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COG Organic Field Crop Handbook


2.3 Crop Options

This section summarizes some of the factors to be considered when deciding to grow a certain crop. Refer to individual crop specifications in Section III for more details on individual crops.

Winter Cereals

(Includes wheat, rye, spelt, barley, triticale)

* As seeding for winter cereals is usually in September when the soil is dry, there is less chance of soil compaction than with spring cereals.

* Harvest of winter cereals is early and permits cover crops to be seeded in August or September.

* Winter cereals produce more straw than spring varieties.

* They protect the soil from erosion over winter.

* Having both winter and spring cereals in the rotation spreads the workload

* They are able to compete more strongly with weeds than are spring varieties.

* Since dormancy is broken earlier, winter cereals can use snow-melt for growth.

* An earlier harvest means better grain quality and less kernel moisture.

* The yield can be up to 50 percent higher than spring-sown cereals.

* They demand good drainage and snow cover in cold climates.

* In many areas it may not be possible to grow winter cereals because of winter kill.

* They are heavy feeders in comparison to spring cereals.

2. Spring cereals

(Includes spring wheat, spring barley and oats)

* They can be grown where there is little or no snow cover in winter.

* They can be grown if you have light soil that can be worked early in the spring

* They are lighter feeders than winter cereals.

* Oats grow almost as fast as buckwheat and are an excellent smother crop.

* Yields are generally lower than winter cereals

3. Row crops

(includes corn, soybeans

* Organic corn can be grown if given a heavy application of compost, or if planted after a legume hay or a one year red clover stand which will suppress weeds as well as fixing nitrogen.

* Row crops are not susceptible to the same range of disease probelms as cereals, and therefore form useful breaks in the rotation between cereals.

* Inter-row cultivation provides weed control for the following crop, and breaks the weed cycle in grain crops.

*Soybeans can fix up to about 60-80 lbs of N per acre and leave up to 20 lbs available for the following crop.

* Corn is difficult to manage during the transition years because of its high nitrogen requirements and the problems it poses for control of weeds. However it is successfully grown by many organic farmers once a stable soil system has been acheived.

4. Forage crops

(includes alfalfa, clovers, vetch and grasses)

* Forage crops are effective in restoring soil structure, encouraging earthworm populations and replenishing organic matter.

* The deep tap root of the legumes can penetrate hardpan and the fibrous root sytems of the grasses aid in soil aeration.

* Leguminous green manures are essential in providing sufficient nitrogen and organic matter to maintain organic systems.

* A two to three year stand of alfalfa will control persistant weeds like milkweed and thistle.

* Clovers are prone to certain diseases and it may be necessary to limit their frequency in the rotation.

* Forage crops can be grown for livestock feed, plowdown or for seed harvest. It is not advisable to sell hay because large amounts of nutrients will leave the farm system.

5. Oil seeds and other broadleaf crops.

(includes oil radish, canola, flax and buckwheat) ls(includes spring wheat, spring barley, oats)

*5. Oil seed crops

* oil radish possesses a central tap root which extends well into the subsoil with a large amount of roots sprouting from it, which loosens and aerates the soil.

* it is grown as a ploughdown and it can contributes ten tons of green matter per acre after 45 days of growth.

* it has an ability to absorb nutrients and tie them up for the winter making the nutrients available for the following crop.

* it helps control annual weeds.


6. Buckwheat

* buckwheat improves the soil structure.

* it accumulates phosphorous and makes nutrients available to following crops.

* it can be grown on poor soil, and in acid soil.

* it is used to clean the land of weeds when it is used as a green manure.

* buckwheat has few diseases.

* Buckwheat is prone to few * Volunteers can be a probelm if buckwheat is allowed to go to seed before plowdown or if ripe seed falls to the ground before harvesting.

* Flax * Winter wheat and winter barley Rye and triticale are less demanding.),* Volunteers can be a probleis a good companian crop for underseeded legumes.


Copyright 1992 Canadian Organic Growers. Inc

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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