May 2, 2013
Talkin’ Shop: What’s your take on organic farming?

Editor's note: This is a complete list of the responses to the Talkin' Shop question on page 55 of the May 2013 issue of FGN.

Organic chemicals, if not handled or applied correctly, can cause issues for the applicator and customer, just as inorganic chemicals can. It’s important to identify and then target the problem with the minimal strength and amount of product that will take care of the problem when applying controls. What bothers me when I see an organic label is that most people identify the term “organic” as having no chemicals applied.
Dave Lindquist
Glenwood Orchard
Glenwood City, Wis.

I think it’s a good step in the right direction, but is very misunderstood. Folks think we don’t spray pesticides, but we do. They are just less toxic and less persistent in the environment. Organic farming is about the whole farm system, and making sure we take care of all aspects of the farm including our soil health, wildlife and native plant species, and every farm will be different.
Karen Warner
Big Head Farm
Benton Harbor, Mich.

We farm over 40 vineyards in the Napa Valley with sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices. The most important part of organic farming is balancing the soil through cover crops, composting and properly timed practices. This helps build a large beneficial population of bacteria and fungi to help break down and make nutrients available to the vines, as well as fight off pests and diseases. I feel this is the best way to build a strong healthy plant, maximizing the flavor and terroir of the site when the grapes are brought to the winery.
Michael Loconto
Barbour Vineyards
Napa, Calif.

Organic farming is near impossible to do here in the Pacific Northwest, due to our large amount of rain (sometimes for many days at a time). People want perfect or near perfect fruit; say they want organic; don’t want to pay the price; and we don’t want to do the extreme extra work involved.
I do think organic farming is the ideal; we strive to limit the spray usage. The public is unaware of the fact that organic farmers spray more. We are often asked, “Do you spray?” This is an inappropriate question; the public needs to be better educated on farming practices.
Esther Kirk
Marquam Meadows Fruit Co.
Molalla, Ore.

Not everyone can be organic, but if the grower doesn’t mind the extra work involved and can raise the same quality as conventional, it can be profitable.
Robert Mathison
Stemilt Growers
Wenatchee, Wash.

Like most everything else in life, every system of growing has its tradeoffs.
Mike Hiener
Peters Creek Farm
Dorset, Ohio

Real organic farming is renewable farming, or just farming. A farmer uses and preserves natural resources in a renewable way. A miner extracts resources and sells them, leaving a void. Some farms are mining nutrients, particularly carbon, from the soil. Many farms are forced to use inferior methods because of poor public policy and political meddling. On the other hand, “certified organic” farming is trying to farm with a limited “bag of tools.” I’m more concerned with the long-term effect of an input on my soil than the path that the elements took to get to the farm. All nitrogen starts as a gas in the atmosphere. All carbon starts as a gas in the atmosphere. Both have many routes to the soil and plants and animals.
John Neilsen
Corp of the Presiding Bishop
Post Falls, Idaho

It is a very good marketing concept.
Mark Ruben
Gilcrease Orchard
Las Vegas

Organic agriculture is a wonderful means of preserving the family farm because it demands a more intensive management and longer, more diverse rotations. It has a limiting effect on scale. I also believe it is the salvation of all of agriculture within a broader ecology. Ask beekeepers. In terms of health, does spraying chemicals with skulls and crossbones have a negative effect on farmer, farmworker and consumer health? While there is not a direct causation, there is a strong and obvious correlation. Though it is probably not as lucrative a market for your publication’s advertising revenues. But don’t give up cultivating it, and in turn altering the bias of your publication. I’m proud to be an organic farmer, and I’m ready to feed the world, but I think everyone should feed their own communities first.
Tony Schultz
Stoney Acres Farm
Athens, Wis.

Organic farming to me is managing the soil. Soil stewardship shows, you want to maintain a dirt that will be around for some time to come. I have kept good records and know what my soil is doing. I have seen my organic matter increase from 0.5 percent to 5.2 percent. The higher the organic matter, the stronger the soil and the less fertilizer you use, and during a drought the plants don’t suffer. The plants’ canes are putting on new growth faster, and the plants seem to be stronger while you are in the middle of a freeze. It has taken me 33 years to get 5.2 percent. I use peat humus, pine bark, and I have used cotton seed meal. The organic matter has a nutritional value, too. Usually, it takes a lot of organic matter to get the values you need. The organic matter usually is high in phosphorous and potassium and low in minor elements, which is prefect for the soil I use. I want black dirt. I want earthworms, because earthworms bring fertilizer and aerate the soil. When earthworms are happy, the soil is happy and alive. The higher the organic matter, the more earthworms are comfortable. They really like black dirt.
Dick Byne
Byne Blueberry Farm
Waynesboro, Ga.

Organic farming is the way to grow! It supports human health and environmental health as well.
Phaedra LaRocca Morrill
LaRocca Vineyards
Chico, Calif.

I think that it’s a big, fat lie because most people think that it means “no spray.”
I’m usually in strong disagreement with those that are its proponents. Also makes no economic sense under my growing conditions.
William E. Broderick
Sunny Crest Orchards
Sterling, Mass.

As long as there are people willing to pay the extra price it takes to grow organic produce, I will grow it. Easy to market 100 percent of the pears I grow.
Dan Goff
Kelseyville, Calif.

Obviously, after farming organically for 25 years, my opinion is pretty high. It’s a system that allows you to appreciate the incredibly intricate balance of nature, from the microbial life of a healthy organic soil to the many subtle parasitic and beneficial insect controls that can occur naturally when given the chance. It gives me a satisfaction of hoping that I not only farm to do no harm, but leave the land a little better. I am convinced that the advent of organic farming has reawakened an awareness that there are alternatives in pest and disease control. The research has flourished and spawned great advances in softer controls.
Orlin Knutson
Alamo Organic Orchards
Yakima, Wash.

I’ve been a certified organic farmer since 1980. I think we need all farmers. I believe we need to continuously strive to make our agronomic pest management strategies as soft on the environment as possible. We need to focus on organic/biological solutions in every ag sector. We need to develop climate-friendly management systems, increase the carbon in the soil, reduce tillage, conserve water and soil in every situation possible. We need to build cover cropping systems wherever it is feasible. We need to understand what modern agriculture is doing to our soil, our water, our livestock, our children, our citizens, our communities. Our food system is broken.
As I drove home from a recent meeting, I watched potato growers harvesting in standing water in the pouring rain, completely trashing their soil, because the market demands that those red and white potatoes be fresh out of the ground. It will take years for that ground to recover, and I rather doubt they will do any practices to increase organic material or soil tilth. It will just be more unsustainable practices on top of more unsustainable practices. There is something wrong with this picture. We need more organic farmers across all cropping strategies in all regions, and we need the support of USDA, our land-grant universities and our state departments of agriculture to make it happen.
Anne Schwartz
Blue Heron Farm
Rockport, Wash.

Organic farming: A niche endeavor. If there are customers that will buy, there is a need for organic farming. The underlying issues are more complex. Is organic farming superior to conventional in nutrition and environmental sustainability? The answer will be opinions disguised as fact. Is it scalable to a level needed to satisfy adequate, economical food production?
I think the “organic standards” border on arrogance and market entry barriers, not practices needed for maximum customer value. My view is that organic is more a lifestyle and philosophy than a sustainable, scalable farming system in the eastern portion of the U.S. Based on personal experience in providing pest and agronomic services in the west and Midwest for the last 25 years, organic farming is significantly more sustainable in the west.
Paul Reising
Evansville, Ind.

There is a difference between using organic methods and being “certified” organic. One is production, the other is marketing. I have been using organic methods since I was a wee lad working in my mother’s garden in the 1950s. However, I am not “certified” organic because I believe the certification process is a scam and a fraud. Even Dan Glickman admitted in December 2000 that “certified” organic is not about safety but only marketing. In most government regulation, a product label is based on the certification. In other words, the certification is important rather than the word. However “certified” organic is different, because USDA and Congress hijacked the very word itself. I even got a warning letter from USDA recently because I use the term “beyond organic” in my advertising. There is a word for the use of statute to suppress speech and ideas. It is called “fascism.”
Walter Haugen
F.A. Farm
Ferndale, Wash.

Started five years ago with 7 acres of certified organic blueberries. I am amazed at the amount of people that will come and u-pick them every day, but will not even walk 50 yards to look at the conventional berries.
Bill Adams
Adams Farms
Hartford, Mich.

Organic agriculture is a necessary counterbalance to industrialized farming, which is veering heavily toward toxic agriculture. In my opinion it points to a better way to farm, even though organic farming itself is not the best farming method. Organic farming is a good gauge to judge public preference, and here is my conclusion:
1) Eliminate toxic pesticides and GMOs – like it or not this is the main driver of organic sales.
2) Incorporate the many useful but non-toxic tools that can increase production and quality that do not qualify as organic.
3) By increasing nutrition in both the soil and the plant, the need for crop protection is dramatically reduced while the nutrient density of the produce and the expected health benefit to the consumer is enhanced.
Jon Frank
International Ag Labs
Fairmont, Minn.

We love it!
Chelan Fresh Marketing
Chelan, Wash.

I believe organic farming is the only way to sustain and grow food production in the world. Because of GMO crops, pesticides destroying bees and herbicides killing plants, we no longer can use these any longer. We must get back to the way farming is supposed to be done, and that is by using the resources so readily available and naturally producible. Our artificial methods have not helped the soil, nor the humans that eat from it.
Bernard Harris
Veggie Trails Organic Gardens
Withee, Wis.

Thirty years ago, we bought a small orchard in northeast Washington state. Being new to farming, we thought it prudent to maintain current conventional farming practices, since they were obviously working. During the second year of farming, each time I needed to spray for codling moth, scale, mites or scab, my wife would load up the car with supplies enough for an overnight, buckle in our three children and drive to family in Spokane. Our home is located in the middle of our orchard. At the end of the third year we decided to change to organic farming practices. Codling moth was difficult to control for the next four years, but we finally got there. Spiders and birds moved into the orchard, earthworms are now in abundance, wild bees replaced rented honeybees, and we have never had a mite or scale problem since we made the switch. And, my family was able to stay home while I applied the CM virus and scab sprays as needed.
I do have to be more attentive (timing is critical). It is incredibly satisfying to know that I am building healthy organic soil and raising fruit that I do not have to worry about as my grandchildren eat their way through the orchard and the season. Organic farming is peace of mind, and it is good for my family and our planet.
Don Worley
Downriver Orchard
Kettle Falls, Wash.

I would rather eat organic foods and never have to spray again. The fact of the matter is, it is too expensive to eat organic foods and it is too costly and ineffective to spray with organically approved pesticides. Therefore, I will continue eating great tasting and healthy conventionally produced foods, as well as practice IPM and use conventional chemicals to control the many pests and diseases that we have in the east.
Matt Chobanian
Piccione Ventures
Boonville, N.C.

I can only speak for the region of the U.S. that I live in. Today (April 4) the temperature is 42˚ F and raining. The humidity is 100 percent – naturally. “Organic” today is a cinch! Bugs don’t eat, fungus doesn’t grow and neither do weeds! But my crops won’t grow, either! I grow peaches, strawberries, plums, tomatoes, sweet corn, okra, squash, zucchini, peas, onions, watermelons and cantaloupes. I market mostly retail.
Three days out, weather forecast calls for sun and 80˚ F. Humidity will likely be above 70 percent. Now, all hell breaks loose – the peaches and plums are in full bloom and need to be sprayed for fungus, the strawberries need to be sprayed for insects and fungus, tomatoes need – yeah, everything else needs it, too, including the grass!
Let me slide forward about 30 days ! We are in the middle of strawberry season. A customer comes back and throws a fit because the berries she bought yesterday have all rotted (gray mold), another comes back fussing about misshapen berries (tarnished plant bug), another says “I got a worm is the berries that I purchased yesterday.”
Let me slide on into summer! Peaches, sweet corn and other summer crops are now in season. A customer says “Ugh – I don’t want that peach with spots on it (freckles – lack of fungicide). Another picks up an ear of corn, shucks it back and says with a lip turned down, “There has been a worm in this ear,” and throws it down.
To add insult to my operation, a small “organic” grower drives up to my market and quietly pulls me aside and inquires about buying wholesale squash from me for a couple of weeks until his next planting of squash starts to produce. “You have a really good name and my customers won’t know that I bought it from you,” he added wryly.
I’ve come to the conclusion that “organic” can be accomplished on a limited scale and under certain growing conditions, however I do not think it possible under the climate conditions that I and most other growers toil in. I also believe that any product grown “organic” must carry a price premium. I also have to question the integrity of some people in the “organic” movement! I spend a lot of time educating my customers why I have chosen to exclude my operation from the ”organic” movement. The only products that do well in my area organically are poke salad, possum grapes and persimmons. Most of my customers seem to agree, as they keep coming back and send their friends.
Larry and Sandy Odom
Holland Bottom Farm
Cabot, Ark.

It would be great if everyone had to do it!
Chip Hunter
Hunter Brothers
Florenceville-Bristol, Canada

Real organic farming means you use only what comes out of the back end of a farm animal. If you get pests, then it’s down to mother nature to sort it out. Anything else is just conning the buying public, which in my book is tantamount to fraud.
Ian Edge
Dihewyd, United Kingdom

Not worth the money. There is no nutritional difference in the product. It was a marketing tool for the 3-5 acre farmer.
Albert Lansing
Colonie, N.Y.

The reduction in the use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides is essential in lessening the accumulation of organic chemical residues on or in foods. The extent that organic farmers can accomplish this a desirable social and environmental goal. If it is not possible now to grow organic apples in the central and eastern states, then it should be a goal and such efforts should even be subsidized. Plants should be genetically engineered to achieve resistance.
Sam Fogel
Newton, Mass.

Too much red tape. “Chemical-free” is all customers need to hear about. In our 11 years of selling at farmers’ markets and CSAs, we’ve had about two hands’ worth of customers leave our stall empty-handed because we weren’t “certified organic.” I’ve never seen a vendor display a “certified organic” document. I don’t even know what one looks like. We have not seen the necessity of being “certified organic.”
Katherine Kubal
Buffalo, Minn.

Oftentimes, at a farmers’ market, a vendor is asked “Are your crops organic?” This question is frustrating for a conventional grower, as he knows that in most cases the customers are often clueless as to what they are asking. They “think” that organic is, for the most part, synonymous with crops not being sprayed. To clarify that, when asked this question at my market, we simply pass out a July 18, 2011, Scientific American article that clearly explains that organic crops are, in fact, sprayed. As a result, I believe about 22 of the 26 potential customers that asked this question last summer became regular customers.
Paul Friday
Coloma, Mich.

It is a marketing gimmick. It’s not safe, it’s not healthy for the consumer or the planet and it’s not sustainable.
Nothing clean about using poop to grow food. Anyone who says I’m mistaken because they use compost, not poop, is full of it. Poop is poop! Bacteria, parasites and drugs – in other words, poop! The argument that this is how they did it for thousands of years doesn’t hold much water. Modern animal production does not produce the same quality of animal waste with historical properties; modern drugs, E. coli, parasites, etc., are now an issue with animal waste. This wasn’t always the case.
I visited an organic farm that was using compost tea as a foliar application on all of its crops as a pest control. The tea was derived from cows. He was growing a huge diversity of crops for the fresh market. Very unsafe practice in my opinion, but he was all about sustainability.
There is a misconception that it is sustainable to use hand labor to control weeds instead of chemicals or tractor cultivation. If you do the math, this belief doesn’t survive scrutiny.
Arthur Keyes

I do not eat anything organic. Never have, never will.
Gary Mahany

I think organic farming is a joke and should not be allowed. It just takes poor farming practices and makes them worse.
Chris Hubbell

It may be just what it takes for people to start shopping local, where fresh means fresh. Not 10 days ago, and how many miles covered with a substance to keep them looking fresh. If you are not shopping local and you are tired of worrying over what chemical could get in the product, then organic is the only way!
Lonny LeFever

We practice organic growing of all the produce we eat and sell. Why would anyone put poison on something they are going to eat?
David Moore

Seems to be a lot of hatred for us “conventional” farmers who use IPM, do things carefully and strive to be better every day.
Jeff VanderWerff




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