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Montana Ag Network: Tiber Ridge Organics showcases innovative practices

John Wicks - Tiber Ridge Organics.png
Posted at 9:10 AM, Jul 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-06 11:11:01-04

LEDGER — Located nine miles northeast of Conrad, in Montana's Golden Triangle is where John Wicks operates his own family farm, known as 'Tiber Ridge Organics,'

Wicks took over the farm at the age of 21, due to unexpected and unfortunate circumstances.

"When I was 21, I was going to college at MSU, studying Agriculture. My dad had suddenly passed away, so I came back to the farm that spring. I jumped in and started learning the little aspects of farming. I had a rough go getting started. Over time, I figured out what I was doing, but it wasn't very profitable in the method that we were practicing."

That was when Wicks' journey began transitioning from a conventional way of farming to organic.

"I started having a little more fun doing it," Wicks said. "The books showed it was a little more profitable, so I dove into that and started researching some equipment and cropping systems that were climate smart and good for the soil. I started really focusing on soil health."

Wicks found success in converting his family farm to certified organic raising wheat, lentils, and more.

Wicks talked about the experience about organic farming, stating, "It's been really rewarding, and I think that I've been able to change some minds about a few things, and do a lot of experimenting that I think is going to prove to be beneficial for a lot of growers, either organic or conventional. Any of these practices, you can adapt to and start building soil health."

The transition to organic has also increased profitability while reducing input costs.

Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer had his own potato farm next door to the Wicks family. He explained what makes Tiber Ridge Organics so unique.

"John has taken it to a whole new level. To be a good, organic farmer, you really have to be on your game. Conventional farming, you can cover up some mistakes with some chemicals or fertilizer. You're maximizing yields, but it's pretty expensive."

He added, "I think what we found here in Montana in the last three or four years, with the COVID pandemic, when we were being rationed food in our grocery stores, we started thinking about where our food comes from, and wanting to be able to get it close to home. That's what organic farming is also about. Growing food for our local community and the world. Also, when the price of fertilizer up, the price of herbicides went up ... More and more farmers are trying organic farming, it's way less input, less risk. Sure, you don't get maximum yields, but if you do a good job of it, you get maximum prices, so it all evens out.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the results of the 2021 Organic Survey, which show total sales of $11.2 billion in organic products, an increase of $1.28 billion, or 13%, from 2019. There were 17,445 certified organic farms, a 5% increase from 2019.

The question as to whether organic farming will become the new trend, Schweitzer said nothing is certain. However, there is a huge potential.

"With climate-smart agriculture, our farm bill, and USDA is investing in good soil health, and good farming practices. A lot of times, that's using cover crops. That's doing what a lot of organic farmers do. I think there's going to be incentives more and more," Schweitzer said.

Wicks has been collaborating with other farmers, businesses, and agencies who advocate for similar practices.

"It's been really rewarding," Wicks said, "and I think I've been able to change some minds about some things and do a lot of experimenting that's going to prove to be beneficial for a lot of growers either organic or conventional. Any of these practices you can adapt to and really start building soil health."