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Factors Influencing the Transition to Organic Cropping Systems

There has been increased production of and expanding consumer demand for organic crops and products. The Illinois Natural History Survey, the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois Extension, and organic farmers have joined together to develop research projects and outreach materials on organic agriculture. As part of this effort, the team has begun a project on organic transition at a field site on Windsor Road in Champaign. This work reflects an awareness that growers face obstacles in adopting organic practices, including the risk of shifting to new farming methods and the lack of readily available science-based information.

Transitioning land from conventional to organic practices involves changes in the soil food web, fertility, and the interplay between plant health and pest complexes. Growers take many approaches to transitioning land for organic certification, based on their own farm operation and resource availability. Better knowledge of how those approaches affect soil health, crop productivity, and pest management would benefit this decision-making process.

The Windsor Road project compares the influence of transition schemes that differ in management intensity and organic amendments on pests, soil fertility, soil invertebrates, and the relationship between fertility, plant health, and pest pressure. Management intensity treatments include intensive vegetable production with frequent tillage, less intensive cash grain production, and unharvested grass-legume sod. Soil-building amendments will be cover crops or sod alone, added raw waste or manure, or added compost. Information products are being developed for current organic producers, growers transitioning to organic, and educators. An advisory board of organic producers is providing input to refine research objectives and relevance, lend expertise in farming systems management, assess results, and improve effectiveness of outreach products generated from the research.

The project’s goal is to establish an organic systems program—a partnership of organic producers, researchers, and extension educators—that improves the performance of organic systems and enhances the ability of Midwestern producers to meet the growing demand for organic products.

Catherine Eastman, Associate Professional Scientist
Center for Economic Entomology
Illinois Natural History Survey
(217) 333-6659; ceastman@illinois.edu

John Masiunas, Associate Professor
Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
(217) 244-4469; masiunas@illinois.edu

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