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What Kind Of Fertilizer Is Used In Organic Farming

What Kind Of Fertilizer Is Used In Organic Farming

The continued volatility in price of fertilizer, combined with heightened regulatory scrutiny, will leave many growers scratching their heads as to which way to go to fertilize their 2010 crops. Conventional farmers and organic farmers share a need for a low cost, highly efficient source of nutrition for their crops.

Two broad choices are available for conventional growers, organic and synthetic . For organic farmers, only the organic option is available.

Jeremy DeLisle, an Extension agent in western North Carolina, speaking at the recent North Carolina-South Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Growers annual meeting, says, “Transitioning to organic farming produces some soil fertility challenges that transcend the use of conventional bulk fertilizers to achieve optimum soil fertility.” Organic farmers can and do use composts of plant and animal materials and uncomposted plant materials are allowed under Federal NOP (National Organic Program) guidelines.

The most commonly shared manure-based fertilizer used by both conventional and organic farmers is chicken litter. Nutrient component varies widely from one chicken farm to another and there is variation from one poultry house to another on the same farm. A typical load of chicken litter might contain something close to 75 pounds of nitrogen, 27 pounds of phosphorus and 33 pounds of potassium per ton.

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The example might also contain 60 pounds of organic nitrogen, but only 30 percent or about 18 pounds of N was available to plants over the course of the first season. The sample contained 21 pounds of phosphorus and 26 pounds of potassium, of which a producer should expect approximately 70 percent to be available in year one.

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Dairy and beef manure are also commonly used fertilizer sources. Dairy manure, like chicken litter will vary in nutrient makeup, but will typically contain 10-15 pounds of NP and K per ton. Beef manure is consistently higher in nutrient content than dairy manure with 20-25 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus and 30 pounds of potassium.

All of these materials are low in N-P-K content and would not be sufficient as a stand alone fertilizer in either organic or conventional crops. Soybean meal has 6-1-4.2 percent, respectively, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Cottonseed meal is 6-2-1, alfalfa meal is 4-3-1 and kelp meal is 1-0-2. Any of these meals can be used on organic crops, regardless of whether they came from plants grown certified organic.

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Animal-based fertilizers available to both organic and conventional growers include blood meal, bone meal, feather meal and fish meal. Of these, feather meal (13-0-0) is highest in nitrogen and bone meal (1-13-0) is highest in phosphorus. Fish meal has a 9-3-1 percent NPK makeup and blood meal is 12-0-0. Like cottonseed meal, these animal-based fertilizers will be slow release and the nitrogen component will not be immediately available to crops.

Mineral-based fertilizers that are approved for use on organic crops are much closer to the fertilizers used on conventional farms. Organic growers need to double check these materials to be sure they are on the national list of approved chemicals for certified organic farms, DeLisle stresses. Even though these products may have on the label OMRI-approved, occasionally these materials don’t make it onto the national list, he adds.

The OMRI Products List is a directory of all products OMRI has determined are allowed for use in organic production, processing, and handling. Only products that have passed this review are included in the OMRI Products List and can display OMRI Listed Seal — the organization’s registered certification mark. Sodium nitrate (16-0-0) is available to organic farms, but can only comprise 20 percent of the total N used in the certified organic system.

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DeLisle points out that this material, like many of the organically approved products, is difficult to find these days. Rock phosphate is another option. It is low in phosphorus (0-3-0), but has a high (23 percent) calcium content. Likewise, potassium sulphate is high in potassium (0-0-50), but also has a high (18 percent) sulphur content.

“For growers considering transitioning to certified organic production, I sometimes recommend they get soil testing done and apply conventional fertilizer to get the soil up to where it needs to be, then let it stay out of production for the three-year requirement to meet organic certification. In some cases investing a fourth year is cheaper than slowly building soil nutrition up with fertilizers approved for organic production,” DeLisle says.

It has good potassium content (0-0-7) and is a good source of slow release calcium. Greensand is a sand or sediment that consists of dark greenish grains of glauconite that is usually mixed with clay or sand. It is a natural mineral that opens up tight soil and binds loose soil.

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Cation exchange capability is the soil particle’s ability to hold on to the nutrients needed by plants. Compost is sort of like a glue to bind nutrients to the soil, DeLisle explains. Among the numerous data on soil test samples, most experts agree cation exchange is the least understood. Any element with a positive charge is called a cation and, for agricultural purposes, it refers to the basic cations, calcium (Ca+2), magnesium (Mg+2), potassium (K+1) and sodium (Na+1) and the acidic cations, hydrogen (H+1) and aluminum (Al+3).

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The cations are held on "exchange sites" where one cation can be exchanged for the same type or a different cation. The CEC is expressed in milliequivalents per 100 grams (meq/100g) of soil. The larger this number, the more cations the soil can hold. A clay soil will have a larger CEC than a sandy soil.

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In some areas of the Southeast one or more of these organic sources of fertilizer are available to farmers. With today’s volatility in fertilizer costs and other input costs, these may be good options for conventional farmers to consider.

Organic farming is all about strategy — a strategy we’ve helped farmers manage for over 30 years. Our organic fertilizers and soil amendments fit within a system designed to improve your soil’s productive capacity and help you grow more resilient crops. Many farmers transition to organic production to pursue price premiums; with our approach — high-production organic farming — we can help you pursue high yields as well.

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You can maximize organic production with balanced fertilizers that eliminate yield-limiting factors and support plant health - grow organic vegetables. Following a soil test, we’ll help you identify nutrient deficiencies in the soil and correct them with a blend that includes all the nutrients your crop needs. Whether you plan to grow row crops, small grains or forages, our fertilizer blends can build soil organic matter and nutrient availability to help you improve yields.

Diverse, tight crop rotations and well-managed cover crops build available nitrogen in the soil. Because nitrogen-fixing bacteria live in legume root nodules, a well manged legume crop such as alfalfa can add 25 to 75 pounds of nitrogen per acre, per year. Our organic fertilizer blends supplement nitrogen management by delivering other important nutrients in a carbon and humate base.

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Farmers should replace phosphorus removed in harvested crops. Finding organic-allowed phosphorus sources can be difficult because traditional phosphorus sources like MAP are not allowed on organic farms. At Midwestern BioAg, we recommend application of rock phosphate on phosphorus-deficient soils as a long-term phosphorus source on organic farms. When used in combination with livestock manure and green manure crops on biologically active soils, organic farmers can meet plant phosphorus needs and grow high-yielding crops.

Healthy soils produce resilient crops, helping plants establish quickly and ward off pest and disease problems. Our leading organic soil amendment, OrganiCal™, can improve multiple soil types. It contains finely ground gypsum, humates and high-calcium lime to improve distribution and plant availability of calcium in the soil. Together, the calcium and sulfur in OrganiCal can improve structure in heavy soils, while the humates can increase plant-available sulfur and calcium levels in light soils.

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Together, these effects can lead to an astounding 25 percent increase in yield and a 21 percent rise in plant biomass.1 U.S. farms often have very low worm populations in their soils — a common symptom of poor soil health. By strengthening earthworm populations, farmers can better leverage soil organic matter to improve nutrient efficiency — particularly nitrogen — and boost crop yield.

Our fertilizers and soil amendments supply calcium and carbon to improve soil structure and encourage earthworm activity. When paired with a diverse crop rotation and minimal tillage to reduce habitat disturbance, earthworm populations flourish. The resulting increase in biological activity magnifies input production benefits, helping maximize on-farm nutrient efficiency and build overall soil capacity.

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The early season boost from starter also improves overall plant health and resiliency. Nutrient deficiency of any one nutrient can limit yield potential. These same yield-limiting factors can lead to serious pest and disease problems. Because organic farmers have limited access to crop protection tools, preventive steps like balanced plant nutrition are key to successful production.

These nutrients can be applied to fields to correct nutrient deficiencies reported in your soil test results. On organic farms, tillage is a necessary tool to fight weed pressure. While tillage can lead to loss of organic matter and erosion, careful timing and equipment selection can limit these effects. Our staff draws on years of organic tillage expertise to help you manage tillage on your farm to maximize positive outcomes.

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Mercaris is a market data service and online trading platform for organic, non-GMO and certified agricultural commodities. This tool can be especially helpful during the transitioning process, when crops cannot be sold as organic-certified but are still of high quality. We also work closely with large food companies seeking to increase their organic and non-GMO supply chains.

At Midwestern BioAg, we’ve supplied farms with organic fertilizer for over 30 years. Our organic products are either OMRI listed or meet National Organic Program (NOP) standards. In all cases, we recommend you check with your certifier on specific products to ensure compliance. We offer a complete line of organic farming inputs to help you maximize soil productivity and grow high-yielding, healthy crops.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Spring is the time for thinking about fertilizers. Organic options are a great way to go. Organic fertilizers such as manures, compost or bone meal are derived directly from plant or animal sources, according to Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. Inorganic fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate or ammonium phosphate are often called commercial or synthetic fertilizers because they go through a manufacturing process, although many of them come from naturally occurring mineral deposits.

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These nutrients are in a form readily available to plants. However, since they are lost from the soil quickly, you may have to fertilize plants several times during the growing season unless you use a specially formulated, slow-release type. Some nutrients, such as nitrate, are quickly available for uptake by plant roots, Penhallegon said.

Organic fertilizers usually contain plant nutrients in low concentrations - grow organic vegetables. Many of these nutrients have to be converted into inorganic forms by soil bacteria and fungi before plants can use them, so they typically are more slowly released, especially during cold weather when soil microbes are not as active. But organic fertilizers have advantages.



They improve water movement into the soil and, in time, add structure to the soil. Organics feed beneficial microbes, making the soil easier to work. But they may cost more than chemical, or inorganic fertilizers, because they are less concentrated, supplying fewer nutrients pound for pound. Since many chemical/inorganic fertilizers are concentrated and very soluble, it’s easier to apply too much and damage your plants.

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They can also be a source of weed seeds. Penhallegon has collected information about the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) content of many of the organic substances commonly used as fertilizer in Oregon. His report, "Values of Organic Fertilizers," also contains information about how quickly an organic fertilizer releases available nutrients and a reference list on organic gardening.

"For a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 12-11-2, this means 12 percent is nitrogen, 11 percent is phosphorus and 2 percent is potassium. In simple terms, this means each 100-pound bag of the fertilizer would contain 12 pounds of nitrogen, 11 pounds phosphorus and two pounds nitrogen. "For example, using 12-11-2 fertilizer, if we knew we wanted to apply one pound of nitrogen, we would use 1/12th of 100 pounds," he said.

Burned eggshells (0-.5-.3), fish emulsion (5-1-1) and urea (urine) (46-0-0) are the fastest-acting organic fertilizers, lasting only a couple of weeks. To boost the nitrogen content of your soils, apply nitrogen-rich urea (42-46 percent N), feathers (15 percent N), blood meal (12.5 percent N), dried blood (12 percent N). Organic amendments highest in phosphorus include rock phosphate (20-33 percent P), bone meal (15-27 percent P) and colloidal phosphate (17-25 percent P).

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To make soil less acidic, gardeners want materials rich in calcium, including clamshells, oyster shells, wood ashes, dolomite and gypsum (all are at least 30 percent calcium carbonate or straight calcium). Many garden centers and feed stores carry organic fertilizers and amendments for gardens.

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The results of the 2016 Certified Organic Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), show that sales of certified organic production continued to increase in 2016. U.S. farms and ranches produced and sold $7.6B in certified organic commodities, up 23% from 2015, demonstrating that there is increased demand for organic products and opportunities for growth.

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California led in both categories, with 2,713 certified farms and 1.1M acres, 21% of total U.S. certified organic land. Ten states accounted for three fourths (77%) of 2016 sales. With $2.9B in certified organic commodity sales, California continued to lead the nation, accounting for 38% of the U.S. total. Some states with lower volume of sales in 2015 experienced significant increases in 2016. growfoodguide.

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When growing crops on the farm, one of the most important components is fertilizer. Since organic farming is gaining popularity, so are options for natural fertilizer. In order to adhere to organic standards, there are only certain items that can be added to soil. This means avoiding many of the products at your local farm and garden center and instead thinking outside the box.

In order to successfully grow healthy, plentiful crops, it is imperative that you achieve a certain soil health. To do this, just the right balance must be achieved when it comes to pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and the like. This means knowing not only what your soil already has, but also what it needs.

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A trusty standby of farmers everywhere is compost. You can buy it or make your own, but provided only organic materials go in, only organic compost will come out. Compost is great for a slow nutrient release and helping soil with water retention. Just be sure to allow compost enough time to fully break down before using.

Another historically used natural fertilizer is manure. Whether it is from goats, cows, or chickens, people love the thought of repurposing that manure pile and often into the garden it goes. When using manure, however, there are a few things to remember. For starters, you don’t want to retain bedding (such as commercially sold shavings) in your manure pile because of possible chemical exposure in its origins.

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If you use manure, just be prepared for possible weeds because what the animal eats ends up in the manure and that could include seeds capable of germinating. When fish and/or fish byproducts are exposed to heat and acid, the end result is fish emulsion fertilizer. On the opposite side of the coin but still involving fish is hydrolyzed liquid fish fertilizer, which hails from a process that uses enzymes as opposed to heat.

Speaking of that which comes from the water, liquid kelp is another natural fertilizer option that can help give your soil what it needs. It takes on a fertilizer form when plucked from the ocean and sent through cold processing. The end result in mixed with water and is capable of infusing both plants and soil with nutrients and growth hormones that take effect immediately upon application.

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Animals gain weight and get shiny coats when fed alfalfa, so why not feed it to your crops as well? Alfalfa meal is loaded with nutrients that can aid in soil fertility and plant growth. There is a bit of a waiting period while it decomposes and is fully absorbed to the tune of three to four months, but once it kicks in, the benefits will be quite clear.

In fact, if processing animals is part of your routine, you can even try blood or feathers as fertilizers provided the latter is given ample time to break down prior to use. No matter what your preference is, there in a natural fertilizer option for you that will keep your crops going long, strong, and chemical free.

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Conventional agriculture uses large amounts of synthetic fertilizers to grow crops. This blog explains why synthetic fertilizers are not allowed in organic agriculture, and the alternative methods organic farmers use to enhance soil fertility. Chemically intensive farming methods can produce short-term benefits for farmers, but they result in the degradation of soil over time.



Every minute mankind destroys the equivalent of 30 football fields of fertile soil, mostly due to irresponsible farming. As a result, we are losing 10 million ha of farmland every year. Furthermore, it takes a lot of energy to produce synthetic fertilizers. This energy is derived from the burning of fossil fuels, which in turn threatens agricultural systems by worsening climate change.

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The world’s oceans are suffering under an increase of dead zones, areas of low oxygen levels, which cause aquatic life to suffocate and die. There are now over 245,000 square kilometres of dead zones in our oceans. This is also a major problem in lakes and water reservoirs – and the main culprit is chemical fertilizer runoff.

phosphorus or nitrogen. An overdose of nutrients leads to an overgrowth of aquatic plants and algae. When they die, they sink to the bottom and use up oxygen as they decompose. This process is depleting oxygen levels and causing the death of fish and other aquatic life. One of the main causes of eutrophication is the runoff of chemical fertilizers from agricultural fields.

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The organic farmer considers soil a living organism. Traditional methods of fertilizing, like recycling biomass (composting) and planting legumes – peas, beans, and other plants – have stood the test of time for centuries. These organic methods supply nutrients to plants in a steady manner and nurture the soil at the same time, which keeps farm systems resilient.

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Higher levels of organic matter in soil contribute to good soil structure and water-retention capacity. This substantially reduces the amount of water needed for irrigation. Organic agriculture emphasizes good plant nutrition, which is key to the prevention of plant diseases. Organic farmers use cover crops and sophisticated crop rotations to improve ecological relationships in the field.

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We, therefore, call for: Capacity building for farmers and extension services on how to farm successfully without chemical inputs combining the latest science with local knowledge. Policies to incentivize a transition to organic agriculture. An end to subsidies encouraging the excessive use of chemical inputs.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

What started as a personal experience to improve my overall health by growing my own food has turned into a mission to share my experience and my own research. Growing your own food and eating healthier food is something that everyone has to try.

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