ONE FARM TO ANOTHER
He's making his list and checking....the price of grain?
Jeff takes a look at the state of the market and explains why now is a great time to go organic.

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

Click here

OR
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530
610-683-1420

December 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, feed.

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 so sure.

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 systems.

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 food!

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,

Jeff