I’ve been trying to convince a friend of mine that many “Pro-GMO” arguments are myths. I sent him to your Farming Systems Trial study to address some of the most common ones.
One objection that he had, listed below, is that this would never work on a large-scale basis. I don’t grow my own food (yet) and, even if I did, it wouldn’t be on a large scale so I’m not able to challenge his argument. He also argued that soil depletion would be a problem. I sent him information from your website about cover crops and he came up with another objection. I’ve listed his two points below. If there is an article that would address these, let me know so I can forward the information to him and use it in the future.
1. Organic farming with proper crop rotation and with a large collection of varying crops/animals IS possible on a smaller scale such as for use by a large family or commune. On a large scale commercial basis it would be extremely cost prohibitive and labor intensive. For example: one tractor and truck can run 100 acres of corn (GMO or not). You would need an army of manual labor personnel to do the same on an organic, non-GMO, or mixed crop/animal farm.
2. As for cover crops, yes, they work great when you can tiptoe around them in your backyard garden. I do it myself with cucumber plants low growing around corn, but try harvesting with any manner of machine and you’ll have squished crop.
Well, where to start? It is sometimes difficult to relate the type of work we do and the scale we do it on to someone who doesn’t want to hear, but the fact of the matter is we have many large scale organic operations producing every conceivable crop across the globe and in the US.
According to the latest USDA Ag census figures, just over four million acres were certified within the USA totaling just over $3 billion in sales (not small business or backyard gardens). Of those farms 65% used cover crops so we know it will work at any scale. The organic industry is now over $30 billion worldwide. While a portion of the farms are small operations, many of these farms growing grains and vegetables are well over 1,000 acres. In fact some are over 10,000 acres.
Take a look at the concept that the world’s growing population can be fed using organic methods in an article by World Watch .You can see that many of the world’s leading minds agree the future is in biological production methods, not strategies based on chemical inputs or biotech solutions.
Now let’s look at your friend’s specific questions:
1. Rodale Institute and the organic industry would never suggest we don’t use modern farming equipment, and certification does not preclude the use of high tech solutions like GPS or even hybrid seeds. While additional labor may be needed at certain times of the year, our economic calculations are all based on family farm operations of approximately 750 acres for an east coast grain operation. When everything is calculated (including labor), the cost of production for organic management is actually less since the costs are internalized not externalized. The costs to the environment are far less and the profit is much higher since the value in the market place for the end product is higher.
2. The idea for the use of cover crops could fill a book, but, in short, the reasons we utilize cover crops in the rotations are to sustain the living organisms in the soil by keeping something green and growing on the soil. We also reduce erosion, recycle nutrients and improve the soil organic matter content helping to minimize drought problems. We plant most of our cover crops at times when we would otherwise not be using the land. For example, winter annuals are planted after corn or soybeans or even wheat. These cover crops, if leguminous, can fix enough nitrogen to grow subsequent crops without the need for additional nitrogen. Together, crops rotations, cover crops, compost application (if available) balanced with any purchased fertilizers needed, the systems can easily compete with conventional farming systems and come out even or ahead.