Organic farmers discuss challenges of transitioning to organic farming. From left to right: John Mesko, executive director at Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Dave Bishop, owner of PrairiErth Farm, Tim Raile, owner of Raile Farms, Kent Solberg, livestock & grazing specialist for the Sustainable Farming Association.

Farmers who transition to organic farming must have a different mindset with a long-term focus on soil health, say several farmers who successfully made the transition. Speaking at the Organic & Non-GMO Forum held in St. Louis last November, three organic farmers discussed the challenges they faced transitioning to organic and the keys to a successful transition.

“You need to get producers to work on soil health first. It will protect their farms through the transition,” said Kent Solberg, livestock & grazing specialist for the Sustainable Farming Association. This involves practices such as planting cover crops, diverse crop rotations and not using synthetic fertilizers, he said.

Tim Raile, owner of Raile Farms in St. Francis, Kansas found it rewarding to learn about the biology of the soil.

“You need the right ingredients to get balance in the soil,” Raile said. “With conventional farming adding NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) was the focus. Now those things are in the soil.”

Raile had previously grown genetically modified crops but realized that “GMO crops and herbicides weren’t sustainable.”

Dave Bishop, owner of PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, Illinois, said transitioning to organic is an investment that takes time.
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