Malcolm Beck and Joe Bradford
Retired 40-yr USDA-Agricultural Research Service research soil scientist. Lives on family farm north of Ranger, Texas.
Research experience. B.S., Abilene Christian College; M.S., Ph.D, Iowa State University. Post-doc. University of Minnesota. USDA-ARS scientist at University of Missouri, 9 years; at Purdue University, 14 years; and research leader at Subtropical Agricultural Research Center, Weslaco, Texas, 17 years.
PHILOSOPHY OF ORGANIC RESEARCH
Organic production is a holistic system and must be researched as a system.
The basic assumption of organic production is: improved soil health results in improved plant health, resulting in a plant with increased resistance to insects and diseases.
The primary benefit of organic production is human health. Equally as important are farm worker safety, plant and animal health, soil and plant health, disease and insect control, and environmental issues.
Success of organic crop production depends upon
1) management of component parts as a system and
2) understanding of the interactions among components of the system.Taking a particular successful component within an organic system and applying within a conventional system will fail. For example, compost tea to control diseases.
Principles of organic production:
1) Increase soil organic matter.
2) Balance soil nutrients.
3) Balance soil microbial populations.
4) Disease control through improved soil health +.
5) Insect control through improved plant health +.
WHY LACK OF ORGANIC PRODUCTION RESEARCH?
1. Lack of financial support from state and federal institutions.
2. Little financial support from organic industry.
3.Difficulty in designing long-term experiments with multiple factor interactions.
4.Government institutions insist on study of components instead of systems.
FAILURES – Within ARS at Weslaco, Texas
Failures are related mostly to facilities, lack of funding, and administrative management (lack of interest).
First, a history of the Weslaco organic program.
- Conservation tillage group (1992-2001)
- Agricultural Research publication – January 1997
- Acres USA/San Antonio – August 1997
- First ARS Weslaco organic field study – cotton and corn at North Farm – 1997
- New Center Director (2nd) – November 1998 to January 2001
- Another new Center Director (3rd) – March 2001
- Initiated organic olive production study at Moro Creek Olive Ranch – 2001
- Meeting with Congressman Henry Bonilla in San Antonio – 2001
- Visit to National Program Staff – Beltsville, MD – 2001
- Established new organic farm at Rio Farms - 2002
- Terminated North Farm experiments – spring 2002
- Initiated organic pecan study at Gebert orchard in Comanche County – 2002
- Funding from Congressman Bonilla
- Later funding from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
- Center Director (3rd) resigned
- Another new Center Director (4th) – July 2005
- Rio Farms projects terminated – 2005
- Returned to North Farm – 2006
- Terminated olive study – 2007
- Terminated pecan study – 2007
- Center Director (4th) resigned - 2007
- Research re-directed – in progress
In summary, lack of interest in organic research due to funding and several new Center Directors resulted in organic production research to be discontinued.
RESEARCH SUCCESSES – within ARS at Weslaco Research Center
Study initiated in CY 2002 at the Sonny and Noreen pecan farm in Comanche County, Texas, near the small town of Lamkin.
Pecan is considered an alternate bearing tree. With the organic system, with time the yield difference between years decreases.
Across years and varieties, in general the poulty litter + mycorrhizal fungi treatment resulted in the greatest yield. (Both were incorporated to a depth of 8 inches with an Aer-way plow.
In 2008 [the last year of the study and a lower yielding (off) year}, the compost treatment doubled yield compared to the chemical fertilizer control. [22.3 vs. 11.8 pounds per tree for the Pawnee]
In 2008, pecan yield was 6.7 times greater for the Desirable variety and 3.8 times greater for the Cheyenne variety for the organic system compared to the chemically managed orchard.
Nut weight and nut quality was always increased by the organic method.
Major insect problems: pecan casebearer, pecan weevil, and yellow aphids.
Major disease problem: pecan scab.
Sweet corn studies
In 2006, a 45.1% yield increase for poultry litter + rock dust + compost tea compared to the top-performing row-zone chemical system.
In 2007, the Albrecht chemical fertilizer system had the greatest yield.
In 2008, the Albrecht chemical fertilizer system and the Albrecht organic fertility system were the top yielding plots. Conclusion: the organic system takes some time, depending upon initial soil conditions, to result in best yields.
During a 3-year study, two treatments, either 200 pounds per acre granular humate or 5 lbs per acre of calcium lignosulfonate mixed into a row-zone chemical fertilizer system significantly increased yields, compared to the row-zone chemical fertilizer system only.