Field Test: Conventional Farmer Tries Organic

November 01, 2016

farmer with cover crops

What we do every day isn’t any different than what our great-great-grandparents did: grow a healthy crop to feed our family and yours. But how we do it has changed dramatically. That’s because we are always using the best tools and information we have to improve the crops we grow and lessen the impact that we have on the environment.

For some, that’s using an organic farming system. For others, it might be conventional.
 
For our farm, at this moment in time, it’s both.
 

Giving Organic a Chance

In an effort to always improve what we do, and because it’s up to us to continuously make choices that are the best for our farm, we’ve decided to transition one of our fields to organic. If it goes well, we will transition more of our fields the following year.
 
Here are a few ways organically grown fields are different from conventionally grown fields:
 
  • The crops in these fields are non-GMO.
  • Only naturally derived pesticides can be applied to help control bugs, disease and weeds.
  • These crops require more labor, tillage (turning over the soil) and different types of fertilizer – making them more expensive to grow. However …
  • Farmers receive a premium for these crops to make up for the higher cost of production.

Sustaining our Soil

While we’re excited to try another way of farming, we do have concerns about how this could affect our farm. Today’s farming tools, like genetically engineered seeds, synthetic pesticides, cover crops that are planted to protect the land and alternate soil cultivation methods have allowed us to take really good care of the soil in our conventional fields. Organic farming puts restrictions on some of these tools, so this type of system doesn’t inherently mean we are taking better care of the environment.
 
For example, other methods of weed control are required in organic farming because of restrictions on pesticide use, which usually means more intensive tillage. We know that cultivating soil creates a loss of organic matter, which ultimately diminishes the health of the soil itself. This is something we are not willing to do on our farm.
 
Our crops are only as good as the foundation upon which they grow, so our goal is to farm this field organically without the use of extra tillage (just like we do in our conventionally grown fields). We will monitor the soil health in our organic field just like we do on the rest of our farm and will only choose to transition more of our fields to organic if we can grow these crops without putting soil health at risk.
 
At the end of the day, it’s about making the best choice for our farm and our land.

Trent Sanderson

Trent Sanderson Clare, IL

Trent farms with his family in northern Illinois  He also enjoys learning and educating other farmers about the environmental benefits of cover crops. He lives near the farm with his wife, Elizabeth, who is expecting their first child.

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