In spite of a rough year of wet weather, organic production is expected to continue to bring economic gains for Iowa farmers. Premium prices for certified organic grain and hay, grown as part of the required rotation, will continue to add to the bottom line in spite of expected yield losses this year from late replanting, says Kathleen Delate, Iowa State University Extension organic specialist.
Delate oversees organic crops grown at Iowa State University's Neely-Kinyon Farm near Greenfield in Adair County, which hosts its annual field day August 20. Organic production is among the topics for the field day, which begins at 4 p.m. Other topics include finishing beef cattle on grass, parasitic wasps for soybean aphid control and alternative forage crops for emergency feed.
Like everyone affected by heavy rains in June, Iowa's organic producers faced numerous challenges when floodwaters receded.
Late planting complicates rotation decisions
Delate explains, "For an organic grower, complicating the replanting decision was the potential need to change crop rotations, which was approved in June by head of the USDA-National Organic Program in Washington, D.C. for counties declared disaster areas. Soybeans planted as late as mid-July can provide some level of yield, but ISU research shows heavy yield losses for corn planted after July 10, regardless of the variety."
Weeds have also been a major challenge for late-planted or replanted organic fields this summer. "Many organic farmers missed rotary hoeing due to wet soils and faced extensive weed pressure in the crop row," says Delate. "Cultivation was effective in burying many weeds in the row, but additional walking for weeds often was needed. In some cases, farmers also used a tractor-pulled propane gas burner to 'flame' weeds in the row."
Delate also directs the Long-Term Agroecological Research experiment at Neely-Kinyon, a project began and supported by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU. The experiment is one of the longest-running comparisons of organic and conventional crops in the United States.
Organic returns beat conventional
Last year, organic corn yields averaged 209 bushels per acre in the longest crop rotation (corn-soybean-oats/alfalfa-alfalfa) and were greater than the conventional yield of 188 bushels per acre. Organic soybean yields equaled the conventional soybean yields at 60 bushels per acre. Over 10 years, the returns from organic production at the Neely-Kinyon farm have been double that of conventional returns, even with higher prices paid for ethanol corn.
Directions to the farm: From Greenfield, go 2 miles south on Hwy 25, then a half-mile east on 260th Street and a half-mile north on Norfolk Avenue. For details about the field day, contact Southwest Area Extension office at 712-769-2600.