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Armchair Farming

Armchair Farming

Armchair Farming...

... is not a synonym for a journalist writing about agriculture. An organic farmer I recently met coined the phrase. Jim Dufosee raises sheep and beef cattle in Wiltshire and grows feed. When he switched to organic it wasn’t necessarily because he was one of the converted. Back then there were financial incentives to do so.

‘Today I just know I’m doing the right thing’, he says, and he wouldn’t go back to conventional farming even if they paid him. When I asked him where his way of working had changed the most Jim hesitated a moment and then said: ‘I need to do a lot more armchair farming these days’.

‘If you are a conventional farmer, no matter what’s your problem, there will be a chemical solution for it. Or at least that’s what the advisors will tell you’, says Jim. ‘As an organic farmer I have to sit down and work out a solution for myself’. What Jim needs to figure out is what works on his farm, his land and for his animals. And sometimes the solution is: Jim has his cattle and sheep graze the same pastures in alternate years and that has brought the parasite numbers right down.

In a recent interview Doug Gurian-Sherman, a US scientist in the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) talked about GMO crops. A new generation, resistant to 2,4 D and Dicamba (better known as the active ingredients in ‘Agent Orange’, the de-leafing chemical used during the Vietnam war), are expected to be deregulated by the USDA in the near future.

‘Growing food in a biologically and ecologically sound way is not what the (big agro-chemical) companies want’, Doug said. ‘It’s not a product intensive approach, it’s a knowledge intensive approach’. (Interview by Melinda Hemmelgarn, Food Sleuth podcast 17.2.2014) Farmers who know their stuff will manage pests through crop rotation and improve the soil quality with cover crops – measures that in conventional agriculture will reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Organic farmers have to figure out other ways of working in any case.

Hence more armchair farming is needed. Inorganic and conventional farming. And more independent research, done at universities and independent research institutes, not in the laboratories of Monsanto, Syngenta & Co –the solution is not another poison and a GMO crop that can take it.