Tuesday, December 22, 2015 - Based in Emmetsburg, Iowa, Soper Farms, Inc. is a century farm, having been in the family for more than 100 years. Soper Farms spans four generations with 73 family stockholders and 17 family board members.
After working for 30 years as an entrepreneur in California’s Silicon Valley, Harn Soper returned to manage the farms in 2007. At the time, the farms were producing genetically modified corn and soybeans. The Soper family voted unanimously to transition the farms, which comprise about 800 acres, to organic, starting in 2010.
Their first attempts at growing organic vegetables and raising grass-fed beef were not very successful and changed their focus back to row crops. They began the three-year transition to organic by growing oats, alfalfa, and clover in the first two years, followed by corn in the third.
Net income from the first two years of the transition, 2010 and 2011, averaged $134 per acre, compared to $180 per acre from GMO corn and soybeans in 2008 and 2009. In 2012, the final year of the transition and first year of organic certification, net income from the organic corn crop soared to nearly $900 per acre. Continuing the rotation in 2013, the Sopers planted organic oats and alfalfa, and these produced $254 per acre.
Comparing the two years of GMO corn and soybeans with the first two years of organic certification, Soper Farms increased their net income from $180 per acre with GMOs to $578 with organics.
The benefits of going organic were more than financial. “We don’t have superweeds.” Harn says. “We use nature and crop rotations to deal with weeds.” Soper Farms also reduced their costs by as much as 40 percent by eliminating expensive GMO seeds and chemical pesticides and fertilizers.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit has been to the soil. “Our soil is our most important asset, and it gets healthier every year,” Harn says, “To me, it’s an economic win all the way around.”
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