Organic crops succeeding in Ohio


WOOSTER, Ohio — While many farmers are struggling to make ends meet in this downward spiraling economy, one farming group is hanging on to its niche market.

Dave Shively of Bowling Green, Ohio, is an organic farmer who attended a recent field day offered by the Organic Food Farming Education and Research program at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Up until about five years ago, Shively believed conventional farming was the way to go on his 140-acre farm.

Shively produced crops on his farm for years and then contracted his fields to a hay producer, but decided that he wanted to try organic farming.

“It’s a challenge. There is no doubt,” Shively said.

Tillage and rotation. He added a profit is possible in organic farming because of premium prices (he says they are almost twice the same as conventional crops at times) and less money spent on petroleum products.

Shively said he uses more tillage on his fields of corn, wheat and soybeans but uses less gas, oil and other petroleum products than chemical fertilizer and herbicide.

“Your rotation plays a big part on making a profitable crop,” Shively said.

He admits organic farming can be difficult and requires more patience because you plant organic crops later than conventional farming practices in order to control pests and weeds.

Although Ohio conventional farmers outweigh the number of the state’s organic farmers, that doesn’t mean organic producers aren’t making an impact — not only on markets but on crop research as well.

Spelt production. Deb Stinner, coordinator for the Organic Food Farming Education and Research program at Ohio State University, contends the organic niche is still growing despite the economic downturn.

Stinner said one area that is seeing a consistent growth pattern is spelt production. It is considered to be leading the charge in the organic market.

According to the Organic Food Farming Education and Research program, about a third of all U.S. spelt is certified organic and Ohio is one of the leading producers. It is becoming popular for making bread, and because people who are sensitive to wheat can tolerate spelt.

The downside to growing spelt is that it does not always provide a consistent baking product.

From Old World to New. Berlin Natural Bakery in Holmes County, the largest spelt bread producer in the United States, is using spelt to create different varieties of breads. The bakery has won several awards for its products.

Rising import costs created a need for locally produced, high quality organic spelt, so Joy Schrock, owner of Berlin Natural Bakery, searched the globe to find variety of spelt that makes consistent products. Schrock wanted a natural plant with the capability of making the same product over and over again if the conditions were all the same.

Schrock has worked with a German scientist to bring seed varieties to Ohio. Oberkulmer, a variety grown by many organic farmers in Ohio, is succeeding and is being used for the breadmaker.

New next year. A new pure spelt variety expected to come to the United States next year is the German “Franckencorn”.

Scientists at the Organic Food Farming Education and Research field day are excited about the opportunities that “Franckencorn” could provide. The group will have to wait until next planting season before they can find out how the crop does in Ohio and the United States.

Weeds. As research on organic crops continues to develop so do issues.

One issue being dealt with at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center is a staggering crop of ragweed.

Some of it is estimated to be well over 5 feet tall, and in some fields, the ragweed has totally pushed out the crop and has become a solid field of ragweed.

No matter how much tillage was used on the field, the problem has only worsened, since tilling the field encourages the plant to regrow, according to Stinner. The seeds from the plant fall to the ground and the tillage allows them to enter the soil and begin growing, creating a cycle of growth.

Some ideas have been tossed around on how to end this problem including crop rotation and some organic products, but so far some parts of the farm have noticed no reprieve from the nuisance plant.

One idea being investigated is the use of sheep to graze ragweed before crops are planted, but the project hasn’t begun.

The one thing that is for sure is that just like conventional farming, organic farming requires patience and resilience to overcome obstacles in the path.

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