Blog Posts

Certified Organic Survey – 2021 Summary

In December 2022 the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the Certified Organic Survey 2021 Summary. As you can see from the chart above there is a lot of data and Texas is continuing to grow in organics. This is not a survey of every organic grower in Texas since we have 383 based on the Integrity Database, but it was a good number at 258 farms or 67%. It would be great to get all the numbers but anyone who does survey work will tell you 67% is really good!

Of the 258 farms they have 240,806 acres in organic agriculture. 247 farms have 198,990 acres in cropland, and 58 farms have 41,816 acres in pastures. How does this break down in value? 238 farms with crops including nursery and greenhouse have sales of $179,324,000 each year. 27 farms sell livestock and poultry animals valued at $45,736,000 each year and 20 livestock and poultry producers sell $347,152,000 in animal products each year, for a total of $572,212,000 Texas organic products sold every year.

What is the breakdown on farm size? 76% of the 258 farms or 196 farms sell $100,000 or more in commodities equaling 99.56% of sales. In fact, 95.77% of all organic sales in Texas come from producers selling $500,000 or more every year. Now you may think this is just Texas, but in general this is pretty much the same breakdown for all the states above Texas in sales (Pennsylvania, Washington and California).

I pulled all the Texas numbers out for these various crops below. Remember these numbers are for the 258 farms surveyed and are not fully reflective of the total yearly production of organic in Texas.

This the Texas numbers for livestock production and represents a large share of Texas’ organic production.

This is interesting and represents a look at what farms spent their money on as it relates to organic purchases. Organic feed numbers are going to be huge for 2022 and probably into 2023 and you better add labor into that as well!

This is fairly self-explanatory. It is a list of practices and how many of the 258 farms used the practice. Hopefully we can continue to improve all of them!

These were some general questions asked as a part of the survey and I have put the results here. The fact that only 49 farms take advantage of the $500 Certification Cost Share program makes me wonder if the process is just too difficult? The small number with an illegal practice is really pretty good. The few illegal practices mean that we are getting GMO contamination, which we knew, and that growers may have used something they thought was legal – at least that is what I choose to believe – but wasn’t!

Production issues continue to be the main problem with organic production in Texas and according to my surveys and other surveys, weeds are a top priority. I am not sure what all is meant by regulatory and hopefully someone will let me know!

Last Chart, I promise! This just tells me that some older farmers are discovering organic!

Here is a link to the summary if interested!

Bareroot, Balled & Burlapped and Container Grown Plants

Winter is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. It is highly recommended that you put any tree or shrub out well before hot weather to give plants a time to grow some roots (yes, trees do grow roots in winter) before they have to face hot temperatures. Most fruit and nut tree nurseries in Texas are opening up for the season now and will be open through March. What a great present for Christmas even if I might be hard to put under the “tree.”

Container plants have the advantage of having all of their roots intact and ready to grow if the pot was properly cared for. Container grown plants are great but be careful! Nurseries grow plants in pots so that they can be sold easily but trees continue to grow even in a pot. This growing means that pots can become too small for the tree as it grows and so the plant becomes root-bound (stunted). To check and see if a plant is root-bound just hold the pot and lift the tree out of the pot. If the roots are just to the pot sides and no roots are circling, then the tree should be okay. When planting a container grown plant dig a hole bigger than the plant by double the width but no deeper. Remove the tree from the pot and plant into the hole as quickly as possible. Air kills the little white hair roots very fast if not put into the ground. Don’t be afraid to tamp down the soil into the hole to get good soil to root contact. Once the hole is backfilled with soil then water thoroughly to remove the air spaces.

B&B or Balled and Burlapped plants are not container grown and you need to understand that before ordering them. These plants may have been grown in a nursery or maybe even in the wild, but they were dug out of the ground so that many of the roots have been cut off. In B&B trees the soil ball is still intact and they can be very heavy. In fact, there should be about 10-12 inches of ball for every inch of tree trunk diameter. When you get a B&B plant remove all plastic including any string or twine. You can leave the burlap only if it is not plastic. If there is a wire basket you can leave it as the roots will grow right through. The biggest problem with B&B trees is that the hole is usually dug with the same tree spade that dug the tree. Tree spades leave the hole sides very slick and hard for roots to penetrate. The best hole is wider but not deeper than the ball.

Bareroot trees are just trees that have been dug very carefully in the nursery so that the roots are pretty much intact but there is no soil. As you can imagine these trees are much more fragile but without the soil they are easier to handle both for the nurseryman and you. Most bareroot trees are dug and then “healed in” at the nursery till you purchase them. To plant them be very sure you keep the roots moist at all times while you’re planting. Dig the hole as deep as the roots go and just as wide. Put the tree in the hole and backfill slowly adding dirt while you pack it. Once the hole is full you need to water well to take out air pockets. 

Bareroot trees are traditionally much cheaper than their container or balled and burlapped counterparts but bareroot trees need to be planted now in the winter before leaf growth.  Most fruit and nut trees are sold this way and almost all commercial orchards are developed using bareroot trees.  Usually, bareroot tree nurseries sell during the months of December, January, February and some into March.  Again, it is important to get these trees in the ground before they break winter dormancy so that some roots develop before leaves do.

Biopesticides for the Control of Whiteflies

by Holly Davis, Ph.D. – Certis Biologicals Field Development Manager, Southwestern U.S.

Whiteflies have been a persistent problem this year for Texas growers.  These insects can be especially difficult to control in organic production. There are numerous OMRI certified biologicals, or biopesticides, available to growers but, to get the best efficacy, it is important to understand a few things about them. 

First, biopesticides need to be applied at the first sign of whitefly activity.  Trying to clean up a situation where plants are heavily infested with all life-stages of whiteflies (or any insect or disease) is extremely difficult and there may be no escaping loss of quality and/or yield.  The use of yellow sticky cards in greenhouses or around field margins can help detect whitefly activity early so that applications can begin in a timely manner.

Most biopesticides labelled for whitefly control are contact pesticides, meaning they must either be sprayed directly on the pest, or the pest must move across a treated surface while the biopesticide is still active. This can be tricky for insects like whiteflies which spend the majority of their time on the underside of leaves, sometimes deep within plant canopies.  For that reason, it is important to use the correct amount of carrier, the right spray equipment, and nozzles, and to include a spreader sticker when appropriate to ensure product is distributed as evenly as possible and adheres to plant tissue.  

Once applied, biopesticides may not persist in the environment for a long period of time.  Many are degraded by sunlight and/or other environmental factors.  Remember, most do not move through the plant (are not systemic) so any new plant growth after application will not be protected.  For this reason, biopesticides need to be applied on a regular interval, often every 7-14 days, to ensure that whitefly populations do not build up between applications.

Finally, it is important to understand what to expect from different types of biopesticides.  For example, while some products like Des-X®, an insecticidal soap concentrate, have the advantage of providing a quick knock-down of whitefly populations by breaking down the insect cuticle, there is no residual efficacy.  Any insect that lands on a leaf after the treatment has dried will not be impacted.  Other products such as the entomopathogenic fungi, Beauveria bassiana, found in BoteGHA®/BotaniGard®, may take several days to kill whiteflies by overwhelming them with fungal spores, but can persist in the environment and continue to infect immigrating or emerging insects.  This typically happens when there is high relative humidity and/or a dense plant canopy. 

This persistence can be recognized by mycosis, or the presence of emerging spores from a fungus-killed insect. However, lack of visible mycosis does not mean an entomopathogenic fungi is not working. In many cases, whiteflies may simply darken and desiccate.

No matter what biopesticide you chose, it is incredibly important to read the label and understand the product to get the best efficacy possible!

A big thanks to Dr. Davis for supplying such helpful information. For more information on Certis Biologicals, please visit

Biological Control of Hemp Sesbania in Rice

Hemp sesbania growing in organic rice in Texas

It doesn’t take you long to figure out the hemp sesbania (Sesbania exaltata) is one of the toughest weed problems we have in organic rice. It is an annual plant, but it acts like a tree as you can see in the picture. It has a few other names, but the most common other name I have ever heard is “coffee weed.”

In a recent meeting with organic rice producers this particular weed became a huge topic of discussion (mostly cussing). This conversation got me to thinking about the possibility of some “bioherbicide” or even some beneficial insect or nematode that might be able to control this noxious weed.

In the process of doing many searches, trying all kinds of names or phrases, I did find this article written in 2014, “Biological Control of the Weed Hemp Sesbania in Rice by the Fungus Myrothecium verrucaria.” (Just click to read)

The authors are at the USDA Stoneville, MS research station and do crops research but some of that research is on biological control of pests in crops. In this research they were looking at applying different rates of the fungus and at different weed plant heights. They looked at 3 concentrations of the fungus sprayed on weed plant heights of 4-8 inches, 8-16 inches, and 16-24 inches.

They did find that the best results were achieved when they used Silwet L-77, an OMRI approved surfactant, with the fungus mix. Overall, the fungus did best at the higher rate and on the youngest plants and control at that timing was 100%! That is phenomenal, but even the bigger plants had control levels around 90%.

Why don’t we have this fungus available to use? That is an excellent question and one I hope to find out soon. I am sure this research was put on the shelf because of changing rice herbicide strategies like Clearfield and the relatively small organic rice industry without much voice. But I think there is a growing interest in organic rice and as a result a growing interest in organic weed control in rice. More details are to follow!

Cotton Varieties for Organic Production

by Dr. Jane Dever, TAMU Cotton Breeder – Lubbock

Cotton harvest is wrapping up at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center breeding tests and plots. It was a tough year for cotton. Dr. Carol Kelly, Research Scientist and Assistant Cotton Breeder, pictured above with a plant from the nursery that has bolls, summed 2022 up with a Haiku poem:

Pretty and green field. Hot and dry summer we had. Leaves fall, no bolls, sad!

Ginning and data analysis is ongoing, but results from second year testing of candidate organic cultivars at the furrow-irrigated location in Lubbock indicate more bolls than we thought. Twenty experimental lines were tested with four commercial cultivar checks in a randomized complete block design with four replications. Test average for yield was 1,350 pounds/acre and quality, except for higher than desired micronaire (5.1), was excellent. Average fiber length, 1.22 inches; uniformity ratio, 84.1; strength, 36.1 grams/tex. Line 19-4-517 produced 1,622 pounds/acre compared to ‘FM 958’ at 1,586. Candidate for 2023 release with the first real improvement in Verticillium wilt resistance since the late ‘90s – early 2000’s, 19-4-446, produced 1,503 pounds/acre with 1.23-inch fiber length, 85.5 uniformity ratio, and 37.1 g/tex fiber strength.

Data from other locations will be available soon, so feel free to reach out to us for the results. We did not anticipate harvesting the dryland location at Lubbock but caught some late moisture and ended up with a nice test. Favorite organic candidate okra-leaf cultivar, in the third year of testing, produced almost 300 pounds on dryland compared to ‘FM 958’ at 260 pounds. We look forward to analyzing all the test and nursery data and getting fiber quality results early next year.

Happy and prosperous New Year to the organic cotton producers and community from the Texas A&M AgriLife cotton breeding team at Lubbock.

Jane Dever

Breeding Peanuts for Organic Production

by Dr. John Cason, TAMU Peanut BreederStephenville

It was a tough year for all producers around the state and the Texas A&M peanut breeding program were no exception. I heard one producer say, “we had to fight for every pound of yield we got this year,” and I totally agree with him when referring to the 2022 season. Despite the challenges we continue to make headway in developing new germplasm specifically for organic production.

During the 2022 season we had organic trials in Gaines and Wilbarger Co. on certified organic farms. Being able to test our breeding lines in grower fields is crucial for identifying potential lines that will produce good yields in different areas of the state and varying management practices. One hybrid Spanish line in particular, TP210656-2-1, performed well for the second year of testing.  It yielded 4,650 lbs./acre in a really tough year compared to a test average of 3,745 lbs./acre. Additionally, It also graded 5.2% points higher that’s the test average with an average grade of 78.3 for the test. We are very excited about this line performing near the top of our tests for the second year in a row and are hopeful as more results become available for 2022, it performs as well at other locations.