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Organic Whole Farm Planning

Whole Farm Planning is a process that enables a farm to balance farm profitability, community stability, and environmental vitality. It is an intentional decision making and evaluation model which helps farm families integrate the dynamic relationships of the economic, social and ecological consequences of management decisions in relation to their contribution to an individual family's goals. Whole Farm Planning uses the following steps to help farmer develop their Whole Farm Plan.

  • Assessment- Appraise On Farm Resource, including natural and man made resources
  • Identifying Key Issues- Ascertain barriers and opportunities of concern.
  • Goal Setting- Identify unique goals with regard to profitability, community, and ecology
  • Action Plans- Whole Farm Plans make deliberate use of available resources to achieve goals.
  • Monitoring- Evaluate and revise the plan's ability to quantitatively and qualitatively fulfill goals.

The Organic Certification Application Procedure provides the step by step framework for Organic Whole Farm Planning. It involves goal setting, decision- making and monitoring, and necessarily takes into account all natural and human-made resources due to its reliance and interdependence on the biological processes and on-farm resources that make it possible for organic farming systems to work. Organic Farm Planning can serve as a valuable tool for those farm families which value:

  • Enhancing Profitability
  • Preserving the Environment
  • Protecting Farm Families
  • Producing Wholesome Products

The Organic Whole Farm Plan


Organic Certification initiates this process with a questionnaire/inventory seeking detailed cropping histories for each field for the last five years, including nutrient, tillage, pest and water management histories, along with post-harvest handling and marketing information. Inherent within this process is the promotion of a "whole farm" perspective that suggests that all components of the organic farm are interrelated and/or interconnected, whereby decisions made regarding one farm component influences other farm components, either directly or indirectly. Organic Farm Planning, like Whole Farm Planning, requires the development of a map that outlines windbreaks, fence rows, buffer zones, wildlife habitat areas, and the geographical relationship with surrounding neighbors. Organic Farm Planning also defines the relationship of that farm to livestock, and requires the maintenance of detailed livestock history records. It inventories the business relationships between farmers and organic farm input suppliers. It also defines a socioeconomic relationship with certifying agencies, the consumer, both directly and indirectly, wholesale buyers, retailers and processors.

Identifying Key Issues

Organic Farm Planning, assumes and fulfills its responsibility to a growing number of discerning consumers. Consumers with a high level of confidence that the food they are receiving has been grown chemically-free without depleting or degrading natural resources are willing to pay a premium. Organic farms which market directly to the consumer rely on defined, structured, and personally dynamic relationships with the surrounding community. The relationship of surrounding farms is also defined to anticipate potential problems with chemical contamination from neighboring farms due to drift and/or run-off. Developing and maintaining soil fertility integrity is crucial to the grower who relies on soil quality to withstand drought, control weeds, and feed crops. The vitality of organic niche markets can also lead to erratic contracting and marketing issues for field crop and grain producers. Weed management and drains on yield due to competition are also a primary concern for most organic producers.

Goal Setting

As mentioned above, Whole Farm Planning can serve as a valuable tool for those farm families which place a high priority on enhancing profitability, preserving the environment, protecting farm families & workers, or producing wholesome products. In addition, once the family determines to use Organic Farm Planning to pursue Organic Certification, a number of management options are available depending on more specific goals the family may have. Some families may choose to adopt smaller scale production models which rely heavily on direct consumer relationships, and reflect that family's goal to market locally. Depending on resource availability, other families may choose to take advantage of larger scale grain production operations to minimize marketing time requirements. Goals related to profitability, time demands, and ecological concerns, as well as resource availability influence the options of the grower.

Action Plans

Organic Farm Plans are comprised of a number of management options as outlined by third party organic standards. Cover cropping, rotations, mechanical weed control, biological pest remedies, organically approved soil amendments, tillage and planting timing, reduction or elimination of synthetic inputs, and diversity are all part of the Organic Farm Planning toolbox. Various tools are used in relation to their ability to contribute to the realization of the goals of the plan. New farmers may focus their action plans on yield and soil development, while plans that have been though several annual cycles may include the incorporation of livestock to enhance whole farm diversity and long term soil fertility management. Soil fertility is the keystone of Organic Farm Planning Action Plans.


Organic producers undergo annual application and evaluation procedures which require applicants to document soil fertility management improvement programs. In addition, the certification application procedure requires producers to reevaluate on farm resources annually. In cooperation with a third party inspection organization, organic farmers annually evaluate and reassess their plan's ability to meet their goals by retracing the steps above.

Why Organic Farm Planning?

The beneficial consequences of Organic Farm Planning include:

  1. Requires a comprehensive resource inventory, creating awareness of both human and natural resources available to the farm and its operators.
  2. Potentially eliminates or reduces the need for high-cost inputs, other than labor, generally enhancing the overall profitability of the farming operation.
  3. Increases the biodiversity of the agroecosystem, (due to the elimination of chemical inputs) including all soil and surface flora and fauna, and enhances the farming system's ability to: a) Conserve of nutrients generated by biological processes of decomposition and mineralization; b) Maintain more balanced predator, prey and parasitoid arthropod communities, potentially reducing vulnerabilities to insect pest problems; c) Maintain soil, water and air quality, thereby providing food with no chemical residues; d) Maintain soil health and structure, which enhances tilth, reduces surface crusting, improves water drainage, and air infiltration.
  4. Enhances the regenerative processes related to agriculture and does not deplete the soil's ability for long-term, sustainable agricultural production, due to its reliance of organic matter inputs (rotations, green manures, cover crops, manure and compost applications, mulches), it enhances
  5. Promotes tillage practices that minimizes destruction of soil structure, leading to reduced compaction and enhancing the soil's physical qualities for improved drainage and aeration.
  6. Promotes ecological literacy among organic farmers and an appreciation for the ecological processes that drive these systems, due to its reliance on biological/ecological processes.
  7. Promotes greater community interaction and agricultural literacy though niche, direct, and value-adding marketing strategies which serve local market outlets wherever possible.
  8. Promotes farm enterprise diversification, potentially enhancing year-round cash flow and reducing the vulnerability of catastrophic financial loss due to a single crop failure.
  9. Recognizes the potential for wild crop production in natural and fence row areas, both for economic reasons and for the maintenance wildlife habitat.
  10. Promotes long-term monitoring of soil health and agroecosystem environmental integrity.

The Organic Farm Plan

It is clear that many Whole Farm Planning components are inherent within the Organic Farm Planning process. Organic certification does not start with goal-setting/decision making as other whole farm planning models (e.g. Holistic Management), but starts with the assumption that the goal of producing organic or chemical-free food has already been established. The reasons for setting such a goal can be related to quality of life, health, economics and ethics. Although the terms of the Certification Standards may not be under the farmer's absolute control, the first action item of the Whole Farm Planner is a decision to enter into a contract with the consumer as enforced by the third party agent. The farmer is the primary source and decision maker of the documentation of management choices made within the framework of these standards. A plan must demonstrate the farmer's conception, development and implementation of management choices which represent the farm as a "whole" in order to reap the organic premium.

Whole Farm Planning is a generic term that denotes a process that utilizes a series of differing models and tools. It represents a process that is farmer- defined and driven, and, as a process, necessarily will be different for each farmer and farm. Organic Farm Planning promotes the overall goal of wider adoption of the whole farm planning and "holism" within farming systems, and can serve as a viable and meaningful planning model and tool for some of Ohio farmers.

Practices of Organic and IPM Growers, Michigan State University

Whole Farm Planner, The Minnesota Project

Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture, SARE

A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests, SARE

updated 10/24/2005