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Organic Agricultural Practices 101 for Interested Consumers

New Jersey producers face some severe challenges. Our humid, wet weather encourages diseases development as well as weed growth! This makes organic agriculture quite challenging.
Organic growers have different tactics to manage diseases, pests, and weeds, and long-term strategies to build soil health and improve the local ecology.

  • Variety Selection: When selecting varieties, growers consider the price and availability of seed, disease tolerance, cold hardiness, and consumer demands, among other things. Each year, Rutgers NJAES specialists revise the Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations for New Jersey, which includes variety lists and recommendations. Variety selection is one of the most effective disease management strategies. Additionally, growers can plant a variety of cash crops and companion crops. The variety of plants attracts beneficial insects, including pollinators and natural enemies.
  • Cover Cropping and Crop Rotation: Cover crops are not harvested. Rather they are planted for a variety of management benefits including reducing soil erosion, suppressing diseases, and improving soil quality. Different cover crops fit into different niches in crop rotation patterns. Organic growers rotate annual crops. This means that they don’t plant the same crop (or a crop in the same family, i.e. tomatoes and potatoes) in the same location year after year. Doing so would lead to increasing levels of disease and insect pests.
  • Mulch: Leaf and plastic mulches can help growers manage diseases and weeds. When using leaf mulch, growers also improve their soils. Rutgers NJAES experts have worked extensively with leaf mulch in agricultural systems. In the case of pumpkin or winter squash production, mulching is especially advantageous as it reduces fruit contact with the soil, reducing the incidence of rots. Reflective mulches have been shown to be helpful in managing insects that may transmit diseases in tomatoes and winter squash.
  • Sanitation: Farmers must be careful to clean equipment between fields and dispose of infected plant materials properly to reduce the spread of disease.
  • Monitoring and Thresholds: Growers can set thresholds to determine when to take action against pests and diseases. Monitoring and scouting become very important. Growers tolerate low levels of pests and take actions only when pests reach economically damaging levels. Pesticides are used responsibly and in conjunction with alternative management methods. Certified organic growers only use those materials which have been approved for use in organic production. These materials are typically microbiological or elemental. By setting thresholds, growers eliminate unwarranted pesticide applications, reducing production costs and environmental impacts. Additionally, by minimizing insecticide use, growers preserve beneficial insects on the farm and in surrounding areas, encouraging pollination and preventing outbreaks of secondary pests.  
  • Diagnosis: Growers confirm disease diagnoses at the Rutgers NJAES Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. Rutgers NJAES encourages growers to report occurrences of diseases such as Late Blight of Tomato and Potato so that staff can alert other growers in the area.
  • Soil Testing: The Rutgers NJAES Soil Testing Laboratory provides soil testing services for growers. To improve crop health, growers must ensure their soils are healthy and provide plants with adequate nutrition. Cover cropping and compost application are two methods sustainable and organic farmers can use to improve soil health and satisfy the nutrient demands of their crops.