Organic ??

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We want to explain to you why we do not call ourselves organic, and strong disagree with the notion that all farming should be organic. We would like to share our point of view and why we have chosen to use modern farming practices like: chemical weed control.

We live right next to Canada’s only desert. Our ranch is on a 14% grade side hill. We have limited surface water for irrigation. In order to ranch and stay viable we use a very small supply of labour. Every decision must make sense financially. In order to survive, we have to be wise in our use of everything on our farm.

The basics of planting a crop is that you have to kill the old plants and weeds in order for the new seeds to get established and compete. In conventional tillage, which we do not do, a farmer might first plow, then disc one or two times, then cultivate, then seed, then pack in order to get a crop. This is all done on the same piece of land. In other words, the tractor is running over the same field up to 6 or 7 times. This type of tillage uses high amounts of fuel because you are physically breaking up the soil structure. It is similar to how most people work their garden with a rototiller. Conventional tillage looks pretty when the soil is all black and fluffy and the crop peeks through. Although by digging deep and working up the soil, researchers have shown that you loose between 9 to 25 centimetres of water over the land. On our ranch, that would be one pass with the sprinklers. For a person like me who does not like moving ‘irritation’, thats a huge savings right there! Did we mention how much we dislike picking rocks? That is another huge savings for us.

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Do you know why they called it the ‘Dirty Thirties’? All farmers conventional tilled, worked their land, lost their moisture and then the whole country blew away and everyone went broke. Here some pictures of some small scale conventional tillage dust storms.

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We plant and reseed our crops using a practice called ZeroTill or Minimum Till. This involves killing the old crop or weeds by using chemical, yes: RoundUp. To seed our field we make one pass with the sprayer, putting on between 1/2 to 1 litre per acre of actual chemical. Then we make one pass with our ZeroTill Seed Drill to seed and fertilize the field. One of the biggest advantages to this type of seeding is that we are leaving the organic matter on the surface of the soil and year after year are building healthier soil rather than making it into dirt. This layer of organic matter is what saves the moisture in the soil. Because we are more productive with the acres we do farm, we are able leave more land for grazing.

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By our estimations, 1 litre of RoundUp is being directly traded for 58.4 litres of Diesel fuel not burned plus the savings on labour, equipment and moisture. If you are at all concerned about the environment, how can you say that burning 58 litres of Diesel into the atmosphere (picture 3 – 5 gallon jerry cans) is better for the environment than using 1 litre of RoundUp?

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To summarize, our ZeroTill seeding reduces the use of Diesel, saves moisture, prevents soil erosion both from wind and water on our side hill, prevents us from picking rocks and is one of the major elements that has kept us in business over the years. Oh, did we mention that we get better production, use less seed and fertilizer and have fewer weeds? If you drove across the Prairie’s (Alberta and Saskatchewan) where the large scale farms are, you would notice that there is not a lot of dust in the air and that everyone ZeroTills.

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We totally agree that people overuse chemical. All we want you to understand is that modern farming uses many different tools. It is not as simple as doing it the way Grandpa use to. If you want to know why a farmer does a certain practice, there is probably a legitimate reason. We put a lot of thought and heart into our decisions. 4th and 5th Generation Farms got there by making wise decisions for their land, their family and their business.

~Erika Fossen~

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14 thoughts on “Organic ??

  1. ruwengierls says:

    Very interesting article! I never thought about it this way, but I can see how this might be a better method for some regions.
    I’m not against chemicals and we do use RoundUp as well; only thing I’ve noticed is that in places where it’s been used over longer periods, nothing will thrive anymore, but mosses. Maybe that’s due to too high concentrations however. ..

    • 2erikas says:

      Yes, it is very important to read the label and not overuse. We’ve travelled to some places in Minnesota where their land was so wet that the only way they could get into their fields was to till it to dry it out! Every area has its unique challenges, and that’s just another example of how much thought one needs to put into their farming practices.

  2. Tricia says:

    Fascinating!

  3. Will Sturgeon says:

    Wow. Very impressed with your article’s organizational layout and argument presentation. Super well written Erika. I hated picking rocks probably more than you, lol, but I did mine on a stone boat behind two Percherons…back in the day, as they say. Wish there was an alternative to Roundup though. Good job on this one. Will

  4. Lavinia Ross says:

    It is a well-thought out, well-written article, Erika, and I can understand your reasoning, although I do not use pesticides or herbicides here on my own farm. I do believe Roundup’s days are numbered, though, and I hope you can find an alternative that is workable for you.

    Most people would probably not consider grass seed a major crop, or one of controversy. I live in an area known as “the grass seed capital of the world”, where there are many large grass seed farms up and down the valley. Farming practices which include use of of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, tilling and pulverizing of soil, as well as field burning have been a source of controversy in this area for a long time. I do not pretend to have answers, but I can point out what I see. Here are two views of the subject, one from industry and one from an environmental group.

    http://www.oregonseedcouncil.org/faqs/
    http://www.beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/?p=1487

    Best of luck to all of us. We are all neighbors of a sort on this Earth, and need each other’s expertise, hard work and good will.

  5. Michael Storm says:

    I dont understand some facts. You only use the RoundUp 1-time? Most of the stories I read say every few weeks? And then it was 1-liter per acre right? And then you compare with 58-liters of diesel. Hmm… That also seems like Apples and Oranges no? Its not 58-liters of diesel to till a single acre… right?

    • 2erikas says:

      Thanks for the Question. Yes we only spray once to kill a crop, then replant. In some cases if people use roundup resistant plants like corn they might use roundup three times in a growing season: one to kill the weeds or old crop and twice to control the weeds in the corn until it gets big enough to compete with weeds. This is where RoundUp gets some of it’s ‘bad’ rep. The label on roundup says to never exceed three uses per year and if using on corn the rate is about .67 litres per acre. Roundup only kills what is green and has no residual so if a new crop is not planted in time weeds will continue to germinate and grow.
      And yes, this is my best educated guess on how much diesel we save of Diesel per acre by using 1 or less litres of RoundUp per acre. And I know it sounds crazy but picture having to go slowly over a 200 by 200 foot patch of ground 7 times using a higher horsepower machine verses one pass at an idle. Our tractors burn between 4.5 and 7 gallons of diesel per hour. This tractor is a 90 HP tractor. My last bit of seeding I did two – fifty acre fields and used about 40 litres of diesel to spray that 100 acres and about 140 litres to seed it back down. I have calculated my numbers to the best I can and want you to see the other side of the story. If I had to plow, disc twice, cultivate then seed and possible pack my fields, it would use a tremendous amount of fuel, labour (time).

      • Phil says:

        I totally understand your arguments and see the need of reducing production costs as far as possible when you have to deal with often very little prices. But I wonder if you’re not at least a tiny little bit worried about glyphosates and how they affect humans. You say (and I guess that’s what you find on labels of such products or hear in university or from the industry) that Roundup has no residual. In 2013 there was a study all across Europe testing people’s urine for glyphosate and what’s left of it. In countries with very modern agriculture and therefore extensive use of glyphosates up to 80% of the tested urine contained glyphosate. I guess or hope that people did not drink it right out of the can. Because only city people were tested it’s not likely that they’ve inhaled it either.
        Just recently a family in Sweden first ate conventional food, then organic only. The levels of remaining pesticides and herbicides dropped under the detection limits after switching to organic. I’m not saying that the tiny doses in conventional food do any harm (neither did one of the two studies so) to humans but you probably know better than anyone else what this miracle thing called Roundup is capable of doing to plants. So I ask you as a mother of three children: aren’t you not at least a little bit worried about the fact that the same stuff that keeps your fields so easily clean is inside your kids’ bodies? Since today there haven’t been any studies on the effects of glyphosates in human bodies. Where do you get your confidence from that there’s absolutely no danger in using glyphosates as long as they are used according to their labels?

        just to mention: I’m totally open-minded and not against modern achievements at all. But I’m somehow worried that we’re taking a path where there’s no way back. To me it’s not just like testing out a new hair cut. If it won’t work we’ll get another cut next time. It’s more like a jump from a cliff into unknown waters: hopefully it’s deep enough so that we won’t get hurt. but no one knows for sure.

      • 2erikas says:

        We wrote this article to make people aware that it’s not as simple as saying we will ban all chemicals and everything will be better. Important environmental decisions are being made on ranches and farms everyday. Often too many decisions are made by people who do not grow anything. We are constantly looking for new ways to tweek our ranch. We look for technology to reduce chemical use, wether that be diesel fuel or roundUp and to improve our environment.
        I feel like I live in the healthiest place in the world. The food produced in Canada and here on our ranch is as safe as it comes. I am completely confident in eating it and feeding it to my children. We have travelled and see far greater risks with plastic/production and processed food, than properly managed chemical use on our ranch.
        We feel that the word ‘organic’ is just another catch word that advertisers have used to push their products. I am sceptical to believe that ‘organic’ labeled produce/food from a 3rd world country is what it’s labeled, and could possibly be safer than our food grown/raised/made in Canada.
        Thanks for your great comment. We believe that only the ‘brightest’ and most committed individuals should be in agriculture and food production in order to make wise decisions in critical areas like this.

  6. Susan Turner says:

    I enjoyed your article on Zero Till, I hadn’t heard of it before and am thinking it might be a good option for my fields. I have a ton of chickory weeds in my hayfield and since parts of my fields are very wet in the spring I also have a lot of what we always called slough grass moving in. It’s low food value and the horses hate it. I was thinking maybe using Roundup would kill both the chickory and the slough grass? Though maybe not, as I think it’s actually a sedge. Do you know if Roundup would work if the ground is really wet? Standing water kind of wet. My other question was whether you are able to get a full crop the first year? Thanks for sharing your ranch stories, I’m really enjoying them.

    • 2erikas says:

      Thank you for your questions Susan! The trade name ‘RoundUp’ with the active ingredient of Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide. This means it will technically kill anything that is green and growing. It does not have a residual, which means that is does not kill things that have not sprouted and is also called a contact herbicide. Glyphosate should not be sprayed over standing water. It will kill sedge/slough grass. If you are not comfortable with handling chemical consider hiring a contract herbicide applicator in your area. It is very important to get a good kill on the weeds and grass by using the correct amount of herbicide and water. The other tricky part is to have a good zero till drill that will get the seed down through all the old sod and just into the soil. We like to use a large grain seed (barley/oats/peas/rye/wheat) in the first year because they have a better chance of growing up through the sod. Then the following year you repeat the process, with light harrowing to smooth/level field, then planting a smaller seed like grasses and alfalfa. If it is really wet ground make sure you pick a grass seed variety that thrives in that environment. Reed canary grass or Meadow Brome might be an option for you to plant in that second year. We have a field that is very wet in the spring and often we cannot get in to farm it and we have had very good success planting Fall Rye in August/Sept. and then it comes up the following spring maturing in July. We have had great success with ZeroTill but it must be done precisely. Hope this has helped you out 🙂

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