Based in the Upper Great Plains of North Central Montana on his family farm, Bob Quinn is anything but the standard farmer. He has dedicated much of his energy and passion into organic, sustainable, regenerative farming, so much so that he established Kamut International, Ltd., which “serves to protect the grain from being hybridized or modified in any way.” He doesn’t just preach it, he lives it.
Quinn has witnessed too many consequences of industrial farming and the use of pesticides to remain quiet. On his blog, Bob Quinn Organic Farmer (www.bobquinnorganicfamer.com), he shares his deep insight into these issues. He also just published Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food with co-author Liz Carlisle.
Quinn will speak tonight, March 28, at the Patagonia store in Ventura (235 W. Santa Clara St., Ventura), 5:45-7:45 p.m.
Quinn shared with us some of his vast knowledge of sustainable farming.
VCReporter: How have things been evolving for better and worse in agriculture?
Quinn: Since WWII, the giant corporations played an increasing role in supplying chemical inputs to the farmers or controlling the commodity markets where most sell their grain. Farmers were taught to look at their farms as factories and their production as commodities. They were told to focus on feeding the plants and produce as high a yield as possible without counting the input costs or the net profits. The multinational giants had no reason to own land or operate farms. They were very content to let farmers do that and take all the risks while they extract all the wealth they could from the farmers. They sell them inputs for as much as the market will bear while other giants buy the harvest for as little as possible. All this is done with very little exposure of these giant non-farm corporations to all the hard work of farming as well as the risks of weather, insects, disease and weeds, which plague farmers everywhere.
This extraction of wealth from the rural community reaches a crises stage when commodity prices are low and input cost for chemicals, fuel and machinery remain high. When the costs of inputs exceed the income from production, farmers begin the trek toward bankruptcy. The large input giants couldn’t care less about the havoc they are creating when they suck up not only the investments in growing crops but also the investments in the land when expenses exceed the income for the landowners. Once that land investment is spent on chemicals, and that famer goes broke, they know that there will be another new farmer to take his place. The new farmer will invest new capital into the farm, which starts the cycle all over again.
What role does government play in the establishment of new processes in ag? How does it help and hurt?
Unfortunately, government does not lead, it follows. In recent years it has mostly followed the giant multinational companies which form the agricultural chemical industrial complex and big pharma. These groups have successfully controlled the direction of research which ensures the future is going their way as well as established significant government subsidies which enable farmers to buy more chemicals and citizens everywhere to buy more pills despite the increasing cost of each. There is now an unholy alliance which allows these giant companies great influence on the government no matter which party is in control. They influence the whole country with the rallying cry for cheap and plentiful food and federal health care programs. They claim their system is the only one that will feed the world. And they have been very successful at least as far as cheap food goes. Since 1941 the cost of food has dropped 61 percent while the cost of health care has increased 61 percent. This great increase in health care is one of the high costs we are all paying for cheap food.
How has regenerative organic farming grown over the years? How did the idea first come to be?
In my mind organic ag that is not regenerative is just as incomplete as regenerative ag that is not organic. The founders of the organic movement more than a century ago envisioned organic as being regenerative by definition. In the early days, the regenerative idea was referred to as sustainable. In recent years, there has been an increase of industrial organic ag which was more of a substitution of organic inputs for chemical ones. This is at least a step in the right direction, but it is not a complete step into the spirit of the organic movement which focuses on soil health. Even though this group makes up a small minority of the organic farmers in America, there has been interest in campaigns which feature regenerative ideas. However, I am sorry to see that not all of these campaigns are on board with being organic. Some focus on no-till farming as the gold standard and say the use of chemicals to achieve this goal is acceptable. To me this is not acceptable and is just as bad as industrial organic without a focus on regenerative soil health.
The rise of the organic food movement in America has so far captured 5 percent of the total food market and is now growing at a rate greater than 10 percent per year, although organic farming is still lagging behind at around 1 percent of the total. Most credit Sir Albert Howard with the start of the organic movement. He was sent to India to help introduce modern Western agricultural technology to the peasant farmers there. However, while he was there, he was convinced that the regenerative, sustainable methods which had sustained them for thousands of years was the real future of successful agriculture [and] were superior to the modern ag of his day.
In America, the Rodale Institute and the Rodale family were early champions of this philosophy and coined the term organic farming. The ever-increasing growth of the movement has been due to the fact that more and more people want their food to be grown in more sustainable, non-chemical ways. They want more nourishment in their food, less chemical residues in their food and in their environment, and they want their food to taste better. They are turning their focus from well-fed to well-nourished.
What are the best crops to grow in regenerative organic farming?
Any crop which nourishes mankind and/or the soil is the best crop to grow in regenerative organic farming. However, an organic monoculture is not sustainable. We must mimic the diversity we see in nature with extensive rotations on the farm in order for the organic system to be sustainable as well as renewable.