In Defense of Organic Agriculture

Just saw this short blurb pop across my social media stream..

“Organic prevents you from using some of the techniques that do the best job of preserving the environment. Because organic yields are lower, you have to use more land to get the same amount of food, and that takes land away from the environment – you have to cut more trees, or plow up more land, or disturb more wildlife habitat. Second, if you’re an organic grower, it’s much more difficult for you to adopt no-till farming practices. No-till farming is the best method of protecting the soil, of conserving soil moisture, sequestering carbon and avoiding soil erosion”   Here is the full article.

What disturbs me the most is this:  That blurb was pulled directly out of a question supposedly asking for the PROS and cons of organic farming.  Since there weren’t any pros listed, I thought I’d try to help out a bit.

Organic farming means more acres of food production.  Global demand is asking for more food, we’re struggling to find ways to provide it.  How does organic help that?  Consider this:  Esp. near large metropolitan areas, land is at a premium price, opportunities for many farmers in those regions to grow their operations is small, therefore if they are going to maintain what is often a family farming operation, they need to specialize, and organic is a very good opportunity to do this.   What’s important to realize is there are many cases where a small conventional farm is no longer financially viable, and the alternative is to either turn the farm into a housing development or some specialized agriculture production.  So, having organic and other specialty options actually increases the amount of food we can grow.

Farming is all about learning, trying different things, improving.  The very different nature of organic production means there is a lot of ideas and things being tried that sometimes find their way into conventional production.  Some recent examples I’ve seen include things like diverse crop rotations, integrated crop/cattle production systems.  I’ve watched conventional farmers become interested in adopting these techniques, which are something most organic producers have gained a lot of experience at.

There’s probably many things I could list, but this one may be the most important.  If your in production agriculture, your well aware of the massive concern that exists in the general population regarding modern food production.  That concern will not change overnight, but one of the significant opportunities we have to help manage that concern is to provide a diverse set of food choices to those who desire/ask for them.  If you think the complaints/protests against a technology like GMO’s are high now, imagine if the folks most concerned about these things did not have another option, the push to regulate/ban/control would quite likely be much, much higher.

The effort I see at times to dis-credit organic production by others in agriculture has always been a bit of a mystery.  I farm conventionally, I’m a very strong believer in sound science, and the ability of new technologies to provide more food and do so more sustainability.   But I’m also a realist, and a businessman – Should the opportunity to be an organic producer present itself, one that would be financially beneficial to my operation, and fit with my other goals, why would I not want to consider it?

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14 responses to this post.

  1. Darin, I am not trying to BASH organic farming by any means. You’ve got to put yourself in my world and my shoes. My recent article regarding the local paper I’ve been in discussion with HAILS organics in all forms. Never are conventional farming methods discussed or even spotlighted or featured. My decision to put this article out there is me sharing with my readers and their readers that indeed organics isn’t “all rainbows and happy animals” like our local newspaper likes to portray it. That in fact there can be downsides to organics. Consumers (in our area at least) will pay through the nose for organics because they truly believe it is BETTER FOR THEM and BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. I’ve had multiple people tell me that (many of whom follow my feed on FB). So I try to educate these people on the “other side” because clearly, they aren’t getting education on conventional methods of farming. So although it seems like I was trying to be one sided, at least in my circle of people, the other side (the conventional side) needs to be supported and represented a little more. For example, we literally have people in our area harassing people into signing a petition to label GMO foods when in fact the people who are supporting this cause have no idea the repercussions this could cause on the food industry.

    With all of this said, great write up. And I do agree with you on many topics brought up here. And I am sorry if you took my post and share of this article on Facebook in a different light. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in our own worlds. And being able to experience both worlds now (California and North Dakota), I am starting to realize how disillusioned people in California really are about conventional farming methods as well as what the rest of the country has to go through to get food.

    Reply

    • Jenny,

      Thanks for offering your perspective. In no way is my concern with you personally.. And you offer a very good explanation for sharing what/why you did.

      To me, this is a somewhat common problem in the ag industry, that rather than talking about the positives of what we do, we have to explain why other methods are wrong.. and than we wonder why many organizational efforts continue to attract the same old crowd. So my post was very much addressing the whole concept of the problems conventional ag seems to have with organic at times, and not this specific item directly. It was just the proverbial straw that broke the camels back and got me to write my thoughts down.

      In the bigger picture, your reasons for sharing, your experiences, just prove that social media is an absolutely individual thing, we all have reasons, usually quite valid, for what we do. Thanks for sharing, and inspiring this discussion! I hope North Dakota is treating you well!

      Reply

  2. Thanks for this post. I definitely agree. I’ve got absolutely no problem with organic farming. Do I have problems from time to time with staunch organic supporters (who often aren’t farmers) who despise my farming methods? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I think organic is a bad way to go.

    You know I’m a fan of free markets, etc, so someone finding a niche they can sell to and make a living is A-OK by me. It’s not much different that us growing waxy corn, popcorn, and soybeans for seed on our farm. We might be all conventional corn and beans on the surface, but we have carved out some places for these crops that get us a premium price.

    Reply

  3. I agree with Jenny. I share the cons of Organic because there seems be biased and one sided articles written about Organic farming being better for the environment and better health wise for consumers. Both of which are not true. Organic farming has it’s place but consumers should not be lead to believe that all farmers should farm that way. In fact, Organic is bad for the environment in our area. Last year we were drier than it was back in the dirty 30s. Without our current farming methods, we would have been living in a repeat dustbowl.

    Reply

  4. Pamela, thanks for your comments. I don’t want to imply that any criticism of organic is wrong. You bring up some very good examples of where it just simply does not work. The methods of optimum agriculture production should and do vary widely across this great land of ours.

    What does frustrate me a bit is the way organic ag is often portrayed in a negative light by many of our mainstream ag organizations. If you look at this post, I’m not disagreeing with the issues that are raised, I’m just pointing out that the question on the website was to discuss the pro’s AND con’s of organic, and all they did was point out the negative, that’s fine, just state up front what your doing!

    Reply

    • I think there are articles written portraying Conventional farming in a negative light that are not fair and unbiased. Those articles do not always tell the pros and cons of Conventional farming. Many consumers have been misled into thinking that Organic is the answer for everything. And that is just not true. Many consumers are unaware of the vast differences in areas of our country and how that effects farming practices. My husband and I grew up in Ohio. When we moved to Texas we had to learn how to farm here. Even though my husband grew up farming, the soil, climate, etc were different and we could not farm this ground the same way that we did in the midwest.

      Many consumers do not realize that at times there may be only one or two farming practices that separate Conventional from Organic. What I do have faith in is that MOST farmers love the land they have the privilege to farm. And MOST farmers choose the best farming methods for their particular farms. That is the message the consumer needs to hear from us.

      What frustrates me is when some people try to set themselves up as the social media police for our industry. You have to let people voice their opinions even if you do not like or agree with what they say. And very few are going to give a Pro and Con, fair and unbiased opinion. <—can you tell you made me mad?

      Reply

      • I think I’m slowly learning a lesson here..

        The one thing we COMPLETELY agree on Pamela is the strong dislike for those that would set themselves up as “social media police” for our industry.. Social media is such an individual thing, the people we connect with, our experiences, are all so unique, I firmly believe there is great danger in trying to tell others how to do it.

        That I made you mad because that’s how you felt after this post is certainly something to ponder..

  5. I feel that your blog was telling us to sit down and be quiet and that is what made me angry. I am a Foodie and in that world there is so much misinformation about farming practices. So many people really believe that Organic is healthier, safer,and better for the environment. All of which I know is not true. From my perspective, in the Foodie world, there are so many negative articles about conventional farming. So when I finally see an article that is telling the truth about Organic, I think…finally someone is explaining the truth.

    Reply

  6. Thanks for posting Darin. Also our yeilds are not dramatically different than conventional. Many new studies show better yeilds with organic. It all boils down to long term management of soil. I find it really cool how many ag magazines are showcasing practices that are widly used in organic ag: grazing dairy, cover crops, natural remedies, etc. We all know growing food isnt black and white. The more we learn from each other the better we all become.

    Reply

  7. Just stumbled on your blog and I really enjoyed reading this post. I think you would agree with me on a few points that I had in a past blog similar to this one…http://nuttygrass.com/2012/02/25/conventional-or-organicwhat-do-you-put-in-your-grocery-cart/

    Reply

    • Thank you. I read your “what do you put in your grocery cart and liked that perspective as well. I think it’s so critical that we find a way to calm the rhetoric that exists even in agriculture on this divisive issue and explain that conventional food is safe (after all we eat it/feed it to our kids, ourselves!) while at the same time supporting the broad choice that is available in the grocery isle.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      Reply

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