By Celeste Baumgartner
HAMILTON, Ohio – Chris Proeschel and his son, Alex, have an 800-acre grain operation, corn, wheat and soybeans. They are transitioning some of their fields from conventional farming to organic for a couple of reasons. Their biggest challenges are weeds, marketing and paperwork. But there are advantages.
“One reason we are transitioning is that, by today’s standards, at 800 acres we’re pretty small,” Chris Proeschel said. “We’re looking at ways to increase our profits per acre and I was intrigued by the philosophy of organic. It seemed like, from an organic grain standpoint, the market was growing where everything else is kind of flat.”
Also, some people in the area have started bidding wars, escalating the price of rental ground. The Proeschels decided to try to make more money per acre.
It takes 36 months to transition to organic during which time growers can use only organic-approved inputs and practices, but the crops, or other farm goods produced can’t be sold as “organic” and receive the price premium.
They picked up one 35-acre field that was already certified organic; it was too far for the previous renters to drive their equipment. The Proeschels had it in hay for three years, then planted wheat last fall.
“The wheat went directly to a mill,” Proeschel said. “Unfortunately, it was almost a three-hour drive away but the premium that they paid made it worth the drive. Our production was not as high as conventional wheat by 15 to 20 bushels, but we’re getting $5 more a bushel for it. It made some sense when you do the pencil work.”
Proeschel will soon plant cereal rye in that field. When they terminate the cover crop next spring, they’ll plant soybeans. He has two other 35-acre fields that are transitioning to organic so next year they will have about 100 organic acres.
Out in the field, the biggest challenge with organic farming is weeds. The Proeschels will be using cover crops.
“I like the idea of not using the chemicals but at the same time it can be a struggle trying to keep the weeds under control,” he said.
They can market the soybeans they’ll be planting at Bluegrass Farms in Jeffersonville, which is about an hour and a half drive. Organic certifiers prefer if growers rotate their crops but that has been a problem for the Proeschels because there was no place to sell organic corn. However, next year Consolidated Grain in Connersville will begin handling it.
“It is still a bit of a drive. I always try to work with people who I can haul it to right out of the field because of my storage situation,” he said. “I still need my storage for my conventional crops because that is what I have the most of. That’s a struggle, making sure you get it dried down so you can haul it.”
Completing the paperwork for organic certification is also a struggle. Fortunately, Proeschel’s wife, Mandy, is competent at that.
“I am blessed that I have a wife that doesn’t mind doing paperwork,” Proeschel said. “If I had to do the paperwork, I probably wouldn’t be doing organic. You have to have all your ducks in a row, you have to have the paperwork done on cleaning out equipment, and planting it.”