"On the Road Again"

Mark Keating's picture

Organic certification requires that farmers open up their entire operation to an annual inspection, and I’m spending a few weeks in Kansas and Colorado as the guy with the clipboard asking all the questions.  The farmers I inspect are as forthcoming with their answers as they are diligent about complying with the standards, since they primarily grow wheat, corn and hay and for many of them the organic price premium is the difference keeping them in agriculture.

Sharing experiences with organic farmers as I travel across the Midwest and Great Plains has opened my eyes to many adverse consequences attributable to federal agricultural policy.  One farmer reminisced how his extended family came together every year during pheasant season, but now with the tree lines and hedge rows ripped out to accommodate more commodity production, there are no more birds.  Another farmer shook his head as we drove past a field of dilapidated dry land corn in a region where rainfall is always scarce; only the subsidized insurance payment could justify the heavy investment in seed, pesticide and synthetic fertilizer.

In a nutshell, our federal agricultural policy disproportionately rewards farmers for ramping up commodity production on as much land as they can acquire.  Beyond the poor economics of this approach, we are badly abusing environmentally-sensitive land and forcing small and beginning farmers off the land.  We need to be ready when the Farm Bill debate in Washington moves back to the front burner to champion the many cost-effective organic, sustainable, value added and direct marketing initiatives that are the foundation for a better future.

It’s not only the ingenuity, dedication and humility of the organic farmers I inspect which inspire me; I also get to see first-hand proof of how organic production can protect the land while yielding abundantly.  I recently inspected an organic farm that had also achieved the top statewide ranking for funding through the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program which rewards farmers for cutting edge environmental stewardship.  Powered primarily by solar panels, the farm blended vigorous crop production with flourishing biodiversity and a soil that grew richer and deeper each passing year.  The good news is that many of the answers to our most serious problems are already at our disposal, and our organic farmers are hard at work on the next breakthroughs.

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