“You can only have so many bad years before you have to do something different to be profitable.” Three years ago, Brian Irlbeck—a farmer in Manning, Iowa—was not pleased with the profits from his conventional row crop acres. Searching for ways to boost his bottom line, Irlbeck started thinking about switching to organic farming methods. Like all farmers, he knew that diversification was key to managing risk and growing the long-term profit potential of his farm.
But transitioning to organic farming was no trivial decision. Would his farm really be more profitable? Would he quickly develop the expertise needed for a whole new system of farm management? And did his farm have the financial means to invest in the necessary changes? Ultimately, Irlbeck considered the consumer: “As farmers, we have to make sure we’re growing what our customers are looking for, and the crops we can get paid to produce.”
Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in consumer-driven demand for organic crops. And while the supply of many organic products has risen to meet that demand, row crops like corn and soybeans have lagged behind. The result is that the U.S. imports huge amounts of these organic staple crops.
So why don’t U.S. farmers transition from conventional to organic methods? For many of the nation’s large-scale farmers, the benefits of altering growing practices to meet this demand has been riddled with uncertainty. Brian Irlbeck’s concerns are common. But due to innovations in transitional service provision, financing, and tech-enabled analytics, the transition is becoming easier, and more farmers are realizing that organic can be more profitable than conventional.
This paper presents the economic opportunity of organic farming and a roadmap for row crop farmers to make the transition from conventional to organic farming.