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Thoughts on the Success of the Organic Movement

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As the second installment of my series leading up to the World Congress for Conservation Agriculture June 22-27 in Winnipeg, MB, I want to discuss the Organic movement.

I am a person who has been directly involved in the evolution of agriculture on the Canadian Prairies like tens of thousands of other farmers, agronomists, and scientists. I believe the switch from tillage farming to reduced or no-till has not only saved millions of acres of productive cropland, but it has improved the soil and profitability of farmers, making our system economically and environmentally sustainable. We have achieved this without the aid of subsidies, which I believe is no small feat. I believe that a hundred years from now when experts look back at significant achievements that have improved standards of living in the world, the no-till movement combined with modern agriculture’s scientific achievements of safe pesticides and GMO plant breeding that has been developed here and other parts of the world will be looked at as one of the most significant factors contributing to this success.

Why then is the organic movement flourishing in Canada, when other parts of the world look at our modern farming practices with envy? For an example of what I mean, please see the following link:

http://www.country-guide.ca/2014/03/31/the-organic-boom-continues/43667/….

This article shocked me, coming from our very own country where Agriculture is one of our leading export industries. Part of our problem is those of us in Western Canadian Agriculture don’t really consider domestic sales as that important, so we don’t worry what Canadian consumers are saying. However this is a huge mistake because if popular opinion becomes law then we are in trouble. A good example is the EU outlawing GMOs largely due to popular opinion. It is time to get worried about this!

What are we doing wrong in the ag industry and scientific community that makes the general population not trust us? I would like to blame the organic industry and media for spreading misinformation like wildfire; scaring people into spending more money for food that is no safer or more nutritious than food grown using modern methods. There is no scientific evidence that organic food saves lives or improves health yet it is their consistent and resounding claim. There is no evidence that organic farming is better for the environment nor any more sustainable; in fact there is plenty of evidence that indicate the opposite. If the 7+ billion people of the world wanted to be fed with organic food it would be a disaster both socially and environmentally!

I think organic food is most successfully marketed as the food for the misinformed affluent society. By reading these articles, some young families are spending their hard earned money on this misconception. BUT, I need to clarify something here: blaming someone else for my problems never works. I always say to employees, friends, family that are complaining and blaming others as the cause of some problem, that the first place to look for a solution is in the mirror because the only thing you can do about a problem is change YOUR behavior ,no one else’s.

I am certainly not the first person to wrestle with this issue, there are plenty of great websites dealing with this misinformation and promoting modern agriculture. There are many examples of educated folks who are speaking out on these kinds of issues, such as Dr. Cami Ryan (@DocCamiRyan), who’s blogs can be found at: doccamiryan.wordpress.com or Michele Payn-Knoper (@mpaynknoper), who has a comprehensive list of agvocate bloggers on her website www.causematters.com.

I have read plenty of articles in farm papers about how we can build urban trust. The Western Producer’s articles from April 10, p.19 and April 24, p.24. (It is odd to me that these are the same papers that have promotions for organic farming??). Most of these are soft approaches, mostly patting one another on the back and hoping interested people find it on the internet. They are taking the first step, but not offering any real calls to action, or suggestions for solutions.

This media problem reminds me of the North American car industry when the Japanese manufacturers began marketing here. The North American industry foolishly said “no problem, our customers are loyal, let them have 5% of the market”. Now the big 3 are on their knees.

I don’t think a soft approach is enough. If everyone and every company invested in Modern Agriculture would stand up and say “Enough is enough! If the media won’t talk about us in a positive way then we will spend the money to do so,” we could really make a difference to the spin pervading in popular media. We owe it to ourselves to spread the positive word about the good work we are doing. We owe it to the consumer, the single mom who is agonizing over what to feed her kids; we owe it to the environment; we owe it to hungry people all over the world. If we pooled our resources and formed a non-profit organization, hired good marketing companies and started an ad and marketing campaign both positive on our side and negative on the organic side, this issue would be dealt with. There are a lot of tech savvy people out there who no longer believe whatever the media puts out. If we direct them to the facts we can win the majority of the public back.

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