Gene Logsdon and Friends

Amazing Prices For Organic Crops

In Gene's Weekly Posts on February 19, 2014 at 7:32 am

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 From GENE LOGSDON

I just ran into more evidence that farmers who took a deep breath and became certified organic growers a few years ago made a smart move. I attended a meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Grain Growers Chapter, a group seeking to improve and strengthen certified organic agriculture. I think the meeting was held here (in Upper Sandusky) because it is sort of centrally located, not because there is as yet a lot of local interest in commercial organic farming. Only a few years ago, the general view in my neighborhood was that an organic farmer might have a tinge of commie pink in his or her veins not appropriate for red-blooded Americans.

The farmers at this meeting were sophisticated and articulate and extremely aware of how influential supply and demand can be in farming. One of the main topics of conversation was the high price of certified organic hay and grain. Some prices I heard included oats at $6.88 a bushel, barley $8.60, corn around $12 a bushel, wheat even higher, and spelt at 30 cents a pound.  Good quality organic hay was just not to be had. “The phone doesn’t ring anymore,” one buyer said. Prices quoted for good organic alfalfa hay at the farm gate were around $300 a ton which is high but non-organic high quality hay is expensive right now too. Organic alfalfa is almost bound to go higher because of the alarming news circulating about how GMO alfalfa is causing problems in cows. Farmers at the meeting went out of their way to tell me that all livestock producers, not just organic ones, are concerned. They say maybe GMO grain for ethanol might continue, but they are convinced that GMO feeds for livestock are not going to last. One certified organic farmer told me (not at the meeting) that organic farmers are switching to red clover for hay because it is not as yet contaminated by the gene fiddlers.

Even the price of non-organic commercial oats has been soaring partly because so many farmers especially in Canada decided to switch their oat acres to corn last year. But mostly the situation is a result of few farmers and farm forecasters anticipating the demand for organic feed that would occur as organic and natural farming took hold. Some who did see what was coming decided to invest in large confinement operations and buy their organic feed rather than grow it. This was probably a mistake because weed problems make it very difficult if not impossible (my opinion) to grow organic grains on a large scale. Successful organic dairies, for example, are usually small and grow their own grains and hay. The big boys who jumped into the market hoping to make a killing assumed that they would be able to buy large quantities of organic feed. Now the cupboard is bare. I find it hard to sympathize with them. To me part of the definition of “organic” should include the word ‘small-scale’.

Spelt is high priced because, I was told, it is hard to grow and even many organic farmers have quit trying. But the demand is still there. One problem is that spelt has a somewhat undeveloped market and farmers have found it hard to find reliable buyers.  Again, I see a lesson here. When you raise organic grains for your own operation, you are in control. When you raise them to sell beyond your own local market, things can get complicated. I know of a spelt crop grown in Ohio that ended up going to Europe and the grower had a hard time getting paid.

There is sort of an amusing side to the sudden resurgence of spelt in recent years. One of the reasons for its popularity, as more than one organic farmer has told me, is that there isn’t enough quantity involved to make the GMO folks interested in it. Organic farmers can buy spelt reasonably assured that it is not contaminated by foreign gene modification.

Another indication of changing times at the meeting was the speaker, John Kempf. He is a young Amish farmer who is founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture. He has only a grade school formal education, as I understand it, but he was so brilliant on the subject of making natural farming work that I was totally overwhelmed. I don’t know enough about the details of soil science to judge whether his claims are always going to apply, but he surely had some impressive results to share. And his bottom line rang out clear as crystal. The era of industrial food farming with pesticides, heavy soil-compacting equipment, high-powered, commercial fertilizers and GMOs etc. is coming to an end and there is a huge future for those with the guts to change to more naturally and ecologically produced food.

But the story doesn’t end there. Another intriguing market is developing in growing food for America’s spoiled pets. At one of our local stores, little packages of timothy hay— ten ounces worth— are selling at $4.49. That’s about $350 for a standard small bale, or about $10,000 a ton. I wonder how much it would cost if the timothy were organic?
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  1. We are also seeing more movement towards organic fruit crop production. Michael Phillips has an excellent book and DVD available on growing apples organically (from Chelsea Green Press). A big worry for fruit producers are fungicides. Some fruits are difficult to grow without them (for me it is peaches, cherries and grapes), but the impact of fungicides on honey bees is frightening.

  2. We grew 87 day open pollinated corn last year. It has characteristics that were desirable, including short height to resist lodging or being blown over and short season to help us get it in the ground in time to mature before first frost at nearly 3000 feet altitude here on the little Appalachian plateau where we live. It came from a group in NY state that grow OP corn of several varieties. Our’s is non certified in any way, but is, including some being organic certified (USDA) and and some (ours) just being described as grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.
    I was very pleased with the results of growing this corn on fall plowed sod land that has had manure applied annually for nearly 30 years. This variety traces it’s ancestry to the Wapsie Valley in NC and is mostly yellow with an occasional red ear. We simple snapped it with a one row picker and stored on farm in the ear.
    An interesting addition to this post is that I just came from the barn where we are hand shelling seed for this year. We selected ears from individual plants that displayed desirable characteristics of low ear height and some multiple ears. The hand shelling allows us to just use flat kernels from the center of the ear for planting and keeps the rounder seed out of the planter. I’m not trying to sell seed, I’m not a dealer or certified in any way. I make my statements about the crop that are true and that’s it. The reason for commenting is that we are getting $3.00 a pound for this seed, with limited supply. Most is going to regional neighbors and folks that have the same interests. We want to share this with folks and make a little money for the effort.
    A very important aspect is the intensity of this corn. It is much more nutritious than hybrid although much lower production. The point is if you are small scale why handle any more material than necessary to supply your feed needs. Of course the ability to keep and plant your own seed allows for some adaptation of the plant to your farm.
    We have separated the red ears and will plant a small patch of just those seed to see if we can bred a shorter season, shorter height red variety. Another benefit of our location is that there is no commercial farming going on near here and therefore no chance of contamination by gmo corn. ~ Jason Rutledge, Ridgewind Farm, Copper Hill, Va. 540-798-1828

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  3. An interesting post and echoes my husband’s and I’s conversation around the kitchen table just lately :)

  4. I should share this with my friend. He lives in Lancaster County PA and sells organic hybrid seed and organic fertilizer. He would like this post.

  5. Gene,
    It’s about time folks such as your young Amish farmer mentioned in the blog get some credit for sticking to their core values. I do keep hearing that if all current agricultural production was turned to organic or natural farming methods that many people would starve as a result. Not mentioned is the fact that people are already starving in some places, and many more are undernourished, even in America.

    Generally farmers don’t like to sell at a loss so if the people who are starving can’t pay the cost for food, then they will just starve unless generosity from the haves overcomes the financial deficit of the have-nots. I doubt that situation would change much whether production is organic or not.

    The current tendency is: to produce mass commodities then sell them to huge buying entities as mass commodities instead of value added products wherein the human faces from producer to marketer to consumer are becoming more a vague concept than actual face to face meetings of real people. Instead of the butcher, the baker, and the candle stick maker we have: the beef industry, the grain industry and the energy industry. The faces of actual people in these industries ed up being blurry to the vision and indeed interchangeable instead of individuals clearly recognized by other individuals. Is this what Thomas Jefferson had in mind?

    However, your mention of the small-scale practices being essentially different from conventional production is exactly right because the economics change with scale of production. I think this is true whether speaking of North America or global economics.

    The all too human tendency of people in developing countries (and America too for that matter) who tire of the farms and fields and end up running to the cities in hope of a better life, then finding food shortages or food too expensive to buy and even worse living conditions in the cities compared to the country compounds the problem.

    Viewed from a distance it seems these poor folks who agribusiness views as mostly potential consumers instead of humans with feelings could possibly have stayed home in village-centered farms and pastures where droughts, plant disease and lack of forage are very real, but at least can be often dealt with through improved management should offer some hope. But even small-scale agriculture takes work , and the call of the city seems too alluring to resist compared to the daily hard work necessary for home grown food production.

    Could it be that small scale farm life is not portrayed as glamorous? You’ve indicated the contrary view many times, Of course you being the Contrary Farmer that’s to be expected. Sound small-scale production practices, although laborious, can in fact be joyful, at least far more so than having a boss in the City tell one what to do all the time. Could it be then that the actual causes of starvation are in some degree related to human nature? Could it also be that small-scale producers are attempting to change the agribusiness production paradigm, whether or not intentionally, and return agricultural production to something that is adequate to meet needs and in fact joyful for all parties concerned?

    So for the small-scale folks looking at Spelt, I think it’s worth trying. I’ve obtained some spelt seed and hope to successfully plant some this Spring. When I use the Spelt flour in my bread making machine at home, I’ve found it doesn’t seem to result in the gastric war games associated with store bought or even home made wheat bread, at least for me. So far I’ve been blessed with Spelt loaves almost too beautiful to eat. This home-made Spelt bread ( with due deference to real home made bread bakers-I make it in a bread machine but I still make it at home). Freshly sliced Spelt bread , lightly toasted and smeared with good butter and homemade jam is (pardon the pun) a little slice of heaven on earth. There’s that joy concept again.

    • James, I think you hit the nail on the head in every paragraph. And, though I’ve not eaten any spelt bread, I’m sure it is heavenly if smeared with plenty of good butter. Gene

      • James & Gene, reminds me of the parable of the tortoise & the hare.
        looks like John has a website: http://advancingecoag.com/
        looks like he also knows his stuff regarding soil science.
        thanks a bunch for filing the report Gene.
        all of this is very inspiring for us turtles.

  6. Ironically organic growers owe the price they get for their food to the Industrial food industry because of the consumer backlash against things like GMOs.No reason really for organic food to cost more to grow and I probably pay less for inputs than any chemical farmer does because I have livestock to ‘make’ my fertlizer and mulch for me.My goats are hard at work on it right now as I type over on a round bale of hay stomping and manuring much of it into the ground into a product that is unsurpassed for mulching in the garden especially tomatoes.Many organic growers without livestock pay $30 to $40 a hundred lbs for the same material I get as a ‘waste’ product.Of course on an intergrated farm there is almost no truly ‘waste’ products produced.Lime is another thing that organic growers overpay for as I see the local organic supplier gets $7 for a 50lb bag for Ag Lime thats $280/ton I can drive over to the quarry and get as good or better lime in my pickup for $18/ton. Reasonable
    organic prices will come when more producers realize that animal and plant production go hand in hand and complemint each other

  7. I am thankful there is concern among livestock producers concerning GMO grain. Maybe that will be the tipping point. I am also glad the OG farmers are getting more for their crops. I do have a concern that companies who process the OG grains into food will continue to gouge the public as has been in the past. The cost of the raw material is not the problem. Also, marketing crops based on fear not wholesomeness concerns me.

  8. I agree with Ken. The fear that the anti-GMO people use to try to drive people to Organic will only boomerang in the long run, when most, if not all, of the scary stories turn out to be unsupported by science. Eat Organic because it tastes good or supports an industry you want to see thrive, not because big farmers or Monsanto are the source of all evil and death in the world. You cannot build a long-term customer base on fear alone (although some of our political commentators seem to have done pretty well at it).

    • Of course what the Organic folks are saying about GMOs may well turn out to be true and there have been studies done in Europe to support them. As the saying goes time will tell.We were all told by the Gov’t ‘experts’ for years that DDT was harmless and all our
      swamps(wetlands) should be drained because they had no useful purpose.So I pretty much disregard their opinion on matters.Personally I can see GMOs doing way more harm than good and increasing the chance or mass starvation rather than helping the situation.

  9. I have read about the usual governmental complexity of myriad bureaucratic regulations to get certified as “Organic” – and how some folks out here in the PNW are bypassing that process in favor of more locally-run “Naturally Farmed” certification. Is this an emerging trend?

  10. Barry, I think it is a trend among small, local growers. “Organic” doesn’t mean what it used to and when you’re buying direct from the local growers, they can explain how they grow their food. A lot of time, it’s with much more care and thought for the environment and your good health than the costly “organic” label might require.

    For instance, my raw honey is not certified organic, but I can tell my customers at the Farmers Market that I use no chemicals in my hives and do not fee the bees sugar or high fructose corn syrup because I’ve robbed all their honey from them. My customers know they are getting the best, purest honey they can get.

    It’s different for bigger growers with more spread-out markets, because as yet there isn’t another way to explain their process to and educate buyers. “Organic” labeling as opposed to “conventional” in a grocery store is all you have to go on.

    • Yes, Barry, I think it is a trend. And I certainly see things the way Betty describes. Jan Dawson (who comments on this blog) and Andy Rinehart (Jandy’s) is the most genuine organic farm I know and it is not certified. Gene

  11. Good segway into what I was thinking about Betty. Organic doesn’t mean what it started out as and people are not quite clear on that yet. I grow as many of my own vegetables as I can and try to get the rest from the local farmers market. I don’t go out of my way for an organic label, instead I get to know the farmer and learn about their production methods. I don’t care if he has gone through a certification process by the government, I care what he does on a day to day basis. If he uses natural practices and I know it’s local then that’s who I’m buying from. People also forget that what they’re buying in the grocery stores is several days/weeks old and is losing nutrient content by the minute.
    I’m wondering as I read through this, why more people don’t think of Permaculture practices as part of their ‘small scale’ farming. Small-scale because I believe that large-scale just isn’t going to do it for us, plus it takes away the local element where fresher foods retain their nutrient value. Permaculture is essentially getting us closer to the farming methods of days gone by, like most of the things that Gene writes about. People are conditioned to think ‘organic’ versus ‘conventional’ that is true but permaculture is beyond organic because it’s about growing/raising your own inputs for fertilizer and not relying on trucking in fertilizers, and seeds from wherever that are GMO- sterile things that keep you enslaved to Monsanto. Imagine saving your own seeds as nature intended? Permaculture is about a lot of things, and no there isn’t a single answer to the problems we have, but I believe that as more people learn about it, there will be a shift toward community-based farming, with fresh, local, non-fiddled-with, real food. By the way, I looked around on John’s website as mentioned above (http://advancingecoag.com/) it looks a lot like Permaculture to me even if he doesn’t use the word. We know the Amish have had it figured out all along because they stayed with natural practices. I guess the large-scale farmers have to play the game and call themselves ‘certified organic’ but it’s still more of the same old thing – just my opinion though.

  12. Hey Gene, I was just wondering what your definition of small is? You said that you think that part of organic should be small scale and you also said that organic dairy farms are usually small, so I’m just curious about what you call small.

  13. Peter: I ask myself that all the time. I know small operations that are a disaster ecologically. I know some larger ones that are first rate ecologically. What is small? What is large? There are “farms” in various countries now that are a hundred thousand acres big or more, on paper. They won’t last but I suppose they will keep coming back. When an operation is run for profit, and is profitable, inevitably in grows larger until it becomes too ungainly to be profitable. Then it can use its bigness to continue to exist unprofitably for awhile, and that is bad to me. Do you know of any group of organized humans that keeps on growing larger and larger that does not collapse or divide eventually? “Big” suggests monopoly or undue influence over government to me. “Small” suggests not having that ability. But of course we all work as hard as we can to outdo the other guy and get bigger. I shouldn’t use either adjective.as a measure of environmental holiness. But I do feel safer in a society of much small stuff and very little big stuff. I have seen when organic companies get big enough, they start trying to change certification rules that make it difficult if not impossible to grow larger and more profitable yet. That is too big for me. Gene

  14. I have neighbors that sell milk to Organic Valley who are milking 110 cows. I don’t think that’s big (they could be milking over 1000) but it definitely bursts the bubble of people who think of dairy farms as 20 cows max.

  15. We had a 40 cow organic dairy for a number of years, the pay was good but the record keeping, audits and struggles to keep cattle healthy were deal brakers for me. After losing a couple cows to problems that a shot of antibiotic would have cured I really started to wonder, i mean if I or my child have the opportunity to use antibiotics to cure ourselves then why not our cows? And why does an antibiotic treatment contaminate a cow for life under organic rules but there is no evidence that antibiotics “taint” us for life? Don’t get me wrong, organic farming in general makes sense but when you get government and certifying agencies with their thick rule books ruling over you, you are no longer independent, your new masters are those agencies. Live free, farm free I say!

  16. (With sheepish look) Yeah I recently bought one of those bags of hay for our guinea pigs. Oi! I would have bought a bale but it’s kinda snowy up here (northern Michigan) and hard to get to the barn, and the family doesn’t want it stored in the mud room!

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