Organic Crop Production
Organic crops need to be grown in a way that is accepted in the country where they are marketed. Many places will prescribe conditions which organic crop growing must adhere to (e.g. chemicals cannot be used, or chemicals have never been used on that land).
Scope of Work
Organic, sustainable and natural crop farming are not necessarily the same thing; but they may be. In some places, the use of the word “organic” on produce is regulated by law, and the way a farm operates must meet the regulated definition. Organic plant growing is the production of plants without the addition of artificial inputs such as chemicals that have been artificially manufactured or processed. This includes herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers.
The work involved in organic growing is generally similar to any other crop production, except that chemical contamination must not only be avoided, but also protected against. Chemical drift from neighbouring properties must also be avoided, perhaps by how you manage the land (e.g. drainage diversion); but more so by selecting where you grow carefully in the first place.
Work may include things like:
- Using biological controls - e.g. insect predators to control pests
- Using natural sprays - targeted, safe, often derived from plant material to control diseases
- Weed control - mechanical or the use of other techniques like smothering and solarisation
- Other tasks - e.g. planting, feeding, watering and harvesting
Some of these things may be done using machinery but organic farming tends to be slightly more labour intensive than regular farming.
What You Need to Learn
- Crop knowledge - Knowledge of different types of crops, their names, and uses
- Harvest & post-harvest - Knowledge of harvesting methods & equipment, processing (if relevant e.g. drying herbs, extracting oils), storage
- Cultural techniques - Pruning plants, feeding, watering frequency and duration, planting, transplanting, staking
- Natural health management - Plant pests, diseases and environmental disorders; integrated pest management, biological control methods, biosecurity
- Natural growing methods - Composting, organic concepts (biodynamics, permaculture, no dig), organic weed control
- Legal and ethical issues - Organic labelling regulations, permissible use of chemicals
- Sustainable water management - Collection, conservation, storage, irrigation, swales
- Soils - Potting media & soil structure, chemistry, management techniques e.g. improving soils, aeration, etc.
- Tools & equipment - Selection of the right tool for the job, cleaning tools, correct operation & use, maintenance & repair
- Communication skills - Dealing with clients, arranging appointments, giving advice
- Sales skills - How to interact with customers, sell herbs, earn repeat business, network with suppliers, place orders, keep inventories, marketing, advertising
- Health & safety - Assessment of risks & hazards, use of personal protective equipment, fire alarms & drills, location of first aid kits, basic first aid procedures
Starting a Career
Organic growing is a subset of general growing, which means many of the entry paths are the same as more general farming. This means you can enter into organic farming by working in various related areas. Entry pathways include:
- Working as a farm hand
- Volunteering at a local plant society
- Working with a community garden
- Speaking with people at local farmers' markets
- Starting your own backyard garden for experience
You can also start in other areas of horticulture or in general crop farming environments but develop a preference for organic growing over time.
It is also possible to take assistant or trainee type roles in general horticulture or crop farming to gain experience and then work towards organic growing.
Progressing a Career
Organic growing has increased in popularity over recent years due to increasing awareness of safety on the farm, and the desire to produce food that is free from chemical inputs. People are more aware of the harm that synthetic chemicals pose to people and animals, and the broader environment. Organic growing is therefore an industry which has a bright future and there are great opportunities for career advancement.
To go far, you really need a sound knowledge of organic growing methods. There are always new advances in terms of techniques to improve organic farming outcomes. It is also important to remain fully informed of changes in regulations relating to organic practices. To achieve these things and to get into more technical or managerial type roles, there are a number of options.
Attending workshops and seminars is one way to build knowledge. Becoming a member of an organic trade association is another. You should also consider networking with people of similar backgrounds e.g. by going to trade shows and fairs. Another consideration is further study. There are many courses available and these can be studied part time or via distance learning. It is wise to only choose courses delivered by providers with proven industry experience.