By Sandy K. Johnson
For Joel Layman, the “ah-ha” moment came when he walked into a Chipotle for a burrito. At 37, he was the oldest person in the room. He later stopped by a McDonald’s and he was the youngest person there.
“I thought, well, I just saw the future. That was the impetus for me to look at organic,” Layman said.
He did the research on sustainability and market trends, and decided to make the change to organic five years ago. Layman manages 2,100 acres: 1,200 are certified organic, 500 are in transition, and 500 are being rented out. On his land near Berrien Center, Michigan, Layman grows organic vegetables, dry edible beans and grains.
The hardest part was the required three-year transition from convention to organic – or as he put it, three years “to reach the promised land” of higher prices for his crops.
Kade McBroom works on his family’s 3,000-acre farm in Qulin, Missouri, where most of the acreage is conventional crops.
His interest in organic was piqued by the higher prices that organic crops attract. “I see it from the economic standpoint as a good move, and also to diversity the operation,” McBroom said.
2018 was the first year he was certified to grow organic, and he grew 80 acres of soybeans. McBroom hopes to eventually have 145 acres planted with rice, corn, beans, wheat, sunflowers and popcorn.
His organic and conventional soybeans are each yielding about 50 bushels an acre. The payoff comes at the market. Organic soybeans are bringing $19-20 a bushel versus $8 a bushel for conventional soybeans.
McBroom also mentioned the social aspect of living in a rural community and being an outlier. “When I walk into the coffee shop, I start taking crap,” he said, his neighbors teasing him about weedy fields and turning into a hippie. “When you’re the only guy doing something different, it can be kind of tough.”
Bill Cook, owner of research firm AgMaxx in Garden City, Missouri, said the biggest problem in organic farming is weed control. “Weed control is the life and death of an organic producer,” he said. He said weeds can be killed out with rotary hoes, cultivation and propane weed burners.