Southwest Research and Outreach Center - Lamberton, MN

Southwest Research
and Outreach Center

23669 130th Street
Lamberton, MN 56152

Phone: (507)752-7372
Fax: (507)752-5097

Organic Ecology

Organic Ecology   Organic Ecology

The University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, Minn., College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences and University of Minnesota Extension lead an extensive program dedicated to exploring agriculture alternatives and the science of organic systems. Researchers from the University’s Research and Outreach Centers, faculty from the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus and University of Minnesota Extension educators actively contribute to the program with vital research projects and outreach activities.

Recent News

USDA Releases New Organic Resources

On September 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a series of resources as part of its new Organic Literacy Initiative, an effort to help connect current and prospective organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with relevant USDA resources available to them.

The purpose of the Organic Literacy Initiative is to provide USDA staff as well as organic producers and handlers with detailed and consistent information about organic agriculture and the programs and services USDA offers to support it.  One of the goals of the initiative is to help USDA staff around the U.S. be better equipped to help farmers, ranchers, and processors understand organic certification and access relevant USDA services.

As organic agriculture has grown, and as Congress has invested modest resources in organic enforcement, research, and cost-share programs, there has been a clear need for these types of resources.
The materials available include:

  • An Organic 101 training about what the organic label means and how certification works;
  • A brochure that contains information about organic standards and certification and a brief description of USDA resources;
  • An Organic Resource Guide that outlines how each USDA agency supports organic agriculture and provides relevant USDA contact information; and
  • A USDA blog that highlights organic topics.
More detailed guides about requirements for organic crops, livestock, and handling are coming soon.  To view all of the materials available, visit the Organic Literacy Initiative homepage.

Links between Biodiversity Requirements of Organic Systems and NRCS Practice Standards 

Date: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Time: 1 p.m.  Eastern Daylight Time
To register: Click on this link

From a conservation perspective, biodiversity and protection of natural resources are covered in the National Organic Program’s (NOP) regulations. Biodiversity conservation is part of the definition of organic farming, and the NOP requires that farmers and ranchers maintain or improve their soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. In addition, seven other NOP regulations relate to biodiversity and natural resource conservation. NRCS Conservation Practice Standards that help operators meet these NOP requirements will be discussed, including those protecting resources, providing conservation buffers, and supporting wildlife habitat. Also presented will be examples of practices used by organic farmers to maintain or enhance natural resources on their operations.

The webinar is funded by an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and will be broadcast by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). It will be archived on the website of ATTRA-National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service at
About the Panelists 
Jo Ann Baumgartner is director of the Wild Farm Alliance. She works on conservation, food safety, and organic issues and is co-editor of Farming and the Fate of Wild Nature. Before joining WFA in 2001, she addressed sustainable dairy, produce, and fiber-production topics, was senior research editor for Life on the Edge, a book of California’s rare wildlife species, and was an organic farmer for over a decade.

Jim Riddle was founding chair of the Winona Farmers Market and the International Organic Inspectors Association, (IOIA), and is co-author of the International Organic Inspection Manual. Jim served on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Task Force and is former chair of the National Organic Standards Board. He currently works as Organic Outreach Coordinator for the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center; is the elected Chair of the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District; and serves on the Leadership Team for eOrganic.

Tom Broz of Live Earth Farm operates a diverse organic farm with more than 100 acres under cultivation. His produce feeds a community that includes over 800 families in its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program as well as customers at farmers markets, restaurants, and organic markets. Tom has integrated natural processes into the farm’s operation by installing native plant hedgerows, filter strips, grassed waterways, riparian plantings, and perennial grasslands throughout the farm.

GMO Contamination Prevention - What Does it Take?

Jim Riddle, Organic Outreach Coordinator for the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center, has released a newly revised and expanded publication, “GMO Contamination Prevention – What Does It Take?”

The publication describes best management practices for growers of GMO and non—GMO crops, including certified organic crops, to help minimize GMO contamination of non-GMO crops. The 8-page guide contains commonsense steps that producers can take to reduce risks of GMO contamination.

SWROC High Tunnels: Extending the Season for Organic Vegetable Production - Year Two Report

The objective of the high tunnel program at the SWROC is an experimental-based research and outreach program focused on extending the growing season for organic vegetable production. Current experiments center on soil and plant fertility and variety trials for Southwestern Minnesota. To conduct statistically accurate experiments we are using three high tunnels. This research will provide information for organic growers, and will be submitted for publication in peer reviewed journals. In addition, we work to collaborate with U of MN high tunnel research in other parts of the state, and with U of MN Extension Educators, as interest in organic and local food continues to expand.

Why Eat Organic

In "Why Eat Organic" (pdf) SWROC Organic Outreach Coordinator, Jim Riddle, has compiled summaries, with citations, of peer-reviewed research on soil health, water quality, genetic engineering, pesticide residues, nutrition, food safety, biodiversity, climate change, and food security, related to organic production systems. To view a live eOrganic webinar of the presentation, recorded January 12, 2012 at the Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism and Organic Conference, visit or YouTube.

Canola Research

Weed control continues to be a challenge for producers of organic and other pesticide-free crops. Many pesticide-free methods are costly and/or labor intensive. A new research project at the U of M West Central Research & Outreach Center is designed to facilitate the development of pesticide-free agriculture production methods and may help farmers transition from soil fumigants to reduce-risk pest management strategies. Specifically, the project aims to further the research into canola as a cover crop for pre-emergent weed and disease suppression. The study will determine the effectiveness of several pesticide-free methods of killing canola to maximize weed-suppression in the production of strawberries, pumpkins, and fresh-market new potatoes, three high-value crops in the Midwest.

The three different treatments include burning with a propane torch, spraying with Natural Horticulture Vinegar: 20% acidity, and terminating with a roller/crimper. For more information, visit:

New Case Study Series Targets Beginning Farmers in Sustainable Agriculture

The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) recently launched an online series of case studies that provide beginning and transitioning farmers with a unique virtual resource. The “Profiles in Sustainable Agriculture” project uses photos, videos, and narratives to integrate personal stories of profiled farmers with detailed information on their practices. The case studies also include technical assistance via extensive tips and links to finance, production, and marketing resources.

The first case study features Laura Frerichs and Adam Cullip of Loon Organics, based in Hutchinson, Minnesota. They produce organic vegetables sold through farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and wholesale clients. A second case study is underway, featuring Cindy Hale and Jeff Hall of Clover Valley Farms in
Duluth, Minnesota. They raise pastured poultry and hogs, produce herbs in a passive greenhouse, and use integrated pest management to grow apples in new and restored heritage orchards.

The “Profiles in Sustainable Agriculture” project is located at Site visitors are encouraged to provide feedback on the project by taking a 5-minute survey that provides data for fundraising efforts and gives case study users a say in what topics get covered next.

Updated Minnesota Guide to Organic Certification Released

The “Minnesota Guide to Organic Certification” has been updated and re-issued by the University of Minnesota. The 48-page Guide, written by Jim Riddle and Lisa Gulbranson, has been released by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) and the UMN’s Organic Ecology Program, located at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC). The Guide is available to download (pdf). For a print copy of the Minnesota Guide to Organic Certification, contact MISA at 612-625-8235 or 1-800-909-6472.

The updated MN Guide to Organic Certification is based on a version originally released in 1998, prior to implementation of the USDA Final Organic Rule. Co-author, Jim Riddle, who served five years on the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, has updated the Guide to fully comply with current Federal organic requirements, including new standards for grazing organic ruminant animals. The Guide explains the organic certification process, helping producers determine if organic certification is right for them. The Guide contains tips on how to choose a certification agency, how to set up a compliant recordkeeping system, and how to complete an organic certification application. The Guide also explains what happens during an organic inspection and how certification decisions are made.

Requirements for the certification of organic crop, livestock, and processing operations are presented in clear and understandable language. The Guide contains a handy summary of the USDA organic regulation, as well as sample recordkeeping forms and lists of resource groups and certification agencies operating in Minnesota. 

Listing of University of Minnesota's Organic Research Projects

The University of Minnesota has recently compiled a list of current organic agriculture research projects (pdf), along with contact information for applicable researchers. Organic research is being conducted in cropping systems; economics; food safety; horticulture; and livestock production.

Organic Livestock Standards Explained

In order to be sold in the United States as “organic,” all agricultural products, including domestic and imported livestock products, must comply with Federal regulations. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the production and labeling of organic livestock and livestock products under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the National Organic Program (NOP), final Rule 7 CFR, Part 205. Requirements for Organic Dairy and Livestock in the United States written by Jim Riddle explains the regulations for the production and labeling of organic livestock and dairy products in the United States.

A New Online Publication for Organic Farmers is Now Available!

Titled "Risk Management Guide for Organic Producers," this online manual and website will help farmers understand the risks in organic production and make choices that minimize those risks. The fourteen chapters of this manual cover a wide range of production topics that are relevant to organic farmers. Topics covered include: Rotation; Soil Health and Fertility; Weed Biology and Management; Weed Profiles; Transitioning; Corn, Soybean, Small Grains and Forage Production; Winter Cover Crops; and Alternative Crops. If you have questions about this project, please contact Kristine Moncada.
SWROC: Organic RMA Manual Image 2

Scholarships Available to MN Dairy and Crop Producers

If you are a transitioning or recently certified organic dairy and/or row crop farmer in Minnesota, you are invited to participate in the “Tools for Transition” project.

As a participant, you will:
1) Enroll in the Farm Business Management (FBM) education program.
2) Receive a scholarship worth up to 90% of FBM tuition fees.
3) Meet in small groups and one-on-one with farm business management instructors to develop accurate business records, financial statements for your farm (eg. cash flows, projected profitability statements, balance sheets, and risk analysis), and annual farm business analyses.
4) Use your new statements to monitor your financial performance during transition, map progress toward personal goals, and, most importantly, make informed business decisions for your own operation.

USDA Publishes Organic Program Handbook

The first edition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s handbook for the organic sector was published on Sept. 2, 2010. Prepared by the National Organic Program (NOP), the handbook provides guidance about national organic regulations for those who own, manage, or certify organic operations. It is intended to serve as a resource for the organic sector to help participants comply with federal regulations.

The inaugural edition of the handbook provides guidance on the allowance of green waste and approval of liquid fertilizers in organic production systems; certification of organic yeast; processed animal manures in organic crop production; reassessed inert ingredients; and the calculation of dry matter intake to verify compliance with the NOP’s pasture requirements. The NOP Handbook includes instructions concerning organic certification, such as record keeping, steps to certification, and organic certificates; accreditation procedures, such as how to apply to become an accredited certifying agent; international procedures, such as how USDA determines equivalence of foreign organic standards to those of the NOP; compliance and enforcement measures, such as how to handle complaints; and appeals procedures for certified operations or accredited certification agents.

New Organic Publication

"What is Organic Food and Why Should I Care?" is an organic publication created by Jim Riddle and Bud Markhart. This publication focuses on how organic food is produced and what benefits eating organic food carries for personal health and nutrition.


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