An annual review of the latest research for cherry farming will this year include an introductory workshop on organic production.
Organic fruits and vegetables, once the exclusive providence of small-scale, independent farmers, increasingly are in demand and drawing more attention from large-scale, conventional growers.
Consumers are buying more organic produce, noted Bill Thompson, an organic farmer and independent consultant who will participate in the Jan. 16 workshop in Lodi.
“It’s been an increase of 20 percent per year across multiple crops,” he said Monday. As a result, “There’s a push or a movement, with the processors, to move into organic. So they need growers that are certified organic.”
Thompson, who grows organic blueberries, cherries, almonds, walnuts, lavender and oats in Livingston and heads Four Seasons Ag Consulting Inc., acknowledged that switching away from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers is challenging.
“There’s the bigger risk because we don’t have all the tools (used in) producing conventionally,” he said.
The highest hurdle facing conventional farmers making the switch to organic likely is the three-year transition period when no synthetic materials may be used, but any crops cannot be certified as organic.
The Cherry Research Review is scheduled as an hour-long program that will cover control of cherry canker disease, management of various cherry diseases and controlling orchard runoff.
Organizers said the organic workshop, which will run more than three hours following the research review, serves only as a broad introduction to some of the opportunities, challenges and issues of organic production.
“We’re not intending to make guys organic growers in three hours,” said Joe Grant, a fruit and nut crops adviser with University of California Cooperative Extension in Stockton.
Organic issues to be covered include managing soil fertility; controlling weeds, pests and disease; organic certification and record keeping; and packing organic fruit.
Despite the challenges of switching to organic production, Grant said, “It’s not a crazy idea.
“Cherries are a crop, among tree crops, since they don’t have that many pests and diseases they may well be a commodity that can be grown (organically) more easily than others.”
San Joaquin County is the leading cherry-production region of California, accounting for more than half of the entire state’s crop.
With a harvest worth an estimated $121 million in 2006, cherries were the county’s sixth most-valuable cash crop, coming in behind milk, grapes, tomatoes, almonds and walnuts.