organic farm dependence on off-farm manure sources

joel b gruver (jgruv@wam.umd.edu)
Mon, 16 Nov 1998 00:09:35 -0500 (EST)

Hello to all...

I recently read an article titled "Contradictions in Organic soil
management practices: evidence from 31 farms in Maine" which was presented
at the 2nd International IFOAM (International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements) Conference in Montreal, CA in October 1978.
The authors were surprised to find that the great majority of organic
farms in Maine in 1978 utilized a very simplified fertility regime that
relied minimally on on-farm fertility management such as legume rotations
and cover crops and instead relied primarily on cheap off-farm
chicken manure.

The authors were concerned that with the Maine poultry industry in
decline, most of the organic farmers in Maine were in a very
economically vulnerable partnership. The authors were also concerned about
the ecological consequences of most of Maine's organic farmers depending
on heavy annual applications of poorly composted poultry manure.

Organic agriculture has come along way since 1978... yet my guess is that
in many regions of the US, organic vegetable farmers are still very
dependent on off-farm sources of manure...

My guess is that in 1998, on-farm integration of crops and livestock
and complex rotations that include both row rops and sod crops are
still largely ignored on many organic farms that depend upon high off-farm
inputs of manure.

A few questions:

What is the current status of the Maine poultry industry ? Have
dramatic changes occured in the fertility management of Maine organic
farmers since 1978 that are linked to the fate of the poultry industry ?

Where in the US do we currently have concentrated pockets of "chicken
manure organics" ?

In areas with current high organic dependency on off-farm chicken manure,
are there studies being done on the long term effects of this dependency
and/or how to increase the complexity of on-farm organic fertility
management to decrease the dependency of organic farms on chicken manure ?

Are there areas in the US where organic farms were once primarily
dependent on off-farm manure but now have dramaticaly changed their
fertility management ?

Joel Gruver
U of MD
Soil Quality

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