From pesticides to organic farming, how one farm made the switch

From pesticides to organic farming, how one farm made the switch

SUGAR CREEK TWP. - For nearly 90 years Woodlyn Acres Farm used non-organic fertilizers and pesticides on its crops.

That all changed three years ago when third-generation farmer Scott Myers and his father made the switch to organic farming, which uses no genetically engineered seeds or feed, or synthetic fertilizers, according to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

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The lack of inorganic chemicals means healthier soil ecology, which includes bugs, microbes and essential elements like nitrogen. Coupled with limited or no-till policies, these practices prevent erosion and allow the soil to improve, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The experiment with organic agriculture led to more successes and better crops, Myers said.

No-till and organic practices resulted in five more soybean bushels than the previous year when Myers' tilled the land, but he also admitted that he had his fair share of failures.

"Farmers, we're in the gambling business, especially with the weather," Myers said at a tour of his farm on Monday with representatives from various agriculture groups, media outlets and politicians. 

Myers' soybean field lies a short walk from the farm workshop that sits just beyond Dalton's city limits. 

At first glance, the soybean field is nothing special, but a quick walk through the leafy acreage shows a busy twisting of soybean plants and cereal rye. 

At a second glance, there are few to no weeds plaguing the crop.

"The rye is like a natural weed preventer," he said. 

Myers planted cereal rye in early October last year, two weeks later than normal due to changing temperatures, he said. Once grown, it covers the ground and can keep the field weed-free.

To be certified organic, a farm can't use inorganic fertilizers or pesticides, so Myers searches for alternative practices to protect against pests like weeds and bugs.

So far, Myers said the cereal rye keeps weeds at bay. 

Instead of fertilizer, he uses natural options like fish, chicken manure and an assortment of microbial feed to enrich the soil and increase its nitrogen levels. 

For Myers and other organic farmers, it is all about cultivating a healthy soil environment that allows worms, microbes and plants to thrive. 

"The goal is to make enough nitrogen for the next year," Myers said. "Not all of the nitrogen is used up at once and it builds up and lasts for years."

To keep every acre of soil healthy, Myers said he needs to talk to his farming and non-farming neighbors. 

If the farm uses any inorganic pesticides or fertilizers on its property or lawn, it could seep onto his farm, so Myers said he enters into agreements that state the farm won't use unapproved chemicals, or he creates a 30-foot buffer zone between property lines. 

Moving from inorganic to organic agriculture is never easy.

The transition includes rethinking normal farming practices to purchasing new equipment and sometimes being more at nature's whim, Myers said. 

Each summer, every piece of equipment is prepped, tested and on-call just in case it's needed. 

"Some years we use a machine countless times, while others we don't even move it," Myers said. 

Before making the switch, Myers said he boasted some 3,300 acres of farmland, but after going organic that dropped to nearly 2,500 acres.

"Some of our property owners didn't want to go organic because they were too worried about weed control," he said. 

After losing that property, he first transitioned nearly 10% of his remaining land into organic agriculture as a test so the remaining 90% of his farm would act as a financial safety net.

With each year, he applied more organic practices to more of his farm until he became fully organic. 

Now, Myers said he sees higher yields that are often of a better quality, which means more revenue.

"If I had to guess, we've seen about a 50% increase in gross revenue since going organic," Myers said. 

For the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, organic farming is not only good for the soil but also good for people and the planet.

"This not only helps farmers with the quantity and quality of their yields, but it also helps fight climate challenges that we are seeing everywhere with extreme weather and temperatures," said Amalie Lipstreu, policy director at OEFFA.

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