OAGR*2070 Introduction to Organic Agriculture

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The following description is for the course offering in Winter 2022 and is subject to change. It is provided for information only. The course outline distributed to the class at the beginning of the semester describes the course content and delivery, and defines the methods and criteria to be used in establishing the final grades for the course.

Students will be exposed to the scale of the organic industry today, including the factors driving interest in organics for both producers and consumers. The foundational principles underlying contemporary organic agriculture will be presented and firsthand experience of current organic practices will be provided. In addition, this course will rely on small group mentoring to stimulate independent, learner-centered analysis of selected topics in organic agriculture.


Teaching Assistant:

Credit Weight:


Course Level:

  • Undergraduate

Academic Department (or campus):

Department of Plant Agriculture



Semester Offering:

  • Winter

Class Schedule and Location:

Please refer to Web Advisor for class schedule and location.

Learning outcomes:

At the end of this course, students should be able to:
  1. Identify and understand organic standards applicable to production practices
  2. Evaluate the impact of organic crops and livestock on; a) healthy soil, b) clean air, c) clean and sufficient water, d) biodiversity, e) regenerative energy and energy efficiency, f) mitigating and adapting to climate change, g) profitable and resilient farming communities, h) human health, i) an adequate and ongoing food supply for all.
  3. Compare and contrast the value chain components of organic and non-organic systems reflect and accurately write about concepts discussed in class and seminars and understand how organic agriculture pertains to your worldviews of agriculture and food
  4. Reflect and accurately write about concepts discussed in class and seminars and understand how organic agriculture pertains to your worldviews of agriculture and food
  5. Write a formal paper on a selected aspect of organic agriculture
  6. Understand the key current literature on organic agriculture
  7. Present ideas to classmates about organic practices and research that have the potential to improve the organic sector
  8. Be critical and appreciative of contributions of other students through the process of evaluating their work 

Lecture Content:

Topics to be covered in lectures include:
  • Canadian and international organic standards, evolution of organic agriculture in Canada
  • Service crops and multiple cropping systems
  • Crop rotations and organic farm business opportunities
  • Organic soil amendments and organic corn, soybean, pulses
  • Organic crops (soy, corn and pulses) and international community engaged organic research
  • Organic vegetables and Farmer Led Research
  • Organic grazing systems and livestock and pollinator conservation
  • P in organic systems, soil organic matter and student presentations on organic vegetable and field crops
  • Student presentations on organic livestock
  • Student presentations on organic marketing and consumer preferences
  • Distribution and retail of organic products
  •  Gender and organic farming and impacts of organic systems on sustaining food production
Labs & Seminars:
Topics to be covered in seminars include: 
  • Canadian Organic Standards
  • Small scale field crops, livestock and vegetables
  • Organic crop rotation planning
  • Organic soygean breeding and development
  • Organic horticultural opportunities and challenges
  • Organic swine production and animal welfare
  • Tour to Mapleton's Organic Dairy
  • Regenerative agriculture tour
  • Indigenous experiences on Ontario land and their food systems 
  • Tour to Southbrook Organic Vineyards

Course Assignments and Tests:

Assignment or Test Contribution to Final Mark Learning Outcomes Assessed

Seminar assignmentsa


1, 2, 3, 4

Mid-term testb


1, 2, 3, 4

Final examc


1, 2, 3, 4

Term paperd
Class presentatione


5, 6
6, 7

Reading assignments and markingf


4, 8

Additional Notes:

Marking Scheme for Course Assignments, Test and Exam

By March 8, each student will choose his/her preferred weighting of marks for each assignment, within the range of marks designated for each assignment in the table below. The total of marks from all assignments must be 100%.   If a student decides not to weight his/her marks then the default weighting will apply.                                     

Assignment Range of Assignment Marks Chosen Assignment Mark Default Assignment Mark

a) Seminars

20-30%   25%
b) Mid-term tests 12-18%  


c) Final exam 20-30%  


d) Review paper
e) Class presentation

16-24%   20%
f) Reading assignments and marking 12-18%  


  100%   100%
  1. Seminars

The seminars will consist of guest presentations followed by a circle discussion.  There will be an assignment, with questions about the topics discussed within each seminar period.  The seminar assignments will be due by email to the instructor the Thursday following the seminar. The answers are to be typed on the Word file question sheet .  One mark will be deducted for each spelling or grammatical error up to a maximum of 4 marks. These marks will be recoverable by the assignment writer if the mistakes are corrected with Track Changes and emailed to the instructor within 2 weeks of the assignment being returned to you.

For each seminar speaker, a group of students (see part f below) will be assigned to ask pertinent questions of the speaker. The questions should draw out contrasts or comparisons between different comments of the current speaker or between a comment of the current speaker and information from other speakers, course readings or other course material. Each student in the group assigned to ask questions in a specific week must ask at least 2 questions and a grade will be assigned out of 20 marks. Each group will be assigned to ask questions for at least 2 speakers. Students not assigned to ask questions are always welcome to ask questions.

  1. Mid-term Test

The mid-term test will be Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 during the seminar period. It will consist of multiple choice questions, short answer questions and an essay question. It will cover material from the lectures, seminars and readings.

  1. Final Exam

The exam will be Friday, April 16 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. The location will be shown on Web Advisor.  It will consist of multiple choice questions, short answer questions and at least two essay questions. It will cover material from the whole course with an emphasis on the lectures, seminars and readings after the mid-term.

Each student will write a Review paper OR present to the class (i.e. d or e), with a decision by by Tuesday, January 21, 2020.

  1. Review Paper

The review paper will consist of 1500 to 2500 words (not including references) and will be based on the scientific literature, dealing with a selected topic in organic agriculture.  Submit the title of your chosen topic to the instructor, for approval, by Tuesday, January 21, 2020.

The paper should include five or more referred papers from formal academic journals. Data from these papers should be compared and contrasted in relationship to the objective of the paper. Note that at the first mention of each animal and plant species the scientific name must also be shown, in brackets, immediately after the common name. 

A complete first draft of the paper is due on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. This draft will be marked. You may resubmit the paper, for further evaluation, any time before the last day of classes, April 2, 2020. The second grade will be no lower than the first grade and will also be evaluated for appropriate responses to directives of the instructor in the first draft. 

You will be allowed 72 grace hours for delayed submission of the paper and can assign the grace hours as you choose, to the first and second draft. If the first draft is submitted early, up to 72 additional grace hours can be accumulated i.e. 144 in total, for late submission of the second draft. If more than 72 grace hours in total are used then the grade of the paper will be reduced by 10% per day for each business day beyond the 72 hour grace period.

The review (see sections outlined below) paper will be evaluated for the specific use of data, critical thinking, the ability to compare and contrast and scientific understanding.  

The Introduction (10%) should clearly state the objective(s) and outline any limits of the paper. 

The Literature Review and Discussion (70%) should be well organized, include data from references to support assertions, be critical and include analysis with comparing and contrasting. 

The Conclusion (10%) should answer the question "so what?" and may include suggestions for future research.  It should succinctly summarize, evaluate and compare approaches and then the author should present his/her recommendation(s).

References (10%) must be properly cited in the text of the review paper and shown in proper format in the Reference section. See Instructions to Authors in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science http://pubs.aic.ca/userimages/ContentEditor/1443033328997/CJPS_Instructions.pdf   You must use at least 5 references from refereed journal articles.  References from electronic sources will be accepted if they are university or government or other credible sources. Wikipedia references are not allowed. 

Please submit your second draft with all Track Changes and comments from this first draft still turned on.  Don’t worry if it looks busy.

Note that your mark can improve considerably if you respond to the comments.

  1. Class Presentations

The class presentation will be based on evidence in the scientific literature, dealing with a selected topic in organic agriculture.  Submit the title of your chosen topic to the instructor by Tuesday, January 21, 2020. Upon approving the title, the instructor will assign a specific date for your presentation in the lecture week to which your topic most appropriately applies. 

The presentation should include five or more references to referred papers from formal academic journals. Data from these papers should be compared and contrasted in relationship to the objective of the presentation. 

A complete first draft of your power point presentation (or negotiated equivalent) is due to the instructor at least one week before your scheduled presentation date. The instructor will provide comments and recommendations to improve your presentation. If a draft is not submitted the final presentation grade will be reduced by 20%.

The presentation should include the following sections: i) Title slide with your name, date, title, ii) Introduction and Objective(s), iii) Literature review and current state of the product or process discussed, iv) Recommendations to improve the product or process, v) Conclusions and vi) References.

Please be sure there is a minimum font size of 28 on the text in all slides except for citations and urls which other students can see later on CourseLink. There should be citations throughout the text, as required for information from other sources, in a presentation or paper.  Below each photo, give credit to the photographer, if not you, or cite the source of the photo.

The instructor will mark according to the following criteria; i) slides are clear and understandable (4 marks), ii) speaking style is clear and understandable (4 marks), iii) presentation incudes each required section (2 marks), iv) presentation is within the time limit of 15 – 20 min (2 marks), v) content is presented with suitable references and evidence i.e. data (12 marks) and vi) questions are answered accurately and effectively (6 marks). 

Students in the audience will comment on the presentations to the class based on the following criteria; i) slides are clear and understandable, ii) speaking style is clear and understandable, iii) presentation incudes each required section, iv) presentation is within the time limit of 15 – 20 min, v) content is presented with suitable references and evidence i.e. data and vi) questions are answered accurately and effectively.  At least one of the six comments is to be critical and at least one of the six comments is to be supportive.

Each student must ask at least 2 good questions (pertinent to talk, not fully addressed in talk and in comparison or contrast to other information from the course) at assigned times during presentations. Marks will be assigned for audience comments and questions (see part f below).

  1. Reading Assignments and Marking

Each student will submit written responses to question(s) about assigned readings. Each response should be labelled with the headings: 1) due date, 2) your name, and 3) title

The responses will be marked by a member of your group of four. During the term, there will be eight written responses to readings and each will be weighted equally.  Thus each student will be the marker of two responses. The marker will not write a response. The marker will be graded by the course instructor for completing a marking sheet, answering questions on the marking sheet and including relevant comments on each report. A marking sheet will be posted on CourseLink for each marker to download and use when marking.   

The marker will evaluate the written responses for clarity (the meaning should be clear and not ambiguous), critical thinking (comparing and contrasting), directly answering the question, headings (see paragraph above), length (200 – 400 words) and being on time.

The marker will deduct 1 mark for each spelling or grammatical error up to a maximum of four marks. These marks will be recoverable by the assignment writer if the mistakes are corrected with Track Changes and emailed to the instructor within two weeks of the assignment being returned to you.

The readings will be assigned on Monday (Jan 20, 27, Feb 3, 10, 24, March 2, 9, 16). Writers in the group will submit their responses to the marker by 5 pm on the next Friday. Students will serve as markers in alphabetical order according to last name. The marker will read, write relevant comments (both critical and affirmative) in the margins, and mark each response with Track Changes on in a Word file.  The marker will compile the completed marking sheet and each of the student responses into one Word file (with the grp # and assignment # in the file name) and submit this file by email to the course instructor on the next Monday.  The course instructor will return the marked responses with comments, by the following Friday.

Each student who marks other students during their class presentations of part e will be marked for completing the comment form and for asking at least two appropriate questions. The average of these grades related to class presentations will be valued at 33% of the overall Reading Assignment and Marking grade (see part e above).


Final examination:

Please refer to Web Advisor for exam schedule and location.

Course Resources:

Required Texts:  

CourseLink  There is not a required text for the course. Required readings of refereed papers or book chapters will be posted on CourseLink prior to each relevant reading assignment, seminar or class.

Recommended Texts:

Martin, R.C. and MacRae, R. [Eds] 2014. Managing energy, nutrients, and pests in organic field crops. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL

Practical and scientific resources for organic production: http://www.dal.ca/faculty/agriculture/oacc/en-home/resources.html 

Organic Science Cluster: http://www.dal.ca/faculty/agriculture/oacc/en-home/organic-science-cluster.html

Canadian Organic Standards: http://www.dal.ca/faculty/agriculture/oacc/en-home/about/canadian-organic-standards-and-regulations.html

Organic Field Crop Handbook (Textbook).  Wallace, J., Frick, B., Telford, L. and Thiessen Martens, J. 2019. Organic Field Crop Handbook. Canadian Organic Growers


Lab Manual:  

There is not a required lab manual for the course.

Other Resources:

OAGR 2070 students are encouraged to attend the Guelph Organic Conference at U of Guelph, University Centre: www.guelphorganicconf.ca

If you want to volunteer go to www.guelphorganicconf.ca/volunteers

Field Trips:

There are field trips on Tuesday, March 10, 17 and 31. The bus will leave from the roadway in front of the Crop Science building at 4:00 pm sharp and will return before 9:50 pm or a designated time. Please bring any food and water that you will require during this time. Wear suitable footwear to be in a barn and farmyard and be prepared for cool outdoor conditions.  

Additional Costs:

No additional costs are planned for this course.

Course Policies:

Grading Policies:

See the section above on Course Assignments and Tests. Specific grading policies are included for each assignment. Unless otherwise stated, the grade of any assignment will be reduced by 10% per day for each business day beyond the due date. The student name must be included on each assignment and as part of any Word file name.

Course Policy on Group Work:

The reading assignments have individual marks for each student in groups of four according to the tasks outlined in the section, Reading Assignments and Marking.  There will be only one assignment when each student in a group receives the same group mark. This will be in week 3, “Organic crop rotation planning.” 

Course Policy regarding use of electronic devices and recording of lectures:

Unless you are otherwise informed for specific classes, all electronic devices are not to be used for any purpose. Exceptions may be granted, upon request, to students requiring an electronic device for accessibility purposes.

Electronic recording of classes is expressly forbidden without consent of the instructor. When recordings are permitted they are solely for the use of the authorized student and may not be reproduced, or transmitted to others, without the express written consent of the instructor.

Other Course Information:

University Policies

Academic Consideration

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. See the academic calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration:

Academic Misconduct

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community, faculty, staff, and students  to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring.

University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection. Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the University Calenders:


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For more information, contact CSD at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email sas@uoguelph.ca or visit the Student Accessibility Services website: http://www.uoguelph.ca/csd/.

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