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Organic Field Crop Management (AGRN 2000)

Offered by Dalhousie University, Faculty of Agriculture

The demand for organically grown crops is on the rise. To be successful, producers need to understand the principles behind soil and crop management and become familiar with organically acceptable practices. "Organic Field Crop Management" addresses the criteria for optimum yield and quality of field crops within the context of organic farming principles, sustainable soil and nutrient management, and the requirements for organic certification.

Students learn through readings, on-line class discussions and written assignments. The course consists of five stand-alone modules:

Module 1: Soil and Field Management

Module 1 introduces students to general principles of soil and field management in organic systems. Understand the soil system in terms of the nature and function of soil organic matter, the role of soil organisms, and the cycling of nutrients. Learn the concepts of soil health as defined by soil biological, physical and chemical properties. Gain an appreciation of the management practices essential to maintaining soil health including use of green manures, cover crops, animal manures, and compost. Learn the effects of crop rotation and tillage on soil structure and fertility.

Module 2: Nutrient Management Planning

Module 2 outlines the steps needed to develop a nutrient management plan - a document that records an integrated strategy of how nutrients will be used in crop production. The goal is to optimize nutrient cycling, improve resource utilization, and minimize nutrient loss on the farm.

Learn how to estimate crop nutrient requirements considering nutrient uptake, soil type, soil test values, rotation history, and typical yields. Familiarize yourself with calculations used to develop a nutrient management plan, including calculations to determine how much compost/manure to apply and the contribution of green manure to the nutrient needs of the subsequent crop. Understand the content and availability of nutrients in natural mineral fertilizers/supplements and other organic amendments allowable in organic systems.

Module 3: Forages in Organic Systems

Module 3 explores the importance of forages in organic agriculture. Understand the diverse roles of forages and identify selection criteria to determine forage species options suitable for organic cropping systems. Understand how grasses and legumes grow. Learn specific practices for establishing, maintaining and harvesting annual and perennial forages. Learn the criteria for selecting an appropriate grazing system.

Module 4: Organic Row Crop Production

Module 4 explores the role of row crops in organic agriculture. Understand the various types of row crops that may be used in organic production: cereal row crops (corn); root crops (potato); and legumes (soybean). Learn criteria for variety selection and acceptable seed sources. Learn seedbed preparation, seeding methods and equipment, underseeding/intercropping, and other management practices common in organic agriculture. Understand the rotational benefits (economic value, weed control) and drawbacks (soil degradation, high fertility requirements) of row crops. Gain an appreciation of the opportunities and challenges for marketing organic row crops, in particular the impact of GMOs.

Module 5: Organic Small Grain Production

Module 5 details organic production practices for small grains, particularly barley, wheat, oats, fall rye, spelt, and triticale. Understand the role of small grains in organic systems. Understand criteria for varietal selection and acceptable seed sources. Learn organic management practices for crop establishment, maintenance, harvest, and storage. Gain an appreciation of the opportunities and challenges for marketing organic grains, in particular the impact of GMOs.

Please visit the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture's Extended Learning page for more information and to register.