Converting Your Farm to Organic for Profit and Pleasure—Chapter 5: Government and Financial Considerations

As discussed in Chapter 4, flexibility is crucial, but sometimes the best timing for operations runs counter to strict deadlines set by government programs. Let me give you an example of one such challenge we face here on our farm: complying with the regulated termination date of our green manure crops. This problem is compounded in certain parts of the country where government programs prohibit green manures all together. Personally, I am of the opinion that there is often an overriding influence of the agri-chemical industry in setting agricultural policy and regulations in this country which occurs at the highest levels of many of our government agencies. We often see government guidelines that favor the agri-chemical industry and the use of their products and programs to the detriment, discouragement and sometimes even to the exclusion of sustainable regenerative organic systems.

These inflexible guidelines are set over vast regions of the country with no consideration for the local and very specific circumstances on your own farm. And if you do not follow these guidelines, you may be ineligible for some of the beneficial government payments and subsidized insurance programs. This could be a problem if your bank is requiring insurance to advance you your operating note. My advice? Farm your farm and do not let government programs lead you into making bad short-term agronomic decisions just to maximize current government payments. The advantages will be short-lived and, in the end, will not contribute to the long-term sustainability of your farm.

Rid yourself of debt and the necessity of operating notes as soon as possible so your banker will no longer be telling you how to farm either. Today, organic, sustainable, regenerative systems hold the greatest promise for becoming debt free. And this is especially true as the demand for organic grains of all types continue to rise. Once you start making money with organic agriculture by reducing your need for purchased inputs and increasing the value of the crops you sell, you should be able to start reducing the cost and size of your operating notes within the first year. Once you are caught up, avoid returning to the operating note merry-go-round. Here on our farm, we were able to eliminate our operating note within five years of our first year of conversion to organic farming.

As far as government programs, my goal was to be finished relying on them before they were done subsidizing and, therefore, controlling my farming decisions. I am glad to say I reached that goal long before direct payments stopped and were replaced by subsidized insurance programs. And even though we no longer needed the government subsidies to make a profit on our organic farm, I did put this money to work to fund my research, which provided a great deal of valuable information.

These insurance programs, although better than they used to be, still do not completely meet our needs. It is ironic to me that one of the past government programs was entitled “Freedom to Farm” when in fact, once you signed up, there were so many strings attached you were not free at all. After thirty years of organic farming, I believe if you truly want to be free to farm, organic agriculture offers the best opportunity to do just that.