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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

Introduction

In recent years, many farmers across the nation have been seeking ways to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The cost of farm chemicals keeps rising, making them a less profitable way to farm, and the overuse of pesticides has increased insect and weed resistance, making many chemical controls less effective. Farmers, too, are increasingly sensitive to the adverse impact that chemical farming is having on the environment, notably on surface nad ground water.

Best Management Practices, Integrated Crop Management and Integrated Pest Management are strategies that are being used to farm with reduced chemical inputs. These programs are to be applauded because they help promote the long-term sustainability of our nation's agriculture and its rural communities.

A small number of farmers, however, have found ways to farm without using any synthetic chemicals. These folks are called "organic" farmers. They have developed -- each in his or her own way -- systems for controlling weeds and insects and for providing essential nutrients for their crops. Furthermore, they have refused to grow genetically modified crops.

This report, based on in-depth interviews with several certified organic grain and soybean farmers in Ohio, hopes to provide conventional farmers with an understanding of how it's possible to use systems that are not chemically-intensive, and to make a living doing it.

The farmers included in this study may not constitute a truly representative sample, but an effort was made in the selection process to include farms from different parts of the state of different sizes.

A letter was mailed to 80 members of the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), Ohio Chapter 1, soliciting interest in being involved in this study. From the 15 who volunteered to be interviewed, six were selected based on location, size of farm and rotation system. The seventh farmer interviewed is a member of OCIA, Chapter B.

A farmer in Ashtabula County in the extrme northeastern part of Ohio, one in Fayette County in the south central are and five in between were included. One farm has 1,050 acres in cultivation, while the smallest has only 65 acres in production. Farmers of different ages have been included and the farming system used are somewhat different. Some have a four-year crop rotation schedule and others a two-year program. Some include corn in their rotation, others do not. While differences exist that attest to the opportunity to farm organically across the whole state, there is one important commonality among those interviewed. All of them farm under the same requirements and standards for certification. They are "certified" organic growers (For information on Ohio organic certification, see contact persons listed in Appendix B).

Each farmer was interviewed in his home for not less than two hours and the interviews were taped, then transcribed. Subsequent phone calls filled in any omissions in the interviews. This report is based on these transcriptions so that, for the most part, the farmers have had an opportunity to explain in their own words the 'why' and the 'how' of organic farming. In the interviews they don't preach, they just explain.

When a first draft of the report was completed it was mailed to each of the seven farmers for review and comment. A third trip organized for taking photos of the farmers gave this writer an opportunity to discuss with them any changes they would like to see in the final document.

The report is organized around twelve frequently asked questions that conventional farmers often ask their organic-farmer neighbors. The Appendices include an economic analysis of an organic farming operation as well as some helpful resources for anyone with additional questions about organic farming.

There is no doubt that farmers learn from each other, perhaps more so than from any other source. The goal of this project, therefore, has been to help facilitate a farmer-to-farmer exchange of both ideas and techniques. It seeks to answer a question many critics of organic agriculture pose: Would these farmers continue to farm this way if they no longer received premium prices for their organic crops.