by James Hanson
Organic foods continue to gain popularity and organic farming is becoming an attractive option for many farmers.
Jon Hansen is one of those farmers.
Hansenâ€™s farm near Marquette has been in the family since 1918.
"My grandfatherâ€™s dad bought this place," he said. "I think itâ€™s great to keep it going after all of this time."
Since 2002, Hansen has shifted his efforts and focus solely on organic farming.
He said one of the main reasons for making the switch was because organic farming doesnâ€™t require as much land.
"You can still make a good living and not have to worry about having to increase your acres," he said. "Thatâ€™s important for me, because Iâ€™m a small guy. I canâ€™t increase land as I go along."
Hansen farms 460 acres planted in alfalfa, popcorn, yellow corn, spring wheat and winter wheat.
He began by farming alfalfa, when he was approached to raise blue corn.
"I decided to give it a try," he said. "Itâ€™s worked out pretty well. You learn a lot as you go and Iâ€™m still learning, as organic farming has a variety of differences."
He said another benefit of organic farming is the prices for organic foods stay fairly consistent on the market each year.
But there are some challenges. Issues such as weed control and providing nutrients to feed the crop must be done differently in order to make a crop organic.
For example, Hansen farms 80 acres of winter wheat, 60 acres of alfalfa, 80 acres of transition winter wheat, 80 acres of transition popcorn, 95 acres of transition spring wheat and 65 acres of transition yellow corn.
"Transition means I have to go 36 months from the last time a prohibited substance was applied to the crop, before it can become organic certified," he said. "Itâ€™s definitely a different world. I have to use different sources for nutrients and a variety of different machinery and tools to ensure the crops are 100 percent organic."
His harvest of 2010 will feature his transition crops and will all be sold as organic.
He said he uses a rotary hoe to help keep weeds down and is also in the process of building a flame cultivator which cuts down on weeds before the first cultivation.
Hansen said cover crops are the main source of feed for his crops, providing them with their much-needed nutrients.
"Everything I use is non-synthetic inputs and has been organic approved," he said.
He said the planting of the crops also is a little different as he plants about two weeks later then other ag producers, but still harvests about the same time each year.
He said he can use less irrigation in some situations because certain soils can hold more water, which is nice.
Hansen has had a lot of advice and help from veteran farmers. "Iâ€™ve talked with them a lot and learned from them," he said. "They give insight on different ways of keeping nutrients and talk about the different techniques that could be used to help with weed control. Iâ€™m still plenty green though -- a rookie -- when it comes to this, but Iâ€™m proud of my decision."
"Whatâ€™s really nice is they are all so helpful," he added. "They tell you what theyâ€™ve gone through so you donâ€™t have to go through it too. Iâ€™ve had my struggles and disappointments, but itâ€™s farming. You donâ€™t give up and you keep going. At the end of the day, itâ€™s very rewarding."
Hansen continues to update his equipment and is confident of the future.
"It does take a little more money, but Iâ€™m confident I will get there and Iâ€™m pleased with how things have been going," he said. "There are more costs involved but it works itself out. Many organic buyers buy by the acre and not by the bushel, which is a little different, yet helpful as well."
"I just donâ€™t see any reason not to stick to it," he added. "I look forward to continue learning and Iâ€™m excited about the possibilities the future holds."