Farm Progress

Let the non-GMO, gluten-free, pasture-raised organic madness begin.

Mike Wilson, Senior Executive Editor

April 17, 2017

4 Min Read
bor-zebra/ThinkstockPhotos

Commentary

“I’ve changed my tune on organic farming,” shouted Bob as he came crashing through our farm office door. “It came to me in a dream last night. I just sat straight up in bed and realized, we’ve been going about this all wrong.”

Now, Bob was one of my best employees. But he was known to go off half-cocked once in a while. And when you’ve been growing ‘conventional’ corn and soybeans for three generations as we have, well, you can imagine I was just a bit dubious by this sudden proclamation.

“See, we’ve been doing all this consumer education stuff on social media and in our farm groups,” said Bob. “Our industry has invested millions trying to convince housewives our crops are perfectly safe, and we’ve been using science and research to do it. Where has it gotten us? Nowhere. These people want their organic food and their pasture chickens, and they don’t care about facts, or what it costs.”

“Yeah, I’m well aware,” I said guardedly. We’d all been trying to amp up our farm’s ag-vocacy efforts, so I knew where Bob was coming from. But I was also aware that I had two bins full of corn that at this point couldn’t be priced at a profit. So I decided to let him go on with his rant.

“We keep justifying the problem by saying consumers are three or four generations removed from farm life, that they are out of touch with where food comes from,” he said. “Why should we keep trying to educate them when nothing works? Let’s just let them be who they are – people who have lots of money who will fall for anything.”

“That sounds pretty harsh Bob,” I responded.

Red hot demand
I had heard demand for organic was red hot and it kind of ticked me off since we’re now into the fourth straight year of lower grain prices. In fact, this whole organic idea kind of irked me. Most of us farm under the assumption we needed to grow more, not less. Growing organic would be taking a step backwards. I’d just read a Canadian story that showed organic production yielded up to 25% less than conventional methods. Yet, we’ve all been sold this story about how we had to double food production in the next 30 years. How could we go backwards and still look at ourselves in the mirror each day?

I was still dubious.

“Okay, well what about getting a 30% higher return?” Bob said, still excited about his dream. “I’ve heard organic guys are getting ten bucks a bushel for corn!”

Now he had my attention. I had seen a USDA report that said organic corn prices were as much as $10 per bushel higher than conventional prices and that the cost of production for organic corn was around two bucks higher per bushel. No brainer.

It felt like Bob was starting to make a little sense after all. I knew we’d have a lot of hoops to jump through. But I was starting to drink the Kool-Aid, and it tasted pretty good.

“Well, why stop there? We could get some cage-free happy chickens and let them run around with the naturally-raised pasture pigs,” I added. “You could get $2 an egg, and $50 per pound for those tenderloins. The millennials will love us.”

“Now you’re talkin’,” Bob said happily. “While we’re at it, let’s get us some hives and put a sign out on the barn: ‘Free range honey from free range bees.’ We could charge $15 a jar for that stuff.”

“Gluten-free! Gluten-free! Don’t forget the, um, gluten-free,” I said, slowly pausing to realize just how dumb all this sounded.

“Could we also label the bees non-GMO? That might bring in another couple bucks a jar,” I whispered.

No one spoke for a few minutes.

“Bob, I appreciate the new ideas,” I said finally. “I agree it’s frustrating. Why should we keep banging our heads against a wall to educate customers when keeping them ignorant might be the best way forward? But you know we shouldn’t do any of this… can we?”

Just then I snapped to attention. I must have dozed off. There was no one in the office but me. This hadn’t been Bob’s dream at all. It was mine. But I couldn’t help wonder: was it a dream…. or a nightmare?

About the Author(s)

Mike Wilson

Senior Executive Editor, Farm Progress

Mike Wilson is the senior executive editor for Farm Progress. He grew up on a grain and livestock farm in Ogle County, Ill., and earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Illinois. He was twice named Writer of the Year by the American Agricultural Editors’ Association and is a past president of the organization. He is also past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, a global association of communicators specializing in agriculture. He has covered agriculture in 35 countries.

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