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Reduce risk in organic small grain production

Ag News Wire
By Jochum Wiersma, University of Minnesota Extension

wheat-field.pngST. PAUL, Minn. (2/28/2011) —Selecting a small grain species that's adapted to your growing conditions and market needs is the first step in reducing risks of organic small grain production.

Other risk-reduction strategies include:

  • Variety selection. Plant several disease-resistant, high-yielding varieties on your farm to spread risk. When selecting winter grains for planting in Minnesota, choose only the most winter hardy.

  • Planting date. To avoid yield loss, plant spring small grains as early as possible and winter small grains in the late summer or early fall.

  • Weed management. Crop rotations, planting date and early planting are the main cultural weed control options in organic small grains. A primary tillage operation before seeding in the spring can reduce weed pressures of winter annuals and cool season annual weeds such as wild oats, wild mustard, kochia and the different pigweed species.

  • Pest management. Use rotations and crop sequences that reduce the risks of disease. Check with your certifier before using new pesticides--conditions for using a pesticide must be documented in the organic system plan. Always use good quality seed and choose resistant varieties whenever possible. Using certified seed ensures that the seed is free or nearly free of many seed-borne diseases such as loose smut.

The four main small grain crop species grown in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest include wheat, barley, oat and rye. In 2005, Minnesota organic growers led the nation in rye production and were number two in organic oat production.

More details on reducing risk in organic production of small grains are available in a new web-based guide titled "Risk Management Guide for Organic Producers." The guide is available at It has 14 chapters covering a wide range of production topics relevant to organic producers and those transitioning to organic production.

For more information about agricultural production of small grains, visit, a collaborative website from University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.

Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line:
Jochum Wiersma is a crops educator with University of Minnesota Extension. Other contributors are Kristine Moncada, assistant scientist and Mary Brakke, educational specialist, both in the U of M Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics.

Media Contact: Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237,

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