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Jay MackDougal

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Organic Farming vs. Conventional Farming: Why do you favour one over the other?

I have a background in commercial agriculture - namely tree fruits, and more recentley vegetables and berries - and now work in pesticide research and integrated pest management programs. I'd like to know what people think of the organic vs conventional farming debate - this means what you believe the word "organic farming" entails, what you think the problems with either system are, what your opinions on pesticides are (organic and synthetic), and if you have ever heard of Integrated Pest Management (IPM for short). If you feel comfortable, I'd like to know if you have an agricultural background or not when you are sharing your opinions - this way we might be able to see where any divides might occur. I'd like to limit this to a debate/conversation that does not include GMOs (although I'm sure it'll come up, as it always seems to find a way into these sorts of conversations), as that is an entirely different topic. Let's hear some passion! But try not to attack others opinions, let's use this as a learning platform as it is meant to be!


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  • Mar 8 2012: "And yet we are told ceaselessly that sustainable or organic agriculture cannot feed the world. I find this claim very hard to understand. Especially when you consider the findings of an impeccably well-researched International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, conducted in 2008 by the United Nations. The report drew on evidence from more than 400 scientists worldwide and concluded that small-scale, family-based farming systems, adopting so-called agro-ecological approaches, were among the most productive systems in developing countries."

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      Mar 8 2012: Very true and if we could transport the food to markets that were distant without loss of food quality and or overwhelming expence that would be great! I'd like to see great airships of grain and dried or treated foods sailing around the sky just waiting for a crop failure or a drought to strike near them and then they could chug down and feed the hungry, its not like airships would cost much after the cost of building them, expessially if we made them sailships
    • Mar 8 2012: Hey again Jorge,

      I want to start out by saying I have nothing against organic commercial production and am not an opponent of supporting it, it's just my personal decision that I support and buy conventional. So I am not trying to sway people away from supporting organic - it is their choice and that is fine with me. It would not be good for the world to rely on one system of anything.

      The only thing I would have to say in response to the article is that he clearly states that the report he refers to is for developing countries, who may at this point not have access to the same knowledge and technologies that places such as Europe, Canada and the US do. But then again, I could be completely wrong on that. I've read one article (which was referenced in a report on agriculture and the food crisis in a report published in the Economist) which clearly states yields from organic cereal crops were far below conventional, and 'natural' (nothing done to them, just planted and left to grow) were at about 50% yields - and this was from the UK where this quote is sourced from.

      I know one of my friends went to Gambia as a part of an agricultural teaching program for 6 months, and when he got there he was appalled. Not only did they not know how to use the *illegally imported* pesticides and fertilizers on their crops... but it wasn't rare that the pesticides would be used as shampoo to kill lice on their children. This, obviously, is not healthy. But what I am trying to say is that the knowledge or lack of knowledge can be extremely beneficial or extremely detrimental. It's all in how you use a tool. So yes, maybe organic production is better in those areas - which is great. Maybe there are other factors though, such as knowledge of proper use, that come in to play.

      I also have never dismissed 'sustainable' agriculture. But I believe the practices that make a system sustainable will vary substantially from region to region - what works in one will not in another.
    • Mar 8 2012: Those are just my thoughts
      • Mar 8 2012: I agree with your last statement that practices will vary from region to region, there´s not one answer to all. This is what is so great about farming. You need to learn from your surroundings, need to learn the water flow patterns before wanting to flatten the whole field, you need to understand the native nitrogen fixers to avoid going to the store to buy nitrogen fertilizers, you need to learn that trees are needed to prevent erosion, and more.

        We are currently living in a 3.8-billion-year-old living experiment--in a living laboratory--that has been practicing sustainable farming for all its existence until the culture/time-based agricultural revolution and then the industrial revolution. Then.. humans began to shift things a bit. How can we sustain ourselves for generations to come with machinery that requires a fuel that is finite? Switching to biofuels is not a viable option at this moment. How can we sustain ourselves for generations to come using agrochemicals which are detrimental to the environment? Why not just learn from the living laboratory we are in? Figure out its tricks and begin shifting our way of doing things.

        For more that I support different strategies to do things, I cannot give my support to a strategy that is so dependent on a finite resource that damages the lungs of farmworkers, cuts down the trees to maximize the flat area so that big machinery can come and till the soil destroying bizillions of microbes that all they are doing is sequestering carbon, increasing the topsoil, and working for us.
        • Mar 9 2012: I pretty much agree with everything you've said here... and while I support a conventional strategy, it's out of limited options. While weighing pros and cons, I personally came to this conclusion. I don't expect everyone in the world to come to the same one... obviously anything that requires gas machinary or anything can't be sustained forever! But as far as technology that exists, I support this system - obviously it will HAVE to change as time goes on... no doubt about it
      • Mar 8 2012: The Economist study you mention sounds interesting, but studying the ¨natural¨ growth of cereal crops sounds quite odd, unless they followed nature´s way of growing cereal crops--which I haven´t looked into--now, that would be natural, not just planting it somewhere and leaving it to grow. The sustainable agriculture that I practice isn´t just leaving things to grow. It involves studying the landscape, making use of edges, integrating trees, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and roots together, it´s trying to convince nature that I´m weaving a good enough ecosystem to call on bugs and prevent pests from getting created, harvest its own water, etc. This requires a lot of observation and design work. Then it requires a bit of land work, and then just a bit of maintenance alongside produce gathering. Then you just wait to see if the plants will go to seed and replant themselves. If not, save the seeds, collect them, and replant them.

        How old is conventional agriculture? How much money are farmers and growers making (exclude large agribusinesses)? The positive rate of urbanization kind of tells me that people don´t want to be farmers and ranchers anymore because maybe they don´t see a future there. Don´t you think they should try something new? Shouldn´t the system shift a bit to really reward the farmers and ranchers for literally allowing our peoples to grow and develop?
        • Mar 9 2012: Sorry I think I misled you with the Economist study (actually they didn't do the study, they just referenced it).

          It wasn't a study on the "natural" growth of cereal crops. I meant to say that they had different treatement plots including a conventional plot using the newest technologies (including fertilizers and pesticides), certified organic (using "certified organic" processes, fertilizer sources and pest controls) and then a control plot where fertilizer and crop protection was not used... it was left to grow without any 'help'... although it was still a field plot and not technically 'natural'. I just used that term for lack of a better one. Sorry about that!

          Might I ask how big of an operation your farm is? Is it how you make a living? A farmer who depends on his annual crop could not afford to plant seeds and wait to see if they will grow and then replant them.

          I'd say that "conventional agriculture" has been around since there has been a need to differentiate between two or more systems of agriculture. And as far as growers making money - it depends on their crop. Apple growers here aren't making anything nowadays, but cherry growers are. Fifteen years ago it was reversed. As far as people not wanting to become growers - that's a big issue we will be facing... it's been noted that there is barely a new generation of farmers coming once this one isn't around. Big problem. And that will lead to more large farms owned by few people who do want to be involved with agriculture.

          A lot of people have a huge disconnect about where their food comes from... they think it comes from the store and that's it. No second thought is given to the people that actually grew it.

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