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Farming Without Chemicals in Ohio
A Case Study Report

Author: Keith Dix
Innovative Farmers of Ohio
in cooperation with the Citizens Policy Center

11. What happens if organic prices drop?

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 drought."

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."