Organic Crop Production on the Prairies (PLNT 0820)

Offered by the University of Manitoba

Please note this course is not currently scheduled for the 2015-2016 academic year.

The Canadian prairie region is one of the world's "bread baskets", with over 46 million hectares of arable land. Organic crop production is a rapidly growing enterprise with over 1100 certified organic farmers in the three prairie provinces.

To be successful, organic producers must understand the principles behind soil and crop management and become familiar with organically acceptable practices. Producers must also understand the best cropping options during the critical "transition to organic" phase.

"Organic Crop Production on the Prairies" contains six modules that address optimum crop production. The course highlights organic crop production principles and practices in both wet and dry areas of the prairies and within the different prairie soil zones. Decision cases are used to provide students with real-world challenges facing organic farmers. Students will also learn through readings, on-line class discussions and written assignments. The course consists of seven stand-alone modules and will be delivered using a WebCT platform.

The course is divided into six modules:

Module 1: Introduction to Organic Crop Production on the Prairies:

Organic farming is now well-established on the Canadian prairies. This module will introduce you to the organic industry on the prairies. What are the major organic crops? How does the organic certification process work? We will also discuss the demographic shifts occurring in the organic farming population.

Module 2: Adaptations to new ways of thinking

A systems approach is critical to the success of organic production. What is a systems approach to crop production? How can I improve my systems analysis skills? What does systems thinking really mean in the context of a farm? This module focuses on systems approaches aimed at helping students with holistic soil and crop management planning.

Module 3: Prairie environment

The Canadian prairie region contains 46 million ha of arable land, plus about 8 million ha of forage/pasture lands and 15 million ha of native rangelands. Scientists have divided the prairie region into 4 "soil zones". The climate of this region varies a great deal. Also, weather variation in any one prairie zone tends to be greater than in most other soil zones of Canada. Organic farming practices must account for soil and weather variability. This module is designed to give students an overview of prairie soil and climate conditions.

Module 4: Transition to organic

What is the best way to "transition" into organic crop production? Is there a particular cropping system that makes the transition phase easier? What should be done in conventional production before starting the transition process? This module focuses on crop rotation and crop management strategies to facilitate the transition process. Economics of transition as well as crop rotation and pest and nutrient management strategies will be reviewed.

Module 5: Organic Crop Production Principles

What are the guiding principles of a good organic cropping system? Are there certain goals that a producer should always keep in mind? The answer to the last question is yes. In this module, we will present and discuss the "six principles of organic crop production": biodiversity, diversity and integration of enterprise, sustainability, natural pest management, natural soil fertility, and integrity.

Module 6: Organic Crop Production Practices

This is the largest module in the course. The module includes a detailed description of farming practices required for successful organic farming. These practices will be discussed in the context of the six organic farming principles. Also, specific examples from moist and dry prairie soil zones will be presented.

Module 7: Decision case studies

How are weed and soil fertility maintenance problems dealt with on prairie farms? Decision cases provide the opportunity for students to wrestle with such real-world problems. In this module, students will work on problems experienced by prairie organic farmers. Students will be given a case study farm plus 1 or 2 specific problems faced by the farmer. By developing solutions to real-world organic farming problems, students will synthesize course material and practice problem-solving skills.

Please visit the University of Manitoba's website for more information and to register.

Please note this course is not currently scheduled for the 2017-2018 academic year.