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*Dear, Mich-Organic Listserv readers: The information offered in the
Michigan Organic Listserv is for your information and not necessarily
endorsed by Michigan State University.*

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*Michigan Organic *


*January 11, 2010*





Inside Organics - Open the Henhouse Doors! by Harriet Behar

After more than eight years of focused debate, the National Organic Program
recently put in place clear and quantifiable regulations detailing pasture
access for ruminant animals.  The discussion on outdoor access for poultry
has been going on for just as long, but was overshadowed by the problem of
organic confinement dairies.  There are many similarities in the debate
between the access to pasture for ruminants and the access to outdoors for
poultry.   Both the confinement dairy and poultry folks state that their
animals can be better cared for within a controlled environment. 
to the belief that all large organic farms are “bad actors” and small family
run farms are always the best model, I believe that the lack of outdoor
access for chickens is not a big versus small issue, nor a corporate versus
family farm issue, either.  It is true that on a smaller scale it is easier
to provide the outside access required in our organic regulation, but large
farms who want to meet the regulation can do it with some forethought when
planning their buildings and system.  When we focus the debate on large
versus small we lose sight of the real issue.

The real question is whether an industrial model is one that should be
embraced by the organic community.  Those in favor state that the
efficiencies that come with large, confinement poultry houses offer organic
food at a “more reasonable” price, making it more available to the general
public and not just for the affluent in our society.  Many also state that
the welfare and health of the birds can be better maintained in a controlled
environment, rather than the great outdoors which brings the danger of
coccidiosis, avian flu, and other wild bird transmitted diseases.  Does it
make sense to provide the consumer a more reasonably priced product, at the
expense of lowered standards?  Does this really increase the demand for
organic products, or leave organic food open to criticism that it is not any
better than conventional production?  Is the difference between organic and
non organic only the non use of the most toxic materials, or is it also a
type of production that respects and nurtures natural systems, including the
natural behavior of animals?

There are two parts to this discussion.  First, what does the regulation
actually say, and what interpretation best meets the rule’s true meaning?
Second, what type of poultry production model fits not just the wording, but
is compatible with the general understanding of what organic agriculture
is?  The regulation is quite general, stating only that access to the
outdoors is necessary for poultry.  What does this mean?  One small door at
the end of a 1,000 foot long building?  An outside area with a wooden floor,
roof and screens, in other words an enclosed porch area?  How about just
having open windows when the weather is nice?  I believe these narrow
interpretations are very far off the mark of what was intended when the
regulation was written, and absolutely do not meet the expectation of the
organic consumer.

The organic egg business has grown rapidly in the past 10 years. Many
conventional egg producers entered the marketplace by transitioning their
current large confinement chicken houses to organic by taking out cages and
allowing the birds to “free range” within the buildings and changing their
diet to organic feed.  Their buildings did not have enough land around them
to offer an outside run area, especially for the large numbers of birds in
each house.  Other producers saw a business opportunity and purchased
bankrupt conventional poultry houses at a good price. With a little bit of
remodeling were ready for “organic” production.  They cannot offer their
birds outside runs where the birds get direct sunshine, scratch and dust
themselves and generally express their “chickeness.”  It is amazing to me
that a minimally modified, failed industrial system of poultry production
has been so easily accepted as organic.  These large producers have stated
at National Organic Standards Board meetings that they provide the majority
of the organic eggs in the United States.  If outside access would be
mandated, they say they would go out of business and there would be great
disruption to the organic marketplace. Should this rationale be used for the
continued allowance of these confinement operations?

The National Organic Program interpretation that a small enclosed porch is
“outside access” has been in place for almost a decade.  Organic
certification agencies (it seems, with the approval of the NOP) bestow
organic certification on operations that do not have any outdoor access at
all for their birds.  Other operations offer small pens for many thousands
of birds, where there are few doors and the birds rarely venture outside.
The regulation does not give certifiers the authority to require more doors,
larger pens, or even placing food and water outside for a few weeks to get
the birds accustomed to being outside.

Many egg laying birds are raised in pullet houses where they do not go
outside, which is explained to be needed in order to allow the vaccinations
they have received to become effective.  When they are moved to the new
house where they mature and become egg layers, they have no familiarity with
sky, wind, sun, soil or living plants.  Putting a few feeders and waterers
outside an open door should be sufficient incentive to get them outside.
But if a certifier mandates this, a producer could appeal the requirement
and would probably not have to perform this task.  The regulation as
currently written does not give support to actually having the birds
outside, only that the birds have “access” to the outdoors.

In addressing these issues it does not matter who owns or operates the
facility, how large the operation is, nor how many birds they have.  What
does matter is that the system in place respects the need for these
creatures to breathe fresh air, scratch in the dirt, eat bugs, and flap
their wings.  Any size operation can set up rotationally grazed areas,
offering fresh greens to the birds periodically, while at the same time
lessening their exposure to soil borne diseases.  Vaccinations are useful
for the vast majority of the wild bird diseases, and providing both indoor
and outdoor living areas lessens the rapid spread of disease that can happen
in high density enclosed confinement houses.  There are examples around the
country of viable organic commercial poultry operations where the birds
spend time outside as weather permits.  These birds are healthy and
productive.  The producers are making an acceptable living and the consumer
is truly getting a superior product.  The confinement model of livestock
production is not compatible with organic agriculture and should be

Organic agriculture is about finding a better way to farm that mimics as
much as possible the elegant natural systems around us.  The excitement of
being an organic farmer comes from experimenting with ways to enhance our
environment and integrating agriculture with nature.  Organic ruminant
livestock has a quantifiable and clear regulation detailing what “access to
pasture” means.  It is time for the National Organic Program to put a date
on ending the allowance of organic confinement poultry operations and
provide all non ruminant animals the opportunity to be outdoors.

*Source: *MOSES, The Organic Broadcaster,

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*Soil Trace Elements and the Organic Farmer*,* by Gary Zimmer*


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*Summary: *
Just like in the production of a grass-fed animal, quality and
care is what the consumer pays for and supports the farmer to provide.  Crop
and organic dairy production are the same: the consumer is paying for a
“system” of farming along with great tasting, nutritious food. Is there a
perfect way for everyone? I believe that the consumer is paying me for
nutrient rich, tasty, cleanly raised foods following a sustainable farming
 A common sense plan needs:
1)  Testing of both soils and plants.
A plan for maintaining and building mineral levels for many nutrients,
including traces.
3) A monitoring system that over time watches for extreme
excesses and maintains soil levels and ratios. This is also true for major
elements like potassium, which at extreme levels can cause many problems.

*Read Full Article at MOSES, The Organic* Broadcaster,

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*Organic Labeling Videos*

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture just released the first of a series
of six videos, to help consumers cut through the confusion of organic
labeling.  Meg Moynihan, the MDA organic specialist, wanders through store
aisles, picking up products, and exploring and explaining the details of
labels on organic products. The videos can be found on YouTube

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*Disaster Assistant Program*


*2010 Ag Security Disaster Declaration Counties***

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* Important information for any plant producer who may have had a 10% yield
loss from average in 2010. *

Almost all lower Michigan and nearly half of the UP lie in the current 2010
Secretary of Agriculture Disaster County Declarations for the 2010
production year.  Producers in these counties, who had a 10% Yield loss on
one crop of significance, are eligible for the *Supplemental Revenue or SURE
program*.  Fundamentally SURE works in concert with crop insurance to
provide an additional 15% coverage on a whole farm (all crops combined)
calculation.  Producers did not need to collect on crop insurance to be
“in-the-money” on SURE.  SURE covers all crops including fruits, vegetables,
grains, forage crops, perennials, ornamentals, greenhouse, nursery and other
horticultural crops.  Revenue is calculated by “Yield X Price”.   Depending
on the crop, prices are determined by USDA from National, State or Local
prices both for the “SURE Guarantee” and for the “SURE Actual Revenue”.
 Yields are determined from the producers actual production.  SURE pays 60%
of the difference between the “SURE Guarantee” and  the “Actual Revenue”.
 The “SURE Guarantee” cannot be more than  90% of the “Expected Revenue”.
 $100,000 is the maximum payment per producer.


*Source: Roger Betz, SW MI District Extension Farm Management,


*For more information on SURE visit, *

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*Pruning High-Density Orchards **by Terence Robinson, Cornell University*

Modern high-density orchard systems such as the tall spindle are based on
simple pruning concepts that include minimal pruning in the early years and
limb-renewal pruning at maturity.

Pruning is always a matter of compromise, since pruning has both positive
and negative effects. The benefits of proper pruning include improved light
penetration into the canopy, containment of tree size, renewal of bearing
surface and improved spray penetration into the canopy.

*Young trees*

One of the most significant differences between the tall spindle and the
more traditional central-leader tree management is that the tree is not
headed at planting, whether it is a whip or a feathered tree. The lack of
heading allows development of a tall and more slender tree more quickly, and
also results in earlier flowering – since pruning delays flowering.

Another of the important techniques is limb bending. When limb bending is
combined with the lack of heading in young trees, significant early cropping
can be achieved in the second year. With the tall spindle, all of the
feathers should be tied or weighted below the horizontal soon after planting
to induce cropping and prevent them from developing into substantial lower
scaffolds. The pendant position results in a weak fruiting branch instead of
a scaffold branch.

This simple change in tree management allows for long-term cropping of many
feathers and little invasive pruning for the first five years. After the
initial tying or weighting down of feathers at planting, new lateral
branches that arise along the leader do not need to be tied down. In most
climates, if moderate vigor lateral shoots arising along the leader are not
pruned, they will bend below horizontal in the third year and a natural
balance between vigor and cropping will be established without additional
limb positioning.

*Mature trees*

When tall spindle trees pass year five, they are considered mature; a simple
repetitive pruning process of limb renewal is implemented which is fast, has
a minimal number of cuts, results in good light distribution and is easily
taught. The tall spindle is essentially a 10-foot trunk with small fruiting
branches inserted all along its length.

The basic tree structure can be developed in only three years, since the
central leader is not cut (headed) at planting. The pruning of the tall
spindle tree can be simplified into three steps.

Limiting tree height. The leader is not headed at planting or for the first
4-5 years until mature tree height has been achieved. Usually, in year six –
after heavy cropping in the top has begun – the leader is cut annually to a
small side branch at the optimum height, where light interception is
maximized without causing excessive shading of the lower canopy. Our
experiments have shown this height to be about 90 percent of the between-row

Branch caliper management. When a lateral branch in the tall spindle tree
gets too long or too big in diameter, it is removed – allowing a smaller
replacement branch to develop. To limit the negative effects of pruning on
vegetative vigor, we limit the number of branches to be removed each year to
just two. However, if this is repeated annually the tree never develops any
large branches and continues from an early to an old age to have only small
fruitful branches, which give the tree a narrow, slender shape.

To assure the development of a replacement branch, the large branch should
be removed with an angled or beveled cut so that a small stub of the lower
portion of the branch remains. From this stub a flat, weak replacement
branch often grows.

After trees reach maturity, lower branches, including some of the original
feathers, become too large and are systematically removed. As the trees age,
the top of the tree tends to overgrow the bottom. To prevent this problem
and to maintain good light distribution and good fruit quality, the top of
the tree must be kept narrower than the bottom of the tree. Maintaining a
conic shape as the trees age is critical to maintaining good light exposure
and fruit quality in the bottom of the tree.

A successful approach to managing the tops of trees has been to annually
remove one to two of the larger upper branches using a bevel cut. If the
replacement shoots, which arise from these cuts, are left unheaded they will
naturally bend down with the crop. When this style of pruning is repeated
annually, the top of the tree can be composed completely of young fruitful
branches. The younger branches do not cause as much shade as larger, older
branches, and are naturally shorter than the bottom branches – thus
maintaining the conic shape of the tree.

Columnarizing or simplifying the fruiting branches. The remaining branches
in the tree should be columnarized or simplified (secondary side branches
larger than one half of the diameter of the branch should be removed,
leaving each branch as a long fruiting column) to improve fruit coloring.

A columnar branch covered with spurs and fruit will cast less shade on the
lower part of the tree than a complex branch. When columnarized branches
become too long or too large in diameter, they are removed through the
annual removal of one to two large branches per tree.

The key objectives for a new high-density orchard are to maximize yield in
the early years and still efficiently produce large yields of high-quality
fruit after the trees are mature. Since large branches contribute to the
development of large trees, the tall spindle trees – which have no large
scaffold branches – remain small and easily managed for many years.

The removal of whole branches instead of heading back branches helps limit
the adverse effects of pruning on tree vegetative vigor while maintaining a
balance of vegetative growth and cropping. Although these principles apply
specifically to the tall spindle system, they can be applied to all other
apple growing systems.

*Source:* The Fruit Growers, January 2011 Issue,

*Finding Right Genes Could Speed Up Apple Breeding* *by Matt Milkovich, The
Fruit Growers*

In the last decade or so, apple varieties – even traditional varieties like
Red Delicious – have gotten better. Traits like taste and pressure have
improved. Tools that weren’t available even 10 years ago – 1-MCP, Retain, CA
storage – along with a greater understanding of the best ways to grow,
harvest and store fruit, have increased the quality of apples in general,
said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

As helpful as those new tools have been, they haven’t managed to speed up
the breeding process. It still takes years for a breeder to learn if an
apple variety has the right characteristics for the marketplace. Even if it
does, decades can go by before the variety is ready to be marketed and sold.
From the first cross to the final release, the entire process can take up to
30 years. Growers and retailers don’t want to wait that long.

As a cherry breeder for Michigan State University, Amy Iezzoni is familiar
with the frustrations and long waits apple breeders experience. If there
were some way to test a variety for its commercial potential beforehand,
instead of waiting years for seedlings to grow, it would save a lot of time
and money. Such testing would allow a breeder like  Iezzoni to concentrate
her resources on more promising varieties, and pump those out faster than
has happened in the past.

The secret to speeding up the breeding process most likely lies within the
apple’s genes. The genetic approach is new to apple breeding, but Jim
McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, expects
to see more of it in the next few years.

So does Iezzoni, who’s also director of the RosBREED project. RosBREED is a
collaborative effort to speed up the development of fruit in the Rosaceae
family. Apples, peaches, cherries and strawberries are part of that family
and share many genetic traits.

USDA provided $7.2 million to fund RosBREED – matched by in-kind funding
from participating institutions and organizations, for a total budget of
$14.4 million. Twenty-seven people from 12 universities are participating in
the project, which is in the process of surveying breeders, growers,
packers, shippers and everybody else in the chain about what kind of traits
they’re looking for in rosaceous fruit. It will take some time for all the
data to be compiled, but the end result should give breeders better
direction in the future. Some of the data will be ready by the time RosBREED
participants meet in East Lansing, Mich., in March, Iezzoni said.

Of great help to apple-breeding efforts: The apple genome (the totality of
its genetic information) was just recently sequenced. This breakthrough will
“allow scientists to more rapidly identify which genes provide desirable
characteristics to the fruit and which genes and gene variants provide
disease or drought resistance to the plant,” according to Washington State

There’s still a huge gap, however, between sequencing the apple genome and
the practical application of that knowledge. Iezzoni and others are starting
to close that gap, looking for the “jewels in the genome” – genes that
control traits like flavor and texture, she said.

Of course, genetically modifying fruit is not without controversy. Some
people are “freaked out” by the idea, considering it unsafe, but attitudes
seem to be improving. The genetic approach has so much potential, it’s not
something that can be easily discarded, said Kate Evans, the head of
Washington State University’s apple breeding program.

David Bedford, an apple breeder with the University of Minnesota, said the
apple varieties currently in the marketplace represent only a “tiny
bandwidth” of the potential in the fruit’s germplasm. We might see some very
interesting apples in the future, he said.

*Source:* The Fruit Growers, January 2011 Issue,

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