It’s much more difficult to qualify as a certified organic farm than for growing non-biotech. Land must be free of virtually any herbicide, insecticide or fungicide use for three years.

You must have records to document production practices for the three-year period. No Roundup Ready or Bt seed can be grown for three years; only organic fertilizer can be used, usually manure.

Of Wedel’s production, about 700 acres are in corn, including 450 sold as organic silage; 300 are soybeans; 200 are cotton and about 2,000 are organic wheat. He’s fortunate to have local markets.

“Our organic corn goes to two or three local organic dairies and a regional grain company which has a local delivery point,” he says. “We sell the dairies organic silage and deliver corn for grain and organic soybeans to the grain handler.”

Getting crops produced for those markets is the trick. And it’s much more demanding than 21st-century biotech production. It takes a lot of hoeing, and then some, along with a rotary hoe and cultivator.

“Timing is everything,” says Wedel. “You have to devote full attention to the crop during the heart of the growing season. You can’t let any sign of a weed get away from you.”

He runs a regular hoe crew of 12-20 people to control any weed breakout (50 or more in early summer). “I usually spend about $50/acre on hoeing,” he says. “If I have to spend $200/acre for hoeing I’ll do it.”

   In a typical corn crop, he plants in wet soil as deep as the planter allows. Once the crop gets off and early rains come, he rotary hoes with double wheels to break the crust in the sandy loam soil. Then he cultivates, using several 15- to 20-year-old cultivators to knock down weed breakouts.

“Corn is usually the easiest organic crop for us,” says Wedel. “Soybeans can take more trips through the field. We’ll probably run the rotary hoe twice. We then run a special tool, a Tined Weeder, with prongs that drag across the soil and handle most weeds. We’ll also run a cultivator two times.”

Wedel says volatile grain and cotton markets can catch organic growers off guard just like with conventional crops. “Last year we contracted some corn and beans before the market rallied, so our premium wasn’t what we expected,” he says.

“I have niche markets, but I also farm in a manner that’s good for the environment and don’t have the health risks involved with handling a lot of chemicals. It’s safer for my family, safer for me and safer for my employees.”

Loux says weeds, especially those with resistance, can slam non-biotech crops. “Weeds tend to be a major problem in non-biotech soybeans due to populations of ALS-resistant weeds,” he says.

“We have a lot of good corn herbicides and growers don’t need to plant Roundup Ready or LibertyLink corn to get good weed control. Non-biotech soybean growers should plan to spend more on herbicides than they do in Roundup Ready soybeans.”