Guy’s news: Why I do it organically

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.

6 responses to “Guy’s news: Why I do it organically

  1. When buying organic bananas I was once asked by a giggling cashier in a large supermarket chain, “Do they taste any different?” I replied, “I suspect they taste how they used to, you know, before the arrival of pesticides.”

    Honest science already acknowledges the sanity of an ecologically driven food supply, anything else is commercially driven pseudoscience.

  2. Bob Northover

    Spot on. I wholeheartedly agree. Never weaken.

  3. Sarah saunders

    Hello Guy
    Thank you for your thoughtful piece. I agree with you, all too often arguments are made supposedly on the side of science that in fact support commercial interests. I have long held the view that good science will lead us to be cautious in environmental matters. We only need to look at the studies on what we can and can’t eat to be sceptical of pronouncements which are often simply interpretations by non scientists of studies of limited scope – interesting but not definitive. We had scientists working for Greenpeace in the late eighties who were considered, along with the rest of us working there, to be complete lunatics due to our warnings about global warming. Look at Trump to see how those with commercial interests fear sound science. The debate is not only between science and gut, but between a good scientific view (which will understand probabilities of consequences when systems are meddled with) and what we might call Fake Science that seeks, with limited evidence, to downplay those risks.

  4. My observation is there is no such thing in life as laboratory. There is a very fine line between being brave and being hazardous. Some scientists should listen to their fear or the hesitation before commencing their experiments with life in their “laboratories”.

  5. Andrea Bradley

    I think there’s a lot to be said for ‘gut feel’ or ‘feels right’ or ‘values and ethics’ but so agree that it’s critical to test against scientific fact too – that plus peer views of those who seem to be doing the right thing. Interesting thoughts as always Guy. You ever thought of standing for Parliament? You’d have my vote 🙂

  6. What feels right is an expression of our intuition. Animals are guided through life by their instincts, humans by their intuition if they heed it.

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