Over the past few years, we’ve seen some common justifications among farmers who choose to transition their crop or grazing land to organic production. Whether this is something that you have considered or not, now is a good time to at least recognize the value in having options.
If you have the ability to absorb some level of risk and want to improve the long-term viability of your operation, transitioning to organic and tapping into a rapidly expanding market may be a good choice for you.
First, quite a few of the farmers we work with choose to transition to organic systems because there is still an attractive price premium for most certified organic products. We often find that the contract price of organic commodities is two to three times higher than that of their conventional counterparts. Some farmers in Pennsylvania received between $9 and $9.50 per bushel for their organic feed corn last year.
But it’s important to be realistic about making significant changes to your operation. To help mitigate risk, we always recommend that farmers new to organic production start with a small percentage of their available acreage so that they can develop a system that works properly before transitioning the entire farm. But once a system is established, you will have acquired skills that will pay dividends for years to come.
One way to look at transitioning is as an investment. Organic sales have risen between 4% and 12% every year since 2009, according to the Organic Trade Association. While interest rates are low, now is as good a time as any to make investments in your future.
Second, a number of farmers have told us that they’re just tired of spraying, or that they’ve seen the effectiveness of their herbicide applications decline in recent years, or that they’re fed up with paying for products that they don’t like using. Those are fair points, so transitioning is worth exploring if these are concerns that you share.
We’ve seen quite a few herbicide-resistant weeds in our travels, most recently some horseweed that had infested fields so badly that they were eventually abandoned.
There are plenty of other potential concerns surrounding synthetic herbicides, but it’s important that we stick to the science on these issues. Any agricultural system can be damaging when operated without concern for other people, animals or the environment, and it is the responsibility of all farmers to try to minimize their adverse impacts.
Third, some farmers have told us that organic farming offers a way to work with nature rather than against it, that this method of farming lends itself well to land stewardship. While any reason for transitioning is a valid one, I think this is a particularly profound motivation.
Certified organic agriculture is a genuine attempt to raise the standard of agricultural production in the United States. It started here at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, and it continues to change and develop into a more complete concept every day. If you’re a farmer, you’re the caretaker of millions of years of irreplaceable weathered rock and billions of beneficial microorganisms. You’re the beneficiary of thousands of years of labor, innovation, and animal and plant domestication and breeding. Considering the best use of those resources may not only benefit your farming operation in the short term, but it will also ensure that it remains intact for as long as possible. And while it would be counterproductive to say that transitioning to organic is the only way to be a good steward, it certainly is a decisive step in the right direction.
Whatever your reason may be for transitioning to organic production, know that we’re always here to help, and that there will always be countless sources of support for your endeavor.
Sam Malriat is the lead organic crop consultant at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.