When it comes to new technology in agriculture, our farm weighs its benefits and costs against our families beliefs and goals. The goal of our farm is to raise quality healthy products while putting the health of family, animals and land as our first priority. Some might think we are anti-technology because we farm organically. On the contrary. We just choose not to use some technology because they don’t fit our farm’s mission. There is a lot of technology we do use RFID tags, electronic record keeping, AI, etc. This doesn’t mean we don’t support other farmers who choose to use technology…unless this technology will severely affect our farm in a negative way.
Currently, the USDA is in a listening period before it makes a final decision on whether to allow genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. Organic Valley (OV) has a good place on their website that explains some of the details, history and also has a link so that you can make a comment. But what the OV site is missing is the real life farmer connection and how it will affect you as an OV supporter.
To understand why we are against the approval of GE alfalfa, you first need to understand a little bit about alfalfa. Alfalfa is the forage we use the most to feed our cows. It provides protein and is a good source of energy since we don’t like to feed a lot of corn. We grow alfalfa and cut it as hay to use as winter feed. We also let our cattle graze on alfalfa mixed pastures in the warmer seasons. Alfalfa is similar to clover and attracts a lot of pollinating activity. A bee can fly nearly 3 miles to pollinate plants. Since genes are transferred during pollination, GE genes could possibly be transferred to organic alfalfa.
For our certification, crops can be tested at any time for GE contamination. If our crop is found to have GE contamination the entire crop loses its organic certification. For us that would mean that we would either have to buy all our feed or that we would lose our entire certification. But that isn’t our biggest worry. Our biggest concern is alfalfa used for seed stock. Each year genetic companies raise alfalfa and harvest it for its seed to sell to farmers. If one of the seed stock fields got contaminated and deemed uncertifiable, organic alfalfa seed prices could hit the roof! That would leave us with very few economical ways to feed our cows.
You might be asking, so why would a farmer plant GE alfalfa anyway? Good question. Here is a simplified answer. Alfalfa is a slow emerger. Which means it starts growing very slowly. If weeds take over a field before alfalfa has chance to establish itself, the alfalfa often times will lose in the weed fight. GE alfalfa would allow farmers to spray for weeds so that alfalfa can get a strong start. Farmers who raise only alfalfa like to get at least four cuttings of hay in a year to be profitable.
Then your second question should be, what do organic farmers do to solve this problem? We plant a cover crop of barley or oats with our alfalfa. The barley and oats are fast emergers. We will take one cutting of barley/oats and only one or two cuttings of alfalfa in its first year.
So there you have it. If you agree with us and want to stop the USDA from approving GE alfalfa click here. Please don’t delay, March 3rd is the deadline. If you don’t agree with us, then that is okay too. We can still be friends.
Here is an update since the January deregulation of GMO Alfalfa. I reflect on how this USDA decision will affect our farm
January 28, 2011 post: GMO Alfalfa Deregulated by USDA and What it Means to Our Farm
Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy. We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.