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Brandon: Room for conventional and organic

It’s almost a given that any time I write about the positives of biotech crops, I can expect a flurry of e-mails similar to this one:

“Your article failed to mention the impact on organic farmers. They go to great expense and effort to maintain their certification, and contamination by a biotech crop will void their certification and cost them huge amounts of money. Unfortunately… the big biotech companies don’t care (expletive) about the organic farmer.

“As for biotech making farming profitable again, I would challenge these same farmers to consider sustainable practices, organic options, agri-tourism, etc. to maintain or return to profitability. Pasture-raised chickens, grass-fed beef, humanely-raised pork sell for significantly more than traditionally raised livestock and in our area, we get $3 a dozen for free range chicken eggs; out west, they are getting $4 a dozen, while traditional farmers get less than 50 cents for a dozen eggs. The math is easy to do.

“Sustainable practices are catching the attention of consumers and they are willing to pay premium dollar for these products. These consumers aren’t just old hippies either. They are lawyers, accountants, soccer moms, from all types of backgrounds and income levels.”

I won’t even elaborate on the ones who rant about industrialized agriculture/corporate farming that’s eradicating the family farmer, ag pesticides that are responsible for a laundry list of evils, or greedy American producers putting Third World farmers out of business with government crop support programs.

What’s ironic about the organic farmer communiqués is that, almost without exception, they see it as a them-versus-us situation: the conventional farmers don’t care about us, are out to get us, are contaminating our fields/crops, etc., etc.

They’ve got a perpetual chip on their shoulder. And they shouldn’t have.

Nobody in “conventional” agriculture is denigrating the organic producer. If a farmer can find a market and make a buck selling organic lettuce/apples/kumquats or free range poultry, or conducting bird-watching tours or offering duck/deer hunts, more power to him/her.

That’s the name of the game: producing something that people want and that will, hopefully, pay the bills and allow a profit.

But seeing the other side of the coin is a principle in short supply in the organic community, which has a hard time acknowledging that the food/fiber needs of this nation (and much of the world) could not be met through a totally organic production system, or that the majority of consumers aren’t willing to pay a substantial premium for organic produce/meat/fiber.

There just aren’t enough farmers, enough land, enough labor, enough resources for totally organic production. Without modern, high-volume agriculture, there’d be a lot fewer items on the supermarket shelves.

And the bugaboo of cross-contamination of conventional and/or organic fields by biotech varieties has been blown much out of proportion. Every conscientious farmer is going to take every precaution possible not to endanger his neighbors’ crops, whether it be from pesticide drift or pollen spread. In today’s litigious environment, no farmer relishes spending money on lawyer fees or time in court to resolve such encroachments.

There’s plenty of room for both conventional and organic farming. Both play a role, and name-calling benefits neither.

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