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Elmer Yoder Explores Organic Corn

by Courtney Schafer

Published: Friday, December 1, 2017

As a crop farmer who takes pride in caring for his soil and producing top-yielding crops, Elmer Yoder of Middlebury saw an opportunity that resulted in growing 26 acres of organic corn.

Knowing that organic crops takes time and precise care, Elmer decided to use a small field to see if he could be successful at raising organic corn.

"The field was a hayfield for several years and the guy that farmed it was older and was looking to get out of farming," said Elmer. "So, we took the field over and converted it to be able to grow organic corn."

Elmer said that the field had everything going for it. With it being a hay field, he knew he wouldn't have to do much to the soil.

"We did put AgriEnergy starter, four ton of chicken manure and lime on the field. Other than that, we didn't have to do much else. It was a nice sod field with great soil."

For anyone who has grown organic crops, they know that taking care of the soil is key and that the weather is a huge factor in the success of the crop. According to Elmer, soil types, fertilizer and weather all play into how well someone's organic crops yield.

"With organics, we don't have much control over weeds, etc.," he said. "We have to really just hope for the best and pay attention to certain times during the growing stages."

One of the most critical things that a grower has to watch out for are weeds and their growth in a field. If weeds aren't kept to a minimum, there is the potential for significant crop loss and yield decrease.

Elmer said that in order to keep weeds minimized, as soon as the corn plants are a few inches out of the ground, you have to be checking your field for weeds and take care of them with a cultivator.

"There isn't much you can do as far as sprays for weeds when it comes to raising organic crops. So, it's critical that the growers pay attention and when weeds begin appearing, they are proactive at removing them."

Elmer's 26 acres of organic corn yielded 211 bushels to the acre, and he received $10 per bushel from his co-op.

"I was really impressed with how well the corn did," he said. "Right now, organic corn is anywhere from $10-$11 per bushel."

He shared that he doesn't really have any "golden nugget" advice for those who are looking into raising organic crops, but knows that it takes time and isn't something you can start next harvest season.

"It takes three years to get the ground certified because there can't be any chemicals sprayed on the field for that amount of time," Yoder said. "You also have to rotate between corn and alfalfa hay. A field can raise organic corn for two to three years before it needs to be replenished with nitrogen, and that's when you need to convert the field to organic alfalfa hay for at least a year."

Elmer said it is costly to get into organic crops; it takes someone who really cares for their soil and is willing to be patient.

There is a growing need, however, for organic crops in the United States. Elmer said that a lot of organic corn is imported into the U.S. and that requires a lot of monitoring.

"We don't really know for sure if the corn coming in is truly organic, but we believe it is. It would be a nightmare to have to trace all of the shipments of corn back to their origin in order to make sure it's actually organic. That's why there is a need for more growers in the U.S."

He also said that consumers are driving the need and want for organic commodities, especially when it comes to eggs.

In addition to the organic corn, Elmer also raises 200 acres of seed corn, 135 acres of non-GMO corn and around 140 acres of soybeans. He also has a small trucking business.

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