This question was put to each one of the seven organic
farmers interviewed, "Would you still farm organically if the price
of soybeans dropped so low there was no longer a premium?" The answer
from each was "Yes, I would still farm this way," although
some qualified their affirmation. Geoff M. His reply to the question
was that he would continue his organic practices but might have to discontinue
leaving what he called a "fallow" year in clover unless he
could combine the clover and sell the seed. He also thought that one
would have to be "a little tighter in marketing." The advantage
to Geoff of continuing the organic rotation lies in the fact that "you're
going to build your fertility." He has noticed improvements in his
soils and believes that he is building organic matter levels. His organic
fields hold moisture better than before, "especially during the
Further, Geoff favors organic farming because it reduces
herbicide pollution of surface and ground water, an environmental problem
that concerns him a great deal. He is highly motivated to maintain his
organic practices on certified fields and would expand organic production
on the rest of his farm if he could solve the labor-shortage problem.
Lynn W. "I'd keep doing it" and then added: "I
think that with the kind of yields we've been getting and our lower
input costs to begin with we could sell our organic grain at conventional
prices and be further ahead. We wouldn't have to pay for chemicals.
That combined with the fact that we just plain don't want to use chemicals.
I'd keep doing it as long as I could make enough to make a living."
Steve B. We asked Steve if his soybean prices dropped
to $4.50 a bushel would he still farm organically. He replied: "Boy,
that's a tough question. I don't know that I could survive at it but
I enjoy this way of farming and I thoroughly believe in it. I don't
have to put up with all those fertilizer and chemical dealers coming
in here and bugging me all the time to buy this or buy that. ... I
suppose I would continue to farm this way. The biggest thing we've
seen is improvement in our soils. We don't have standing water any
more and we haven't installed any more tiles. We've got the existing
tile we had in there working again.
Steve added: "I would still farm organically,
but I'd probably have to find a job in town. There's probably no way
I could survive with conventional prices. I don't see how conventional
farmers today can survive on four dollar beans. Of course, they're
working off of yields. Our input costs are lower and we could stay
in business a little longer, but nobody can survive at today's prices.
I don't care what anybody says."
Dean Mc. This is Dean's response to the inquiry: I've heard that question
before and I've told myself all along that I would still farm this way
because that's basically what organic prices were when I started and
I converted because it was necessary to lower our production costs and
increase our soil fertility. A conventional system wasn't doing that
for us. Yes, I would still farm this way. Maybe the biggest difference
is I would go with a different variety of soybeans if I was competing
on a conventional price and market. I think we would see an immediate
boost in yield if we got into the more high oil beans instead of the
high protein beans.
Dean continued with some comments about the long term advantages and
some of the less visible benefits of his commitment to organic farming:
You just have the feeling that you're doing things right even if it
looks like a failure, even if things look a little out of control but
you know that you did it in a way that you didn't hurt anybody or hurt
anything by it or pollute any stream from it. If you believe in what
you're doing is right, there's a lot of self satisfaction there.
Ron G. He admitted that if soybean prices fell
to conventional levels he might reduce his acreage of beans and change
his rotation to leave clover in another year for soil building. Of
the farmers interviewed, Ron is the only one who admits to thinking
about finding alternative on-farm sources of income should organic
prices fall. He has considered growing wine grapes as well as getting
into organic meat production on a legume based pasture. He's considered
the possibilities of aquaculture, growing turf and raising pheasants.
The latter he would release and charge for hunting them. But as long
as "spelt is relatively profitable
and beans are relatively profitable and we can make some hay to sell
to horse farmers" he will stay in farming, organic farming.
The main advantage of being organic...maybe I'm old fashioned...I've
never had a tractor with a cab and I'm the kind of person who likes to
go out and enjoy the sunlight, the open air and the breeze blowing...when
I'm out there disking or springtoothing and the dust is blowing across,
I know it's dust, dirt, not Roundup or some chemical I can't even pronounce
and one that you don't know what it's going to do to you. That's the
biggest reason, the biggest advantage for me.
Bryon K. He responded to the question in this way: Yes, I would continue.
The challenge of growing crops without chemicals is an exciting challenge.
It would seem like a failure to return to using chemicals. There are
both economic and environmental reasons for continuing organic production.
Jeff D. His response
was "Oh, yeah! ...If there was still an organic
market but no premiums, I'd still farm organically."