4 Reasons Why I Switched from Supporting Organic Agriculture to Conventional
Monday, March 28, 2016
I was born and raised in Farmington Hills, located in southeast Michigan, and we were pretty far removed from the farm lifestyle. We didn’t have FFA or 4-H at my high school. I grew up just three miles outside of Detroit, and there are certainly no farms there. The closest thing we had to a club like FFA was auto shop in school. Where I grew up, automobiles were what people cared about, not grain harvests.
My local farmer’s market at the pavilion in the center of Farmington Hills was heavily organic, especially with the organic topic being a very hot button issue at the time. During that period, I was quite an organic sympathizer because the whole movement seemed so idyllic. The packaging was plastered with red barn and silos with rolling hills and happy animals – it was the perfect worry-free lifestyle.
Conventional Farming Gains a Supporter
While there were many variables that impacted my perception of conventional ag, the pivotal moment came in graduate school when one of my peers suggested that I visit a conventional farm “to see how a real farm operates.” I reluctantly agreed to take a trip to the family (corn and soybean) farm, and that experience made me realize that conventional agriculture was where I wanted to be and I’ve felt that way ever since. I think organic agricultural practices still have a critical role in American agriculture, but conventional agriculture is pivotal in feeding, clothing, and fueling a growing planet.
There are four factors that led to my change in opinion:
1. Farmers are precise.
The farmer showed me the lengths he would go – the exact measurements – and just how precise they get for every piece of the operation. I was struck by the level of detail that went into making these decisions – talking with his agronomist, understanding all of the different chemistries, and rotating modes of action. Most Americans don't truly understand the complexities of science of running a successful farm. Farmers don’t just go to the Farm & Fleet, get a big tub of herbicide and spray it all over the place; the precision of the operation is incredible.
Joe with a drone from Precision Hawk, Farm Progress 2015
2. Every farmer’s contribution is important.
Compared to the amount of food the American people need, the actual percentage of the American population that grows that food is very small. A farmer is going to try to maximize the amount of food he can grow with the land he has, and we rely on him for that. Chemical fertilizers, crop protection products and seed treatments are all required to ensure he is getting the most from the land. It’s not as simple as throwing your seed on the ground and waiting six to nine months for a full field. It doesn’t work that way for conventional farmers and it doesn't work that way for large-scale organic farmers either.
Grain auger and bin, 2015
3. Farmers care about land and people.
This farmer was not only feeding his community, he was also feeding and supporting his family. He said to me, “I wouldn’t feed my own family this if it wasn’t safe.” Farmers own or have rented their piece of land for years and years and they depend on it for their livelihood. This land is precious to them, so they’re not going to try to ruin it by overusing chemicals and drying out the nutrients.
View from the cab, Midwest, 2015
4. Knowing a farmer makes all the difference.
Getting to meet and talk with an actual grower was a first for me. I was blissfully unaware of how much work a farmer puts in to put food on our plates. Whether you like organic or conventional ag products, or are even a little apathetic to the entire issue, I recommend meeting and talking to a farmer in your community if you can. Because once you meet the farmer who grows the food you consume everyday, I guarantee you'll have a better appreciation when you are filling up your cart at the grocery store.
Joe stands in corn stubble during corn harvest. “It’s easy to fear something that you don’t understand. I think if everyone could visit a farm like I did, I think the vast majority of opinions would be not as strong about organic food.”
An Evolving Viewpoint
My conversion to conventional agriculture is ever-evolving. While I was a journalism student at Michigan State University, I worked the environment and agriculture beat, and also worked in communications for the College of Agriculture. All land-grant schools have experiment farms around the state. Michigan has 13 of them now, and they’re all so vastly different. There’s corn, sugar beets, apples trees, cherries- even a wine vineyard – Michigan has such a fantastic spectrum of crops, and I was just so fascinated by the whole process.
My involvement with the ag industry really took off during my time in Ohio while working on my master’s degree. At OSU, I worked with several community gardens in low-income areas, farmers markets, and the on-campus student farm. I instructed an ag-themed communications course for two years. My students and classmates were mostly from rural Ohio and they were not organic folks - they were very much Ohio agriculture folks.
About the Author
Joe has been working at Bayer for just over one year and is proud of the company’s mission to deliver solutions to growers – both conventional (like crop protection) and organic (like biologics). “I love my job at Bayer, and I love working in the American agriculture industry,” Joe says. “The company I work for creates chemicals, seeds and biological solutions that allow a minute part of our population to produce a massive abundance of food (and fuel, clothing, shelter, etc.). How cool is that? I’m glad that we get to help them; I can play some role in that now.”