Around the Farm – Farm Transitions

Every new year in farming brings changes

Some years those changes are small things, like new products or new hybrids. Some years those changes are a bit bigger like a piece of new machinery. But every once in a while, a new year brings major changes like the year we switched to strip-till.

This is one of those big change years at our farm.

Beginning with this year’s soybean crop we are transitioning some of our farm to organic crop production. Not all of our farm will end up being organic and for those fields that will be farmed organically it will take us a few years to make the transition. We made the decision to transition late last fall and we’ve already found out just how much we need to learn.

Organic farming is a method of producing a crop without the use of synthetic chemicals. So that means we can’t use any of the tools that we’re used to using like herbicides, fungicides, or synthetic fertilizers, including 32% nitrogen. Thus, we have to re-learn weed control and crop fertility. Oh, and we have to learn how to grow wheat, oats and cover crops.

In order to sell our crop as certified organic we first have to go through a period of 36 months without applying anything that is banned for use on organic crops. And that list is very long. Once the 36 months is up, we go through a certification process with a certifying agency. That means lots and lots of paperwork and keeping careful records of what was done to each individual field. Once certified, we can then sell that crop as an organic crop.

Our 16-row cultivator has been sitting in the shed for years. Now we will be using it as we transition to growing organic crops.

So how do we control weeds now since we can’t use herbicides? With cultivation. In the fall instead of strip-till we use a ripper implement to do our fall tillage. Then in the spring we will wait until its nice and warm and the weeds come up and then soil finish. After planting, we will rotary hoe twice then use a row-crop cultivator to remove the weeds between the rows. Luckily for us we had a rotary hoe and a couple row crop cultivators sitting in the shed that we haven’t used since the late ‘90s.

This year we will have some non-GMO soybeans to start our transition so we will get plenty of practice using our row-crop cultivators for weed control.

We have a whole year to learn crop fertility, applying natural fertilizer, following our wheat or oat crop next summer. For organic crops the most common fertilizer that is used is animal manure. That fertilizer can come from hogs, cattle or chickens.

It’s going to be quite a journey these first couple years of our transition, but fortunately we have some great guys here on our farm eager for the challenge and opportunity that comes with this change.