Good Fruit Grower

January 2014

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Sustainable organics Jim Koan wants organic practices to be based on science, not politics. by Richard Lehnert ichigan grower Jim Koan is concerned about the future of organic production and is actively trying to shape it. Koan, who has 150 acres of organic apples at Almar Orchards at Flushing, thinks the emphasis should be on developing sustainable practices rather than rigid rules, and should be based on science. "The problem with the National Organic Program and the National Organic Standards Board is that they are about politics, not science, and I can't gamble the future of my farm on politics," he said. "Every five years, all our chemicals come up for review, and I can't afford to have that be a political process." The organic goal should be, he said, "to grow as best you can, as safely as you can." It should be a goal to use materials that are as soft as they can be, chosen for their low environmental impact, and not based on artificial standards, like whether they are natural or synthetic, he said. A goal should be to make the organic system based on sustainable practices. M 22 JANUARY 1, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER "Some organic practices are not sustainable," he said. Copper, for example, is pretty safe for people, but it builds up on the soil. "When it gets up to 100 parts per million, it's not good for earthworms and it alters the balance of microorganisms in the soil," he said. Sulfur, too, is a needed product but one that lowers soil pH. Tillage is about the only way organic farmers can suppress weeds. No-till is the best system for soil health, he said, but it relies on herbicides. Which is more sustainable, tillage or herbicides? Organic growers should choose the more sustainable one. Organic mentality He fears, however, that rather than finding better methods, the current organic mentality is to ban certain products and let the growers figure out what to do. Koan said he can't afford to lose copper, or pheromones, or streptomycin. "The big issue now is streptomycin for control of fireblight," he said. He is furious at the process the NOSB used in hearings on the matter. He spent time and money to fly to Seattle to testify. He collaborated with Dr. Matt Grieshop at Michigan State University so they could each make the most of their ten minutes of testimony time. Then, NOSB notified him the time was cut to five minutes because so many wanted to testifiy, and then cut it again, to three minutes. "What can you say in three minutes?" he asked. NOSB was more interested in "the big show," making it look good, than it was in getting good input about the importance of streptomycin. The organic movement, which is becoming more consumer- and less producer-driven, is filled with "political tree huggers" who are opposed to use of antibiotics in production agriculture, he said. "When their kids get sick, they want antibiotics, but when my trees are sick, they don't care. My trees are my children."

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