|For the week of February 6, 2012|
Farmers May be More Organic Than People Think
Ever heard of the hype cycle?
Created by Internet consulting firm Gartner, Inc., the theory goes like this. New technology goes through a cycle, including a “technology trigger” phase, in which it generates excitement and press coverage; a “peak of inflated expectations” phase, in which the hype leads to unrealistic expectations; a “trough of disillusionment” phase, in which the technology fails to meet expectations; followed by a “slope of enlightenment” phase, in which the hype has subsided but some businesses continue to use the technology for its actual benefits; and, finally, the “plateau of productivity” phase, in which the practical benefits become accepted as part of normal business.
For example, “cloud computing,” the use of computer programs and data storage over the Internet, has been a subject of media buzz. It’s supposed to save businesses money on computer software they won’t need to buy if they can get the same services at no or low cost via the Web.
Gartner says cloud computing is coming to the end of the “peak of inflated expectations” and is headed toward the “trough of disillusionment.” Recent news stories have pointed out that information entered into a Web-based service could be compromised. Of course, people will continue using cloud computing, just with their expectations less in the clouds.
What does all of this have to do with farmers? The hype cycle is an interesting way to look at what’s happening with organic agriculture. Organic food has been the darling of the news media, with stories about how it was going to save everything from small farms to the planet. Then some organic food companies got big and some already big companies, seeing consumers’ willingness to pay premium prices for organics, jumped on the bandwagon. Some of the same people who were early fans of organic food tend not to be fans of big companies, so they started wondering if buying local was more important than buying organic. Then, the recession hit and the growth in organic food sales continued but slowed. Organic milk sales dropped.
However, some organic practices have practical benefits and farmers across the agricultural spectrum are adopting them. For example, specialty potato grower Brendon Rockey of Colorado has started growing “green manure” crops to build up his soil quality to the point where he doesn’t need commercial fertilizers or pesticides. He considers himself a hybrid of organic and conventional farming. Jay Yankey, a Virginia fruit, vegetable, corn and soybean grower, uses beneficial insects to control pests and cover crops to prevent erosion, as well as no-till farming to retain soil moisture and nutrients. But Yankey also uses pesticides. He says farmers use the practices that work for them and more organic practices are becoming the norm.
That sounds like the “slope of enlightenment,” which means the “plateau of productivity,” in which farmers use a mix of methods and modern technologies to achieve all of their goals – maximizing yields, reducing costs, satisfying consumer expectations, caring for the land and meeting growing food demand – with less division between those who wear this or that label, might be around the corner. That’s good news for all of us.
Lynne Finnerty is the editor of FBNews, the official newspaper of the American Farm Bureau Federation.