Organic farming’s challenges, success

EL PASO, Sick. — Steve Leesman’s transfer into natural crop manufacturing started a number of years in the past as a solution to shopper demand and he has continued this numerous farming operation in Logan County, Illinois.
Leesman, who farms close to Hartsburg, is in his seventh yr of organic farming and shared his story on the Beck’s Hybrids area day at its El Paso facility. Additionally taking part in this system was Dave Ross, Beck’s Nice Harvest Organics model supervisor.
Leesman has been rising business pumpkins for Nestle Libby’s in Morton for over a dozen years when the corporate requested if he’d be excited by elevating natural pumpkins to fulfill a rising shopper demand.
“I instructed them I’d test into it so I went to a few natural conferences to study. I contacted a certification firm to see what I needed to do to get licensed,” Leesman mentioned.
Leesman’s common rotation enabled him to easily meet the three-year requirement of transitioning the farmland to natural.
“We had cattle and our rotation was oats after which we often had an alfalfa/orchard grass blended in our seeder. So, I had oats, it was in hay my second yr, so I used to be two-thirds of the best way there so far as my three-year transition interval my first yr,” he defined.
As a part of the transition course of, the certification firm requested an bill of his final pesticide utility on the land transferring to natural. His final fungicide utility was on corn in July 2013. He planted oats in 2014, alfalfa in 2015 and adopted with pumpkins in 2016.
“I planted pumpkins in Could of 2016 when that farm was not licensed but, however by the point we harvested in October 2016 it was 38 months” because the final fungicide utility, he continued.
Pumpkins don’t require a lot nitrogen and when he plowed beneath the alfalfa to plant pumpkins in 2016 he decided the soil had 120 kilos of nitrogen credit score.
Below his natural manufacturing contract with Nestle Libby’s, the corporate offers the pumpkin seed and likewise harvests the crop.
Various Rotation
Seven years later, Leesman has an natural rotation of oats, corn, pumpkins after which again to corn. Natural popcorn and natural white corn are within the combine, as nicely. He additionally grows standard soybeans and corn in different fields.
“Subsequent yr we might throw inexperienced beans into the rotation. I’ve by no means finished natural soybeans. Weed management may be very troublesome in soybeans. With corn, when you get that cultivated and up and shaded, you’ve gotten the weeds beneath management,” he mentioned.
“Dave (Ross) was a giant assist once I began. I didn’t know something about it. He helped with seed choice. He helped with advertising. He’d e-mail me about any person who was on the lookout for natural soybeans, natural corn or no matter. There’s at all times any person on the lookout for natural crops and he helped me lots with all of that.”
Regulatory Necessities
“In case you don’t wish to preserve data, then in all probability don’t do natural,” Leesman beneficial.
He had 50 acres licensed the primary yr, 100 acres licensed the second yr, and by the third yr 200 acres had transitioned to licensed natural.
An annual certification inspection is performed and within the third and ultimate yr of transition, an inspector spent about six hours on Leesman’s farm.
“He wished paperwork. He wished seed tags. He wished invoices. He wished to take a look at my tools and bins. He wished documentation of something that I used to supply that natural crop. He wished to know once I cleaned out the planter, how I cleaned out the planter and the date I cleaned the planter out,” Leesman defined.
He first used types from an internet website to doc the required dates and data and by yr three he recorded them on a calendar.
“Once I converted from white corn to popcorn, I simply put the date on the calendar of once I did it. Now this yr I took pictures with my telephone of each time we cleaned the planter out, each time we did something with that natural area,” he mentioned.
“I often put 80 toes of buffer particularly on an natural crop and I’ll take pictures of that buffer and pictures once I mow it. Whenever you take an image in your telephone the date is on it and when the certifier comes out and I can present him the pictures. I hope that works. I haven’t had my inspection but this yr, nevertheless it positive saves plenty of paperwork. They only need a large quantity of documentation.”
Leesman makes use of pelleted rooster litter from a big natural poultry firm in Michigan as a part of his fertility program.
“I like to make use of it as a result of you will get a extremely good unfold on it. I don’t suppose you get nearly as good or as correct unfold sample with moist rooster litter. I even have a cousin who raises plenty of hogs and I often have 200 acres of oats. His pits are often full by July and he must go someplace with that and he’ll carry hog manure and inject it into my oats. They put about 4,000 gallons per acre on it. They ship out an evaluation and the rooster litter additionally has an evaluation so you’ll be able to take a look at your soil check and determine what number of tons per acre you might want to placed on,” he mentioned.
“The nitrogen from the manure that’s placed on in July isn’t out there till subsequent spring or the subsequent summer time which works out nice.”
His certification officer mentioned the manure doesn’t have to return from an natural hog operation, “however they must signal an affidavit that they didn’t use any insecticide. Some use insecticide in manure pits for fly management. That’s one other piece of paperwork that you need to fill out yearly.”
The pelleted rooster manure prices $120 a ton and he applies two tons per acre.
“It prices $240 per acre, however that’s for complete nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. I’m getting about 90 kilos of N per ton of rooster litter. So, two tons provides me 180 kilos of N from rooster litter and the native FS plant spreads if for me they usually cost $6.50 per acre to unfold it.
His corn yields have ranged from averaging 140 bushels to simply over 200 bushels per acre.
Weed Management
As with all different facets of natural manufacturing, there’s additionally a studying curve for weed management.
In 2018 Leesman planted corn in a 50-acre area and it rained that night time. The foxtails and weeds all germinated the identical day because the corn and inside three weeks the sector was inexperienced, the corn rows had been barely seen and the sector was nonetheless too moist to domesticate.
“I had a 50-acre area with 20 acres in a low spot. I lastly acquired the 30 acres pretty nicely cleaned up, nevertheless it by no means might get by way of the 20 acres. Then by the point the corn was as excessive as a desk, it was yellow and wasn’t going to make something. So, I went out with a chisel plow and tore it up. That’s going to occur with natural,” Leesman mentioned.
“I attended a convention that winter and the speaker mentioned don’t plant any natural crops till Could. Work your floor in April to get that first flush of weeds. Return out about Could 10 and hit it a second time to kill that second flush. Have a look at the climate and be sure you have 5 to seven days the place it’s not going to rain. The bottom is fairly heat by Could and you will get that crop up and you’ll row it in per week if the temperature is true.
“Get that crop up earlier than any weeds germinate and hit that with a rotary hoe. I’ll exit and hoe seven days after I plant. I don’t care if the corn is up or not as a result of there’s weeds on the market germinating beneath the crust. I’ll hoe it once more 10 days later and perhaps 10 days after that the corn is likely to be up about 6 inches after which cultivates about 10 days later. If you are able to do that, you’re going to have excellent weed management, but when it rains and you’ll’t it’s possible you’ll find yourself with issues.”
“The key to natural is you need to have storage. No one comes and will get these items out of the sector. They need you to retailer after which it’s purchaser’s name. However after they come to get it you need to have a invoice of lading, you need to have a clear truck affidavit that they’ve washed their truck out,” Leesman famous.
“They put cables on their hopper doorways, on their tarp and there’s a tag on the finish of the cable with a quantity on it. All of these tags must match the quantity in your invoice of lading or they won’t dump it. They’re very explicit about this.”
Advertising and marketing
“I’m fortunate the place I’m positioned. I’m 25 miles from Nestle Libby’s pumpkins; I elevate natural popcorn for Weaver Popcorn at Forest Metropolis which is just 40 miles from me. I elevate natural white corn for Clarkson Grain at Cerro Gordon they usually’re about 50 miles away,” Leesman mentioned.
“I simply had a name a couple of weeks in the past from Del Monte desirous to know if I’d elevate natural inexperienced beans for them they usually elevate plenty of them in Mason County which is the subsequent county over. So, in case you’re specialty crops you might want to see the place you’re positioned and the place your market is.
“I don’t suppose I’d elevate an natural crop and never have wherever to go together with it. Once I set one thing within the floor I often have a contract signed.
“If you wish to do natural, the very first thing you need to do is be fully dedicated to it. It takes an incredible quantity of effort and time to do it proper and in case you’re not dedicated to it, you’re not going to keep it up.”
Area Editor