High Yields on Organic Corn. Yes, it’s possible.

As organic crop and dairy farmers, one of the most common questions we are asked about organic farming is this: “How do you grow corn? I’ve heard/read that organic corn is really difficult to grow organically – it gets over run with weeds and because chemical fertilizer isn’t an option, it only yields half of what could be grown conventionally.”

Here’s our answer to that…

As we’ve shared in the past (here and here), organic farming revolves around practices that increase soil health. Whether it be cover cropping, using manure or compost for fertilizing, or rotational cropping, organic farming requirements all have one over-arching goal: growing and maintaining healthy soil. Let’s take two of our corn fields as an example.

Field number 1, here at the home farm, has been farmed organically for 5 years now. It started out as pasture, had cow and chicken manure applied multiple times per year, and last summer was rotated into corn. We planted a triticale cover crop last fall, harvested it in the spring, spread chicken manure, plowed under the residue and seeded it in corn for one last season before it will be rotated back to grass. We also have irrigation here at the farm and irrigated the corn three times this summer. This field yielded 29-30 tons/acre of corn silage, the highest we’ve ever recorded on our farm. (Incidentally, the custom harvesting crew was very favourably impressed, stating that this corn was better than the majority of what they had harvested in our area so far this year. )

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Field number 2 is part of a new long term lease that we acquired in the spring of 2016. It too is in its second year of corn and previously was a hazelnut orchard. No manure had been applied for more than two decades. Soil testing showed nearly no organic matter present. Last year, we applied chicken and dairy manure before seeding the corn. A hot dry summer with no irrigation presented a pretty dismal picture last fall: only 13 tons per acre of corn silage. A very very poor return on investment of time and money (land rent & seed).

 

But we weren’t giving up.

We know that organic farming isn’t about quick fixes, it’s about long term gains.

A conventional farmer would probably have added fertilizer with the corn seed and perhaps side-dressed with a specifically tailored chemical fertilizer later in the growing season. It would likely have resulted in a better crop yield. But it would have fed just the plant and not addressed the underlying problem of poor soil health. Our approach has been to utilize a winter cover crop, applying more manure this spring, and plowing under the cover crop residue before seeding. Just that one year of adding organic inputs has worked wonders! With more organic matter decomposing and breaking down in the soil, the corn crop had more “food” throughout the growing season. The added organic matter also helped the soil to retain moisture even though rain was pretty much non-existent again this summer. The result? With very similar & equally unfavourable weather conditions, a 65% increase in yield! This section will now be rotated into a grass/alfalfa mix for the next six years before our rotation brings corn back to this piece. Can you imagine how much better still that crop will be after years of building up that organic matter? It’s such an exciting prospect.


I guess the point is this: organic farming done well can definitely hold its own in “competition” with conventional farming when comparing yields. We may have different methods of achieving those yields, and organic farming often precludes the use of “quick fixes”, but based on this and other examples, it should be apparent that generalizations that organic farming = decreased crop yields are neither warranted nor accurate. Additionally, I believe that so many of the organic principles have amazing benefits for the land that we’ll leave behind to future generations. I’m certain of this: while organic farming may not be for everyone, it certainly is a good fit for our family and farm!
Any questions? Feel free to ask.

Dairy Good Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I love cooking. There’s something so satisfying about combining ingredients together to create tasty and nutritional meals and snacks. I strive to cook with local and Canadian products as much as I can, thereby paying forward the support of our own Canadian dairy consumers. Yesterday, as I prepared this soup that combines several different recipes into my own version, I finally wrote down the ingredients and method that I use, and as I did so, I realized that this soup is a perfect soup for a dairy farming family: it includes plenty of dairy ingredients! And so, I decided to share the recipe. I hope you enjoy!

It’s easy to find Canadian ingredients for the following recipe – both the dairy and chicken are sourced from Canadian farms, the wine can be sourced from Canadian vineyards, and the vegetables and even the wild rice are grown in Canada. This soup is one of our favourites, often requested by the Farmer and our farm kids alike. As November draws to a close and the days are cold and dark and dreary, it’s understandable to crave comfort food. This creamy chicken and wild rice soup is certain to fill you with comforting warmth on these darkest days of the year. Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list, because, best of all, this soup can be cooked in a crock pot! I like to throw it all together after morning milking, and when we get in from evening milking it’s just about ready to eat with only a few additions necessary before it’s table-ready. There’s nothing better than coming in from the barn to the meaty aroma of chicken soup.

You’ll need a large crockpot because this recipe makes about 4 L of soup! Not that it matters – the leftovers taste even better the next day 😉 If you prefer and you have the time, it’s also simple to cook on the stove. It’s totally up to you!

Crock pot method:

In the morning, begin by cooking the wild rice: 3 cups of water and 1 cup of rice simmered together for about 45 minutes or until most of the grains of rice burst. Drain and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the roux:

1 ½ c no salt added chicken broth (homemade broth is best, I think!)

½ tsp curry powder

¼ tsp sage

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp thyme leaves

¼ tsp herbes de provence

1/8 tsp ground marjoram

½ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp garlic powder

sprinkle paprika

1 cup milk

½ cup flour.

Bring first 10 ingredients to a simmer on the stove top. Mix together flour and milk and add gradually to simmering broth, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until bubbles break the surface. Stir for one minute or until mixture is smooth and thickened. Allow the roux to cool and thicken further while adding the following ingredients to the crockpot. (You can eliminate the roux by using 2 cans of condensed low sodium cream of chicken soup. I prefer the taste of the above ingredients, but using the prepared soup does save time.)

Add to the crockpot:

3 boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 boneless skinless chicken breast

6 cups of chicken broth

½ cup dry white wine

2 medium chopped onions

2-3 peeled and chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery root

1 cup chopped celery stalks

1 cup sliced or chopped mushrooms

Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6 hours, stirring only very occasionally.

Before serving, transfer soup to a large pot. Remove the chicken and chop coarsely.

Return chopped chicken to the soup and add:

2 cups half-and-half cream

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Heat on the stovetop until just bubbling.

Serve with warm crusty buttered bread.

 

Stovetop method:

Begin by cooking chicken, either by roasting or simmering. I use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces simmered for 3 hours and use the resulting broth in this recipe.

Prepare the roux. Cool until use. Cook the wild rice.

Add the wine and vegetables to the broth and simmer until vegetables are tender, about half an hour.

Add the roux. Bring to a slow boil, whisk until roux is uniformly mixed through soup and lumps have dissolved.

Add the cooked chopped chicken and cooked wild rice.

Finally, add the cream and shredded cheese and heat through. Serve with warm crusty buttered bread.