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Taking Care of the Land

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What types of farming practices should I be considering to take care of my land?
When you farm, the soil and water that allows you to generate revenue from it are the most precious resources in your care. Good stewardship begins with careful observation. Do you see signs of soil erosion? What could you do to stop it? Do you see bare ground forming where your animals have been? Bare ground is wasted space – rain will destroy the soil structure there, and the soil isn’t growing feed for human or animal.General good practices include minimizing tillage and damage to the soil, use of cover crops to protect and add organic matter to the soil, and moving your grazing animals frequently so they don’t overgraze any part of the pasture. View the Stewardship tutorial for some more ideas on this topic.
What’s involved in being organically certified?
Organic production offers many advantages for small farmers including ecologically friendly production methods, strong consumer demand for organic products, and higher prices. If you have farm sales of more than $5,000/year you cannot legally label or sell your products as “organic” unless your farm has been officially certified by a third-party certifier. If you sell less than $5,000/year farm products, you can legally call yourself organic without certification, but you still must use organic practices. Download this guide(PDF) to learn more about these practices for very small organic farms.You can find the list of all certifying agencies by going to the USDA’s National Organic Program website. There you can search their “List of Accredited Certifying Agents” to find contact information. You can use any agency listed, even if there isn’t one for your state.
Fees and Costs
Certifying agencies generally charge a fixed fee to cover the initial certification costs and then an annual fee to cover the continued documentation and verification costs. Costs vary so you may want to investigate your certification options.The NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets offers grants to new farmers to help cover the initial certification costs. They set aside a certain amount of money each year to cover 75% of the initial cost up to $500. This money is allocated on a first come first served basis.
For a grant application: Ag & Markets – 800-554-4501 or 518-457-2195; National Organic Program information; Click here to download forms for this certification subsidy.
General Overview of Regulations
Organic regulations are complex and ever-changing, which is why it is important to work with your certifying agency on everything that you do to assure compliance. In general, you cannot use synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, or petroleum-based fertilizers. To certify a field as
organic it must not have had pesticides or petroleum fertilizers applied for the past three years. To certify animals as organic, there are various transition requirements depending upon the animal species: dairy, beef, pork, poultry, etc. Great attention is paid to nurturing the soil by the use of composts, cover crops, rock minerals and natural fertilizers. Plant disease and pests are controlled through the use of crop rotations, resistant varieties, cultivation, biological and botanical pest control. Animal health is maintained with wholesome food, adequate shelter, access to the outdoors, and preventive health plans. Documentation of field maps, adjoining fields, complaints, crop inputs used, yields, sales, feeds purchased, medications used, and equipment-cleaning logs must be kept to maintain your certification.
Developing Your Organic Farm Plan
The Rodale Institute in PA has researched and demonstrated organic techniques for decades. They have an online tool that walks farmers through the synthesis of all the documentation they will need in order to apply for certification. You can find their Organic System Planning tool and many other organic resources at the Rodale website.

Continue on to the Stewardship Tutorial>>

Taking Care of the Land

Featured farmers from the NY Beginning Farmer Project’s Voices of Experience video series discuss the importance of caring for the soil, water, wildlife and air that sustain your farm operation.

Visit the video gallery to “Meet the Farmers” and view other videos.

Continue on to the Stewardship Tutorial>>