Switching to organic agricultural production from conventional requires a 36 month transition period. Experienced grain farmers can use their skills, knowledge and experience with growing conventional grains as a base to build new production proficiency with crop rotation, cover crops, mechanical weed control, recordkeeping for certification and marketing of organic crops. Most North Carolina farmers have a diverse rotation that includes corn, wheat and soybeans. Since there are markets for these crops grown organically, little capital investment is needed to go organic on these farms. However, mechanical weed equipment and/or separate storage facilities may be needed.
It is probably a good idea to begin transitioning with relatively small acreage and carefully chosen fields. This way, early mistakes are not too costly. Choosing fields with low weed, insect and disease pressures and with relatively good soils gives the best chance of success when first starting. As one becomes more proficient at organic production, more problematic fields may be managed successfully as organic.
It may also be possible to market transitional organic crops for a premium over conventional crops (but less than certified organic). Some grain buyers in the mid-west are looking for non-transgenic (non-GMO) corn and soybeans, which would be used in transitional production. Some livestock producers in North and South Carolina are also looking for non-transgenic grains for feed and are willing to pay a small premium for them. These markets may be harder to identify than traditional organic markets, but they can provide economic incentives for the transition years to go organic. Check out buyers at: www.cropsci.ncsu.edu/organicgrains/marketing/buyers.htm.
The following articles provide more information and considerations for transitioning to organic production.
Transitioning to Organic Production (SARE publication)
Organic Transition Course from the Rodale Institute
Steps to a Sucessful Organic Transition (pdf file--this publication is from Canada, but has good general recommendations)
Organic Farming: Is it for me? (North Dakota State University Extension)