Organic, traditional ag must address differences nicely


I am a fan of the way we grow food in America—every way—every technique. In this blogspace I am sometimes forced to defend that. It’s my job and my passion. In my enthusiasm for defending what some call “conventional agriculture,” I don’t want to leave the impression that either Mike or I don’t appreciate organic farming. In fact, I have deep respect for those that labor to raise food and fiber for that market.

Clearly, organic farmers forgo some of the production tools used by others to satisfy the requirements of organic certification. It is also blindingly obvious that some consumers prefer those products and if American agriculture is about anything, it’s about satisfying consumer demand. Currently, the organic market is about three percent of the overall demand, but it’s growing. There are farmers eager to meet that demand for those willing to pay more.

Why does organic produce cost more? Part of it is supply and demand. There’s not as much of it, suggesting a demand driven premium. Also, the bugs will take a bigger bite from potential organic production. Yields are not as high. Supplying nutrients is more problematic, sometimes coming with other environmental baggage.

Manure, for example, is a primary nutrient. Organic farmers have done a nice job in managing those difficulties though. I did a story in my “pre-blog” days for our publication about an East Texas producer who was processing chicken manure with earthworms. He produced a high quality fertilizer while cleaning up other potential environmental problems.

Organic won’t work everywhere. Conventional agriculture has the capability of using croplands where organic methods might not work so well. The market for food is a very stubborn thing and it will tell us what and how much to grow. It may be that in a couple of decades we will be growing mostly organic. If that happens, I’m assuming we’ll have solved some major problems—like the additional land required. If we do it backwards, by imposing regulations, we’ll have some serious trouble.

I don’t think we’ll go all organic. I don’t think we can, but that’s a discussion we can have—in good faith and in mutual respect. When we fight, when we have to differ, is when it’s suggested that conventional (industrial or whatever label you want) is not safe or not sustainable. I believe the weight of evidence disagrees. I don’t want to fight. I think this market is big enough for all. That is, supply folks who want organic and are willing to pay for it and also those who must make every food and fiber dollar count.

In case anyone doubts where I am on this, here’s a salute to organic agriculture. Its practitioners are making a living and building a market, sometimes under very difficult and challenging circumstances. Now that’s one thing all of agriculture has in common.

Texas Agriculture Talks is a forum of ideas and opinions covering all aspects of Texas agriculture from the perspectives of two veteran agricultural journalists (Gene Hall and Mike Barnett) on behalf of the Texas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.

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