Organic and Other Long-term Rotations

Craig A. Chase, Field Specialist-Farm & Ag. Business Management, Northeast Area


The agricultural industry in Iowa is dominated by commodity production, which is a high volume, low profit margin industry. Narrow profit margins force farm businesses to grow in assets, output, and labor income to remain profitable. Farmers unable or unwilling to grow must look to higher margin alternative crops such as organics. Organic production has grown steadily for several years and finding markets is easier due to increasing consumer demand. Managing a profitable organic or other long-term rotation cropping system, however, is different and may be more difficult than commodity production.


Iowa State University Extension has responded to the information needs of producers interested in organic agriculture a number of ways. First, research has been conducted on university farms and in cooperation with producers on their land looking at a wide variety of production topics. The research information has been disseminated through a variety of channels including popular press, publications, and conferences. Most recently a series of organic and long-term informational meetings have been completed with approximately 200 producers attending.


Initial comments from producers following the series of presentations have been extremely positive. Participants are surprised at the profitability of organic and non-organic long-term rotations and how they compare to more conventional rotations. Misunderstandings regarding organic or other third-party certification, labor requirements, and production costs are prevalent. Questions on transitioning were common following the meetings and increases in requests for additional information and meetings are occurring. These requests have resulted in increasing attendance and the number of conferences being offered in Iowa and the Upper Midwest.

Some participants asked whether the current corn price will have an impact on how much crop ground is converted to organic and other long-term rotations. They were surprised to see what current organic corn prices were and the differences in profitability. The question on ethanol’s impact on rotation selection will be addressed further this year.

ISU Extension is looking at the profitability of organic and other long-term rotational farming systems. With added information, existing and potential commodity producers can make informed decisions regarding whether alternative crops should be grown given the potential risks and rewards. If interested in learning more about economics of alternative crop production, contact Craig Chase at 319-882-4275 (

March 31, 2007
120 – Farm and Business Management


Page last updated: April 26, 2007
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,