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New Publication Offers Guidance for Cover Crops on Organic Farms

A newly released publication, Cover Crop in Organic Systems: Western State Implementation Guide, provides an overview of how cover crops can be used on organic operations, different purposes for the use of this conservation practice, design considerations, and related National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. Part of a five-guide series, this resource will enable the Federal Environmental Quality Incentives (EQIP) Program, especially the EQIP Organic Initiative, to be more responsive to and valuable for organic farmers.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

 Publication Offers Guidance for Cover Crops on Organic Farms

Contact: Sarah Brown, Program Manager, Oregon Tilth, 503-779-6557, Sarah.Brown@por.usda.gov

January 6, 2014— A newly released publication, Cover Crop in Organic Systems: Western State Implementation Guide, provides an overview of how cover crops can be used on organic operations, different purposes for the use of this conservation practice, design considerations, and related National Organic Program (NOP) regulations.  Part of a five-guide series, this resource will enable the Federal Environmental Quality Incentives (EQIP) Program, especially the EQIP Organic Initiative, to be more responsive to and valuable for organic farmers.

In general, the purposes for cover cropping in organic systems do not differ from those in conventionally managed systems.  However, the role of cover crops to support soil function takes on greater importance in organic systems because the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides are generally not allowed.  Cover crops are also essential on organic operations to meet NOP requirements to minimize erosion; maintain or improve soil organic matter and the biological condition of the soil; and manage crop nutrients and soil fertility. 

“Cover crops are an integral component of organic farming systems.”  Sarah Brown, Organic Conservation Program Manager at Oregon Tilth adds that “in addition to increasing soil fertility and overall soil health, cover crops are often also used in organic production to suppress weeds and pests, manage soil moisture, and reduce soil compaction.”  

Producers may decide to implement cover crops to address a variety of purposes on a particular operation.  As described in the guide, this purpose will impact the design and use of cover crops.  Cover Crop provides more information on relevant NOP regulations; discusses a variety of design considerations including crop species, field preparations, and planting methods.  The document includes a discussion of cover crop termination focusing on purpose, method, and timing.  Intercropping and annual cover cropping in perennial systems are examined followed by a list of resources. 

Together with the other four new resources, this guide will help address the insufficient technical resources and limited staff understanding to support  organic conservation plan development at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) which administers the EQIP Organic Initiative.  The Organic Initiative provides financial assistance and techni­cal support to organic and transitioning producers for conservation practices such as buffers, cover crops and nutrient management.  The new guides may also be useful to other agricultural professionals such as those with Cooperative Extension and producers who are interested in implementing these conserva­tion practices.

This project is the result of a partner­ship between Oregon Tilth’s Organic Con­servation Program, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), the Xerces Society and USDA Natural Re­sources Conservation Service (NRCS); it is funded by a grant from Western Sustain­able Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE).

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