2019 MOSES Organic Field Day


Johnson Organic Farm Tour

Thursday, August 1


Here are 5 lessons learned from the Johnson Organic Farm Field Day:

  1. Profitability

Charlie Johnson and his family farm nearly 3,000 acres of organic grain and forage crops in South Dakota. Charlie’s dad first certified the farm in 1976 and they have been growing organically ever since. Their organic practices have built their soil over time and the organic premiums have allowed them to invest in their farm business. The Johnson Farm is a great example for large-acreage row crop farmers looking to transition to organic or improve their organic farming and business practices.

  1. Crop Rotation

Charlie gave a brief talk before the field tour about his crop rotation. He said when planning a rotation, take into consideration whether the crop is cold- or warm-season, grass or legume, row or cover crop, and annual or perennial. You should try to have your crops rotate in at least some of those categories each year.

Charlie’s rotation is soy, corn, soy, oats with alfalfa, and then two years of alfalfa. They use winter rye as a cover crop between corn and soy years. The rotation provides the diversity needed to have a resilient system and helps control weeds. Charlie noted that you should not allow the ups and downs of crop prices influence the crops you grow, but that you should stick to your rotation.

  1. Weed Management

One of the participants at the field day made a point of asking several people one question: if you had a magic wand that solved one farming problem for you, what would it be? The answer was overwhelmingly weeds.

Charlie’s fields are very clean, and that was probably a big draw for the visiting farmers. Crop rotation is the first step in Charlie’s weed management. They also usually do two passes with a field cultivator and two passes with a rotatory hoe. If necessary, they hire people to come hand pull weeds as well. The Johnsons have invested wisely over the years in the tools to help them be successful. One example of this is that they have four rotatory hoes. Timing is such a big part of weed management, and this allows them to have up to four tractors running when the time is right or to keep going when one breaks.

  1. Organic Seed

Margaret Smith from Albert Lea Seed shared a presentation on the history of organic seed. Buying organic seed is required for certified organic producers unless it is unavailable in the variety, quantity, and quality that they need and they document that they searched for organic seed from three sources. It is important to buy organic seed to support the organic industry as a whole, as it provides more opportunities for seed markets for organic growers and enhances the organic integrity of seed.

  1. On-Farm Research

A team from South Dakota State University is doing a multiple-year study on oat varieties and their resistance to crown rust on a plot in one of Charlie’s fields. The on-farm trial is funded by the General Mills Foundation. Conventional farmers rely on fungicides that are prohibited in organic production, but organic growers need to rely more on choosing the right variety. Dr. Melanie Caffe shared that the team’s preliminary observations show that Deon, Sumo, Saddle, and Warrior are four varieties that have good resistance to crown rust in South Dakota. Yield information will follow once the teams harvests the plots and analyzes the data.



Back to MOSES Organic Field Days

Comments are closed.