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Guide to Transitioning to Organic Grain Production in Illinois


Illinois is known for its soil, and the swath of drummer silty clay loam, or black dirt, running across central Illinois, is considered some of the most fertile in the world. Despite the exceptionally productive soil, most farmers use conventional methods that employ synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Those methods, coupled with plowing, and leaving fields bare for half the year, are causing Illinois to lose its most precious natural resource to erosion at an alarming rate.

Organic farming is a way to begin to rebuild soil, and at the same time, can offer farmers a higher premium for their crops. The Land Connection has begun offering seminars on transitioning to organic grain production, and has compiled this online multimedia guide as a way for farmers to access up to date information. The guide is broken up into four sections, each containing information and subtopics related to:

Watch the introduction video of Harold Wilken talking about why he farms organically.


Production Videos

Dave Bishop, PrairiErth Farm: Diversity is the key to adversity

Dave Bishop and his family own and operate PrairiErth Farm, a 400 acre multigenerational, diversified, organic farm producing corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, alfalfa, vegetables, beef, pork, eggs, and honey. Most of their production is sold through local markets, Midwestern feed mills and dairy farms, a CSA, the Bloomington Farmers Market, stores, restaurants, and consumer direct. The farm has an extensive outreach program, offering programs and tours to over 2000 students annually. Internships are offered each year to beginning farmers, who live and work on the farm from March thru November. Research into sustainable farming practices is also a priority. In 2014, 2 research projects are being conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois, and a SARE grant funded project exploring the use of vertical space to maximize food production on marginal lands is in it's third year.

Dave Campbell: Soil Fertility Management in Organic Systems

Dave Campbell grew up on his father’s organic farm in northern Illinois. In 1967, with the oversight of his father he began raising and selling organic meat rabbits to a health food store located in Mount Prospect, Illinois during the days of two-party certification. After graduating from college he turned down a couple of teaching offers in order to work on his father’s organic dairy farm. In 1988 Dave transitioned a corn and soybean farm located nearby to an organic grain and hay farm and in 1990 the entire farm, Lily Lake Organic Farm, was certified organic. Dave has served as founding board chairman of the Midwest Organic Farmers (Grain) Coop, as well as vice-president of the Illinois chapter of the Organic Crop Improvement Association, board president of Midwest Organic Services Association , and secretary/treasurer of OFARM. Recently he served a four year term on the USDA-SARE Advisory Council and currently he is a board director for Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES). He does some consulting and also enjoys participating in organic research projects throughout the Midwest.

Gary McDonald: Weed Management and Cultivation

Gary McDonald was born and raised on a central Illinois grain and livestock farm where organic farm practices were used before it was labeled “organic.” He rented his first farm in 1979 and transitioned nearly 1,000 acres to what today would be considered certified organic production. He served as the first Illinois chapter president for the startup of the Illinois Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). Presently Gary is involved in hands-on organic farm management, working with all facets from organic system planning to records to inspection and marketing. Much of what he deals with is weed control and marketing, as these consistently prove to be most critical. He also does consulting and assists land owners with the process of transitioning their land to certified organic, oftentimes starting with the search for a qualified operator.

Wyatt Muse: Seed Sourcing and Genetics

Wyatt grew up on his family's farm in Piatt County, Illinois and remains active as both a farmer and grain elevator manager. He is the 4th generation to live at the original Muse homestead near Monticello with his wife, Ashley, and son, Griffin. They raise and direct-market beef, hay, and also contribute to the Muse Family's row-crop farming operation. After studying agribusiness at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and at Wagengingen University in The Netherlands, he started his career in the commodity grain elevator business. With several years of grain trading experience in both generic commodity and food grade grains, he decided to focus on food grade corn. Since 2009, Wyatt has helped farmers earn premiums for growing non-GMO and certified organic grain, while connecting buyers to a consistent source of food grade corn from Clarkson Grain Company in Cerro Gordo, Illinois. Wyatt is deeply involved in the food supply chain on several levels and is proud to contribute to a safe and healthy food supply.

Managing Risk in Organic Grain Production

This workshop was held at Goldmine Farms in Pana, Illinois in July 2016. Goldmine Farms is owned and operated by Jack Erisman, who has been farming organically since the early 1970s and now grows over 2000 acres of organic grains, from yellow corn for tortillas to the rare perennial intermediate wheatgrass, and also raises grass-fed beef. Jack's extensive experience and wisdom infused the workshop with the importance of the farmer's relationship with the land, the importance of diversity in organic systems, and how those culminate in the creation of an organic systems plan and intensive rotations in organic production systems.

Production Resources


Certification Videos

Harriet Behar: Organic Certification and NRCS Programs

Harriet Behar is an Organic Specialist with Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). In her work, she has led organic focused trainings and on-farm tours for farmers, agricultural businesses, extension agents, Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) personnel, and other agriculture education professionals. Harriet also staffs the MOSES toll-free organic information line, answering a wide variety of questions about organic crops and livestock, processing, and marketing from around the United States.

Certification Resources


Marketing Videos

Harold Wilken: Marketing Organic Crops

Harold Wilken, together with his wife Sandy and son Ross, are the proprietors of Janie’s Farm, based in rural Iroquois County near Danforth, Illinois. The farm’s name honors Harold and Sandy’s daughter Janie, who was killed in a car accident in 2001. Janie’s Farm produces corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, pumpkins, black beans, alfalfa, popcorn, and seed corn. Most of the 2,370 acres Wilken farms are USDA certified organic (1,900 acres), with 370 acres in second-year transition, and 100 acres in first-year transition. The Illinois Department of Agriculture has named Wilken winner of the 2015 R.J. Vollmer Award for Sustainable Agriculture.

Marketing Resources


Financing Videos

Video on financing coming in December 2016--to register for the seminar that will be held in Atlanta, Illinois, click here.

Financing Resources

This program was made possible by a generous grant from the Ceres Trust and the following sponsors:

Sincere thanks to our partner organizations for making this event possible:

Angelic Organics Learning Center
Illinois Organic Growers Association
Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Liberty Prairie Foundation
The Land Conservancy
University of Illinois Extension