Organics: Smart and Successful Farmers Have Mentors
Posted December 1, 2017 by Dani Kusner
Occasionally throughout the year, I review notes from various field days and farmer conversations that were particularly memorable. While this blog provides broad information about The Andersons’ approach to soil health, biology and transitioning to organic, farmers always love to hear from other farmers. And oftentimes, farmers amaze me with their ability to explain complex topics, making complicated ideas easy to learn and understand. So soak in these few bits of wisdom from real organic farmers:
- What is the moat protecting your castle?” In other words, what is protecting the crop which is your castle? This farmer explained that soil health is his best defense—or moat—protecting his fields from adverse conditions (extreme rainfall, drought, pests, disease, etc.).
- Don’t change your rotation for the market conditions.” Unlike the conventional corn and soybean farmers who tend to shift acres between corn and beans depending on the markets, this 1000+ acre organic farmer suggests that sticking to his crop rotation year after year has helped ensure consistently strong yields. This farmer found that when he changed his rotation, he noticed the crop yields suffered. However, when he chose to stick with his rotation, even if the markets were down, he had more productive soils and yields, and ultimately higher ROI.
- Fertilize the soil with green manures and brown manures.” Green manures are those that add nitrogen and are plowed in to terminate the crop when they are still green. Common examples are clovers, hairy vetch, or peas that are grown as cover crops. Brown manures are those that are brown when applied—composts and manures. Brown manures add stabilized carbon to soils. When plowing in green or brown manures, be careful not to till deeper than 2.5 inches.
- When considering the crop rotation for the transition to organic, one farmer puts it strongly, “I’d rather do nothing to make nothing, than do something to make nothing.” This refers to the fear that a transitioning farm may lose money, or struggle to break even, during the first two years of transition. This farmer advocates for the use of cover crops or a pasture/alfalfa rotation during the first two years of transition because it costs less money to make little to no money, rather than investing money in seed, fertilizer, and trips over the field (planting, cultivating, and harvesting) to not make the organic premiums during the transition years.
For more inspiration and mentorship opportunities, consider attending the Acres USA 2017 Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show next week (December 5-8), in Columbus, Ohio. The Andersons will have a booth on the trade show floor, and several of our staff will be there to answer questions about transitioning to organic, organic grain marketing, and organic nutrient fertilizer options. For more information and to register, visit acresusa.com.