|Crop Researcher David Butler, PhD in Organic Wheat Trial Fields
University of Tennessee – Organic Crops Unit
On an overcast April day, blades of wheat were already filling in enough of the field to crowd out the few weeds trying to grow there. When I noticed a dandelion and some clover, I asked if someone would be pulling the weeds. “No,” responded the professor, as he explained that in just the right proportion, the wheat plants would thrive, choking out enough weeds to eliminate the need for manual labor or herbicides. Soon, the fields would be waist high.
|Lady Beetle or so-called Ladybug on Clover Amid Field of Organic Wheat
University of Tennessee Organic Farm
|Trial Field of Organic Wheat
Consumers often wax nostalgic about organics these days, thinking of them as a throwback to our grandparents’ time. This would have been before the ubiquitous use of inputs like fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and toxic, persistent pesticides in conventional agribusiness. This was also before the erosion and depletion of much of the nation’s prime farmland and the pollution of waterways. Butler cautioned that growing conditions today are not the same as in our grandparents’ day. He elaborated, “There are a lot of things that we think about in organic systems, now that the science has evolved, that we really didn’t think 50, 100 years ago before we were using a lot of synthetic pesticides: the best way to design a crop rotation, what off-site impacts are of certain practices. And we just don’t have the research now on organic systems to say, ‘this is the best way to produce this crop organically.’ We just don’t have that research and I think that’s important to consider.”
Next time: what’s in it for you when you pick organic food? Plus, how crops you’ll never eat can help organic food grow strong!