NDSU Extension - Burke County


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Organic or Conventional Farming

County Agent News
Dan Folske
November 12, 2018

Organic or Conventional Farming

            Is one better than the other? That is a pretty loaded question. Depending on who is around you at the time you make a claim for one or the other you could get run out of town if you answered wrong. Some proponents on both sides of the issues can be extreme in their outlook on the subject. We have all heard the claims that conventional agriculture is killing us all with pesticide residues and that our conventionally produced foods are less nutrient dense than organically produced foods. We’ve also heard the claims and predictions that the world’s population is growing so fast that it is the responsibility of farmers to produce as much food as possible, by whatever method produces the greatest yields, so world starvation can be prevented.

            A year ago I listened to a speaker whom I expected to be a proponent of organic production but who surprised his audience by talking about past civilizations which collapsed because of the failure of their organic agricultural production systems. He really got the attention of the conventional producers in the room when he issued that idea! However as he continued to speak it became clear that he was not taking sides between organic and conventional producers but that you needed to take care of your number one resource, your soil!

            Soil Health and prevention of soil erosion and soil degradation needs to be a priority if you are to maintain your resources and have a sustainable farm regardless of being organic or conventional. Is that easy to do? Can you still be profitable while protecting or building your soil? Many proponents of organic production will say that you cannot have healthy soil if you are using pesticides and inorganic fertilizers while conventional proponents point to the huge dust storms of the 1930’s to show what organic production systems do to our resources.

             During the last 30 years we saw a tremendous shift away from tillage toward minimum till and then no-till or at least to direct seeding with a minimum of tillage and an increasing use of pesticides like glyphosate. Now increasing weed resistance may start shifting the paradigm back toward tillage or toward systems using crop rotations, cover crops, and smother crops to control weeds and maintain production. The one thing I am sure of is that crop production systems ten years from now will not look exactly like they do today. Farming has changed from my grandfathers’ day and like all technology, it will continue to change.

            I’ve rambled away from my first question about whether organic or conventional production is better and this article is long enough already. Next week I will try to make some comparisons between the two farming systems to help you look beyond the stereotypes of each system.


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