The farmers interviewed feel that the advantages
of an organic system outweigh the disadvantages, but they also readily
admit and understand that there are problems associated with the way
they farm. They recognize that reliance on mechanical weed control
avoids a potential environmental impact from the use of herbicides
but also requires the use of considerable more diesel fuel, more wear
and tear on equipment and a larger labor input on each acre farmed.
Ron G. He had some interesting thoughts on the subject when asked to
compare his system with a conventional farming system: " Many
of them are no-till. Plant it, spray it and forget it. Which, from
their standpoint, it works. And it's low input. We can't condemn them
for what they're doing. They have some advantages to their system.
They're not out there four to five hours an acre burning up that labor
and burning up diesel fuel as we do. Diesel fuel is not a renewable
resource. That's detrimental to the way we ought to be thinking. If we
were burning soy diesel, that's different. They're cutting their fuel
bills down and cutting their labor down and machinery. They have some
advantages that maybe we ought to try to incorporate into ours.
Mechanical weed control may destroy through oxidation the organic matter
that these farmers are so dedicated to building. The jury is still out
on this question, but it is worth considering when contrasting conventional
with organic farming.
The whole process of receiving certification as an organic grower can
be an onerous one. With it's list of prohibited materials, it's requirements
for detailed record keeping and, some feel, invasive, on-farm inspections
organic certification is not something to be taken lightly. The requirement
that 25-foot buffer strips be kept between organic and conventional fields
can be particularly bothersome. Some will place the acreage involved
in the Conservation Reserve Program while others will simply sell crops
grown in the buffer zones at conventional prices. In either event, a
loss of income may result. Management of buffer strips may be particularly
difficult if field borders are narrow. It has been pointed out that mechanical
weed control requires considerable more labor input than chemical control.
Some of the farmers interviewed found the labor issue to be a limiting
factor in their ability to expand their revenue base.
There is the real possibility that crop yields
will decline, especially during the transition period. This drawback
can be partially offset if a market can be found for "transitional" or "chemical-free" soybeans.
As noted above, the marketing of organic crops is problematic for some
growers, sometimes presenting difficulties for the organic grower that
conventional farmers who haul their crops to the local elevator do not
face. There is the real possibility that as more farmers take up organic
practices, the prices of organic crops will decline. Supply may expand
faster than demand, although the latter has been increasing in recent
years. The question central to this case study is whether organic farmers
will continue farming that way if the current premium prices were to
disappear. The response to this question is discussed in the next section.
The organic farmer, without a doubt, must acquire
a different set of management skills and must have a different mindset
from the conventional grower. Basic organic rotations have been in
use for decades, but the effectiveness of such rotations are very site
specific. So, the organic farmer must be willing to experiment with
different configurations, different crops and the timing of operations
on his or her own farm. There is a lot of trial and error farming involved
which might not appeal to many non-organic farmers. There is no "going by the book" in
The support system available for the conventional grower does not exist
for the organic grower. University reseachers, Extension personnel, most
farmer organizations and the farm press constitute an agricultural establishment
that caters to the conventional farmer. Individuals and institutions
that make up this establishment have, until recently, been openly hostile
to the idea of organic farming. The lack of public support coupled with
the fact that there are so few organic growers creates an isolation that,
despite their willingness to help each other, is one of the disadvantages
of being an organic farmer.