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Economics of weed control in alternative farming systems.

Proceedings of the 5th REAP Conference. Macdonald College, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, March 15.

Stonehouse (1991) has reported the results of an on-farm comparison of alternative systems of weed control for several crops that are commonly grown in southern Ontario. The alternatives included: conventional, reduced input and organic. Economic comparisons were made using partial budgets based on five years of data on revenues earned, and direct costs: material inputs, machinery operation, labour and miscellaneous expenses (Table 6.). Data were gathered from six farms of comparable size. With only two farms of each type, and the fact that they differed in some respects, the results can not be considered to be conclusive.

Based on the five years of data, Stonehouse found that the organic farms achieved yields comparable to conventional with non-chemical weed control, but there was a lower incidence of weeds to control on organic farms. He observed that on the organic farms, weeds did not appear to be a serious problem, and he attributed this to the practice of composting all manure so as to kill weed seeds. On the other farms, weeds were effectively controlled with herbicides. Another distinguishing characteristic was that the organic farms tended to grow a wider range of crops, with more complex rotations, including hay, pulses, a variety of small grains, and more frequent use of cover crops.

For both wheat and corn, the gross margins for the organic farms were at least as great as the alternatives. For corn, the five year average price received was the same across farming systems ($126/t). For wheat, the organic farms received a premium, but would still have had the highest returns at the conventional price.

Table: Five Year Average Economic Results

  Conventional Low Input Organic
Tillable land (ha) 234 192 228
CORN      
Yield (t/ha) 5.5 6.5 6.4
Gross Revenue ($/ha) 691 816 811
Direct Costs ($/ha) 606 326 325
Gross Margin ($/ha) 85 489 485
Price ($/t) 126 126 126
WINTER WHEAT      
Yield (T/ha) 2.9 3.3 3.3
Gross Revenue ($/ha) 460 524 662
Direct Costs ($/ha) 285 273 209
Gross Margin ($/ha) 175 251 453
Price ($/t) 160 160 202

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