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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

5. What will they say at the coffeee shop?

Moving to an organic farming system is, in a manner of speaking, going against the tide. More and more farmers across the midwest are doing it, but it's still thought of in most farming circles as something "out in left field." It requires something of a "thick skin" against the inevitable skepticism and criticism of friends and neighbors. Here's what our seven farmers said when asked "What do your neighbors think about the way you're now farming?"

Steve B. He replied, "They think we're nuts." But Steve also pointed out that even though most neighbors think that way, "a few of them will ask questions and are interested in it." He feels that "if they can't spray with Roundup, they're not much interested." However, "when they see what I'm getting for my beans, it raises a few eyebrows. This year we're getting $16 for our soybeans, and they're getting $4.00-4.50."

Byron K. told of a recent situation on his farm when he had a neighbor haul some beans for him. He admitted that his beans were pretty dirty and the neighbor said, "I'll take my beans any day." Bryon mentioned that this neighbor had no idea what he was getting for his beans and said, "I didn't tell him either." Interestingly, the Wengers thought that some of their neighbors were showing an interest in their practices.

When asked what their neighbors think, Nelson responded: "Most of them laugh at us, some think it's kinda crazy, but we feel that we have been making out good enough that we haven't cared. This fall I had a couple of them sneak up here and ask me about it. They were thinking about it some. I have a feeling that some of them aren't laughing as much as they used to be. I think our crops have done pretty well, considering, and there's really nothing for them to laugh at."

Weed control is, of course, one of the major headaches for the organic grower (see below) and a failure to keep fields free of weeds is frequently thought of as a sign of poor farming. Some of the organic farmers admitted there is some social pressure to keep clean fields. When asked, Nelson admitted: "We do feel a little bit of pressure that way, but, depending on what kind of weather you have, some of these guys who spray don't have clean fields either. I feel just about as much pressure because of what I want to do as I do from anybody else."

Geoff M. admitted the same: "Yes, I want people to see that this works. Weeds kinda turn people off, and if I had them a little cleaner I think I could bring people into this."

On the other hand, Ron G. didn't worry about it: "I don't feel that pressure at all. I don't worry about that. That's one thing that's never bothered me&emdash;what other folks think. Maybe a little bit in the beginning I worried about it, maybe in the first year." Now, he says, "I learned early that a few weeds, as long as the plants are healthy and growing and its not a jungle, are acceptable."

In a recent issue of the Progressive Farmer, Dean M. was quite embarrassed when a photo of him on the front cover showed him standing in a soybean field that was obviously overtaken with foxtail. The article pointed out, however, that he was still making more income off of that field than conventionally sprayed fields that yield 20 to 30 bushels more to the acre.

The farmers interviewed joked about the pressure they feel to plant their soybeans at the same time as their neighbors. To properly manage weeds, however, it's critical to wait until late May or the first week in June even later if it's a wet spring. By that time, their neighbors are "headed to the beach".