Why I'm Not Converting the Farm to Organic Production


andrew campbellAs a proud farmer, I love answering questions, discussing issues and listening to concerns about everything agriculture, food and all of the connections in between. Sometimes though, some of those conversations have me thinking for weeks. Case in point: a simple enough question from a young woman left me trying to sort out a tremendously complicated answer.

She asked, “Would you ever consider certifying your farm organic? Why or why not?”

My short answer to the first question at the time, still stands today. We have had the conversation here before about becoming organically certified. But each time have chosen to stay ‘conventional’.

The answer to ‘Why Not’ is a more complicated answer.

One segment of the answer looks at the business case, a critically important piece that needs to thought through no matter what type of farmer you are if you want to be able to pay the bills and stay a farmer. When selling organic milk, the premium over the last 12 months has been 20.9% here in Ontario, over the milk that heads out of our driveway. Typically, however, organic cows produce less milk. Production data for 2013 in Quebec suggests the average Holstein cow in the province produces 32.7 kilograms of milk per day, while a cow with an organic diet is producing an average of 25.6 kilograms per cow per day. More cows to produce the same amount of milk begins to dilute the 20% premium. Higher feed costs (all of which need to be certified organic), higher priced supplies (like straw, which is recommended to be organic straw for bedding, if available) makes this a harder decision than just how much extra money a litre of milk will get you.

The other segment of the answer though is far more complex as it dances across values, beliefs and differing perspectives of facts. And while the depths of those complexities can be found in conversations about what organic means to different people, I sum my thought up in something very simple.

I don’t believe that everything natural is good, and everything synthetic is bad, unlike many others where this is a driving principle of many consumers and farmers who choose organic production.

Poisonous, all-natural venom in a snake can kill you pretty quickly. A now-12-year-old artificial hip in my grandmother is incredibly valuable for her.

Despite the continued mind-numbing objection to genetically modified crops, fact after fact (including the latest that 100 billion animals fed GMOs over 30 years showed zero difference to those fed non-GMO grains) points to technology benefiting more than just the definition of our television or the quality of life through medical breakthroughs. I can benefit our dinner plate too. Plus, if you can’t tell by looking at a crop to see which one is ‘natural’ and which is a GMO, and both are proven to have identical safety levels, is one really natural and one unnatural? For the record, some of the food our cows eat is considered a GMO. Some of the food they eat is not. Then again, some of the food I eat has GMO ingredients. It has been this way for 20 years.

Related: What’s in milk? FAQ’s about milk, antibiotics, hormones and more

Because of that belief, we continue to choose to not certify as an organic farm. It would make farming harder for me, doing something that I don’t believe in. It’s also why I rarely, if ever, choose to buy an organic product, whether that be an apple, pork chop in a restaurant, or even baby food. It is our choice based on our beliefs that natural and synthetic cannot easily be distinguished as good or bad; black or white; right or wrong. If, however, you and I disagree here – I will happily point you to some great organic dairy farms and milk processing companies in Canada. That’s the benefit of choice.

The challenge going forward though, is evident by the latest hashtag #OrganicMilkNext (trying to push Starbucks to only use organic milk). A few folks deciding what is best for everyone else ends up doing more harm than good. If you would like organic milk in your latte, then ask for it. But, to demand that the way I farm, shop and live my life is unethical, dangerous or greedy suggests a passion for sensation that is short on common-sense, factual evidence or the understanding of a working farm.

Let’s continue to stand up for choice.

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