Organic Farming

I asked another blogger, Anna Wagner, to give us her views of Organic Farming, since I already wrote an article on it not too long ago. Anna gives us her view as she and her family own a dairy farm that is now Certified Organic.  I actually called her on the phone (does this qualify for my Day 5 Assignment with #sitsgirls31dbbb challenge), she is a very sweet girl and even though we only spoke for a moment, someone I would enjoy being around, I’m sure.


Organic Farming


The term “organic” can simply mean natural, but when it comes to food the USDA has set guidelines that must be met to carry the USDA certified organic label.  The National Organic Standards Board is in charge of these guidelines.


I was raised on a small organic dairy farm, but we weren’t always organic, so I’ll mention a few of the differences between conventional and organic farming that stick out the most to me.


Chemical Use:

Land that is certified for organic use cannot have any chemicals applied to it, including herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.  Chemical fertilizers cannot be used either, but there are fertilizers that are certified for organic use.  My own family’s organic farm relies on manure as a fertilizer.


To reduce the amount of weeds, organic farmers, including my family, typically regularly cultivate or disk their fields.  This is done by turning up the land so that the weeds are uprooted, but it has to be done at certain growth stages of the seeded crop and is not as effective as the weeds get larger.  If cultivating is not done at the right time, the weeds can take over and can be hard for organic farmers to control at times.  Eliminating chemical usage was the reason that my family’s farm became organic because my Dad has a chemical sensitivity that we discovered about 11 years ago.


Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs):

Organic standards mandate that no genetically modified seed can be planted in organic fields.  Because of this, organic fields typically have “bumper strips”, or unplanted rows where the edge of an organic field meets the edge of a conventional field.  These bumper strips are meant to prevent any genetically modified seeds from getting into the organic field.



Antibiotics cannot be given to organic livestock so it is neither in their feed nor given to them when they are sick.  To care for sick animals, organic farmers use natural remedies such as garlic.  However, if antibiotics are the best option to save the animal’s life, then antibiotics can be used in that case and in that case only.  If antibiotics are used to save a life, that animal is no longer certified organic.  Livestock also cannot be given artificial hormones.


Organic livestock must be fed organic feed, so if the farmer does not grow their own crops they have to buy organic feed, which is typically more expensive because of the extra time that typically goes into it.  In addition, organic dairy cows have to have as much access to pasture as possible and the farm must have a certain number of pasture acres per cow to ensure that each cow gets adequate pasture feed.  When weather allows, over 50% of the animal’s daily feed must come from pasture.  Rotational grazing, or moving cows among different pasture sections based on how much grass is available, is commonly used but is not a requirement.  On my family’s farm, we pastured our cows before the farm became organic but added additional pasture land to meet the organic standards.


Record Keeping and Regulation:

Land and livestock must both go through a long process to become USDA certified organic.  The land must adhere to organic standards for three years before it eligible for organic certification.  Livestock must be raised by organic standards for one year before being eligible.  Becoming organic thus requires a lot of planning and is a long process.


Though most farmers are used to keeping good records for their own purposes, organic farmers have even more records that they must keep and have on hand to show inspectors.  Organic farming involves a lot of paper work that must be kept track of, such as what was planted in each field each year and what medicines were given to which cows.  Inspectors come out to farms before a farm becomes certified to ensure that it meets all of the standards for certification and then again at least annually to ensure that the farm continues to meet organic standards.

I snagged this image from Anna's blog, I hope she doesn't mind!

Anna Wagner is a 2011 graduate of the University of Minnesota, Crookston with a B.S in Communication.  She was raised on a 38 cow organic dairy farm in Minnesota.  On campus, she was the Crookston Student Association Vice President and active in the campus dairy club.  Currently, Wagner is the Agribusiness Marketing Internet with Wilbur-Ellis in Burnsville, MN. Stop by Anna’s blog and show her some love!

*This is Part Three in a three part series. Read Part one: Sustainable Farming , Part Two: Industrial Farming.