Transitioning Acres to Organic: Q&A with an Iowa Grower

While he was intrigued by the profit potential of organic crops, Kyle Schomers didn’t necessarily think it was a right fit for his family’s farm. That was until he received some sound advice from the folks at AgriSecure.

Kyle’s family farm had an issue with a field that was not producing like it should, so they decided to grow alfalfa to help break the cycle that was restricting the yield. “We initially weren’t planning to grow organics, but our crop consultant referred us to AgriSecure and we had the opportunity to learn a little more about growing organics through them,” said Schomers. “Our rep at AgriSecure explained that we really only had one more year for the transition period, since we were already growing alfalfa, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try out organics.”

We asked Kyle a few questions about this experience with transitioning acres from conventional to organic:

Tell us about your farm.
I farm approximately 2,500 acres with my dad, uncle, brother and brother-in-law in Harlan, Iowa.

Did you have any hesitations about growing organic crops?
We were a bit concerned about weed and pest control with organics, because we have a lot of rolling hills. If we do too much tillage, we have to worry about erosion. But, we found a pest-resistant corn hybrid and it’s been performing well. We’ve had a few cut worms, but beyond that we’ve been pleasantly surprised. The lack of weed pressure could be a result of the alfalfa, but we’re happy with the results so far.

Were you concerned about the extra time that growing organics may involve?
The additional labor was less than I anticipated. We had a cold, wet spring, then it was really hot, so we didn’t do as much tillage as we would generally need to. We realize every year is going to be different.

What are some of the challenges you experienced as you began growing organic crops?
For us, our biggest obstacle was finding a terminal. With the distance of the terminal, we needed to find a separate place to store our organic corn. However, we found a new terminal 40 miles from the farm and that’s made things a lot easier.

What are the biggest benefits of growing organic crops?
Of course, the profits are nice. When we compare the organic acres to our conventional acres this year, we’re estimating we spent about the same on input costs and about $10 more per acre on labor with organics — but the organic acres are worth a lot more!

We also feel that this is setting us up to be better farmers. As farmers, we’ve relied on Roundup and other herbicides that were an easy fix. I think we’re learning that just because it seems easy, doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for the long haul. I think learning some new methods of farming is going to be better for the future of our farm.

What are your future plans for organic crops?
We have another 100 acres of alfalfa in transition this year, and we will do another 100 to 200 acres next year.

What would you tell a farmer who was hesitant about transitioning some acres to organic?
My thought was that we could keep trying the same thing and expecting the same results — which is the definition of insanity — or we could try something new. We finally said, “why not try it?” We want to make sure we remain profitable for years to come and felt we could achieve this by diversifying with organic crops.

What resources would you tell a fellow farmer to utilize if they were interested in growing organic crops?
AgriSecure has been a great resource for us. We also belong to Farmers Business Network, which recently joined with AgriSecure, giving us a huge network of resources. We also belong to Practical Farmers of Iowa. It’s difficult to start farming a different way, but we’re glad we reached out to advisors — it has made the transition to organic a lot more manageable.