Farm family was organic before organic was cool

Organic farming has become a rising industry in the United States over the last decade, with many companies and farms adopting the practice. Ron and Maria Rosmann have been organic farming well before it was the norm.

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Ron and Maria Rosmann, who farm 700 acres in western Iowa, were recently named the MOSES Organic Farm Family of the Year.

Ron and Maria Rosmann were organic when organic wasn't cool.

In fact, the Rosmanns, who were honored as the MOSES Organic Farm Family of the Year in La Crosse recently, worked their farm organically in the 1980s — before Midwest Organic Farming Services even took root in Spring Valley, Wis., in 1990.

The honor for the western Iowa couple and their children was announced at a dinner that served as the official kickoff of the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference, which attracts as many as 3,000 farmers, researchers and vendors to the La Crosse Center.

Using organic farming practices was natural for Ron, who learned the techniques from his dad on the family's 320-acre farm, where the Rosmanns live and have expanded to 700 acres.

"I grew up on the same farm, and I never gave them (organic farming practices) up," said the 69-year-old Ron. "My dad had a cow-calf operation, farrow-to-finish and diverse crops. We never gave that up."


However, they did use chemicals to ward off insects and control weeds on, he said.

"It was diversity and livestock — even though we used pesticides," said Ron, who said organic practices are grounded in the belief that they are better for the land, their livestock, their family and community. "I never liked using pesticides."

The farm crisis that bankrupted hundreds of farmers in the 1980s added an economic factor to the decision to eschew putting chemicals on the fields at the rate of 250 pounds an acre, Ron said.

"I was convinced we could save money and not lose production," he said, adding that his biology degree from Iowa State University in Ames helped guide the process.

Organic farming revolves around the interplay of such factors as fertilizing with manure instead of chemicals and the value of rotating diverse crops to nurture the soil.

Since organic wasn't the norm at the time, the Rosmanns had to learn for themselves which practices would suit their operation best. They partnered with ISU researchers, and they have conducted more than 40 on-farm research trials over the years. Research projects evaluated ridge tilling, cover cropping, swine feeding, organic flax production, manure application rates and sundry other factors.

Instead of flagging production, as some traditionalists might argue would be the result without chemical boosters, Ron said, "our yields last year were off the charts."

Integrated operation


The farm, which is a few miles outside of Harlan, Iowa, grows crops of organic corn, soybeans, oats, rye, hay, succotash and different varieties of the family's signature popcorn.

The Rosmanns also raise organic beef, pork and chickens, with organic eggs as a bonus product. The operation generates about 1,000 tons of compost from 2,000 tons of manure to replace chemical supplements, Ron said.

Ron and Maria operate Rosmann Family Farms along with their sons, David and Daniel, and Daniel's wife, Ellen. Their third son, Mark, remains involved, but he works for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C.

They grow crops in five-, six- and seven-year rotations, with ridge tillage within row crops whenever possible. They have planted trees on terraced fields to promote soil health and enhance wildlife habitat. They also employ cover crops, grass waterways and buffer strips to improve soil and water quality.

Livestock is integral to the farm's economic and soil health. They feed the cows and hogs the cover crops and crops that can't be sold.

They also graze cattle within the crop rotations. They move the cattle according to plant growth stages and recovery periods. They manage hogs in a deep-bedding system that provides access to the outdoors.

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