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David Annis: Know your land management system

I recently had a client in my office asking questions about starting a haying enterprise. They began by saying that the pasture management had to be “organic.” Even though this isn’t the first time someone has asked for organic recommendations, it made me pause for a second. This can mean different things to different people.

Looking for clarification, I asked what their definition of “organic production” would be. Was it the same as the United States Department of Agriculture’s?

“I’m new to the hay business and need for this to make money,” the client said. “I just don’t want to use any dangerous chemicals on my fields. I love my horses.”

We started out by discussing the considerable time, energy and money in obtaining a “Certified Organic” certification from the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture. We discussed how there is a three-year window that is required before you can sell anything from the property as organic. You still have to do everything in the USDA’s National Organic Program Handbook, you’re just not organic yet.

I told them that to comply with the regulations, everything that is applied to the property must be approved by the USDA and meet the Texas Department of Agriculture standards. As an organic grower, they must realize that their management has no room for error and unless the prices they charged were very high they would have difficulty showing a profit on the operation. When I was asked if I was against organic production, I told them, “Not at all. I just want people going into this system to understand all the risks and make sure they know their market.”

Next we discussed “natural” production and management strategies. Essentially, natural is organic without the certification. As a friend of mine said, “All of the cost, none of the gain.” We quickly dismissed this management option.

Finally we discussed a standard level of production. They didn’t want to add anything to the property that wasn’t needed or would hurt the horses. I told them that this is how most farmers and ranchers take care of their operations. They are stewards of the property and want to pass it down to their relatives when they retire.

We discussed how sometimes a pesticide application (herbicide, insecticide or perhaps a fungicide) needed to be applied to control a pest. We also discussed how using integrated pest management and best management practices reduces the amount of products we need to apply. We only apply a product/pesticide when it is needed and makes economic sense. This is how 99 percent of farmers and ranchers operate to remain profitable. If they aren’t taking good care of their resources, then the resources won’t take care of them.

I told them how the science of farming and ranching had changed. This wasn’t their father’s or even their grandfathers’ agriculture anymore. We also discussed the importance of reading and following labeled directions on the pesticides as these were federal law.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which type of management system you use as long as you are comfortable with it and it fits your operation. Don’t assume a particular management system will fit all of your needs. You will need to do your homework to determine what is right for you and your goals. Once you understand the limitations of each system, then it is much easier to make the decision on managing your property.

If you have questions about managing your property, contact your Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent for more information.