I admit it; I farm organically largely because it just feels right. Is that an admission of weakness? I have a science degree, my tractors use GPS, and I wholeheartedly embrace the IT revolution. But I still find that what feels right is a good aid to making good decisions. Some condemn being guided by emotion as weak-minded, muddled thinking – which it sometimes is. But over the 30 years since I started farming organically, much of what felt wrong in farming has turned out to be wrong for very tangible, logical and scientific reasons.
Decisions that don’t use what feels right as a sanity check can be just as dangerous as emotional decisions made without checking the measurable evidence. I do have concerns about selecting evidence to support a predetermined emotional bias, but what brings me back to the debate and makes me such a big mouth is frustration with the far more pervasive tendency to select evidence to support a commercial bias; something our agrochemical industry are masters of. Take the example of the ‘world’s favourite herbicide’, glyphosate. In my early days as an organic grower I really missed glyphosate, which kills every part of the weed without the need for costly, soil-damaging ploughing. Given a free rein, my own standards would have included the occasional use of glyphosate, had I not been restrained by organic rules. But I would have been wrong. I am retrospectively grateful for what seemed like an illogical, perhaps emotionally-driven restraint at the time. There is now strong evidence that glyphosate is safe neither for users nor for the environment, and debate rages in Europe over whether it should be banned.
History has told this story again and again – so-called ‘safe’ pesticides are later banned. To be organic sometimes feels extreme, even provocative to chemical-using neighbouring farmers. Yet I am confident that time will reveal the ‘extremists’ are not the organic farmers, but those who use mindbogglingly toxic chemicals with such casual abandon; that science will justify those who embraced ecology, rather than those who exploited incomplete knowledge of how to disrupt life without the humility to appreciate the risks.
For those with the time and interest, please see riverford.co.uk/pesticides-you-decide-glyphosate for an extended version with references.