The Possibility of Organic Farming

The Possibility of Organic Farming:

A multi-faceted process of governmental sanction and financial subsidies to promote and advance organic farming practices based on human health and ecological principles.

What would you do?

What if you found out that your favorite hat would make you start to bald prematurely, would you still wear it? Logically, most of us would do without the good looking hat in order to sustain our hairline. Imagine that you have a second hat that costs a little more to purchase than the initial hat, but will not diminish your hairline; would you wear this second hat instead? Following the same logic, you would certainly switch to wearing the second hat because people value their own well-being. Now, what if you found out that the food you and your family have been eating could increase the chances that your children would grow up autistic, with ADHD and have mental or physical challenges; all while increasing your own risk of developing numerous types of cancers, reduced fertility, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes (Feldman, Kepner & Owens, 2010, pp. 14-21). Would you search for a second “hat” without the side effects of pesticides used for conventionally grown food in order to sidestep a life that appears doomed to be riddled with disease and hardship?

 

What is organic?

Organic food is produced without: antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock; conventional pesticides; bioengineering (genetically modified organisms); fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients; or ionizing radiation (USDA, 2007). The option of eating organically produced food would allow us to avoid the harmful direct and indirect health effects of pesticides used by conventional farming practices. Yet, within the United States there are not enough government subsidies to make organic farming a worthwhile venture over conventional methods. The federal government will only help subsidize the cost of farmers to become certified in organic practice, but not the farm’s transition of equipment, labor or function costs. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture [spends] $10-30 billion in cash subsidies to [conventionally practicing] farmers…each year” (Edwards, 2009). This makes organic agriculture less desirable to farmers because it means that they would suffer financial harm from lower crop yield without being compensated via subsidies. Currently the U.S. federal government allocates $5,000,000 dollars a year to subsidizing organic certification (USDA, 2014). When this is compared to the tax revenue generated by companies like Monsanto, this is a vast discrepancy. Last year Monsanto made $2.51 billion dollars after paying $920,000,000 in taxes (Stock-Analysis-On, 2013). This shows that about .05% of the $920,000,000 received from this one pesticide company was used to fund the organic subsidies for the entire country (Stock-Analysis-On, 2013).

 

Making organic a feasible substitute

The use of pesticides within the US will have negative impacts ecologically and health wise, therefore it is socially irresponsible to use them. The US government should increase its financial aid for organics in a way that is multifaceted enough to subsidise all aspects of organic farming, including but not limited to methods such as containerized hydroponic operations (defined later). Governmental subsidies for small-scale (<100 acres) organic farming practices will alleviate financial stresses previously imposed on farmers. Many farmers are eager to diminish their pesticide usage and transition to organic practices due to at least a vague grasp that pesticides are bad for humans and the environment. They refrain due to financial stresses of blue collar farmers that are a very harsh condition and that distract them from shifting to organic methods and can only alleviated by financial support. Furthermore, this would allow for farmers who had not yet considered organic farming, due to the repellent nature of financial losses, to consider it and perhaps see the harms of pesticides as a larger cost of conventional practices. With a stimulated increase in organic farming, it will diminish the use of ecological and health degrading pesticides that are used in traditional practices. (Post and Schahczenski, 2012, p. 2)

By a top down approach of governmental sanctioning and financial support for organic farming (including containerized hydroponic operations) there will be a societal shift towards organically grown food. The shift towards more supply because of the increase in organically producing farms will not be the variable decreasing organic food prices, however, the lower cost to the farmer for producing organically (due to subsidies) allows for a lower priced product. Then as the demand increases, the price will continue to decrease, on an economic basis, because companies must remain competitive (Heakal, 2013). We can assume that demand will increase because the market will be rid of the noticeable price differences, allowing a more focal role to the health and ecological contrasts between conventionally and organically grown food. Once again, this is not a bottom up approach, rather a governmental sanction and support of organic food for the service of supplying American families with pure and non-contaminated groceries, as should be our irrefutable right.

 

It has worked!

Many European nations are developing programs to induce higher amounts of organic farming. A variation of this method commenced in Austria in 1990 and is still in effect today. The Austrian government, realizing that organic farming was a priority, offered subsidies to farmers who practiced organic farming methods. Following the subsidizing of farmers’ shift to organic practices there was a large wave of growth from “2000 farms in 1992, [to]…10-folded within five years.” (Lehner, 2010, p. 1). At the basis of the success it was realized by Lenher (2010) that,

…the introduction of financial subsidies for conversion and management created favorable financial conditions, thereby greatly broadening the range of farmers attracted to organic agriculture… the [Austrian government] repeatedly indicated their long-term commitment to organic agriculture [that] provided the planning security farmers needed. (Lehner, 2010, p. 4)

With a strong governmental sanction India has become one of the leading powers in the advancement of organic farming. In 2010 the Prime Minister of agriculture Narendra Singh took the initial steps in a large scale policy to increase organic farming that lead to 500 organic hectares. The success launched a nationwide movement, and with support from the local economy helped push organic farming in India to 6000 hectares across the country.  The government’s agriculture specialist Anil Kumar Jha said that under the vegetable initiative, the farmers are being provided 75 percent subsidy for taking up organic farming. This increase in governmental support led to a potential 8570 hectares of organically farmed land that are in the process of being developed. (Dayal, 2011)

 

Why should farmers switch?

Although we do understand that the main push for the acceptance of our proposal will be found in the shift of subsidy-based financial support shifting to organic practices, we also realize that these farmers may or may not understand the health and ecological impacts of the pesticides used solely in conventional farming. For this reason it is appropriate for them to understand the reasoning behind the logical shift towards a less impactful methodology, from which advancements may be made in following generations, but all the while being mindful of a true cost-benefit analysis. It is true that pesticide usage is met with increased crop yield, and therefore greater financial gain, but this cost-benefit analysis of pro-pesticides is incomplete because it does not account for the health and ecological degrading effects of their use. There is no greater cost by any standard than the mental and physical impoverishment of healthy offspring, which remains silent by the stifling shadow of pesticide productivity. There are “26 studies linking pesticides to learning and developmental disorders. [Including] general developmental delays, [ADHD], and autism.” (Feldman et al., 2010, p. 18).

Not only should farmers be worried about being the hand that feeds these toxic chemicals to infants, pregnant mothers and children, but numerous diseases have also been linked to pesticide exposure by numerous studies. From endocrine disruption, which disrupts hormones and reproduction, to cancers of various portions of the body, to asthma, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease it should be no secret that there are real and tested links between pesticide usage, leading  to pesticide exposure through consumption, with these adverse health effects (Feldman et. al., 2010, p. 13). However, we would again like to stress that the ignorance of these variables is something understandable by those who slave outside for endless hours of the day to grow crops for the purpose of a relatively unimpressive paycheck. This moderate income is the number one reason for the heavy reliance upon government aid, in the form of subsidies (Bravo-Ureta, B. E., Desjeux, Y., Dupraz, P., Latruffe, L., and Moreira, V. H., 2012, p. 9). So, by realizing one’s reliance on these subsidies, one’s true financial situation would be one hard to overcome by shifting to organic on the basis of valuing the humanity behind refraining from pesticide usage.

 

Alternative supplementation

In addition to the financial incentives that would inspire a cultural shift within the US agricultural industry, we also believe there should be a shift towards modern organic technologies and the advancement of others. Specifically we want to see an increase in containerized growing, where vegetables can be grown in environments that cater to the plants’ physiology. In this way we are able to significantly increase our yield as well as the rate at which we are able to harvest. An example of this was shown to us by Aqua-Harvest Technologies, an agricultural research investment company. They were able to produce a full head of lettuce from a seedling within a 9-12 day range. In traditional agriculture getting a seedling to a full head of lettuce takes 65 days and this process is wasteful. This is due to the fact that that both chemicals and fertilizers are leachable through the soil. (Aqua-Harvest Technologies, personal communication, 2014)

When looking at containerized growth systems however, you will notice that they are closed systems. This gives you the ability to save on resources like water and fertilizer, because what isn’t used by the plant is saved for the future. This ability is largely attributed to the fact that containerized systems are hydroponic, and that hydroponic systems are predominantly closed systems.  Since the environmental conditions created reflect a perfect growing scenario, free from pests and weather variability, there is no need to use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or PGRs (plant growth regulators), such as synthetic cytokinin or gibberellins (Aqua-Harvest Technologies, personal communication, 2014).

A further benefit of containerized growing is that they are not constrained to the traditional growing seasons. This technology would allow for year round yields that far-surpass those that are found by the same plant species on conventional farms. We recognize that this costly alternative is not the perfect substitution for all current small scale farmers, but it is one where even a minor increase in abundance could supply large amounts of organically produce with minimal resource input and zero health effects.

 

It is a process

Resistance to the conversion of small scale farming practices to organic methods will certainly come with a voice concerned with crop yield with food needs rising, from pesticide companies with economic investment in pesticide production, and current conventional farmers thinking that a conversion is too risky. We understand that the increase in governmental subsidies and sanctioning for organic technologies is not the solution to all the pesticide riddled produce that Americans eat each day, but is certainly the vital and hardest first step in the correct direction. By financing organic practices, there is an incentive to improve upon the technologies used, making them more efficient while refraining from the use of toxic chemicals. A competitive market, as we experience in the United States, fuels technological advancement off this very same principle, giving faith that improvements within the organic farming realm will also occur as farmers and organic farming companies strive to increase their yield safely.

Containerized hydroponic operations is a perfect example of an alternative organic technology that actually produces crop yields of certain plants at vastly superior levels to conventional farming; this gives faith there are vast improvements to be made in the farming realm that are not constrained by the grasp of health degrading chemicals. Unfortunately for the pesticide companies, the market is also one that lets outdated technologies and companies go bankrupt as demand for their product declines towards zero; this would be their inevitable fate over a long period of time as this process takes place, but overall it is necessary for the sake of improvement. Just as car-phones are no longer needed, nor will pesticide companies.

 

Everything is connected

Knowing the dangers of pesticides is crucial for the health of our world and all its living inhabitants. You can see this in Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ when it was discovered that DDT was causing bald eagles to have soft egg shells, which in turn led to a decrease in bald eagle population. Also genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like Bacillus Thuringiensis, more commonly known as ‘Bt’, are genes from naturally occurring soil bacteria that are incorporated into the DNA of commercial crops (Greenpeace, 2004). Over a two year period it was discovered that 20% less monarch butterfly larvae were reaching adulthood in populations exposed to Bt pollen (Greenpeace, 2004). This is extremely concerning because this particular insect affects ecosystems across North and South America. Proponents of Bt crops say that it has little impact on non-target species, but this is a fallacy. This misconception doesn’t just apply to butterflies, but also birds native to Bt crop regions. Bt remains inactive (harmless) until processed in an insect larval gut, where it becomes toxic (Greenpeace, 2004). Insects with activated Bt toxins in their guts will pass on the toxins to those who consume them, such as local birds (Greenpeace, 2004).

Insects that survive will often develop populations resistant to the toxin because those that survive after exposure have genes giving them ability to do so that then make it so that only those with toxin-resistant genes reproduce and pass those genes to their offspring. Combining toxin-resistant pest populations with lower predator populations (from increased mortality and reduced fertility from the buildup of toxins internally from consuming multiple toxin infected prey) allows pest populations to strongly increase. (Houlihan, personal communication, 2014)

 

Additional benefits of organic farming

The vast majority of the public has little exposure to organic farming and the true benefits that one can reap from it. This not only includes advantages to your personal health, but also massive benefits to all parts of the ecosystem. The only step we need to take to achieve this is a larger push for organics in our society. As stressed in our proposal, there must be a larger amount of government support within the organic farming industry. This would assist farms in transitioning to organic growing and help shift the public’s views on why we should eat more organically grown food goods.

One method of governmental assistance would be to invest more money into the research of proper organic farming methods, thus its beneficial side effects to the ecosystem. Although the current amount of research is limited, there is still an ample supply of work that supports the wide scale use of organic farming. In a paper entitled “The effects of organic agriculture on biodiversity and  abundance: a meta-analysis” (Ahnstrom, Bengtsson, & Weiboll, 2005), the authors examine the efficiency and ecological benefits of organic farming in comparison to traditional (conventional) methods. The study measured the advantages of organic farming by two indicators: overall biodiversity and species abundance. The study stated that “on average [soil] organisms were 50% more abundant in organic farming systems” (Ahnstrom et al., 2005). This did vary in the species being measured and the site it was measured on. The paper also stated that “Organic farming usually increases species richness, having on average 30% higher species richness (amount of different species) than conventional farming systems” (Ahnstrom et al., 2005).

Not only has research shown to support the idea of species richness being positively correlated with organic farming, studies have also proven organic farming to emit lower levels of harmful gasses. Granatstein (2013),found that organic systems had a lower emission of CO2 with N2O being 31% lower per unit area. The same study also discovered an average of 21% less energy was used on organic farms in comparison to traditional methods (Granatstein, 2013. Para 3).

In addition to the environmental benefits studies are now beginning to show that there are also positive side effects that may benefit your health. Walter J. Crinnion published a paper entitled Organic Foods Contain Higher Levels of Certain Nutrients, Lower Levels of Pesticides, and May Provide Health Benefits for the Consumer that provides evidence that organically farmed foods are higher in many different vitamins and minerals. The paper states:

…reviews of multiple studies show that organic varieties do provide significantly greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties of the same foods. While being higher in these nutrients, they are also significantly lower in nitrates and pesticide residues.  In addition, with the exception of wheat, oats, and wine, organic foods typically provide greater levels of a number of important antioxidant phytochemicals (anthocyanin, flavonoids, and carotenoids). (Crinnion, 2010)

 

Biological support of pesticides increasing cell mutations

The use of common pesticides and herbicides has also been tested in a laboratory setting and supports the idea to shift towards organic practices. (Kale, 2006) used nine herbicides and pesticides to test for mutation occurrence with prolonged exposure to such chemicals with fruit flies. The chemicals used were Ambush, Treflan, Blazer, Roundup, and 2, 4-D Amine, Crossbow, Galecron, Pramitol, and Pondmaster. In the study, fruit fly larvae were allowed to grow in a solution with the test chemicals, therefore allowing long exposure periods for the diploid cells (consists of two chromosomes, one coming from each parent) to be accurately tested. The results of the experiment were “all chemicals induced significant numbers of mutations in at least one of the cell types tested” (Kale, 2006). Unknown by the public, these minuscule changes in smaller organisms are precursors to the potential side effects humans may encounter with such pesticide use. This is because mutations become prevalent quicker in populations when generation time is shorter, such as fruit flies that reproduce and hatch offspring within 30hrs (Houlihan, personal communication, 2014).

Considering that human generations are much longer, repercussions from pesticide exposure may not currently be visible at levels sufficient enough to be widely accepted; however, they are in the foreseeable future because we consist of diploid cells as well. The process by which pesticides reach the human body either from directly touching (absorption through the skin), breathing in pesticide particles, but most commonly through eating produce (plants) that have bioaccumulated toxic pesticides. Bioaccumulation is the first stage of toxin exposure and occurs in primary producers (plants, such as our produce), the toxins then travel up the food chain when another organism eats the plant that accumulated the toxin. These toxins then biomagnify, which is the compilation of the toxins within the organism eating a multitude of prey or plants that have levels of the toxin within them. These levels add up internally because they are persistent contaminants (“Persistence is the ability of a biological or chemical contaminant to remain unchanged in composition, chemical state, and physical state over time” (EPA, 1999)) so the rate of exposure through consumption exceeds the rate of excretion (Danylchuk, personal communication, 2013).

A more focal to the issue of using Bt in crop production mentioned earlier is that the crops themselves are inserted with the Bt gene in order to sidestep the structurally victimizing properties of herbicides sprayed on them. This still allows the absorption of the toxic chemical into the plant, but the Bt gene substitutes the spray’s target gene, one dealing cell structure, that prevents the injurious effect and allows the crop plant to survive. Combining genetic modification with herbicide chemicals is a strategy that kills weeds throughout the entire crop field, while sparing the crop plant. With a practical view of this process we see that this strategy is much more effective at killing weeds in a large range, compared to physically weeding, but understanding the process of biomagnification up the trophic levels, we see that the toxin is still accumulated by the plant, thus magnifying up the trophic chain and reaching the bodies of human consumers. (Whiteley, personal communication, 2014)

 

The strength of governmental support

One may begin to wonder if these are all true statements then why there have been no societal shifts towards organically produced food items. The truth is, that the idea behind organic farming is still yet to be perfected, but if our proposal is accepted more funding from the government would aid in the fine tuning of organic production. One still may be skeptical as to if this would work, but thankfully there are many examples of government subsidies within the U.S. that have been successful in the past and can translate to subsidizing research and funding in organic farming. Many of these subsidies fall along the lines of job training and employment grants. The areas within these grant zones will receive much lower unemployment rates and a better economic standing all due to this one program. (Greene, 2014)

It is important to note that even within the United States we see that there is knowledge of the essential nature of governmental support for a successful transition in agricultural practice. According to the USDA:

Government research and policy initiatives often play a key role in the adoption of new farming technologies and systems. Worldwide, adoption levels for organic farming systems are currently the highest in European Union countries. Governments in the EU have been developing consumer education initiatives and providing direct financial support to producers for transitioning to organic agriculture since the late 1980s to capture environmental benefits and support rural development. (Greene, 2014)

This statement declares that the countries within the European Union have a better handle on organic farming and a much larger support network. A paper entitled “Development of the U.S. and EU Organic Agricultural Sectors” by Carolyn Dimitri and Lydia Oberholtzer (2005) discusses the differences in the European and United states stances towards organic farming. This paper supports what the USDA claims, but includes the lack of investment that the U.S. lends to organic farming. The opening claim states, “Many EU countries have “green pavements” available for transitioning and continuing in organic farmers…The US government has taken a free market approach to the organic sector, and policy is aimed at facilitating market development.” (Dimitri & Oberholtzer, 2005, p. 1). This not only provides us with examples of governmental support leading to success in organic farming, but allows us to examine what our country needs in order to succeed in the organic sector and that is more support from the public. This will translate into governmental response and policies that will cause an organic movement within agriculture.

 

A shift for the future

If the agricultural industry continues down its current pesticide path it will become a larger and larger issue. The monetary and environmental costs will only increase overtime if left alone, and future generations will have to bear the ecological burdens we created. If we act now though we can avoid this global issue spiraling out of control and becoming unmanageable. This issue must be addressed by our world’s nations, by working in concert towards the overall reduction of pesticide usage. Organics will need to play a large role in moving away from pesticides because they are a substitute that could reach sufficient levels of efficiency if farmers who choose to practice organically are met with financial and organizational support; organizational support being the confidence in continued subsidies from the government. By implementing such a support system a strong shift away pesticides will occur, thus avoiding the furthering of ecological and human health degradation from such toxins

 

 

 

 

Evan

2 Comments

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  2. Hey there, I loved the way you explained the concept in a crystal clear manner and I am so glad that you posted a blog on organic farming. Earlier, I wasn’t knowing much about the concept but after going through your blog post, it made me clear the doubts in my mind. I would like to associate with you and would love to write blogs on organic farming. Thanks

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