Improving Sustainability of A Long-term Certified Organic Cash Grain Production System

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $8,828.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
W. Todd Henry
Hillsborough Farm
Kathy Henley
Hillsborough Farm, Inc.


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans
  • Animals: bovine


  • Crop Production: double cropping, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, marketing management, feasibility study, value added, agritourism
  • Pest Management: biological control, economic threshold, physical control, cultivation
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life


    Getting the SARE grant proved to be beneficial for Hillsborough Farm. As a result we were provided with answers to some of the questions we had about organic crop production. Putting more poultry litter is a short term solution to help with the nitrogen that the corn needs. Hand rouging weeds works but is not economically feasible, therefore do not let weeds get ahead of you.
    The beef intensification project raised more questions and has given Kathy some more ideas on marketing, changing the order sheet, giving the consumers a little “cheat sheet” of specifications such as how much freezer room it takes to give a home to a beef ¼ and a beef ½. It also helped to answer some of the many asked questions for first timers as to cost +/- and an approximate idea of how many steaks and roasts to expect from a ¼ and a ½.
    Jerry Swisher consulted with us on the beef operation and made written recommendations specific to our farm which is on the shelf for reference.
    The objective to put in perennials was not accomplished. We found that it did not make sense if our route was going to change and the monies in the budget were not used therefore it will be available for someone else to do other research.
    We decided to give up our organic operation as the test plots gave us the answers that we already partially suspected that some of the practices were not economically viable to sustain our organic operation not mention the intensity and stress which is not sustainable to good health. We will continue to apply the knowledge that we learned over the years about using biologicals, foliar feeding, cover crops, sugar, and crop residue sprays. To continue to be sustainable we will have continue to find other ways to diversify our operation.


    The biggest challenge to my organic farming operation seems to be the weeds. They are rapidly increasing and multiplying despite timely cultivating. At harvest time, the time it takes to harvest and to run all the organic crops through a seed cleaner appears to be economically unfeasible. This project will allow me to investigate and see if hand rouging the weeds will increase yields enough to prove economically feasible and if adding more nitrogen in the form of poultry litter will increase my yields in organic corn production. These are the short term challenges.
    The long term challenges will be to try to intensify the livestock enterprise and to add different perennial legumes. We worked on intensifying the livestock enterprise but did not do test plots with different perennial legumes.

    Project objectives:

    • Winter 2008 will travel to Beltsville, Maryland to learn all I can at the experimental station about the tests they are doing there with organic grain production.

    • Spring 2008 will develop a plan for test plots on the farm for weed and fertility experiments.

    • Summer 2008 the test plots for fertility and on-farm hand rouging will commence.

    • Mid summer 2008 North Carolina organic grain farmer group will visit, Virginia Extension Agents will visit, and Shenandoah Organic Dairy farmers will visit.

    • Fall 2008 results on test plots for on-farm weed and fertility experiment.

    • Winter 2009 will hire consultant to help with beef intensification plan.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.