To hear the mainstream media or some nonprofits talk about it, you’d think that there was a desperate and intense war for the future of agriculture between “organic” growers and “conventional” growers. The messaging surrounding soil health, crop protection, nitrogen use, tillage approaches, and environmental policy tends to enjoy stoking those kinds of divisions, and it gets further complicated when farm size gets factored it (people do like to make big out to be bad).
The rivalry isn’t representative of reality, however. There is too much functional crossover for the seeds of spite to be planted. For example, conventional growers have done more in recent years to adopt the cover-cropping practices long held by organic growers; while organic producers are doing more with no-till like their conventional producers have been. And it’s not uncommon to find a large-scale “conventional” grower who has a sizable portion of land with an organic crop on it.
So why the fuss?
Today’s farmers aren’t uneducated self-serving workers driven solely by greed. They are genuine stewards of the land, who employ a variety of techniques and tools to calculate what approach works best with a specific crop on a specific piece of land. While a Roundup Ready biotech crop works well in some instances, rotational grazing may work well elsewhere, or perhaps it’s time for organic barley over the winter. This is precision agriculture, both in strategy and application.
Yet while the broader spectrum of agriculturalists recognizes this, there is one segment of the industry that sees the world through a much narrower lens — we’ll call them OAACs (pronounced oh-acks), because they are Organic At All Costs. Far different from real-world organic producers, who, like conventional growers, weigh what’s best for their farm’s needs, OAACs manifest with more vocal vigilance across social media and often play in the shadow of popular agencies like the Environmental Working Group or the Cornucopia Institute. To them, there is no fluidity of choice — if you’re not organic (or, more perhaps recently, regenerative), you are automatically labeled a land-shredding, glyphosate-spewing bumpkin. OAACs exist where there is no cogent discussion, only ideology.
It’s a tactic we, as a progressive agricultural industry, need to address. Because while we work and research and grow on our farms, they are amid the public talking. While we connect and collaborate with young farmers and fellow agrarians at FFA conventions and commodity gatherings, they are working to paint our products as “dirty.” While we are getting agricultural degrees and learning at land-grant experimental stations, they are slickly producing snackable and viral media clips and shockumentaries to project their world-view to the masses.
It’s misinformation at its finest, and as someone deeply vested in the ag industry, it’s heartbreaking to see. I can understand how the public has latched onto the idea that agriculture is more divided than it really is.
Unfortunately, when biotech researchers and other fans of genetically engineered foods push back against organic advocates and their decision not to incorporate GE seeds into their toolbox, it’s not often that the frustration is directed at the average organic grower (some, as stated earlier, may double as conventional growers); it’s directed at the OAACs, who refute decades of research into genetic engineering and try to paint this technology with a mark of shame. OAACs work hard to denigrate the livelihoods of conventional growers.
Genetically engineered foods are not the silver bullet to food security salvation, and anyone who makes such a claim is wrong. GE crops should be critically evaluated, case by case, and weighed whether the result is beneficial for the research company, the farmers, and society as a whole. To date, most GE advancements have propelled our industry further ahead than previous generations could have ever imagined, but it was done with an individual examination of data and a regulatory structure that supported science.
In short, it was done in the exact opposite way that an OAAC approaches food and farming.
The majority of modern agriculture operates to keep dialogue open, maintain observational and experimentational integrity, and keep pushing for the next evolution in ag. OAACs display a devolution in discussion, and left unchecked, they’ll ruin our most promising avenues.
Ryan Tipps is the managing editor for AGDAILY. He has covered farming since 2011, and his writing has been honored by state- and national-level agricultural organizations.