Simply Sustainable

Letter from the Coordinator

SARE Grant Tutorial

By the Numbers

In Touch with Consumers

The Road to Organic

One Man's Trash

Plants That Battle Pests

Light-Touch Tillage

Four-Legged Pest Control

Cultivating Farmers

Going Under Cover

Righting the Range

Consider the Alternatives

Plant a Tree

Engines of Ingenuity

Cool, Clear Water

The Whole Farm

The People

Printable Version

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Simply Sustainable

Opportunities in Agriculture Bulletin

Jess Alger in wheat field
Montana wheat and cattle producer Jess Alger has nearly completed the conversion of his 1,200 acres to organic production.

The 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 my business.”

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 transition.

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.

display of vegetables
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 peas (FW01-014).

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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