Introduction to Organic Agriculture (AGRI 2000)

Offered by Dalhousie University, Faculty of Agriculture

With retail sales of organic foods increasing by 20% per year, the Canadian organic industry cannot meet demand. Many more farmers, input suppliers, and food processors are needed. "Transition to Organic Agriculture" addresses the steps involved in becoming part of the organic industry from the principles behind organic agriculture, through the certification process, to transition management practices for crops and livestock. Students learn through readings, on-line class discussions and written assignments.

The course consists of five stand-alone modules:

Module 1: Why Organic?

Module 1 explores the unifying principles of organic agriculture. Learn about the local, national and international market for organic products. Identify the key players in the organic industry and learn their roles. Learn how organic farming practices affect agricultural sustainability. Explore the main personal, economic, resource and technical considerations affecting the decision to farm organically.

Module 2: Organic Certification

Module 2 details organic certification. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of organic certification for the producer, processor and consumer. Learn how accreditation differs from certification. Get to know the major certifying organizations locally and nationally and understand the factors which influence the choice of certifying body or label. Become familiar with the major components of organic standards. Understand the steps in the certification process.

Module 3: Planning the Farm System

Module 3 looks at the most important phase of transition - planning. Learn to see the farm as agroecosystem understanding energy and nutrient relationships. Understand the transition planning process including market analysis, resource availability, goal setting, and timeline for conversion. Hear from organic farmers about points for success and mistakes to avoid. Understand the record keeping required for farm planning and for organic certification. Learn some techniques for farm mapping. Learn the time periods required for transition to organic for crop land and livestock. Investigate the economics of transition.

Module 4: Transition to Organic Crop Production

Module 4 introduces the challenges and opportunities facing farmers considering transition to organic crop production. Learn strategies used by organic farmers to control weeds, insects, and diseases in their crops. Get to know the allowable inputs and amendments and their purposes. Understand the role of crop rotation in organic systems as it relates to weeds, insects, diseases, and soil fertility. Know which record keeping categories are important in certified organic crop production. Understand the importance of buffer zones between organically and conventionally managed fields.

(For a more in depth analysis of the principles and practices of organic crop production, students are encouraged to take the Organic Field Crop Management course.)

Module 5: Transition to Organic Livestock Production

Module 5 introduces the challenges and opportunities faced by new organic livestock producers in general, and specifically for beef, sheep, dairy, swine and poultry. Learn strategies used by organic farmers for parasite and disease control. Understand how animal welfare practices are addressed in organic standards and how they can be improved. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of single species landless animal husbandry systems. Learn what an integrated livestock system is.

(For a more in depth analysis of the principles and practices of organic livestock production, students are encouraged to take the Organic Livestock Production course.)

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