Early in 2018, we mailed a survey to all organic corn growers in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Of the 1,495 farms who grew corn in 2017 we received 859 usable responses (57.4% response rate, margin of error is +/- 2%). Key findings are summarized here.
Overview of Organic Corn Production
- Researchers and educators should note that organic corn in this region is typically grown on dairy, livestock, and other diversified operations. More than half of the organic corn grown is used as on-farm feed.
- Organic corn growers rely mainly on manure amendments and conventional tillage to address crop fertility needs and manage weeds.
- Organic farmers understand the importance of soil health and are incorporating practices such as cover crops, diverse crop rotations, and use of manure/compost, much more so than conventional corn farmers. (McBride, et al. 2015)
- Overall, organic corn production in these states was profitable in 2017. There was a great deal of variation in yields, but very few farms lost money on their corn enterprise.
- Livestock operations and farms using horse-drawn equipment generally reported higher returns to labor and management on their corn fields.
- Farmers with more years of experience raising crops organically also had higher net returns on average, suggesting that economic performance for transitioning farms can be expected to improve over time.
- Use of soil amendments tended to increase with years of experience. This could partially explain higher yields, but also reflects growing knowledge.
- More study is needed to reliably link use of specific amendments (or other factors) to yield increases.
Possible Future Efforts
- Organic farmers place a huge value on building and maintaining soil health. Future research and educational efforts should bear this in mind.
- Very few organic growers use conservation tillage, especially those using horse-drawn equipment. Growers indicated they chose their tillage strategies based on weed control needs. Research, information, demonstrations, and access to equipment related to alternative organic weed control tactics might help farmers to reduce their reliance on tillage for weed control.
- Alternative weed control tactics could include techniques farmers are already using like cover crops and crop rotations. This study showed these are primarily thought of as ways to build soil health, so they would be well received by farmers.
- Communication efforts targeting organic producers should include a variety of distribution methods because of the large number of Plain Community farmers.
Full Report: "A Profile of Organic Corn Production in the Midwest and Northeast"