Before harvest, organic farmer Tom Frantzen in New Hampton, Iowa, will cultivate and till his organic soybean acres at least four times to prevent weeds because he can’t use chemicals to keep his rows clean.
His work spills onto the kitchen table and computer den, where he keeps three-ring binders of receipts, spreadsheets and an online journal of farm work – all required under U.S. Department of Agriculture organic rules.
The payoff for that effort is substantially bigger profits, said Frantzen and other Iowa organic soybean farmers.
Few farmers are switching over, however. With demand for organic soybeans rising fast, a shortage of beans in the United States and Canada has forced food companies and livestock producers to import organic soybeans from China and elsewhere.
“We desperately need more production of feed grains,” said Roger Lansink, who grows organic soybeans and other crops in Odebolt and serves on the Iowa Organic Advisory Council. “The organic livestock industry is exploding.”
Iowa is second to Minnesota in the number of organic soybean acres. Department of Agriculture data show that acreage in Iowa and nationwide is slightly down from 2002 to 2005, the most recent year available.
Lansink said farmers could see more profits if they switched to organic.
“The guys who are successful say their yields are similar to conventional yields,” he said. “You’re getting twice the price for the product and not spending as much on inputs.”
Iowa State University researchers back up those claims with studies published in 2003 and 2006 showing organic corn and soybean farmers clear more money per acre than conventional farmers. In certain scenarios, organic soybean farmers made five times as much profit per acre, the study found…