Organic Blogs

Maria Gaura's picture

Researcher Enlists Honeybees as “Flying Doctors” Against Crop Disease

Strawberry fields in Finland are plagued by grey mold, a fungus that quickly transforms scarlet berries into shaggy grey blobs, wrecking 20 percent of the country’s annual crop, on average.

But Finland’s organic fruit farmers have a swarm of new allies in the battle against grey mold. Dr. Heikki Hokkanen, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, has enlisted bees to carry biological treatments from flower to flower, warding off disease as they pollinate.

“Bees have body hairs that pollen sticks to, so it gets carried from flower to flower,” said Hokkanen. “They can also carry treatments such as microbes or fungi, providing dual ecosystem services for healthier organic crops.”

Hokkanen has studied the use of bees in fighting crop diseases at farms in Finland, Italy and Estonia. He presented his research at the international Innovations in Organic Food Systems for Sustainable Production and Enhanced Ecosystems Services conference held in Long Beach, CA, Nov. 1-2.

The biological agent used to fight grey mold in berries is a naturally-occurring soil fungus, gliocladium catenulatum. G. catenulatum works by harmlessly colonizing the strawberry flower, and preventing the grey mold from taking hold.

Karen Adler's picture

More Broccoli, Please!

Organic broccoli is in high demand these days, and a recent market survey by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association revealed that broccoli tops the list of organic produce items that are in short supply in the Southeast. Broccoli can be produced most anywhere in the spring and fall, but summer production is limited to cooler growing areas. As it turns out, Western North Carolina provides this type of climate due to its Appalachian Mountain terrain. Researcher Jeanine Davis and her team of farmer and research collaborators will soon be starting Phase II of a three-year OFRF/Seed Matters-funded project, Participatory Screening of Broccoli Varieties for Summer Production in Organic Systems in Western North Carolina, which will feature on-farm trials.

Maria Gaura's picture

Food Safety Rules Proposed Today by FDA Show Promise for Organic Farmers

Revised food safety rules proposed today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appear to hold some good news for organic growers and small farms, with significant alterations to earlier proposed rules of particular concern to organic farmers–including mandatory testing of irrigation water and the use of manure-based soil amendments.

The new rules implementing the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), if implemented, would also fine-tune regulation of mixed-type facilities that grow, pack, and/or process on the farm, and would grant exemptions from some regulations to the smallest farms.

“We’re very pleased that the FDA has given such thoughtful consideration to the feedback of the farming community and is addressing the needs and concerns of organic producers,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). “The safety of our food is a top priority for farmers, processors, and consumers.”

Brise Tencer's picture

NOSB Announces Fall Meeting—Agenda Includes Organic Research Priorities

Written Comments Accepted through October 7

A set of organic research priorities issued by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) demonstrates that many issues in organic production still have not been studied adequately to provide useful guidance to organic farmers, ranchers, and handlers.

The NOSB  is composed of representatives from the organic industry--including producers, processors, and consumers--and meets twice a year to advise the National Organic Program (NOP) on what should be added to and removed from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances as well as a range of organic production and processing issues.

In preparation for its fall meeting, the NOSB has released the meeting agenda along with supporting documents including the proposed list of research priorities. At the meeting, the NOSB will vote on whether or not to forward their suggested research topics to the NOP.

Karen Adler's picture

New Tools for Organic Farmers Teach DIY Plant Breeding!

Organic farmers are always on the lookout for better ways to combat weeds, insects, and disease, and produce an abundance of the healthiest and best-tasting crops. Having plant varieties that are suited for organic systems may be key to producing higher yields and better quality crops, and could play an important role in increasing organic farmers’ success. However, few plant breeders are working on varieties specifically targeted for organic systems, and there are almost no such varieties available. How to fill this void? One of the groups best suited to do organic breeding work is organic farmers themselves.

Four new resources from Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), developed and produced with funding from OFRF and Clif Bar Family Foundation’s Seed Matters initiative, provide a wealth of information for farmers who want to learn the art and craft of plant breeding. The comprehensive manuals walk farmers through the methods of breeding new crop varieties on the farm.

Brise Tencer's picture

New USDA Research Foundation Appoints Long-Time Organic Advocate to the Board

By Brise Tencer, Executive Director of OFRF

Noting that “every dollar invested in agricultural research creates $20 in economic activity,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the formation of a new foundation that will create public-private partnerships to fund agriculture, food, and nutrition research. Authorized by Congress as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research will seek private donations in order to fund research activities that focus on problems of national and international significance.

To what degree the new foundation will support organic farming research is not yet known, but the appointment of Nancy Creamer to the new foundation’s initial 15-member Board of Directors is reason to think that organic research will be on the radar.

Karen Adler's picture

Breeding “Organic Ready” Corn

Amidst the controversy over transgene (GMO) contamination—a growing concern for organic farmers, researchers, consumers, and advocates—plant breeder Frank Kutka has been working to develop an “organic ready” line of corn that will maintain its non-GMO integrity. Corn is one of the top three genetically modified crops, alongside cotton and soy. In 2014, 89 percent of the corn acreage in the U.S. is planted in herbicide-tolerant transgenic corn.
 
Kutka has just started his fourth year of an OFRF/Seed Matters-funded research project, Developing “Organic-Ready” Maize Populations with Gametophytic Incompatibility. Corn is wind pollinated and readily crosses with other varieties. However, this breeding work uses naturally occurring genes derived from popcorns and the ancient grain teosinte that create a screen against crossing with transgenic, or genetically modified (GMO) corn. 

 

Rachel Goodman's picture

New Study Shows Organic Crops Contain More Anti-oxidants/Fewer Pesticides

Consumers choose organic foods for many reasons- for example, because the food is produced in a way that is better for the environment. Now, a new comprehensive review of previous studies shows mounting evidence organic crops may also contain more anti-oxidants and fewer pesticide residues.  In a new study published today in the British Journal of Nutrition researchers at Newcastle University in England have found that organic crops overall contain 17% more key anti-oxidants than non-organically grown crops, while some classes of anti-oxidants known as flavinones, were found at a rate 69% higher. Anti-oxidants are components in fighting cancer and are thought to play a key role in preventing heart disease and neurodegenerative disease

Karen Adler's picture

Compost Could Save (Plant) Lives

Each year organic farmers lose time and money when crops are destroyed by diseases caused by soil-borne pathogens that live on the surfaces of seeds. Many of the fumigants and chemically treated seeds that are used in conventional agriculture to control these pathogens can be harmful to our health and the health of the environment. Organic farmers have fewer and often less effective options. Enter the humble but mighty soil amendment, compost, which harbors billions of secret (microbial) weapons against plant disease. New research funded by OFRF is exploring a promising application to harness these weapons to produce a new tool for disease prevention for organic farmers.

Karen Adler's picture

Putting the “Sweet” in Organic Sweet Corn!

      What could be better than that burst of sugary goodness as you crunch into the first ear of summer corn? One reason we look forward to this is that corn has actually gotten sweeter over the years thanks to the hard work of plant breeders. There is a downside, however. These newer varieties, featuring the flavor we have come to expect, were not developed for conditions on organic farms, as they are reliant on fungicides and pesticides, and utilize soluble synthetic fertilizers in large quantities.

     In addition, very little sweet corn grown commercially today is open pollinated (op). This means that organic farmers who wish to save their own seed have few, if any, good choices of varieties to grow.                   

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