Specialty Crop Production Systems

Published Feb 5, 1998

The Neely-Kinyon tofu soybean trials reflect the growing interest in specialty markets and identitypreserved production. Two of the fastest growing specialty markets, with two of the highest premiums in specialty production, are the organic and the pesticide-free approaches. Many Midwestern farmers are looking seriously at these methods of production, but they have questions about the economics and practices involved. Jeff Klinge and Deb Tidwell, Farmersburg, are moving into certified organic crop production. Jeff documents costs of production for his organic and non-organic corn in the sidebar on page 18 (First Year Experience with Organic Corn) and in Table 10.

Paul and Karen Mugge, Sutherland, used the ISU Extension Crop Enterprise record system to track production costs of their conventional and contracted, pesticide-free soybeans (Table 11). Since insecticides and fungicides are not usually used on soybeans in Iowa, “pesticide-free” essentially means no use of herbicides for weed control. This is a requirement for which his ridge tillage practices (see also page 22) give Paul an advantage. To raise the pesticide-free beans, which he contracts for a premium, Paul: harrowed corn stalks; planted HP-204, a tofu-type bean, with his ridge-till planter; rotary hoed a total of four times; ridge-till cultivated twice; combined the crop; and paid local schoolkids to walk the beans for escaped weeds. In the comparison system of “conventional” soybeans, Paul: harrowed stalks; ridge-till planted a high-yielding, small-seeded variety; sprayed herbicide with a 45-foot boom; ridge-till cultivated twice; spot-applied herbicide first with a 15-foot sprayer and then with a bean buggy with a 15- foot boom; and combined.

The Crop Enterprise records bear out Paul’s estimate that the pesticide-free soybeans are worth about an additional $100 per acre to him, giving a $78.43 per acre difference in profit and return to management (Table 11). Crop Enterprise accounting allocates machinery cost based on hours of use and the entire cropping equipment inventory. As such, it reflect the amount of time spent, but not the particular pieces of equipment used in each field or treatment. An accounting based on specific equipment usage would come up with a somewhat different result. The 1997 contract premium for Paul’s pesticide-free soybeans was $3.60 per bushel. Paul is looking forward to 1998, when the premium offered for pesticide-free soybeans will rise to $4.00.