Convert a farm to organic

Convert a farm to organic

Many farms today look to organic, both for ethical reasons of ecological sensitivity, and to better enhance their products. There is on the market a growing demand for organic and being able to offer organic fruit and vegetables can also be a way of getting better prices.

The organic certification though it is not a simple bureaucratic "stamp": requires adherence to a method that involves a series of constraints regarding the products that can be used or not. For this reason, converting your company also means adapting cultivation practices, in line with what is allowed in organic farming.

Let's examine here the agronomic aspects of the transition to organic. This article is aimed at both conventional farmers who intend to switch to organic, and people who start their agricultural activity directly with organic certification. The latter may also find it useful to read how to open an organic farm.

We therefore focus on techniques and practical application in the field of the principles of organic agriculture, while we deal with organic legislation and bureaucracy elsewhere. However, also here we refer to the regulations (in particular Reg 834/07 and Reg 889/08 valid until the end of 2020), because it is precisely in the legislation that we find what we can and what we cannot do. The article is updated in April 2020, who will read in a few months should check that what is written here is current.

Timing of conversion

The conversion to organic begins when the notification of the start of activity is sent to the control body, this communication must be made through the Sian or the regional portals, with which you submit to the system.

Throughout this period, that lasts 2 years for most crops (arable, horticultural) e 3 in the case of tree crops, we must operate in all respects as organic farmers but without being able to sell products with this term yet. So this is a somewhat delicate phase, in which it is important to focus on one's own training and reorganization of company work. It may seem really penalizing, but it must be considered that in some cases a period of time is necessary to allow a sort of cleaning of the land from previously used substances.

Those who work on previously uncultivated land or already cultivated as organic can, with the appropriate documentation and certain bureaucratic steps, request a shortening of the conversion period.

The different bio approach

Practicing true organic farming does not mean simply replacing chemical synthesis products with other products that have less impact on the environment. Those who choose this method because driven by an ideal have a broad approach to the land and the environment, and his farm focuses on long-term and wide-ranging ecological sustainability.

Problems are prevented by creating the best conditions for the plants to feel goodand and avoiding the reasoning "I have a problem and I find the solution in a product".

Preserve natural resources

Water, land, biodiversity in general must be safeguarded and good agriculture takes this into account and collaborates with nature in this sense.

So it is good to choose, for example, irrigation methods that allow a thrifty use of water, mulching where possible, to be preferred to mechanical processing for grass control, to limit the use of fuel, variegate the agricultural landscape with hedges and many other good practices applicable to individual contexts.

The working of the land

Certain processes can impact the soil ecosystem, like the classic plowing that leaves the working sole, a compact layer that is not very penetrating by the roots, and that overturns the layers of soil.

To avoid it, we can replace it with minimal processing techniques with machines specially designed to reduce the use of fuel and impact less on the environment.

For horticulture we can use the spading machine, which also exists in a small and self-propelled version, called "motovanga". It is advisable to visit some agricultural machinery fair and get an idea of ​​the latest news and prices.

Fertilize the soil in a biological way

Certainly soil fertility management is a very important chapter, which makes the difference between the different agricultural methods.

Definitely must abandon fertilizers such as urea, perfostates, ... and instead focus on making the land fertile by other methods, such as:

  • Entries of legumes in rotations.
  • Green greens.
  • Burial of all crop residues.

Also we can use soil improvers such as manure, compost, droppings and organic fertilizers, also in the form of pellets, or natural minerals.

We can too adopt biostimulants, i.e. products that stimulate the rooting of plants and improve their development, such as mycorrhizae and Effective Microorganisms.

From a regulatory point of view, what can be used is indicated in Annex I of Reg 889/08 and also in Ministerial Decree 6793/2018, which specifies that the manure must come from a "non-industrial" farm, where industrial means a farm where the animals are kept in the absence of natural light for their entire cycle and are placed in fixed housing. Therefore it is not mandatory that the manure comes from certified organic farms, but it is sufficient that they are not of the industrial type and that the supplier gives you a written and signed declaration attesting it.

Propagation material: which seeds and seedlings can be used

The seeds, the vegetable plants, the cuttings and all the material with which we propagate the crops must be strictly certified organic.

We have to ask suppliers for the Justification Document and the Certificate of Conformity, possibly verifying on the Sian, in the list of organic operators, that these documents are valid.

If no organic seeds are found for a given plant variety, it is possible to ask for a derogation, which is now done electronically via the Sian. Your CAA (Agricultural Assistance Center) can perform it upon your request.

The biological defense of plants

The defense of plants from diseases and parasites is one of the chapters that most distinguishes the various agricultural methods.

Many know that organic farming is the one that avoids the use of "pesticides", a misnomer that encompasses all plant protection products (herbicides, fungicides, insecticides), but it is right to clarify.

To be honest, organic farming allows the use of certain products, which have less impact than conventional ones, but if some of these are not used with the utmost precautions and according to the methods indicated on the label, they still have a certain negative ecological effect.

For example, some insecticides are not very selective and can also kill beneficial insects, while copper, while usable, does not degrade in the soil and leaves residues. They should be used in case of real need and with the utmost caution.

Prevention

Before even thinking about which products to use to defend crops, it is necessary focus on prevention as much as possible, and thus reduce the likelihood of diseases and parasitic attacks. Good practices in this sense are:

  • Rotations: as we always say, they are fundamental to reduce the presence of pathogens and parasites of plant species and the DM 6793 of 2018 also specifies the criteria with which to practice them.
  • Drip irrigation and not by sprinkling: to avoid stagnant humidity on plants, a favorable condition for fungal diseases.
  • Balanced fertilizations, without excesses: plants must be well fed, but too much nitrogen makes them more susceptible to diseases and attacks by some insects. In any case, the legislation prohibits distributing more than 170 kg / nitrogen / hectare / year, and therefore the total of manure or compost must be calculated in such a way as not to exceed that quantity.
  • Wide planting layouts: in the orchard but also in horticultural crops, large sixths allow a greater circulation of air between the plants and therefore less stagnation of humidity.
  • Choice of resistant varieties or tolerant to adversity.
  • Biodiversity. Creation of ponds, hedges, scattered bushes, flower and aromatic borders, which in addition to making the landscape pleasant (a not negligible factor if you think, for example, of doing agritourism activities) favor the presence of useful insects, insectivorous birds, hedgehogs, etc.

Despite all this, anyone who cultivates knows that it is difficult to totally avoid adversity, given the general conditions in which we operate and to which are added climate change and the arrival of so many exotic insects, and therefore a little patience is needed.

Products allowed for organic phytosanitary defense

The products that can be used for defense in organic farming are listed in Annex II of Reg 889/08, and we can download the label of the corresponding commercial products and understand on which crops they are registered and against which adversities.

We remind you that in professional agriculture, i registered products for that particular crop and issue, and that we must be in possession of the license for treatments, and renew it when it expires.

The insecticides allowed in organic farming are of natural origin and biodegradable. Here are some of the best known:

  • Natural pyrethrins (pyrethrum)
  • Azadirachtin or neem oil
  • Spinosad
  • Bacillus thuringiensis

DM 6793 of 2018 also lists the corroborating substances, or those products that are used for treatments for preventive purposes to stimulate the natural defenses of plants, for example:

  • Stone or rock powders
  • Bicarbonate
  • Lecithin
  • Propolis

Alternative methods to insecticides

In the defense against harmful insects we can use other means such as:

  • Traps: we can introduce sex pheromone traps, chromotropic traps or food traps in greenhouses, orchards, olive groves or vegetable gardens. There are various types both for monitoring purposes and for actual mass capture, and it is advisable to inquire from the manufacturers and choose the one that convinces us the most.
  • Biological fight: it consists in launching antagonistic insects into the environment, and on large extensions such as corporate ones it makes sense to practice it.
  • Insect nets: they are used for example in orchards, in the fight against many harmful insects. They are spread over the plants or over the rows, and it is a somewhat expensive but effective method.

The sale of organic products

During the conversion period it is not yet possible to sell the products as organic, and this certainly involves a little sacrifice, which must be made to bear fruit soon.

It is good to invest a lot in communication to attract customers who appreciate the willingness to convert to organic and who are looking for the freshness and quality of the products.

The recordings

Everything we do on the farm must always be reported in the crop and treatment register, because during the inspection visit of the control body, this document will certainly be requested.

Generally it is the control bodies themselves that provide farmers with a register model, in which we will have to indicate in detail the plots, crop, product used and quantity used, of fertilizers, plant protection products, seeds or seedlings, and harvested product.

In the purchase and sales register we will also have to report invoices or delivery notes, and on the day of the inspection the warehouse stocks (of seeds, fertilizers, phytosanitary products, etc.) of the products must return.


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