July 2020

In this issue:

  • eOrganic welcomes new leadership team members
  • New vegetable pollination guides
  • International quinoa research symposium
  • Organic barley producers' desired traits
  • Free organic farming course modules: soil and weed management
  • USDA announces additional crops available for coronavirus assistance
  • Guest post by graduate student Juan Astroza: Incorporating Cover Crops in High Tunnel Organic Tomato Production
  • eOrganic mission and resources

View this newsletter in your browser here

eOrganic Welcomes New Leadership Team Members

eOrganic welcomes two new members to our Leadership Team: Jasmine Dillon of Colorado State University and Camen Ugarte of the University of Illinois! We look forward to working with them as we develop more content on organic farming and related topics and conduct outreach for organic research projects. More information about the eOrganic staff and leadership team can be found here.

Dr. Jasmine Dillon is an Assistant Professor of Beef & Dairy Agroecosystems in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University. Prior to working at CSU, she earned a Ph.D. in Animal Science at Penn State University, and an M.S. in Animal Breeding and B.S. in Animal Science at Texas A&M University. As a professor, she works to (1) help animal science students develop systems thinking skills and holistic perspectives on the agricultural systems they will be working with, (2) contribute to the development of tools that quantify multiple aspects of the sustainability of agricultural and food systems, and (3) contribute to the broader discussion about the role of animals in sustainable food systems. Dr. Dillon's research interests include livestock production systems, sustainability assessment, integrated crop-livestock systems, regenerative agriculture, and food & agriculture policy.

Dr. Carmen Ugarte is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Her research focuses on understanding the effects of soil management practices on soil quality and function. She is especially interested in studying the dynamics of soil food webs and their influence on soil ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, carbon storage, and the regulation of population densities of deleterious soil organisms. eOrganic is currently collaborating with Dr. Ugarte and a team of researchers on the NIFA OREI funded project Participatory Breeding and Testing Networks: A Maize-Based Case Study for Organic Systems.

New Vegetable Pollination Guides

PotatoIf you’ve ever thought of developing a new plant cultivar or simply combining the characteristics of two cultivars you love, you may wish to conduct some directed plant breeding of your own. To help get you started, Hannah Swegarden of Cornell University, who was working with the NIFA OREI-funded NOVIC project, created eight introductory pollination guides for common vegetable crops. These photographic guides are intended to provide a brief overview of how to make crosses using controlled pollination techniques. They are available in PDF or PowerPoint format. Download these free guides at https://eorganic.org/node/34157


IInternational Quinoa Research Symposiumnternational Quinoa Research Symposium: Free Virtual Conference

Planned for virtual audiences this summer, the second annual International Quinoa Research Symposium will help growers, students, and scientific audiences learn about the newest advances surrounding this valuable superfood crop. Admission is free!

Organized by the Sustainable Seed Systems Lab at Washington State University, in collaboration with the WSU Food Systems Program, the symposium will take place Aug. 17-19, using interactive, online platforms to showcase diverse presentations from leading experts worldwide. The virtual conference will include live keynotes, recorded field walks, interactive poster sessions, and online discussion forums. farmers will be able to learn about quinoa production, connect with scale appropriate buyers, and learn strategies for increasing demands. Processors can get an inside look into quinoa production, quality, and brokering relationships. Local government officials can learn about rising investment and policy opportunities, while scientists and researchers share cutting-edge findings, identify gaps in knowledge, and establish working relationships to advance quinoa research and development. Register online for this conference at https://www.quinoasymposium.co

New Article on Organic Barley Producers Desired Qualities for Crop Improvement

Researchers surveyed organic barley producers to discover what they considered to be the main obstacles to growing barley.  The primary obstacles identified were limited markets and price. Farmers were most interested in yield, but other traits such as nutritional quality were also highly ranked. Naked (hull-less) barley bred for multiple uses could allow farmers to sell into multiple markets. Most respondents expressed interest in the development of multi-use naked barley varieties suitable for organic farming conditions. Read the full article by Brian Baker, Brigid Meints and Pat Hayes of the NIFA OREI-funded Project Multi-Use Naked Barley for Organic Production Systems at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13165-020-00299-y

Free Online Course for Organic Specialty Crop Farmers in California: Organic Soil and Weed Management

Organic Farming Research Foundation LogoThe Organic Farming Research Foundation developed a free beginning farmer training program for organic specialty crop farmers in California. It is geared toward beginning farmers, existing organic farmers, and farmers in transition to organic production. While it was developed for California specialty crop farmers, the content is based on foundational principles that are relevant to all organic farmers. The self-guided nature of the training program allows you to move through the readings and resources, visual and written content, and demonstration videos at your own pace. Find the course at https://ofrf.org/beginning-farmer-training-program/

In total, the online training program will contain six learning modules: 1) soil health, 2) weed management, 3) irrigation and water management, 4) insect and mite management, 5) disease management, and 6) business management and marketing. Currently, the first two modules are available. This open educational resource is a joint effort between OFRF, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, with funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The self-paced program combines descriptive essays, video lectures from university faculty, and virtual field trips to demonstrate organic principles and practices.

Additional Commodities are Eligible for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program is intended to provide direct relief to producers who faced price declines and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19. Recently, based on public input, they have added to the list of eligible commodities which now include the following: alfalfa sprouts, anise, arugula, basil, bean sprouts, beets, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, celeriac (celery root), chives, cilantro, coconuts, collard greens, dandelion greens, greens (others not listed separately), guava, kale greens, lettuce – including Boston, green leaf, Lolla Rossa, oak leaf green, oak leaf red and red leaf – marjoram, mint, mustard, okra, oregano, parsnips, passion fruit, peas (green), pineapple, pistachios, radicchio, rosemary, sage, savory, sorrel, fresh sugarcane, Swiss chard, thyme and turnip top greens. Applications are being accepted from July 13 through August 28, 2020. Additional changes to the program and how to apply can be found at https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/07/09/additional-commodities-eligible-coronavirus-food-assistance-program

Guest Post by Graduate Student Juan Astroza, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Incorporating Cover Crops in High Tunnel Organic Tomato Production


Organic tomato production in high tunnels has become increasingly popular in the United States due to more commonly occurring erratic weather patterns in recent years. High tunnels bring different benefits than traditional field growing, including a reduction in foliar diseases such as septoria leaf spot (Septoria lycopersici), early blight (Alternaria linariae) and leaf mold (Cladosporium fulvum) due to protection from rain. These benefits can translate to overall healthier plants that lead to increased yield and percentage of marketable fruit (Healy et al., 2017). Another benefit is season extension; high tunnels increase temperatures in early spring thereby protecting the crops from frost and accelerating their growth, allowing tomatoes to be transplanted earlier in the season. Thus, growers can start harvesting earlier, which in turn can lead to better prices. Also, because of rain protection, healthier plants are more common under high tunnel production, which translates to a longer harvest season and an increase in the total yield and fruit quality.

Tunnels and Rotation

Traditional high tunnels are not easy to move, which could deter farmers from doing so regularly. Moving tunnels requires labor and time, therefore, many may never be moved. Tomatoes are a high profit-yielding crop, so the temptation to ignore adequate rotation is present and might lead farmers to grow tomatoes in the same place every year. Some farmers remediate this obstacle by having more than one high tunnel to be able to rotate tomatoes with other crops every two to four years. However, farmers must have access to multiple high tunnels to be able to rotate them in this manner, which can be burdensome due to the high cost of purchase and assembly. Alternatives include movable high tunnels and caterpillar tunnels. Movable high tunnels are easier to transport and enable a more flexible and easier rotation, but these tunnels are more expensive and harder to build than traditional high tunnels. Lower cost tunnels, such as caterpillar tunnels, are easier to move and assemble, but it is not clear if they bring the same benefits of traditional high tunnels in terms of disease protection and temperature control.

Challenges From Lack of Rotation

The ideal crop rotation for tomatoes is growing them once every four or more years in a given plot. However, the majority of organic tomato growers in the United States utilize stationary high tunnels in their operations, which present a challenge for farmers to find another set of crops that will fit in the rotation to maintain adequate soil health and also remain comparably profitable to what they can earn with tomatoes. This can lead to the typical problems that appear when an ideal rotation is not followed, such as an increase in the occurrence of soilborne diseases and soil nutrient imbalances. Additionally, stationary high tunnel production brings accumulation of salts, changes in pH and decreased soil organic matter due to higher temperatures inside the tunnel which can negatively impact overall plant health, thereby leading to lower yields and fruit quality.

Benefits of Incorporating Cover Crops

The incorporation of cover crops as part of the rotation in organic tomato high tunnel production systems could help mitigate some of these issues. Incorporating cover crops generates considerable increases in the amount of soil organic matter and can be a good source of nitrogen to supply most of the needs of tomato plants, allowing the grower to decrease the amount of organic amendments that need to be applied. After the tomato crop is terminated in fall, usually late September or early October, a cover crop species can be planted. This cover crop can be one of two types: a winter-killed species such as oats or crimson clover (which do not overwinter in very cold climates such as that in Wisconsin), or an overwintering species, such as winter rye or hairy vetch , which can be chopped and then incorporated into the soil (Perkus et al., 2019).

Cover Crops’ Influence on Soil Organic Matter and Nitrogen

Cover crop varieties have shown positive results in the reduction of loss of soil organic matter due to the biomass that is incorporated into the soil. When grown in high tunnels, cover crops can produce enormous amounts of biomass. Winter rye can produce over 3,500 lb/ac (O’Connell et al., 2012) and pea-rye mixture can reach up to 12,500 lb/ac (Perkus, 2018). Another benefit that cover crops bring is a reduction in the amount of fertilizer needing to be added to the system to supply nitrogen, which will allow the grower to reduce costs of fertilizers. In the same study by Perkus (2018), the cover crop mix of winter pea and winter rye can supply up to 325 lb/ac of nitrogen. Other cover crop mixes like hairy vetch (V. villosa), tillage radish (Raphanus sativus) and winter rye, using a ratio of 4:1:15, can supply around 180 lb/ac of nitrogen. The latter two mixes supply considerably lower amounts of nitrogen compared with the winter pea and winter rye mix. Nonetheless, they are still high enough to decrease the amount of nitrogen needed to be applied to the soil in the form of organic amendments and can potentially eliminate it completely. Another study from O’Connell et al. (2012) showed that planting a mix of winter rye and hairy vetch can contribute together approximately 82 lb/ac of nitrogen to the soil. While variations exist between these studies as to the exact amount of lb/ac of nitrogen that these cover crops supply, both come to the conclusion that this intervention improves soil health compared to bare soil. The use of cover crops seems to stimulate the soil microbial activity and biomass that contribute to improving nutrient recycling the overall soil health (Rudisill et al., 2015).


The increase in the use of high tunnels for organic tomato production in the United States will make the need for implementation of cover crops into rotation more frequent to mitigate some of the challenges that the use of high tunnels can bring.

Cover crops have shown great potential to improve soil health by increasing soil organic matter and reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that needs to be introduced to the system. In the case of tomato production in high tunnels, winter species like winter rye, hairy vetch or a mix of them are some of the recommended options, because they grow when the tomatoes are not cultivated.


Additional Resources

eOrganic Mission and Resources

eOrganic is a web community where organic agriculture farmers, researchers, and educators network; exchange objective, research- and experience-based information; learn together; and communicate regionally, nationally, and internationally. If you have expertise in organic agriculture and would like to develop U.S. certified organic agriculture information, join us at http://eorganic.info

eOrganic Resources

  • Find all eOrganic articles, videos and webinars at http://www.eorganic.org
  • Connect with eOrganic on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel!
  • Have a question about organic farming? Use the eXtension Ask an Expert service to connect with the eOrganic community to get an answer!

eOrganic logo

Published July 14, 2020

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.