8/2/2014 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delmarva Correspondent
CENTREVILLE, Md. — Perdue Agribusiness is encouraging local farmers to consider organic grain production.
Crops look impressive on Delmarva this summer and traditional grain crops are expected to produce big yields. But any farmer will tell you that big yields often mean not-so-big prices.
Mike Spangler, the director of organic grain and oilseed for Perdue Agribusiness, said organic corn is now selling for approximately $14.50 a bushel.
That’s a dramatic contrast to conventional corn, which is hovering around $4 a bushel.
Spangler was one of several speakers at the Maryland Commodity Classic in Centreville on July 24.
Spangler said Perdue, which now owns Coleman Natural Foods, is actively seeking farmers interested in growing organic grain.
Spurred by consumer interest in healthy, natural foods, the market for organically fed poultry is expected to get bigger, and prices for organic grains is expected to remain high.
Whole Foods, for example, plans to expand from 300 to 1,000 stores, Spangler said. Demand from other retailers, such as Trader Joe’s, is also high.
“Something has to fill those shelves,” he said.
That doesn’t mean it’s an easy choice for farmers. Spangler said farmers can expect a drop in yields when grain is organically grown, with perhaps a 10 to 20 percent decline in production. The biggest decline is in the first year, he said.
Farmers must also grow the grain organically for three years before they can get premium prices.
It also means a very different way of doing business, he said. Organic production usually means more cultivation to control weeds, so there is more time on the tractor.
But there can be significant cost reductions, he said. Seeds are less costly and costly commercial fertilizers and pesticides are replaced with less costly manure.
The payoff is those prices. Currently, Spangler said that organic soybeans are bringing about $25.50 per bushel. In general, organic prices are about four times that of nonorganic grains, he said.
“Prices are good,” he said.
Still, the reaction from farmers has been cautious. “I think a lot of farmers are thinking you’re buying it today, but will you buy it tomorrow?” he said.
“I think it’s a valid market ... I don’t see it stopping anytime soon,” he said.
Spangler said anyone interested in organic grain production can contact Perdue Agribusiness at Mike.Spangler<\@>perdue.com or at 410-341-2652.