increase from local and regional creameries, wineries, homeopathic doctors and farm to table purveyors. “Because the demand is there, now the conversation and the support exists” says Susan.


Today, the Kentucky Blueberry Growers Association, now a Certified operation itself, is bolstering supply for the state’s organic demand by providing organic technical support to its 200 plus members in transition or currently certified. The state’s organic blueberries are supplying their nosh to ice cream factories, wineries and direct from farm to tables, aiming to satisfy increasing organic appetites. Susan believes the rise due to “people waking up and realizing they need to pay attention” to what they’re eating. Blueberries – one of Kentucky’s emerging small fruit crops for local, wholesale and retail – are in a positive position to absorb consumer demand.


In the past 10 years of organic operation, Fuller’s Hillside Nursery has experienced challenges not uncommon to many farmers, both conventional and organic. “There are always going to be challenges unique to location, soil and pests,” claims Susan. Fuller’s Hillside Nursery is in a small valley protected from the wind by tall trees and turkey vultures who scare off the other little birds. This is unlike other conventional and organic growers in the area who put up tightly woven netting to prevent birds – who are particularly fond of blueberries – from enjoying the crop. Susan uses organic sulfur to increase the acidity of the soil for her sweeter Jersey blueberry variety that yields small and soft berries. When cared for properly, blueberry bushes can remain productive for 40 years or more.


Transitioning with the end in mind


Fuller’s Hillside Nursery began a transitional process to obtain organic certification, which includes a three-year period set forth by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The ruling is that any field or farm parcel from which harvested crops are sold, labeled, or represented as organic must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for three years immediately preceding harvest of the crop. Susan’s field had chemicals sprayed on it prior to her purchase of the land, so she embarked on the journey, farming organically while waiting for the period of limitations to expire.


“When we got the farm, the grass was as tall as my blueberry bushes”. Susan waited for three years before receiving certification to prove that there had been no unapproved chemicals on the property. “It wasn’t a quick process, but my customers like the fact that I don’t spray anything on my berries”. Until she became USDA Certified Organic, Susan would market her berries as ‘grown using organic methods’. Her land required cultivation – from mowing the fields down, to pruning, to battling the 17 year return of the cicadas. “We learned a lot about pruning in those years. My advice – don’t be afraid to prune!”. When asked about the intensity of labor in the process, Susan shrugs in remembrance. “We just wanted healthy plants” says Susan, about her dedication to the cause.


“There’s a lot of focus around the paperwork required in order to become certified organic. I support the requirement, but even more so, I think you should have to have paperwork to use chemicals!” states Susan emphatically. “Normal grocery shopping used to be in your garden, or you bartered with your neighbors and they never brought chemicals on them. That was just the way people always did it.”


Organic building blocks - from worms and rabbits to sawdust


Keeping plants healthy starts with good soil biology. Essentially, building a mini compost around the plant. “Worms come and do what worms do”, says Susan, “breaking down organic matter and helping to fertilize – which gives your plants the things that it needs”. Early on, Fuller’s Nursery employed organic practices like shoveling 30 tons of mulch an acre when first preparing the field for planting, because the soil had not been maintained at all. The previous owner spayed weeds around bushes, but did not focus on the soil health. Conversely, Susan loaded up sawmill, shoveled “broke down sawdust – it was like black earth when we got it,” she says, "along with rabbit manure and lawn clippings to build up the soil biology."


Through compost, mowing and pruning, the blueberry fields are able to be maintained. Blueberries are not a crop that need to be planted year after year – the bushes remain intact. But blueberries benefit from pruning, especially as they become older. The yearly pruning helps encourage large fruits and maintain productivity, while allowing sunshine into the bushes which helps to ripen the berries.


Fuller’s Hillside Nursery faces typical sourcing challenges that are faced by operations in day to day supply decisions. Sourcing organic supply for farm inputs offers a few more challenges than conventional but not uncommon to running a business. “It comes down to good business sense and understanding where to find reliable suppliers,” Susan claims. “We run comparisons in pricing between local distributors and national, balancing between when supply is needed versus how much is it going to cost to move somewhere else. Sometimes a tank of gas is cheaper than the shipping fees” of goods that are needed on the farm, like fertilizer. “It’s not like you can go to Lowe’s and say, 'I’d like a 5-gallon pail' of all of your supplies. They just don’t have that kind of stuff." But, Susan is seeing an increase in organic inputs at local stores, like Amish hardware stores, who farm organically.


“I’m just a small organic farmer,” says Susan Fuller, when you ask her about her 500 blueberry bushes she harvests in Summer Shade KY and her plans for expansion based on demand. “I’ll tell you one thing," she states definitively when asked about her career, as she makes her lifelong passion crystal clear, “I wouldn’t farm any other way but organic.”