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Fostering Sustainable Agriculture through Research, Education and Policy since 1984

Are You Proud to Be an Organic Farmer?

I had a recent opportunity to listen in on a panel comprised of organic farmers and organic processors that discussed growing food grade organic grains and the markets for these products. One of the farmers on the panel had transitioned to organic production approximately 10 years ago and called himself a “recovering conventional farmer”. While this line was said in jest and got a lot of laughs in the room, it made me think about why, as organic producers, we continue to reference and measure ourselves based on conventional farming terms and practices. To me, the challenge is simple: Promote what we do as organic producers and stop looking over our shoulder at the conventional farmer.

The organic industry is full of well educated “progressive farmers” who understand their farms as a sustainable whole operation and not a mono-culture. Organic farmers are successful without using GMO seeds or any of the conventional herbicides/insecticides out on the market. Organic livestock producers are profitable without using antibiotics in their feed and strive every day to insure their animals have access to pasture and are raised in healthy humane conditions. Thriving organic farmers know how to generate healthy soils that are high in fertility, organic matter and beneficial microbes. Like all good farmers, organic producers emphasize the use of cover crops along with conservation appropriate sustainable farming practices. Add in the fact that all certified farms have a documented farm operation’s plan that is annually examined, inspected and approved by a professionally trained organic inspector, consumers can be assured of a safe product for livestock and human consumption. If I still haven’t convinced you how great we are at what we do, a growing number of organic producers are taking the next step to even higher standards. They are moving towards A+ organics with biodynamic certification through Demeter in the field and on retail labeling.

And don’t run down your neighbor if he is addicted to high tech agriculture! Just like a teenager hooked on video games and constantly look forward to the next version, it is easy to become trapped in the cycle of planting corn and soybeans with the newest stacked gene traits or resistance to the latest chemical mixes to control weeds and insects. Farmers are slowly becoming aware of the resulting problems caused by super weeds or insects that are resistant to over-used insecticides. Researchers promise answers to these problems, but have yet to deliver a solution that doesn’t require more chemicals and create further resistance.

As you start the 2017 planting season, be proud of what you do as a farmer/organic producer and always be open to innovative ideas and methods. When you see your neighbor, initiate a dialog about the important things you are doing on your farm and how they work for you. As somebody once said, “you can’t build your own house if you are busy tearing down someone else’s”.

Perry Brown, Executive Director