Transitioning Parts of Operation
We converted one block of the orchard at a time.”
• Brian Boates,
One common way to make the transition is to convert a part of the farm one year, and add more fields in following years. This reduces the risk involved in transition because it gives you the opportunity to learn how to farm organically without the risk of dramatic reductions in crop yields over the whole farm. For example, if the weeds get out control on your organic field, you can plow the crop under without having a huge impact on your overall income. This approach also reduces the cash crunch than can occur if crop yields drop on the whole farm at once.
To certify your crop as organic, it will need to be visually distinguishable from your conventional crops. You can grow a different crop altogether or, for some crops, you can simply plant a different variety (as long as it is easy to tell the difference between it and the conventional one).
One disadvantage with making the transition one field at a time is that you will need to ensure that you maintain ‘organic integrity’ at all time. You will need to ensure that conventional crops do not commingle with organic ones. You will need buffer zones between the organic and conventional fields. All equipment that has been used on conventional fields will need to be cleaned, and combines will need to purged. Extra care is required to ensure that storage bins and transport trucks are free of all conventional products before using these for organic crops.
Many farmers start off their transition by putting fields into hay or green manure crops for a year or two. This helps control weeds, break pest cycles, build soil organic matter and also allows you to avoid the extra work involved in ‘parallel production’ (growing the same crop organically and conventionally).
For details on maintaining organic integrity and preventing commingling, see COG’s Gaining Ground: Making a Successful Transition to Organic Agriculture.