the light
on organics ...

Online resources:
Advanced Training in Organic Crop Production
Educational materials from three training sessions held in 2005.

Crop Rotation Manuals
and Spreadsheets

Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management

Who's Who Guide
to organic farming expertise in the Northeast

Focal Farms

Organic Links

SARE Final Report
103K .pdf | 141K .doc

For more information, contact:

Anusuya Rangarajan
Executive Director

Department of Horticulture
121 Plant Science Building
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853

Phone:(607) 255-1780
Fax: (607) 255-9998

See also:
  • Organic Agriculture
        at Cornell University
  • Organic Seed Partnership

  • LAMP index.html
    NEON:  The Northeast Organic Network The Northeast Organic Network

    In the fall of 2001, a new grid powered up to meet the needs of another traditionally underserved community. It will serve up not electricity, but information about organic agriculture.

    The Northeast Organic Network, or NEON, is an innovative consortium of farmers, researchers, extension educators and grassroots nonprofits working together to improve organic farmers' access to research and technical support. Funded with a $1.2 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture's Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems, this multi-state, multidisciplinary team will be conducting research and extension and education programs on organic agriculture throughout the Northeast.

    The NEON design team includes farmers, researchers at Cornell University, the University of Maine, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and Rutgers, and several nonprofit organizations, including the Northeast Organic Farming Associations of New York and New Jersey, the New England Small Farm Institute, the Organic Materials Review Institute and New York Certified Organic. Cornell University's Department of Horticulture at will serve as the NEON hub. NEON is currently seeking additional partners for all activities.

    NEON will be meeting critical needs in one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture. Organic products are now a $7 billion market that has been growing at a rate of 20% a year. Despite explosive growth and consumer support, research in organic agriculture still represents far less than 1% of the research conducted at land-grant universities and agricultural experiment stations, according to surveys conducted in 1998 and 2001 by the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

    NEON is starting to fill the most critical gaps for farmers from Maryland to Maine by investigating the complex decisions made on organic farms. Early research efforts will address soil fertility, pest management and crop rotation. Research strategies will include field experiments and economic analysis, case studies of successful organic growers and development of expert systems for organic decision. Throughout NEON's work, farmers will be involved as participants, subjects, and evaluators and advisors.

    For More Information, email Anu Rangarajan, Cornell University.

    Executive Summary

    The Northeast Organic Network (NEON) aims to discover opportunities for enhancing production and consumption of locally-grown organic food in the Northeast.

    We will coordinate research, extension and outreach efforts among the Northeast organic community, Land Grant Universities (LGUs), Agricultural Experiment Stations (AES), public and private sectors, to determine when organic food production will improve small farm viability in the Northeast. These sectors have pledged to cooperate and leverage their premier expertise to explore organic agriculture for this purpose.

    The growth in organic markets, development of national organic standards, concentration of consumers in the Northeast, and recent federal recommendations to ensure small farm viability make this project timely and relevant. Multidisciplinary applied research will target specific knowledge gaps in established organic cropping systems - soil, fertility and pest management, marketing and economics.

    NEON's research will increase understanding of organic production and marketing and identify research areas requiring further study. At the center of our process are growers and their knowledge. We will synthesize both current and new information to develop decision-making tools and educational materials to help new or established farms to consider or expand organic production to enhance profitability.

    Through these collaborations, NEON will enhance the long-term capacity of organizations serving the Northeast's growing number of organic producers. All information gained will be shared widely, through conferences, publications and the World Wide Web.

    Founding members

    Anu Rangarajan, Cornell University
    Tony Shelton, Cornell University
    Laurie Drinkwater, Cornell University
    Sue Ellen Johnson, New England Small Farm Institute
    Sarah Johnston, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York
    Kim Stoner, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
    Mary Howell- and Klaus Martens, Organic Crop Improvement Association/New York Certified Organic
    Karen Anderson, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey
    Charles Mohler, Cornell University
    Tony Ditommasso, Cornell University
    Marianne Sarrantonio, University of Maine
    Wen-Fei Uva, Cornell University
    Brian Caldwell, Cornell Cooperative Extension
    Steve Gilman, Ruckytucks Farm
    Emily Brown Rosen, Organic Materials Review Institute
    Robin Brumfield, Rutgers University

    Plan of work, 2001-2003

    Outcome 1: NEON will strengthen collaboration among growers, non-profit organizations and Northeast academic institutions to facilitate research, extension and educational programs on organic agriculture.

    Products for Outcome 1:

    1. Web-site, list-serve and newsletter highlighting NEON activities
    2. Expanded numbers of researchers working on organic systems
    3. 12 in-depth Focal Farm Reports that integrate all research and economic data collected on model organic farms of the Northeast
    Outcome 2: We will develop enterprise budgets and farm business management information that focuses on established organic farms in the Northeast, to evaluate current farm success, based upon farmer goals and objectives.

    Products for Outcome 2:

    1. Farm business management profiles of 12 focal farms, highlighting relative "success" of various enterprises and management strategies for organic systems.
    2. Validated enterprise budgets for 8 organic vegetable crops, building upon the initial costs of production worksheets created by Dr. Robin Brumfield from Rutgers University.
    3. Evaluation of common organic crop rotations for profitability
    Outcome 3: Targeted applied research will address specific knowledge gaps in current soil fertility, crop and pest management practices to develop decision support tools to improve organic farming management.

    • Knowledge Gap 1: What are the current contributions of various organic amendments to nutrient balances on organic farms, and in which cases might we be over-applying amendments?
    • Knowledge Gap 2: Which cover crops are best adapted to conditions of the NE and how do these types affect fertility and pests on organic farms?
    • Knowledge Gap 3: How can crop rotations, crop diversity and cover crops be used to reduce severity of insects, diseases and weeds in organic crops?
    • Knowledge Gap 4: How effective are organically accepted 'rescue treatments' at reducing crop losses from pests?
    Products for Outcome 3:

    NEON will START producing decision support tools for organic growers:

    1. Draft nutrient budgeting worksheets to optimize soil fertility management in various organic cropping systems
    2. A grower-researcher designed rotation planner to enhance farm profitability and optimize use of cover crops and crop rotations to manage soil fertility and crop pests
    3. Annual Organic Pest Management Product Review of tested 'rescue treatments' to address pest outbreaks in organic systems
    Background and relevance

    The difficult and complex challenges in food production faced by American agriculture, and rural America in general, are most evident in the Northeast. The principal movers behind conventional models of production in the United States have been the land grant universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and more recently large, multinational agribusiness firms (Lyson 1999). Over the past 50 years, farms have become larger in size and fewer in number. This consolidation of the agricultural industry has effected the farm structure and caused USDA to reconsider its policies. A 1998 USDA report notes that:

    1. there are today 300,000 fewer small farms than in 1979
    2. despite the trend toward fewer and larger vertically integrated firms controlling the majority of food and fiber products in the US, a new vision for small farms in the 21st century would allow them to flourish in the changing global agriculture
    3. studies indicate that despite belief that large farms are more efficient, small farms are at least as efficient as larger ones, and that there is evidence of diseconomies of scale as farm size increases
    The report concludes that small farms can become "stronger and will thrive, using farming systems that emphasize the management, skill and ingenuity of the individual farmer. A competitive advantage for small farms should be realized through a framework of supportive, yet responsible, government and private initiatives, the application of appropriate research and extension and the stimulation of new marketing opportunities." Furthermore, the report lists eight policy goals and methods to meet these goals. Four of these goals relate to NEON:

    1. to emphasize sustainable agriculture as a profitable, ecologically and socially sound strategy
    2. to dedicate budget resources to strengthen the competitive position of small farms in American agriculture
    3. to conduct appropriate outreach through partnerships to serve small farms
    4. to create a framework of support and responsibility.
    Organic agriculture is entering mainstream agriculture for several reasons. Many growers are losing money in conventional agriculture and organic production appears more profitable. Organic agricultural products generally receive 20% higher price in the market. Organic farming has been shown to be more profitable for small farmers - even without premium prices that organic crops generally receive. Organic agriculture is well suited for high value crops (vegetables and herbs) where increased labor costs are more readily justified. Large scale production of organic grains (for both livestock and human consumption) continues to be a rapidly growing sector. We believe that organic production can serve a major market need in the Northeast, provide a viable production and marketing strategy to enhance the viability of small farms, and potentially reduce negative environmental impacts of our farming systems.

    Domestic sales of organic products have grown at the rate of around 20% per year for each of the last seven years; there are between 10,000-15,000 farms working more than 1 million acres of crop and grazing land (Lipson 1997). Food production in the US retail food sector is $756 billion, and organic production is valued presently at 1% of this total, but is growing. The Hartman report found that 90% of American consumers were either buying or considering buying organic products - and this figure is up from 60% two years ago. Organic food products' retail value was $0.5 billion in 1990, $4 billion in 1996 and is estimated to be $8 billion in 2000. Conventional food processors and distributors are linking with organic producers (Small Planet Foods and Hain Foods). Although the business climate for organic agriculture is more favorable, there is also greater pressure from outside the region (e.g. California and Mexico) to meet the increased demand. It has been estimated that >75% of the food consumed in the Northeast is imported from other regions, and the same is probably true for organic products marketed in the region.

    Organic farming's potential, particularly as an alternative strategy for small farms, remains largely undeveloped. More research, extension and educational efforts are needed to fulfill the promise of organic agriculture. Historically, inadequate support has hindered organic agriculture's development. During 1995-6, the National Organic Research Policy Analysis (NORPA) project conducted a study to identify federally-funded organic agriculture projects. Of nearly 30,000 summaries of research projects examined through the CRIS database, only 34 were identified as focused on organic systems or methods (Lipson 1997). Since this represents only about 0.1% of USDA's research portfolio, NORPA's report states, "The national agricultural research system has failed to recognize…[or] help improve the performance of organic farming systems." A recent analysis of land grant universities discovered that less than 1% of experiment station land was committed to organic agriculture (OFRF 2000).

    Despite insufficient federal funding, organic agriculture has been able to survive primarily through the efforts of dedicated producers, their grassroots organizations, and foundation support for the organic mission. Focused efforts, especially partnerships with private and public entities, are urgently needed to develop strategies to overcome biological and social constraints facing organic agriculture. In addition, creative crop-marketing initiatives would assist producers. Resources within the Land Grant Universities can help organic producers manage their production and marketing practices, but this must be done in a coordinated and collaborative fashion, with strong partnerships and shared leadership among the private and public sectors. We believe that NEON can spawn a regional network to help achieve that end.