Why Organic Farming?
Most Americans take low food and fiber prices for granted. If you are one of those hearty souls who buy bulk beans and grains, then you know that a family of four can be fed fairly inexpensively. Take the prepared, processed food out of the grocery cart, and the checkout tab will be a small fraction of what other necessities, such as medical care, cost.
The supply of low cost food in America is primarily a result of the "Green Revolution". Inexpensive fertilizer, precision planting, herbicides and pesticides have combined to make our farms powerful factories capable of producing bin busting yields of corn, cotton and soybeans. In the 1950's, a typical midwestern farm might produce 40 bushels of corn per acre. Today, yields in these same fields routinely exceed 200 bushels per acre. Advances in genetic engineering promise to keep increasing the yield from a single plant, and, of course, the all-important yield per acre.
This revolution has had many important benefits. Foremost, hunger in the US is almost non-existent today. The almost unlimited supply of cheap grain can be fed to different animals to provide us with a wide variety of protein products. No longer must an army of migrant workers break their backs chopping weeds in a field of cotton.
But, is there another side to this productivity miracle? Many of us, including fellow farmers, biologists and researchers, think that there is more to this story than meets the eye. As farmers and ranchers, we see the effects everyday of the relentless chemical carnival on water, wildlife, and most importantly, our soil.
Soil is the backbone of agriculture, and the earth has a limited supply of soil that is capable of supporting plant life. The modern approach to crop raising considers soil to be an inert medium that only needs the addition of three or four materials each year to produce abundant grain. There are well defined amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate that are added to the soil each year, with the amount depending only on the crop of choice. In fact, one of the longest running controversies in modern agriculture is exactly how much nitrogen needs to be put out each year to produce high yields of corn.
Organic farming starts with a clear focus on building a healthy, balanced soil. Many of our practices are designed to encourage the growth of the bacteria, protozoa, and fungi that thrive naturally in soil, and create an environment where plants and their root systems are able to fend off disease and insects themselves. Our methods balance the different elements and compounds in the soil, and we create an environment where nutrients are available to the plant as they are needed during the growing season.
Native American prairie soils had an organic matter content of about 5%. This was the level of residual organic matter, mainly in the form of humus, that had built up in a healthy ecosystem over thousands of years. The typical American farm soil today, after fifty years of unabated chemical usage, might have an organic matter content of .4% to .7%. Many of these soils have been taken out of crop production, and turned into grazing land, because they are no longer capable of producing a stand of healthy plants that yield enough crop to cover the costs of production. It has taken years to get to this point, and the measures needed to correct this, to begin to increase the organic matter content, will also take years.
For a farmer today, the choice of farming systems could not be clearer. One system builds the soil to sustain productivity for generations to come. The other system mines the nutrients and compounds out of the soil, and requires ever increasing inputs to produce a crop. One system seeks to balance the soil, the insects, and the plants, to produce healthy, delicious food. The other system seeks a new chemical to control mutant insects that are no longer controllable with existing pesticides. We choose to be organic farmers, and we invite you to join with us in promoting a healthier future for all. ...