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A grower’s grower: Organic farms are all natural

‘By 2050, pretty much all the chemistries we currently rely on in the conventional side will likely be gone,’ adviser says.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

May 23, 2024

3 Min Read
OGS reception
An outdoor reception is held at the Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, Calif., in late 2023.Mike Wilson

Innovations and improvements are ongoing in the field of agriculture as immortalized by a poet centuries ago who wrote, “Nothing stays the same, save eternal change.”

Fortunately for farmers, something creative is always on the horizon that will make things faster, easier, and sometimes even cheaper.  One such evolution involves organic growing and how it differs from conventional farming.

Developed in the early 1900s, the concepts of organic agriculture included use of animal manures, cover crops, rotation of crops, and biologically based pest controls.  Encyclopaedia Britannica calls it, “A sustainable agriculture system that evolved as a response to the environmental harm caused by chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Compared with conventional agriculture, organic farming uses less pesticide, reduces soil erosion, decreases nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water, and recycles animal wastes.”

Rod Braga, President/CEO of Braga Fresh Family Farms in Soledad, recipient of the 2023 Grower of the Year award from Organic Produce Network and Western Growers, is a long-time proponent of the emerging farming methods.

“He is truly a grower’s grower,” according to the Organic Produce Network.  “His decades-long work exemplifies what passionate, hardworking organic farming means to the success of California agriculture.  Rod has worked tirelessly to encourage natural methods for pest control, water conservation and sharing information about those practices with other organic farmers.”

The third-generation grower, who grew up in the family's multi-generational farming business and began working agriculture at age 8, attributes a lot of his company success to caring for the soil, planting cover crops, and practicing crop rotation.

No synthetic inputs

Eric Morgan, Braga Fresh Farms Vice President of Environmental Science, takes those processes a step further.

“We don’t use any synthetic inputs,” he said. “Everything we apply on the farm is of natural origin from true organic fertilizer to insecticides derived from fungi. And we embrace diversity with plants that attract beneficial insects to the perimeters of our fields. In fact, our best friends in the fields are ladybugs and we look toward Mother Nature to help us in unwanted insect reduction.”

Be it subtle or blatant, Morgan feels growing organic adds more nutritional value and better taste to the naturally grown crops.  “What customers are looking for is healthier alternatives grown in ways better for the environment and organic is the best way we have right now to get that done,” he said.

Echoing the same sentiments is Larry Santos, the Organic Trade Association’s 2024 Farmer of the Year from Taylor Farms/Earthbound Farm. Santos oversees 3,000 acres in the Salinas Valley including a three-crop planting rotation each year.

Attesting to the growing popularity of organic crop production is the turnout at the recent “first-ever” University of California Cooperative Extension Organic Farming Day held in late April in Santa Rosa. “We actually organized three of them that week (in Lake, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties) with local producers who plan to convert to organic practice,” reported Chris Chen of UCCE – North Coast.

“Often our events focus on conventional agriculture and the practices implemented in those systems because many of our clientele identify as conventional farmers. However, there is a large population of organic farmers in the North Coast region and we wanted to make sure we were offering programming that would fit their needs as well. Since the challenges faced on organic farms are often handled differently than on convention lands, we felt a need to offer educational, extension-focused programming.”

Demand will increase

Morgan offers some words of wisdom to those thinking of joining the organic grower crowd.

“By 2050, pretty much all the chemistries we currently rely on in the conventional side will likely be gone, that pipeline shuttered by regulation,” he said.

“And consumer need among the millennial and Gen A populations is leading to more organic product, so forward-looking growers need to understand these changing compliance requirements and customer desires and try to find a way to adapt knowing that the next 25 years in California is going to become increasingly challenging from a regulatory basis.  Change is the new normal and being able to adapt to change is what a grower will need to stay successful.”

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