||Montana wheat and cattle producer Jess Alger has nearly completed the conversion
of his 1,200 acres to organic production.
Road to Organic
Research and experience aid transition from conventional
Jess Alger had long pondered trying organic production
on his 1,200-acre Montana cattle and cereal operation.
His idea: plant black medic—a nitrogen-fixing legume that’s
forage for cattle and wildlife—in rotation with his flax,
barley and winter and spring wheat (FW99-069). His conventional
and organic test plots differed little in yield, but the organic
plots were more economical because he spent less on fertilizer and
pesticides. For Alger, the tests were an eye opener.
“My farm is almost totally organic on account of this grant,”
he says. “It’s a little more labor intensive because
of increased mechanical weed control. But I have better records,
my bottom line is better and the chemical companies are missing
Like Alger, hundreds of farmers have made the switch in recent
years. Organic food sales have grown by 20% or more a year since
1990. In 2003, the nation’s 13,000 or so organic farmers and
ranchers, spurred by premium prices for organic food, were expected
to generate sales close to $13 billion, up from $7.8 billion in
2000. The trend is clear, and Western SARE grants are aiding the
In California, the state with the most organic
acreage, Steve Temple, extension agronomist at
UC Davis, has conducted a comparison of organic, low-input and conventional
farming (SW99-008). Yields in the 12-year study, supported in part
by SARE, were similar among systems. But organic farming was more
profitable because of premium prices. And the soil organic carbon
in the organic plots had doubled over 10 years.
||California vegetables specialist Louise Jackson is developing a model for producers
considering the transition from conventional to organic production.
In California’s Salinas Valley, Louise
Jackson, extension vegetables specialist at UC Davis, is
documenting the transition to organic methods on a large vegetable
farm (SW01-057). She will describe and solve problems so producers
considering the switch will be aware of the challenges.
The Sangre De Cristo Agricultural Producers, a grower group in
Taos County, New Mexico, found a lucrative niche
market producing organic wheat ground into flour for sale to bakers
in the Taos and Santa Fe area. The growers, who plant their wheat
on small acreages handed down from generations, tested several legumes
to alternate with the wheat—fava beans, pinto beans and field
Project coordinator Theresa Young says that even
though the persistent drought hindered legume growth, positive results
ensued: the lands have been rested from wheat production; growers
are now familiar with legumes; the legumes served as an erosion-reducing
cover crop; and the crops have served as livestock feed.
For more information on organic, go to www.sare.org/publications/organic.
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