While I do not grow any certified organic beef at the feed yard, my favorite farmer does grow some certified organic animal feed. Matt began growing some organic alfalfa and corn in 2004 in an effort to diversify our farm. It has proven to be an effective risk management and marketing tool, but those advantages do not come without a unique set of challenges.
For animal feed to be certified organic, it has to be grown on land that has been free from all prohibited products (synthetic fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides) for a minimum of three years. In addition, the farmer must use approved seed and also maintain a management plan which protects the soil and water quality of the farm.
In the nine years that Matt has grown certified organic animal feed, the single largest challenge has been weed control. The inability to use herbicides to spray for weeds creates an enormous task when creating a viable long term farm management plan. Despite the fact that the crop rotation plan which Matt employs goes a long way to helping control weeds, in the long term we still have a never ending weed problem.
One of Matt’s certified organic fields boarders my house and horse pastures. Several years ago, it was time to tear up the alfalfa field and rotate it into corn. Along with the corn, the sticker weeds moved in…They then spread from the edge of the field into my horse pastures and yard.
I don’t like weeds. In addition, it is my opinion that among the weed population, sticker weeds are some of the worst. They spread like wildfire and develop nasty stickers that are very painful to the touch. Because I am unable to spray the weeds on the edge of the field, the girls and I try to control the weeds the old fashioned way.
As you might guess, this chore has created some negative thoughts relative to their daddy’s organic farming. My favorite young women do not relish the character building hours that they spend hand pulling the sticker plants out of the pasture.
While the parent in me thinks that this process is a good learning experience for the girls, the farmer in me feels a certain level of frustration with our current inability to effectively control weeds in the long term on the organic fields and boarders of our farms. Matt is constantly searching for ways to deal with this weed challenge, and the girls and I are certainly hopeful that he will soon be successful
Over the years, I have learned that no food production system is perfect—each type comes with its own unique set of pros and cons.
There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, rather there are hard management decisions that lead to less than perfect results. The bottom line is that we do the best that we can with our ultimate goal being a long term sustainable farm.
Because different people desire different types of food products, both production systems have a place in our society. Matt and I have chosen a diverse blend on our farm in order to attain a broad spectrum of financial, environmental and social sustainability. My favorite farmer and I have many passionate discussions as we routinely evaluate what is the best course for our farm.