No. We aren’t organic. My livestock isn’t certified organic, and our farm operation isn’t either. I’m ok with my livestock not being certified, because I know I raise them in a natural way, and I’m not afraid to show people how they live.
Our cash crop operation is a different story. We use GM seeds, and herbicides. Personally, I go a little pink in the cheeks when I admit this. But the simple truth is that its far more profitable to grow conventional seeds than organic.
But, we do take steps to make the farm less damaging.
Although I long for the nostalgic ways of yesteryear, the truth is farming wasn’t that environmentally friendly then either. The same crop was planted in the same spot, and that land was plowed year after year, stripping it of nutrients and inviting pests and disease. Things like sulphur, mercury, and arsenic compounds were used for crop protection. On many farms today, and ours in particular, crop rotation is an integral part of our yearly plan. This helps prevent disease and pest infestation. Also, crops each leave different amounts of organic matter. Example: corn is a large plant so it leaves behind a lot of organic matter, whereas soybeans are a smaller plant so leave behind less organic matter. Therefore it’s beneficial to soil health to plant a crop, like corn, that will enrich the soil after it’s harvested, and follow it with something like soybeans that will benefit from the extra nutrients.
We do grow non-GM soybeans most years (called IP beans: identity preserved) but they actually use more chemical sprays on IP beans because they don’t have the disease resistance of GM beans. So are non-GM beans better? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Soil healthis very important to us, so along with crop rotation, we also use a no-till
drill to plant our crops. This means the seeds are drilled directly in to the wheat, or bean stubble, without tilling it first. Excessive tilling causes soil erosion. Topsoil washes away when it rains or the snow melts, or even blows away in the wind. A neighboring farmer tills religiously, and has no wind breaks (like trees or natural hills) and on windy days you can actually see his topsoil blowing on the road. Although it is important to till occasionally to prevent soil compaction, doing it too much will deplete your soil.
Along the lines of tilling, we are very mindful of the waterways in our fields. It’s crucial to leave the natural waterways, or lowest point in the field in grass to prevent run off. Run off takes away not only your topsoil and nutrients, but also any chemicals
you’ve put on the land. (Note: Not all fields have natural waterways, but when they do it’s important to respect them and not till them over)
One thing in particular we do not, and never will use is pesticides. In our area, aphids are our biggest obstacle, and even this past year we had an infestation of them that really hurt our yields. Some fields were so bad that 50% of the plants were black. Our local soil and crop inspector recommended we use pesticides, and although we don’t always see eye to eye, Farmer B and I were both adamantly against this idea. Pesticides are not selective (even though the chemical companies will tell you they are) and we have no interest in killing the every bug within our fields. Instead, we prayed for lady bugs! Lady bugs are natures defense for aphids, and we were lucky that they did show up before the entire crop went down the chute.
We’re always looking for new ideas to help our operation while reducing chemical use. This year, we’ll be trying a type of radish that is planted as a cover crop after wheat or beans, to loosen the soil and provide nutrients in the form of organic matter when they die and rot in the soil. You can read more about them here.
We know it’s an imperfect system, and there are still some farmers that don’t believe in any of these practices, but we try to improve as much as we can. If the seed companies spend as much time and money in developing chemical free ways to grow crops as they do investigating new genetic manipulations, we might get a little closer to an organic world. Until then, the best thing you can do if you want to see a change, is buy organic from the grocery store, get naturally produced meats, cheese, eggs and produce from your local farmers. If the demand for organic, natural, and chemical free increases, so will the incentive for farmers to grow it.