Issues with farm practices

View from Rural Route 8

By Jim Suber

Every once in a while, great things and ideas let us down a little.

Take no-till farming. Because of the severe heat and drought the last two or more years in western Kansas, no-till farming of non-irrigated wheat is not working very well, according to longtime wheat grower and industry leader Vance Ehmke.

Ehmke blogs occasionally from his farms in the Lane-Scott corridor of counties in west central Kansas. He reports that some no-till fields are baking hard in the heat and sun without adequate ground cover left thinner than usual by previous poor crops for lack of moisture. The hard, almost bare ground is also blowing away in high winds. Farmers cannot puncture the surface with even modern grain drills.

So, to cope many are trying to loosen the ground with some tillage, perhaps even bringing up some clods to fight wind erosion. Clods do that out west. Strip-tilling in dust storms is an old technique that works to keep topsoil in place in high winds.

Vance says some farmers say that good farmers will find a way to do a good job farming, no matter what. Vance added that even good farmers need rain. Keep praying, he said.

From farther away comes a disappointing news story about a California dealer/supplier of organic fertilizer. It seems he has for years been using manufactured nitrogen sources for his supplies. He is in deep trouble with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and could face up to 30 years in prison.

I say, give him probation and make him pay back the excess he made selling regular nitrogen fertilizer as “organic,’’ which is, of course, a legal term.

At least his fertilizer worked. The trouble is more fundamental than a cheater. The trouble is with the so-called organic world in the first place.

My growing plants really don’t give a damn whether their nitrogen came from worm droppings or an ammonia processing plant. There are many gray areas in the organic versus non-organic worlds.

If a chemical compound found in nature is discovered to be a very good insecticide, is it still organic if a modern technological or manufacturing system is employed to concentrate it so that it can be contained, transported and then sprayed onto an organic field?

Also, if you use motors for a spray vehicle and to run a spray pump, shouldn’t you be using energy other than forms like gasoline or diesel fuel, which have been processed in a manufacturing plant?

You get the idea, I hope. Lines are blurred in many facets of this, and the process to become certified as “organic” is long and expensive. Plus, a great word has been ruined by the legal world.

Years ago when the movement first started, I asked a Texas A&M agricultural professor to tell me how much food production would be lost to the nation if all farming suddenly shifted to organic. He studied for a few days and then replied, “40 percent.”

Maybe organic methods have improved, or maybe they are using up all the seaweed at an alarming rate and contributing to another environmental nightmare.

Maybe it is just a legal ripoff of consumers at a time when no one needs to pay more for groceries, but they are going to regardless of organic or inorganic. The drought is speaking.

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