Agriculture News:Organic corn could offer big pay day for producers

By Keenan Bishop, Published:

I’ve been enjoying the University of Kentucky First Friday series. As the name implies, it’s the first Friday of most months and features a nice light, locally sourced breakfast and a different topic of discussion.

Most revolve around agriculture or community sustainability but all are informative and not necessarily what you may usually hear about. The get-together is at the Good Barn on campus and usually has a good turnout of students, staff, faculty and the interested public.

At the last one, while enjoying an exquisite breakfast by Bob Perry (UK Special Projects Manager for the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Working Group), I sat at the table with Lee Meyer, UK Ag Economics, and my old college plant and soil science professor, Dr. Larry Grabau who is now Associate Dean for Instruction.

The topic quickly switched to organic corn production. I was well aware of growing sweet corn organically for the dinner table but not familiar with large-scale grain production managed that way.

With the price of corn around $7 per bushel, it may be surprising that there could be a more profitable alternative. But, with the price of certified organic corn in mid-December averaging $14.30 per bushel, producing certified organic corn deserves a good look.

PRICE PREMIUM

“Many farmers are not aware of the significant price premium for organically produced corn,” said Lee Meyer. “Prices typically are 1.5 to two times the price of conventionally produced corn. Farmers who do know about the premium often are not knowledgeable about organic corn markets, production systems and certification rules.”

To help provide grain farmers with the science-based information they need to decide if the organic corn enterprise is a good alternative for them, the UK Cooperative Extension Service, in cooperation with Kentucky Corn Growers Association and Organic Valley Cooperative, is conducting a daylong workshop Jan. 16 in Bowling Green. The workshop is at the Warren County Cooperative Extension office, 3132 Nashville Rd., and begins at 9 a.m., CST.

Meyer said the workshop is part of an effort to help Kentucky farmers assess opportunities for organic crop production. Researchers in neighboring states found that, after a transition, organic corn yields are very close to yields of conventionally produced corn and may even be better in drought years.

“They also found that the market is growing, being driven by the expansion of feed markets supplying organic dairy, egg and meat production,” Meyer added.

PRODUCTION CHALLENGES

Production challenges include the need for crop rotations, nutrient management, weed control and the certification process.

“Organic cropping systems typically use five- to seven-year rotations instead of the two- to three-year rotations more common in regular cropping,” Meyer said. “Weed control can be a concern, since organic rules do not allow the herbicides common in conventional systems. The rotations help reduce weed pressure and cultivation is the alternative to spraying.”

The workshop includes presentations from experienced farmers and educational sessions on organic certification, fertility management, weed management, marketing, economics and profitability. There is a $10 registration fee to cover the cost of materials and lunch.

Farmers can register by email to Will Martin at William.martin24@uky.edu or by contacting me at kbishop@uky.edu or 695-9035. If you want we can try and carpool together down there but I’ll need to know by Tuesday morning.

The workshop is only one part of an effort to help Kentucky farmers evaluate this potential enterprise. Kentucky extension specialists received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program to provide educational support for farmers.

Grant funds are supporting research, on-farm demonstrations in Kentucky and the workshop. Because there is so little certified organic corn currently being grown in Kentucky, Meyer believes these demonstration farms will serve an important role. “They will help extension specialists develop a set of best practices and will provide an opportunity for Kentucky farmers to learn about this new opportunity from their neighbors,” he said.

GRAPES

If annual row crops aren’t your thing but maybe long-term perennials are, then you may want to visit KSU’s Third Thursday Thing on the 17th. This is the annual grape session and starts at 10 at the KSU Farm off Mill’s Lane.

Morning sessions cover varieties and value-added grape products. The afternoon finishes off with more value-added products and wraps up around 2. For details contact Dr. Marion Simon at marion.simon@kysu.edu or call 597-6437.

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