UW researcher: Organic practices can improve soil | TSLN.com

UW researcher: Organic practices can improve soil

Organic practices can improve soil quality for conventional and reduced-till producers even if they do not plan to become USDA-certified organic, the director of the Organic Farmer's Conference in Torrington said.

Organic practices, the marketplace and more will be addressed at the conference Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Goshen County Fairgrounds. Opening remarks are at 9 a.m., and sessions are 9:30-4 p.m. Registration opens at 8 a.m.

Lunch is included with the $15 fee, and registration also can be completed at Eventbrite.com by searching "The Organic Farmer's Conference" or by contacting UW graduate research assistant Renée King at rking10@uwyo.edu or 307-763-0142.

Conference sessions include organic small grain varieties, the organic marketplace, farm economics, the story of Vilicus Farms (north of Havre, Mont.) and organic weed control. A schedule is at http://bit.ly/organictorrington.

"There are actually quite a few organic dryland farmers," said Jay Norton, UW Extension soils specialist and conference director. According to 2011 data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 22 percent of wheat acres were certified organic, and organic wheat sales accounted for nearly 30 percent of all wheat sales in Wyoming.

According to the same data, the average price farmers received for conventional wheat in 2011 was $5.73/bushel and $9.79 for organic – a premium of 52 percent after factoring in reduced yield, said Norton.

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Organic wheat yielded 31.4 bushels/acre on average compared to 34.7 for conventional.

"Soils of the High Plains in Wyoming and Nebraska could generally be improved to support higher sustainable productivity," said Norton, an associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

"Organic practices really focus on improving soil quality because they have to; there is no other choice for providing plant nutrients," he said, "but the practices are very important for conventional farmers interested in improving soils."

Not only that, he said, but organic pest control practices can seriously cut costs on weed, insect and disease control, and they can be incorporated into conventional strategies.

UW research indicates that four years of adding composted manure improved soil quality over adjacent reduced-till and conventional plots, and that growing irrigated organic crops cost less because less was spent on fertilizer and herbicide inputs.

"They spent more on diesel fuel, but not enough to offset reduced spending on other inputs," said John Ritten, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

For dryland systems, organic costs were always lower than conventional, and yields were close enough that organic turned out to be more profitable even if no price premium was received, said Norton.

"But wheat farmers in this region know that, which is why many are de facto organic; they don't use prohibited substances (herbicides and fertilizers) because they don't make sense economically," he said. F

–University of Wyo