Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Give & Take :: Nitrates, GMO, Local, Organic, Etc.

One of the greatest benefits of setting up at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market is that I have a chance to interact with customers. This interaction (as I mentioned in the previous post) allows me the opportunity to share our farm story and my passion for the way we raise our livestock and the meat we produce. But, it has also allowed me to see what is most important to customers when it comes to the way that we raise the food that we sell.

The big topics that always come up are animal welfare, nitrates in the bacon, GMO grains, locally raised (there are quite a few people who ask if I raise the livestock), organic certified, and plenty of other topics of debate. Sometimes the customers like the answers that I give and purchase ... sometimes they don't like the answers and they give it a try anyways ... and sometimes they don't like the answers and they decide not to buy at all. But, when it comes down to it for me it is really a game of give and take.

I say give and take because if I may one choice, such as deciding to use organic grains, then it will impact another aspect of the farm ... in that case the cost of the finished product for the consumer. With grain prices as high as they are now it is already difficult to figure out how everything to come together financially, but I can't image how it would be if I was only using organic grains. Recently I spoke with an organic hog farmer who was paying $18 a bushel for corn and nearly $30 for beans! Basically twice as much as I'm paying for locally raised (most likely GMO) grain.

If I was using organic grains my prices would have to be raised significantly and I would probably lose some customers because of that ... probably not many people would be interested in $7 or $8 ground pork. So, for the time being I'm sticking with my locally raised grains that aren't trucked around the midwest and support local businesses. Would I like to be able to use non-GMO grain ... YES!!! But, that will have to wait until I can source it in a way that makes sense ... or I can raise my own (that is a dream).

That is just one example of the give and take questions that are continually facing the farm. Financial sustainability means lots of questions like this and lots of conversations with customers. One thing I wouldn't mind changing is the nitrates because it seems to be a big concern for customers, but so far my processor doesn't feel comfortable with the other options.

How about you ... what do you think of these debates and give and takes?


Rich said...

Personally, I think that the people that ask you questions, don't like your answers, and decide to not buy are never going to be satisfied with your answers and are never going to buy from you.

As an example, they will say they want local food, then they will want local non-GMO grain fed pork, then they will want organic pork, then they will want organic pork that is soy-free, etc.

So, it's a waste of time to try to satisfy those type of people in the long run, they are always going to want more and more.

I'm surprised that there is enough demand for organic grain to support those types of prices, you would think that they would price themselves out of a market pretty fast.

What are your thoughts on growing your own grain? Is organic grain the only option? Or, would you consider growing a conventional hybrid or OP variety of corn and using fertilizer and cultivation to control weeds? Or, something completely different?

Ethan Book said...

Rich ... For sure some people are always going to be difficult to please, but I would like to be able to offer other choices (nitrate free for example). As for growing grain I would love to grow an OP version using cultivation, cover crops, and more. But, my lack of land will make that impossible ... here's to hoping land prices tank ;)

Kristin said...

Is it possible for you to use conventionally grown grains that are not gmo? Like wheat, oats, or barley?

This is an interesting article on nitrates you may not have seen:

Ethan Book said...

Kristen ... I have read some things like that about the nitrates. That is why we don't use the celery cure, and our processor feels most comfortable doing what he is familiar with. As far as other grains, that is an option I've looked into a little ... there aren't many small grains harvested around here and there is the issue of trucking it in or even efficiency of gain on the hogs. With all that said it is something I'm looking at very closely.

Thanks for the link!!

Rich said...

"...I would love to grow an OP version using cultivation, cover crops, and more. But, my lack of land will make that impossible..."

I've tried to stop thinking that anything is impossible. Things might be hard, difficult, or take forever to accomplish, but almost everything is still possible.

Didn't you try planting a few acres of OP corn a couple of years ago? How did that go?

Starting small, planting an acre or two of corn, and figuring out how to get your yields up to a high enough level is the best way to be ready for when the impossible becomes possible.

You never know, someone might offer you a small 10 acre field to rent that is impossible for bigger equipment to farm.

Ethan Book said...

Rich ... I did plant a couple of acres and it grew, but did not pollinate well because I planted it too late. The one thing I realized after doing those test plots was that I don't have enough land to be messing around with anything that size. Maybe in the future I could try planting a few rows in the winter lot after animals are moved out and then I could basically let the pigs "hog it down" in the fall.

If I could find 10 acres I'd give it a try ... I still say that land is at a premium here in Iowa and until something changes I'm going to have to search far and wide to find it.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

We made the decision to go certified organic years ago. WE PRICE OUR MEATS ACCORDINGLY. Which means we are more expensive than the local grocery of course but cheaper than other organic farmers because we sell direct out of our farm store. Overhead is very little. We have many out of town customers and at first few local ones but that is improving. Each farmer must decide what is best for him, and each customer must do the same.

Paul, NM said...

Just to add something to the whole discussion on GMO grains. There is a lot of evidence that GMO crops are extremely harmful to our health and are are the cause of the rapid increase of many health problems, infertility, autism, and many other problems that coincides with the introduction of GMO crops.

Do an internet search for "Genetic Roulette Film", it is a documentary that highlights a lot of the research that has been done on GMO crops. Unfortunately those who have done this research and have spoken out have been harassed and 'discredited' by our government and the Monsanto's of the world.

This film is free to view online until September 22nd. Please do watch it, I really feel that if your customers watched this film they would be demanding you switch to non-GMO feed. I understand the difficulties switching would cause you, but can you put a price tag on the health of our generation and the ones to come?

Henry Bakker said...

Hi Rich,

I farm in Ontario and we have explored a lot of the same issues in developing our policies and pricing. Have you looked into grain from farmers who are making the (often 3 year)transition to organic? Those transitional grains would be the same as fully certified organic grain, and they are often sold on the conventional market. This has allowed us to market non-GMO pork at a competitive price.

Anonymous said...

Ethan could I get your feed recipe? One beginning farmer to another. Thanks. I also have a blog, just use facebook more now. Thanks. Jamie

Anonymous said...

Ethan could I get your feed recipe? One beginning farmer to another. Thanks. I also have a blog, just use facebook more now. Thanks. Jamie

Leroy haeffner said...

i just found your blog and on this cold day was reading. my SIL farms 650 acres here in Scott county Iowa a very small farm for Scott county. He told me he has to keep track of GMO Corn or beans. So why can't you get a non GMO corn. Every farm much still raise non GMO by law! Good lick and keep going. I am a retired Soil conservationist who wants to see small farmers make it as they are the only hope we will ever take care of the resource. leroy haeffner

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