"Why can't all farming be organic? Numerous people on this page have been asking this question. Farmers and ranchers, how would you answer this? Could all farming be organic? What would be the pros and cons of trying to make all farming organic? What are the limitations in your experience? This is a question that people who care about food discuss quite a bit. What is the farmer and rancher perspective?"
The above question was asked by U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance on Facebook and judging by the numerous comments it must be a truly important question on the minds of people. I felt like adding my two cents to the question.
When I first got involved to the day to day operation of father cattle ranch about 10 years ago, it was an organic cow calf ranch. (Basically a cow calf ranch has mother cows that raise calf until 9 months of age and then sold to feedlots) I didn't use any pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer on the land and no feed antibiotics or hormones in the calves. Today I can not say the same thing.
So why did things change?
In regards to the land management and the use of herbicides and fertilizer the weather conditions forced my hand. The weather pattern went from dry drought year to wet rainy ones. One winter would be mild and the next extreme cold. There has been no consistent weather. It has been from one extreme to the other. Weeds and harsh brush have taking control of the land.
Extreme harsh brush mesquite, weeache, black thorn, rose hedge, devil thorn, thorn ash, broom weed, and wild sun flowers. Wild sun flowers and broom weed release toxins that prevent grass from growing. The others are the worst plants on the face of the earth. Thick thorns that go through anything tires, boots, chaps. You name it. The drier and hotter the faster and bigger this hell brush grows.
A few years ago this was all that is growing in the pastures. With no grass for the cows to eat, my back was against the wall. I had no choice but to start using herbicide and fertilizer. I have made progress in restoring grass but I am years away from lush green grass pastures with no thorns. If the rain would start helping, the green green grass of home will be back in two years.
As far as the feed antibiotics and hormones, they work. Now I don't feed every calf antibiotics but those that are weaned from their mothers and are eating feed do. Since I don't have the grass that I used too, I can still produce profitable amount of beef with fewer cows. Smaller amount of grass equals smaller amounts of cows to raise calves, that lost of revenue is reduced with the use of hormones and feed antibiotics. The bank wants their land payment, truck payment, and the electric company won't give me power for free.
Could I go back to organic?
Once I get the pastures back and the weather levels out with consistent rain fall, it could be possible. I would consider it because fewer input cost means more money. A penny saved. In general I don't think the whole of farming can. People want to pay the very least they can for beef. They might say different but they buy the cuts on sale.
Think about it. If you wanted organic truly free range chicken, you could drive out to the country and pay a farmer 10 bucks for a chicken, pluck it, gut it, and fry it up. But guess what no one will do that. They will go to grocery and buy what's on sale.