By Zeta Cross
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just begun a confidential survey of 300 Illinois soybean farmers to gather information about fertilizer and pesticide use. The National Agricultural Statistics Survey is asking Illinois soybean farmers to have their fertilizer and spray records handy to help speed up the data collection process.
“The results of the survey help policymakers and farm groups understand the factors driving the costs and returns of crop production,” Illinois State Statistician Mark Schleusener said.
Only a fraction of a percentage of Illinois farmers forgo the use of fertilizers and pesticides altogether, Schleusener said.
Cassidy Dellorto-Blackwell of the Land Connection in Champaign, a nonprofit promoter of sustainable farming practices, said interest in using fewer chemical pesticides and fertilizers is growing among Illinois farmers.
Going organic on a large scale soybean operation is a complex undertaking, she said.
“Generally, to be successful in organics, you have to have a much more complex rotation, which then makes it difficult to operate at a large scale. You are managing conditions in a variety of crops simultaneously,” Dellorto-Blackwell said.
Because of the complexity, organic farms tend to be less than 1,000 acres, she said.
Another drawback to going organic on a large scale soybean farm is the need for labor, she says. Farmers on traditional large farms can do much of the work by themselves, except at harvest time or when they are adding inputs. Yes, organic farming is more labor intensive, she says. However, the cost of the labor turns out to be a wash, Dellorto-Blackwell said.
“You have such reduced input costs that generally the folks that do organic see better economic outcomes,” she said.
Going organic is a mind shift for traditional farmers, who have to give up the strategies that they have been using for years, Dellorto-Blackwell stated. That is why the Land Connection encourages peer-to-peer knowledge sharing at the very local scale where people can recognize and share similar challenges and solutions to those challenges.
Converting a farm to organic is a process that takes several years, Dellorto-Blackwell stated.
“During the first years the weed pressure is very intense, and it can be very disheartening for a farmer,” she said. “People need the support of other people who have already done it to help them get through it.”
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