Organically grown soybeans are a bang-up cash crop — thanks largely to a healthy Japanese market. They're more profitable than organic corn, oats, wheat or barley.
But there's profit from those other organic crops, too. Growers are marketing them through livestock, producing organic beef, pork, poultry and milk.
Ron and Maria Rosmann, for example, have been growing certified organic corn, soybeans, oats and barley on their Harlan, IA, farm since 1994. They also have 80 stock cows and are expanding. The Rosmanns feed out most of their calves organically.
“We have been certified organic on beef for three years, but it's only been since January 1999 that USDA has allowed meat to be labeled organic,” Ron Rosmann reports. The family's organic beef commands a 30-40% premium over conventional beef.
A 1999 University of Nebraska study, he adds, showed a hefty public desire for organic products.
“Most of our cattle are sold through the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (CROPP) at LaFarge, WI, and to several health food stores,” says Rosmann. “We also sell a few head locally.
“The challenges in organic beef production are to find a steady market outlet for larger numbers of cattle, and to locate individual buyers who will take a whole carcass,” he says.
Tom Frantzen, New Hampton, IA, is another example. After raising hogs conventionally for 26 years, he sold his first organic pork in June 1999.
Frantzen finishes 700 hogs annually and markets them through CROPP. The price is set once a year and thus doesn't fluctuate like in conventional production.
“Organic pork is a new market, but I expect it to eventually be comparable to organic milk,” says Frantzen. “Organic milk now has about one-half percent of the market and that is significant.”
The main limitation in organic pork production is finding organic protein, he says. He buys broken beans from a plant that processes organic soybeans, then has them custom processed by another firm.
“It's not feasible for us to roast our own soybeans because full-fat beans have a negative effect on carcass quality,” he explains.
Joel and Adela Rissman, Waterman, IL, grow organic corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, barley and alfalfa. They feed a portion of their crops to organically produced beef cattle, broilers, turkeys and layers.
“We raise 300-500 broilers and 100 turkeys a year,” says Joel Rissman. “We'd like to have 50 laying hens. We feed 20 cattle organically (and 250 conventionally).”
The Rissmans contract the poultry meat with restaurants and individuals. Broilers bring $1.75/lb dressed and the turkeys sell for $2/lb dressed. They sell organic beef for $1.50/lb in the carcass and at $3/lb for quarters and halves. Eggs are $2/dozen.
“There is a good demand for all organic meat and poultry products,” says Rissman. “We can nearly name our own price, but we don't gouge. That wouldn't be in the best long-term interest of organic agriculture.”