Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Organic Crop Production – Part I

Let me start by defining Organic Crops Production as I understand it. “Production using no synthetic fertilizer, no chemical control of weeds nor insects, and using seed that was also produced using organic production methods”.

I should strongly emphasize I have absolutely nothing against organic farmers or those that choose to purchase organic foods. Organic farmers are probably one of the hardest working groups of farmers anywhere. Personally I cannot imagine handling the weed pressure and insect control without using the products we have available. Organic foods have experienced tremendous growth over the last decade, and I expect that it will continue into the foreseeable future. As long as there are people willing to pay the price for organically produced foods I certainly can’t fault anyone for filling that market niche.

I also strongly support the “local” food initiatives-farmers markets, etc. which provide a community with fresher alternatives than any store chain can provide-and supports the local farmers. The benefits of consumers understanding where there food comes from is great. I think many people combine local/organic into one concept-but they are really two different issues.

There are three main issues I have with many in the organic food movement:
  1. World population has reached a level where we can no longer produce enough food to supply our needs using only organic methods.
  2. Many in the organic food industry are seeking through various methods to restrict production methods used by non organic farmers.
  3. Spreading of false information about food safety of GMO crops.

Food Requirements to feed the world
If you look at it objectively organic production is basically going back to the way we used to farm 80 years ago, before modern fertilizers and pest controls were developed. As expected, organic crop yields are similar to those 80 years ago as well. If all acres were to be farmed organically there would simply not be enough food to feed the world’s current population, let alone the population over the next 40 years as explained in last weeks blog entry.

Lets look at corn production in this country over the last 100 years.

As you can see we basically had little increase in yields between 1900 and 1940. The technological advancements in fertilizer and pesticides prohibited by organic production rules are exactly what have enabled yields go from 25 bushel per acre to a national average close to 160 bushel per acre. As you can see from the chart this has really accelerated since the genetic modifications have started to enter the market since the turn of the 21st century.

In 2008 U.S. Farmers grew just over 12 billion bushels of corn, on a national yield of 153 bushels per acre, with many farms now growing 200 bushel per acre plus. As we near the end of the 2008 crop year (before 2009 harvest begins) estimates are that we will carry over 1.3 to 1.4 billion bushels, close to the prior year carry. Meaning that in the last year we used and exported more than 12 billion bushels.

Corn is America's chief crop export, with total bushels exported exceeding total bushels used domestically for food, seed, and industrial purposes-and that includes ethanol. Corn not only provides the majority of calories in the feeds for beef, chicken, and pork in our diet but also feeds much of the world as well.
Being extremely generous and assuming that we could grow even 100 bushel per acre organic average (and it would not be close to that) would leave us more than 4 billion bushel short of the worlds needs.

Abandoning synthetic fertilizer that is required to produce the high yields we have today would do little more than result in farmers “mining” the soil and over the next few years yields would decrease even more as time passed. Back at the turn of the century there was a lot more livestock in crop production areas and much of the nutrient requirements of a 30 bushel corn crop could be fulfilled by manure. Now the livestock that used to be present on nearly every farm are few and far between, and even if they are located closely they cannot provide a fraction of the nutrients required to grow a 200 bushel corn crop.

This entry is getting a little too long so I am going to be splitting this topic up into three weeks, next week in Part 2 I will discuss falsehoods being spread about the safety of GMO crops and in Part 3 the benefits to the environment of GMO crops vs. Non-GMOs., and profitability of organic farming.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

FACTS about Modern U.S. Agriculture

As I started my blog entry this week I wanted to continue to try and correct some of the misinformation floating out there about farming. The more I wrote I realized I was just ranting about how uninformed many people are about modern agriculture, I began to realize what a bad direction I was taking, why should they be educated? Less than 2% of the population now lives on a farm, well over ½ of our population lives in urban areas, and vast numbers of people have never set foot on a farm. Ranting against people that haven’t had an opportunity to learn is going to accomplish nothing.

What I realized I need to do is lay out of some indisputable facts, then explain why the misinformation that is circulating is dangerous in light of these facts. Over the next few weeks I will take a topic each week that I believe is misrepresented and try to set the record straight as I see it and based on the information I have.

I realize that a lot of people who are spreading this false information are truly good intentioned, simply misinformed. While I do wish they would take the time to learn and consider the full impact of their actions before pursuing legislative approach the best thing I can do is be a source of accurate information.

It is very hard for me not to jump into these topics all at once but over the next couple weeks I will have a blog entry or two about:

  • Organic Crop Productions
  • Genetically Modified Crops
  • Farm Subsidies
  • Fertilizers & Chemicals
For now lets start with a few basic facts:

Fact 1: There are more people alive on the planet at this moment than there have been people who have passed since the earth’s existence.

Fact 2: It took 13,000 years for earths population to reach 1 billion people, now we are adding one billion people every 12 years!

Fact 3: We need to grow more food (calories) in the next 40 years than has been grown in the history of man.

Fact 4: There are over 1 billion people on this planet that live on less than $1 a day!

As I discuss my thoughts on the topics above in the next few entries keep these numbers in mind.

Finally, while there are many suggestions out there on how we should be farming, I will say any of them that do not support the production required for feeding of the number of people, including the least fortunate, are personally unacceptable to me.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Information & Misinformaton about Farms

I have been reading some reviews and points made in the new "Food, inc" film that opened this weekend. It is really troubling how little the general population knows about farming and how much misinformation is spread.

From what I can tell the movie really demonizes farming and claims that our food is largely supplied by "Factor Farms" or "Corporate Farms" and agribusiness giants.

I wish someone, anyone who throws around those terms could explain to me what a "Factory Farm" or a "Corporate Farm" is? Especially as it pertains to grain farms. I know literally hundreds of farmers-and have never met a single one who farms for a company other than brothers, cousins, etc. who have incorporated on paper for tax purposes or liability purposes. As I look within 15 miles of my farm in any direction they are farmed by Craig, Jeff, Steve, Gary, John, Bob, Bill, Eric, Matt, Allen, Mike. Not a single one is a corporate employee or employee of any factory.

According to the US Department of Agriculture 98% of farms in the US are family farms. I am guessing the 2% are probably the large southern Chicken or northern Hog farms owned by Tyson, Pilgrims pride, etc.

The thing that is really most disturbing is that most people (and legislators) are so far removed from the farm there are many more sources spreading misinformation than those spreading a realistic picture of agriculture. I did run across a great website this week at: I would encourage everyone to check it out.

Here is a link within that which is a perfect example: This giant agribusiness is made up of Barry, his wife, three kids, and 73-year-old father.

The Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio Farm Bureaus, an organization created, funded, and managed by family farms all across the country has spoken out against Food Inc. and called out it's playing fast and loose with the facts but I doubt that 10% of the people who would see this obviously biased film will ever get to hear another perspective.

Some would say so what, let them believe what they want. But the same groups that would spread this misinformation have now begun lobbying efforts that if successful will greatly hinder the ability of the family farm to produce the affordable safe product that they have so successfully done for the last 100 years. The very group they claim to be trying to protect. The truth is they have no interest in helping family farms-unless you are farming the way they want you to farm-basically taking farming back to the way it was done a half century ago.

What these groups are greatly lacking is a basic understanding of not only the way our food is produced but how it MUST be produced if we are to feed everyone in the world-not just their backyard. This will become even more critical as the worlds population continues to grow and the amount of farmland continues to shrink.

More on this next week.

Benefits of Living in the Country

Now that the hectic time is done a week of downtime really gave me a chance to refleft on the benefits of living in the country. First, I realized how lucky I am to have a job that lets me work from home so often.

We were able to enjoy some good quality family time taking family 4 wheeler rides, eating out on the back porch, going to a small town festival (Moweaqua Pow Wow), and taking some walks along the waterways in the fields, and plant some more blackberry bushes. Julie and the kids each have some projects entered in the county fair.

Last Fri we were sitting on the back porch after dinner watching the dog lay in the yard, cats playing on the porch, and the kids were sitting there too, and not fighting, just looking over the fields. While the crops may not be the best they have ever been, at that moment I just felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

This month marks the 4th year since we moved from the country-I can't believe how much our lives have changed in that time-and all for the better. It is so easy to get used to something and take it for granted but I am really going to try and take time to appreciate the blessings we have living in the country-and decided to make a list. It is much longer than this but a few things are:

  • Being able to walk out the back door and pick some strawberries and blackberries

  • Quiet walks

  • Ability to jump on the 4 wheelers and ride for 20-30 minutes checking crops and never leave your own ground (well-family ground anyway)

  • Let the dog out and go for his morning runs without worrying he is messing on neighbors lawn

  • Quiet dinners on back porch

  • Watching the crops grow

  • Great neighbors!

  • Being close to family, and where I was raised-gives a sense of stability-farming the ground that my grandfather farmed when he wasn't much older than me-hard to explain.

  • Watching a storm roll in-see the rain a mile away and watch it come across the field
  • Did I mention quiet?

I guess it is just in my nature to have lots of "wants"-always thinking about a bigger combine, newer tractor, more ground, etc. But I realized that I am so far from lacking a single "need" that I don't take enough time to sit back and appreciate all the blessings we have.

Spraying and Back in the Shop

This past week was spent spraying bean ground and switching the planter over to beans and planting beans. Thurs and Friday finally allowed the beans to get planted. All of the corn that didn't get the nitrogen sprayed down ahead of planting had its final bit side dressed on Friday.

Here is a video of planting beans:

All of the corn has spiked up and some of the early stuff is about 2 feet tall now. There are some more planting pics here:

With everything planted and 1st pass spraying done I am hiring 2nd pass done. So that pretty much wraps up my spring other than mowing and scouting crops. I will try to keep the blog going if anything interesting appears.

I have done all I can, crop is in gods hands now.