Organic Fruit and Vegetables
Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture in the United States. The demand for produce grown without toxic chemicals has increased to the extent that many Mississippi supermarkets now carry certified organic produce. Since there are very few commercial organic growers in Mississippi and the surrounding states, there might be a market for more organic production.
The growth of organic production in Mississippi, while slow, has shown signs of increasing in recent years. This is in parallel with the national growth patterns. Sales of organic fruits and vegetables in the U.S. increased from $181 million in 1990 to $2.2 billion in the year 2000. Sales of organic meat and milk are also increasing.
The information found here is designed to help existing non-organic growers convert at least some of their production to organic methods or to assist those who want to begin organic production. The methods can be used by very small growers (e.g. ½ acre) to very large growers (e.g. 1000 acres). The focus is fruit and vegetable crops and those disciplines related to production of these crops. Row crops, forages, fiber, greenhouse crops, ornamentals, and animal production are not included in this guide.
Without trying to discourage would-be organic producers, it must be said that organic growing in the humid Southeast is quite a challenge, partly because of enormous disease and insect pressures, partly because of low organic matter in our soils, and partly because of a lack of adequate research information or extension support. However, experiences of Southern organic growers indicate that successful methods exist and that the situation improves for organic production with time. Furthermore, the higher crop value in the market is able to offset some of the losses experienced in the early years of organic production, and it is likely that the demand for organic produce will increase in the future. Begin small. Keep good records and careful written observations of your experiences.
It is important for the organic grower to assemble a library of resources and develop a network of contacts. A number of contacts are listed. Before beginning organic production, you should visit with existing growers. Three willing growers who have commercial production are linked here. It is highly recommended that you regularly attend the annual Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) meeting. There are excellent presentations on organic and other sustainable production topics each year at the meeting, and you will be able to meet and interact with producers and resource persons who can help you greatly in your endeavors. As you gain in experience, you will be able to assist those new to the organic community, while continuing to learn new things.
Another source of information is the agriculture agent in your county or parish. While the county agent might not know the answer to your question, he or she will know who to consult. If county agents receive frequent calls from growers with organic questions, they will communicate that interest to state research and extension administrators. That will generate more attention to research and extension in organic agriculture.
As an organic grower, you will need to be acutely aware of the needs of your crops, the pests that the crops contend with, methods of soil management, and avenues for marketing your produce. First, buy at least one book that describes how to produce the crops you intend to grow. If you have only one such book, it would be better if it also provided organic crop production methods.
Second, get picture manuals that help you identify diseases, insects, and weeds. Before you can correct a problem, you must be able to identify it accurately (see the section "Disease, Insect, and Other Animal Control" and "Weed Control"). A guide on how to control these problems organically is also necessary.
Third, get a picture manual that helps you determine nutrient problems in crops (see the section "Nutrient Diagnosis"). It is also helpful if you have some background in soil science (see the section "Soil, Soil Fertility, and Composting").
Fourth, have your soil tested. Request an organic matter test as well. Mississippi State University Extension Service offers a soil testing service ($6 per sample), as do other land grant universities and private laboratories.
Finally, have a guide to marketing possibilities and strategies, and have a market for what you will grow before you put anything in the ground (see the section "Marketing").
Other Organic Crop Information
- Southern Organic Resource Guide
This is a reference handbook of organic resources in the south (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee); published by IOIA and NCAT August 2005; 136 pages.
- Suppliers of Organic Fertilizers, Rock Minerals, Composts, and Pelletized Poultry Litter
This is a detailed listing of organic suppliers in Mississippi and nearby states, by Steve Diver, NCAT Agriculture Specialist with ATTRA; January 2007; 14 pages.
- VEGETABLE FARMER’S GUIDE TO ORGANIC CERTIFICATION from the National Young Farmers Coalition
- Contacts and Organizations
- Organic Certification