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Cornell publishes new guide for organic farmers

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Are you an organic grower faced with spots on your tomatoes, holes in your cabbage or wilt in your pumpkin vines? Do you wonder whether your garden suffers from canker, flea beetles or leaf spot? Find out what causes the damage and how to manage it in a new guidebook for organic growers -- "Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management" -- just released by Cornell University. An online version with links to printable PDF files is available at

"As a former extension person, I can tell you this is the type of information we have needed for years in order to be better able to advise organic farmers," said Brian Caldwell, lead author and a Cornell researcher on a large organic farming systems study. Caldwell participated in the project under the auspices of Cornell and the Northeast Organic Network (NEON).

"Organic growers sometimes face significant problems controlling insects and diseases in their crops," said co-author Tony Shelton, Cornell professor of entomology and one of the guide's five authors. "Our purpose was to compile accurate information based on published research to help growers identify and deal with these problems."

The number of farmers and the acreage dedicated to organic farming has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, as organic food sales have increased approximately 20 percent annually. "Organic producers are still only 2 percent of the overall food production system, but it is important that Cornell research and extension efforts address their needs," said Christine D. Smart, assistant professor of plant pathology at Cornell, also a co-author.

When their crops are at risk, organic growers are only allowed to use those pesticides that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program (NOP). This essentially means that the pesticide must be a natural substance or a synthetic substance that is included in the NOP.

"Both types of pesticides have risks," said Shelton. "What is unique about this guide is that we provide comprehensive assessments of the environmental and human health risks of the pesticides most commonly used in organic production."

The 169-page, soft-cover book is divided into three sections. The first section gives detailed crop management practices for five of the most important vegetable groups: lettuce, sweet corn, brassicas (cabbages and related crops), cucurbits (squash and its relatives) and solanaceous (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant). The focus is on what are called "preventative pest management" practices that lessen the likelihood of pest attack. Dozens of useful color pictures help growers identify insect and disease problems in these crops.

The second section provides a comprehensive assessment of 13 of the most commonly used pesticides in organic production, with descriptions based on their origin and how they work, the types of pests they control and their effects on the environment and human health.

The last section describes options that growers can use for preventive management, including growing plants that are pest-resistant or planting crops in ways that reduce the risk of pest attack.

The other two co-authors are Emily Brown Rosen, consultant and former policy director for the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), and Eric Sideman, director of technical services for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). Both played a key role in shaping the project and contributing valuable and practical information, according to Shelton.

The guide is published by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) at Cornell. A limited number of copies are available for $5 from Gemma Osborne, NYSAES, 614 W. North St., Geneva, NY 14456; e-mail; phone (315) 787-2248. The ISBN number is 0-9676507-2-0.

Funding for the guide was provided by the USDA's Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. OMRI, MOFGA, NYSAES and Cornell Cooperative Extension provided institutional support.