Organic farming coming into its own


COLUMBUS – Given the right conditions, organic farming can produce, on average, as much corn per acre in Ohio as conventional farming can, according to an Ohio State University study.
Impressive numbers. Hybrids grown in last year’s Ohio State Organic Corn Performance Test produced 13 percent more corn per acre than the statewide average – most of that conventional corn – and topped the record-high state average yield by four bushels per acre.
One hybrid tested did even better, beating last year’s state average corn yield by nearly 50 percent.
The results show “how well organic corn can perform under good management and weather conditions,” said Deb Stinner, head of Ohio State’s Organic Food and Farming Education and Research program.
Changing opinion. Until now, organic corn yields in Ohio “were thought to be considerably lower than conventional yields,” Stinner said, though exceptions have always existed.
Organic farming uses no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, instead employing manure, compost and cover crops to “feed” the soil and the crops that grow in it.
Cultural practices such as cultivation and crop rotation limit weeds and pests.
Ingredients. “A constellation of factors” – including good weather, “good but not excessive” soil fertility and especially good weed control – led to the test’s high yields, Stinner said.
The corn saw few problems from pests and diseases, added co-researcher Peter Thomison of Ohio State’s Horticulture & Crop Science Department.
The test took place on certified organic farmland in Wood and Wayne counties, both sites in northern Ohio and both managed by the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
Alan Sundermeier of Ohio State University Extension’s Wood County office and Rich Minyo and Allen Geyer, both of the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, teamed with Stinner and Thomison on the study.
Factors. The test compared 23 organic corn hybrids.
It measured yield and other key traits, such as stalk lodging, grain moisture content at harvest and the percentage of seeds emerging after planting.
It did so at two different seeding rates, 23,000 seeds per acre and 28,000 seeds per acre.
Test sites. The plots grew at Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s West Badger Farm near Apple Creek and at the John E. Hirzel Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Site near Bowling Green.
The plots were run by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and OSU Extension in partnership with the Agricultural Incubator Foundation.
The West Badger Farm averaged 171.4 bushels per acre, the Hirzel Site 153.6 bushels per acre, for a combined average yield of 162 bushels per acre.
Tops in the test. Doebler’s N659, 212.2 bushels per acre, was reached at West Badger at the lower seeding rate.
To compare, the Ohio Department of Agriculture estimated last year’s statewide average corn yield at 143 bushels per acre.
Countywide yields in Wood and Wayne counties averaged 171.8 bushels per acre and 146.1 bushels per acre, respectively.
Favorable conditions. The weather in 2005 helped organic corn several ways.
It enabled preparing a good, clean seed bed; allowed timely planting and timely weed control; and rained enough and at the right time to keep the corn developing well.
Especially important was the low weed pressure at the West Badger Farm, the result of five years of diligent management.
A long-term war of attrition started in 1999 when certain fields at the farm began the transition to organic production.
Also, reduced weed numbers and seed production drew down the weed seed bank in the soil.
The work paid off in higher yields. Other differences between the two sites:


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!