KIMBERLY, Idaho - Tucked in among the
conventional research plots, a certified organic field is allowing
researchers and producers to explore how to make organic production
work for southern Idaho producers.
While the economic downturn has slowed the growth of the organic food market, the market segment continues to grow.
“There is a growing consumer base that wants
food grown in this way,” said Jennifer Miller, ag program coordinator
for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. “And Idaho
farmers are trying to meet that demand.”
The non-profit group partnered with the University of Idaho to host an organic production field day at the Kimberly research farm in mid-July.
Researchers have dedicated an 11-acre field to study organic production of potatoes, beans and wheat. Weed and insect control were among the hot topics discussed by the approximately 90 farmers, consultants, researchers and agency people who attended the tour; but cover crops and crop rotation were also important.
Nora Olsen, UI potato specialist at Kimberly, said the objective of the organic field is to study the entire cropping system to examine issues growers will have to tackle as they transition from conventional to organic production.
The field was certified organic during the
2008 growing season but after planting, making 2009 the first truly
organic production season. Researchers themselves have had a steep
learning curve at times.
Olsen used the Colorado potato beetle as an example. Within the potato field of the organic field, Olsen has laid out plots to compare about ten different varieties and how those varieties respond to organic production in terms of quality and yield. The Idaho Potato Commission is funding the project.
But it turns out that insect pressure may also differ. Looking at the Russet Burbank plots, an observer would think insects weren’t a problem at all but some of the red varieties were complete wiped out.
“It’s hard for us to address all the questions,” Olsen said. “We wanted to show a lot of potential organic growers or current growers what’s going on at the University of Idaho in terms of organic production.”
ORGANIC PRODUCTION IN IDAHO
Statistics about organic production were included in the 2007 Agriculture Census for the first time. Statewide, 299 farms representing 111,781 acres were classified as organic. Another 167 farms with 23,210 acres were listed as transitioning to organic.
While some of these farms are less than 10 acres, 203 respondents said farming was their primary occupation. Like their conventional counterparts, most organic farms are owned by men (247) but females owned 52 of the state’s organic farms.
Another indication that organic production continues to grow in Idaho was the unexpected response to the state’s first cost-share opportunity for organic production. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service received 36 applications totaling around $400,000 across the state for the organic EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) sign up this spring. NRCS is in the process of finalizing the contracts.
Organic production in the Magic Valley
County # of farms # of acres
Blaine 16 10,960
Camas 30 42,947
Cassia 4 3,056
Elmore 7 3,654
Gooding 7 958
Jerome 9 none listed
Lincoln 6 2,655
Minidoka 6 939
Twin Falls 15 5,488
Idaho 299 111,781
SOURCE: 2007 Agriculture Census, USDA