Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture & Farming in Central Illinois

No longer limited to farmers’ markets and health food stores, organic foods and products have become a big business. As people learn more about the benefits of fresh produce and whole foods, many start buying natural and organic foods and other products to improve their diet and health. Have you been thinking of starting an organic farm operation or switching to organic? Keep reading to learn more about organic vs. conventional farming in Illinois.


What’s the difference between organic and conventional farming?

Learning about the differences between organic and conventional farming will help you decide how you would like to manage your farm.

The primary difference between organic and conventional farming is how crops are grown.


With conventional farming, chemicals are used in every step of the process, from fertilization to pest and weed management.


Conventional produce may also come from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are created in a lab to be hardier and more disease resistant.


On the other hand, organic farming is about maintaining a healthy ecosystem and environment for crops so they can be grown without chemicals and other harmful practices.


The labeling term “organic” is also held to strict requirements maintained by the USDA. These include:

  • Organic seeds
  • No GMOs, ionizing radiation, or sewage & sludge
  • Must use natural practices to control pests, weeds, and diseases
  • Manage soil health with natural practices such as tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops.


Organic farming comes with higher costs than a conventional farm, but farmers can recoup those costs and have a higher net return than conventional farmers because of the high demand for organic products and the higher prices consumers are willing to pay for those products.


What is a GMO?

Understanding GMOs is a key step in determining a growth strategy for your farm. Refer to the resources below to learn about its uses and potential downsides.

Purdue University defines GMOs as “living beings that have had their genetic code changed in some way.” Most people associate GMOs with crops and food, but bacteria and fungi have also been genetically modified for various purposes such as medicines and vaccines.


Genetically modified crops are created to address problems from insects and weeds and to guarantee a good yield. While there is some controversy surrounding the use and consumption of GMOs, The National Academy for Science concluded that GMOs are safe for human health.


For farmers, the potential benefits of growing genetically modified crops include lower costs, less soil erosion, and less pesticide application.


Environmental Considerations of Organic Farming

Conventional and Organic Farming have differing levels of impact on the environment. This is an important factor to keep in mind as you prepare to determine your farm's direction.

Environmental concerns are a reason why many farmers go into organic farming. The biggest caveat with organic farming is that the label “organic” is meaningless if farmers aren’t actually following organic practices. However, when done right, organic farming can have a smaller carbon footprint through:

  • Conserving and contributing to soil health by preserving organic matter (natural bacteria and fungi).
  • Cleaner water due to less agricultural runoff
  • No toxic pesticide residue


As mentioned above, nitrogen fertilizer is a non-renewable and limited energy source for growing crops. Organic farming can make a big difference for the environment by following a closed nutrient cycle in which waste is minimized and natural resources are used more efficiently.


Meet our agricultural lending family!

At Flanagan State Bank, we are committed to agriculture and to our local farmers. After serving Central Illinois farmers for more than a century, we have the expertise to support your farm, whether conventional or organic. Check out our organic farming resources page and give us a call to learn more about operating, real estate, and equipment loans for your farm!


Contact a member of our Agricultural Lending Team or visit one of our nearby locations to learn more!