The price premium on organic produce of all kinds, combined with growing interest in sustainable farming, is tempting more and more agricultural producers to look towards organics. Though initially a little slower to take off than some organic crops, commercial organic potato production is now growing steadily. Here are some points to consider before embarking on organic farming.
Since not all conventional potato varieties are suitable for organic production, it is wise to invest in seed specifically bred with that goal in mind. The first consideration is pest management. An organic variety should feature a fast growing, competitive vine that will choke out weeds. Of equal or greater importance is strong virus resistance, especially to blight. Though copper is somewhat effective against blight, a blight-susceptible crop won’t stand much chance in the absence of conventional fungicide.
In addition, an organic variety should boast high yield potential despite low fertilizer and water inputs. Since organic production is potentially more expensive and riskier than conventional potato farming, a good yield potential will offset the cost and minimize some risk.
Finally, given that fewer inputs are available, be aware that organic production can be an exercise in frustration in all but the best soil. Seed potato producers growing in less than ideal soil may find more success growing conventional potato varieties that can still produce a good crop under more challenging conditions.
Though most organic consumers are willing to allow certain flaws in the appearance of their organic produce, buyers purchase with their eyes so a consistent skin finish and minimal marks are necessary for greater market appeal. As organic becomes more mainstream and availability of organic product increases, success will come to those who can supply the best looking and best tasting potatoes at the most reasonable price.
Being both labour intensive and higher risk, organics are not a good fit for all producers. Likewise, organics are not a good fit for all farms. Work with your seed supplier to determine which varieties will best suit your specific priorities, soil conditions, geography, growing constraints and desired end use.