MADISON — A field day and series of talks in a restored rural schoolhouse near Oconomowoc offered expert advice and encouragement for organic farmers and those who are thinking about going organic.
Two factors are paramount in organic grain, said Tom Gitto, who grows organic corn and hay on more than 250 acres near Watertown. “By far, weed control and soil fertility are the biggest issues. There’s not just a magic thing you can throw out to solve fertility; you can’t just look at a soil test and order the commercial fertilizer you need.”
Keynote presenter Gary Zimmer, a large grower of organic seed corn near Spring Green, emphasized ways to improve fertility. “He knows what works, and is proving what works,” said Gitto.
Zimmer’s fast-paced, highly confident presentation was based on a lifetime of organic farming, and it rated “10 of 10 for me,” said Kevin Wells, field manager at Lotfotl Farms in Delavan. “I came here for information on soil fertility, we experience quite a bit of lack of nutrients on our vegetable plot. We do cover crops and rotate, but any knowledge I could gain beyond that is a plus.”
“I have taken avid notes on things that pertain 100 percent to me,” Wells said.
The event was sponsored by Organic Grain Resource and Information Network (OGRAIN)—a program of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in partnership with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
Erin Silva, a UW–Madison assistant professor of plant pathology and UW–Extension specialist in organic agriculture, leads the OGRAIN program. “Wisconsin, still, has the second-highest number of organic farms in the country,” Silva said, after California. The strength of the 1,500-odd organic operations is its diversity, she added. “We span a wide swath in organic ag: grain, dairy, beef and vegetables,” and the industry is growing in Wisconsin.
As conventional farmers struggle with low prices, “organic grain prices remain strong, with organic corn averaging $9 per bushel, and organic soybean $18.50 per bushel,” says Silva. “Diversifying into organic production presents an enormous opportunity for Wisconsin’s grain farmers. And it is not an ‘all-or-none’ proposition – farmers are finding success transitioning a portion of their acres to organic while maintaining their conventional acres as well.”
In a wet spring that has kept farmers out of the fields, the turnout on a rainy Wednesday was encouraging, Silva said. “It was up in the air with the way the grow season was going, and farmers are taking every opportunity possible to get into the fields. Considering that there were only two certified organic farms in Waukesha County, we were happy to see 40 or 50 farmers interested in organic production practices.”
OGRAIN will hold four more field days this summer.
This story was originally published on the UW–Madison News site.
— David Tenenbaum, UW–Madison University Communications
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