Farm makes switch to organic production

Heather Thomas/For the Capital Press Tim Cornie and his daughter, Charlie, are seen on their 500-acre farm near Castle Ford, Idaho. He now farms organically.

Tim Cornie is farming where he grew up, between Hagerman and Castle Ford, Idaho.

The biggest change: He is transitioning the farm to organic production.

He farmed conventionally at first and ran yearling cattle on irrigated pasture — intensive grazing under pivots — rotating pasture with crops.

“I’m now transitioning everything into organic,” he says.

“I’m growing organic corn, some malt barley for Coors and organic alfalfa. I haven’t grown beans for a couple years but I used to grow organic dry beans. I also grow organic wheat and next year will grow organic hard red wheat.”

He uses a no-till drill for seeding, and does a lot of cover cropping.

“We’re improving soil this way, and have seen the worm population explode with the added organic matter. The soil is becoming healthier,” he says.

“In the fall we go right behind our grain crops after harvest and plant flex peas and tillage radish and let those grow up to fix more nitrogen in the soil for the next crop,” he says. “I put cattle on those cover crops to graze.”

This adds manure and organic matter from any remains of plants that are trampled and add litter to the ground.

“I buy thin cull cows that come off the desert after summer grazing, put them on cover crops, add 200 to 300 pounds on them and resell them,” Cornie says.

He’s been divorced for 10 years but has a 14-year-old daughter named Charlie and an 11-year-old son named Wyatt.

“Charlie loves the farm and helps me a lot,” Cornie says.

He expanded the farm and hired a microbiologist from Texas. “We are testing our soils, counting protozoa, bacteria, et cetera, trying to balance our soils biologically. She is creating the proper compost, brewing it and we’re injecting it into the pivots.”

Fertilizing the plants via the irrigation water is effective, he says.

Cornie markets some of his organic crops, including corn, directly to organic dairies.

“I’m working with some really good people — some with brokers, and directly with a few dairy owners. Everyone seems to know somebody who knows someone who needs organic crops; it’s kind of a network, and a growing market,” he says.

“Yields can go down when you farm organically with no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizer, and weeds can be an issue. We are doing no-till and cover crops and hope to control weeds that way,” he says.

He is also planting flowers along the fencelines to provide habitat for bees, which are needed to pollinate the crops.

“We also release beneficial insects including tiny wasps that attack corn earworms and aphids. The wasps insert their larvae into the aphid and the larvae eat the aphid from the inside out, hatch, and multiply to attack more aphids. We can control harmful insects with bug-on-bug warfare,” Cornie says.

The wasps are prey-specific.

“We release one wasp to control corn worms and another for aphids. We also release lady bugs that prey on harmful insects,” he says.

The hardest part of farming organically is the three-year transition period in which growers are farming organically but still selling conventionally.

“I am not 100 percent organic yet, but more than halfway there,” he says. “I have just a few more fields that are still in transition.”

He diversified with crops and cows and it has worked out well because they are complementary. Cover cropping-grazing is a good tool, he says.

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