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UW-Madison Organic Research

Posted October 2008

The following information was gathered through a search of the USDA Current Research Information System and updates from researchers. This list may not include all organic research occurring at UW-Madison. If you know of other projects we should include, or if you have any questions about organic research at UW-Madison, please contact Erin Silva at 608-890-1503 or

Mechanical and thermal means of inter-row suppression in corn—Kura clover living mulch for use in organic cropping systems
Researchers: Ken Albrecht (Agronomy), 608-262-2314,; and Nate Bard (Agronomy)
Description: Kura clover, a long-lived perennial, can be a living mulch and the sole nitrogen source for corn production. It reduces soil erosion and nitrate leaching and, when adequately suppressed, does not hurt corn grain or silage yield. We have been successful managing kura clover as living mulch with herbicide suppression, and are currently evaluating thermal and mechanical means to replace herbicides.

Farm structural change of a different kind: alternative dairy farms in Wisconsin:  graziers, organic and Amish
Researchers: Brad Barham (Agricultural and Applied Economics), 608-265-3090,; and Caroline Brock (PhD candidate, Land Resources)
Description: This survey-based study presents the first systematic and representative comparative study on the structure, behavior and performance of multiple pasture based dairy farm strategies in Wisconsin.

Evaluation of cropping systems within organic vegetable production
Researchers: A.J. Bussan (Horticulture), 608-262-3519,; Paul Mitchell (Agricultural and Applied Economics), Scott Sanford (Biological Systems Engineering), Jed Colquhoun (Horticulture), Russ Groves (Entomology), Carrie Laboski (Soil Science), Walt Stevenson (Plant Pathology), Jim Nienhuis (Horticulture), Erin Silva (Agronomy/CIAS), Doug Reineman (Biological Systems Engineering) and others.
Description: Long-term research trials are being planned for initiation during the summer of 2008 on organically certifiable land at the Horticulture Farm on the UW-Madison Arlington Agricultural Research Station.  The goal of the project is to quantify nutrient cycling, pest population dynamics, energy inputs and economic value of different nutrient management systems based on cover cropping, manure, compost and OMRI approved fertilizers. A unique feature of this project is the comparison within organic management systems rather than comparisons between organic and conventional systems.

Crop plant nutrition and insect response in organic field crop production: linking farmer observation to University research and Extension
Researchers: Eileen Cullen (Entomology), 608-261-1507,; Kevin Shelley (UW-Madison Nutrient and Pest Management Program), Robin Mittenthal (Entomology), and Paul Whitaker (UW-Marathon County)
Description: This project examines the link between crop plant nutrition and insect response, as well as the premise that organic soil fertility management plays a sizeable role in managing insect pests. The project has three components: 1) A long-term controlled experiment at the UW-Madison Arlington Research Station comparing two methods of organic fertility management (soil balance with calcium additions, compared with a standard organic manure and legume source N-P-K sufficiency approach) in a four-crop rotation. The farmer-selected crop-insect associations examined include Soybean-soybean aphid, Alfalfa-potato leafhopper, and Corn-European corn borer; 2) Similar data collection on six established organic farms representing the two approaches to soil fertility management;  3) Undergraduate on-farm research partnerships with organic farmers and greenhouse experiment collaboration with UW-Marathon County. In 2006-07, 32 field-scale, replicated plots were established and the soil fertility treatments were initiated at Arlington. The first year of data was collected at Arlington and the cooperating farms. Collaboration with UW Marathon County will begin in 2008.

Organic soybean variety trial results
Researchers: John Gaska (Agronomy), 608-262-8273,; Daniel Undersander (Agronomy), Josh Posner (Agronomy), Mark Martinka (Agronomy), Janet Hedtcke (Agronomy), and Kevin Shelley (UW-Madison Nutrient and Pest Management Program)
Description: The Wisconsin Organic Variety Trials give producers information on performance and characteristics of soybean varieties that could be used in an organic soybean production system. The trials were conducted using approved organic production practices at sites certified for organic production. Seed used for the trials were either organically produced or untreated non-organic varieties.

Organic certified seed potato production in the Midwest
Researchers: Amy Charkowski (Plant Pathology), 608-262-7911,; Ruth Genger (Plant Pathology), and Doug Rouse (Plant Pathology)
Description: There is a severe shortage of organically produced certified seed potatoes in the Midwest. Use of certified (low disease incidence) seed potatoes is an important strategy in controlling tuber-borne potato diseases. In 2007, we trialed seed potato production on the organic farms of 6 farmer-collaborators in different regions of Wisconsin, testing strategies to control aphid-borne viruses, the major disease challenge in certified seed potato production. Harvested tubers are undergoing tests for pathogen incidence, and data will be used as a basis for recommendations to growers.

Evaluation of approved seed treatments in organic corn production
Researchers: Janet Hedtcke (Agronomy), 608-265-2948,; Nicholas Goeser (Agronomy), Edward Luschei (Agronomy), Erin Silva (Agronomy and Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems), and Josh Posner (Agronomy)
Description: The first line of defense in weed management in organic row crops is having a vigorous stand.  Pre-plant seed treatments like priming and coating are, potentially, a way to enhance organic corn seedling germination, emergence and early seedling growth. We are currently utilizing greenhouse and field testing procedures to assess four organically certified seed treatments. Within each seed treatment (main plot), corn was planted at two different dates on certified organic land at the research station and on South Central Wisconsin farms. Terminal emergence percentage, seedling vigor (as assessed through plant staging and height) and grain yields have been measured and are being compared with a split-plot ANOVA.

Flame weeding in corn
Researchers:  Janet Hedtcke (Agronomy), 608-265-2948,; Gregg Sanford (Agronomy), Bill Stangel (UW Agricultural Experiment Station), and Josh Posner (Agronomy)
Description:  Many organic growers rely heavily on flame weeding for weed control in corn.  However, little data exists on the impact of the flaming on the corn itself.  Treatments were applied at or before the V3 (3rd collar) stage of corn. Weed counts, corn population and corn yield data are being compared.

Soil fertility management on organic vegetable farms
Researchers: John Hendrickson (Center for Integrated Ag Systems), 608-265-3704,; and Leslie Cooperband (University of Illinois)
Description: This project is assessing fertility management practices on organic vegetable farms in Wisconsin and Illinois. Information on current practices has been gathered via a mailed survey. This will be coupled with a detailed three-year analysis of specific management practices on case study farms. Input on farming methods and research questions will be integrated into emerging organic research programs at the University of Wisconsin and University of Illinois. This will be achieved via a farmer advisory panel that will meet with university faculty as they convert and manage university research farm plots using organic management practices.

The feasibility of producing organic sweet corn and snap beans for processing
Researchers:  A.J. Bussan (Horticulture), 608-262-3519,; Heidi Kraiss (Horticulture), Jed Colquhoun (Agronomy), Carrie Laboski (Soil Science), and Richard Rittmeyer (Horticulture)
Description: This project is evaluating organic nutrient and weed management tactics in processing sweet corn and snap beans to determine if it is economically feasible to produce them organically in Wisconsin.  Nutrient management tactics consist of the use of cover crops, commercially available compost and other organic fertilizers.  Organic weed management treatments consisted of either a single management tactic or combinations of tactics including different methods and numbers of cultivations and utilization of a stale seedbed.

Comparison of oat cultivars as weed-suppressive cover crop for in organic fresh market vegetables
Researchers: Jed Colquhoun (Horticulture), 608-890-0980,; and Heidi Kraiss (Horticulture)
Description:  We will determine the effectiveness of 13 oat cultivars, used as cover crops, at suppressing weeds in four fresh market vegetable crops; tomatoes, pepper, broccoli and peas.  There is evidence that oat cultivars differ in their allelopathic potential and thus potential for weed suppression.  We will evaluate this under field conditions to determine the cultivars’ impacts on weed density and diversity and ultimately crop yield.

Comparing the economics of organic dairy production with other dairy systems
Researchers: Tom Kriegl, Center for Dairy Profitability, 608-263-5665,
Description: The organic dairy market is growing and provides substantial price premiums. Many Wisconsin dairy farmers want to know if the price premiums make the organic dairy system competitive. Actual farm financial data from Wisconsin organic farms is compared in this research with non-organic grazing and confinement farms.

Organic corn hybrid/variety trial results
Researchers: Joe Lauer (Agronomy), 608-263-7438,
Description: The University of Wisconsin Organic Corn Hybrid/Variety Trials are conducted to give corn producers information on performance and characteristics of corn hybrids and varieties that could be used in an organic corn production system. The trials were conducted using approved organic production practices at sites certified for organic production. Seed used for the trials was either organically produced or untreated.

Multi-state organic corn hybrid/variety trial results
Researchers: Joe Lauer (Agronomy, Wisconsin), 608-263-7438,; Roger Elmore (Iowa) and Peter Thomison (Ohio)
Description: The purpose of this project is to investigate differences in grain yield and quality among hybrids planted in pure and mixed stands in organic production systems. To improve the reliability of crop management decisions, five locations (three southern, two northern) were established using certified organic production practices.

Refining and implementing multifunctional management strategies for organic processing vegetables
Researchers: Paul Mitchell (Agricultural and Applied Economics), 608-265-6514,;
AJ Bussan (Horticulture), and Doug Reinemann (Biological Systems Engineering)
Description:  This project focuses on examining nitrogen and energy use and economics for organic and conventional processing vegetables systems.

Risk management tools for diversified vegetable producers in the Upper Midwest
Researchers: Paul Mitchell (Agricultural and Applied Economics), 608-265-6514,; Erin Silva (Agronomy and Center for Integrated Ag Systems), and John Hendrickson (Center for Integrated Ag Systems)
Description:  This project focuses on the development of a system to help diversified vegetable farmers understand their costs of production by crop and marketing channel, and the potential benefits of crop insurance.

Marketing practices of Wisconsin potato growers
Researchers:  Paul Mitchell (Agricultural and Applied Economics), 608-265-6514,; and K. Steigert (Agricultural and Applied Economics)
Description:  This project increases our understanding of how the increasing organic trend in the marketplace is affecting consumer prices for organic and conventional potato products and fresh potatoes.

On-farm research with organic graziers
Researchers:  Janet Hedtcke (Agronomy), 608-265-2948,; Josh Posner (Agronomy), Altfrid Krusenbaum (Organic Farmer), Ken Nordlund (School of Vet Medicine), Gary Frank (Center for Dairy Profitability), and Bob Van De Boom (Organic Farmer)
Description: Over the past two decades, research projects have been ongoing at the Krusen Grass farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, while it has transitioned from row crops to organic rotational grazing. Herd health, performance and productivity, farm financial and economic performance, and nutrient management have been monitored. More recently, heifers and steers are being weighed two to three times per year to evaluate weight gains with a custom grazier.

No-tillage organic soybean production in winter rye for improved weed and nutrient management in South Central Wisconsin
Researchers: Janet Hedtcke (Agronomy), 608-265-2948,; Josh Posner (Agronomy), Dave Stoltenberg (Agronomy), and Emily Bernstein (Agronomy)
Description:  This research project aims to develop a no-till soybean phase that follows corn and a fall-seeded rye cover crop, comparing manure management, tillage levels, soybean planting dates, and row spacing on-farm and on-station on organically managed fields. Performance variables will include measures of weed suppression, soybean yield, soybean profitability and water use.

Organic and conventional production systems in the long-term Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials: productivity, profitability and environmental impact
Researchers: Janet Hedtcke (Agronomy), 608-265-2948,; Josh Posner (Agronomy), Jon Baldock (AGSTAT), John Hall (Michael Fields Agricultural Institute), Dwight Mueller (UW-Madison Agricultural Research Station), Darwin Frye (UW-Madison Agricultural Research Station), Bill Stangel (UW-Madison Agricultural Research Station), and Jean-Paul Chavas (Agricultural and Applied Economics)
Description:  In 1989, in response to the debate about the relative agricultural sustainability of low-input and conventional systems, a large-scale, long-term study entitled the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials (WICST) was initiated at two locations in southern Wisconsin to compare the productivity, profitability, and environmental impact of a range of conventional and organic cropping systems.

Developing certified organic acreage at the UW-Madison Arlington Agricultural Research Station
Researchers:  Janet Hedtcke (Agronomy), 608-265-2948,; Josh Posner (Agronomy), Bill Stangel (UW-Madison Agricultural Research Station), Dwight Mueller (UW-Madison Agricultural Research Station), Darwin Frye (UW-Madison Agricultural Research Station), John Hall (Michael Fields Agricultural Institute), Kevin Shelley (UW-Madison Nutrient and Pest Management), Joe Lauer (Agronomy), John Gaska (Agronomy)
Description:  With the implementation of the USDA’s National Organic Program in October 2002, organic crop and livestock farming gained momentum. The decision was made to certify land for organic research at the ARS Research Station and to conduct similar trials on the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute organic farm to meet the informational needs of this growing clientele. The goal of this project was to do production research for those producers that want to grow and market organic grain. In addition to field research, our goal was to learn about the certification process (how difficult is it?) and organic grain marketing and storage issues. Currently, 22 acres are certified and another 22 are in transition.

Treatment practices and quantification of antimicrobial usage in conventional and organic dairy farms in Wisconsin
Researchers: Pamela Ruegg (Dairy Science), 608-263-3495,; and M. Pol (Dairy Science)
Description:  This study developed a novel method for quantifying farm-level exposure to antimicrobials on dairy farms and compared antimicrobial usage between organic and conventional dairy herds. The overall exposure to antimicrobials on conventional farms was 5.4 defined daily doses per cow per year. About two thirds of the antimicrobial doses used were for intramammary treatment. Penicillin, streptomycin and cephapirin were the three compounds most frequently used for dry cow therapy and cephapirin, pirlimycin and amoxicillin were the compounds most frequently used for treatments of clinical mastitis. Treatment practices and disease prevalence for organic herds, including compounds and administration routes, were compared between organic and conventional herds.

Relationship between antimicrobial usage and antimicrobial susceptibility of Gram-positive mastitis pathogens
Researchers: Pamela Ruegg (Dairy Science), 608-263-3495,; and M. Pol (Dairy Science)
Description: The relationship between usage of antimicrobials and antimicrobial susceptibility of mastitis pathogens was studied using isolates obtained from organic and conventional dairy herds. The amount of exposure to two antibiotics commonly administered for treatment of mastitis (penicillin and pirlimycin) was associated with resistance, but amount of exposure to many other commonly used antimicrobials was not associated with resistance. A dose-response effect between exposure to pirlimycin, and the minimum inhibitory concentration of pirlimycin was observed for all isolates. The usage of penicillin was associated with reduced susceptibility of Staph. aureus and coagulase-negative staphylococci spp. However, the usage of cephapirin was not associated with reduced susceptibility for any pathogen.

Impact of organic management on dairy animal health and well-being
Researchers: Pamela Ruegg (Dairy Science), 608-263-3495, plruegg@facstaff.; Linda Tikofsky & Ynte Schukken (Cornell University); Mike Gamroth (Oregon State University).
Description: The overall objectives of this project are to assess cow health and well-being on farms that use organic management systems and evaluate, develop, and disseminate recommendations for cost-effective, preventative health mangement programs. Animal health and management data will be collected on 200 organic and 100 conventional dairy farms located in WI, NY and OR. Management factors that influence animal well-being and farm profitability will be be identified. This data will be used to develop cost-effective, preventative, health management programs. Indicators of herd health and milk quality will be identified and used to create herd performance benchmarks that will be provided to participating farms.