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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

Some Conclusions

One thing is quite clear from these interviews with seven Ohio farmers, organic farming can be done, and it is being done in different parts of the state, on farms of different sizes and by farmers with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Furthermore, it is being done profitably and without adverse impact on the environment.

Whether organic farming is suitable for large numbers of farmers is less a question of technical know-how than it is a consideration of attitudes and beliefs. The interviews have shown that it is less a question of "How to do it?" and more of one that asks "Why do it?" Organic technology is no big mystery, yet it will be taken up only by those who have the courage to step "out of the box" and explore it's possibilities. In many ways, organic farmers are what rural sociologist call "early adapters."

These interviews have shown a willingness on the part of organic growers to experiment and to learn from their failures. Organic production strategies are site-specific so that what works on one farm may not work on another. There are no blueprints to follow, no how-to-do-it manuals to consult. Some basic principles apply, crop rotations that include small grains and leguminous cover crops, timely mechanical weed control, use of manures, etc., but the organic farmer must develop his or her own system. Doing so is not without risk, especially during the transition years. These organic growers work outside the comfort zone provided by a simple corn and bean rotation with chemical weed control and soluble fertilizers. Organic farmers are risk-takers.

As a group they keep informed by reading books and magazines, by attending farm tours and organizational meetings and by exchanging information with other growers. They are generous with their own time and information, which helps promote a state-wide network of like-minded farmers. This network helps each of the organic farmers interviewed to resist pressures from skeptics among friends, neighbors and in the state's agricultural establishment. They are not immune to these pressures, but the courage of their convictions keeps them going.

All admit that some undetermined part of the motivation to farm organically is market-driven, yet each of the farmers interviewed found that there are long-term benefits in soil health, water quality, farmer safety and quality of life that transcend short-run economic considerations. They each agree that they would continue to farm organically even if premium organic prices disappeared.

That is the final test of organic farming's sustainability.