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Gaining Ground - Excerpt from Part 1: Getting Started

3 What is transition to organic farming?

Transition is the process of converting a non-organic farm to a certified organic farm, one which will meet the organic standards set out by the industry. Organic farmers manage their farm as a complex system where every part of the farm interrelates with every other part.

The term transition has two facets:

  • transition as a process from one farming system to another;
  • transition to meet organic standards set out by the industry, as verified by a third party.

Goals of transition

To build healthy, fertile soil

To manage weeds, pests and diseases within tolerable levels, without the use of chemicals

To establish all aspects of organic farm management as required by organic standards, including record-keeping and certification

To prepare for marketing certified organic products

To maintain a viable level of income

Changing to an organic farming system requires you to make some major shifts. The two key ones are a shift in thinking, and a shift in management – apply new knowledge and concepts to work in harmony with nature. The key tools of organic farming, like weed and pest management, crop rotations and green manures, composting and equipment are addressed in Parts 2 and 3 of this book. This section discusses the overall approach you may need to take when you are first thinking about converting to organic.

"The most important aspect is the transition of the mind. If you're not with it mentally, it's not going to work.” – Ken Marisett, ON

The shift in your management style will lead to:

  • a shift in soil, weeds, pests, other organisms, and all other components of the farm ecosystem;
  • a shift in economic stability and viability of the farm. In the transition period, depending on the state of the soil, yields can drop significantly, before recovering under the new management system.

"Past experience indicates that there are four requirements for making a sustainable system of agriculture work: crop rotation, a regenerative soil building system, imagination and time."

Frederick Kirschenmann in 'Switching to a Sustainable System: strategies for converting from conventional/chemical to sustainable/organic farming systems." Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society. 1988. p 4.

For more from Part 1: Getting Started and transitioning, order Gaining Ground: Making a Successful Transition to Organic Farming from the publications page.