Farming and Ranching

Jennifer Banks: Increasingly informed consumers benefit ag industry

Controller and financial analyst, Scythe & Spade Co. in EagleMarch 19, 2014 

Jennifer Banks

Whether you believe in eating only organically grown produce or believe you get the same nutrients and benefits from conventional produce, I'm not going to change your mind. The organic food movement has a list of valid reasons to support its case for food production as well as environmental impact studies that measure different farming methods. On the other hand, The National Institutes of Health tell us that there are no clear health benefits of organic foods when compared with conventional alternatives.

Regardless of the way you lean, the best part of this growing spotlight on how food is grown is that consumers are becoming participants in food production. The knowledge gained can only fuel the food industry.

In my column last month, I stated the importance of food suppliers sharing the benefits of genetically modified crops. I believe the same thing about organic crops. The term "organic" or "GMO" should not be the limiting factor in making a food decision without a deeper understanding of the reasons and methods used. Rather than propelling fear statements over genetically modified corn or pesticide-laden fruit, let's invest our time and energy into promoting a more sustainable and healthy food industry.

The organic movement has an important story to tell that starts with soil and seeds and includes health and ecological benefits.

More and more Americans are purchasing green products. They want to recycle, buy local, support efficiency and simplicity, and use less filler and packaging with their groceries. Consumers have grown wary of foreign production and look to support the family farmer and the domestic economy. Transparency and sustainability are important.

Advances in organic farming and its focus on sustainable practices are improving the industry. Even if a producer is not "certified organic," there are many environmentally friendly practices the producer can employ. New fertilizers and methods of pest control reduce runoff and erosion. Chemicals are becoming more effective at lower doses. Livestock grazing can be an effective alternative to herbicide use and can be used when weeds are in areas that make other control methods impractical.

Harry Stoddart, a sustainable farming advocate and owner of Stoddart Farms, says, "There is no label in a grocery store that guarantees the food was produced using methods that are healing the planet. There is also no specific food choice that guarantees you a positive impact on the planet."

With 7.2 billion people on the planet, there continues to be a growing demand for food, and supplying that demand should be as important as controlling quality.

Before writing this month's column, I contemplated discussing Idaho's recent "ag-gag" bill but realized it's just an example of the point I'm trying to make. The industry should not fear scrutiny. What makes us accountable makes us stronger.

JenniferB@agmanagement.com; 893-5333

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