Organic vs. Conventional – A Response From Sandy Syburg

We received a comment about pesticides in organic production and thought it would be a useful topic for all interested parties.

The big differentiator in the organic vs. conventional debate is as much about what is not on or in your food as it is what IS in your food.

Yes, the organic growers do have tools to manage pests and disease. In apples, for instance, the use of botanical oils, like neem oil, disrupt insects attraction and life patterns to keep them away from fruit. Other relatively innocuous products like fine clay (kaolin) is sprayed on the fruit to create a protective shield from disease and pests.

More importantly, though, is that in a healthy, well-mineralized (organic) soil the plants’ natural defenses are enhanced to the point where these “rescue” treatments become far less necessary and possibly eliminated.

Some of the first and most important soil corrective measures include carbon, biology and calcium. High calcium levels prevent many disease expressions in apples (and other) crops and provide higher calcium levels in the resulting crop, which is feed for animals and/or humans, and the benefits of soil health get amplified.

Further, many conventional pesticides are “systemic” which means they are fed to the plant through the root system and then are in the resulting crop, so if an insect tries to eat or damage the crop the insect is killed.

These types of products do not wash off.

Therefore the focus needs to be switched to the clean nutritious food that can be grown in a healthy, biologically-active, mineralized soil. Right now those advancing this soil-plant system just happen to be organic growers. That need not be the case.

I write this in an effort to broaden the dialog. There will always be skepticism about claims made by the companies that gain from food health claims. In my own experience as an organic farmer I have only once purchased an organic pesticide with the concern that a valuable pinto bean harvest may be in jeopardy. Soybeans in conventional neighboring fields were showing signs of disease pressure. My choice was to scout fields on a daily basis and only apply if problems began to express themselves. The crop remained healthy until harvest and I never did end up using the product.

It taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t shoot in the dark.

In other words, fear of loss of what we have (harvest) is a normal human reaction versus insuring health. It makes sense how products gain acceptance because the acres to eyes ratio on many farms now is so high. But there are alternatives.

Soil health improvement and subsequent plant, animal and human health as a result can happen in any type of agriculture. This is most importantly about what we can do to provide clean nutritious food, feed and fiber now and in the future. The solution to so many of our modern troubles lies humbly beneath our feet. Let’s keep the conversation and actions going in the direction of optimal soil health and the other debates will naturally become secondary or maybe even inconsequential.


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