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Cotton bollworms: 660/organic cotton: zero

In modern cotton production, the more factors you can control, the better your potential is for success. Today, cotton producers can control plant growth with plant growth regulators, worms with Bt cotton, lack of rainfall with irrigation, disease with fungicides and so on.

The wise and judicious use of chemicals and genetic engineering technology is a proven approach to producing good yields, quality and profits for the cotton producer and a safe, consistent supply of cotton for the consumer. Essentially, this is a sustainable approach to cotton production. Why would anyone stray from this course?

That is a question being asked today by farmers working a pilot farm in Uganda, in eastern Africa. According to an online report in Uganda’s The New Vision, the farmers were convinced by organic cotton promoters that they could get better returns by going all organic.

The move has proven disastrous. According to the report, “deadly pests have attacked (the) organic cotton demonstration and research farm, dimming further the chances of the practice taking root.”

A supervisor at the pilot farm says that the pests invaded the nine-acre farm in the Lira district in mid-September. Although the report is not quite clear on spelling, we presume that Lygus and bollworms were the culprits.

The farmer in charge of the plot says an organic product called nimbicide apparently was not having an impact on the pests. When he informed the promoters about it, they told him to be patient, the product would work.

The pests proceeded to eat the entire crop, estimated to have a potential of 660 pounds of lint per acre. Afterwards, the farmer in charge of the organic plot said he wouldn’t use the stuff to spray his personal garden.

This and other organic experiments have impressed the Ugandan government so much that their Cotton Development Organization has begun offering pesticides to farmers at subsidized prices. Meanwhile, the most damaging pest reported in Ugandan fields these days is anyone promoting organic methods.

Back in the United States, the new farm bill allows eligible organic farmers to receive up to $20,000 a year, or a maximum of $80,000 during a six-year period, to cover the cost of transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture.

In an article in the Des Moines Register online edition, Bill Horner, president and chief executive of Naturally Iowa, a dairy based in Clarinda, said the farm bill provision “is definitely the nudge that has been missing,” for wider acceptance of organic agriculture.

Is it? The same article states that Mike Albers, who grows organic corn, wheat, oats and hay on 200 of his farm’s 900 acres near Waverly, Iowa, is reconsidering plans to convert another 100 acres of the farm to organic production” even though prices for organic corn and soybeans are at least double the price of conventional versions.

Albers, who had a tough time controlling weeds in his organic crops this year, provided as good a testimonial as I’ve heard for conventional farming. “If you’re just in (organic farming) for the money, you’re probably not going to survive. It’s a lot more work.”


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