Recent Blog Posts

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, Agricultural and Resource Law Program

The Ohio Specialty Crop Registry connects producers of specialty crops, beekeepers, and pesticide applicators to one another through free online registries. Producers of specialty crops and beekeepers may voluntarily report the boundaries of their specialty crops and beehives. The registry then compiles this information in a mapping tool that also provides the contact information of the registrant. In doing so, pesticide applicators are better able to avoid these areas and minimize spray drift.

The Old System: the Ohio Sensitive Crop Registry

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) first launched a registry for sensitive crops in 2014 so that pesticide applicators could know the locations of sensitive crops before spraying in a given area. The registry came about at a time when widespread demand for organic foods required more farmers to closely monitor what came into contact with their crops. The original tool allowed commercial producers of at least a half-acre of a single type of sensitive crop to register.  Sensitive crops included just about any non-row crop such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Apiaries, outdoor aquaculture, brambles, certified organic farms, nurseries, greenhouses, and orchards also could be registered.

The New System: the Ohio Specialty Crop Registry

Now, ODA partners with FieldWatch, Inc. to operate the Ohio Specialty Crop Registry. FieldWatch, Inc. is a non-profit organization that operates three registries: DriftWatch for producers of specialty crops, BeeCheck for beekeepers, and CropCheck for producers of row crops. FieldWatch creates maps based on the information from these registries, and makes those maps available to pesticide applicators in another program called FieldCheck. In summary, the three registries are for the producers and beekeepers, and FieldCheck is for the pesticide applicators.

Ohio currently only uses the DriftWatch and BeeCheck registries. According to ODA, the list of sensitive crops under the old program is virtually the same under the new system, meaning that producers of any non-row crop may utilize DriftWatch. While beekeepers may report the location of their beehives in DriftWatch, ODA recommends that beekeepers with no specialty crops use BeeCheck.

FieldWatch, Inc. continues to update its tools to add features and indicators, and CropCheck represents one such development. New for 2019, this registry allows producers of row crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat to register their crops.  Its development comes on the heels of the introduction of dicamba-tolerant seeds. Only Arkansas, North Carolina, Illinois, and Indiana have adopted CropCheck for 2019. Ohio has not yet adopted it.

Connecting the Dots between the Registry and Liability

At this point you may be asking yourself, why is this in the ag law blog? That’s a fair question, and the answer is simple: risk management. As more farmers adopt organic practices, as pesticides and seeds change, and as weather patterns evolve, the risk increases that pesticide drift may come into contact with and negatively impact specialty crops and beehives.

The law expects people to act reasonably and to exercise due care at all times, and this default duty applies to pesticide applicators. Common claims for drift include negligence, nuisance, and trespass.  Each of these claims examine whether the parties acted reasonably and with due care. Most often, when a court decides that a pesticide applicator acted unreasonably, it is because he or she failed to apply the pesticide in a manner consistent with the label. Following the label is certainly an expectation, but it is not the only thing a court will consider. 

When a pesticide applicator does not use FieldCheck, a perceptive attorney representing beekeepers and producers of specialty crops would likely argue that the use of FieldCheck is an industry standard.  If an attorney could establish this, then the failure to use FieldCheck would mean that a pesticide applicator failed to act in a reasonable manner and exercise due care. While we have not seen an Ohio court consider this issue yet, as use of the program continues to grow, this argument will come to hold more weight when a case does arise.

When a pesticide applicator does use FieldCheck, he or she has a stronger argument that he or she acted in a reasonable manner. FieldCheck provides pesticide applicators with a way to know exactly where registered sensitive crops and beehives are located, and allows the applicator to buffer accordingly. FieldCheck provides a quick, cheap, and easy way to manage legal risk, alongside following the label.  Applicators who use the program may want to document when they used the program and also how the maps impacted their application plan.

These scenarios presume that the beekeeper or producer of specialty crops has registered the locations of their bees or crop with a FieldWatch registry. When sued by a beekeeper or producer of specialty crops who did not register their locations, a pesticide applicator could use similar arguments as noted above in order to defend against the lawsuit. However, the applicator’s focus would likely regard the lack of notice. Again, these arguments alone would not likely determine the outcome of the case, but they would help the court determine whether the parties acted reasonably.

What about hemp?

Another question that some of our readers will also be asking is: which registry is for hemp? We made a call and left a message with FieldWatch.  If or when hemp production becomes legal in Ohio, we’ll be sure to provide an update on which registry is proper for hemp. Ohio’s hemp bill is on the move, and the Ohio Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee completed its third hearing of the bill this week. However, we can’t forget that growing hemp is not legal in Ohio unless and until the bill is passed into law and the regulatory system is created.

Reprinted by permission from the Ohio Agricultural Law Blog. The blog is a service of the Ohio State Farm Office, which provides information for agricultural producers and land owners on agricultural law, taxation, production economics and farm management.

Posted In: herbicide drift, specialty crops
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organic weed decision making tool

Weed control without chemicals means fewer options. In fact, weed control is often cited as a reason farmers decide not to pursue organic certification. Although ecological weed management tactics are available, research reveals that many organic farmers do not take advantage of them.

This may happen for a variety of reasons. All weed control methods come with pros and cons, which vary depending on specific growing conditions, cropping systems, and farmer priorities. For example, in a low-value crop, investing time into mechanical or hand-weeding may not be economically feasible. In poorly draining soils, frequent cultivation may lead to soil compaction and drainage problems, or field conditions may make it difficult to add a cover crop into the rotation. 

To help farmers consider these trade-offs, a team at The Ohio State University and Michigan State University has developed an online tool to present different weed control strategies, along with their historic long and short-term performance.

How it works.

The Organic Weed Manager tool collects specific information on growing conditions and farmer priorities. The program then compares the users’ current strategy with alternative approaches, showing the predicted impacts over time across diverse objectives (weed seedbank, costs, soil health, etc.). For those who want to consider a new approach to weed control, the tool also suggests specific steps to take.

The online tool is easy to use and gives individualized results. The tool is not meant to make management decisions for you, but rather to provide an opportunity to consider and compare alternative strategies, while reflecting on individual priorities and values. In this way, the research team hopes to lower barriers to on-farm experimentation and improve adoption of organic weed management techniques.

Learn more.

The Organic Weed Manager software is free and available at organicweedmanager.com. Completing the tool takes approximately 20 minutes. Users may save their progress and return later to complete it. Users can access the tool from a desktop or laptop computer, tablet, but not from a phone. Farmers and farm advisors are encouraged to use the tool and provide feedback for further development. The tools itself contains an area for evaluation and comments.

For more information about organic weed control options, including case studies, resources, and ongoing research projects, visit go.osu.edu/eco-weed-mngt.

Try out the tool yourself

Watch a video about the tool.

Read about how the tool works.

Read more about organic weed control strategies.

 

Posted In: weeds, field crops, educational resources
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tomato in test plot

Use of compost and a mixed species hay crop are recommended.

For farmers transitioning from a conventional to an organic farming system, decisions made during the three-year transition period can influence important factors of future production, such as soil-borne pathogens, soil fertility, and soil structure. In this study, compost incorporation strongly affected physical, chemical, and biological soil health factors and, overall, the soil food web. Using a mix of perennial hay during the transition was most successful in reducing disease-causing pathogens in the soil. Highest available N and yields occurred in the plots using high tunnel vegetable production.

Materials and Methods

A three-year study was conducted in Wooster, Ohio, to evaluate four common rotational strategies used during transition from a conventional to an organic farming system. The four organic transition strategies evaluated were: 1) tilled fallow, 2) a single planting of mixed species perennial hay, 3) low intensity open field vegetable production, and 4) intensive vegetable production under a high tunnel.

Each transition strategy plot was split in half with 15,000 lbs./ac composted manure applied each year to one half.

At the year of certification, the fields were planted to tomato, with two smaller plots of soybean.

Key Findings

  • Compost treatment increased organic matter of soils in all treatments, lowered bulk density, and increased NO3-N, and microbial biomass-N.
  • The addition of compost boosted plant vigor for tomatoes for all transition strategies, but had an inconsistent effect on suppression of soil-borne diseases.
  • Transition cropping strategy was the main factor influencing bacterial community structure in the soil and the rhizosphere.
  • Bacterial communities involved in disease suppression were more abundant in soil previously cropped with hay compared to tilled fallow and low-intensity vegetable production. This was true for both tomato and soybean crops.
  • Overall, the mixed hay was the most effective in decreasing damping-off for both tomato and soybean crops.
  • Tomato yield during year four was much higher in the high tunnel plot. The hay treatment also showed better yield than the tilled fallow and open field vegetable production.

Why Researchers Think the Hay and High Tunnel Treatments Did Better

Disease suppression might happen in two ways. One involves specific action against pathogen populations. For example, brassicas (cauliflower, kale, turnip, radish, cabbage) suppress soil-borne diseases by exuding sulfur-rich substances that are toxic to many pathogenic soil organisms. And certain species of nematodes eat bacteria and fungi that cause plant diseases. Disease suppression can also occur from high competition for available resources. In both cases, the disease suppression is associated with the overall composition of the microbial community (bacteria, fungi) present in the soil and the rhizosphere.

The hay crop used in this experiment was a combination of Festulolium (a rye fescue hybrid) under-sown with alfalfa, red and white clover, timothy, chicory, orchardgrass, and plantain in equal proportions. Researchers concluded that the above-ground diversity of the hay mix supported an increase in beneficial soil organisms that compete or interfere with pathogens, thus, reducing incidence of disease in future crops.

The highest yields in this study were from the high tunnel plots. While some of the increase resulted from extending the growing season, soil analyses also found a higher level of available N in the high tunnel plots. Researchers think this was a result of maintaining the soil food web in a biologically-active state during the cold early spring months in northern Ohio. The monthly mean soil temperature inside the high tunnels was warmer by 35–41°C from January to May while from July to September it was marginally lower than the outside soil temperature. (Based on top 4 inches.)

For more information on using tunnels in vegetable production, visit the Vegetable Production Systems Laboratory’s Crop Enivronments page.


Prepared by Louceline Fleuridor and Cassandra Brown

Based on summaries of the following papers:

Benítez, MS; Baysal, F.; Rotenberg, D.; Kleinhenz, M.D.; Cardina, J.; Stinner, D.; Miller, S.A.; Gardner, B. B. 2007. Multiple statistical approaches of community fingerprint data reveal bacterial populations associated with general disease suppression arising from the application of different organic field management strategiesSoil Biology and Biochemistry Volume 39, Issue 9, September 2007, Pages 2289-2301

Briar, S.S., Miller, S.A., Stinner, D., Kleinhenz, M.D., & Grewal, P.S. 2011. Effect of different organic transition strategies for peri-urban vegetable production on soil properties, nematode community, and tomato yield. Applied Soil Ecology, 47, pgs 84-91.

Baysal, F; Benitez, MS; Kleinhenz, MD; Miller S.A.; Gardner B.B. 2008. Field management effects on damping-off and early season vigor of crops in a transitional organic cropping system. Phytopathology, Vol. 98, No. 5.

(l-r) Steve Culman, Matt Kleinhenz, and Stephanie Short
"Soil balancing is complex, it's prevalent, and it's shown the capacity to endure. It also raises very interesting, and sometimes difficult to answer, questions. All of those are reason enough for us to chat, but as we address those questions we’re also very likely to learn about soils, about crops, about farms and farmers, and the people who advise farmers and supply them." 
     - Matt Kleinhenz, Ohio State, vegetable production specialist

Below are a few notes and quotes from our first two Soil Balancing call-in conversation. Recordings of both calls are available at our website, go.osu.edu/SB-call-in, where you can also find details about our final call-in event on December 12, 2018, 1:30-3:00 p.m. eastern time. 

What We Think Soil Balancing Does

“The physical and biological aspects of the soil have more impact on an ultimate yield than actual N, P, and K does. So we're in working with these heavier clay soils. Our main goal is to minimize stress and duration of stress on the crop, so we're trying to preserve yield, because we continually stress this crop and most of the stress on those clay soils comes from water.“
   - Joe Nestor, Nestor Ag, LLC (November call-in)

Joe Nestor works as an independent crop consultant in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana. He estimates about 70% of the soils he works with are heavy clay. His main goal using soil balancing is to improve water infiltration for less stress on crops.

“As we reduce flooding in the fields, we end up with a healthier crop in many cases -- a crop that survives, versus a crop that dies out under flooding conditions, and as a result, fewer weeds. When the crop dies or when the crop is not vigorous what grows in those in those areas of the field are weeds primarily. And we've all seen those dead areas in the field that come up in foxtail and other weeds.”   
      - Doug Doohan, Ohio State, weed specialist (October call-in)

Doug Doohan theorizes that soil balancing might affect weed populations indirectly through improved soil structure and infiltration. He cautions that there is no hard data on this yet, but it’s a research question be is studying based on conversations with farmers.

What Soils Does SB Work Best On?

“I think guys that have promoted the Albrecht balance have kind of given people the idea it works in any soil and that's really not the case. And so I think some of that has drifted into the research facilities in thinking that it works in all situations and that's not the case.” 
      - Bill McKibben, consultant, Soil Tech, Inc. (October call-in)

Although McKibben says he grew up as an “Albrecht guy,” i.e., focused on the 65% Ca, 15% Mg base saturation recommendations, his experience has shown him this technique is much more effective on clay soils.

However, by growing and incorporating a mixed species cover crop into his soils, vegetable grower Bob Jones reports significantly increasing the CEC on his sandy loam soils. He also uses compost teas and mineral applications, rotating fields in and out of production. He feels this increase of organic matter combined with increasing his Ca:Mg ratio has led to improvements in soil and crops.  

“We're raising the CEC, we're raising the organic matter levels, we're getting the calcium up in that seventy to seventy-five percent ratio with magnesium in line with that of 7:1 and that seems to be— We seem to be seeing a very marked improvement in the quality and the shelf life of the product that we're growing.”
     - Bob Jones, The Chef's Garden (November call-in)

Focus on the Crop, not Just the Numbers

“The number one goal, the number one objective, needs to be to grow a really healthy crop…. So in terms of priorities sometimes the lab report might indicate that we have a soil that is severely out of alignment and we need to make major adjustments, but the budget doesn't exist and it's not possible to make that happen. In those cases, the priority always needs to be to grow a really healthy crop first and then fix the soil over time as we're able to.”
      - John Kempf, consultant, Advancing EcoAgriculture (October call-in)

Other consultants chimed in, saying it’s important to get out in the field and see what’s happening. Both Kempf and McKibben recommended a Paste Analysis test to examine how nutrients are moving into the soil solution and becoming available to plants.

"I can only say what works on our farm. Going back to the question of the truth, what's the truth on your farm? Then go with that. And you can only do that by experience. My father told me a long time ago that the best fertilizer you can put on a field comes from the soles of your feet and that means walking through the field and seeing what's going on and listening to the plant. The plant’s the best test mechanism we have. Does the plant look healthy?"
     - Bob Jones, The Chef's Garden (November call-in)

On-Farm Experience vs. Research

“If the universities have a different opinion than the farmers, I normally go with the farmer opinion. They may not know why something is working, but they do know that it does work. And maybe the researchers…. they may not have the whole system, where a farmer would.” 
      - Will Glazik, organic farmer, Cow Creek Organic Farm

Glazik spoke in detail about how he applied soil balancing on his fifth-generation family farm: how his inputs changed over time and what improvements he saw. He looks to researchers to answer questions about ‘why’ something works, which helps him replicate a practice at his own farm.

“Scientists, I think, legitimately, have a healthy skepticism about what they might consider anecdotal reports of things that people say, especially when it comes…with the sales interest in mind, and they want us to validate that. On the other hand, farmers have a very healthy skepticism and legitimate skepticism of science, and the degree to which scientists’ work is directly as applicable or useful in their work, and that's why they turn to farmers often and legitimately to get advice and counsel.” 
     - Doug Jackson-Smith, Ohio State, natural resources and rural sociology specialist

Doug Jackson-Smith says that if soil balancing is to move forward, farmers and scientists must work together and bring the on-farm experience to science, and science to the on-farm experience.

Why Aren’t More Universities Studying Soil Balancing?

Steve Culman said many scientists feel this topic has already been decided. But his review of published literature and farmer input, made him think there was more to study. Other panelists theorized that Soil Balancing was an unpopular topic for study because there were few products (and sales revenues) tied to it or because previous research was done on soils poorly suited for the technique. 

“I think that the beauty of science is that we… claim to be a self-correcting enterprise. It might take a year or two, it might take ten years, it might take decades. We believe that truth is the foundational thing that we're after, and that, if we have it wrong now, that in time and with additional evidence, we're going to change the way we think about things.” 
     - Steve Culman, Ohio State, soil fertility specialist (October call-in)

"You're asking, should we be doing more research and generating more numbers. I think so in this regard, because it is a question that I get at almost every soils talk I give. Can I improve my drainage by increasing the calcium-magnesium ratio?"
     - Josh McGrath, University of Kentucky (November call-in)

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Posted In: educational resources, research, soils
Tags: soil balancing
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