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Can Organic Cropping Systems be as Profitable as Conventional Systems?

Results show that diversified systems are more profitable than monocropping.

Which is a better strategy, specializing in one crop or diversified cropping? Is conventional cropping more profitable than organic farming? Is it less risky?

To answer these questions, the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute agronomists established the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) in 1990. This research is funded by USDA-ARS.

Systems ranging from species-diverse pasture and organic systems to more specialized conventional alfalfa-based forage and corn-based grain systems were compared at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.

Crop production analysis was published in the 2008 March–April issue of Agronomy Journal while this companion article focuses on the net returns and associated risk exposure of these systems. Full research results from this current study are presented by Chavas et al. in the 2009 March–April issue of Agronomy Journal.

"In our study we found that diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping," explains Joshua Posner, University of Wisconsin.

With feed grade premiums the organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn and soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.

Rotational grazing of dairy heifers was as profitable as the organic systems. And to our surprise, including risk premiums into the evaluation did not change the ranking of the systems. This study indicates that governmental policy that supports mono-culture systems is outdated and support should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at

A peer-reviewed international journal of agriculture and natural resource sciences, Agronomy Journal is published six times a year by the American Society of Agronomy, with articles relating to original research in soil science, crop science, agroclimatology and agronomic modeling, production agriculture, and software. For more information visit:

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), is a scientific society helping its 8,000+ members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy by supporting professional growth and science policy initiatives, and by providing quality, research-based publications and a variety of member services.

Sara Uttech | American Society of Agronomy
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