Why I’m Not An Organic Farmer

Pesticides, GMOs, Roundup, super-weeds, evil wheat, big Ag and a hundred other buzz-words are touted as the failure of modern agriculture’s quest to feed the world.  Organic farming is proclaimed as the solution to these problems, as the future of sustainable agriculture. The reality is, as I will tell you in this post, that the opposite is true; conventional farming, not organic, is better for the environment and can sustainably and safely feed a growing world.

As an aside, I have no problem with most organic farmers. The ones that I know do it not for idealogical reasons, but for economical ones. For their farms, they believe they will make more money growing organic crops than conventional ones. There is nothing wrong with that, and I don’t want to go on an attack against farmers doing the best they can to do what they love. Furthermore, I’m not going to go on record saying that conventional agriculture is perfect. We have many improvements to make, and there are some real issues that need to be addressed – but that is a concern for another day. Also, for the purposes of this post, I want to focus in on crop production, so I’ll leave livestock out of this discussion.

Organic vs Conventional Agriculture: What’s The Difference?

First of all, I don’t want to assume everybody is as obsessed with agriculture as I am, so let’s just go through some basic differences between these two production methods.

Organic agriculture is a $2.6 billion dollar industry in Canada, with regulations stipulating what products farmers can use on their farms. Genetically modified crops are not allowed, and neither are synthetic fertilizers. Pesticides are a more complicated matter, with only “organic” chemicals allowed for use.

For a farm to be certified organic, each of its fields must be free of any prohibited substances for three years before certification by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is allowed. Are organic crops tested before they are certified? No; at least, according to this source. The CFIA disagrees, but concedes it is still more or less an honour system.

Without synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, organic farmers must use alternatives to grow their crops and kill weeds and insects. Essentially, it is a reversion to agriculture practices of 100 years ago. While some of these practices are quite effective and perhaps even have a fit in conventional agriculture, most of them were abandoned years ago with the introduction of fertilizers and pesticides. The reasons were numerous, but they really all began in the infamous “Dirty 30’s”.

Tillage and Soil Erosion

Today, we talk about four elements of weed control: cultural (crop selection), chemical (herbicides), biological (using natural enemies- still a very new and undeveloped field) and mechanical. In modern agriculture, cultural and chemical controls are our primary weapons in the war against weeds, with the real emphasis on chemicals- crops like corn and soybeans are just not that competitive. Wheat, barley, canola and other such crops are actually very competitive, but they still depend on herbicides to get established and get ahead of the weeds.

A century ago, there were no real herbicides available. With that option stripped out, and biological controls in their infancy even today, that really only left mechanical and cultural controls- exactly like organic farming today. Mechanical control essentially involves steel; DSC_0367 (640x354)using shovels, discs, rods, harrows, etc. to uproot, rip and drag weeds apart to kill them. Every second year, each field must remain idle (not seeded, or “summerfallow”) and constantly tilled up to stay ahead of difficult weeds. This kind of intensive tillage leaves the ground bare, exposed to direct sunlight and the ravages of heavy winds. Remember hearing about dust storms? That is the unfortunate end result of old-school farming. Without chemical controls, there is simply no way to consistently grow crops (especially up here in the northern climates) all year round to stay ahead of weeds. Yes, natural grassland will do that, but how will that feed 7 billion people?

In my area of the world, I have seen- and continue to see- the effects of long-term tillage on our soils. Heavy rains and winds wash precious topsoil into ditches and sloughs. Wet spots in the field stay that way for months and months, allowing salts to collect on the soil surface; eventually turning the ground a ghostly white, a sober metaphor of the inability of that soil to grow anything again for generations. The reality is that, at least in Western Canada, herbicides are our only method of controlling soil erosion; they allow us to minimize tillage.

Is tillage the only way for organic farmers to control weeds? No; there are other methods, including cover crops and precise planting timing to keep weeds in check. However, as good as some of these methods can be, they are still not the solution, with most farmers opting for the reliability of tillage instead. And, ultimately, they still do not solve the other stark reality of organic agriculture: it cannot possibly feed the world.

A Growing Population Needs All The Tools It Can Get

In 1898, a scientist by the name of Sir William Crookes, new president for the British Academy of Sciences, stated unequivocally that the world would run out of food by the 1930’s. A lack of fertilizer would cause world crop yields to plummet, and massive starvation would ensue. Current production methods of manure and saltpeter harvesting to use as fertilizer would eventually be outstripped by an exploding human population. He said the only way to prevent this famine would be to synthetically produce fertilizer. Less than 20 years later that became a reality, thanks to Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch.

Our atmosphere is nearly 80% nitrogen. It is one of the most important building blocks of life; but it is unavailable to us – and plants – in its atmospheric form. Crops require nitrogen for growth and reproduction. Before synthetic fertilizer, animal manure and bird guano were the only sources of fertilizer. Crops were carefully rotated with nitrogen producing pulse crops and forages to generate as much N as possible. Yet, inexorably, yields would eventually decrease as the soil became exhausted of nutrients. The Haber-Bosch process solved that problem by converting atmospheric nitrogen to a usable form for plants. So, essentially, so-called “synthetic” fertilizer really isn’t synthetic at all; rather, it is a natural component of the air we breathe every day. Without it, the crop yields would long ago have failed, and the world would not be what it is today.

Without synthetic fertilizer, and their natural counterpart, pesticides, crops would not be able to sustain enough growth to feed the world as it is today. Haber and Bosch are responsible for one of the greatest inventions of our history. Why go back to the problems of 100 years ago when we have already found the answer?

Organic Food: Is It Really Healthier?

The final component of this blog post concerns the misconception that organic food is somehow more nutritious than conventionally grown food. There is a belief that pesticides somehow contaminate the seed of the plant itself, finding its way directly into our food. To some degree this is true. But the reality is that the residues that find their way into our food are so abysmally tiny that in 98% of our food, there is no difference between food that is grown conventionally and food that is grown organically. What about that other 2%? It still comes in below the stringent limits set by the government (source).

But wait; isn’t organic food healthier than conventional? According to a recent Stanford Medicine study, that is simply not true. No nutritional differences of significance were found when comparing the two production methods.

Organic Farming Is Not The Future

The answer to the question of whether organic agriculture is more sustainable, better for the environment or healthier than conventional agriculture is clear. Organic farming causes greater soil erosion, is not healthier or safer for consumption and would sentence billions of people to die, most of them in developing nations. Isn’t it easy to criticize a method of producing food when you have never been hungry?

I choose to farm with pesticides, GMOs and fertilizers because I know that it is the right choice. I know that standing behind the use of these products will help feed a growing and hungry world. Yes, there are still problems with our agriculture system, but I know that farmers and researchers are savvy and brilliant individuals that will solve these problems over time. Yes, organic farming is a choice some farmers make, and I am not going to attack their choices. What I am attacking is the marketing and smearing of conventional agriculture; the misinformation that permeates this discussion and diminishes the importance of it.

During my time as a farmer, I have spent a lot of time studying this issue. As an agronomist, I have seen first-hand the consequences of organic farming, and the successes of modern conventional agriculture. As a third-generation farmer, I know how amazing our progress has been in agriculture, and I am excited about the possibilities of the future.

canola field

Any thoughts on this post? Disagree? Write a comment below.

Sources and Further Reading

California Department of Agriculture. (2007). 2007 Pesticide Residues in Fresh Produce. http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/enforce/residue/rsmonmnu.htm

Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2014. Canada Organic Regime: A Certified Choice.

Hager, T. 2008. The Alchemy of Air. New York, NY, USA: Broadway Books.

Humpreys, A. 2012. Canada’s organic food certification system ‘little more than an extortion racket,’ report says. National Post.

Smith, E.G., Knutson, R.D., Taylor, C.R., Penson, J.B. 1990. Impact of chemical use reduction on crop yields and costs. Texas A&M Univ., Dep. of Agric. Economics, Agric. and Food Policy Center, College Station.

Smith-Spangler, C. et. al. 2012. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review. Annals of Internal Medicine.

43 Thoughts

  1. Well written Jake and I very much agree..especially about not being able to produce enough for this growing world.

  2. I am not an expert in either fields, I have done my own research trying to decide what is best to feed my children. I also come from a farming background (grain and livestock) so I know how hard it can be for farmers in many different situations. I do question the fact about not being able to feed the world. I believe this is more of a political issue, there are millions of people going hungry today, and look at the food we throw away, just in North America alone. Also, I agree there are a lot of good things that can come from GMO, science can do amazing things. But I can’t help but be worried about what happens when this technology falls in the wrong hands. I just had to research Monsato’s background for instance, after doing this I find it hard to believe they are interested in people’s health and wellness first and for most. That being said, I have nothing but respect for the farmers who work so hard to put food on our tables, my dad was one of them, but I also wonder why are all these countries banning GMOs lately,(France, Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Greece, and lots of other regions and states around the world) if it’s more profitable, use less chemicals, better for the environment, etc. it should be a no brainer, should it not? It’s all very confusing, and I just like any other mom out there, just want to make the best possible decisions for my family.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I want to discuss two components of your thoughts here.

      I agree that food waste and politics are a huge issue in feeding the world. Today, there is enough food in the world for no one to be hungry. But consider that not only will population grow by at least 30% over the next 30-40 years, many developing nations will become wealthier. As this happens, they will desire more calories and more of a meat-based diet, which will require more grain production. Those two factors combined will necessitate us to produce more food in the next 50 years than we have in the past 10,000 years combined. That will require all the tools in our toolbox.

      Let’s be realistic about Monsanto. They are a publicly traded corporation that will focus on making money for their shareholders. They are no different in this way from Apple, Ford, Samsung, General Electric, or any other major company. The technology they developed is still only scratching the surface; there are many amazing things that can be done with genetic modification. The only reason the European Union has so far been against GMOs is because the public fears them, due to substantial misinformation about the subject. Someday, I hope the politicians there will wake up, but I’m not holding my breath.

      I definitely understand your confusion on the subject. There is so much misinformation out there. If you want to read more about GMOs, check out my post called “Why I Grow GMOs”. Thanks for reading.

      1. Monsanto differs from GM, Ford, Samsung and the others you mention in that the others are not making changes to our food. The sad fact is that Monsanto has NO IDEA as to the long term effects of their products on human health, nor do they care. Their products are so dangerous that their employees MUST wear personal protective equipment when handling them, yet we are told there is no danger to us from eating the produce they are sprayed on?? If you believe that, you might like to buy some ocean front property I have for sale here in Saskatchewan.

      2. The employees being required to wear personal protective equipment is actually pretty routine. First of all, when working with new varieties, it is vital to avoid accidental contamination. These varieties cost hundreds of millions of dollars to bring to market; they do NOT want to risk contamination. As for the chemicals, of course PPE is important. While glyphosate is quite safe, with an LD50 in rats of 5600 mg/kg, you still don’t want to expose yourself to it unnecessarily. As I pointed out in my blog post above, pesticide residues in our food are extremely small. You can be skeptical of it and that’s fine, but the reality is that there is no danger in eating that food. If you think residues in conventionally-grown food are too high, then you’d best just not eat at all – because, as stated above, there is just about no discernible difference between the two production methods in residue levels.

        So yes, I do believe there is no danger, but no, I’m not interested in any ocean-front property in Saskatchewan.

  3. To be more specific about Monsanto in general, I think the majority of people against GMO’s are confused by the fact that GMO’s were suppose to reduce the pesticide application (being more environmentally friendly, more profitable for the farmer), where actually the opposite has happened, I think this is because of superweeds and superbugs? I’m sure this was probably an unforeseen problem, but never the less a huge problem. Also, there is so much pesticide runoff into our watershed.

    – there is a report found here just talking about wetlands in Saskatchewan …..

    The effects of neonicotinoids long term are unknown, so with the talk of superweeds and superbugs, it makes me wonder how much more pesticide will farmers be using in the future. Like I said, I have nothing but respect for farmers, and the farmers hands are tied in a way, because if your not organic, then farmers don’t really have much choice but to grow GMO’s, if you want to be profitable, and I agree with you that organic farming will not feed the world, so I’m not really sure which is better now? There is a lot of promise in GMO’s but it absolutely makes me nervous, especially about the long term effects on our ecosystem, if the pesticide use continues the way it is.

    I have hope that they will figure this out for the right reasons, which will benefit our generations to come, not just to be profitable for their shareholders right now.

    Thank you for writing this article, I will definitely check out your other ones!

    1. I wouldn’t say that GMOs have increased pesticide application; I would say it has more or less stayed the same. The advantage has been that the relative toxicity of the products used today are less than those used in the past. Weed resistance has become a serious issue, but that is due to mismanagement of glyphosate, not from GMOs themselves. And, Bt corn actually has decreased insecticide use significantly (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-11/esoa-imc111214.php).

      Pesticide residue in water is actually less of an issue than you might think. The EPA conducted a large study across the U.S. to determine the extent of pesticide residues in water, with 1,300 samples taken in every state. They concluded that 90% of America’s 95,000 community water systems and 96% of the 10.5 million rural wells were free of any traceable pesticide. 99% contained pesticide traces lower than EPA standards. Therefore, the EPA concluded that there was no risk whatsoever to be associated with pesticide residues in water (EPA. 1990. Pesticides in Drinking-Water Wells. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, H-7506C).

      I have some thoughts on neonicotinoids, and you can find them in one of my other posts from November (http://southsaskfarmer.com/2014/11/27/are-farmers-killing-bees/). It’s an interesting and complex issue.

      Thanks for reading my blog, and thanks for the comment! It’s good to have sensible discussions about these very important issues.

  4. My main concern with herbicides and pesticides, is the effect on the human immune system. These poisons are in us and causing more and more people to become ill without a diagnosis. Growth hormones in animals is causing our children to reach puberty too early and as a species, we are getting bigger and bigger.
    We do have a lot more people to feed these days, but keeping it natural shurly is better for our health?

  5. For an example, let’s take a look at the organic-certified insecticide called rotenone. It is actually just as toxic as chlorpyrifos (trade name – Lorsban), an insecticide used in conventional farming systems, and is an order of magnitude more toxic than Roundup (glyphosate). Many so-called “natural” chemicals are extremely toxic. Chemistry doesn’t care whether a compound is natural or not; the end result is the same. Besides, as stated in the fifth section of my post above, there is virtually no difference in pesticide residues between organic and conventional foods. To reiterate; pesticides sprayed on crops do not result in human ingestion. If we are getting poisons in our food, we are also getting them from organic systems.

    Do you know how many growth hormones you consume from eating a hamburger? The amount of estrogen found in hormone-treated beef is about 2.2 nanograms per 100 kilograms. Cabbage contains 2,381 ng per 100 kg. A single oral contraceptive pill contains 20,000-50,000 nanograms! If growth hormones are causing our children to have the issues you mentioned, they are finding them somewhere other than in our food. Our children are getting bigger because of our amazing medical and agricultural advances, allowing us to live to unprecedented lifespans in lifestyles kings would have envied only a couple of centuries ago.

    1. Rotenone is no longer registered as a pesticide in North America. No formulations were approved for organic use in the United States since 2002, although it continued to be used in conventional agriculture up until 2010. (http://bit.ly/1oyswpv)
      The data clearly shows significantly reduced pesticide residues on organic foods, even the Stanford study acknowledged this. Research has also demonstrated that children who start consuming organic food show an immediate drop in pesticide metabolites excreted in their urine. (http://1.usa.gov/1Cdarne)
      We can certainly debate whether the very low levels of residues found on conventional foods pose a health risk, but to state there is virtually no difference and that pesticide residues are not ingested is simply false.

      1. You are correct about rotenone in the U.S., but it is still registered in Canada, at least according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s permitted substances list (http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ongc-cgsb/programme-program/normes-standards/internet/bio-org/permises-permitted-eng.html#a53). In any case, it was just an example. Botanical pesticides are not always safer than their synthetic counterparts. Why is there this perception that “natural” compounds are safer than synthetic ones? There are many natural chemicals that are exceedingly toxic.

        I stand by my claim that there is little difference between organic and conventionally produced foods in terms of pesticide residues. If you can’t tell the difference between the two production systems in 98% of our food, clearly there are some serious questions as to what benefits organic foods actually provide. Allow me to run through an explanation of the abilities we have today to find residues.

        In 1950, when scientists reported zero residues in drinking water, that meant less than one part per million (ppm). Any level below this was assumed to be zero because it was simply undetectable. Today, we can find substances in drinking water at one par per quadrillion (1015), a billion times smaller than what we could find 60 years ago. This number is too small to comprehend. To illustrate, imagine cutting an aspirin tablet into 6 equal pieces. One of these pieces is placed in a railroad car with 16,000 gallons of water. This is an aspirin solution of 1 ppb. To drink up this chunk of aspirin, you would have to ingest a half gallon of water every day for 88 years.

        This means that if a low percentage of water reservoirs had pesticide residues 40 years ago, they would likely be eclipsed today. Since scientists can now detect parts per trillion, it is likely that a much higher amount of reservoirs will have detectable residues. This alarms people who do not know that it is not the amount of reservoirs that have residues in them, it is the amount that is found in each reservoir that is important. The dosage makes the poison.

  6. Your article is well written and well researched, but unfortunately it is mostly bullshit. For every study and article you have sited, there are several that can prove them false. I don’t blame you for this and I hope you don’t take too much offence. I have nothing but the utmost respect and also great sympathy for farmers who have fallen into this trap. There really are few alternatives.
    It makes me sad though that you give the impression that you are concerned with global hunger when it is obvious that you know nothing about it.

    It is a sad fact that the majority of the hungry people in this world, about 75%, are peasant farmers in the developing world. Their “old school” way of farming to feed their local communities and their own families was seen by governments and industry as a missed opportunity, for they could be earning cash by growing export crops and they would become more successful, richer. Governments of developing countries would do anything to jump into bed with the likes of an agribusiness giant like Monsanto and friends. They sold their peasants the same bullshit you are trying to sell in your blog. It didn’t work for them though, because they were living in mostly unstable political climates without access to capital or social services. Many of them didn’t even own the land that their families had worked on for centuries. These farmers are going hungry because they have lost control of their agriculture and lost the ability to feed themselves. Likewise, farmers here in Saskatchewan have lost the ability to feed themselves for the most part, though the outcomes are much less devastating here.

    You can farm however you like and call it whatever you want, but please don’t claim to be feeding the world.

    There is a fast growing global movement that does not support your views. You may see this as a “smear campaign”. It could also be the world waking up to the hoax that is “chemical agribusiness is going to feed the world”.

    1. While I appreciate your comment, I must disagree with what you have to say. If you believe in the scientific process, whereby scientists, as individuals or as a group, perform experiments and literature reviews prove a hypothesis, there will be by definition thousands of journal articles on any given issue. Unfortunately, lately, there has been a weakening of this process, with non-peer reviewed papers garnering much publicity (for example, the Seralini rat study, which has been shown to be fatally flawed). Nevertheless, even as you say I know nothing about hunger, I see no references in your post. Where does your information come from?

      Let’s be realistic here: the people starving in developing countries are not starving because of Monsanto. They are starving because of twisted, selfish, totalitarian governments that refuse to allow their society to advance. Why did Western Europe, Australia, and North America all develop into developed nations with, comparatively, an extremely wealthy population? Free trade, private property and an explosion in agricultural innovation, to name a few. While that is a discussion for another day, if these innovations were allowed to advance in developing nations, it is hard to argue that they wouldn’t very quickly find themselves wealthier – it already happened here, two hundred years ago. So why not allow them to utilize all the tools available to grow as much food as possible? Why not allow them to be innovative, and improve their yields? Why not give them Golden Rice, a new GM variety fortified with Vitamin A, to prevent severe malnourishment?

      Chemical agribusiness doesn’t have to feed the world forever. Genetic modification has the potential to drastically reduce pesticide use; just look at Bt corn. If you dislike pesticides, why not allow GM crops to fend off pests themselves?

      I’m not really sure why you believe we in Saskatchewan do not have the ability to feed ourselves. I could go to our grain bins today and find enough nutrients in our wheat, peas and lentils to survive for the rest of my working life.

      One more thing – if you’re going to criticize my views and the research I present to back it up, make sure your claims have at least the same amount of well-sourced research articles. It will give your argument more weight.

  7. I found this article very matter of fact and well-written. I appreciate your perspective and also those of many commenters – there is obviously a deep suspicion of ‘big agriculture’ in the same way there is of ‘big pharma’ or ‘big oil’ – I think people in general have concerns with companies, who must necessarily be focussed on profit, having control over food, medicine or the environment. That’s the reason to have a robust and healthy regulatory system, along with transparent reporting practices. As a political economy graduate, I would love to debate you on whether the problem with poverty and malnourishment in the ‘developing’ world is caused by corrupt governments by our global economic system, and I think it would be an interesting debate. Long comment to say, I really appreciated your article and will continue to follow your blog, disagreeing through the comments when I do, while maintaining a high level of discourse.

    1. I appreciate the comment! I don’t expect everyone that reads this blog to agree with me; in fact, I’m happy that is not the case. What my goal is with this blog is to tell the point of view of a farmer, which I think is a viewpoint not often seen in the media. By all means, if you read something you disagree with, let me know! Lively debate is healthy for every subject. Otherwise, I hope you continue to enjoy reading my posts.

  8. As a farmer in Indiana I have a lot of people asking me if GMO products are safe to eat. I only know what seed companies tell me. I grow non GMO and GMO corn along with GMO soybeans. I personally think that GMO products should be safer than non GMO because less pesticides are needed to produce the crop. I would like to see an agricultural campaign with scientific evidence that the GMO products may really be the healthy choice. The campaign for example needs to include how the corn plant becomes corn borer and corn rootworm resistant. If the consumer knew how this process was done, I feel their minds may be put at ease the way mine is.

    1. I totally agree with your thoughts on the safety of GMOs. In the long term, as more GMO varieties become available, there should be a real opportunity to reduce pesticide use. A great place to start with some research on this is Alison Van Eenennaam’s literature review published in the Journal of Animal Science. Here, she delves into the vast literature available on genetically modified foods and their results. It’s a great read, and it really shows just how incredibly safe GMOs are. Find it here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/2049-1891-4-37.pdf

  9. Exceptionally well done and fair. I am an old retired guy with a passion for good food products.
    Most so called “organic products are just an excuse to jack up the price on inferior quality items.
    This really should be about choice between buyer and seller and not someone trying to force particular growing methods. There is a lot more ignorance out there than intelligence when it comes to modern food production. Remember people were scared to eat tomatoes for eons!

  10. Jake, Outstanding effort to share your professional experience. Appreciate your calm response with facts in the face of some hostility.

      1. Most scientific studies/research done on GMO foods are 3 months in length. Rats/rodents do not show adverse effects to eating 30% of their food being GMO until 4 months have elapse.
        4 months of a rat’s life is 30 years of a human life. Therefore humans have to eat 30 years of 30% of their diet of GMO foods to be negatively effected.
        Do not worry about the health of your life Jake but maybe be concerned about your grandkids life. How healthy will they be when they are your age? Hmmmmm ! ? !

      2. Actually, GMOs have been in our food supply since the mid-90’s, which was 20 years ago. While that may not reach your estimate of 30 years, that is a long time for us to be eating them as a part of our regular diet. Perhaps a telling example would be cattle. Their lifespan is generally around 10-15 years, in which many producers feed them GMO corn, soybeans and other food sources for a large part of their lives. There has not been one single documented case of cancer in cattle as a result of GMOs.

        I should also point out that there has not been a study (a proper, peer-reviewed one that is) that has shown cancer in rats from any number of months of eating GMOs (find a great literature review here). So no, I am not worried about my future grandchildren; in fact, they will quite likely live an even better life than I do!

  11. Rather than worry about “organic” or “inorganic” production, more responsibility should be placeo on the plant breeder. Selection of varieties shoulds not be on the basis of high yields on nutrient defficient soils but on both yield and qualiity. Often a high yielding crop from a low fertile soil will produce less meat or milk per acre that a lower yield from fertile soil. Yet we seem to try to solve many fertility problems by variety selection. Mineral suppllementation is used to replace the loss in quality but it doesn’t replace what the mineral would have done in the plant. We have done an excellent job increasing yields by variety selection but little attention is placed on quality. Agronomists, plant breeders and nutritionists need to work closer together…

    1. There is a growing interest in developing varieties that focus more on nutrient density. For example, Golden Rice, a genetically modified variety, is bred to produce greater levels of Vitamin A, a cause of serious malnutrition in the developing world. In Western Canada, any new wheat variety developed must have a great emphasis on quality. In fact, a recent study was completed on current wheat varieties versus the standard of the early 1900’s, a variety named Marquis. No difference was found in nutrient concentration, despite a substantially higher yield potential in the newer varieties.

      Nevertheless, there is certainly more work to be done to try and improve end-use quality of the crops we grow, and I agree that the recent focus on organic production is misplaced. Better results could be obtained from a greater focus on breeding higher yielding, higher quality crops. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Hi again Jake. Thanks for your response. Good luck with getting the machinery ready for the spring sowing.
    It’s interesting that you could not find one single documented case of cancer in cattle as a result of GMOs. How about the First Long Term Study Released on Pigs, Cattle Who Eat GMO Soy and Corn Offers Frightening Results published in June 2013 That study found many problems with pigs eating GMO foods as part of their diet. In short, this mixture of GMO foods led to a toxic mix in the digestive tract of the animals, leading to a reduced ability for GMO-fed pigs to reproduce. The pigs were studied from conception until slaughter (the first long term study of its kind) and all were all affected adversely. Female pigs were found to have the following possible pathologies, measured through careful analysis and post-mortem examination:

    · Endometrial hyperplasia

    · Carcinoma


    · Endometriosis

    · Adenomyosis

    · Inflammation

    · Thickening of the myometrium

    · Larger presence of polyps

    · Further, the uteri of the GMO-fed pigs were fluid filled compared to the pigs who weren’t fed a GMO diet.

    · The uteri of the pigs who consumed GMO food were 25% larger than non-GMO fed pigs.

    · Inflammation of the stomach and small intestine

    · Stomach ulcers

    · Stomach inflammation

    · Thinning of intestinal walls

    · Increase in hemorrhaging bowels (this causes the pigs to bleed to death from the bowels).

    Among these horrendous findings, scientists also noted that none of these types of results have been reported in the biochemistry tests performed by Monsanto or other companies in the GM industry.
    Remember that Monsanto’s studies are almost always of three months duration. Hmmm ! ! ?

    I’d be thinking of my grandkids !

    Here’s the report… enjoy reading and remember there is always two sides to every coin. Don’t flip the coin of life and only look at one side.

    First Long Term Study Released on Pigs, Cattle Who Eat …


    1. Any study that purposes to debunk the hundreds of studies confirming the safety of GMOs is certainly worth reading – if the science is good. Fortunately, the science in the study you refer to is fatally flawed. To begin with, the pigs in the study were already in very poor health, with weaner mortality of 13-14%. Oddly, when you look at the data, you can see that 15% of non-GM pigs had heart abnormalities, while only 6% of GM fed pigs did. Moreover, twice as many non-GMO fed pigs had liver defects. But that is a side issue.

      In reality, this study simply does not hold up to statistical scrutiny. The research had a number of factors that could not be controlled for. If the researchers would have included a veterinary pathologist, they would have realized that there is no relationship between the colour of a dead, bled out pig at a slaughter plant and inflammation. All they did was a visual scoring of the colour and the lining of the stomachs and misinterpreted redness as inflammation. When appropriately statistically analyzed, the stomach inflammation data does not show a relationship with diet.

      As for the other major component of the study, the increased uterus size, bias seems to have crept into their analysis. In the words of Prof. Friendship of the University of Guelph, “Unfortunately instead of presenting a fair discussion they made wild speculation about the weight difference such as the heavier weight might indicate cancer.” He went on to indicate that “They did not suggest that the heavier uterine weight might be a result of some of the pigs in one pen of 42 pigs reaching puberty, which would be a reasonable possibility or that there may be estrogen-like substances in the feed at low levels.” The result – the uterine weight is not a statistical factor.

      The authors were so focused on stomach inflammation that they ignored that all the other inflammation categories actually favoured the GMO diet. The sad part is that the pigs were treated quite inhumanely. Close to 60% of them had pneumonia at time of slaughter; they would have died soon, slaughtered or not, from the poor husbandry performed by the study’s authors.

      I’m going on a bit here, but let me conclude by saying that if you are going to quote studies, ensure they are unbiased and in sound science. This article was not, and the reality is that no conclusions can be drawn from this study. Read more here and here.

      Thanks for reading and I appreciate the comments!

      1. Thanks Jake. I read Terry Daynard’s blog and mark Lynas, “GMO pig study-more junk science.” They are very good articles I commend you for being so knowledgeable about pro GMO issues.
        Most research/studies/reviews will be biased as you and I know. Monsanto pays huge$ to lobby the food industry that GMOs are safe. Independent scientist do not have that financial aid
        Lobbying Spending Database – Monsanto Co, 2014 …


        Here are two articles describing why I’m still not convinced that GMO are safe to eat. I still need more convincing from the pro GMO side

        1) Canadian federal government research scientist. Former Pro-GMO Scientist Speaks Out On The Real Dangers


        2) A few examples of the latest reports, articles and books exposing the dangers of GMOs, Big Ag’s toxic chemicals and evidence of a decades-long cover-up to keep consumers in the dark.

        • New study: World Health Organization declares glyphosate a human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) decision was reported in The Lancet Oncology, on Friday, March 20 (2015). Predictably, Monsanto went on the attack, demanding the study be retracted.

        • New study: Roundup causes antibiotic resistance in bacteria. In the first study of its kind, a research lead by a team from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand says that commonly used herbicides, including the world’s most used herbicide Roundup, can cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. Cause for concern? You bet, when nearly 2 million people die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections.

        • New article: “GMO Science Deniers: Monsanto and the USDA,” points out what we all learned in third-grade science (but what Monsanto and the USDA refuse to acknowledge): That plants evolve to adapt to their environment, with the stronger ones winning out. Hence the fact that over time, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops have bred a new generation of superweeds. Yet, incredibly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bought into Monsanto’s anti-science claim that the continuous use of Roundup, over time, would not produce evolving Roundup-resistant weeds. Of course, that’s exactly what’s happened.

        • New book: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public, exposes how the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) disregarded the warnings of its own scientists in order to foster the biotech industry’s agenda. According to author Steven Druker, the FDA broke U.S. food safety laws when the agency made a blanket presumption that GE foods qualified to be categorized “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). And they did it in order to push GMOs into the market with no pre-market safety testing.

        • New book: Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, written by a former (1979-2004) employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), documents the EPA’s “corruption and misuse of science and public trust.” According to author E.G. Vallianatos, the EPA allowed our lands and waters to be poisoned with more toxic chemicals, including glyphosate, than ever, while turning a blind eye to the consequences.

        • New report: “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs,” exposes Big Food’s long history of manipulating the media, policymakers and public opinion with $100-million worth of sleazy public relations tactics.

        That’s just a smattering of the latest science—from scientists who have nothing to gain and everything to lose, based on Monsanto’s history of aggressively discrediting and scientist who dares to challenge GMOs—that should have every consumer in this country asking, “What’s going on here?”

        Of course the industry response to the latest accusations concerning both its products and its desperate attempt to keep consumers in the dark, has been the same old same old: deny, deny, deny. All the while pretending to be incredulous that anyone would question its motives. This from an industry that (among other crimes) for nearly 40 years, knowingly poisoned a community in Alabama by dumping millions of pounds of PCBs into open-pit landfills, according to 2002 article that said:

        And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents—many emblazoned with warnings such as “CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy”—how that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.

        I hope this helps to somewhat clear up a bit of my anti GMO beliefs

      2. While I won’t go after every one of your references (I don’t have the room!) I hope you will let me delve into a few of them. Firstly, the glyphosate-carcinogen link – please read my latest blog post on this issue (just published yesterday) where you will find that this story is a frustrating misstep by the WHO.

        While bias can creep into any study, why is that bias any different if Monsanto lobbies or if it is Greenpeace? For example, that pig study you mentioned earlier was sponsored by the Organic Federation of Australia, and the author, J. Carman, is a long-time anti-biotech campaigner, supported by none other than Seralini. Yes, Monsanto sponsors lots of pro-GMO studies, but that goes both ways, and I suspect that it is a pretty even playing field. And, there are many studies out there without Monsanto’s backing, which you can find in my glyphosate-carcinogen blog mentioned above.

        As for the anti-biotic one – while I’m not familiar with that study, I struggle with that result, and let’s be honest; the anti-biotic resistance issue is related much more to over-prescription of anti-biotic drugs than glyphosate. And besides, the benefits of glyphosate surely outweigh the costs on that one.

        Resistant weeds is a serious issue for farmers, but don’t blame glyphosate for that. It is not the only chemical with resistance issues; in fact, many of them have problems with that. And yes, it was assumed glyphosate would not develop resistance due to its unique mode of action. But any time you apply the same chemical at the same rate on the same weeds, after a long enough time, resistance will develop. In fact, weeds grow resistance to many things, such as barnyard grass’s resistance to hand-weeding! That doesn’t make it a “super-weed”; it just means you have to find another way to control it. Weed resistance is far from a new issue, and honestly, farmers bear the blame for that one.

        Remember, Monsanto is a huge company that answers to shareholders. Like any public company, they must keep their proprietary information protected. Letting their genetic modification secrets out back in the 90’s could have cost them the market. All business protect intellectual property, big and small.

        Be careful painting “Big Ag” with an evil image; much of the anti-GMO argument lacks proper science and attacks good people doing good things. There are so many studies saying GMOs and glyphosate and other pesticides are safe. There’s not much more I can say on that. The reality is that we have been eating GMO food for over 20 years, and spraying glyphosate for 40 years, and not one credible scientific study has linked either of those products to any disease or illness (if applied properly, of course). Cover up by Big Ag? Then why did Carman et. al.’s and Seralini’s studies get so much press, especially when their methods were terribly flawed? Clearly, if something had come out with some real teeth, it would have made news.

      3. Hi again Jake. With your knowledge of GMO and insecticides, pesticides I feel quite humbled. I do not feel that I need to take too much more of your time since I grew up on a farm in northern Sask, and I know this is a busy time of year for farmers.
        I am still concerned about you and your family’s health so I ask you to please take one evening to watch Dr. Thierry Vrain’s, “The gene revolution,” video. Remember he was a federal government scientist who’s job was to go to events throughout Canada to promote GMO to Canadian farmers for our federal government. Since his retirement, and subsequent personal research on GMOs, he has changed his opinion. It’s a great video but with poor sound so if you have a cable to hook up your computer to your T.V. that really improves the sound.
        Ohh, one more thing, if you make popcorn to watch the video, please make it organic popcorn, ja, ja !
        Take good care of yourself and yours

        GMO’s Explained: Dr. Thierry Vrain “The Gene Revolution …

        Video for Dr. Thierry Vrain the gene revolution▶ 60:56


  13. Wow, this is a bit slanderous to the organic industry…. I am an organic farmer of 6 years, doing over 45 different crops and producing over 12 tonnes an acre of fresh organic vegetables. I would encourage you to visit more organic farms so that you can learn how we actually do things.

    I could pick apart this article, but Ill just go after some really key points.

    Weed control: Yes we use mechanical means, but also cover crops (my main weed control method) Where we use a crop like oats and clover, or mustard, or buckwheat, to effectively choke out the weeds, then mow and turn in that cover crop. This adds valuable carbon and nitrogen to the soil, directly from the atmosphere. This is done on a large rotation schedule and our soil tests over the years have seen an increase in available nitrogen, organic matter, phosphorus, and potassium, through use of our cover crop systems. This also means that I till my fields 2 times a year. I would say this is very minimal tillage.

    Nitrogen sources: First of all, excess nitrogen in plants is very unhealthy for the individual, and many conventional farms overuse this resource. On our farm since the primary nitrogen source is from breaking down green matter, or from being fixed into the ground by things like red clover, we never run into a nitrogen excess issue. Our plants are green, healthy and happy, and nitrate leakage into our rivers and streams is non existent, since the nitrogen is not just applied granually and can run-off the surface easily like many conventional farms.

    Sprays: We spray, mostly compost teas, garlic sprays, or Epsom salts. The latter being the only one we don’t produce from start to finish on the farm. This gives our plants vigorous growth, and the garlic sprays keep many many of the pests away from the crops for weeks on end.

    Nutritional quality: Talk to our customers…. Most of them will tell you our veggies taste better than anything they have had before. Why? well we keep a good track of our soil fertility, and work to keep the soil as healthy as possible. This promotes very healthy plants that contain all of the nutrients they should. If something has a full array of nutrients, our body tells us how good it tastes, as that is the mechanism to encourage us to get all the nutrients we need. I would love to get a lab analysis done to compare to a conventional crop, and I will one day soon.

    Your facts about organic farming are false, and I 100% disagree with you. In my opinion Organic farming such as how I do it, is the way to feed the world.

    Nevin Gavigan

    1. You are the exception in the organic industry, not the rule. There are many organic farmers in the Prairies, and I know few of them doing all that you’re doing. Yes, organic farming, if done properly, can keep up with nutrient requirements of crops. While I realize I may be generalizing a bit, I should point out that your analysis of conventional farmers’ applications of nitrogen fertilizer is a gross oversimplification.
      Furthermore, your suggestion that organic food “tastes better” and is more nutritious is fallacy, and has been proven so in peer-reviewed journal articles. That is a false perception brought on by the confirmation bias people have when trying organic food; they expect it to be better, so they believe it is.
      I will say that your method of organic farming is a great example of how it should be done. Rarely do I see such attention paid to agronomy, so well done. But the reality is that you’re using farming practices from 300 years ago. Why would we not take advantage of scientific advancements, like we do in medicine? Let’s be realistic: if we all farmed like you do, I’m sure soil quality would be maintained; but we could not feed 7 billion people.
      Thanks for your comment and your addition to the discussion.

      1. In the CFIA Organic standards there are restrictions regarding tillage “Soil fertility is maintained and enhanced by promoting optimal biological activity within the soil and conservation of soil resources. Weeds, pests and diseases are managed using biological and mechanical control methods, and cultural practices that include minimized tillage” and is regulated in their inspections, generally its conventional agriculture who over tills, doesn’t build soils, and enhances soil erosion through salinization because they have to irrigate excessively because there soil retains less water.

        By using what you call our new farming practices not from 300 years ago, such as herbicides and pesticides, the kill off the natural flora in the soil further decreasing its quality making CA need more pesticides which always has excess run off into the environment, in addition to causing extreme health conditions in humans regardless of how many times you wash it. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X09003047)

        Lastly, organic farming has shown to produce the at least the same yields and sometimes more than a conventional farm of the same size in the same general geography, so again your argument that organics cannot feed 7 billion people is unfounded.

        “It’s important to remember that our current agricultural system produces far more food than is needed to provide for everyone on the planet,” said Kremen. “Eradicating world hunger requires increasing the access to food, not simply the production. Also, increasing the proportion of agriculture that uses sustainable, organic methods of farming is not a choice, it’s a necessity. We simply can’t continue to produce food far into the future without taking care of our soils, water and biodiversity.”

        With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it’s critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining.”

        You can look into these quotes yourself, but there are many holes in your argument.

      2. Regarding yields: while your claim that yields can be equivalent is true, it ignores that fertilizer must be “grown” in the previous year, preventing crop production in that year. This means yields are actually only half of normal methods. The CFIA may specify that minimum tillage is encouraged, in reality this is extremely difficult. In the absence of herbicides, the only method of weed control is tillage. Since we have access to herbicides, we can actually avoid tillage altogether. And, since we don’t have access to irrigation here, erratic rainfall causes serious problems with salinization. Your concerns about pesticides are unfounded as well, with minimal differences between organic and conventionally produced food.

  14. I am beyond impressed with the way TRUE facts are presented in a very logical, yet simplified manner in several of your posts. I have struggled for years to sum things up as clearly as you did in regards to the so-called “organic” movement. Well done. I manage all aspects of marketing and PR for my family’s farm in St. Louis and have been searching for such clear and definitive answers to those hard questions!

    1. Thanks for the comment! I believe it’s critical for us to present our side of the story in a clear, logical fashion and not get drawn in to emotional, reactive responses. I try to write my posts in that way, and I’m glad to see it’s working!

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