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Local Food Frontier

Follow the growing local movement in central Illinois from field to fork
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Summer Series of Organic Grain Field Days, Part 1


Interest in Organic Farming is on the Rise in Illinois

Harold Wilken had been growing conventional grain for nearly 25 years when he decided to make a drastic change. It was 2003. The local food movement was in its infancy and organic foods were premium items found mostly at specialty grocery stores. Despite these challenges, Harold decided to begin to certify his land as organic. He has never looked back. He now farms 2,300 acres of organic grain. He employs six people, including his 23-year-old son Ross who is actively buying his own farmland. For Harold and many other farmers in Illinois, organic production just makes sense. Dave Bishop is an organic farmer from Atlanta, Illinois and Dave believes "The diversity of Wilken's organic farm and the strong economics of organic farming provide him with the ability to survive uncertain times." We need look no further than the rain we have experienced this season for an example of the uncertainty that we are likely to face on a more frequent basis in the future.

According to data from FinBin from the University of Minnesota, one of the largest sources of farm financial and production benchmark information in the world, the strong demand for organic grain results in projected profits for the 2015 corn crop that are 15 times that of conventional corn. That means the projected net return per acre for organic corn in 2015 is $646 compared to $42 for conventional. Dave Bishop thinks this highlights the fact that the successful farm of the future will be an organic farm. "You cannot run a business selling what consumers don't want. It is in the best interest of farmers to reduce their input costs and sell grain at high prices. The conventional model has farmers paying high input costs and selling grain at low prices. On top of that, the old monocultural model is not equipped to cope with uncertainty."

Over 150 people visited Harold's farm June 26 on a rainy Friday morning, to hear Harold, his son Ross, and other speakers discuss managing the organic transition, insurance and lending, crop rotation, equipment and cultivation and how to manage social pressures.

The event, co-sponsored by University of Illinois Extension, Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service, The Land Connection, and the Illinois Organic Growers Association, drew farmers as far away as Wisconsin, southern and western Illinois, eastern Indiana, and Michigan to learn from Wilken's experience.

Also in attendance were researchers, students and professors from University of Illinois' crop sciences and agroecology departments.

Dr. Herman Brockman, Emeritus Professor of Biology at Illinois State University, kicked off the event with a historical context for the organic food movement, and later cited the day's event as a watershed moment for organic farming in Central Illinois.

The Field Day at Wilken's farm was the first in a series hosted by University of Illinois Extension Educator Bill Davison. The next event, July 11 at 9:30 am will be held at Spence Farm in Fairbury, Illinois. The Spence Field Day will focus on growing, milling, and marketing organic grain directly to consumers and into the regional (including Chicago) restaurant market. More information and registration can be found at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/lmw/register/ .

Contact: Bill Davison, Extension unit educator, Local Foods and Small Farms-Livingston, McLean and Woodford Unit

(309) 663-8306, wdavison@illinois.edu



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