Conventional *AND* Organic (Celebrating Diversity in Agriculture)

Hello everyone, welcome to my blog about conventional and organic food.

The video below is of a TEDx talk that I gave in February of 2016. The theme of the TED event was “Fueling Human Existence” and the title of my talk was “Celebrating Diversity in Agriculture.” There are some missing powerpoint slides in the YouTube video, so I included a summary below to help make sense of parts of what I say. This video will serve as an introduction to my thoughts on conventional and organic (found below the summary of the TED talk). Thanks for watching and reading!

Summary:

Agriculture fuels human existence. Without agriculture, we could not survive.

The story of agriculture is that of diversity. There are millions of farmers all over the world growing an incredibly diverse amount of crops, plants, and animals in all sorts of climates, soils, and cultures. These farms can be large, small, conventional, organic, etc.

One farm is not like another. Just because one farm does something one way, does not mean that all farms do it that way or need to do it that way. It all depends on what is best for a particular farm in that particular location.

Farmers are experts in their particular field. Most have been trained since they were children in how to farm. Colleges, universities, and agricultural organizations offer tremendous amounts of research and conventions, workshops, and expos to help farmers farm as efficiently and sustainably as possible. However, an expert in one type of farming isn’t always an expert in another type of farming.

Family farm operations still make up the vast majority of farms in the U.S. and around the world. While large agricultural corporations and business are a big part of food production, family farmers are at the root of the equation, and are made up of some of the most honest, value-driven, hard working people you will ever meet. We should be able to trust these families.

Technologies like GMOs, Pesticides, No-Till/Cover Crops, Precision Farming, Intensive Livestock Farming, and Organic Farming are all valuable tools that can help us solve some of the problems we have in the world today. However, they are often met with skepticism, criticism, and resistance both from people and from other farmers. Many of these criticisms are misguided. (Please read the blog below for more on this!)

-We do need to question new technology and keep people, government, and corporations in check, but we need to stop the fighting between farmers and misguided attacks on different types of farming practices.

-Instead of fighting to get rid of each other’s farming practices, we should be fighting to change the real problems we face: 1) Difficulty of Farming 2) Hunger 3) Waste 4) Environmental Impact

We need to support and improve all methods of agriculture! (Conventional, Organic, Urban, Vertical, Greenhouse, etc.) If we took all the time, money, and effort spent debating which method of farming is better and invested it into making each method better, we would make a lot more progress in fighting the real problems we face.

We live in a diverse world with diverse types of people and we need diverse types of farming. It doesn’t make sense to limit farming to one type of practice (Ex. conventional OR organic). To exclude or alienate the others. One type of farmer can’t feed the world. One type of crop can’t feed the world. Just as it is better for a farmer to rotate between several different crops instead of planting one crop over and over again, it is better for agriculture to utilize all of its methods instead of just one. Diversity is the answer.

Be thankful for the remarkable food system we have.

Make sure to get information about your food from experts, not random people who post online. An expert in organic farming would be an organic farmer, an expert in conventional farming would be a conventional farmer. An expert in biotechnology would be a geneticist, an expert in pesticides would be a chemist. And so on and so forth.

-Fighting, conflict, accusations, fear, propaganda, and misinformation are not what will fuel human existence in the future. Human existence will be fueled by supporting one another and working together to find diverse solutions for diverse methods of food production in a diverse world.

My Opinion of Conventional and Organic

The conversation about food these days is filled with misconstrued, biased, agenda-driven information. While I don’t think my opinion is perfect or 100% right, I have tried to form it in a way that is as accurate and fact driven as possible. You don’t have to agree with all I have to say! Please feel free to leave a polite, respectful comment below.

From what I’ve heard in person and seen on the internet, the general opinions people have of organic and conventional food seem to fit in one of the following categories (paraphrased).

  1. I buy whatever is the cheapest or best tasting and don’t really know or care about the difference between organic and conventional.
  1. I buy only organic (or non-GMO, dairy free, vegan, cage-free, free range, etc.) because the alternative (conventional) is filled with toxic things that might kill me like pesticides and GMOs. I buy organic to support the small farmers and not support Big Ag Corporations. Conventional farmers use terrible practices that harm the environment and abuse animals but organic farmers are held to a higher standard and aren’t hurting the environment or animals. I just want farming and food to be like it used to be for my grandparents.
  1. I never buy organic because it is a waste of money. Organic marketing is a scam. Organic farming can’t feed the world. Organic farmers are just taking advantage of higher premiums. They don’t produce as much per acre and their crops often fail.

ALL THREE OF THESE OPINIONS ARE MISGUIDED!!! While there is a bit of truth in each one, all three of these have many misconceptions and inaccurate statements. I will try to address each of these.

Let’s start really quick with #1. I understand the idea of purchasing the cheapest food you can as I know many people must spend as little as they can to fit their budget. However, you should care about your food! Don’t be a lazy consumer. Learn about where and how each type of food is grown and the people who grow it. Learn about nutrition from credible sources. Farmers are always happy to explain why they do what they do and many will even offer tours of their farm! Don’t just rely on marketing schemes to determine your buying choices. Visit farms! Talk to farmers! Educate yourself.

Okay, now my thoughts on the never ending debate between organic and conventional.

I Support Organic

I believe the organic food movement is a good thing because it is waking people up from being lazy consumers like described above. People who are part of this movement care about their food! And they are trying to make a difference through their purchases. That’s great! And I am not going to ask those of you who buy organic to stop. It is your freedom and your choice and if that is what you believe is best for you then please, continue to make those purchases.

I believe organic food is healthy and nutritious and that organic farming is a very viable way of growing food. Every organic farmer I have met is doing the best they can to grow food in a different way than most do. I greatly respect organic farmers because a lot of times it is far more difficult to grow crops organically (although you do get paid more). They have made great strides in developing tools to grow crops using natural substances in more environmentally friendly ways. They use heirloom seeds and protect and promote genetic biodiversity. They find ways to raise animals in better conditions. What’s really neat is that many of these developments have spilled over into conventional farming as well! Organic farming has actually affected conventional farming is a very positive way. It’s challenged the conventional way of doing things and has helped a lot of people start to think outside the box when it comes to food production.

I Also Support Conventional

However, when it comes to sustainability, practicality, and overall efficiency, I do not believe organic food production is the solution all by itself. However, it is part of the solution! As mentioned in my TED talk above, it’s going to take a diverse set of solutions to feed the world sustainably. One of the biggest arguments against organic is that it “cannot feed the world.” I honestly believe we could feed the world with small, organic, free range, non-GMO farms. But it wouldn’t be efficient or practical because all of these methods require more input for less output than conventional. It would require most of the population working in food production again. It would raise the cost of all of our food. Many people (especially those on lower incomes) would be far worse off if we made a complete transition to only organic food. That doesn’t make sense!

Large, conventional farms could feed the world by themselves as well. The advancements being made in conventional agriculture are astounding. Technology such as GMOs, pesticides, precision farming, and intensive livestock farming allows farmers to produce far more food with far less resources! That is a huge part of sustainability.

However, I do not think feeding the world with only conventional farming would be as friendly to the environment, to local communities, or to biodiversity by itself as it would be and is with the inclusion of organic farming. That’s where I believe organic has its place. We need local farmers markets. We need small farms in rural communities. We need farmers who save seeds, build healthy soil, and protect biodiversity. All of these things can be found in a balance between conventional and organic. As mentioned in the TED talk, we need diverse farms, diverse farmers, diverse areas of expertise, diverse approaches, and diverse solutions to diverse problems.

I Do Not Support Fear Marketing and False Accusations

While I do support organic farming and organic farmers, I do not support the marketing strategies the organic industry employs. The reason most people buy organic food is because they believe it is “better” than conventional food. The organic marketing schemes take full advantage of this concept, and try to convince consumers that conventional farming is destructive to the environment, toxic to their health, unfriendly to animals, and bad for small farmers. In reality, conventional farming is far from those things. Conventional farmers (like organic farmers) are a community of honest, hard working, value-based people who are raising food in the method they think is best on their particular farm. Every conventional farmer feeds their family with the same food they grow. I will link some of the blogs I have written about conventional farming here:

Organic marketers also perpetuate a lot of myths about organic food itself. Many people who buy organic food do not realize a lot of the following:

  • Organic doesn’t necessarily have to do with nutrition or health. An organic apple is the same nutritionally as a conventional one grown in a similar environment. The same goes with GMO and non-GMO. A fruit is a fruit, a vegetable is a vegetable, a grain is a grain.
  • Organic doesn’t necessarily have to do with safety either. Organic farmers still use pesticides, they just have to be natural chemicals and not synthetic (man-made) mixes of chemicals. Many times these natural chemicals used in organic farming are much more toxic than the man-made versions used in conventional farming. It is true that pesticide residues in organic food are typically lower than conventional food. However, it would take eating hundreds of servings every day for these residues to ever reach a harmful level. Harmful pathogens, on the other hand, are generally more present in organic food as organic farmers are limited to only using animal waste for fertilizer instead of synthetic (man-made) fertilizer.
  • Unless you buy local (farmers markets) or know exactly where your food is coming from, buying organic food does not necessarily mean you are supporting the small farmer and the small business. The organic industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Whole Foods profits over $14 billion a year. There are CEOs, presidents, and industry reps in the organic industry that are making a ton of money from sales of organic foods.
  • Organic farming is not always better on the environment. There are huge organic farms (many located overseas) that hire cheap labor to grow organic food. Often times, forests and marshes are being cleared to do this. Because organic farming produces less food per acre and per animal, one could say it impacts the environment more per unit of product.

There are pros and cons about both conventional and organic. There are people in both industries unfairly accusing one another of being a fraud. There are issues in both that need fixing. One is not better than the other, and people should stop saying that. As I’ve said before, we need to work together to better both of them!

Should I buy conventional or organic food?

The way I’ve always looked at conventional and organic is like the way I look at different brands of cars:

  • There are luxury cars and there are economy cars. Sports cars and family cars. Cars that cost more and cars that cost less. Should everyone buy a Lamborghini? Should everyone drive a beat up 20-year-old Honda? No. It all depends on what they need for their situation in life and what they enjoy. In the same way, there should be different types of food available for people to consume. If people want to pay more for organic they should be able to. And in the same way, no way should be forced to pay more for organic food. There should be multiple options.
  • Driving a luxury car does not make you “better” than another person who drives a cheap car. Eating organic food does not make you “better” than someone who eats conventional food. There are rich people who drive economy cars and people in debt who drive luxury vehicles. There are going to be rich people who don’t want to buy organic and poor people who want to save up to buy organic food. It’s a preference and it shouldn’t be a decision we judge others negatively for.
  • Both cars should take you from point A to B. Both types of food should give you safe, healthy nutrition. I truly believe that both conventional and organic foods are safe and healthy. However, luxury cars have things go wrong with them. So can economy cars. There are farmers (both conventional and organic) who are going to abuse pesticides, abuse the environment, and abuse animals. We don’t live in a perfect world and we will always have these things happening. But we need to do our best to stop them.
  • If you put oil in the gas tank of a luxury vehicle it’s not going to run right. Same thing with an economy car. You can eat only organic, but if your diet consists of organic energy drinks and organic donuts, you’ll still be unhealthy. You can also eat only conventional foods and be completely healthy.

Living a healthy lifestyle comes from eating balanced portions of healthy food, getting enough exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress. It does not come from eating organic or conventional food. I’m not going to tell you which type of food to purchase. That is your freedom of choice as an American consumer. I think both options are great and I am thankful that our food supply is so bountiful that we have options. Many people in the world are starving today and would do anything for food. They wouldn’t care the least bit if it were organic or not. The lesson to be learned is that if you have plenty of food to eat each day you should not complain, you should be thankful!

It’s sad to me to think that so many consumers are complaining about food when they have it in abundance. And the people who don’t have food could have it if we just improved all of our methods instead of fighting about which ones are better! Let’s stop the fighting, the false accusations, the spreading of fear and misinformation. Let’s start uniting to fight the real problems we are facing today. Let’s feed the world!

 

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Introduction: Why Do We Raise Animals for Food and Products?

Part 1: Why Do We Raise Animals For Food and Products?

Part 2: The Welfare of Livestock Today

Part 3: Conclusion: The Welfare of Livestock Compared to the Welfare of Humans, Pets, Wildlife

  • Why do we use livestock products for human use and consumption? 
  • Should I feel bad when I eat meat because an animal died to become that meat? 
  • Why can’t animals be set free to live as long of a life as possible?

Livestock animals (Cattle, Horses, Chickens, Turkeys, Pigs, Sheep, etc.) have been a huge part of human existence since the beginning of our civilization. Humans have used animals for meat, milk, eggs, labor, and clothing for thousands of years. Millions of people around the globe take care of livestock every day! (See video below)

But do we really need animal agriculture? Must innocent animals lose their lives for human benefit? Why can’t we just rely on fruits, veggies, and grains to feed and clothe the masses? Here are 10 reasons why animal agriculture exists and why it is ethical.

1. Animal Products are the Reason Most Livestock Animals are Born

The fact that humans eat and use animal products is the main reason most livestock animals are alive in the first place, even though in certain cases the process theoretically ends their lives as well. If you believe animals like cows, pigs, chickens, or sheep deserve a chance at life, you must believe in the use of animals for humans, because without us, 95% of these animals would never be born in the first place. Farmers help bring these animals into this world and give their lives meaning and purpose as they leave it (food and products). The only question that remains is whether or not the quality of life for these animals is worth them being born in the first place, which will be addressed in the subsequent “animal welfare” blogs found on the home page of our blog.

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2. Livestock Infrastructure Produces Billions of Pounds of Food & Products

Meat, milk, eggs, and thousands of other food products come from animals. Animal products are found in a vast amount of foods consumed today. Furthermore, animal by-products are used extensively in almost every walk of life. While you may be able to avoid eating animal products, it is nearly impossible to avoid using animal by-products. The infrastructure of the livestock industry has allowed for thousands of these products to be made affordably, efficiently, and sustainably.

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If we did away with livestock products, we would have to reinvent the infrastructure of our food supply and product supply, which would prove to be extremely costly. Thousands of farmers would have their current farming methods they have developed over centuries taken from them. Technology is what has allowed 1 farmer to feed 155 people today instead of 27 people in 1950. Livestock technology is a huge part of that. If we were to abandon animal agriculture, we would see a drastic decrease in food production and an drastic increase in food prices. This would be taking us in the opposite direction of producing enough food to feed a growing population.

3. Millions of Grassland Acres Would Go to Waste Without Livestock

Millions of acres of land are not suitable for crop production (due to slope of terrain, soil type, rainfall, etc.) and are therefore grazed by livestock animals. In fact over 13 million square miles are grazed by livestock animals around the world. These animals help maintain the ecosystem of these grass acres and convert the grass into food for humans. If we took those livestock animals away, the millions of acres of grassland would become unproductive instead of providing billions of pounds of food each year. If our goal is to feed 9 billion people by 2050, this would be a huge step backward in reaching that goal.

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4. Livestock Animals Roaming “Free” Is Not Plausible

Currently there are over 11 billion birds, 87 million cattle, 67 million pigs, and 5 million sheep used in U.S. livestock production today. Farmers breed these animals, feed these animals, and protect these animals. They are domesticated. If livestock production ceased, the incentive for farmers to spend their lives caring for these animals would be gone. Farmers would no longer be there to take care of these animals, they would no longer be maintaining fences, caring for the sick, protecting them from predators, etc. Animals would either die out, live in the wild, or live in a zoo. In the wild, livestock animals would no longer be producing food, products, and labor for humans, they would become road hazards and would get into yards, gardens, and public places. They would be a nuisance. The reason these domesticated animals have survived over the generations is based on their importance to humans. Even if sanctuaries were built for large numbers of animals, only a small percentage of the amount we have today would exist.

5. Livestock Produce Vast Amounts of Fertilizer Needed to Grow Plants

Without fertilizer, farmers of all types could not grow half as much food as they do. While there are synthetic fertilizers available for farmers to use, many farmers, especially organic farmers, rely on manure from animals to fertilize their crops. Putting nutrients back into the soil through spreading of manure is one of the most natural ways to grow food without depleting the soil and the environment!

6. Livestock Food Products Provide Essential Nutrients

While it is entirely possible to consume a diet free of livestock products, it can be quite difficult. Many people in this world do not have the extra money, time, or discipline to spend avoiding products from animals. Meat, dairy and eggs contain essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, potassium, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Again, the infrastructure of livestock production has allowed for these products to be low in cost and easily accessed.

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7. The Livestock Industry Employs Millions of People

If animal agriculture did not exist, millions of people would have to find a job doing something else. This includes jobs in animal production, processing, sales, nutrition, and health. As many know, finding a job can be a struggle no matter what industry you are a part of. Livestock farmers and ranchers have developed and passed down skills and talents over hundreds of years learning how to take care of livestock animals. Colleges and universities around the world have trained thousands of people in different areas of livestock production (see below). Abandoning all of that would be a waste of time and resources and would leave many searching for a job, possessing skills that are no longer needed.

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8. The Livestock Industry is a Huge Part of the Economy

The livestock industry provides massive economic benefits to many different countries around the world. In the United States, the numbers are as follows:

  • 1,851,000 jobs
  • $346 billion in total economic output
  • $60 billion in household income
  • $15 billion in income taxes paid, and
  • $6 billion in property taxes paid

(Source: http://igrow.org/livestock/profit-tips/economic-benefits-of-the-livestock-industry/#sthash.O9ARKhNT.dpuf)

Many countries are struggling economically, but agriculture is usually one of the bright spots in an economy. If animal agriculture were removed from the economy of a country like the U.S., it would be devastating.

9. Many People Rely on Animal Agriculture for Survival

Hundreds of thousands of farm families around the world rely on livestock animals for their survival. There are places where livestock animals are the only thing a family owns besides their home. In wealthier societies, we do have a choice of whether or not to eat meat, but in many places that is not an available choice.

Source: http://bit.ly/1LuXlF7

Even in wealthy countries, livestock animals can provide the majority of a farm family’s income due to location (surrounded by pastureland), amount of land owned (not enough to make a living on crops), and climate (grow crops in the summer, livestock in the winter). Families could relocate and adapt to make a living apart from animal agriculture, but it would be unfair and extremely costly to them.

10. Livestock Animals Are a Huge Part of Our Culture

Animal agriculture is a huge part of human history and culture. Livestock farmers and ranchers view working with animals as more than a job. It is a lifestyle that is deeply ingrained in who they are and their purpose here on earth. Millions of children have been raised taking care of livestock to teach them how to do chores, develop a work ethic, and spend time with their family. You can see that in our video, “Takin’ Care of Livestock” linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc1X0CMDDNY&feature=youtu.be

11. Animal Food Products Taste Amazing

Although tastes and preferences vary tremendously throughout society, most people would agree that the best tasting foods involve animal products! A world without burgers, steaks, eggs, milk, and ice cream would be a sad scenario.

Source: http://bit.ly/1JIwR3S

 

Bottom line: You can choose to avoid animal products for a variety of reasons. You can work to improve animal welfare. And you can continue to ask questions to help keep livestock farmers and ranchers in check. However, the practice of animal agriculture is a very important part of society and the people who are involved in the industry should be supported when they are doing a good job. To see what the current state of the livestock industry looks like, please read the rest of our blogs detailing the life cycles and welfare of different livestock animals. And please, feel free to leave questions at the bottom of this page!

  1. The Life Cycle of Beef Cattle
  2. The Life Cycle of Dairy Cattle
  3. The Life Cycle of Swine
  4. The Life Cycle of Poultry
  5. The Welfare of Livestock Today
  6. Conclusion: The Welfare of Livestock Compared to the Welfare of Humans, Pets, Wildlife

Advocating for Truth: GMOs

Table of Contents

  1. What are GMOs?
  2. What are GMOs not? 
  3. Why do farmers use technology such as GMOs and pesticides? 
  4. My perspective on the safety and sustainability of GMOs 
  5. My perspective as a Christian on GMOs 
  6. Questions and comments from readers answered
  7. Additional Resources

 

What are GMOs?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, will also be referred to in this blog as GM Food, GM Crops, GM Products, Genetic Engineering, and Biotechnology. Genetic engineering does not just exist in food, products such as insulin, aspartame, and the Hepititis B vaccine are all GMOs. This blog will mainly focus on GM crops, or biotechnology. Biotechnology in plant agriculture is the process of intentionally making a copy of a gene for a desired trait from one plant or organism and using it in another plant. Humans have been intentionally changing the genetics of crops since the beginning of their existence. In fact, every single fruit, vegetable, and grain that is grown by farmers today has been genetically altered (through hybrids and selective breeding) to produce better taste, yield, or disease/drought/insect resistance. While GM Crops are slightly different than hybrids, they are simply the newest form of this type of technology and have been around since the early 1990s.

Comprehensive list of GM Crops in the USA

  •   Corn (88 percent of USA crop)
  •   Soybeans (93 percent of USA crop)
  •   Cotton (94 percent of USA crop)
  •   Canola (90 percent of USA crop)
  •   Sugar Beets (90 percent of USA crop)
  •   Papayas (75 percent of USA crop)
  •   Alfalfa
  •   Squash

Wheat is not a GM crop, but as mentioned previously has been significantly genetically altered since the beginning of human history. If you know a farmer that grows one or more of these crops, there is a very good chance they are a GM crop farmer.

Who Grows GMOs?

List of GM products

While it is possible (difficult, but possible) to avoid foods containing GM crops, it is practically impossible to avoid GM products altogether:

  • Food for Human Consumption: While the majority of GM crops to go biofuels and animal feed, GMO ingredients are found in many food products in the grocery store. (Aside from the organic food aisle) Link: List of GM Foods
  • Food for Animal Consumption: The majority of U.S. corn, soybeans and alfalfa grown using GMO seed (as mentioned above) are used for livestock feed. Unless the meat is labeled “certified organic,” the chance that the livestock had consumed GM Crops is very high. Livestock by-products account for thousands of products you use every day. Link: Livestock By-Products
  • Other Uses: GM products are used in fuel for your automobiles, fiber for your clothes, medicines, road/building construction materials, printer inks, adhesives, etc. An average person has more than likely consumed GM crops or used GM products every single day in the last year.

What do GM crops look like? Are GM crops “poisonous” or “toxic?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj79vecUZv4

What are GMOs not? (Debunking common myths)

Under researched

  • There have been over 2,000 independent, peer-reviewed studies done on the safety of GM Crops. Link: GMO Safety Study
  • There have been over 1 trillion meals consumed by livestock containing GM products. Not a single sickness or death has occured. Link: Trillion Meal Study
  • After reviewing thousands of studies, the following medical organizations support GMOs: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, Australian Academy of Sciences, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, British Medical Association, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, European Commission, European Food Safety Authority, Federation of Animal Science Societies, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, French Academy of Science, Indian National Science Academy, Institute of Food Technologists, International Council for Science, International Union of Food Science and Technology, Italian National Academy of Science, Mexican Academy of Sciences, National Academies of Science (United States), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Royal Society (United Kingdom), World Health Organization
  • Click this link for: Over 600 published safety assessments

Different in Appearance and Nutritional Value to Non-GMO:

  • GM Crops are identical to non-GM Crops in appearance as well as nutritional value. When compared next to each other, there is literally no difference in physical makeup. Nutritional value of a crop can vary due to many factors, but if raised with similar methods and in the same location as a non-GMO counterpart, GMO crops show little to no difference in nutrition.
One side of this picture is GM soybeans, the other side is non-GM. Can you tell the difference? (Picture from Missouri farmer Austin Lawrence)

One side of this picture is GM soybeans, the other side is non-GM. Can you tell the difference?  (Photo from Missouri farmer Austin Lawrence)

Only produced by Monsanto

  • There are hundreds of seed companies that a farm family like mine can purchase seeds from. While Monsanto is the largest of all of these companies, by no means do they have a monopoly on the market. As far as GMOs go, there are 3 main seed companies you can buy GMO seeds from, mainly because it is so expensive to bring GMOs to market. The point is that farmers have absolute freedom of choice in the company they buy their seed from. They are not forced to buy from Monsanto.
  • Read my full blog about Monsanto here: https://petersonfarmblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/15-myths-about-the-former-monsanto-company/

Banned in other countries

  • While certain countries have banned the production of GM Crops, most countries (Including the EU) at the very least allow imported goods to contain GM products. The reason GM Crop production has been banned in certain countries is not due to safety concerns, but rather because of negative public perceptions and emotions.

Owned by the seed company while in production

  • I have never met a farmer who feels like they or their crops are “owned” by a GMO seed company. Seed companies do require “stewardship agreements” of farmers to make sure they are not stealing a product the seed company spent millions of dollars to research and produce. In other words, farmers are not allowed to reuse their GMO seeds, but they do own the crops from the purchase of the seed to the sale of the grain. Check out this great blog from a fellow farmer, Brian Scott: My Family Farm Is Not Under Corporate Control

Causing farmers to commit suicide

  • This was a widely publicized rumor about farmers in India who were growing GM Crops and is simply not correct. Read more here: India Farmer Myth

Tumor Producing

  • This was a widely publicized study that claimed rats developed tumors after digesting GMO corn. The study was funded by an anti-GMO organization, was heavily criticized by the scientific community, and was eventually retracted. Read more here: Retracted GMO Study

Pesticide (chemical) Producing

  • The term “pesticide” simply means to get rid of insects and pests. It does not mean that a GM crop contains or produces synthetic chemicals. Take Bt corn for instance. Bt corn produces a protein called Bt. The Bt protein is toxic to bugs, because bugs cannot digest it, so they die. Humans, as well as livestock, can digest Bt proteins, so they do not die (or get sick).

Increasing pesticide/herbicide use

  • GMOs are not responsible for the sudden rise of pesticides and herbicides, but rather the decline in usage since the initial rise. (See section below: Why do farmers use GM Crops?)

Why do farmers use technology like GMOs and pesticides? (Benefits) What are the issues? (Costs)

(By both Greg and Nathan Peterson) There is a lot of information here dealing with crop, soil, and weed science. A lot of this is information I have been taught in high-level college courses I have taken. Even after taking these classes, I still feel like I don’t know everything about these topics. That’s what the experts are for. There are experts doing research on the specific things we are discussing at universities (the professors who were teaching me) and research facilities (scientists) around the world. These are the people we should be going to with questions about GMOs, pesticides/herbicides, etc. Not celebrities, soccer moms, and “doctors” who are also talk show hosts trying to market their show. I would also like to clarify that farmers are not unintelligent; they usually know their stuff! They’re using information and products that have been tested and developed by individual scientists/professionals in each area of farming. A farmer is not going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a product without knowing how it works. So if you are not able to visit with a professor or a scientist, the next best thing would be to talk to a farmer, whose information base comes from personal, real-life experience, not Internet blog-reading experience that can be unreliable.

Benefit #1: Farmers use technology to increase yield potential

GMOs: The first and foremost reason farmers use GM crops is because they increase production. This is the same reason farmers and seed companies have been using traditional breeding for years. Hybrids and breeding are mainly responsible for the massive yield increase we’ve seen over the last several decades, but genetic modification is what helps keep the plant from being eaten by insects or taken over by weeds. It allows the plant to reach the full yield potential hybrids and breeding have given it.

When breeding for seed varieties, seed companies use plants that are most desirable. These are the ones that are able to endure through difficult circumstances like insects, disease, and drought. Seed breeding through genetic engineering is done in the same way, but geneticists are able to speed up the process. The traits that are currently being used for GM crops are traits that resist chemicals and/or resist insects. In both cases, the traits allow the crop to produce more with the resources they have. This is fundamental for increased food production.

Issue #1: We are (and will always be) experiencing issues with resistance

A common and very significant problem with this is that the insects have potential to become resistant to the resistant trait. In the same way, weeds can become resistant to herbicides. This is a concern and always has been a concern. Every farmer understands that diseases, insects and weeds are always changing, which is why we must keep improving our crops to keep up with them. Genetic engineering is simply the newest way to go about that. Resistance is a fundamental part of farming that is rooted in the imperfection of this world (This is explained in the “My Perspective on GMOs as a Christian” blog) and greatly affects the farming industry.

Solution: A lot of time and money are going into working on ways to fight resistance. The farming industry has dealt with problems like this since the beginning of time, and there have always been people ready to step up to solve them. This is the task that has been assigned to each one of us in the food industry! Finding solutions to problems.

Benefit #2: Farmers use technology to better protect the environment

This requires a brief history lesson: Farming is an industry that is always changing. Farmers in the early 1900s used to till up their fields completely, no matter what, plant their crops (usually the same crop repeatedly, otherwise known as monocropping), cultivate in between the rows while the crop was growing, harvest the crop, and till the fields again. This left the soil bare and exposed for most of the year and was a lot of extra work. Each heavy rain or plastering windstorm (these are defining weather characteristics of the weather we farm in) would result in vast amounts of topsoil being washed or blown away. Huge dust storms caused the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Floods overwhelmed deltas with soil that could never be recovered. This was clearly unsustainable and quite frankly, an unethical way to treat the precious gift that is the earth. Farmers knew they must progress to better methods of raising crops. Tree lines were planted to slow down the wind, terraces and waterways were built to slow down and redirect runoff, and reservoirs were built to help contain floods. Farmers also started changing their tillage methods to leave residue on the soil for a larger part of the year. All of these new ideas shaped what is now known as “conservational farming,” a form of environmentally-friendly farming that is practiced widely across America, as well as many other countries, today.

In the late 20th century, a new method of conservational farming was developed called “no-till.” The concept of no-till farming is to leave all residues on the soil throughout the year and never till it under. The idea is based off of how plants grow in natural environments. This type of farming not only protects the topsoil from wind and water erosion but also preserves the natural culture of the soil throughout the soil profile whereas tilling can disrupt it. Furthermore, root structure remains to give the soil more strength, water holding capacity, water infiltration, and higher organic matter content. It also promotes earthworms and microorganisms active in the soil. There is a lot going on below the surface!

 

Issue #2: Herbicide/Pesticide Usage is Required to No-Till Farm

However, you cannot practice no-till farming without the use of herbicides. Therefore, conservational farming has led to an increase in chemical usage in the last several decades. See, without the practice of tilling the soil, a farmer has no way (unless by hand) to kill a crop’s number one enemy: weeds. It would require over 70 million people to hand weed the cropland acres in the USA alone (See below). Herbicides have allowed farmers to easily control weeds and practice no-till and conservational till practices.

Hand Weeding Commercial Crops

No-till farmers spraying weeds at 10 mph with a 120 ft sprayer can cover a field roughly SIX times as fast as a tillage tool pulled behind a tractor going 5 mph and burn a lot less fuel as well. Herbicides are sprayed once or twice during a growing season with or without the crop already growing. This is so much easier for a farmer than the alternative: Tilling the soil 3-4 times prior to planting and cultivating between the rows after planting, which is difficult, slower and has to be done multiple times. As you can see, no-till farming can be of great value to the preservation of the environment!

(Side note: To be clear, farmers who are not no-till still use pesticides. This includes conventional tillage farmers as well as organic farmers (who use natural pesticides). These methods are used for many different management reasons and they are both completely viable practices. Whether or not a farmer decides to till is based on many different variables. We choose to no-till because of the contour of our land, the various weather factors we face, the amount of labor we have available, and the many advantages listed in the previous paragraph.)

Solution: Below you can read about how things like GMOs and cover crops are helping to reduce pesticide usage. It is clear we need to reduce our use of pesticides in agriculture, and the good news is that we will likely see a decrease in pesticide usage over the next several decades.

Benefit #3: Farmers use GM technology to reduce costly inputs like pesticides

GMO technology can actually help reduce the amount herbicide/pesticides. Bt corn and Bt cotton resist the corn borer itself so farmers don’t have to spray (less pesticides). Roundup Ready GM crops provide better weed control that can be provided while the crop is growing. Glyphosate (The Roundup Ready herbicide) is one of the least toxic chemicals available for use, which is why it is so popular among farmers. Safer, more effective chemicals like Glyphosate are being developed as we speak. If farmers were not allowed to use GM crops like these, they would have to use more potent chemicals that are active in the soil for a whole growing season and spray multiple times instead of just once, regardless of whether the field was tilled. This is why we say that GMOs reduce herbicide/pesticide usage.

GMOs are not the only way to reduce herbicide/pesticide usage. Chemicals and fertilizer are some of the highest expenses a farmer has to spend to plant a crop, so minimizing the use of them is a very high priority. Equipment manufacturers are continually implementing new machinery and computer technology to increase the precision and accuracy of chemical application machines (sprayers) to apply these products. This technology extends all the way from inside of the cab to the output at the nozzles:

  • Monitors in sprayers can be calibrated to spray specific amounts of chemical/fertilizer in each part of the field to prevent the slightest amount of over-application.
  • They also keep track of each individual field, knowing where to turn on/off the application in sections to make sure no area is double applied.
  • There are also sensors called “green-seekers” being developed that can, for certain applications, detect green (weeds) and spray only in that one spot so chemical is not wasted empty spaces of the field.
  • Nozzles are always being developed to better apply the spray solution in an ideal consistency to cover the plants but not drift from the desired application area.
  • There is also boom-leveling technology that has been developed to prevent drift by automatically retaining the sprayer booms at a certain height off of the ground.
  • You can see all of these in action in Part 2 of our blog about chemicals:

Another tool that is being developed to decrease herbicide usage is cover crops. Cover crops are plants that are grown in between growing seasons to help keep the ground covered and hold/provide nutrients in the soil for the future desired crop. There are many potential benefits to cover crops, however, they are still being tested and experimented with. One benefit is that if the ground is growing something throughout the entire year, it can dramatically reduce the opportunity for weeds to grow. This, of course, then reduces the need to spray the weeds. Livestock can also graze cover crops. In this way, the livestock are controlling the weeds/cover crops for the farmer instead of herbicides. Cover crops won’t eliminate the need for herbicides completely but they could potentially lower the use of them quite a bit. Farmers and agricultural researchers will continue to learn how things like cover c

More and more farmers are adopting these technologies as they become more and more available and affordable. Conveniently, less chemical usage is best for the environment as well as for a farmer’s pocketbook so this technology pays for itself. It doesn’t make sense for farmers to use more chemicals than they have to, because they cost so much. Farmers and manufacturers will continue to identify the problems in chemical application as well as continue to find solutions.

Issue #3: Herbicide/Pesticide use in farming is still very high. Large, Agri-Business companies are taking home most of the profit. The whole process caters to larger, more efficient farms and larger, more efficient businesses.

There is, of course, the issue of who is profiting from selling these expensive technologies (such as GMOs and pesticides). It is true that the ones benefitting the most from these technologies are chemical companies and seed companies. I wish it were different, that the farmers were the ones taking home most of the profit. However, this is simply a result of the free market society we have in place. These companies have created products that help farmers grow more food with less inputs. Farmers are willing to pay these companies thousands of dollars for their products. That is why the large seed and pesticide companies are making a lot of money. There is no “buying out” of farmers happening, and farmers still have all sorts of freedom to choose what kind of crops to plant. If farmers want to make more money, we have to find a way to make our product appealing enough to consumers, so that they will spend higher amounts of money. That is essentially what organic farmers are doing. (Although I mentioned earlier that organic food at its core isn’t “better” or “different” nutritionally than conventional food)

This system, along with many other variables, has resulted in less farms with more acreage. Does this mean that these farms are taking over family farms? Not necessarily. What I have seen in my travels is that most of the time it is the family farms becoming larger to adapt to the changes being made in the agricultural industry. Family farms still make up 96% of all farms in America, and that percentage doesn’t seem to be going down. (See: The Definition of Family Farming)

The free market system caters to larger, more efficient farms and larger, more efficient businesses. That is why there are so many successful businesses in America that are huge (Microsoft, Apple, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc). That is just how industry in the free market works. Keep in mind that a lot of the money these companies make is poured back into research of new products and new technology. You can hate on this system if you want, but in my opinion, without these huge companies, our country (and other countries around the world) would not be as well off.

It is the same thing in agriculture. There are huge companies in agriculture with a lot of money (John Deere, Case IH, Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow) and it doesn’t always seem fair that they are making most of the profit. But these companies (as well as all of the other large companies I failed to mention) are responsible for most of the research, technology, and development that we’ve seen in the last several decades. GMOs cost millions of dollars and take many years to get approved. Who else has millions of dollars to fund this research besides these large agricultural companies? Farming has progressed so much in the last few decades. We’ve talked about all of the great things that are happening and why they are happening. We’ve also talked about the issues that are happening, and how we are working to solve them. Next, we will talk about the health, safety, and sustainability of GMOs.

My perspective on the safety and sustainability of GM Crops

My perspective on the safety and sustainability of GM crops is an opinion that I’ve formed based on the facts presented above. There is nothing wrong with having a different opinion than me! New information can change someone’s opinion, and I will try to keep an open mind about this if you do as well. I will now address the three main questions about GMOs.

Are GM Foods Healthy (Nutritious)?

In my opinion, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. As mentioned earlier in the blog, GM products are exactly the same in nutritional value and physical makeup as their non-GMO counterparts. The argument of whether or not GM products are “healthy” can’t really exist in my opinion, because they are literally the same thing (nutrition-wise) as non-GMO products. A nutrition label on an ear of GM corn would be exactly the same as the label on an ear of non-GM corn. Inserting a gene into a plant does not change its appearance or nutritional value. 

Now, please realize that there are going to be unhealthy foods containing GM products in them (Energy drinks for example). However, this does not mean that the raw GM products (like corn) in these drinks are unhealthy. It is the processing, cooking, and/or mixing of other ingredients with the GM products that can create an unhealthy food or drink. This is one of the main misconceptions I see with the organic food industry. While organic farmers work extremely hard and create nutritious, valuable food products, the original core products of organic food and regular food are the exact same in composition. It is the end product (as well as the production methods used to grow them) that separates the two in the grocery store. You can cook just as wholesome of a meal with GM products as you can with organic food products. But we’ll save that conversation for a separate blog post coming soon.

To summarize, if you are determined to find a reason to stop eating GM food, it should not be because you believe it is a less nutritious product (because it’s not), it should be due more to safety and sustainability concerns, which I will address next.

Are GM Foods safe?

As of today, all signs point to GMOs being safe to consume. There have been over 2,000 independent studies over the last 20 years on this topic. (Link: 2,000 Studies) As shown in the “Eating GM Crops from the Field” video, I have been around GMOs my entire life and I have never seen any indication of any type of danger associated with their production and consumption. I believe most (if not all) GM crop farmers feel the same way. Are there issues with GMOs? Yes, of course. Many of those were explained in the section above (Why do farmers use GMOs?). However, in my opinion, the evidence that *currently* exists does nothing but support the stance of GM foods being safe.

I do realize that this does not guarantee the absolute safety of GMOs. There are new tests on GMOs being performed every day and it may be that some day one of them will come back with a negative side effect. At that point, I would change my opinion on GMOs, because new evidence would show me that there is new truth to be believed. However, until then I will remain convinced that they are indeed “safe.”

I put safe in quotations because, you see, most of what we do in life isn’t safe.

For instance, is it safe to:

  • Ride in or drive an automobile? (Reckless drivers, malfunction)
  • Wear “safety” belts in an automobile? (Seat belts are not 100% effective)
  • To be outside? (Heat, cold, earthquakes, poisonous animals, etc.)
  • To be inside? (Mold, poisonous spiders, etc.)
  • To use medicine? (Side effects anyone?)
  • To use a cell phone? (Where are the long term studies?)
  • To fall in love? (Broken relationships can be detrimental to your health)

Hopefully you get my point. Nothing in this life is really “safe” and without risk. But we participate in these activities because we feel the benefits truly outweigh the perceived risks! Seriously, if you only worry about living “safe” all the time then you probably aren’t truly living. Life is full of risk. Every type of technology comes with risk. That includes GMOs. GM food has never been shown to be dangerous, but that does not mean the risk isn’t still there. I realize there are alternatives to GMOs that some people believe carry less risk, and that is where the organic food (non-GMO) industry comes into play. (Although there are still risks taken by consuming organic food as well) However, not every consumer can afford that choice. That is why one person’s beliefs should not determine another’s beliefs and choices. Every farmer and consumer should be allowed the freedom of what to grow and what to eat! (I talk about that more in the section below, “GMO labeling”)

Are GM Foods environmentally sustainable?

The decision of whether or not to eat GM products is up to you. It is your personal choice. If you choose not to eat them, you can purchase food from the organic aisle in the grocery store. I have no problem with that! Organic producers are some of the hardest working people out there, and I have a lot of respect for them. I just hope you know why you are making that organic food purchase. It cannot be because GMOs are “evil, unhealthy, toxic, poisonous, etc.” They aren’t. It should instead be because, in your specific situation, the possible risks of eating GMOs outweigh the outlined benefits. This is not true for everyone, and I talk about that more in the section below (“GMO labeling”).

What I do have a problem with is people trying to ban GMOs from being produced. Especially when they use false information to accomplish their agenda. (See: What are GMOs not? Debunking GMO Myths) Until there is sufficient evidence that GMOs are harmful to people or to the environment, farmers should be allowed to produce them and consumers should be allowed to consume them. First of all, because we live in a free country. Second of all…

Sustainability. Both for humans and the environment. The population of the world is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. To feed this population, it is estimated that we will need to produce twice as much food then as we are producing now. Available farmland is shrinking back each day due to issues such as urban sprawl. How are we going to sustainably feed this many people? There are 2 options (that I can see) to accomplishing that:

Option 1: Revert back to smaller farms and more farmers. I believe this is what believers on the organic side of things desire. It is definitely the most romantic of the two options. However, there are some issues with this option:

-You see, the amount of farmers and people who want to become farmers is declining each year.. The average age of a farmer is 55 years old and has been increasing for the last couple of decades. Where are the millions of extra farmers (that I think would be required to farm entirely organic) going to come from in 30 years when the older generation of farmers passes away? Farming is a very difficult job, and most people would rather be spending their time working weekdays 9-5, enjoying free weekends, and relying on others to grow their food.

-Another problem is that the current structure of the agricultural industry would have to be overthrown. It’s hard to explain this in detail as the agricultural industry is ridiculously complex, but transforming the operating systems, transportation, storage, etc away from large farms and technology like GM crops would cost trillions of dollars, huge government involvement, and simply isn’t something that could happen over a few years or even decades.

-Finally, a free market system like we have in the USA does not cater well to smaller farms. Just like in every other industry, it favors larger, more efficient farms that can produce food at a lower cost. It is also not possible to force farmers to downsize their operation and to grow their food organically. Farmers are never happy when they are told to change their operation after they have worked for decades to try and perfect it. I could go on and on with more issues. The point is that, in my opinion, option 1 is highly unlikely to ever happen. However, I have no problem with people trying to make it happen, as long as they go about it ethically. (This means no false, agenda-driven information, focusing on solutions and benefits to this option, not attacking Option 2. Remember, over 90% of farmers in Option 2 are family farmers like me. It makes me sad when people attack the farm families who are part of the foundation of our society.)

Option 2: Use technologies like GM crops to continue to increase yields, reduce chemical usage, and improve efficiency. The benefits of using technology to farm have been clearly outlined in this blog. Is there risk? Yes. But the risks that are possible are, *in my opinion* completely overshadowed by the benefits of technology. If GM crops are supported, they will provide a huge impact to farmers in underdeveloped countries in the future. They will be able to solve a lot of hunger crises throughout the world. (Link: GMO impact in underdeveloped countries)

The agricultural community is a community that has fought through many difficulties together and I believe we have the tools to solve this dilemma. However, we must be allowed to use those tools.

Conclusion: What then should we do?

Today, in 2014, we enjoy the safest, most abundant, food supply in the history of the entire world! Never before have we seen the amount of choices of food we have today and the ease of which it’s available. It’s quite amazing to be honest. But yet, millions of people spend their time complaining about their food supply. I don’t get it! I realize that farmers and agribusinesses should be held accountable and that questions should be asked about the safety and quality of food, but at some point thankfulness needs to come into play. Be thankful for farmers! Be thankful for choices! Be thankful for freedom!

For some perspective, picture in your mind your ancestors from the Great Depression, or the people from the original thirteen colonies of America, or even the people from ancient times. What do you think they would say about today’s food supply? I don’t think their first response would be negative. They would be blown away by the quantity, diversity, and availability of the food in our grocery stores.

People today (including myself) take so much for granted and complain about things we have. We repeatedly bite the hand that feeds us. A middle class person in America lives a more comfortable life than 99% of people in the history of humanity. Can’t that be enough? When are we going to be satisfied? When are we going to be thankful for what we have? I realize farmers and the food industry needs to be held in check. Asking questions is great! Attacking us based on false information? Not so great.

Farmers are working harder than you know every day trying to feed you. The least you could do is say thank you. Not complain about what they’re feeding you. (Asking questions and keeping us in check is not complaining) If you do feel we are making bad decisions, then you are absolutely free to grow your own food or buy from another type of farmer (organic). But I hope that you can understand that each farmer, no matter what the type, is doing the best they can, and we are making the decisions we feel are the right ones, not only for us, but also for the environment and for the consumer. That’s why we feed our families what we grow!

It’s Time to Find A Real Problem to Fight Against

Whether or not you agree with what I have to say about GMOs in this blog post, the real truth I want to get at here is that you really shouldn’t be wasting your time fighting against GMOs. (And to be honest, I shouldn’t have to be spending time defending why our farm grows them) Why has this become such a priority? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Here is a list of some of the real issues that I believe each and every one of us, including myself, should be investing more time and energy into stopping:

  • Human Slavery: There are 30 million human slaves in the world today. 30 million.
  • Poverty: 1 billion children are born into poverty. 22,000 children die each year because of it.
  • Hunger: 805 million people do not have enough available food to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
  • Abuse: 6 million children are reported to have been abused in the United States alone. 1 in 4 women will experience some type of abuse in their lifetime.

A lesser, non-proven issue? GMOs: Responsible for 0 deaths and 0 sicknesses since they were introduced.

Reading those statistics will probably make you feel sad. There are two things we should all do after seeing those. 1. Be thankful for what we have. 2. Stop wasting our time complaining and start doing something positive to help reduce some of those numbers! A song I think of when I write this is Matthew West’s “Do Something.”

The Reality of Sustainable Food Production

As human beings, we have to understand that this world is not perfect. Completely sustainable food production, while theoretically possible, is never going to be perfect either. Are GMOs perfect? No. Is it possible that someday we will find a better alternative? Yes. (Organic is a better alternative for a small population, but it is not the ultimate solution!) Until the day comes when we no longer need the technology, all types of farmers must continue to improve our methods of production. I believe GMOs to be better for the soil environment, better for farmers, better for poverty-ravished communities, and overall better for producing safe, high-quality, affordable food. That’s why I grow them, eat them myself, and promote the truth about them. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the possible risks (for now)!

Thank you so much for reading. I will appreciate hearing feedback from all of you. Let’s get this conversation started and find some solutions to the real world problems we are facing today!

Additional Blog: My perspective as a Christian on GMOs

Click here to read: My perspective as a Christian on GMOs

Questions and Comments From Readers Answered

If GMOs are so good, then why not label them?

My immediate answer to that question is: I believe GMOs are “good” (not proven to be dangerous), so therefore I do not think they need to be labeled. However, I am pro-freedom of choice for consumers. I believe consumers should have freedom to avoid any type of food product if they want to, and so I am not necessary against the idea of labeling. However….

-Consumers today are very uneducated about a lot of things in the food production system. Many people google search their questions about food, health, etc. and rely on answers from random people on the internet to base their views upon instead of facts and true expert opinions. I would be all for labeling of GMO products if it meant that as a result consumers were educated (correctly) about what they are, why farmers use them, and what benefits/risks they impose. The problem is the average consumer has no idea what GMOs are and therefore would be scared of a label that says “genetically modified.” Marketing companies take full advantage of this. We need people to be educated about their food, not scared of it!

-Most of the labeling of today has nothing to do with nutrition. It has everything to do with marketing. Terms placed on labels are misleading and are designed to sell a product by making consumers think that the anything that doesn’t have that label is bad for them. If we were to put a label on every GMO food product, I think the same would hold true. Consumers would assume that “GMOs must be bad if they have to put a label about them. I better buy non-GMO instead.” Again, this is fear based marketing instead of fact-based education. I am all for consumers having freedom of choice! If you have been informed correctly with facts about GMOs and still want to buy non-GMO, go for it! However, I am not for consumers being scared into avoiding a product they know nothing about.

-Nutritional labels are supposed to show nutrition! Biotechnology (GMOs) is not dealing in nutrition. As mentioned earlier in the blog, GMO and non-GMO are the same in appearance and nutrition. Biotechnology is dealing with the technology used to grow the food. Are we are going to start labeling every single type of technology used to grow our food?

-Labeling of GM Products is so much more complex than people may realize. As mentioned in the “What are GMOs?” section of this blog, GMOs are found in so many products that labeling each and every one of them would be a costly (See: Cost of Labeling) decision.

-Labeling is desired almost exclusively by consumers who don’t want to buy GM products. It is a niche market. It wouldn’t make sense to label everything when only a small percentage of the population cares, especially when consumers are not well educated on them and there has been no proven danger. Instead of labeling all GM products, we are currently labeling all the products that are GMO-free, giving people who want this choice the option to choose it! This provides a compromise between anti-GMO agendas (get rid of all GM products) and pro-GMO agendas (no need to eat non-GMO). If we get to a point where the majority of consumers have been adequately educated on GMOs and still desire labels on everything, then I would be for labeling everything.

The (educated) consumer is always right.

Additional Resources

FAQ About GMOs

GMOs: An Introduction

600 Plus Safety Assessments on GMOs

Ex Anti-GMO Activist Mark Lynas On Why GMOs are Green and Sustainable

10 Truths About GMOs and Organics

This Is Why It Is Okay To Feed Your Family GMOs

Planting the Four Billionth Acre of GM Crops

GMO Facts and Fiction

Link

Hi there! My name is Greg, and I am the eldest of the Peterson Farm Brothers. This is an introduction to our blog and in it I will do my best to explain what the lyrics to our parody music video, “All I Do is Farm” are all about!

Watch the parody: 

This blog will focus mainly on family farmers like us who live in the Midwest and grow typical Midwest crops and livestock (wheat, corn, soybeans, sorghum, cattle, etc). There are countless other farmers out there who grow all sorts of different things (fruits, veggies, nuts, etc.) and raise all sorts of different animals (swine, poultry, dairy, etc.), but since my expertise lies solely on Midwest USA farmers, that’s what I will generally be referencing. The point to take away here is that we need to appreciate all farmers, no matter what kind they are, and we should all do our best to thank those who help grow our food!

I know a lot of you will disagree with at least one thing I will talk about on this blog. And that’s okay! But I beg you, please do not think that simply because you disagree with us on something, you can no longer be one of our friends! I disagree on something with pretty much everyone I know. If I didn’t talk to everyone I disagreed with, I’d be a pretty lonely person! It is important that we listen to different perspectives and keep an open mind. If you want to discuss something with us, visit our Facebook page!

It was extremely hard to fit all of my thoughts into one blog, so I have included several links to future blog posts where I will fully discuss my thoughts on why farmers do what we do! You can sign up to be notified when these blog posts are done by subscribing to this blog and following our Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/petersonfarmbros

Okay, let’s take a look at the lyrics:

Peterson Farm Brothers goin’ in cause you know that we can’t stop, won’t stop now

I’m gonna make it clear for you like the black and white on a Holstein cow

That I ain’t goin nowhere, farmers have got yo’ back!

I’m raising crops and livestock so that you have food to snack

My brothers and I are your typical college age farm kids from Kansas who live on a 5th generation family farm in Kansas. We also just happen to have a YouTube channel! We have been doing farm music video parodies for about the last 2 years. It has been a crazy ride since our first video “I’m Farming and I Grow It” came out in June of 2012. It received 5 million views in just over a week and took our lifelong message of advocating agriculture and spread it all over the world. It was definitely a surprise to us that so many people enjoyed watching our videos. 30 million views and 5 parody videos later, we still don’t really know what we are doing but what we do know is this: We love agriculture and believe it is one of the most important things each and every human being needs to survive. And we try to show that in our videos and in our blogs as well. We also believe that farmers are some of the most misunderstood and underappreciated people in the world, and it is our goal to shed some light on why you shouldn’t take the millions of farmers raising crops and livestock in this world for granted! We hope you’ll continue reading….

All I do is farm, farm, farm no matter what!

All they do is farm. That’s what a lot of people think about farmers. “Yeah, they work hard and they are important and stuff, but they’re just farmers, right?”

There are thousands of professions out there, many of which are higher paying, more respected jobs. But where would all the people working in those jobs be without farmers? That’s right, they would be spending their time growing their own food. Today, the average farmer feeds over 155 people and the average American spends only about 6% of their income on their food, compared to 17% in 1960. Less expensive food has allowed for 98% of the population to spend all of their time doing something else besides raising their own food. How would you like it if you spent each day of your life growing your own food, instead of working at your current job and spending loads of time and money on family, leisure, and entertainment? So yes, all we do is farm, but without us farming, you all would be starving! (Or at least growing your own food!)

And not only do we farm, we farm no matter what! In heat, cold, sleet, rain, snow, weekends, holidays, and everything in between farmers are working hard to take care of animals, crops, and people! Thank a farmer!!!

Got farming on my mind I can never get enough.

I still love to farm, farm, farm

And if you know the charm put your hands in the air

Make ‘em stay there!

So what makes one want to farm? The long hours, dirty clothes, hot sun, bitter cold, and high levels of financial risk don’t sound very desirable, do they? Farming certainly isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t always profitable. But farmers love their jobs. There aren’t many farmers who don’t love farming because if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be much incentive to farm! There is just something about putting seeds in the ground in the spring and reaping the harvest in the fall, as well as caring for animals and feeding people, that makes farming one of the most rewarding, satisfying jobs out there.

Watch “So God Made a Farmer:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sillEgUHGC4

And every time I step up in the building

Tractors make my eyes light up!

‘Cuz they so big!

And they so fine!

Though sometimes they break down, break down, break down…

Anyone who knows a farmer knows that farmers love tractors, combines, and basically any type of farm machinery! Walking into a dealership full of new equipment makes a farmer feel like a kid in a candy store. However, new farm equipment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, making it extremely hard for any farmer to afford. This leaves a lot of farmers with older equipment that is very susceptible to breakdowns. Breakdowns can be very frustrating (you can see us throw up our hands in the video!) and can also be very expensive. But again, once you’ve fixed a broken down piece of equipment, that feeling of accomplishment sweeps over you and you remember why you love to farm!

Working lightning pace to harvest at the right time is the battle

I’m bouncing up and down like bobbin’ heads of cattle

I fly like Julius Erving, so that you get a servin’

Of fresh and healthy food that’s what you call the agricultural version

Harvest time is one of the most exciting times on the farm! The crops that need to be brought in can be wiped out in minutes by water, wind, fire, and other weather elements. Farmers spend a lot of time stressing out about how they are going to get their harvesting done. The weather never seems to cooperate and the aforementioned breakdowns always seem to get in the way! But most of the time, through hard work and patience, the farmer is able to bring in the harvest and take it to market, where crops like corn, wheat, soybeans, etc. will be made into a lot of the foods and products you use every day! Check out these different links:

Products made from Corn: http://www.businessinsider.com/corn-product-infographic-2012-7

Facts about Wheat: http://www.kswheat.com/consumerspageid220_WheatFacts.shtml

Products made from Soybeans: http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/soybean/uses_soyproducts.html

You see, it’s not just food that farmers are raising; it’s thousands of other products that we use in every day life as well! This remarkably efficient system has developed over the last couple hundred years, and is one of the major things responsible for the advancement of our society.

And farming’s not just for the old, it’s for the young and for the girls!

There are kids and women helping out on farms around the world!

There are thousands and thousands of women and children helping out on farms! Many farms are owned and operated by women as well. Our mom and sister both know how to drive tractors and help us out whenever we need them. Everyone knows that a farm wife is one of the most important parts of a farm and many women are actually the head operator of a farm!

Here are some neat statistics about women in agriculture: http://www.americanagriwomen.org/files/women%20in%20ag%20census%20data%202007.pdf

All 3 of us brothers have enjoyed helping out on the farm since we were 4 or 5. Our roles have gradually grown from riding in the tractor with dad, to driving the tractor ourselves, to helping make big decisions on the farm. Many family farms often have several kids helping out with the production! Family farming is truly one of the neatest parts about the agricultural community.

Some like to count me out

Y’all better count me in

Got empty bank accounts, but I’ll just trust in Him

I’m feedin’ hundreds every year, there’s no need for alarm

cause all I do, all I, all I do, all I do is farm.

As I mentioned previously, it can be hard to make a profit sometimes as a farmer. All the costs of farming have risen extremely in the last couple of decades, making the risk of farming extremely high. Land can cost up to $10,000/acre (or close to $1,000,000 for one large field). New tractors or combines can cost around $400,000. This means that sometimes (or a lot of times!) a farmer’s bank account will be drained or even in debt. Farmers have to trust that their next crop or their next livestock sale will pay their bills. Since those are never a guarantee, it never hurts to trust in a Higher Power as well!

All of these financial extremes in the farming community have led to fewer farms and bigger farmers. Farmers today on average feed hundreds of people (And this average is taking into account all of the small hobby farmers out there, an average Midwest farm is likely feeding thousands per year) and can consist of thousands of acres of land and thousands of animals as well.

Some like to question my methods

And that is perfectly fine

As long as you make sure you are polite, respectful, and kind

See farming is a family affair, you know we’re just like you!

The only difference is this farming thing is what we do! (Whole fam together)

You may now be thinking: “Wait, you said thousands of animals and thousands of acres of land? That sounds like factory and industrial farming to me, not family farming.”

Not really! Family farming is as alive as it has ever been! 96% of farms in the United States are family farms and I cannot name a single farm in our area here in Kansas that isn’t a family farm! The key point here is that family farms are getting bigger and many of them fall into the “industrial/factory farm” label, giving them a bit of a bad reputation. But I can assure you that farm families across the Midwest are doing everything they can to raise your food as ethically as possible! If you are interested in learning more about this, check out our family farm blog by clicking the following link:

Read our full blog post about Family Farming

All I do is farm farm farm no matter what

Got cattle on mind, caring for them when it’s tough

Feeding the cattle a healthy ration, in typical farmer fashion

Caring for my animals has always been a number one passion

We love our cattle. Yes, we have over 1,000 head of cattle in our feedlots when we are at maximum capacity. Yes, that means we are considered a factory farm. (Please read the aforementioned “family farming” blog post!) But, like I mentioned earlier, most large cattle operations are family owned and operated and provide cattle with everything they need to live happy lives. We care for our cattle in every type of weather and season! Our cattle (as well as nearly all cattle here in America) spend the first half of their lives on pasture grass as calves before they are transferred to our farm to be grown into healthy, strong, beef cattle! We eat our own homegrown beef all the time and would highly recommend it to anybody! While it would be nice to have all of our cattle on pasture grass for their entire lives, we treat the animals in our feedlot with the utmost respect, and you can read about what we do and why we do it in the following blog posts:

Read our full blog post on Animal Welfare

All I do is farm farm farm no matter what

Conservation on my mind i take care of what I got

So every time I see water erosion

I go build my terraces up!

So it runs there!

And it runs there!

And I practice no-till, no-till, no-till

Cause that’s just how I farm, farm, farm

Many people think farmers could care less about the environment. This could not be further from the truth! One of the ways farmers like us practice conservation is through no-till planting methods. No-till allows the farmer to keep residue on the soil, protecting it from water and wind erosion, and prevents catastrophes like the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s from happening.

Here are some of the cool benefits of no-till farming: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/nvswcd/newsletter/notill.htm

Another way farmers are helping the environment is by minimizing mono cropping. Most farmers today practice what is called crop rotation. In the old days of farming, the same crop was planted year after year, draining the soil of certain nutrients. Today, farmers plant different crops in different fields every year, which, like no-till, is much healthier for the soil.

A lot of people do not realize, however, that these extremely important conservation methods of no-till and crop rotation are what are responsible for things like herbicide and pesticide usage and genetically engineered plants. You see, no-till farming is impossible without a way to kill weeds and bugs, and herbicides, pesticides, and genetically engineered seeds help solve this problem! They also allow for easier crop rotations. Contrary to popular belief, however, farmers are as conservative as possible with these tools, as they are very expensive. Modern day GPS technology (as seen in the video) allows for precise application of sprays and fertilizers and genetically engineered seeds have been adapted so that fewer applications of the sprays must be administered. Another thing to remember is that the spray you see farmers putting on their crops usually consists of over 90% water, meaning the chemical application is very minimal. Of course, we realize that the concern is that chemical residue from the spray will make your food dangerous and that genetically engineered food is somehow bad for you. We strongly believe neither of these to be true (based on thousands of peer reviewed studies) as there have never been any traces of sickness resulting from any of these farming practices. In fact, we regularly eat our crops straight from the field! To keep this paragraph short, we hope that you can see that if we can trust our crops healthiness and environmental safety enough to consume them ourselves straight from the field, you should be able to as well. To further discuss these very controversial subjects, however, we will be devoting an entire blog post to them soon.

Read our full blog post on GMOs

Read our full blog post about pesticides

Billions of more people will be on this planet years from now

With farmland shrinking back each day, how we gonna feed ‘em, how?

Farmers use technology, and input less to produce more

Keeping carbon footprint down is what we use our methods for!

We all need to work together, to feed the human race

Sustainability to make the world a better place

In the battle against hunger, what will you use for armor?

Paul Harvey said it best, “So God Made a Farmer”

The population of the world will increase to more than 9 billion by the year 2050. Farmland is being taken away all over the place by cities, highways, and houses. We WILL be able to feed this population, but only if we as the population allow farmers to continue to use the technology (as mentioned in the previous paragraph) we are using! Farmers have drastically reduced inputs over the years, and yet have continued to produce more food each year. Today’s farmers produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.), compared to 1950. That’s crazy!

Check this page out: http://www.fb.org/index.php/index.php?action=newsroom.fastfacts

We also are trying to do our best to keep our carbon footprint down. Newer farm machinery releases less emissions, thousands of regulations have been put on farmers to make sure our practices are safe and environmentally friendly, and beef producers have made huge strides to improve sustainability: http://www.explorebeef.org/CMDocs/ExploreBeef/Environmental%20Sustainability%20of%20Beef%20Production%20Has%20Improved%20Considerably%20Over%20Last%2030%20Years.pdf

Many people believe that “organic farming” alone is sustainable. However, if you truly step back and take a look at the data, you will see that we need ALL types of farming and farmers to be able to be sustainable! We need to work together! Not fight about which is better or worse. The only way we could feed the world with only organic farming is if the majority of the population became farmers again, as organic farming does not work well on a large scale. (This would severely cut back on the advancement of society, as mentioned in the first part of the blog, and just simply isn’t going to happen unless you force people to become farmers)

Read our full blog post on Organic Farming and Conventional Farming

All I do is farm farm farm no matter what

Got people on mind I’m just tryna feed enough

So every time you step up to your next meal

Send a farmer thank you up!

Cuz we work hard!

So you stay fed!

Though this life can go down, up, down, up down

We still love to farm, farm, farm

And if you know the charm put your hands in the air

Make ‘em stay there!

In conclusion, I would just like to ask for you to put your food security trust in the hands of farmers. There are probably bad farmers out there, farmers who abuse their land, their animals, and are not viable stewards of what has been given them (I’ve certainly never met one, and I’ve met thousands of farmers when we visit places to speak). But those farmers are few and far in between and the agricultural community will do our best to help stop those terrible practices. If you don’t remember anything else from this blog, remember this: The absolute overwhelming majority of farmers in this world are real, wholesome, good-natured farm families who are “just trying to feed enough.” And they need your support! My challenge to the reader of this blog is to get to know your local farmers! Meet an organic producer and meet a conventional producer. Meet a large farmer and then a small farmer. Talk to them about what they do and why they do it! (If you want to visit our farm and talk to us, head to http://www.petersonfarmbros.com and click the farm tours tab!) I am sure you will find that 99% of farmers, whether big or small, are good people just like you and I who deserve thanks for what they are doing.

I am also challenging farmers everywhere to be transparent to consumers and people who know nothing about agriculture. It’s time we show people why we do what we do. We have nothing to hide! It’s time we start working together to feed the world! Stop the fighting and start uniting!

If you have any comments or questions about this blog, please head over to http://www.facebook.com/petersonfarmbros and post on our wall. We will do our best to reply to your comments in an honest, transparent way. But remember, questioning our methods is perfectly fine, as long as you are polite, respectful, and kind!