It seems the appetite for organically-grown products continues to grow and there is genuine momentum behind transitioning farm acreage into an organic system.
Talking with farmers, they’ve taken notice of the economic potential, but also cite the challenges of eliminating tillage from an organic system, in particular for weed control.
Wolcott, Ind., farmer Jason Federer has transitioned about 250 of his 4,000-acre corn, soybean and wheat operation to certified organic acres, but acknowledges that organic strip-till posed some challenges.
“We strip-tilled for 20 years and the one thing about organic is you can have the best plan in the world until the weather comes and then you go to plan B, plan C,” he says. “The year we did strip-till organic we were going into clover and it was kind of a thin stand. We used a flame weeder and it was looking great at the beginning of June, but then we got 30 inches of rain and it was done. We had to disc the crop under later.”
Federer is planning to experiment with no-till organic acres in 2019, utilizing a roller-crimper into cereal rye and possibly some oats as well.
Cover crops can be an instrumental tool for weed control when moving strip-till or no-till acres into an organic system. But there are two trains of thought when it comes to managing weeds in an organic system, says Bill Lehmkuhl, no-tiller from Minster, Ohio.
“On one hand, there is the farmer out there in bare dirt, invested in iron, who is constantly cultivating that crop and tending to it that way for weed control,” he says. “But, we've also seen on the other side the growers who have had good success with no-till, but they've heavily invested in cover crops to take care of some fertility and weed control issues.”
Oakland, Iowa, strip-tiller Doug Applegate says planning out a transition into an organic system is key, and starting small to see what works and what doesn’t from a chemical application standpoint.
“Be proactive with a disease that is emerging, or an insect infestation that's starting to happen,” he says. “Taking a pill or throwing a bunch of chemicals at the problem, that's the brute force, big hammer method. I know we as farmers have gotten comfortable with that because we have these tools, but in an organic situation, being proactive makes all the difference in the world in being successful.”
It’s fair to say that successfully combining organic practices in a long-term no-till or strip-till situation is a work in progress. While some are making it work, as Federer describes it, the pairing would be the “holy grail” of opportunity.