It is often said that
in the day”
Organic by neglect or
-523,000 tons of N/yr ! The late 19th century
was not a good time
for IL soils!
N budget for Illinois (units are 1000 metric tons N / yr)
(David et al., 2001)
Ag scientists like CG Hopkins were dismayed by the
widespread degradation of the nation’s most productive
soils in the 19th/early 20th centuries and vigorously
campaigned for “permanent” systems of agriculture that
restored and maintained soil fertility.
Collection of articles first published in “The Country
Gentleman”, a widely read agricultural magazine that
eventually merged with “Farm Journal”
Famous photo of Cyril Hopkins
from 1 ac treated with
from 1 ac treated
manure, lime and rock
Franklin Hiram King
Like Hopkins, King was very
concerned by the widespread
degradation of Midwest soils
“ We desired to learn how it is
possible, after twenty and perhaps
thirty or even forty centuries, for their
soils to be made to produce
sufficiently for the maintenance of
such dense populations.. “
Farmers of Forty Centuries, 1911
Although many concepts of organic farming predated his
work, Sir Albert Howard is commonly regarded as the
father of organic agriculture.
Albert Howard was raised on a farm in England, and
educated at Cambridge University. He briefly served
(1899 -1902) as a mycologist in the Imperial Department
of Agriculture for the West Indies, before returning to
England to teach agricultural science from 1903-1905 at
South-Eastern Agricultural College in Wye.
He then moved to India where for twenty-six years he
served as the director of several agricultural research
centers before permanently returning to England in 1931.
It was after his return to England that Howard became
well known for his concepts and philosophy of organic
farming. Drawing on his many years of agricultural
research experience, he spent the rest of his life
writing and lecturing on composting, soil fertility, and
relationships between farming practices and crop,
livestock and human health.
In 1943, Howard published An Agricultural Testament,
in which he described the importance of observing
natural systems as a guide for the maintenance of soil
fertility in agricultural systems.
An Agricultural Testament
by Sir Albert Howard
The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of
any permanent system of agriculture. In the ordinary processes
of crop production fertility is steadily lost: its continuous
restoration by means of manuring and soil management is
“In the study of soil fertility, the first step is to bring under
review the various systems of agriculture which so far
have been evolved.
These fall into four main groups:
1. the methods of Nature -- the supreme farmer -- as
seen in the primeval forest, in the prairie, and in the
2. the agriculture of the nations which have passed
3. the practices of the Orient, which have been almost
unaffected by Western science; and
4. the methods in vogue in regions like Europe and North
America to which a large amount of scientific attention
has been paid during the last hundred years.”
“Little or no consideration is paid in the literature of agriculture to
the means by which Nature manages land and conducts her
water. Nevertheless, these natural methods of soil management
must form the basis of all our studies of soil fertility.
What are the main principles underlying Nature's agriculture?
These can most easily be seen in operation in our woods and
Mixed farming is the rule: plants are always found with animals:
many species of plants and of animals all live together. In the
forest every form of animal life, from mammals to the simplest
invertebrates, occurs. The vegetable kingdom exhibits a similar
range: there is never any attempt at monoculture: mixed crops
and mixed farming are the rule.”
“The soil is always protected from the direct action of sun,
rain, and wind. In this care of the soil strict economy is the
watchword: nothing is lost. The whole of the energy of
sunlight is made use of by the foliage of the forest canopy and
of the undergrowth.
The leaves also break up the rainfall into fine spray so that it
can the more easily be dealt with by the litter of plant and
animal remains which provide the last line of defence of the
precious soil. These methods of protection, so effective in
dealing with sun and rain, also reduce the power of the
strongest winds to a gentle air current.”
According to what Howard called "the Law of
Return," all organic waste materials, including
sewage sludge, should be returned to farmland.
Recalling his experiences in India, he described the
"Indore" (after a region in India) method of
composting and prescribed a certain pile size, heat,
moisture, aeration, and mix of plant, animal, urine-
soaked earth, and ash materials as the proper
Especially important to a good mix of composting
materials, Howard stressed, were residues from
both plants and animals.
Howard was not
alone in his
appreciation of the
value of recycling
back to farmland
Howard was very concerned about the
increasing “overspecialization” in
conventional agricultural science --
"learning more and more about less and
less" -- and tried to broadly investigate
how to grow healthy crops in typical
conditions in the field, rather than the
atypical conditions in laboratories and
In Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease (later
published as Soil and Health), Howard introduced the idea
that disease, whether in plants, animals or humans, was
caused by unhealthy soil and that proper farming techniques
would make the soil and those living on it, healthy.
As evidence he cited his observations that animals fed with
crops grown in humus-rich soil were able to rub noses with
diseased animals (including animals infected with foot and
mouth disease) without becoming infected.
More generally he argued that the correct method for
dealing with a pathogen was not to destroy the pathogen but
rather to try to learn from it or to "make use of it for tuning
up agricultural practice.”
In 2001, a serious outbreak
of FMD in Britain resulted in
the slaughter of ~ 300,000
cattle, the postponing of the
general election for a
month, and the cancellation
of many sporting events and
Due to strict government
Was this the only option?
policies on sale of livestock,
disinfection of all persons
leaving and entering farms
and the cancellation of large
events likely to be attended by
farmers, a potentially
epizootic was avoided.
Howard studied the traditional farming
practices used by India's peasant farmers and
the pests and weeds that conventional
agricultural scientists were committed to
fighting with an ever-widening array of poisons,
but which Howard called his "Professors of
He saw pests in the context of Nature's use for
them as sensors of soil fertility levels and
indicators of unsuitable crops growing in
While Howard recognized the significance of
Justus von Liebig's writings on agricultural
chemistry, he was not a fan. Howard thought that
Liebig had led agriculture astray by vigorously
combatting the “humus theory” of plant nutrition
and promoting the "NPK mentality,” that is, the
practice of fertilizing only or principally with
inorganic sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and
One of Howard's main criticisms was that Liebig
focused his attention on soil chemistry to the
neglect of soil biology and physics.
Liebig’s single-minded focus on chemistry (and his
stature as a preminent scientist) led to diminished
appreciation of the value of soil organic matter by
ag scientists and farmers.
Howard never lost his appreciation for humus and
extolled its profound influence on the health of
soils, plants, animals, and mankind.
Howard opposed the use of “artificial” fertilizers but
considered some untreated rock materials to be
Howard's hard-line position against the use of
“artificial” fertilizers, was not shared by some of his
contemporary supporters who felt that the use of
“artificial” fertilizers could sometimes be justified.
Howard’s hard-line opposition to the use of
“artificial” fertilizers is often considered
extremism but is really not anymore extreme
than Liebig's absolute concept of plants using
"only" inorganic forms of nutrients.
Unfortunately Howard's stance on fertilizers
contributed to the common but mistaken
impression that organic farming is simply
farming without the use of synthetic fertilizers
and other agrichemicals.
In Howard's long and distinguished career as an
agricultural scientist, he made many significant
discoveries related to plant breeding, irrigation,
mycorrhizae , soil aeration, fruit tree cultivation, post-
harvest handling, weed management, and diseases of
plants and humans. For these widely recognized
contributions to agriculture he was knighted in 1934.
As Howard became increasingly critical of conventional
ag science, his scientific colleagues began to view his
ideas on humus, soil fertility, and disease as
exaggerations of otherwise fundamentally sound ideas.
In 1946, Howard acted out his new role of agricultural
contrarian most explosively in a book titled The War in
This book opens with the powerful assessment that:
"The war in the soil is the result of a conflict between
the birthright of humanity--fresh food from fertile soil--
and the profits of a section of Big Business in the shape
of the manufacturers of artificial fertilizers and their
satellite companies who produce poison sprays to
protect crops from pests and who prepare the various
remedies for the diseases of livestock and mankind."
Howard loudly criticized the field plot and statistical
methodologies used at the Rothamsted agricultural
experiment station. He thought that the long term
experiments were flawed because they did not
exclude invasion from burrowing earthworms into
the chemically fertilized plots, relied on continuous
cultivation without crop rotation, and used new
seeds from an outside source.
Although Howard was a passionate advocate of what
is now known as organic farming, he did not use the
term "organic" to describe the system of agriculture
that he promoted.
Lord Walter Northbourne, a British agronomist,
academic (long time Provost of the agricultural college
of London University), elite athlete (silver medalist in
rowing at the 1920 Olympics), translator, and author
of books about agriculture and comparative religion,
was the first to use the word "organic" to describe a
method of farming.
In 1940, Northbourne introduced his
concept of the ideal “farm as an
organic whole"-- i.e. "having a
complex but necessary
interrelationship of parts, similar to
that in living things“ in an influential
book titled, Look to the Land.
In Look to the Land, Northbourne wrote that
“chemical farming is regulated mainly according to
the combined recommendations of the farm
economist, with his calculating machines and ledgers,
and the chemist”
He warned that farming should not be “treated as a
mixture of chemistry and cost accountancy, nor can it
be pulled into conformity with the requirements of
modern business, in which speed, cheapness, and
standardizing count most. Nature will not be driven.
If you try, she hits back slowly, but very hard”
Within Northbourne’s concept of organic farming, the
organic farmer’s role is to coordinate the many components
of a diversified farming system – so that resource cycling
and self-regulating processes are optimized.
It is important to distinguish this holistic concept of
"organic“ from the common misunderstanding that the
word "organic“ (in the context of organic farming) refers
only to the biological origin or carbon based chemistry of
An American businessman,
J.I. Rodale read some of
Howard’s writings and was so
moved by Howard's vision—
(he described the experience
as like being hit by a "ton of
bricks“)--that he purchased a
farm near Allentown,
Pennsylvania, and began
composting and organic
Jerome Irving Rodale was born in New York City in
1898, the son of a grocer, and thus was connected
to the food industry but had little to no connection
to agriculture early on.
He was a very successful entrepreneur who started
out manufacturing electrical switches but
eventually founded a publishing empire (Rodale
Press), launched several very successful magazines
(e.g. Organic Gardening, Prevention), and published
many books (including some he authored) on
agriculture, human health and many other topics.
In 1942, Rodale began publishing Organic Farming and
Gardening magazine with Howard serving as the associate editor.
Through this magazine and other publications Rodale
popularized organic concepts in the United States.
Rodale's 1945 book Pay Dirt, with an introduction by Howard,
introduced organic farming concepts to a wide audience. For
approximately the next 2 and a half decades, JI Rodale
promoted organic concepts with missionary zeal and probably
did more than anyone else to increase awareness and interest in
organic gardening and farming in the US.
Both Howard and Rodale saw the conflict of organic versus
mainstream agriculture as a struggle between two different
visions of what agriculture should become as they engaged in a
war of words with the agricultural establishment.
In 1948, Rodale sent over 10,000 copies of Organic
Farming and Gardening to farmers with a $1
subscription offer… and only received $10 back.
Undeterred, Rodale targeted gardeners as his primary
audience. The circulation of Organic Gardening
magazine increased from 260,000 in 1960 to 1,300,000
in 1980 (most widely read gardening publication in the
world at the time).
Many factors, such as
the migration of “back
to the landers” from
the cities to the
country, the growing
movement, and the
were responsible for
popularity of Rodale
In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote
"Silent Spring", chronicling the
effects of DDT and other
pesticides on the environment.
The book was a bestseller in
many countries and is widely
recognized as a key factor
leading to the banning of DDT
(1972 in the US) and the
emergence of a worldwide
Rachel Louise Carson
(1907 - 1964)
Initially, agricultural scientists largely ignored organic farming and
gardening but agricultural colleges and experiment stations were
increasingly besieged with letters of inquiry from the public and it
became impossible to ignore the organic movement.
One of the first attempts to respond to the organic advocates was
undertaken by Dr. Firman E. Bear, a prominent soil chemist from
Rutgers University, who in a 1947 article "Facts...and Fancies
About Fertilizer,” referred to Sir Albert Howard, E.B. Balfour, J.I.
Rodale, and E.H. Faulkner as "gloomy prophet[s].“
Other articles critical of the organic movement were published
during this period of polarization such as “The Great Organic
Edward Faulkner, author of
the best selling book
Plowman's Folly (1943),
was a controversial figure
in his time but is now
regarded as a pioneer of
no-till and soil conservation
Louis Bromfield (1896 – 1956) was an American author and conservationist
who gained international recognition for his writing (30 best-sellers, several
movies and a Pulitzer Prize) and for promoting innovative ecologically
oriented farming practices.
In 1939, after living in France for over 10
years, Louis Bromfield returned to Ohio
and purchased Malabar Farm, near
Bromfield dedicated the rest of his life to
agriculture and sought to create a farm
that promoted soil conservation but also
continued to write books and articles. His
later books, including Pleasant Valley,
focused on soil conservation and other
farming issues. He continued to socialize
with prominent artists, including Lauren
Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The two
Louis Bromfield working on actors were married at Malabar Farm in
another book 1945.
William Albrecht was a leading soil
scientist who served as the head
of the Agronomy Dept at the U of
Missouri and as the president of
the Soil Science Society of
In his latter years, he wrote
extensively about the relationship
between soil fertility and animal
and human health. He felt that
animal health (and ultimately
human health) was related to soil
Dr. William Albrecht fertility and that proper
management of soils would solve
most crop, livestock and human
Platform for sharing Dr. Albrecht’s
views on soil management
”Acres U.S.A. was founded on the belief that the
world did not begin in 1948, when the research
and development bonanza of World War II
combined with a flood of special interest money
to create a new kind of agriculture, based on
petrochemical inputs. Nor did the world of
scientific farming, attuned to nature, stop dead in
its tracks. In fact, much of the best work in
sustainable technology was just beginning.
Readers of Acres U.S.A. reap the harvest of
courageous innovators who sidestepped the Ag
Establishment for decades.”
In the early 1940s, Dr. Fukuoka
quit his job as a soil
microbiologist, returned to his
family's farm in southern
Japan, and devoted the next 60
years to developing natural no-
Masanobu Fukuoka till methods of growing citrus,
(1913 – 2008)
rice and other crops.
Americans became familiar
with Fukuoka through articles
in Rodale publications and his
book “The One-Straw
Lady Eve Balfour (1899-1990) is best
known as the founder of The Soil
Association, Britain's leading organic
food and farming organization. The
Soil Association was born in 1946,
following publication of Lady Eve
Balfour's bestselling book about
organic agriculture, “The Living Soil”
(Faber & Faber 1943).
In 1939, she launched the Haughley
Experiment on her farm in Suffolk,
England. It was the first scientific,
side-by-side comparison of organic
and conventional farming and was
maintained for 33 years.
The Haughley Experiment
Three side-by-side units of land were established,
each large enough to operate a full farm rotation,
so that the food-chains involved — soil–plant–
animal and back to the soil — could be studied as
they functioned through successive rotational
cycles, involving many generations of plants and
animals, in order that interdependences between
soil, plant and animal, and also any cumulative
effects could develop.
One unit was a stockless arable farm — the other two
were both ley farms (ley = temporary pasture
alternating with arable crops) operating the same
rotation. Each carried a herd of dairy cows, a flock of
poultry and a small flock of sheep. All livestock was fed
exclusively on the produce of its own unit,
replacements were home bred and cereal and pulse
crops raised from home-grown seed. All wastes of
crops and stock were returned only to its own unit.
Only livestock products and surplus animals were sold
off the farm. All crops were fed to the animals.
On one of the ley units called the Mixed Section
supplementary chemical fertilizers were used, as
well as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides
when deemed necessary.
On the other ley unit, called the Organic Section,
no chemicals were used. It was thus entirely
dependent on its own biological fertility. As nearly
as possible, a closed cycle was maintained (except
for the sale of animal products).
Some research results
Ecology of Earthworms under the ‘Haughley Experiment’ of Organic and
Conventional Management Regimes - R. J. Blakemore
Significant differences in earthworm populations and soil properties were found
in three sections of a farm at Haughley in Suffolk that, since 1939, had either an
organic, a mixed conventional, or a stockless intensive arable regime. Compared
with the mean earthworm population of a 1,000 year old permanent pasture of
424.0/m2; an organic field had 178.6/m2; a mixed field 97.5/m2; and a stockless
Soil analyses showed the organic soil had higher moisture, organic C, and mineral
N, P, K, and S compared with soil from the stockless field. The organic soil also
had lower bulk density and good crumb structure whereas the stockless soil was
cloddy and subject to puddling. The properties of the mixed field soil were
intermediate to the others.
Choice chambers offering the three field soils, with and without organic
amendments, showed an earthworm preference for the organic soil (total 96
worms) compared to the mixed and stockless soils (75 and 73 worms).
When the Haughley Experiment was
terminated in the 1970s, the results
were not as clear as had been hoped
(hardly surprising since we still have a
poor understanding of how to measure
soil and food quality), but the
experiment helped clarify how the best
of old and new traditions in land
husbandry could be effectively
In the early 1920s, Rudolf Steiner, an
Austrian philosopher, gave a series of
lectures on the “Spiritual Foundations for
the Renewal of Agriculture” which inspired
the development of Biodynamic agriculture.
Biodynamic farming has much in common
with other organic approaches, such as
emphasizing the production and use of
Rudolph Steiner compost and excluding of the use of
(1861-1925) synthetic inputs.
Methods unique to Biodynamics include the
use of fermented herbal and mineral
preparations as compost additives and field
sprays and the use of an astrological
Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899–1961) was
born in Germany and worked closely with
Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. In 1928, he
became the director of a biodynamic
research farm in Holland and visited the
U.S. several times during the 1930s giving
lectures on biodynamic agriculture.
In 1940, he immigrated to the U.S. and
provided leadership for several
biodynamic farms where he pioneered
the testing and documentation of
biodynamic practices. He helped establish
the Biodynamic Farming & Gardening
Association in Kimberton, PA where he
developed a friendship with JI Rodale.
Composts treated with BD preparations maintained
an average 3.4C higher temperatures throughout
the active 8 week active composting period. BD-
treated piles respired CO2 at a 10% lower rate.
Final samples of BD- treated composts contained
65% more nitrate than control piles. In conclusion,
BD preparations caused discernible changes in
compost chemical and microbial parameters
Biodynamic agriculture is much more common in
Europe than the US but there are a growing # of
biodynamic vineyards in the US.
In 1993, AO adopted Biodynamic farming practices.
2000+ member CSA in Northern IL
In addition to
magazines and books about
gardening and farming,
JI Rodale also launched a
In 1950, he founded
Prevention magazine to
teach readers how to
prevent disease through a
healthy lifestyle and diet
versus just treating the
symptoms of disease.
Rodale also wrote books promoting the
healthful effects of exercise and fruit and
vegetable rich diets (e.g. How to Eat for a
Healthy Heart, The Hawthorne Berry for the
Heart, Lower Your Pulse Rate and Live Longer,
and Happy People Rarely Get Cancer).
The Federal Trade Commission ordered Rodale
to stop advertising and selling the books,
claiming that the medical advice given in his
books was unsubstantiated.
Rodale engaged in legal battles with the FTC
for almost two decades, at times putting his
entire personal net worth at risk. Over the
years, the FTC, fearing that they would lose
their case on constitutional grounds,
attempted to settle with Rodale. But despite
financial hardship, Rodale refused to back
down unless the FTC agreed to acknowledge
that the First Amendment prohibited them
from regulating books and printed material.
In the later years of the case, Rodale's
lawyers introduced new testimony from
some of the same leading medical
experts that the government originally
used at the initial FTC hearings almost 20
years earlier. One by one, the experts
refuted their original testimony, claiming
they "didn't know back then," and
admitted that many of Rodale's original
claims had since become established
In 1971, while describing his legal
problems with the FTC on national
television, J. I. Rodale dropped dead.
Until he actually stopped breathing and
turned blue, everyone watching the
taping of The Dick Cavett Show thought
Rodale was faking a heart attack in
order to make a point about his
troubles with the FTC.
Just days before his death,
J.I Rodale stumped before an audience in Allentown,
Pennsylvania. The gray-haired contrarian
leader of the organic movement boasted to his
followers, “My friends, my time has come. Years
ago they heaped violence and poured ridicule on my
head. I was called a cultist and a
crackpot…but now I am suddenly becoming a prophet
here on earth, a prophet with profits.”
Rodale’s talents as spokesman for organic farming lifted
him from a childhood of immigrant
poverty to become the head of the multi-billion dollar
Rodale Press by the end of his life.
Today Prevention magazine has
~12 million readers, and Rodale
Press is the largest health-oriented
publisher in the world, publishing
~ 100 new “wellness” titles each
year that sell a combined 20+
million copies per year.
Sir Robert McCarrison (1878 – 1960) was a
pioneering physician and nutritionist who is
credited with being the first scientist to
experimentally demonstrate the effect of dietary
deficiencies upon animal tissues and organs. He
also carried out human experiments aimed at
identifying the cause of goitre, and included
himself as one of the experimental subjects. At
age 23, he went to India, where he spent 30 years
investigating relationships between nutrition and contrasting
disease patterns in the Indian subcontinent.
McCarrison concluded that many common diseases increasingly
prevalent in industrial societies were caused by diets made
defective by extensive food processing, and the use of chemical
additives. He deplored the universal consumption in Britain and
America of refined white flour and the substitution of canned,
preserved and artificially sweetened products for fresh natural food.
McCarrison's work was widely
published in medical journals. He was
honored for his discoveries, but his
recommendations were largely ignored
by government and the medical
profession at a time when medical
thought was absorbed in the study of
treatment of disease rather than the
prevention of disease and the
promotion of health.
Mouse on a “modern” diet
Mouse on a Hunza diet
Weston A. Price, DDS (1870–1948) was a dentist and nutritionist.
He was the chairman of the Research Section of the American
Dental Association from 1914–1923, but was later marginalized
by the American Dental Association for his outspoken views.
In 1939, Price published "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”,
a book that details a series of ethnographic nutritional studies
performed by Price across diverse cultures.
Price reported that the plagues of modern civilization (e.g.,
headaches, general muscle fatigue, dental cavities, impacted
molars, tooth crowding, allergies, heart disease, asthma, and
degenerative diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer) were not
present in cultures sustained by indigenous diets. However,
within a single generation of adopting a Western diet ( e.g.,
refined sugars, refined flours, canned goods…) these same
cultures experienced all the ailments listed above.
Have you ever heard of the great Joe Rollino?
Shadow boxing at 103 in 2008
Joe adopted a vegetarian diet as a teenager
before going on to perform many feats of extraordinary strength
Shortly after J.I. Rodale died, his son Robert Rodale
purchased a 333-acre farm near Kutztown, PA (that later
became the Rodale Institute). He began hiring scientists
with strong credentials and launched an era of organic
validation through research.
Powerful testimony by Robert as well as many organic
farmers and scientists convinced the U.S. Congress to
include funds for organic agriculture in the 1985 Farm Bill.
This was the beginning of an ongoing process of scientific
validation and refinement of organic agriculture by
research and education programs.
Initiated in 1981, The Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems
Trial® (FST) is the longest-running side-by-side
comparison of organic and conventional farming
systems in the US, and one of the oldest in the world.
What began as a 5-year controlled study of what a
typical American grain farmer would go through to give
up chemical fertilizers and pesticides has matured into a
complex, interdisciplinary, collaborative project that will
be continued indefinitely.
The FST compares three strategies, or 'systems,' for
grain production: a conventional BMP system, a
livestock-based organic system, and a legume-based
Key FST research results after 25 years
1) higher soil carbon and nitrogen levels in the organic systems
2) comparable crop yields for organic and conventional systems
in years of average precipitation, and greater for organic systems
in drought years
3) fossil energy inputs for organic systems were over 30% lower
4) labor inputs in organic systems averaged ~15% higher
5) net economic return for organic systems was equal or higher
Soils from the FST
Crop residues Cover Crops
>20 years of similar tillage intensity and total C input
but contrasting types of organic inputs
Robert Rodale was
concerned about the
negative baggage that
the term “organic“ had
preferred the term
Robert Rodale was killed in a traffic accident in
Moscow in 1990 while launching a Russian language
“New Farm” magazine.
Most farmers are using methods that do not
allow production flexibility. American agriculture
of the conventional type "works" only when the
throttle governing energy and input flows is
pulled all the way out. Farmers lack the option of
switching-either permanently or temporarily-to
an alternate system that performs well when
conventional production is not profitable.
Paraphrased Robert Rodale quote that caught my attention back in the 80s
In the late 1970s, under the direction of the Secretary
of Agriculture, Robert Bergland, the USDA began
surveying the organic farming sector.
The results were published in 1980 in a publication
titled Report and Recommendations on Organic
Farming with a stated purpose of "increasing
communication between organic farmers
and the USDA”
In 1981, the American Society of Agronomy held a
Symposium on Organic Farming to examine the
question – Can organic farming contribute to a more
They concluded: "The most probable answer is that it
most definitely can… and ...the soils for the two
farming systems may be quite different, each with its
own unique chemical and biological properties and
crop production capabilities .“
The period from 1979 to 1990 was an era of growing
recognition for organic farming at a national level in
the United States. With rapidly growing public
interest in organic food and farming, interest in
establishing standards for organically produced foods
In 1979, California passed the first legal standard for
organic production in the US.
This new attention and recognition led to a
backlash in 1981 from the incoming Reagan
administration which tried to bury the USDA
Report and Recommendations on Organic
Farming. The new administration also abolished
the recently established position of Organic
Resources Coordinator, held by Garth Youngberg,
who had been a member of the USDA Study Team
for Organic Farming.
During this time a former Secretary of Agriculture,
Earl Butz, released his infamous statement that
millions would starve if all farmers adopted
In the 1980s, organic industry groups and many other
organizations (e.g., the National Association of State
Departments of Agriculture and the American Farm Bureau
Federation) petitioned for the USDA to develop national
Rationale for national organic standards
• multiple standards created consumer confusion and
undermined confidence in the integrity of organic products
•multiple standards caused labeling and marketing difficulties
for manufacturers of multi-ingredient organic products
• the USDA and FDA would not permit meat to be labeled as
organically produced without national standards
•lack of a consistent U.S. organic standard limited access to
a potentially lucrative international organic market
The Federal Organic Foods Production Act of
1990 set out to:
1) Establish national standards governing the
marketing of organically produced products
2) Assure consumers that organically produced
products meet a consistent standard;
3) Facilitate interstate commerce in both fresh
and processed organic foods.
The full development of USDA Organic
standards took more than a decade. Initially,
the proposed standards did not prohibit the
use of sewage sludge, food irradiation and
genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
These allowances resulted in enormous public
outcry which eventually led to their removal
from the final rules.
The USDA Certified Organic label was
introduced on October 21, 2002.
USDA definition of Organic Agriculture
“Organic farming is a production system which
avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically
compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth
regulators and livestock feed additives.
To the maximum extent feasible organic farming
systems rely on crop rotations, crop residues,
animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-
farm organic wastes, and aspects of biological pest
control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to
supply plant nutrients and to control insects,
weeds and other pests.
§ 205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.
In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic
substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, That, use of such
substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water.
Substances allowed by this section, except disinfectants and sanitizers
(a) As algicide, disinfectants, and sanitizer, including irrigation system cleaning
(2) Chlorine materials— Except, That, residual chlorine levels in the water shall
not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking
(i) Calcium hypochlorite.
(ii) Chlorine dioxide.
(iii) Sodium hypochlorite.
(3) Copper sulfate—for use as an algicide in aquatic rice systems, is limited to
one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are
limited to those which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a
timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.
(4) Hydrogen peroxide. and many more…
Starting in 2009, the Allison Farm
has been certified by MOSA
You can look up the names and contact info for all
the farms certified by each accredited certifier
Detailed farm plan showing all fields and buffers
Documentation of all inputs
Documentation that equipment not solely used for
organic has been cleaned properly
3 year transition
During the past 20 years, the market
demand for certified organic products
has increased by about 20 percent
annually in the US.
Organic product sales in the US
currently exceed $20 billion!
Organic farm stats for 2008
farms acres total sales > $100k > $500k
USA 14,540 4,077,337 3,164,995 4,172 1,077
CA 2,714 470,903 1,148,650 840 361
19% 12% 36% 20% 34%
portrayals of organic
agriculture as a
farm endeavor in
how organic farming
has replicated what
it set out to oppose.”
Organic farm stats for 2008
Top 5 states by farm # Top 5 states by acres
California – 2714 Wyoming – 677,147
Wisconsin – 1222 California – 470,903
Washington – 887 Texas – 314,279
New York – 827 Montana – 284,482
Oregon – 657 Wisconsin – 195,603
Midwest Organic Farm Stats
2001 2008 2001-2008
State acres acres % growth
IN 4175 13019 212%
IL 21324 30662 44%
IA 80354 94568 18%
WI 91619 195,603 113%
Midwest Organic Farm Stats
2008 2008 2008 2008
State # of farms # > 100k # >$500k in millions
IN 148 52 3 13.9
IL 229 51 10 23.6
IA 518 162 28 71.5
WI 1222 395 44 132.8
~ $500 million of organic foods
purchased in IL each year
< 5% of farm products from IL
The U of Illinois played an important
role in launching the first Illinois Organic
Production Conference in 2005.
170 people attended.
In 2006, the conference attracted 50%
more attendees including many
conventional producers interested in
learning more about organic farming.
Currently ~ 2500 acres
of grains, forages and
beef in Pana, IL
Hailing from small
vegetable farms, large
grain and livestock farms
and even larger ranches,
the 60 producers profiled
in The New American
Farmer, have embraced
They are renewing
improving the lives of
their families as well as
John and Karen Curtis
Many small “organic” farms that direct market
are not certified – if their sales exceed $5000
they can not legally use the word organic
What Drew Me to Organic?
• Less competition in organic
• New demand growing consistently
• More difficult to manage
• Regulated by NOP with high entry hurdles
• Price and yields conducive to profit
• Fewer international competitors in some
Langeland Farms, Inc.
Evolution of Langeland
• 1983 Farm Crisis - bought out brother-in-law
• 1985-1995 seed business growth
• 1992 First food grade soybeans to Japan
• 1996 First GMO soybeans to farmers,
seed business consolidation
• 1998 First black beans grown & hog
crisis, sold sows & contract fed hogs
• 1999 First organic popcorn grown
Langeland Farms, Inc.
• 2000 Japanese decided in Spring not to continue the
food grade program (Japanese Yen crashed.) Rented
out hog facilities.
• 2000 Started converting 300 acres to grass.
• 2002 Farm Program rewritten so we could not
grow black beans anymore.
• 2002 Started contracting of organic popcorn &
custom grazing cattle.
• 2003 Started raising organic popcorn &
soybeans on larger scale.
Langeland Farms, Inc.
Many studies have shown that organic
farming systems can produce high yields
236 studies with valid
matched comparisons of 11
The organic foods within
these matched pairs were
nutritionally superior in 145
matched pairs, or in 61% of
the cases, while the
conventional foods were
more nutrient dense in 87
matched pairs, or 37%.
potassium, phosphorus, and total protein levels
accounted for over 75% of the 87 cases
in which the conventional samples were
nutritionally superior. American diets are rarely
deficient in K, P or protein.
In contrast, organic samples contained higher levels of
polyphenols and antioxidants in ~ 75% of the 59
studies evaluating these compounds. Increasing intake
of these phytonutrients is likely to improve public
health in the US as American diets contain less than
one-half of recommended levels.