A few weeks ago, Farmer Kurt attended the equipment auction in Sandusky County. He was looking for a sprayer boom to help us spray our fields this summer.

We recently received a question about why we would be buying a sprayer and using chemicals if we call ourselves organic. This is a GREAT question and it made me realize that here was an opportunity to educate the public about pesticide management for organic farmers.

It is a common misconception that organic farmers never spray or apply pesticides. Or that the word “organic” implies zero chemical use. In fact, organic farmers do use sprayers to apply various chemicals on their fields. The difference is, these products are naturally or botanically derived, as opposed to (non-organic) synthetic products. These organic chemicals are all approved by an organization called OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute). This is a list of products that meet the National Organic Program standards. To see the list of approved OMRI listed products, go to this link. For example, Pyganic (one of the OMRI listed chemicals we apply) is derived from chrysanthemums.

So as organic farmers, we do apply pesticides, but only after trying other methods (listed below), and only after making sure they meet the OMRI standards.

The general term for handling pests is called “IPM” — or Integrated Pest Management. All farmers practice IPM. There are many practices that can deter pests outside of chemicals like planting “trap crops” that lure away the pests from the target bed rows. Or mulching beds with straw to protect transplants. Or timing the planting of crops to avoid prime pest seasons. Or placing row covers over beds to keep out flea beetles. It’s just that conventional farmers may not lean on these methods as much, and choose to use synthetics more quickly. As organic farmers, we rely much more heavily on these alternative IPM methods first, and only as a last resort do we use our OMRI listed pesticides. We have to be careful, even with organic chemicals, not to overuse them, as pests can develop an immunity to these chemicals and become resistant.

Kurt did place the winning bid on that sprayer boom. A whopping $100. With a little bit of modification, Kurt will have a working sprayer that can replace the little backpack sprayer we’ve been using the last 2 years, and be much more efficient. This sprayer will also be used to spray fish emulsion on our fields — an organic form of fertilizer.

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