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June 27, 2000


Organic myths


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

It is distressing to read, among the informed well-written opinions on
this listserv, such utter nonsense about organic farming. I'm sure much
of it is just being repeated from other sources and not entirely the
fault of the people who post on this list but please - check your
information as you do with other topics before using it.

Here are just a few examples: Alfalfa is not a tropical plant, it is
grown in all of the United States and Canada including Alaska. It was
brought here from Europe where it has been widely grown for many years
and called Lucerne, not Lezpedeza.

Soybeans will leave about 50Kg/Ha of residual N after the crop is
removed, NOT if the whole crop is plowed in. The soybeans typicaly
harvested from a hectare contain about 200 Kg of N in the form of protein
( on average 6.25Kg of protein contains 1 Kg of N ).

Organic farming is NOT low yield farming as it has been described
repeatedly. There are high yielding organic farms and low yielding ones
just as there are with "conventional" farming. The biggest factors in
yield are soils and climate. In several American multiyear comparisons
between organic and conventional farming that actually took a systems
aproach, yields were equal after a 2 to 3 year transition period with
organic yields significantly higher in drought years. I have seen
organic corn yield more than 14000Kg/Ha in the United States more than
once myself. Those crops grew on a farm that used no manure and had no
livestock. The nitrogen that produced those yields came from a clover
cover crop grown over the winter, saving soil and water quality and not
removing any land from production during the main growing season.

The "risk" of contamination from manure is very real and frequently
occurs on conventional farms where most of the manure produced in large
confinement feeding operations is disposed of. Organic Standards address
the risks associated with manure disposal and try to prevent them. IFOAM
regulations prohibit the use of manure from such farms in organic
production. All certifiers require composting of manure to be used on
vegetable crops. If manure is to be used on a vegetable field, it must
be applied at a time when crops can't be contaminated by it. The fly
problem, as cited by Andrew Apel, is an example of what can happen on a
conventional farm when too much raw manure was applied to wet soil. If
this farmer had been following organic standards, this could not have

The facts that I have just outlined are easily verified, many can be
found in agronomy textbooks. Everyone is welcome to their own opinions
about organic farming and to express them. It is hard though for me to
see what they have to do with the subject this listserv was set up for.
Klaas Martens