With low commodity prices and high organic crop prices, transitioning to organic can look awfully appealing. But is organic really right for you? Successful organic farming takes good soils and a different mindset than conventional farming. Are you, and your soil, ready to go organic?
Below are a few things to consider when assessing whether transitioning to organic is a good fit for your farm:
Are my soils healthy, with a lot of organic matter and good nutrient cycling?
In organic production you need to rely on a balance of nutrients from naturally-mined sources and healthy soils to cycle nutrients. If your soils aren’t healthy now, switching to organic doesn’t automatically make them better. Spend some time building soil health, using calcium and balanced fertility and building organic matter before starting to transition, or plan to set aside two years of transition to really build up soil health without worrying about taking off a crop.
Do I have good weed control tools and the knowledge needed to run them?
In a 2016 Oregon Tilth survey of transitioning and organic farmers, farmers said the biggest obstacle to success was weed management. Switching from a couple of spray passes to mechanical control is daunting and requires time and skill. It also helps to have some cooperation from the weather. Learning how to manage weeds can make or break your yields and profits for the year.
Do I have access to a good manure source?
Manure is an excellent source of nutrients for organic crops. You can get the nutrients you need through mined minerals, cover crops and healthy soils, but having a good manure source provides needed nutrients, especially nitrogen, and can help build soil quality.
Am I ready to add some different types of plants to my rotation?
Plant diversity builds soil quality and breaks pest cycles, and organic rules require plant diversity on organic acres. Plant diversity includes the use of cover crops and green manures. In order to be successful, adding new plants can require learning some new techniques.
Am I ready to think differently about my farm?
Organic farming requires a different mindset: The whole farm must be managed like an ecosystem, where all of the parts interact. Keeping everything healthy and functioning is your top priority. Building soil health, keeping plants healthy by applying a balance of all minerals, focusing on preventing pests and diseases rather than treating them, spending more time monitoring crops, and being prepared to till up a crop that doesn’t look good and put the field in cover crops for the year – these are all management and mindset shifts that are required in order to have a productive, high-yielding organic farm.
There is a lot of appeal to higher prices in organic crops in the current farm economy. If you have the right mindset, and are open and willing to make some changes on your farm, transitioning to organic can be a very profitable and satisfying way to go.