I’m super happy to have the farmer guest posting today! Awhile back my friend Lyndsey gave her perspective on Organic vs. Non-Organic Food and now I wanted Jay to give us his!
My name is Jay Schultz and I’m a fourth generation farmer with Bachelor of Science in Agriculture specializing in Crop Science. Our family farm grows wheat, barley, and canola using conventional methods and GMO’s (canola). I would like to give a producer’s prospective on organic vs. non-organic, and it’s a topic I’m very passionate about. Our farm would be considered a medium sized farm for Western Canada. We have a large number of acres to cover, given there is typically only two of us. We need to be as efficient as possible and conventional practices allow us to do that. By banding synthetic fertilizer at seeding time we can replace nutrients mined from the soil in previous years. Seed treatment coats the seed to protect it from both insects and diseases from killing our emerging crop. Herbicides kill weeds that would otherwise out compete our crop and increase dockage at the elevator. Fungicides protect our growing crop from diseases and keep our leaf factories working strong.
Organic production uses different methods to achieve the same thing, but is a lot more mechanically intensive for a much lower yield. As our population grows, our food production must also increase, and in my opinion there is no way we will keep up with food demand with organic production. I believe the chemicals and practices we use are safe. Glyphosate (Round-Up, Monsanto), for example, is one of the most widely used herbicides in North America. Glyphosate’s mode of action is to inhibit an enzyme involved in the synthesis of aromatic amino acids. Humans do not have this type of enzyme pathway, thus the chemical does not affect us. The toxicity or LD50 of Glyphosate is about the same as table salt. Even if you somehow swallowed some of it, to neutralize the chemical you could eat dirt (literally!). In crop we typically spray glyphosate at a 0.5 L/acre rate. An American football field, including the end zones, covers approximately 1.32 acres. So you could imagine how thin the chemical is being spread.
Pesticides go through years of rigorous testing, not only on potential human effects, but on environmental impacts as well. Policies and regulations are set by unbiased governmental experts. As someone who works closely with the environment, I want to ensure the products I’m using will be safe, economical, and long term viable. If you are interested you can find out more info about pesticide policy here. One of the arguments for organic production is that it is environmentally friendly and sustainable. Organic is no more sustainable than conventional, unless you are using horses or hand labor. They both require energy, and at the moment the energy is fossil fuels. The energy problem will not be unique to agriculture, but to the whole human race. The cure for high prices is high prices, and hopefully we can find an environmentally friendly alternative for our energy source.
I know many farmers who walk through a store get frustrated in the sight of products with every single health “buzz” word marketers can put on a package. Especially ones that are on non-edible products like clothing or shoes. Is it really that important to have organic clothing shipped half way around the world that may or may not have been produced organically in the first place? Canada doesn’t have the best policing of organic production; most of our organic products are even imported. Canada is a fair and ethical country, but if we can’t manage organic production effectively, what chance do other countries have of being honest? A tweet from a Western Producer editor at the time that I drafted this post read “Time to be honest. Organic food has GMOs, says leading organic food maker. Western Producer Feb 7 issue.”
I really don’t have a problem with organic production, it’s the market manipulation. When organic products make claims that I know aren’t true, or claim that they are so much healthier than the way I produce food is, is what I have a problem with. I was reading a parenting article about children and organic food, and pediatricians claim there is no health benefit to organics, but they may limit exposure to pesticides. Yet in the same paragraph, they say that there is no significant pesticide residue found in conventional, but you should buy organic if you can afford it to cover your bases. Well, that’s a little bit confusing. In the developed world agriculture practices are becoming so effective at producing large quantities of food that only a small percentage of people are involved in primary production.
If you are concerned about sustainability and environmental impacts of agriculture I would encourage you to ask questions. You can follow me on Twitter @WheatlanderJay, and if I can’t answer your question I can direct you so someone who can. There is a great disconnect between farmers and consumers, and social media offers a way stay in touch with people in the farming industry. The goal of most farmers is to be the best stewards of the land as we can. Instead of only focusing on buying organic products at the grocery store, I would suggest trying to cut down on food miles. Buy meat at a local butcher, stop by your local farmers market, or try growing your own garden. Fresh food always tastes better and can be a great family activity. Personally, I think the future of agriculture will be a blend of organic, conventional ,and GMO systems. They all offer some great tools for farmers to use and if we can get nature on our side to produce food with minimal impact, I think we will be better off. The policies surrounding the use of agricultural inputs have to be strongly regulated to ensure a safe food chain and to take the fear, manipulation and misinformation out of marketing.
Thanks so much to my husband for taking the time to write this for the blog. We talk about organic food and GMO’s all the time as it’s something we are both very passionate about. Again, I want to make it very clear that we are not anti-organic people – we believe that everyone has the right to their own choices, but we encourage you to do your own research from reliable, peer reviewed, and evidence based sources. Many of my Twitter followers were subjected to my tweets during an anti-GMO Twitter party a couple of weeks ago. I chimed in to give my own opinions and facts about the myths and fallacies out there regarding GMOs. I understand that there is big “fear of the unknown” out there – and that’s why I gave my few cents worth in an attempt to tell the truth about GMO’s to people who don’t even know what a GMO is. The leader of the Twitter party claims that GMO’s are the cause of the rise in allergies, cancer, obesity, among other things. Those are pretty big accusations to be making when we do not know for certain, and all the articles she pointed me to were funded by “green” companies and were full of “could”, “potentially”, and “maybe”. I believe in this science, I believe in the research. If you don’t want to support GMO products and you believe you have a right to have your food and products labeled – *I agree with you, that it is your right. BUT, don’t go scaring people (especially young parents!) that formula is dangerous because it contains GMO soy and corn products. People at the Twitter party were praising Hungarian activists for burning down 1000 acres of GMO corn as they do not want it in their country. They were saying that “GMO wheat” is bad and contains more gluten. NEWSFLASH: there is no.such.thing as GMO wheat for sale. Moral of the story: do YOUR research and make decisions that are best for you and your family before you go preaching how awful they are to everyone else.
*Since I originally published this post I have done more research and changed my mind on GMO labeling