By Roger Blobaum
Although Southwest Iowa has had two dry summers in a row, the operators of a rolling 720-acre farm near Tabor hardly noticed the drought as they harvested good corn and soybean crops both years.
“Our corn last year, despite the drought, made 90 bushels an acre,” Adolph Codr reported. “We have corn this year, including one field with some of the most beautiful ears we’ve seen, that will make more than 100 bushels.”
The explanation is that this crop and livestock unit operated by Adolph and Arnold Codr, brothers and partners, has been farmed organically since 1968. It follows a rotation that utilizes legumes, cattle and hog manure, and natural fertilizers to maintain high fertility.
As a result the soil has a high level of organic matter, which increases its ability to hold moisture, and has good structure so water can rise from lower levels when dry weather sets in.
The Codrs explained that their corn also withstood a severe windstorm in August that blew many fields in the area so flat they were harvested with great difficulty, if at all. What protected their corn from high winds, they point out, is the deep root system that is developed by corn grown without chemicals.
The Codr farm also is unusual because it is rented. Most organic farmers in the Midwest own their own farms, or rent from close relatives, because most landlords insist that tenants follow chemical methods.
“You should go talk to our landlord about last year’s crops,” Adolph Codr suggested. “He was real happy with what his share was.”
The Codr brothers recalled how they had been urged repeatedly by a friend to switch to organic methods in the mid-1960s but kept putting it off. One influencing factor in their decision to switch was a growing health problem traced to frequent handling of farm chemicals.
“So we finally went to Hy-Brid Sales Company in Council Bluffs and liked what we found so much that we ended up ordering a carload of calphos,” they said. “We spread it on clover ground before plowing it under and saw good results right away in that year’s corn crop.”
The soil tests that Hy-Brid Sales insists on showed their land needed a lot of granite dust and calphos plus a little sulphur. The hilltop ground also needed lime. They have the company mix the right combination in a natural fertilizer each year.
They said the company also takes Fish-It, a liquid fish fertilizer, and liquid kelp and mixes them together with bacteria as a starter for corn. The Fish-It also is sprayed on as a foliar feeding when the corn is laid by.
“We use this mixture of fish, kelp, and bacteria as a starter on soybeans, too, applying it at about half the rate of corn,” Adolph Codr said. “We want to be sure we have that bacteria in there to help get extra nodules on the soybean roots, which means extra nitrogen for next year’s crop.”
They have done little thus far to find organic outlets for their production, feeding most of their corn in finishing out several hundred hogs a year. They usually farrow about 70 sows. The main exception is wheat, which they sell to an organic market.
“We are considering putting some steers on feed this winter to reach a growing market for organic beef,” they said. “We do want to get into this specialized market as time goes on.”
They have a steady supply of feeder calves from a herd of about 50 stock cows, mostly Herefords, and would have no difficulty assuring buyers their beef was organic. They also raise a small flock of chickens to assure themselves organic eggs throughout the year.
The wheat is sowed following oats on the weakest ground. Arnold Codr emphasized that it usually goes on a field where a weed problem is developing.