Organic and conventional farming each have advantages. Organic fields don't use synthetic pesticides while conventionally grown crops produce higher yields. Bill Becker disagrees with that second assertion.
Becker, the keynote speaker at Western Illinois University's upcoming Organic Field Day, conducts crop research for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, but he has another title besides "researcher."
"The Crop Doctor" is the name of Becker's independent crop consulting business. He contends that properly managed, organic fields can yield at or above levels seen in conventional operations. His approach is built on an idea that he developed after working for pest management service after grad school.
"During that I saw farmers that really needed help with their fertility, and also I ran smack into nematode problems the first year I was out working with farmers," Becker said.
He also said that by managing those other essential plant nutrients, crops can become healthier and actually be more resistant to crop pests like parasitic nematodes, worms which often infect soybeans.
Becker that while many farmers keep track of some of the nutrients in their field - namely nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium - they don't keep track of other essential plant nutrients that can affect their crops.
He said he is excited to share his findings working with nutrient that actually not even directly aimed at helping plant's grow. Becker has been using sodium, that is salt, on one of his clients fields.
Becker said while the plants may not need sodium, other forms of soil life, like earthworms and beneficial species of nematodes, might.
"We figured maybe they need the sodium to complete their job and make the soil healthier," Becker said.
Becker said that he doesn't like the long lag time between research and implementing new ideas that often exists in crop research. He said if he has strong findings he will implement them after one or two years.