13, 2007: Ah, the Holiday season. A time to enjoy family
and friends. A time when most folks share in the bounty of our farms.
A time when those special recipes come out, when baking takes center
stage, and when the food we work all year to produce fills our kitchens
and our stomachs (as we try not to gain too many pounds).
It’s also a time of year when we should all reflect on the
blessings of the past year and give thanks.
This is also the time to make lists.
The type of lists I’m thinking of this year aren’t
the standard winter or Christmas list. You know, the naughty and
nice list, the holiday shopping list, the repair list for the shop,
the task list for the farm, etc.
No, the lists I’m thinking about this year are the list of
prices and costs that have risen, and the list of effects skyrocketing
grain prices are having on all of us.
We’re all aware of the escalating cost of energy today. We
see it in our bill for diesel fuel, gasoline at the pump and home-heating
fuel. We’re also painfully aware of the cost these energy
prices are having on just about everything we buy for our farms.
Chemical fertilizer, if you happen to buy that (as an organic farm,
we don’t) is intrinsically linked to the cost of natural gas.
Anything that needs trucking, from parts to supplies. And, of course,
A bushel of conventional corn is hovering around the $4 mark, conventional
soybeans are still around $11 a bushel, and look at where conventional
wheat prices are. Let’s look at organic prices: corn between
$10 and $11 a bushel, and soybeans between $17 and $20 a bushel.
This all sounds too good to be true, if you are selling grain. But
these commodities need to be converted into food and feed crops,
and I’m not sure if these prices are sustainable.
Certainly the ethanol market (energy) is driving much of these
market prices. But where will it end? I’ve heard some folks
say they expect to see $15 organic corn and $30 organic soybeans.
How will dairy and poultry producers be able to afford to feed their
livestock? And, is this really good for agriculture? I’m not
The other list I’m thinking about is the list of reasons
to transition your operation to certified organic. The reason I’m
thinking about this is because when conventional grain prices are
high it’s the perfect time to consider transitioning grain
farms. Why? Because, while you are beginning to farm in an organic
system you’ll still be selling your crops into the conventional
market, where the prices being paid for the commodities is at all-time
highs. You’ll also be changing your crop rotation, diversifying
it to include some small grains or other minor crops. So, while
those various crops are bringing as much as they ever have in history,
the risk to your income is reduced. This is also true for dairy
farms. Milk prices paid to farmers are high, making the transition
of cropland to organic production look very favorable.
Years ago, OK, many years ago—back when I got involved in
organic farming in the mid-’70s—most organic farmers
were moving toward organic for philosophical reasons. Then in the
’90s—and continuing through today—the growth in
our industry has really come to be based on the fact that consumers
are demanding more products; the supply is generally short, and
dollars have become the driving force.
As we look to the future, the list of reasons farmers will transition
will be even more varied. Let’s get back to one of our earlier
lists and look at energy. It takes less overall energy to produce
crops using organic systems than by conventional methods. This is
mostly due to the production of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
What the data shows is that we can save more than 35 percent of
the energy needed to produce corn simply by converting to organic
We can also sequester larger amounts of carbon using the same organic
approach. What does all this mean to you and me? It means that as
our society begins to value energy conservation and the removal
of greenhouse gases from our atmosphere as much as it does the production
of food, we’ll be able to be rewarded for farming practices
that improve our environment.
So my list of reasons for transitioning to organic now includes
more than just doing the right thing and making more money, it also
includes energy conservation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
What a list …Oh yes, and we also produce highly nutritious
Take some time to write up your own list and send
it to me. We can share ideas across the fields.
From One Farm to Another,