Number of organic farmers keeps growing in Ontario

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

Recent statistics are showing continued growth in the number of organic farmers in Ontario.
The following is from Hugh Martin, organic crop production program lead with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs:
In 2007, there were 569 certified organic farms in Ontario with roughly 100,000 acres of crops and pasture.
This land was 48 percent in grain and oilseed crops, 40 percent in hay and pasture, and about five percent in fruit, vegetables, and herb crops.
The balance includes maple, nut trees, etc.
Organic farming represents about one percent of the farmland and one percent of the farms in Ontario.
Organic corn, soybeans, and wheat are priced similar to last year and slightly more than double the 2009 prices of their conventional counterparts.
Organic crops yield about 75 percent of the conventional crops, depending on crop, management skills, weather, etc .
Organic crops often have net returns per acre of at least double their conventional counterparts, and in some cases more than that.
Marketing of organic crops will take some research to seek out the dealers you want to work with. There are numerous buyers for organic grains.
Organic prices are not tied to the Chicago Board of Trade, so there tends to be more stability in the market. Prices are affected by supply and demand of organic commodities, but for many years supply has not been able to meet demand.
Even in the current market, prices have been stable and market demand is still strong.
For field crops, certification generally is required by buyers. This is true of both processing buyers for food products, as well as feed buyers.
Organic livestock must be fed certified feed if the livestock are certified organic.
Certification costs range from $500-$1,000 or more per year per farm, depending on the size and complexity of the farm.
Good production records are required as part of the certification and annual inspection process. However, these records are very similar to what is required for other traceability programs.
As of June 30, 2009, certification will be part of the new Canada Organic Regime that will be managed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Organic certification bodies will be accredited to manage the certification process.
The biggest production issues for organic field crop farmers are weed management, and nitrogen management in corn and cereals. The key to successfully managing weeds is to have a good crop rotation.
Secondly, be timely with mechanical weed control, starting right after planting before the crop emerges. For corn and soybeans, this requires weekly passes over the field with a rotary hoe, weeder harrow, or inter-row cultivation.
This likely will cost less in total than a typical herbicide program.
The third step is to be able to walk the fields with a hoe as needed to eliminate weedy patches and outbreaks or troublesome weeds. The key is to keep on top of your weeds and to prevent weeds from going to seed as much as possible.
Nitrogen largely is managed with cover crops such as red clover, which is fairly easy to establish on most organic farms.
Farms with access to manure also can use it to supplement the nitrogen, as well as maintain phosphorous and potassium if those nutrients are low.
However, high rates of manure are discouraged in order to minimize weed pressure and environmental issues.
Have a good look at organic. The sector has grown 15-20 percent per year for more than 20 years.
It takes some effort, but your successes can be very rewarding.

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