Seed Pre-emption at the Oregon Legislature

We are currently in the midst of a short session of the Oregon Legislature.  This year there are over 600 bills to get through, and only 35 days to do it.  Which means that many of us farmers are walking the halls of the capital more frequently than the rows of our fields.  Yesterday I headed down to Salem to testify on a bill that would remove important aspects from the Seed Pre-emption law.  A law that we got passed back in 2013, after a long hard battle.

The basic run down of this law is that it prohibits counties and cities from regulating seed production in Oregon.  This is important because as farmers we don’t want to have 36 different laws regulating how we can grow our seed, or 36 different policies on the growing of GMO’s.  It’s a common sense law, that protects farmers.

Here’s a good article that sums up nicely what is going on with this issue as of right now.
Oregon Seed Pre-emption Law Challenged in Legislature.

And here is what I looked like at the Capital yesterday…yes, baby in tow.

He was a trooper and didn’t complain too much about his early start to agvocacy.  Like I told many people yesterday, I’m here because I want to continue my legacy of farming here in Oregon.  I want my sons to have the opportunity to put their hands in the same soil that their great grandfather did.  And to do that, here in Oregon, we have to continually show up in Salem to let our voices be heard.  To hear testimony from many farmers you can click the link below.  The public hearing portion starts at about 1:09 into the meeting.

As the article states it was mostly farmers who testified yesterday and they all did a great job.  Now if only the battle was even close to over.  Tuesday presents another opportunity for this law to be called into question.

Congress – Not States – Should Handle GMO Labeling

Last Sunday I had an article posted in the Oregonian explaining why the issue of GMO labeling should be handled at the national level. And also why it should be a program to label non-GMO products, one like the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Below is my opinion piece that was published. 

Like many across Oregon, my family watches our spending on everything, especially groceries. I voted no on Measure 92 last year because I was concerned about the impact mandatory, single-state labeling would have on food costs and on my family farm. Even though voters rightly rejected Measure 92, activists continue their crusade to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in states across the country. Make no mistake: if they are successful, grocery prices will go up.

One study said these different state food labeling laws could cause a family’s grocery bill to go up by $500 a year. This is something Oregon families cannot afford. Congress—not special interest groups—should set clear, easy-to-follow guidelines for everyone at the national level. Fortunately, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act that was introduced in Congress last month does just that.

Keeping my family’s safety in mind, I have carefully looked at both sides of the debate. The evidence is overwhelming. The world’s leading health and regulatory bodies have all determined GMOs to be safe and nearly 2,000 independent, peer-reviewed studies have found the same.

So should we label GMOs even though they are safe? The fact is that labels in this country are supposed to provide nutritional and safety information. If GMOs are no different nutritionally from conventional crops, it makes no sense to label them, which would just needlessly frighten people, leading them to believe there is a safety issue when there isn’t.

Labeling GMOs is not simply a matter of putting a sticker on a box. It will require extensive adjustments to supply chains and manufacturing techniques for both farmers and food companies. Studies have shown these costs will be passed onto families. I recently read that one in six American families experienced food insecurity in 2014. Tacking on a few hundred dollars to food bills merely to satisfy the political agenda of a few activists is irrational.

State labeling mandates are full of carve outs and exemptions, they are built on emotion and fear. Not to mention, they also vary from state to state, creating even more burden for farmers and the agricultural food industry.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act is a sensible solution. Consumers who want to avoid GMOs will be able to do so because the bill creates a GMO-Free certification program. It establishes a national, uniform labeling standard to prevent price hikes and confusion associated with state mandates. It will make sure we have access to the information we need while giving us the peace of mind that our grocery bill aren’t going to skyrocket.

With all the acrimony in Washington, D.C., this bill is a rare demonstration of broad bipartisanship. Thank you Congressman Schrader for your leadership on this issue. I hope the rest of Oregon’s delegation will help pass it into law.

Dissecting the article…”Dissecting Organic”

There has been a flush of misinformation going around lately about organic versus conventional food choices and farming.  Just recently an article was published in the Statesman Journal entitled, “Dissecting Organic, what it means, plus pros, cons.”

I saw this article on Facebook and was pretty astonished at how much misinformation went into the article.  Considering here in Oregon we grow over 280 different crops, many of which are the foods that we all love to eat, I really hoped for some type of farmer input.  But unfortunately the article was written all about how farmers farm, without any farmers input to speak of.  So first of all I would like to invite this author out to our farm, it might be too late for the article, but after seeing what we are up to, and what many farmers conventional or organic do, I think it would provide a different tone for any future publications.  I went through the article and found 5 points that I think were a misrepresentation of both the conventional and organic farmers.

Claim 1: “Organic farmers also use natural fertilizers, rotate crops or use mulch to manage weeds, and they do not use pesticides.”
My biggest frustration here is that she is claiming that organic farms don’t use pesticides.  When they actually do.  Many times at higher rates because they are less efficient that our synthetic ones.  It might actually be interesting to note that Bt, which is the insecticide that is produced by GMO corn is also allowed under organic standards to be sprayed on the top of organic crops.  You can find the list of approved organic pesticides here.  The other things she mentions, natural fertilizers (also used by some conventional farmers…especially ones near daries and waste plants that have it available), rotation of crop (constantly done on our farm), using mulch to manage weeds (not done as much but is used mostly in our hazelnut orchards).

Claim 2: (Nutritional difference) The answer is not 100 percent certain, though several studies have been performed, and more are in progress.
This one is true, there isn’t a total consensus on the nutritional difference.  You can find study after study that claims one is better than the other, or they are not at all different.  For example there was one from Stanford in 2012, claiming little nutritional difference.  It is interesting though, because at the end of every article it seems, no matter what they have found in their specific “study” they all seem to have consensus on the fact that in the end if you eat more fruits and vegetables, and wash them before you eat them, you are doing more for your health than making any other decision.    There is a really cool website, Safe Fruits and Veggies that actually gives you a calculator to see how many servings of a specific food (if the food is at its highest residues the USDA allows) you would have to consume to have any effect.  For example, a woman could consume 10,877 servings of lettuce in one day without any effect even if the lettuce has the highest residues.  That is pretty amazing and puts a lot into perspective.  Let’s all remember that anything, even oxygen and water can be toxic at certain levels.

Claim 3: …the use of fast-growth fertilizers in conventional growing means that plants spend more of their energy on getting as large as possible, while less energy is allocated to building nutrients.
I have never heard this claim before.  But I would go back to my explanation for claim 2 here.  I will say however that I have not ever heard of a “fast growth” fertilizer.  Maybe it’s used in other crops that I don’t grow, but I would be curious to see what she is talking about here.  I will say that the food crops we grow have to fit into a specific size, larger isn’t better.  Actually if our peas or green beans get too big, we are docked on our price.

Claim 4. Organic growers, however, utilize tactics such as predator insects, insect traps, beneficial microorganisms and careful crop selection (disease-resistant varieties) to control crop-damaging pests.
This is true, but again, so do conventional farmers.  It is written as if the use of these methods is solely done by organic farmers, and that just isn’t true.  We also use the same tactics to utilize thresholds in our crops.  On our farm we have used insect traps, pheromone traps, and beneficial insects as well.  We also have planted disease resistant crops and continue to try to find new ways to do more with less.  And I know that you will find this to be something that all farmers have done for centuries!  The days of spraying just because it feels good, or you love to spend the money, well, those days never were!

Claim 5. Organic farming practices keep the environment in mind. They are designed to protect the environment by conserving water and soil quality and reducing pollution.
I believe that all farmers keep the environment in mind.  We all work to conserve water, keep our soil quality up, all while reducing pollution.  I would even bet that many conventional farmers have a smaller carbon footprint per acre than some organic farms considering all the tillage they have to do to keep up with the weeds, not to mention how many times they go over their fields with pesticides that aren’t as effective.  Fuel is fuel.  And for organic growers it takes more fuel to get the same nutrients, the same results, as it does conventional.  I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but all types of farming practices have their give and take.  No matter what kind of farm you have, pests and weeds come along for the ride and they have to be managed.

All farmers take care of the land and are some of the biggest environmentalists, I would dare say many were environmentalists before environmentalist was cool.  Treating the land well doesn’t just make us feel good, it pays dividends year after year. Our soil gives back what we put in, this knowledge has been in our blood since we were born into this life and later chose it because the passion we have for farming can’t be denied.

Just a few examples would be our crop rotation that allows us to give the soil a break from the same crop over and over again.  We use no till and minimum tillage practices when we can to also allow beetles and worms to continue working hard for us under the soil surface.  This also reduces our carbon footprint, saves us money in fuel, and decreases tractor wear and tear.  When we do work the ground we do it with as little compaction as possible, because it’s good for soil structure and our plants don’t want to grow in compacted soil that isn’t healthy.  We mulch around hazelnut trees when they are small to conserve water through the summer.  We plant cover crop in areas with high water washing through to save our topsoil.  We have a state of the art irrigation system that allows us to get the exact amount of water where we need it in a timely manner.  Really the list goes on and on.  And these are things that all farmers do, because I’ll say it again, if we don’t treat our land well it won’t treat us well, and that puts a farmer out of business very quickly.

FullSizeRender (4)a

Even after all of these claims, here is the biggest frustration that I have, this nurse, who I am sure if very competent in her field, wrote this article without any sources and any input from farmers!!  Yet people from across this state are reading her words and taking it at face value.  In my opinion there is no excuse for putting an article out there for the public to see without any input from the people that actually do the work.  I would be extremely skeptical if I read an article about nursing that was written by a farmer, without any input from someone in the actual field.  While the urban and rural divide may be getting larger in the sense of understanding of what the other is doing, physically we have never been more close neighbors than before, especially in the Willamette Valley here in Oregon.  I really hope that this article prompted more people to ask questions, to reach out to farmers, instead to just reach for the organic blueberries in the grocery store without any hesitation.

I have said it before and I will say it again.  I don’t mean to be down playing the value of organic agriculture is having in Oregon.  It’s a viable and growing market that does well for our state and many of our state’s farmers.  But let’s not try to hurt the conventional farmers just to increase the market share of organic farmers.  There is room for all types of agriculture in this state, because we have a lot of mouths to feed, and we as consumers have more choices than ever as to what we feed to our families.  Let’s try to reach more for fruits and veggies rather than french fries and milkshakes.  That in the end would do more for the health of our families than any amount of organic versus conventional decision.


%d bloggers like this: