October 13, 2005: Organic farmers can’t
turn to chemicals to eradicate a pest problem that may develop
in their fields but that doesn’t mean they are without
options. There are many tools in the organic farmer’s
arsenal--trap crops, pheromones, beneficial insects. Let’s
start by reviewing the NOP requirements.
According to section 205.206 of the rule, farmers, in order
to be certified organic, must prevent pest problems by implementing
crop rotations, fertility management systems and sanitation
measures, such as removing habitat for pests.
Organic farmers are also required to use cultural practices
that enhance crop health. This means using a selection of
plant species and varieties that are well-adapted to site-specific
conditions and resistant to prevalent pests. As inspectors
assess the health of crops in the field, they will check seed
tags to see that these species and varieties are being grown.
If pests are still a problem once the preventative strategies
described above are in place, pests may be controlled through
mechanical or physical methods including:
- Augmentation or introduction of predators or parasites
of the pest species;
- Development of habitat for natural enemies of pests;
- Nonsynthetic controls such as lures, traps, and repellents.
As an inspector, I always find it interesting to see the
innovative lures, traps, and repellants that farmers use.
Despite our best efforts sometimes prevention is not enough.
In these cases, a biological or botanical substance or a substance
included on the National List may be used. The National List
consists of all synthetic substances allowed for use in organic
Insecticides on the National List are:
- Ammonium carbonate—for use as bait in insect
traps only, no direct contact with crop or soil;
- Boric acid—structural pest control, no
direct contact with organic food or crops;
- Copper sulfate—for use as tadpole shrimp
control in rice production, is limited to one application
per field during any 24-month period. Application rates
are limited to levels which do not increase baseline soil
test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the
producer and accredited certifying agent;
- Elemental sulfur;
- Lime sulfur—including calcium polysulfide;
- Horticultural oils — narrow range oils
such as dormant, suffocating and summer oils;
- Insecticidal soaps;
- Sticky traps/barriers; and
If you plan to use a botanical or biological pesticide or
a synthetic pesticide on the National List, make sure that
the formulated (brand name) product you intend to use is approved
by your certifier prior to applying it to your crop or land.
Keep in mind that most insecticides contain inert ingredients
as carriers and/or fillers. Synthetic inert ingredients that
are classified on the Environmental Protection Agency’s
List 4 “Inerts of Minimal Concern” may be used.
Inert ingredients on EPA’s List 3 “Inerts of Unknown
Toxicity” may only be used in passive pheromone dispensers.
If you are unsure about a product’s inert ingredients,
check with the manufacturer or supplier, and make sure that
the product is approved by your certifying agent.
As an inspector, I am looking not only to see that the measures
outlined in the rule are in place, but that they have been
used properly. For example, when reviewing a farmer’s
field history sheets during an inspection, I look to see that
soil building crops are included in the rotation and that
crops in the same families were not planted in the same fields
year after year.
has some excellent publications on approved
pest control strategies, such as Bug Vacuums
For Organic Crop Protection; Colorado Potato
Beetle: Organic Control Options; Flea Beetle:
Organic Control Options; and Organic Control
of Squash Vine Borer. These can be downloaded
Any substance used must be fully documented in your organic
system plan including name and condition for use. The inspector
will review the organic plan to make sure that all pest control
inputs being used or intended for use are listed. Farmers
often forget to write down all of the pesticides they use,
or start using new pesticides after the organic plan was submitted.
Inspectors also examine product labels, usage records and
receipts for all pest control inputs used.
Without an assortment of chemicals at his or her disposal
the organic farmer must rely on a multi-tiered approach to
controlling insect populations but if you keep these guidelines
in mind as you map out your pest management plan insects -
and your inspector - shouldn’t bug you too much!