Blog Posts

Peanut Seedling Disease Trial

This peanut seedling disease trial was established to simply evaluate organic seed/soil treatments at plant for any sign that they might prevent a complex of seedling diseases that affect peanut seed germination.  Typically, a conventional grower has a chemical seed treatment to prevent disease, but organic growers have had very few options and so it is not unusual to be forced to replant. At $1.30 per lb. and most peanut farmers planting over 100#’s per acre, cost add up quickly!

This growing season has had strange weather and because of that the test was planted later than wanted. Both air and soil temperatures jumped significantly in May meaning we needed to irrigate before planting – which created its own set of problems. It was hoped we could put these seeds into cold, wet soils to simulate a West Texas April/early May planting but sometimes things don’t work even in the best planning.  Even though it wasn’t ideal we saw a few differences that will help us to adjust what we do in the future for more testing. Listed below are the treatments and rates for the products tested. #7 and #10 serve as checks, #7 is bare seed and #10 is conventionally treated seed with Dynasty, Syngenta Co.  

Plots were 2 rows X 25’ with 100 seed planted per row or 4 seed per 1’ of row.  There were 4 replications of each plot, randomized. Planting date was May 20, 2022, into a previous irrigated site.  0.75 inches rain fell on May 23 and plots were sufficiently moist for good germination.  Peanut seed ‘crack’ was observed on May 26. 

Trt. #CompanyProductTrt.Per acre
1Ecological LaboratoriesQuantum-EXP 1IF64 oz/ac
2Summit AgroAVIVSeed10-30 oz/100-gallon water. Soak and dry
3Summit AgroAVIVIF10-30 oz/100-gallon water.
4Certis BioDouble NickelIFDouble Nickel LC @ 8 fl oz/acre
5Certis BioDouble NickelIFDouble Nickel LC @ 16 fl oz/acre
6American Plant FoodSigma 5-3-2 BioPPI1000 lbs./ac
7 NAUntreated CheckNA NA
8CortevaBexfondIF14 oz/ac
9ValentEndoprimeIF2oz/Ac
10 NATreated seed check NA NA

Looking at the results, there is no statistically significant difference in any of the treatments, but trends indicate some differences especially above the untreated check #7.  Overall, we want to improve both germination percentage and stand establishment with organic product treatments. Seed germination counts were done on May 31 and no further germination occurred.  Ratings of growth were done on June 3, 6, 9 and 13.  Rating scale was 1 – 4 with a 1 being best. Organic treatments 1, 2, and 4 were all rated above the untreated check #7. This gives us a possibility of further testing to see if they continue to show an advantage.

Trt. #CompanyProductTrtRateGerm. % 5/31Plot Rating
10 NATreated seed checkSeedDynasty powder52.8751.750
1Ecological Lab.Quantum-EXP 1IF64 oz/ac45.8571.875
2Summit AgroAVIVSeed10-30 oz/100-gallon water. Soak and dry43.7502.125
4Certis BioDouble NickelIFDouble Nickel LC @ 8 fl. oz/acre44.2502.188
7 NAUntreated Check NANA43.7502.438
3Summit AgroAVIVIF10-30 oz/100-gallon water.44.1252.563
8CortevaBexfondIF14 oz/ac35.5002.813
6American Plant FoodSigma 5-3-2 BioPPI1000 lbs./ac34.6253.063
9ValentEndoprimeIF2oz/Ac32.0003.125
5Certis BioDouble NickelIFDouble Nickel LC @ 16 fl. oz/acre37.2503.188
     Average2.513

Where are Organic Farms and Organic Handlers?

The maps below are an attempt to help you see and know what and where organic in Texas is located. There is a lot going on in this $1 Billion dollar a year industry! You can click on the individual maps to see a larger picture.

This map of organic farms across the state of Texas gives you an up-close look at where organic farms are located. As you can see there are 215 farms or 56% of all organic farms located from the South Plains to the High Plains. These farms are mostly cotton and peanuts with a huge concentration of dairies located in an area west of Amarillo. The rice belt includes farms on either side of Houston and these farms do other organic crops in rotation with rice. Vegetable/fruit farms can be found in many places in the state but there is a concentration in the Rio Grande Valley.

Most folks don’t even think about organic handlers or what their business might be. I will call your attention to a blog post I wrote about organic handlers a few weeks ago. Organic Handlers

This group buys farm products from organic producers or perhaps they manufacture an organic product for use on an organic farm. Basically, they are in the organic business and are regulated like an organic farm. Organic begins on the farm in the soil and stays organic till it is packaged!

Urban Agriculture is Changing

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to be a part of conferences for “urban” audiences interested in urban agriculture in particular organic urban agriculture. There is a lot of interest in what agriculture really is, and terms like “natural,” “sustainable,” “regenerative,” and even “organic” can be confusing. Most consumers love labels but unfortunately labels begin to lose any meaning unless you define them and yes, enforce them!

Urban agriculture has many definitions and many parts.  USDA defines it as,” cultivation, processing and distribution of agricultural products in urban and suburban areas.” Even this definition can be further defined because cultivation has many different aspects; agricultural products include a multitude of things from vegetables to dairy to fish to meat, and urban and suburban are rarely well defined and can mean the 2.5 million population of Houston, Texas or the urban center of DeLeon, Texas where 2.5 thousand live! 

These problems with definitions still don’t deny that our population needs and wants local food and local food security no matter if it is small town or large city.  And this desire is fueling a resurgence of everything from backyard gardening to large scale organic rooftop agriculture atop the newest Whole Foods retail store.  All are woven together into a sense of “community supported agriculture” which has a history of being “urban agriculture” for decades.

According to Wikipedia’s definition, “Urban agriculture can reflect varying levels of economic and social development. It may be a social movement for sustainable communities, where organic growers, “foodies”, and “locavores” form social networks founded on a shared ethos of nature and community holism. These networks can evolve when receiving formal institutional support, becoming integrated into local town planning as a “transition town” movement for sustainable urban development. For others, food security, nutrition, and income generation are key motivations for the practice. In both scenarios, more direct access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat products through urban agriculture can improve food security and food safety.

What does urban agriculture look like?  Again, according to USDA, “Community gardens, rooftop farms, hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic facilities, and vertical production are all examples of urban agriculture.” Certainly, there are backyard gardens, market gardens, and the small farm patches scattered around superhighways, streets, and buildings.  Every open piece is real estate is being discovered, evaluated, rehabilitated, and put into production much like the English allotment system so popular in Great Britain. 

Increasingly (maybe because of climate extremes), urban agriculture is now becoming Controlled Environmental Agriculture or CEA and these urban/suburban operations include low tunnels, high tunnels, shade houses, climate-controlled greenhouses, and indoor farming in warehouses, shipping containers, or even basements. Many are certifying organic, and some are not.

The demand by the urban/suburban consumer for both involvement in their own food production and knowledge about the food they purchase and consume, is driving the need for new and innovative research and education.  Never before has there been such an interest in urban agriculture with an equally intense interest in the science of agriculture and food.

What about Texas?

Texas population in 2022 is estimated to be 30.93 million people growing a little over 1% per year for the last ten years.  Out of the top 22 largest cities in the US, Texas has 6 including Houston (4th), San Antonio (7th), Dallas (9th), Austin (11th), Fort Worth (13th) and El Paso (22nd).  Included in the top 100 largest cities of the US are many of the suburbs of these major cities.  These fast-growing cities are experiencing a complete change in their makeup, their consumer trends and their eating habits.  According to the CDC and data collected through the 2019 Risk Behavior Surveillance System and compiled by Thistle©; Texas ranks 32nd out of 50 states in consumption of fruits and vegetables; 41.3% of adults eating less than one serving of fruit per day, 23.2% of adults eating less than one serving of vegetables per day, 50.5% of high school students eating less than one serving of fruit per day, and 51.7% of high school students eating less than one serving of vegetables per day.

Even though a low percentage of the 30.93 million Texans consume very many fruits and vegetables there is still a considerable number who garden and a huge number that frequent farmers markets.  The National Farmers Market Directory lists 282 local farmers markets in Texas and the Texas Department of Agriculture shows hundreds of registered farmers markets on their Go Texan website.  Most of the Texas’ markets are located in the 5 largest urban areas and attendance at each is growing by double digits year over year. 

Organic certification in Texas urban/suburban areas continues to increase with a significant increase in CEA (controlled environment agriculture) applications and organic certifications.  Leading the way are operations involved in greens production including microgreens, lettuces, and spinach.  Texas population is growing faster than the supply of local fruits and vegetable, faster than potential growers can be trained and faster than research can solve the production problems faced by both small- and large-scale urban growers. 

Finally, here is the takeaway! The explosive population growth of Texas is creating a huge demand for Texas Food and for most of these consumers Organic is their preferred “label.” Certified organic growers or even growers contemplating organic certification – NOW is your opportunity….

Cotton Varieties for Organic!

On the recent Organic Cotton and Peanut Tour in Seminole, Dr. Jane Dever presented an outstanding talk or “discussion” about developing cotton varieties for organic producers. Dr. Dever is the Cotton Breeder for Texas A&M AgriLife Research at Lubbock, and we depend on her work for new cotton varieties in this region. Dr. Dever talked about the challenges for developing cotton without genetically modified traits (GMO) since the South Plains is home to the largest “cotton patch” in the world. In order to prevent cross pollination, there must be plenty of separation from cotton with and without traits and that can be hard to do. She discussed how she is using the “okra leaf” characteristic, which is dominate in cotton, to distinguish non “GMO” cotton from GMO varieties. The picture below shows you how different the okra leaf characteristic is from normal cotton leaves. This characteristic will help breeders, seed companies and organic cotton growers know if a variety has GMO traits – it won’t have an Okra Shaped Leaf!!

Source: Plantae, American Society of Plant Biologists

Dr. Dever talked about her current cotton breeding work at the AG CARES facility, just north of Lamesa, with varieties that have potential to work well in organic systems. The poster below shows the variety test plot located at AG CARES. Just click on that image or photo and you can see a bigger picture with more of the details and a closer view of the QR code for directions. (If you know how to use your phone camera to scan QR codes!!)

On the back of the 2022 Demonstration Handout, Dr. Dever gave a great listing of previous cotton trials and all the data for each including yield, % turnout, and more. Click here to download that information!

What is the True Cost of Compost (or manure)?

$$$$$$$

I get regular questions about both the cost of composts and quality of composts (or manure) in my visits with organic producers and conventional producers or both. There seems to be this mystery about compost including, what is actually in the compost and how much it is worth? Certainly, there is some mystery since composts do have organic matter and as a result also contain microbes that generally are not measured by the labs. These two ingredients add a lot of value to a compost but in general we have trouble quantifying or putting a $$ value on their presence in the compost.

Almost any company that makes and/or sells a compost product will have an analysis for you to know what is in their product. Typically, they should be taking samples on a regular basis or at least as the supply source changes. Compost is generally made from manure and manure is made from feed that livestock eat. As a livestock producer changes what their animals eat this can drastically influence what nutrients end up in the manure and ultimately the compost.

If you get an analysis then the first thing to look at is the moisture% in the compost. A recent analysis sent to me showed the compost to be 52.08% moisture. So, one ton of compost would be about 50% compost and 50% water. This is not unusual but it does make a difference on the analysis and so the price. This analysis showed 53.6 lbs of nitrogen per ton but in the fine print you are told to convert the pounds of nutrient/ton as received by multiplying pounds of nutrients as reported by (100-moisture%)/100. So 53.6(100-52.08)/100 or 53.6 * 0.4792 = 25.685 lbs of nitrogen per ton of compost! Now this compost doesn’t look as good as it did for nitrogen or any other nutrient on the analysis.

What we really want is an analysis based on dry matter not with water added so we can compare to commercial fertilizer costs. This gives us a compost value or even a way to compare one compost to another.

I did this analysis on two different companies selling two different products. One was a compost, like you see in the picture above, and the other was a pelleted compost which is very common now. The pellet had an analysis that was based on an as received basis so those results were based on a true ton not a ton minus the water. A very important distinction and one rarely discussed.

This picture of my spreadsheet above shows an analysis of the cost of ingredients based solely on Nitrogen, Phosphorus from P2O5, Potassium from K2O and Sulphur from Ammonium Sulphate. You can see the current cost of those nutrients is based on commercial fertilizer prices so that we get a value to compare composts to each other. In the top example, the $78 compost seems to be a bargain even though the nutrients are slightly less than the second example. But, the water (%moisture) lowers the actual value down significantly to $53.82 per ton. This example is meant to show that you could pay about $54 per ton for the top sample and feel good that you didn’t pay more than the current price of conventional fertilizer. And, in the second example when you pay $200 you are getting more conventional fertilizer nutrients than you should, plus you get lots of micros and organic matter and microbes. Generally you would have to buy about 3 tons or $238 of the $78 compost to equal the amount of nutrients in the $200 compost. This may still be a bargain for you based on the other nutrients we did not analyze or maybe the convenience of one over the other, etc. The point is to do a little comparison shopping before you just look at price per ton, there are a lot of things in the ton you may have never thought about before!

Organic Handler, What Does That Mean?

I have opportunities to talk to lots of groups about organic agriculture and organic food. In the presentations I talk about organic handler certification and to be honest most folks have never even thought about what an “organic handler” is or does.

The vast majority of organic commodities pass through the hands of at least one middleman, also called a handler, on the way from the farmer to the consumer. Certified organic handlers are certified to handle organic products in accordance with National Organic Standards. Organic handlers perform numerous functions, including packing and shipping, manufacturing and processing, and brokering, wholesaling, or distributing. I basically say that once a farmer sells an organic product (meat, dairy, grain, vegetables, etc.) to anyone except a consumer the buyer must be a certified handler. I like to say that organic is from the farm to the grocery shopper and that is pretty much true. Once an organic product is packaged then anyone can sell that package with an organic label but until that time it must be “handled” by certified handlers.

So, what does this mean in Texas? Currently we have 428 certifications issued to handler operations. Of this total there are about 249 different companies that operate as handlers. What I mean is that a company like HEB may have 20 stores with an organic handler certificate because they cut up organic produce and sell it in packages. Or Natural Grocers has 11 stores certified, all with different addresses but the same corporate company.

Of these 428 certifications in the hands of 249 companies, I have tried to put them into categories to better understand what is going on with Texas organics. If you look at the picture below you get a fairly good idea of the breakdown. Within these categories you have growers that also have a handler certificate. For instance several organic rice growers also package their own rice and sell as organic rice to consumers. One citrus grower, South Tex Organics, the Holbrook family, also sells organic juices through their Earth Born branded products.

Why is this important? Good question and one I think is easily answered with the fact that we have over 360 organic Texas growers and I hope that these 428 Texas organic handlers are buying Texas organic products to package and sell in Texas. The more we see Texas organic growers selling to Texas organic handlers who package and then sell to Texas consumers, the better it is for everybody in Texas!

I am adding this paragraph and picture after publishing this blog post because, well, I didn’t know about it!! I was looking at the Central Market website and down at the bottom in small print is the words potential suppliers! When I clicked on it I was taken to this web page. Interesting!