Talking organics

LAMBERTON – A growing concern many people are now considering is the amount of chemicals that are used in the agricultural field. There are insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers that may be containing things that are harmful to our bodies.

Out of this concern, the organic farms of Minnesota have been growing rapidly.

The Southwest Research and Outreach Center, through the University of Minnesota, had an Organic Field Day on Tuesday with a plot tour and multiple speakers. Everything was concentrated on the benefits of organic farming and the science behind it.

Michelle Menken was one of the exhibitors at Tuesday’s event. She is a part of the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association.

“I am here today with an organic certification association. It is a long and tedious process that a farmer takes on to be certified as organic. There is a transition period that takes three years where no chemicals, GMOs, or treated seeds can be used. Production has to be absolutely chemical free,” Menken said.

“The organic market has a totally different structure that makes the plants worth a lot more – the general rule of thumb is that organic is worth about double a conventional plant. However, the yield will be less. Every organic farm is different. There are many rotations and methods that are used,” Menken said.

As organic food supplies are becoming more popular, there are more up-and-coming farms growing them. Minnesota alone has more than 700 organic farms. Some are merely gardens, but all have dedicated their land to farming naturally.

The University of Minnesota has land near Lamberton that is used for research purposes on organic crops.

“In 1989, we started a long-term study to show the difference between organic and conventional plants. The study is continuing on today, but the results have greatly helped with our research. We are still maintaining those plots,” said Carmen Fernholz, one of the many working on their project.

“There is a four-year organic rotation that we use that consists of corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa,” Fernholz added.

Craig Sheaffer also had a part in the plot tour. He described how his study was set up at a different area of the farm.

“We have the third crop of the three-year rotation in, which is wheat,” Sheaffer said. “There are variable rates of nitrogen among the plots. We are using these plants to see what works best for growing. Our nitrogen supply comes from composted turkey manure. Everything we do is organic.”

Tom Michaels has yet another experiment on the land near Lamberton.

“Four years ago, I started on edible bean research. We are not only testing yield but also nutritional value. I help with evaluations,” Michaels said.

There are many people who work hard on the research the University of Minnesota is doing. Farmers who attended the field day were soaking up the information they were provided with.

“I have been an organic farmer for over 40 years. I like to grow stuff without chemicals. We already have 15 gallons of strawberries, and our tomatoes are finally taking off,” said Doug Merritt, a three-time attendee of the field day.

“I love that I get to be a part of the organic movement. Everything has to be chemical-free – the machines used, seeds and farmers have to work to build soil,” said Hannah Swegarden, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.