Nov 13, 2020
Why organic growers respect the soil: Editor’s letter
Ask a good grower about their ground, and you’ll get a detailed response, and occasionally, a lengthy conversation.
After three years of interviewing growers around the country, one of my most reliable questions has been asking growers about their soils. Here are some of the answers I’ve received:
- The red Cecil clay loam at a South Carolina farm.
- The sandy loam of a citrus-orchard-turned-strawberry-patch in Central Florida.
- The sand and clay soils of Southern California’s “Cadillac desert.”
- The rich muck fields scattered throughout the Midwest and Northeast.
- The permeable, slightly acidic loam of apple orchards in Washington state.
Whatever their soil, growers know its dynamics, and they’re curious to dig deeper, test for nematodes, permeability and percentage of organic matter. And then they’ll work that soil with tools or products to grow the crops that are their livelihood.
Some growers go even further – they demonstrate a nearly religious commitment to what they believe is in the best long-term interest of the land and soil. That’s one of my favorite things about organic growers – their sense of responsibility to grow things the very best way they know. If it’s 2.5 acres or 2,500 acres, they’re the consummate professionals and put a lot of thought and work into managing those acres with soil-conserving techniques such as cover crops, crop rotation, no-till agriculture and the addition of composts.
This isn’t just about belief – it’s a valid business strategy, too. Frank Padilla, vice president and general merchandise manager for meat and produce for retail giant Costco, said in an Organic Produce Network virtual event this summer that he originally concentrated on core organic items, but has expanded the organic stock-keeping units (SKUs) available to its members to such items as organic ginger root. Consumers are willing to pay premiums for crops certified to have been organically grown, and those dollars trickle down to the value of the organically-certified acreage.
A survey of organic farmers and landowners by research firm Mercaris this summer found organic land for row crops on average receives a 25% rent premium over conventional cropland. Among respondents who rent both conventional and organic land, Mercaris found that they pay a price premium of $68 per acre annually for certified organic land, according to a news release.
Telling organic growers that soil is important is preaching to the choir, so the sections in this issue are meant to help you dig deeper into the soils that you already know and love. We interviewed growers, researchers and industry professionals to gather their detailed and occasionally lengthy advice. I hope you find it of use.
Long may your land be fruitful.