Has the time arrived to go organic?
By Tom Collins
PETROLIA A grower can now earn up to three times more money selling organic corn over conventional corn. But transitioning to organic is a big obstacle for some farmers, says an Ontario organic buyer.
Depending on test weight and when it will be shipped, Field Farms Marketing near Petrolia will pay $12 to $14.50 per bushel for organic corn in 2015. On Jan. 29, an area elevator was buying conventional corn for $4.47 per bushel.
When conventional crop prices are high, farmers have no interest in switching, says Homestead Organics owner Tom Manley in Eastern Ontario. But now that prices have dropped, interest is up, he says.
“If (conventional crops are) profitable and theres no particular pressure, of course theyre going to keep doing what they know how to do,” he says. “If the farms not broken, why fix it?”
Manley is taking one call a week from conventional growers with serious interest in growing organic grain. He figures 25 per cent of callers will actually make the move.
In 2010, there were 716 organic growers in Ontario. Last year, there were 907.
The transition period is the big issue, says Manley. Farmers have to go through a three-year process before their crops are considered organic, which means a farmer must practice organic methods for two years while selling crop as conventional.
Manley estimates a farmer with 100 acres of organic corn can increase his profits by $700 to $1,360 per acre over conventional. While organic soybean and cereal seeds have a 50 per cent premium over conventional seeds, organic corn seeds are cheaper. As well, farmers will save money on pesticides.
Switching to organic may reduce yields by 10 to 20 per cent overall, but it will pay off in the long-term, says Manley. Even if prices come down, theres money to be made. “Organic corn at $300 (per tonne) is very profitable.”
Manley recommends a farmer with a large acreage switch to organic one section at a time so he can learn the organic ropes while still having predictable revenues from conventional crops.