Features Insights Technology

Will organic and conventional farming ever find unity?


I’m pro-GMO. I’m not anti-organic because of that, but that’s typically the way people who embrace genetic engineering are perceived. I’ve been called a propogandist, a fake, and a shill for “big ag.” I’m lucky — people I know on the pro-GMO side have been called a lot worse.

We’ve shouldered much negativity amid the debate over biotech, especially from the likes of Food Babe and David “Avocado” Wolfe and the Moms Across America group, but, for better or for worse, the pro-GMO side has not been shy about lobbing its own volleys across this ideological chasm.

Will it ever stop? Can it? If a person believes something so deeply that they’re willing to fight for it, whether that’s in the streets or from behind a computer keyboard, it’s a hard thing to ignore.

Recently, the popular Facebook page A Science Enthusiast posted this article, highlighting an organic farm where the person running its social media account denied that the farm ever used dihydrogen monoxide on its crops. The farm even went so far as to say that its founder confirmed that the chemical had never been used there.

Of course, dihydrogen monoxide is better recognized as good ol’ fashioned H2O, or water.

It was a wry “gotcha” moment for those in agriculture who are science-first in their viewpoints. But there’s no question that this kind of article was meant to highlight the shortcomings of “the other side” and make them look less than qualified to weigh in on the science.

AGDAILY shared A Science Enthusiast’s piece on Facebook. On AGDAILY’s Facebook page, one person posted this comment:

Yes, there is a lot of value in unity. Just last month, I wrote a piece titled “Food future: What will it take to nourish a nation in 2050?,” where industry leaders at all levels and on both sides of the aisle are calling for agriculture to stop the in-fighting, to celebrate the approach that we are all working together and striving for the same goals of sustainability and profitability, no matter which production styles work best on each of our particular farms.

Yet even that piece brought out some divisiveness, highlighted in the comments by concerns over organic marketing misleading customers and vilifying conventional ag and by accusations of conventional farmers failing to provide safe, “clean” food.

That is where things get personal for farmers who use synthetic products and genetically engineered seeds on their farms. The criticisms conventional farmers have with organic tends to be high-level, where bloggers or groups such as the Organic Consumers Association or Cornucopia Institute steer the conversation to vilify their conventional counterparts. Those same conventional farmers see it escalating when organic companies themselves get involved, like earlier this year when Stonyfield used children to promote a message of GMOs being “monstrous.” Again, it’s high-level — less about what the organic farmer does and more about what the organic lobbying arms are doing.

On the other hand, we see often on activist sites and on AGDAILY’s own Facebook comments where those who favor organic tend to talk about conventional farmers poisoning the environment or poisoning society. Yes, Monsanto takes its unfair share of the heat as a corporation, but the aggression is also directed at the individual conventional farmers themselves, the ones who make the decisions about how to grow their crops and how to be sustainable.

Imagine that, one side goes after the industry machine while the other singles out growers. That doesn’t even wade into the waters that many conventional farmers also grow organic crops on parts of their land, or the fact that I can’t name a single instance when a “big ag” conventional corporation spoke with derision about organic farming. It doesn’t happen, at least not in this day and age.

We get that everyone has a vested interest in their food, and that every farmer is working under a system that he or she feels is best for their situation and that will lead to being able to pass along a viable and valuable property to their next of kin. So why does it become so difficult to mend the fences?

People are defending their brands and their ways of life. Food is one of the most intimate and universal things imaginable, so, of course, it’s going to be a major source of disagreement over “best practices.” Contrary to the observation in the first comment from Kyle above, I’ve often seen “an actual organic farmer trash their conventional neighbors.” It’s happened in the comments section on AGDAILY. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more often than it does in my current state of Virginia, where some of the ag industry’s biggest and most successful growers, Joel Salatin on the organic side and Dave Hula on the conventional side, reside.

Should we come together? Yes. I wouldn’t have so enthusiastically written the “Food Future” article if I didn’t feel that it brought up some important points about common goals and philosophical overlap (think cover crops and no-till). I probably won’t ever stop shaking my head when I hear someone claim to not use dihydrogen monoxide (or any chemical, for that matter) on their crops or someone off the street say that organic means “pesticide-free.” But that’s not usually a slam against organic farmers, but more a disappointment at the disconnect that so many people have with all aspects of modern agriculture. We can do better to inform, and we can do better in how we communicate. If we get complacent in either of those areas, then we can’t expect the public or our fellow farmers to understand one another.

But of course, take what I say with a grain of salt. Apparently, I’m just a “big ag” propagandist.


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.

Sponsored Content on AGDaily
Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.