For each type of crop a farmer wants to grow organically, without the aid of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, a different set of difficulties is presented. Producing a profitable yield of organic potatoes, for instance, is likely to require more time and money spent before market and a higher price at the produce stand than those grown with conventional means. The payback is vegetables lacking any potentially harmful toxins for people and their lands.
The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin found during a 1990 study of organic potatoes that those grown with chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers as well as genetically modified seeds, had higher yields and fewer costs. In one year, conventional farms in the study yielded approximately 32,800 lbs. (nearly 15,000 kg) per acre of potatoes, while organic farms yielded approximately 21,200 lbs. (nearly 10,000 kg) per acre. Also, the organic potato farms were slightly more expensive to operate, with average prices at $1,074 US Dollars (USD) per acre, as opposed to $928 (USD) per acre for conventional farms. To compete, UW noted that organic farmers had to raise prices dramatically to justify their work.
The added cost and time associated with growing organic potatoes involves several factors. Instead of using chemical fertilizers or herbicides to quell potato diseases, farmers must plant on fields that produced corn or alfalfa the year before to ward off certain diseases. Farmers must pick weeds out by hand or use non-chemical, weed-killing remedies, rather than crop-choking weeds with herbicides.
Perhaps the biggest threat to organic potatoes are the many pests attracted to them. Typically, farmers will use potentially harmful insecticides to ward off the bugs most drawn to the plants. According to the University of Kentucky's Department of Entomology, these bugs can be split into two grounds. The above-ground menaces are the tiny aphids, potato leafhoppers and potato beetles. Below the ground are the equally devastating white grubs and brown wire worms. These are just the most prevalent menaces in that part of the world.
Organic potatoes require special fertilizers, insecticides, moisture management and crop rotation in order to produce a marketable yield. This also is likely to mean more time spent eradicating pests and diseases. Nevertheless, the higher cost at market translates into a healthier soil in which the plants are grown — and a healthier food on the table.