USDA - Organic farming more profitable and beats no-till (10/7/2007)

1.Organic Farming Beats No-Till?
2.Growers Can Make More Money by Going Organic

NOTE: ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.


1.Organic Farming Beats No-Till?
By Don Comis
U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), July 10, 2007

Organic farming can build up soil organic matter better than conventional no-till farming can, according to a long-term study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.

Researchers made this discovery during a nine-year study at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), Beltsville, Md. BARC is operated by ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Plant physiologist John Teasdale, with the ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, was surprised to find that organic farming was a better soil builder than no-till. No-till has always been thought to be the best soil builder because it eliminates plowing and minimizes even light tillage to avoid damaging organic matter and exposing the soil to erosion.

Organic farming, despite its emphasis on building organic matter, was thought to actually endanger soil because it relies on tillage and cultivation - instead of herbicides - to kill weeds.

But Teasdale's study showed that organic farming's addition of organic matter in manure and cover crops more than offset losses from tillage.

From 1994 to 2002, Teasdale compared light-tillage organic corn, soybean and wheat with the same crops grown with no-till plus pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

In a follow-up three-year study, Teasdale grew corn with no-till practices on all plots to see which ones had the most-productive soils. He found that the organic plots had more carbon and nitrogen and yielded 18 percent more corn than the other plots did.

Read more about the research in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine


2.Growers Can Make More Money by Going Organic
By Don Comis
U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), July 25 2006

It looks like Minnesota grain farmers could make more money by switching to organic grain crops. That's the conclusion of a four-year study being announced today at the American Agricultural Economics Association's annual meeting in Long Beach, Calif.

David W. Archer, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) economist, and Hillarius Kludze, an ARS soil scientist, will present a paper on this study, conducted at the Swan Lake Research Farm near Morris, Minn. The study was unusual in that it analyzed both economic risks and transition effects of switching to organic farming.

The 130-acre Swan Lake farm is representative of typical corn-soybean farms in Minnesota. The ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris leases this farm for field research from the local Barnes-Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association.

Archer and Kludze compared an organic corn-soybean rotation and an organic corn-soybean-spring wheat/alfalfa rotation—half grown with conventional tillage and half with strip tillage—with a corn-soybean rotation using conventional tillage. Strip tillage involves tilling only the middle of the seedbed. The scientists found that when strip tillage is used with organic farming, one of the transition risks is an increase in weeds until farmers learn to manage the system.

Computer simulations projected costs, yields and risks over a 20-year period, using yield and economic data from the four-year study, as well as crop price records of recent years.

Records showed that organic crops fetched much more than conventional crops: soybeans, up to $14 more per bushel; corn, up to $3 more; and wheat, up to $5 more. Organic alfalfa hay is too new to have a track record, so researchers recorded it as selling for the same price as conventionally grown hay.

Another computer model projected that farmers would net an average $50 to $60 more per acre a year by going organic, even with the highest transition costs. The premium price advantage would outweigh the initial higher costs and possibly lower yields, even if organic prices were to drop by half.

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