Cornucopia’s Take: Conventional agriculture appears to be taking a cue from organics. While they continue to use harmful chemicals on fields, conventional farmers are beginning to consider the value of crop rotation – a requirement in organic agriculture – for fixing nitrogen, preventing erosion, and reducing insect and weed risks.
On a hot, July day in Boone County, Iowa, farmer Brett Heineman shuttled a semi from one of his family’s fields to the local co-op. He and his uncle were harvesting the first crop of oats on this farm in decades.
Before corn and soybeans almost completely covered the landscape – today, they account for 95 percent of crop acres in Iowa – most Corn Belt farmers also grew oats or alfalfa. Now, the Heinemans are among the farmers taking a closer look at re-integrating the small grain into their operations.
Corn and soybean prices have fallen to frighteningly low levels in recent years and pressure has been mounting to curb the runoff of agricultural chemicals into streams and rivers. Oats, some Corn Belt farmers hope, might have a role to play on both the economic and environmental fronts.
Heineman, now 32, barely remembers the last time they grew oats, when he was a kid.