Updated: December 17, 2021

According to the 2017 USDA census of agriculture, there are 117 organic farms in Maryland with product sales of $30,438,000. Organic grain markets offer price premiums that are often enticing to producers.

However, organic grain production brings many challenges. The 3-year transition period prior to becoming certified organic can be a challenge, during which only organic approved products can be used. In addition, organic production differs from conventional in areas of labor needs, equipment needs, nutrient management, and pest management.

Making a farm plan, budgets, and working with mentors can help ensure a successful organic farming enterprise.   

  • Vehicle harvesting grain crops on a cloudy day

    Crop Budgets

  • Combine harvesting grain

    Organic Production

  • MDA Certified Organic Seal

    Maryland Organic Certification Program


New Lessons Learned in Organic Grain Transitions Webinar
Video Length: 1:39:16     |    Date: December 2021
Description: Ray Weil, Sarah Hirsh, and Niamh Shortt present preliminary results from the University of Maryland and Future Harvest project, “Transitioning to Organic Grain Production: Strategies to maximize profitability and ecosystem services while reducing risks and barriers” (funded by USDA/NIFA. Accession No. 1020579). Farmer panelists David Armentrout, David Cavanaugh, and Aaron Cooper discuss practical considerations and observations from the various organic transition strategies. Aaron Cooper of Cutfresh Organics discusses weed management in organic systems. Equipment including a cultivator, weed flamer, and weed-zapper are among the topics discussed. Shannon Dill (University of Maryland Extension) discusses business planning and marketing for organic grain.

Organic Grain Webinar
Video length: 1:52:53  | Date: January 5, 2021
Description: Opportunity for conventional grain growers to ask questions before making the investment and commitment to transition land to organic grain production.  Brought to you by Beginning Farmer Sucess

Ask a Farmer -- Growing Organic Grain Questions with Comments

Ask a Farmer -- Growing Organic Grain

Tuesday, December 1 from 12-2pm

  • Opening remarks (purpose of the webinar)
  • Introductions by panelists
    • Aaron Cooper of Cutfresh Organics
    • Steve Krazowski of Mason’s Heritage Farm
    • Shannon Dill, UMD Extension Educator
  • Share/discuss Extension Organic Budget Factsheet (Shannon Dill)
  • Markets & Prices
    • What are the market outlets for transitional grain? For organic grain?
      • Regional organic markets (larger scale/bulk hauling)
        • Purdue, Hurlock MD. Dry grain only: Corn – 15.5%; Soybeans – 13.0%
        • Organic Unlimited, Atglen PA. Feed grade corn and roasted soybeans.
        • Boyd Station LLC, Danville PA. Organic soybeans only.
        • Occasional requests from local distilleries, – corn and rye. Mycotoxin or DON must be low for all grains
        • Sagamore Spirit Distillery, Baltimore MD
        • Blackwater Distilling, Stevensville MD
    • What’s the marketing process like for farmers who are trying to find buyers for their transitional and organic grain?
    • Are contracts stable? Are prices stable?
      • Mason’s Heritage - no forward contracts during the growing season.
      • Grain Storage – chance to take advantage of (typically) higher prices in winter months, allows for some more control over price – typically $0.25 to $1.00 per bushel. Can help to offset storage and hauling costs.
      • Make sure to line up trucking ahead for slower winter season.
    • What about crop insurance for transitional and organic grain vs conventional?
    • Usually a little extra coverage for corn (more inputs) – hedges against difficult early seasonal conditions and fewer options for in-season crop protection. Seed coatings, pesticides, fertilizer applications not available or as economical option.
  • Equipment
    • Do you have to have different equipment for conventional than for organic grain production?
      • Mason’s Heritage has foregone drilling (7.5” rows) beans – no plan B if weeds show up. Planter w/ 30” rows gives a variety of weed control options throughout the growing season.
      • Mason’s Heritage uses a moldboard plow for incorporating high biomass legume cover crop for corn – followed by disking and field cultivation gives an even, less compacted, and homogenous planting bed: good seed to soil contact, even planting depth, warmer soil -> faster synchronous seed germination and seedling emergence. Disking can be done but is problematic for planting and weed control – compact, stratified mix of residue up to 5 inches deep which leaves a heterogeneous seed bed: uneven planting depth, seed to residue contact – delayed germination, uneven crop stand, and possible pest issues (cutworm eggs and larvae harbor on residue).
      • Early weed control – tine harrow, rotary hoe, flamer, cultivators with shallow sweeps combined with row “fingers.”
      • Late weed control – high residue “sweep” cultivator, weed zappers (soybeans)
      • Combine and head – no difference. Typically slower harvest speeds due to some weed pressure on average. Tighter separator settings and higher fan speeds.
      • Storage tanks w/ fans – ability to harvest earlier and get a jump on sowing cover crop. Corn – 18 to 20% moisture. Soybeans – 15 to 16% moisture.
        • Farm King 480 grain cleaner for corn and beans before entering tank. Mason’s Heritage uses different screens for each crop. Claims of 1900 bu/hr is overstated – more like 1000 bu/hr. Removes trash and weed seed which aids in drying and develops a good reputation with buyers for clean grain. Also, expect to lose up to 1% crop yield through screens under normal conditions.
      • Precision Ag technology:
        • RTK guidance (sub-inch)
        • Electronic seed metering for independent row swath control
        • Delta Force – useful for NT ground, maintains even ground contact even on rough fields
      • We upgraded our closing wheels for firm NT ground, many conventional NT operators probably already have them. No big issues with cover crop wrapping around them, but companies have solutions if a concern.
      • Utility tractors (one auto-steer capable) – tine harrow and rotary hoe, cultivate
        • Small tractor with good visibility for early weed control
      • Strip Till units – currently working on developing a technique for minimum tillage corn. Works only 10” zone (1/3 field area) to open up a planting strip. Two passes: first pass is early April after manure is applied to make a field template; second pass just before planting (1st week of May) follows the first pass (RTK guidance proves useful) and “freshens” the existing strips – opens the rows for the planter and clears residue, allows the soil to dry and warm up sooner. This strip till methodology allows fewer passes, less tillage, a uniform seed bed and earlier access to the field since you never drive on worked ground.
    •  If you can use the same equipment, what’s the cleaning process like?
      • Must clean planter, drill, and combine when switching to organic.
      • Combine – vacuum and air hose to remove any conventional foreign material. Also, it is recommended that 50 bushels grain be harvested to “purge” the combine – this grain should be stored or sold separately from organic crops.
      • Harvest and Tillage tools – prevent weeds seeds from intra-farm and inter-farm travel.
        • Tillage equipment: remove loose dirt and plant material.
        • Combine: air hose the head, feeder house and chaffer area where weed seeds would gather.
    • Are there programs that can help cover the cost of purchasing new equipment?
      • NRCS programs (EQIP, RCPP…) are not retroactive.
      • Mason’s Heritage: 50 acres, stacked 3 practices to be implemented for 2 or 3 years – reduced tillage; additional CC species for mix; delayed CC termination. Dropped MDA participation for extra EQIP payment.
      • To accomplish these objectives, the purchase of a tool might be needed.
      • Non cost-share example: additional CC species - broadcasting clover before drilling rye for 2 species mix instead of rye alone. So, a $5000 front-mounted
      • double-disk spreader, 7 bu capacity. Saves the $12/acre aerial seeding charge - 416 acres to break even in one year.
  • Cultural Practices
    • Timing of planting: warmer soils allow for faster seedling emergence more uniform stand, hence delaying cover crop termination. Had an issue with Pythium in early corn – once the soil conditions improved (temp and moisture) the stand was fine.
    • Corn Seeding Rate: unirrigated – 28,000; irrigated – 32,000. Mason’s Heritage expects to thin stands by 5% with more aggressive weeds control if it’s called for.
    • Soybean Seeding Rate: conventional till – 160,000; NT – 180,000
    • Turn Row: much more traffic; maintain same lanes for rotary hoe/tine harrow and cultivators; working and planting turn row last (CT corn or beans), but not much of an issue in NT beans
  • Nutrient management/fertility
    • Manure (poultry litter) becomes an obvious choice for crop fertility - cheap; other macro and micro nutrients (P, K, S, B, Zn,...); fertility carryover; not as prone to environmental losses
      • Nearly 1:1 N to K ratio
      • Ca and Mg help keep pH up in coarser Mid-Atlantic soils
      • Addition of organic matter in naturally low OM soils, <= 2%
    • Timing of manure application – fall versus spring
      • Fall small grains: apply litter early and sow small grain by Oct 1 - diminishing mineralization of N as soils cool off
        • Early litter not recommended. MDA NM regs allow for up to 50 lbs PAN (plant available nitrogen, provided P soil test levels allow for it) applied in the fall for the upcoming spring crop. This is a better option
    • P balances and the current/future PMT regulations for conventional ag versus organic ag
      • PMT 2022 and beyond – fields with PFIVs 150 and higher anywhere near surface water or with artificial drainage/ditching are usually bumped into the HIGH risk category. Conventional operations using litter are restricted from any P application at all, but certified Organic farms have an allowance.
        • Applied P is allowed up to the removal rate for the subsequent two crops
        • Example: 2 year rotation, unirrigated corn and beans. 110 bu corn and 35 bu beans – 80 lbs P2O5 removed, which equals about 1.5 tons/acre litter
      • 2:1 ratio of available phosphorus to available nitrogen per ton of litter, so be aware of your P balances
        • Mason’s Heritage 2 year P fertility for unirrigated land, 110 bu corn and 35 bu beans and 60 bu barley, average of 2 tons litter/acre applied to corn and assume 70 to 80 lbs available legume N
        • Corn/Beans rotation – net 20 lbs P2O5 added to soil
        • Corn/Barley/Beans rotation – net 5 to 10 lbs P2O5 removed ( w/ or w/o baling barley straw)
    • Growing your N with cover crops
      • Generally 75 to 90 lbs/acre available N possible
      • Best establishment results in conventional tillage beans.
      • Crimson Clover: Cost - $50/acre including seed and aerial broadcast
        • Cost share - $45 to $55 per acre breaks even! Any legume N production is free.
        • Assume no cost share and 80 lbs PAN from legume – $0.62/lbs available N
      • Compare to litter: $35/ton (material and spreading); 25 to 30 lbs available N per ton; $1.16 to $1.40 per lbs available N
    • Small grain fertility - manure is a uncertain choice due to reduced N availability in fall and early spring; other sources are available but $$$$
      • Range of $4 to 6$ per lb N – not to mention the volume of material needed to be applied.
      • Recommend two-sourced approach if small grain is established early, October 1 or earlier:
        • Assume barley and 75 bu/acre yield goal
        • Total N recs: 75 lbs N
        • MDA fall N recs: 30lbs N/acre
        • Immediately available N source: Chilean nitrate, but USDA rules only allow for up to 20% of the crop’s total N recs using this product, which gives 15 lbs N/acre if applied in the fall.
        • Slow release source: poultry litter applied at ~0.5 tons/acre provides the remaining 15 lbs N/acre for fall fertility.
        • Spring fertility, remaining 45 lbs N: blood/bone/fish meals have rough N release period of 6-8 weeks. Applied early to mid-March, N mineralization carries through until early to mid-May.
        • Concern: only able to provide a small portion of the total N recs with cheapest source – litter. Spring litter application is allowed but personally I feel N mineralization, thus N availability, has not ramped up enough until after small grain nutrient uptake is mostly complete by mid to late May.
    • Starter products? In-furrow fertility at planting? Multiple N sources with staggered N mineralization characteristics?
      • Mason’s heritage has seen little if even mixed effects of in-furrow fertility.
        • Ultimate goal is for vigorous seedling emergence, but this quality seems more strongly tied to good field fitting and seedbed characteristics.
      • Two-pronged N source approach: legumes and manure
        • Crimson clover terminated at flowering – C:N ratio of 10:1 is quickly available
        • Dry poultry litter – C:N ratio of 20:1 gives a slower release and feeds the crop over the course of the growing season
      • Mason’s Heritage in-season fertility (Chilean nitrate) via irrigation on corn is possible but has seen mixed results.
  • Weed Control
    • How do you approach weed control in organic vs conventional grain production? Tips and tricks? Mentality approach?
      • Planting conditions: soil uniformity, temperature, moisture, and compaction all play a role.
      • Seedling vigor: critical for competition with weeds
        • Seed depth: deep enough to ensure good soil moisture and allow for early blind cultivation tools with tine harrow and rotary hoe. But not too deep where soil temperature is too cold and could delay germination and also allow pest to intervene.
    • Cultivation: early blind cultivation as possible – tine harrow (clean field), rotary hoe (doesn’t need to be clean like the tine harrow)
    • Flaming can serve as preemptive weed control or as a rescue option.
      • Use dry weather to your advantage. Hot, dry conditions have a greater impact on weed mortality and suppression.
      • Early Corn: flame anytime up to 4 to 5 inches tall, but the shorter the better. If flaming at 4 inches the stand survives (growing point still beneath the ground) but the result is a more uneven crop stand. Earlier treatment (up to 3”) allow for better crop recovery and gets a better jump on weeds.\
      • Late Corn: 10” up to whatever fits underneath the tool bar without lodging the stalk.
      • Early Soybeans: ideal timing is at “crook” stage when the bean is just breaking through the soil surface.
      • Late Beans: only recommended if beans are 12” or taller and even then heat can damage significant portion of the canopy. Earlier the better: allows more time for the plant to recover.
    • What role do cover crops play in weed control in organic grain systems? And how is the timing of planting and terminating cover crops different in organic than conventional grain?
      • The most stubborn weeds we have (anthropogenic selection) thrive in the conditions created by cyclic farming practices. Cover crops can interrupt the cycle and impede a weed’s competitiveness.
      • For organic systems, terminating a cover crop early is eliminating its potential. The aim is to exploit the full potential of the cover crop to achieve a goal:
        • N fixation
        • Suppress summer annual weeds
        •  Lasting Residue
        • Reduce surface compaction
      • Right now for Mason’s Heritage, biomass is our key for No Till soybeans and the green manure for corn.
      • The right cover crop(s) widens your planting window (weather) and helps manage workflow.
        • Rye and delayed anthesis (mid-May) allows for warmer soil and better germination. Also, heavy above ground biomass and below ground root mass allows earlier access to a field after wet weather.
        • Early and late maturity legumes:
          • Crimson Clover – reaches maturity in early May
          • Winter Peas – reaches maturity in late May
        • Based on the outline above, we envision 3 planting periods spread out through the month of May. Otherwise, we encounter a logjam of work when weather intervenes and deal with subsequent management trade-offs/sacrifices between crops.
      • Steve Groff: “Treat your cover crop like your cash crop” and be a “Purposeful cover cropper”
  • Certification and Audits
    • Here in MD, MDA Maryland Organic Certification Program follows USDA organic standards
    • Available OMRI listed products but might not be permitted. Some are a state by state case basis. Contact MDA to check.
      • Example: natural gypsum rock contains different background levels of harmful elements like Arsenic, Nickle, Cadmium, Lead, etc. Which quarry it was mined from may determine if it’s allowed to be applied. Request an analysis to review with MDA or your organic certifier.
    • Audits resemble NMP inspections
      • Receipts: seed, fertilizer / manure
      • Weigh Slips: truck weight station slips for amendments
      • Truck affidavits from purchaser – Organic Unlimited, Boyd Station
      • Yield: in lieu of weighs or purchaser confirmation – crop insurance data; yield monitor maps, FSA records
      • Current Nutrient Management Plan and Organic System Plan

2018 Organic Production Meeting Recordings

2018 Organic Production Meeting, Grain, Vegetable & Livestock


Organic Production Meeting – Welcome
Video Length:
Description: Presented by Jenny Rhodes at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. Watch recording

Next Generation of Organic Farmers
Video Length: 1:21:58
Description: A panel discussion including organic farmers: Matt Fry, Wes Winterstien, Evan Miles, Matt Neilson, George Cartanza and Matt Webber at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. Watch recording

Latest Research from Local Scientists for Organic Farmer’s Research Needs
Video Length:1:03:25
Description: A panel discussion including: Dr. Michel Cavigelli, Dr. Kathryne L. Everts, Cerruti Hooks, Dr. Steven Mirsky and Dr. Mark J. VanGessel at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. Watch recording

Effects of Cover Crops on Water and Nutrient Dynamics
Video Length: 57:51
Presented by Dr. Steven Mirsky at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. Watch recording

What is the Certification Process and Much More
Video Length: 49:45
Description: Presented by William Rawlings, Food Quality Assurance, MDA at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. Watch recording

Can Living Mulches be Deployed into Conservation Tillage Systems
Video Length: 51:42
Description: Presented by Cerruti Hooks at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. Watch recording

Managing Nutrients in Organic Systems for Long Term Sustainability
Video Length: 1:13:39
Description: Presented by Michel Cavigelli, Research Soil Scientist, USDA-ARS, Sustainable Agriculture Systems Lab at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD.  Watch recording

How Useful are Biostimulents in Organic Vegetable Systems?
Video Length:
Description: Biostimulents can improve crop yields and/or quality at times, but not consistently. There are some strategies that can make the biostimulents more reliable, but at a cost. See results from the use of biostimulents in organic tomato, pepper and cucurbit systems for several years. Watch recording

Growing Organic Poultry
Video Length: 48:13
Description: Presented by Georgie Cartanza, Poultry Extension Agent, Delaware Cooperative Extension, at the 2018 University of Maryland Extension's Organic Production Meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, MD. Watch recording


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