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Sometimes we dig in our heels to our own detriment.

January is the time of year when people renew their commitment to eat healthier and take better care of themselves and their families. As we entered the New Year, mainstream media seemed to be fixated on the benefits of a diet that favors local and organic production.

This is also the time of year when farmers get together with their urban friends and family and rehash the debate on organic food versus conventional crop production methods, most of which now include biotech enhanced seed products. The debate is getting tired and I’ve had my fill of all the rhetoric from both sides.

Let’s wipe the slate clean and look at this objectively. Surely we can all agree that biotechnology is about a lot more than herbicide tolerance. It is about maximizing the resources available to produce safe, nutritious food. These goals mirror the objectives of all farmers, including organic producers. Is it that crazy to suggest that a potential partnership between the science of biotechnology and the organic philosophy could trigger a new era in food production that could potentially benefit consumers, the environment, developing nations, and the entire planet?

If organic food is to grow beyond its elitist market niche with urban foodies, the production systems must become more efficient and sustainable, especially when it comes to fertility. Relying on composted manure is problematic and represents a constraint to significant expansion of organic crop production. Crop genetics that require lower amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium would seem to be a natural fit for organic systems. Same goes for water utilization. On the weed front, nature has provided examples of allelopathic traits (walnut trees for example) where plants exude chemistry that prevents competition from weeds. Imagine how much less fuel organic producers would burn if weed control came with the seed in the form of an allelopathic trait instead of using iron, flames, etc. to beat back the weeds. Could biotechnology make organic production systems the default method of farming? I say dare to dream, but if these two camps continue work in isolation from each other, we all lose.

Over the history of agriculture, it has been common for like minded individuals to come together to strengthen their knowledge base and find community and solidarity. This can be good – no-tillers talk to no-tillers, share experiences and learn together. But the downside becomes apparent when these groups become insulated and start to sink deeper into the ruts they drive in. No one is served if biotech researchers and progressive organic producers refuse to consider the common goals and objectives they share. Both sides have a responsibility to explore partnerships.

My gut tells me that the anti-biotech sentiment that has been a cornerstone of the organic farm culture has less to do with the science than the entities who design, develop and deliver the tools. Would it be more palatable for organic producers to consider biotech advances if the science did not come from multinational companies? If a nitrogen efficiency trait fell from the sky would organic producers walk away from it? Don’t think so.

Surely we are mature enough to get beyond these silly thought patterns. Think about the potential of a global food production revolution that could arise from the merger of organic stewardship philosophies and cutting edge biotechnology. As a conventional producer without super-strong binds to either organic or biotech dogma, I welcome the possibilities. Would you?

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Peter Gredig

Follow me on Twitter. I’m Agwag.
This commentary is for informational purposes only. The opinions and comments expressed herein represent the opinions of the author--they do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Farms.com. This commentary is not intended to provide individual advice to anyone. Farms.com will not be liable for any errors or omissions in the information, or for any damages or losses in any way related to this commentary.

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Greed, money and nature of the beast. Organic farming to me is the reign of the entrepreneurs and biotech the reign of the multi-national. Both demand high prices either for the product or production costs, both need farmers to grow their product, and both want the other one gone from the market. To think they will work together, is barking up the wrong tree. If you are running a farm business, your end product is the money in the bank, to pay of debt. And I don't know many farmers who are no in debt. The ones who tend to play with organic farming tend to be very small farms and have other forms of income to play in it or have a market.
Peter's Commentary generated some interesting discussions on the main Farms.com chat forum. Here are some threads.

I have recently decided to transition to organic dairy farming. The reason I have decided to do this is not to make more money in a niche market but entirely for health reasons. I am not convinced that GMOs are safe and it is quite easy to find research that questions the safety of pesticides. I want to provide myself and my family with the safest and healthiest food and home possible and I believe not using pesticides and GMOs will help me to do that. I know there are many who don't have the same views as me and I'm ok with that. Everyone can make there own decision on what is best for them and their families. I can't speak for all organic farmers but I would have no interest in using seed with a nitrogen efficiency trait.

Date Posted : 1/9/2010 7:53:11 PM Delete

Re:Biotechnology and Organics: Why can’t they be f Report this Message | Reply to this Message
I have made a study of biotech, from the brazen disinformation campaigns to the safety of the technology and there is nothing organic or safe about genetically modified fake food as far as I can see. Biotech appears to be in it for the money and not for "helping feed the world" as they would have people think. They pay a whole lot of money to people to write propaganda for them. On the other hand, the organic culture has worked to stay true to the idea of real, natural, healthy and safe food. In my mind, its apparent who should I trust.

Date Posted : 1/10/2010 11:45:33 AM Delete

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I have worked and run an organic certification agency for more than 6 years. I have heard it from both sides. I myself have started to become convinced that "sustainable agriculture" has taken several wrong turns, including not paying enough attention to why large scale conventional agriculture is the way it is--there are reasons. This piece, one by Blake Hurst over at the American Enterprise Institute, and the recent Stewart Brand book on Eco-pragmatism has got me thinking about how sustainability in agriculture and organics specifically has marched its way into a dead end. Too often organic, sustainability, and environmental activists have settled for a fossilized rhetorical purity that is increasingly divorced from the realities of the problems we face. Increasingly, organics is a vehicle for self righteousness and scalism and is less and less relevant to feeding a growing world in a time when natural resource shortages loom over the horizon. In my opinion, the sustainable agriculture movement has to backtrack to where it went wrong and to my eye that is when it began to turn away from scientific rigor and towards rhetorical rigor. What we need is to reboot sustainability under a new mantle of Sustainability 2.0. , which should be pragmatic and science based, and which should include an objective discussion of the role of GMOs in sustainability. Don't get me wrong---I love organics and what it stood for--there was a purity and a simplicity to the idea that appealed to my younger romantic self. And I do believe that people should have the right to vote their ideals in the checkout line. But organics has co-opted and fully occupied the sustainability turf, choosing to ignore the massive improvements that "conventional agriculture" have developed, including IPM, no-till farming, and yes, perhaps even the advent of GMO crops. But make no mistake, the way forward is not to reform organics and bring the movement to the table with bio-technology promoters. Organics cannot and will not go back. It has become to big to do that. Organics has become a 23 billion dollar industry in the U.S. That pales next to the size of the entire agricultural market in the U.S. but it is not a pittance, and there are entrenched players with vested interests in seeing the market preserved as it is because they have grown this market from nothing. They will not jeopardize it by tinkering on that scale. No, what is needed is a new movement towards sustainability, one that is pragmatic rather than dogmatic, one that is science based rather than rhetorically based. That is the only way forward. The world needs to quit ceding the sustainability banner to organics. I for one would welcome that dialogue and welcome that effort. Anyone want to start a new certification standard along those lines? I would. "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

Date Posted : 1/10/2010 1:45:05 PM Delete

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Agree with the writer above. There has to be a proper balance in this situation. I wonder if anyone realizes that the organic market has also been an attraction to the big companies who now have branches under different names that are selling "organic" foods at higher prices than their usual products. Speaking of "being in it for the money", these companies are going in the same direction. As usual the old adage, CAVEAT EMPTOR, applies.

Date Posted : 1/10/2010 10:07:29 PM Delete

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I don't see how a partnership between biotechnology or better known as GMO's and Organics could potentially benefit consumers, the environment, developing nations, and the entire planet?
60 years ago it was said that chemical fertilizers and pesticides was the way to go that it was the magic solution to hunger in the world. I don't deny the great increase on yields achieved thats admirable but last year the number of hungry people in world reached 1.2 billions! Farmers are still fighting the same or more resistant pests and diseases relying completely on the continuous use of toxic pesticides that reach our water streams and food chain, If we can not feed the world despite the heavy use of chemicals and the complete dependency on oil to produce food there is gotta be something vey wrong and that is GREEDINESS.
Biotechnology can not benefit consumers because the very few published SCIENTIFIC studies show that use of GMO'S can cause sperm reduction, new allergies and a decrease on progenie's size, generational studies should be performed before claiming that GMO's are good for the world.
Organic Farming not only relies on composted manure, there is tons of many products that can be composted that end up in the landfills and could be used to improve soil fertility.
The only way to benefit the consumers, the environment, developing nations and the whole world is to start NOW bringing soils back to life by composting all the excessive wastes, stop monocropping and promote biodiversity, protect the varieties that have been feeding the world for many generations and reduce reliance on oil to produce food.
We dont need any other temporary patch to the present agricultural situation, we need a real solution and thats not GMO's for sure.

Date Posted : 1/11/2010 10:52:46 AM Delete

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I am sorry Peter but you are not qualified to make any of your asumptions.
It is simple math-Bioteck= Corporate greed and control of nature=no accountability
Organics=Education and woking with nature=accountability

Take notice of all the posts here and get educated about what oganic farming is!

Date Posted : 1/11/2010 2:44:29 PM

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