Fehr: Organic is a risk, but rewards are worth it

Though time will tell, he thinks 250 bpa corn is possible

MALLARD — “The visual part of organic looks likes it’s a failure, but we are proud of what we do,” said Darren Fehr. He and his wife, Nora, operate ScatterSeed farm near Mallard, 1,000 organic acres in a three-crop rotation.

“You’ll either look like a fool or look like a genius,” Fehr said adding that either way, “you take a risk.

“I won’t tell people they should be doing organic farming. But it can work. We know it works.”

He described farming organic since 1998 as a journey. “We got on the right side of it and the wave has propelled us,” he said.

Financially, he said, the advantage is with the organic farmer. Seed costs are less, fertilizer costs are about the same, but the organic farmer has more fuel costs with as many as five extra trips or more across the field during a growing season.

In Fehr’s case, two are for rotary hoeing and three for cultivating.

Aside from the economics, though, Fehr said his fields’ soil biology has improved under an organic system, “and we aren’t battling erosion as much, but then most of our fields are flat square around here.”

His farm grows peas for Seneca Foods, which cans under the Green Giant label; food-grade oats for Grain Millers, in St. Ansgar; food-grade yellow corn for a processor in Indiana; white corn for Grain Millers, in St. Peter, Minnesota; black beans, for Chipotle restaurants; navy beans for canning and dark red kidney beans.

Fehr said organic growers have just as good germplasm as traited hybrids.

The traits in GMOs, he said, “don’t give you more yield. They protect yield. We can protect yield too, through cultivation, health soils, timely fertilization and crop rotations.

“It takes more effort, but I think 250 bushels per acre (organic corn) is possible.”

He said his own fields have not reached that level as yet, however he logged in whole-field averages of 200-plus bushels in 2015 in a 120-acre field and in 2016 in a 74-acre field.