I have been a professional farm manager for over 30 years, and I am currently managing an 80-acre farm that will produce its first certified organic crops this year. If everything goes as planned on the farm near Dewey Illinois, around 18 acres of soft red winter wheat will be harvested this summer, followed by 19 acres each of corn and soybeans. The balance of the farm will be growing clover as a cover or lay crop, as the nitrogen source for the 2020 corn crop.
If you know anything at all about organic farming or just farming in general, due to the weather, plans sometimes need to be changed or modified. For example, the wheat was planted later than ideal last fall due to the late harvest of the soybeans. The fall turned unseasonal cold and wheat emergence was late and may not survive the winter. Only time will tell!
So why grow certified organic grain?
- One great reason is premium prices and higher returns. Currently there is an increasing domestic demand and U. S. farmers are not producing enough acres of organic grain to meet the demand. Approximately 41% of the organic corn and 78% of the organic soybeans were imported into the U. S. in 2017. Much of this grain is grown in Eastern Europe and Turkey. The purity of this grain is in question. Is it grown under the same certified organic standards as in the U. S? That is very doubtful. Contract prices per bushel for organic corn and soybeans are 2 to 3 times higher than conventional prices, corn $9-10 and soybeans $18-21 per bushel depending on varieties.
- Organic farming is good for the land, soil and the environment. No toxic pesticides and harsh fertilizers such as anhydrous ammonia is applied to the soil. Organic farms have more diversified crop rotations than the traditional corn and soybean rotation. The Dewey 80 is in a four-crop rotation consisting of wheat followed by a legume cover or lay crop, which is the green manure crop and nitrogen source for the corn the following year. Soybeans follow the corn and the rotation starts over. With a cover crop being planted into the standing corn, the farm is growing some type of crop almost all year long. This protects the soil, builds fertility and reduces soil erosion and nitrate and chemical runoff.
- The land owners wanted to grow organic grain on their farm. They understood the risk and were willing to take reduced income in the past two transition years 2017 and 2018. To become certified organic the farm grows crops without commercial fertilizer and pesticides for three years but receive commercial prices for the grain in the transitional years. Net income has been reduced around 25 – 30% the last two years. They believe as I do that the risk is worth it to produce safer and healthier food and ultimately realize higher returns.
- Another reason making the decision easier to go organic is that the farmer Wendell Lutz was willing and wanted to grow organic crops. Wendell had been experimenting with humates, organic soil additives and manure on this farm for many years. He is even excited about getting to cultivate the corn and soybeans. Now that is a true believer!
I will keep you posted on the certification process this year and the 2019 crop. Let me know your thoughts, your experience with growing organic crops or if you have any interest in growing organic crops on your farm.