What’s that? Researchers and universities
have discovered organic?

Seems to be the case, folks. Grant dollars are being earmarked for organic projects … and they need the input and involvement of farmers. Is this a dream, or what?

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

Posted May 11, 2003: I’ll keep it short and sweet, since SPRING IS HERE … and it brought with it mountains of work.

If you’re like me, you can’t wait to get at it. On these first few really nice days, you feel like you need to get it all done in one day. And, as impossible as that is, the sense of accomplishment that comes with trying makes it all worth while.

In the same way that spring has busted out all over, so have the opportunities in organic farming.

On the research side of our operation, it seems everyone is getting interested in organic agriculture. My friends and colleagues in the university systems are all seeing a change in attitude creeping into their research farms. Grant dollars are being specifically earmarked for organic farming projects and there is a rush to move those resources into targeted areas. From crops to livestock, researchers are re-evaluating their agendas.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit with a group of folks from Penn State University interested in looking at the transition process in converting apple orchards from conventional to organic. Why? Because the future for family farms is not in competing for small margins in commodity crops against multinational farms, but in organizing a sound marketing plan around delivering quality products to meet consumer demands. (For more on our own organic apple operation, click here.)

Many of the grant opportunities require that organic producers and processors be intimately involved with the design of the projects. This means that those of us who need the information will have critical input into developing the information as well as having a voice in designing how the information gets back to us. It has become clear to those who control the funds that the old methods of information dissemination just won’t work when it comes to a whole farm systems approach.

Of course, this isn’t news to us but it is gratifying to see these types of changes coming about … along with the recognition that more research funds need to be dedicated to organic issues.

Each of us has a responsibility to express our needs and to participate in the direction of these projects. I know. At this time of the year it’s difficult to find time to sleep, let alone participate in someone else’s proposal writing. However, your input is critical to the success of these projects and their success is critical to getting more dollars directed to specific organic issues. So, if asked to serve on an advisory board, do it. Or volunteer to be a mentor to your county agent. The future of organic ag rests in all our hands.

This year we’ll be using a new planter on our farm to plant corn and soybeans. We purchased a Monosem 4 row no-till vacuum planter. I planted one acre yesterday and it worked great. The acre I planted was a conventional research treatment into chiseled ground. When I think of the first planter I used and compare to this one, Wow, what an improvement. Easy to set up and calibrate and very accurate.

This year I’m also bumping my planting rate up to 30,000 seeds per acre from 26,000 seeds in the past. I’m hoping to see an improvement in my weed management as well as a yield increase. I also purchased a new 4 row S-tine cultivator to use in clean-cultivated soybeans. I may use it in other crops, but I really wanted a tool with more control for the beans. I haven’t had a chance to assemble it yet, but I’ll let you know how it works later in the year. On the down side, if I have better tools, I’ll have fewer excuses if the crop doesn’t look good.

Over the last several months I’ve gotten many requests for more information on the cover crop roller John Brubaker and I built last year (Click here for the New Farm article about it.) I’m hoping to use it again this year for both corn and soybeans to enable us to plant the crops in an organic no-till system. Several folks are already building their own rollers to try the system on their own. (We’ll keep you updated on their progress.)

I’m trying to get a list together of everyone who is trying to manage cover crops in an organic no-till system. If you or someone you know is doing anything like this, let me know so we can add their work to the list. If you’d like more information on our roller, after you’ve read the article, let me know and I’ll supply what I can, including photos.

On the production side of the farm, we are looking at exciting marketing opportunities. Folks from all phases of the industry are looking at ways of expanding and there are new processors coming into the market place every day. From organic pie filling to requests for organic wheat grass for juicing, there is a steady stream of possible customers for the products we produce.

The grain market continues to be strong and several of my customers have already contacted me to buy crops I haven’t even planted yet. We haven’t set the price yet but we’ve always sold our grain for about twice the market value of conventional grain. If you have any exciting marketing news you’d like to share, drop me a note. Marketing information is always inspirational to new growers moving into organic.

Well, I need to get back to the fields. The potatoes are in and I need to get back to corn planting. I hope you all have a great spring … and a great start to your growing season.

From One Farm to Another.