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Organic Equipment Needs

Chopstar

“You don’t need the most expensive new paint on the block, but you do need reliable access to certain essential pieces,” says Mary-Howell Martens of Lakeview Organic Grain located in Penn Yan, New York.  Mary-Howell and her husband Klaas operate a 1600 acre organic farm and feed mill operation there.

Martens recommends at minimum:

  • A good plow and disc, with a tractor large enough to pull them.
  • A decent corn planter and grain drill.
  • A coil tine harrow, rotary hoe and/or finger weeder.
  • An easily adjustable cultivator or agile cultivation tractor, and
  • Reliable access to a combine and wagon/tractors.

Tom Cassan, an Organic Inspector for over 15 years, and farmer for over 20 agrees.  “You’ll find that you need equipment that was common 50-60 years ago – row crop cultivators, a tine weeder, rotary hoes.  Your plough, disc, and cultivator – although they’ll need to be cleaned, they’ll still see lots of use.”

“During transition or if you are a smaller farm, you may only have 100-200 acres, you’re typically going to look for used equipment and only use it on your farm,” adds Cassan.

“Start out with a basic tool that can work for multiple crops and at multiple stages,” is the advice from Martin Den Dekker, Sales Specialist at Frontlink.  “A tine weeder is where most organic farmers start due to its price point, and because it is very multi-purpose.  It can be used very early at the white hair stage of weed growth, as well as pre & post emergence.  It can be set up in a lot of different ways.”

“Just keep in mind that one piece of equipment is not going to take care of all of your weeds,” cautions Den Dekker.  “Equipment is one important tool of many against weeds.  Seed bed preparation, seeding rates, row spacing and much more need to be considered.”

Equipment in organic field

Farmers will also want to consider hiring custom operators.

When doing so, Martens cautions that farmers need to be aware of two things – cleaning procedures to avoid GMO contamination, and that operators do a careful job to maintain the quality of the crop harvested.

“You have to be sure that the custom operator is doing a careful job to maintain quality,” emphasizes Martens.  “More than one load of food-grade soybeans have been downgraded to feed quality because they were harvested too wet or handled too roughly, resulting in stained or damaged beans,” she notes.

In addition to the combine, you need to make sure other required harvest equipment such as a cleaner, grain dryer, and clean bins are ready adds Martens.  “Realizing at 5pm Friday afternoon, that you have a wet, weedy wagon of oats is not the right time to look for help.  Those oats must be cleaned and dried within the next 6 hours, or they will start to heat and rot, and by Monday they will be compost.”

“Custom operators have huge equipment and may not want to deal with less than a days’ work,” notes Cassan.  “Cleaning is also an issue especially with combines.  You may need to do 1-2 purges, 100 yards at a time.  Documentation of cleaning out and a sanitation affidavit are important to maintain organic status.  Any doubt, call your certifier and check-in with them…. Is what I am doing ok?”

Timing is especially important in organic production.  “When you have the opportunity, you have to be ready to go,” says Cassan.

“We keep a list of needed repairs and use rainy days to work down the list,” says Martens.  Machines need to be ready to roll before the time arrives.  Every year, for example, far too many farmers fail to harvest their crops at peak maturity because the combine is not ready.”

She adds, “more yield is lost to a poorly adjusted and maintained planter and/or combine than will be lost to incomplete weed control.”

Larger scale farmers, or those who are more established should expect to make further investments in equipment.

“Row crop cultivators are also very popular, especially with corn and soybean producers.  It’s a long-term investment but there are so many options to help customize the equipment to your needs.  There are lots of attachments and technology such as camera guidance and GPS section control that can be added on,” says Den Dekker.  “Although row crop cultivators tend to be purchased only by organic producers, we are starting to see some interest from conventional farmers, especially in Western Canada, who are using this as a tool against herbicide resistant weeds,” he notes.

Row Gaurd

In terms of technology Martens suggests keeping an eye on weed control tools from Europe.  “It’s truly amazing what is being accomplished.  However, fun as it is to watch the You Tube videos, fancy tools are not required as long as the farmer is attentive both to the timing of operations and the equipment settings and maintenance.”  Martens also cautions that before upgrading to modern technology, that farmers make sure they can get a reliable, strong signal on their farm.

For individuals looking for more information on organic crop production, the upcoming Guelph Organic Conference offers a variety of workshops  geared to farmers, as well as a 2 day trade show.

Cassan notes, “when transitioning to organic, producers need to do research.  Get to know the other organic producers in your area.  The Guelph Organic Conference is a very good place to discover contacts and network, network, network. “

The Guelph Organic Conference takes place late January / early February each year and features a variety of workshops and a 2 day free trade show.  Workshops are by paid admission.  Admission to the trade show is free and several equipment suppliers such as Frontlink, as well as input suppliers and certification companies will be exhibiting.