Is Organic Agriculture The Solution???

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

I'd like to open a discussion on organic practices and especially the feasibility of those practices as it relates to commercial agriculture. Let me begin by saying that I am VERY reluctantly coming to the conclusion that rabid proponents of organic practices, and, more broadly, the entire environmental movement, are not dealing with a full set of facts and are, in some cases, doing little more than scare mongering. I think many are well-intentioned, but nonetheless, still likely misguided at least in part. I think some of these folks are doing the entire world a disservice and that many of us, with a good heart and with honesty, follow them without getting the big picture. These are absolutely not conclusions I wanted to arrive at. (My high school English teacher would have preferred: “These are not conclusions at which I wanted to arrive.” :«) )

I am not saying that organic practices are bad. In my own garden, I am, and will stay, pretty much totally organic. I have access to animal manures and cheap compost, plus I make my own compost (poorly). Aside from lacking organic matter, I am fortunate that my soil is pretty decent. I avoid poisons of any kind, organic or “chemical”, except on very rare occasions. I accept the idea of diversity completely and, to me, using broad spectrum poisons presents a threat to that diversity in my garden. I rarely have serious insect or disease issues. When I do, hand picking (horn worms) or insecticidal soap (very specific and not a threat to critters not directly sprayed) works well enough. Bt seems good to me, but I haven't needed to use it. Organic approaches work very well for me, but I suspect someone who raises food for a living--and to feed us--has a different opinion, knows a lot more than I do, AND has his/her livelihood at stake.

I tend to view issues like this through the lens of my personal experience in the evolution vs young-earth-creation (YEC) debate. This debate is similar to organic/chemical in that neither issue appears to be difficult to grasp, at least in their broadest senses. As such, YECs (and many others) THINK they understand evolution. Senseless anti-evolution arguments get offered up as a result, for instance, “if man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” This argument actually shows intelligent (some) thought and makes a lot of sense to a YEC'er, but it reflects a complete misunderstanding of how and what evolution is and how it works. It's like the old saw “enough knowledge to be dangerous”. I think a lot of the organic vs chemical (please, is there a better description than “chemical”) debate resembles the creation/evolution debate in this way. Unlike perhaps quantum mechanics, most of us can grasp the essentials fairly easily and thus we participate in a discussion in which we actually lack adequate background.

My point is this: like evolution, environmentalism seems easy to grasp, but it too is much more complicated. For instance, it's easy to look at the downsides of conventional agriculture. It's easy to point to, say, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and blame it on excess application of “chemical” nitrogen, which is 100% true. It's easy to criticize monocultures, which definitely do cause problems with pest concentrations and sometimes soil depletion. Conventional agriculture has contributed to significant erosion, too. But, these problems do not necessarily mean “organic” is better. A YEC'er can point to an unanswered question with evolutionary theory and then claim that that problem “proves” that evolution is wrong and thus the earth must be only 6,000 years old. Most problems and issues are not black and white, A or B.

One big realization I've recently had as a result of the GMO discussions in this forum is just how truly “violent” agriculture is. Whether its a small plot in your back yard or hundreds/thousands of acres of potatoes, corn, or whatever, that land represents a destruction of the “natural” system that existed before the garden. Now, it's maybe not a big deal in your yard; only a few rodents and insects and maybe some birds were truly affected. Your soil improvements may even enhance the life in the ground. But to grow enough food for us all, back yard plots won't hack it. We need to plant millions of square miles. If we can plant them intensively, we reduce the amount of “natural” land destroyed. As I understand it, going 100% organic means much, much more land needs to be farmed. On the energy front, using ethanol means more land for agriculture, too, to raise corn or sugar cane (destruction of Brazilian rain forests). This is good in that we import less oil from countries that do not like us. It's bad in that more “natural” land was taken and converted to our own use.

Anyway, I'd like for those who care about these issues to chip in on this conversation. I hope we can have reasoned discussions and learn things; not just defend one position and degrade another position.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I think you did a wonderful job with the above post, very nicely worded. I think we all have opinions on the subject, but I am afraid most of them are just that. I will be interested in seeing if the rest of the responses are as opened minded your original post. I think right now trying to feed all the hungry people in the world is a job that requires all our resources, but changing agricultural methods must go along with political change. Is chemical agriculture the blame, or is improper methods of chemical agriculture to blame? Would improper methods of organic gardening be any better? People get into such detail about what actually is considered organic, I think those restrictions alone would prevent there being enough organic materials available for a world wide dependence on organic farming.
I must admit my knowledge of large scale commercial farming is very close to zero, and as far as that, my knowledge of organic gardening even on a small scale is not much above zero, so I have no answers. Heck, I am still caught up in the climate change debate, is it real, did we cause it, do we know how we caused it, do we know if we will be able to turn it around?
I was blown over to hear a conservationist who was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of elephants say, we had it all wrong, the elephants were not the problem. This after decades of scientific study showing that they were the problem? So much proven science. Looking forward to following this thread, hopefully we will all learn something along the way.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Prefacing it with "I do know that I DON'T know much about the reality of large scale agriculture", I will still say what I think.

I doubt if the best answer will be "either-or". It almost has to be "all of the above".

Industrial agriculture will benefit from more organic practices, and less energy-intensive inputs, like reduced tillage. Make use of "organic" insights where practical.

Industrial agriculture will continue reducing their use of use of highly toxic pesticides through GMOs, second-generation GMOs, and Integrated Pest Management. Just being smart about using "enough" but not more than needed will help the environment and their bottom line, as we understand better how to reduce risks other than "spray more pesticides".

Maybe organic food production in wealthy nations will become a little more balanced and trade off greater efficiency and yield for CONSIDERED use of RELATIVELY harmless industrial methods IN MODERATION. We can hope.

What hope is there for Third World countries lacking vast amounts of capital to invest in solving their local problems of expanding population, extreme weather, climate change, inadequate fresh and clean water supplies, and coming famine ?

I hope that the newer, easier GE techniques will allow smaller research teams to produce and release effective plant varieties on smaller budgets and faster than first generation GE techniques could. If the startup costs are low enough, the players who NEED drought resistance and low-input tolerance and marginal-land-toleration might be able to afford their own research.

Lowering the cost of getting through regulatory barriers (needed safety testing) by making non-transgenic DNA changes more effective may make it possible for famine-busting crop varieties to be released to farmers without the need to recoup vast investments (or make vast profits, your choice) .

Can you tell us more about conservationists slaughtering thousands of elephants?

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Here is the video,

This message was edited Feb 17, 2014 7:11 PM

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Rick--You are absolutely right. My initial post made it seem as if I was pitting organic vs conventional, but I agree with you wholeheartedly. It's really A + B + C + D + something new + something old...

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

... something borrowed (genes from wild varieties of crop species)
... something blue (this planet, hopefully).

I do think that both "sides" need to stop thinking adversarially and focus instead on whatever works.

However, I do think that corporations think about profit, more profit, long-term profit and short-term profit. We need more players in the game thinking "sustainability".

This message was edited Feb 17, 2014 6:30 PM

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thanks for the link, but I can't seem to play it at work. I'll try from home.

Elephants causing the Sahel desert to spread by over-grazing??

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Without profit there is no "sustainability" in business. They can work hand in hand though and often do.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Seedfork--excellent video. I don't know if it was in Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" or Joel Salatin's "This Ain't Normal", but the exact same ideas about large herds of herbivore's were discussed. Whichever book it was in (maybe even both), it was about Salatin's VA farm. I think the lesson here is quite humbling for wannabe ecologists who have denigrated livestock for a very long time. I am not a global warming denier, but I heard in this video an option for the cause of global warming--desertification. I wonder is the climate models take desertification into consideration?

In a related case, I have heard about a (Sierra Club, maybe, or maybe the US Forest Service) proposal to kill 3,000 Barred Owls in Oregon because the Barred Owl is killing Spotted Owls. Like killing the elephants, we sometimes are pretty sure of things that are actually way over our heads.

Rick--I am not nearly as pessimistic as you about corporations and corporate profits. Corporations certainly do focus heavily on profit, but profit is a measure of success in terms of the willingness of customers to purchase a product. My entire home is filled with the products of corporations, products I voluntarily bought. In the context of this thread, what should Monsanto do in your opinion vs what they are doing now?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> profit is a measure of success in terms of the willingness of customers to purchase a product.

I really wish we could avoid political debates,

>> In the context of this thread, what should Monsanto do in your opinion vs what they are doing now?

Being a corporation, they "should" maximize their profits - it's what they are, and that is what their owners (shareholders) would want. I can't argue with that.

Like I don't expect a shark to be a humanitarian, but I do hope that some beaches will have lifeguards. (And I do know that someone has to pay the lifeguard's salary.)

I would LIKE to argue that large corporations "should" not be lobbying to get laws passed like "you may not sue Monsanto" and unleashing hordes of lawyers to intimidate farmers downwind of fields with Monsanto crops.

But large corporations do have to defend their profits against governments, and asking them not to use lawyers to manipulate the system would be like asking lions not to use a long fence to help them catch and drag down prey.

Which crop was it where one whole part of a state lost the ability to sell to some country like Japan because the crop was demonstrably contaminated with GMO genes that most countries in the world forbid for human consumption?

As far as I know, any attempt to recover damages from the company developing that strain and killing the main market for that grain went nowhere. If they had released a toxin that made the crop unsalable, it seems as if "damages" would be reasonable. It is just my opinion, but I think we have the finest congressmen that money can buy.

I think that the world and the human species need some effective organizations with motivations that go beyond accumulating money, and that include things like sustaining the species (not just their profit margin) and defending the health of the planet and poor people (not just their bottom line). Governments have a mixed record, and NGOs try more often than they are effective.

If I had an answer, I would suggest it. I guess I'm depressed today.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

According to John Kerry, no one should question his conclusions on global warming, he says all the evidence is in, and we should go ahead with drastic measures right now to correct it. That is really scary to me, is the world and climate so easily understood? I am always afraid of people who want to shut out opposing views.

This message was edited Feb 17, 2014 9:08 PM

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Rick, was it corn banned by China. I like the part that suggest we need to improve our standards of inspection to met those of China.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

In general, it's not "evil corporations", "greedy politicians", or 'big government" that are the troubles per se. It's the fact that they are all comprised of humans and humans are not particularly perfect, current company excepted, of course.

These issues are complicated. An example from "Mendel in the Kitchen: illustrates the complexity pretty well. A nutritionist asked the geneticist who was the big push behind the development of Golden Rice this question (I paraphrase): "Is the beta carotene you inserted into the rice in a form that is available nutritionally?" The geneticist responded (with a puzzled look) "Why wouldn't it be?"

I can't recommend "Mendel" highly enough.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

To promote more conversation directly related to the thread topic:

1) Is organic food more nutritious than conventional? I read that it is and then I read that it isn't. In one way, it makes sense to me that it would be since the organic matter used to fertilize provides more nutrients/elements than just the N, P, and K in a standard fertilizer. The old, "feed the soil" idea.

2) Is organic farming inherently less productive per unit area than conventional? Many say yes. If that's true, organic can be understood as destructive of otherwise "wild" lands.

3) Is monocropping a feature that cannot be done away with when growing very large quantities of grains/veggies/etc?

Finally, when disagreements pop up, remember this: Be reasonable, see it my way.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Quote from Seedfork :
According to John Kerry, no one should question his conclusions on global warming, he says all the evidence is in, and we should go ahead with drastic measures right now to correct it. That is really scary to me, is the world and climate so easily understood? I am always afraid of people who want to shut out opposing views.

This message was edited Feb 17, 2014 9:08 PM

John Kerry said the other day that global warming is a weapon of mass destruction....

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Quote from WillyFromAZ :
To promote more conversation directly related to the thread topic:

1) Is organic food more nutritious than conventional? I read that it is and then I read that it isn't. In one way, it makes sense to me that it would be since the organic matter used to fertilize provides more nutrients/elements than just the N, P, and K in a standard fertilizer. The old, "feed the soil" idea.

2) Is organic farming inherently less productive per unit area than conventional? Many say yes. If that's true, organic can be understood as destructive of otherwise "wild" lands.

3) Is monocropping a feature that cannot be done away with when growing very large quantities of grains/veggies/etc?

Finally, when disagreements pop up, remember this: Be reasonable, see it my way.


I will try and answer your questions.

1. Is organic more or less nutritious? There is no difference based on method but on soil quality and characteristics. It all depends on the soil that is used to grow the crops. Some conventional soils are as rich or richer than soils used to produce organic crops. A method does not make a soil necesarily richer than another. The soil and its parent material does. Conventional growers also apply the micronutrients when needed. Also many conventional growers also use green manuers as well as various animal manuers and biosolids that may provide nutrition. Many soils with natural high OM matter contents or clay contents have enough micronutrients to supply crops for hundreds of years. Crops often mine nutrients from farther down in the soil profile and bring them to the surface. Most conventional growers also use no-till practices which increase organic matter contents and soil nutrition. Organic crop production does not use no-till methods. Also, in organic production systems they are not always able to obtain all of the nutrition that a crop needs because enough organic matter can not be obtained or it is not broken down at the right time when the plant needs it. In other words many soils where organic crops are grown are nutrient deficient which could produce less nutritious produce.

2. Organic does produce less per unit area. There are many reasons...but the first is because in organic methods fertility is often limiting. Organically grown plants on most large scale farms are not able to obtain all of the nutrition that a crop needs because enough organic matter can not be obtained or it is not broken down at the right time when the plant needs it. This reduces yield vs conventional systems. The crop protection options are also very limited. There are almost no organically approved a lot of tillage and hand weeding and hoeing is used. If weeds are not controlled and are left to grow this reduces yield significantly from weed competition. Disease control and insect control are also often reduced in organic systems and there is less fruit that is marketable and or harvestable. It also requires much more labor to produce organic crops because much of what can be done chemically in conventional crops must be done by hand in organic systems. In my opinion producing a high yield on fewer acres of intensely managed crop is better for the environment than having low yelding organic on a much greater number of acres. There are huge losses in organic production. And there are many organic growers that would have even more losses if it wasnt for all the conventional growers around them that help to keep pests under control.

Most of us monocrop. Anyone who has a lawn monocrops. Do you plant your carrots in rows? Monocropping puts plants together in similar management groups so efficiency can be acheived in managing those it planting, harvesting, fertilizing or controlling pests. Some see a monocrop...such a a wheat field of pure wheat to be a bad thing. I think it is efficient. Now monocropping in terms of one crop on the same land over and over and over I think is bad. Its good to use crop rotations, cover crops etc to increase diversity which can reduce pests as well. By the way, diversity by itself isnt always good. Some crops compete with each other and should not be in close proximity. Try growing corn or tomatoes unter the shade of your apple tree for instance. But there are some synergies out there with living mulches that reduce weeds and provide some nutrients and both conventional and organic farmers are using those methods. Also some crops like potatoes should not be grown again on the same soil for 3-4 years to reduce disease and other pest inoculums for future crops.

Again I think most farmers are not 100% conventional. Many use manuers if they are available. Many use cultural practices and other organic methods in addional to chemicals. Most use IPM and any practice that is economical.

Organic animal production is a whole other subject. If you have a sick cow that needs an antibiotic to make it well what are the ethics involved in organic production. Do you let the cow get sick and die? You would be amazed how much loss of animal life there is in organic production. How about when an organic milk cow gets mastitis?

In my view, in large scale organic production I think the food lost from plants due to poor plant nutrition, not controlling weeds,diseases and insects and the needless deaths of animals is unethical.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


That was a good insight into some consequences of organic methods. And it is good to remember that it's much more labor-intensive. That helps me understand why the prices are so high (it's not just a fashionable rip-off.)

I've seen elsewhere the idea that "if you don't spray herbicides, you have to till".

Do you think that "a little compromise" of "organic principles" would get them a lot more yield, or less waste? In other words, are they shooting themselves in the foot more than they need to, to get most of the desired benefits?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Seedfork, thanks for the CFC link.

I was very skeptical at first, since I kinda-sorta thought that most other greenhouse gases were down in the 1% range of global impact and were NOT shooting up like a rocket, rate increasing with increasing world population and with affluence.

"Lu’s theory has been confirmed by ongoing observations of cosmic ray, CFC, ozone and stratospheric temperature data over several 11-year solar cycles. "

Also, the chart where there is a correlation is labeled "Stratospheric Cooling"

OK, I'm sure the stratosphere IS sensitive to things changing right IN the stratosphere, and that those changes probably would be nearly instantaneous and much greater than any CO2 effect.

But if the "global warming" (sea-level warming) connection were plausible, I would have expected them to talk more about the relative infrared-blocking capacity of CFCs, which totally depends on the actual concentrations of CFCs in the stratosphere and at sea level. My (vague) belief was that they were several or many orders of magnitude less than CO2.

Now that I realize CFC's radiative efficiency is so high and decay rate is so slow, that mere "orders of magnitude more dilute" isn't enough to let me ignore CFCs. If Wikipedia is right, CFCs global warming potential (per ton or per volume %) is 5,000 to 7,000 times greater than CO2, which makes it more interesting than methane at least.

So say CFCs have 6,000 times more global warming potential per % than CO2

CO2 was up to 400 ppm in May 2013 (and rising fast). If the atmosphere had (400 ppm / 6,000) = 67 ppb of CFCs, they would have a direct global warming effect similar to CO2.

But this site says we have more like 0.8 ppb if you add up all the CFCs together. That is 500 times more dilute than CO2.

That would suggest CFCs have a direct effect on heat loss around 84 times less than CO2 (which is around what I thought it was - a couple orders of magnitude less).

I'm sure that it was REAL science about cosmic ray / CFC / ozone / temperature interactions in the stratosphere. I wonder if they inserted the "global warming" blurbs so it would be published and get more "play" and attract funding.

Maybe they were trying to say that the CFC + cosmic ray + Ozone interaction gave CFCs 100s of times more impact on sea level climate than simple "greenhouse gas" calculations would predict. I didn't understand that part of the report well enough to comment. I DID notice how they avoided mentioning that CFCs have around 1% as much concentration as they would need to give their theory any prima facia credence.

I expect to see climatologists' reactions like "yes, DUHH, we KNOW about other greenhouse gases and here is where that 2% factor is plugged in to these 5 climate models but is missing from THOSE 3 climate models of CO2-global-warming".

Or "Yikes, thanks, now we have added that three-way 'CFC + cosmic ray + Ozone interaction' to our models".

If I understand them, the dip in CFCs might explain why we have not yet seen as much global warming as CO2 alone would have predicted. When the CFCs mostly level off, I would expect to see the warming trend resume.

But the CO2-driven "chaotic change and extreme variations" seem already to have started (in my opinion).

I wonder if the proposed high-altitude three-way interaction (CFC + cosmic ray -> Ozone) will change any VERTICAL climate models, if it means that more IR is absorbed high in the atmosphere (as IR comes IN) instead of low in the atmosphere (as IR is re-radiated OUT)?

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Let me rephrase some questions: Is the "typical" conventionally grown veggie in the grocery store less nutritious than a "typical" one that's home grown or sold as organic? Do conventional growers replenish micronutrients often enough or does adequate N, P, and K mask these deficiencies? For that matter, the same questions could apply to organic growers, too.

Organic folks claim that the unnaturally high levels of nitrogen present in synthetic fertilizers promote growth that is too rapid and therefore more susceptible to insect pests. True?

It is also claimed that synthetics harm the soil flora and fauna. True?

I guess I'm really not looking for answers per se to such questions, but some good data to support one or the other proposition. I feel strongly that organic folks in particular are too hung up on strictness--in part because of the government specifications regarding what can or can't be organic. I've heard some people describe themselves as "beyond organic" and thatconcept as I've understood it makes sense to me. The occasional use of a synthetic fertilizer, chemical pesticide, or an antibiotic given to a sick cow doesn't mean you aren't farming in a natural and sustainable way. Unlike pregnancy, it seems to me like you can be a little bit conventional, yet be organic in any practical sense. Michael Pollan has a good discussion of "big organic" in his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma".

I'm especially intrigued by the idea that organic production is more wasteful of land. That's a relatively new thought for me and it seems like a big, valid argument against strict organic farming--again, I'm not talking a home garden here.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Whoops-forgot one, and this is just a basic question. Can large scale agriculture be efficient--that is to say, cost effective--without engaging in a monocrop scheme? My guess is that the answer is "No".

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Quote from WillyFromAZ :

... I feel strongly that organic folks in particular are too hung up on strictness--in part because of the government specifications regarding what can or can't be organic. I've heard some people describe themselves as "beyond organic" and that concept as I've understood it makes sense to me. The occasional use of a synthetic fertilizer, chemical pesticide, or an antibiotic given to a sick cow ...

I'm especially intrigued by the idea that organic production is more wasteful of land.

I would make another distinction: what works best for very rich nations that can afford to use lots of chemical and energy inputs to get more yield or higher profits and use more land if it's profitable, and what works best for poor countries where famine is an issue and all usable land is already in use, and there is very limited money available for pesticides, fertilizer and mechanized equipment.

>> less nutritious

I've heard the claim that organic food is "more nutritius and more flavorful" but never seen it substanciated at all. Maybe organic food enthusiasts just don't like things with lots of numbers from chemical analysis.

My first guess would be that if the plant is healthy enough to produce a high yield, the fruit will be "normal" for that variety. After that, freshness probably counts.

Do organic growers choose crop varieties for nutrition, while "industrial growers" choose them for long-storage and rough-shipping?

Do both kinds of growers choose them for "shelf appeal" instead of nutrition? Looks instead of health?
Consumers CERTAINLY choose them and pay for them based on "prettiness" and "blemish-free" and "huge fruit".

>> It is also claimed that synthetics harm the soil flora and fauna. True?

RoundUp, I would guess "no or hardly any". Some of the classic insecticides and herbicides seem to me to be SUCH wierd and toxic compounds that they might even harm, bacteri, fungi, protozoa and worms. Purely guessing.

Too much fertilizer (especially chemical sources of nitrogen like Urea) can "burn" roots and probably (my guess) are not great for root fungi and other microbes. The theme of "don't use EXCESS" is heard over and over.

One thing to consider: plants that are already getting enough water and mineral nutrients (especially P) do not need root fungi as much as plants in dry infertile soil. Plants are "smart" enough to host fewer root fungi when life is easy, becuase root fungi do drain some energy (sugar) from plants.

So adequate fertilization (especially P) does not HARM root fungi, but still there are fewer of them associated with and pentrating plant roots when soil is fertilized. It seems to me that is no harm, since the soil is still full of their spores and they will return to symbiosis with plant roots when needed by the plant.

It is very liberating to admit that we have more questions than answers!

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

It would be helpful if posts were supported with scientific literature citations with a smidgeon of personal experience. While I do not have a 100% certifiably organic garden (I use Daconil) I have read recent evidence (uncited) that organic is more nutritious.

We are claiming to use ag methods to support poor nations. Nonsense. The majority of Americans are not shopping their neighborhood farmer's markets, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. We raise chickens, pork and cattle in a way to support our insatiable need for cheap meat. Conagra "Harvest" flour is a commercial bakery staple.

While I personally strive for growing and sourcing natural food I don't think it's going to happen outside my garden. I mean, just look at these "green" companies and all the plastic their ready to eat comes in. Once you move through the fabulous displays of organic produce what is there but more packaging of processed foods? Are they really agents of change that represent farm to table?

This message was edited Feb 20, 2014 8:00 PM

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Maypop--You're post follows along the lines I'm thinking regarding sensible use of "chemicals" when necessary. Evidently your climate is supportive of fungi and molds (something I don't need to worry about too much in the high desert region I live in), so you do the sensible thing and use a fungicide in order to grow things successfully. otherwise, you are pretty much organic. I suspect many "organic" gardeners do the same kinds of things; they just don't broadcast it widely.

If you haven't read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma", do so soon. He addresses the inconsistencies in what he calls "Big Organic" (Whole Foods, TJs, etc.). It's interesting reading. When one looks closely at our food production systems, it gets ugly and disturbing, especially where food animals are concerned. Everyone wants inexpensive and "beautiful", blemish-free food, but for the most part we don't want to pay a lot for it. Take me, I can buy chicken from our local supermarket for $5-$7 a piece or I can go to our farmers market and pay over $20 per chicken. I usually go to the supermarket.

Food producers just can't ignore the aesthetic aspects of their products. As gardeners, we don't throw away our cracked tomatoes, but even most of us wouldn't buy a heavily cracked tomato at the store. I laughed when a couple of years ago I gave a neighbor a nice butternut squash and she ended up throwing it away because it had a sticky residue on the skin in one tiny spot. I had seen the spot and thought "Wow, it's oozing sugars. Great!" She saw disgusting produce.

Sierra Foothills, CA(Zone 8a)

Yes, I agree with you, Willy. We want beautiful produce, perfect vegetables...but the ones from our gardens are not like that.

I think that people that have never gardened have no idea what goes into making that lovely produce.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Willy, I'm not sure what constitutes a sensible path in the commercial or home food garden. I've been raising food for a very long time and eating it for even longer. :) I come from a food family. My father was a wholesale produce purveyor. My mother was a food professional as well.

Though I am not certifiably organic I would be disappointed to learn that food I bought certified "organic" was not. I truly believe organic farmers are working towards the greater good. I also believe in understanding our food sources and supporting the best methods as we understand them. This goes beyond growing vegetables.

I have seen and read everything Michael Pollan has created. That and every other band wagoner. Here we (me and my SO) are both products of separate sixties kids gone commune, then rural, then part time city and part time rural. Fortunately we were ultimately able to have a situation without compromise. We hardly ever eat a meal where food we have grown is not a part.

I am not a cynic on the organic topic at all but what's old is new. That's not to say my information is better or more than someone much younger but it's the same old same old. While I have the deepest respect for Michael Pollan, keep in mind he is a journalist and not a farmer. People here, like Farmer Dill, have added much more to my farming knowledge than Netflix populists. He is a real treasure trove of "how to". Okay, I'm officially off topic.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Maypop--its a small world. My first DG experience was having farmerdill identify a problem I was having with sweet potatoes. It convinced me to shell out the $20 annual fee.

I agree that it would be disappointing to learn that a certified organic food was not actually in compliance with the organic requirements. Nonetheless, I think "certified OG" doesn't mean what most folks think it means. One of the real values of Pollan's book for me was how he dispelled the myth of "pastoral organic". I fully recognize that he is a journalist, and "just" a human to boot, but he offered some real insights into our food production system.

As for the sixties--I miss 'em. I wasn't nearly as informed then, but I sure "knew" a lot more. Long live the Grateful Dead, er, their music anyway.

Finally, I think off-topic is OK. Our lives and ideas are broader than a single topic and can't necessarily be easily untwined.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Regarding FarmerDill...there needs to be recognition of the people who have nurtured DG from the start with their expertise and enthusiasm. He is hands down the most giving of time and information represented here.

Certifiable organic meant something in regards to a cohesive movement years ago but there are some rules today. I'm not exactly sure what they are though. State to state the definition has not been consistent or regulated. If organic is important then it behooves you to look at the regulating agency that is certifying your food.

BTW, I have never been a Deadhead and only like some of the music from "Skeletons In The Closet". Stones, Pink Floyd and Bowie, yes. But especially Leonard Cohen.

This message was edited Feb 23, 2014 8:22 PM

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

There are several organizations that can certify if something is organic or not. Most of the rules are similar. Organic farms are audited. Most of the organic produce is grown following the rules set up by the USDA.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

The rules set up by the USDA pertain to interstate certification. Organic certification is approximate. The federal government does not define or control the definition of "organic".

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), enacted under Title 21 of the 1990 Farm Bill, served to establish uniform national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as “organic.” The Act authorized a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products. In addition, the Program oversees mandatory certification of organic production. The Act also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which advises the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards upon which the NOP is based. Producers who meet standards set by the NOP may label their products as “USDA Certified Organic.”

There are also other groups that certify.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

However there is nothing labeled on the food I buy that says it is NOP certified. Is yours? It's a matter of self governance here. Though there are other groups that certify food as organic they all have there own rules.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Nearly all the food sold here has the USDA organic stickers or labels on them. Be it whole foods, Trader Joes, Walmart, Costco, or supermarkets like Kroger, Albertsons or Safeway I see them all the time.

Hutto, TX(Zone 8b)

Just popping in, after reading through all the postings, to say I am impressed by the civil, polite, and reasonable discourse. Well done!


Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

"Is organic agriculture the solution"...the title of this discussion....I was going to ask...the solution to what? What is the specific problem we are addressing?

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

drobarr--I am basically asking if strict organic practices are a practical solution for feeding the world as its population climbs to over 9 billion by 2050 or thereabouts. I think my original post contains my general thoughts on the subject. I am speaking of large scale commercial ag, not what we gardeners and farmers market folks do in our back yards and relatively small plots.

One of the things that drove me to ask the question is the realization that agriculture takes land from "nature", and organic or conventional, that act is "violent". IF it is true that organic is significantly less productive on a per acre basis, that is to my mind a serious disadvantage of organic techniques.

One more thought, if 100% organic is not a good answer, it is very clear that conventional must be changed in order to become more sustainable.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

I just found an interesting video dealing with the broader issues that are being touched on in the organic, GMO, and climate warming threads. Specifically, it's about politics clouding your objective lens. I've only watched a few minutes so far (it's about an hour long), but I think most of the contributors here might find it very interesting.

It's here:

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

(Moving my climate rants to the climate thread.)

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

I, like Farmer Dill, help feed the world.
7 acres of vegetables here, all sold at a Farmers Market in a city of 50,000 people. Many vegetable farmers sell there. A couple smaller ones are "Organic", not certified.
A good Saturday may bring in 2000 customers, many from outlying towns. If all were from the city, it's only 4%.
The organic people can not price their things higher than us, because they would not sell. Very few customers ask us if we are organic. I explain that we are sustainable. We use commercial fertilizer, a pre-plant weed killer, & no insecticides. As far as GMO's, no vegetables are GMO.
A few years ago, we quit raising potatoes & egg plant because of Colorado Potato bugs. They devastated the crops & can be controlled only with harsh chemicals.

Some organic rules that make no sense to me are:
1.Boundary from conventional crops, 30 feet. Chemicals drift.
People planting corn for seed need to be hundreds of feet from a non seed field.
2. Friend of mine farms organically. He wanted to plant oats. No organic seed available. They
sent him to a farm store to buy regular oats.
3. Keep detailed records of your crops.
I can keep track of what I fertilize or spray. How do you keep records of doing nothing ?

Farmer friend I was mentioning earlier, yields are at least 25% less than conventional crops.
He has to depend on hired hands to do weeding at about $125 per acre. Most of the time not all fields get done. His corn & soybean fields are much harder to keep clean than our vegetable crops. We can use things that don't work for corn or soybeans.

So, on it goes.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Interesting comments, CG. 2,000 customers sounds pretty good, no?

I think, like our politics and so much else, the idea that one way is the only way leads away from getting to the best we can achieve.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

OK, one more attempt to resurrect this topic:

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the below letter to the editor was printed. Let me preface things by noting that one of Joel Salatin's major points was the value of herbivores to grasslands and the fact that birds follow herbivores for the insects that are attracted to their dung. The same theme is repeated in the TED talk which Seedfork linked in a post above.

IMHO, "environmentalists", most with noble intentions, manage to do a lot of bad things by misunderstanding what an "untouched" environment is. Prohibiting logging and other sensible management in our forests, coupled with not allowing fires to burn (decades ago), has led to much more intense forest fires as another example.

Anyway, here's the letter from the paper:

As a fourth-generation cattle rancher in southeast Oregon's high desert outback, I find myself for the first time agreeing with Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, regarding the "major ramifications" listing the greater sage grouse will have on the economies of the rural West ("Sage Grouse Rebellion," Review & Outlook, March 11). It will put rangeland cattle ranching out of business.

Any buckaroo and many scientists can tell you that cattle and sage grouse are compatible. Grouse even follow the cattle around. Why? Cattle dung helps produce bugs, which the grouse eat, and grouse prefer grazed areas. The decline of the sage-grouse population coincides with the government's and environmentalists' push to get cattle off the range and to limit predator control. Peak sage-grouse population occurred with peak cattle grazing.

I think the sage grouse's worst enemy is the federal government. Mandated removal of livestock from the range often causes desertification of the land. In other instances, it leads to the increase of nonnative grass species and other weeds, resulting in a buildup of fuels. Add federal government mismanagement of firefighting, and you wind up with disastrous rangeland conflagrations.

In 2012, a lightning strike sparked a fire on my property. If we ranchers' advice had been followed, the government could have contained the fire with minimal damage. Instead, the Miller Homestead fire consumed 160,801 acres, killed many of my cattle, threatened the hamlet of Frenchglen and destroyed far more sage-grouse breeding and nesting grounds than ever will be preserved by the government's solution, which in my opinion is more about control than preserving sage grouse.

My fellow ranchers and I love the land we work, and we work to preserve a vibrant environment, not only for our cattle but for all of God's creatures. Let us do our job.

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