Profile of Organic Corn Growers in a Four-State Region

For decades, consumer demand for organic food has grown annually by double-digits. (1) While still a comparatively small portion of overall agricultural production, organic corn acreage in the U.S. increased by more than 55% between 2011 and 2016, driven mainly by demand from organic dairy farms. (2) Despite the large increase in production, organic grain was imported to the U.S. in 2016, indicating the potential for future growth (3, 4). Currently, Ohio ranks in the top 5 states for number of certified organic corn growers, and in the top ten for acres harvested (5). However, relatively little is known about the management practices of these farms.

As part of an interdisciplinary study on soil balancing, Ohio State researchers surveyed certified organic corn growers in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana in the spring of 2018. These four states collectively represent one-third of all U.S. organic corn growers and produce about 20% of the nation’s organic corn.

Corn Growers

Responses showed that a little more than half of the growers of organic corn in this region were dairy farmers (Figure 1). More than half of the organic corn grown in 2017 was used as on-farm livestock feed. Most respondents harvested corn as grain (70%) and/or silage (36%). Other uses were rare. A surprisingly large number (nearly 2/3) of the growers use horse-powered equipment, indicating they were likely members of Old Order Amish or similar Plain communities.

 

Figure 1. Primary Source of Farm Income for Certified Organic Corn Growers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana., and Michigan

 

The survey gathered information on the use of soil amendments, crop rotations, cover crops, various tillage and cultivation strategies, yields, selling costs, and management priorities. Manure and compost were by far the most common soil amendments, used by 89% of all organic corn growers. Other soil amendments were used by fewer than half the growers. Tillage practices were chosen for weed management, but most other management decisions focused on soil health.

Reported yields varied widely, ranging from 25 to 250 bushels per acre for grain and 5-34 tons per acre for silage. Selling prices averaged $9.44 per bushel for grain and $69.99 per ton for silage. Estimates based on survey responses and standard economic methods suggested that very few farmers lost money on the fields reported on for this study.

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Figure 2: Distribution of Yields for Certified Organic Corn Production in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana

Farmers with more years of experience raising crops organically tended to have higher net returns on average, suggesting that economic performance can be expected to improve over time for farms transitioning to organic production. About 40% of respondents had less than five years of experience farming organically.

Researchers received a 57% response rate (859 responses), yielding a margin of error of 2%. For full survey results, read our technical reports at go.osu.edu/orgcorn.

 

Sources

1. Greene, Catherine. 2017. Organic Market Overview. USDA Economic Research Service. Available online: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/

2. McBride, William D, Catherine Greene, Linda Foreman, and Mir Ali. 2015. The profit potential of certified organic field crop production. ERR-188. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Available online: https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=45383

3. Greene, Catherine, and Dennis Vilorio. 2018 (June 04). “Lower Conventional Corn Prices and Strong Demand for Organic Livestock Feed Spurred Increased U.S. Organic Corn Production in 2016.” Amber Waves (June 04). United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Available online: https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2018/june/lower-conventional-corn-prices-and-strong-demand-for-organic-livestock-feed-spurred-increased-us-organic-corn-production-in-2016/

4. Oberholtzer, Lydia, Carolyn Dimitri, and Edward C Jaenicke. 2013. "International trade of organic food: Evidence of US imports." Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 28(3):255-262. Available online: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/international-trade-of-organic-food-evidence-of-us-imports/ABFBE6900A0B5A8E6FBCF235A5DBFFD2

5. USDA-NASS. 2017. Certified Organic Corn Survey 2016 Summary. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Available online: https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/zg64tk92g/70795b52w/4m90dz33q/OrganicProduction-09-20-2017_correction.pdf

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About the C.O.R.N. Newsletter

C.O.R.N. Newsletter is a summary of crop observations, related information, and appropriate recommendations for Ohio crop producers and industry. C.O.R.N. Newsletter is produced by the Ohio State University Extension Agronomy Team, state specialists at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). C.O.R.N. Newsletter questions are directed to Extension and OARDC state specialists and associates at Ohio State.