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Consumer demand for organic food, dismal commodity prices make farmers green

(Monday, Oct. 7, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The following story comes courtesy of ACRES USA magazine.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - Gary Zimmer and his son Nicholas own and operate a 500-acre farm in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. Always leaning away from synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides, they made the decision to convert the operation to certified organic production. And they haven't looked back. Not only have there actually been profits - a bit of novelty in agriculture lately - there have been strong profits. The Zimmers' organic crops demand prices roughly double of what their neighbors chemically grown, genetically engineered varieties bring home.

Gary and Nicholas are not alone. As the big get bigger, the small are not getting out. They are being forced to retool their operations to deliver products that consumers demand - namely non-toxic food. The organic industry now boasts sales in excess of $9 billion at retail, with growth forecast to continue at 25% per year. Even if farms do not go to the lengths required to certify their production as "organic," the trend toward more sustainable technologies is indisputable.

"Every input of conventional agriculture is now under fire - water use, chemical use, genetically modified crops," says Fred Walters, publisher of Acres U.S.A., a monthly magazine written for farmers he describes as eco-farmers. "Eco-farmers seek to build a crop's own internal defense mechanisms. Then there's simply no need for insecticides and fungicides." Increasingly, mainstream growers are seeking to tap the knowledge bank of eco-agriculture, Walters says. The proven profitability of organic production has been key to broader acceptance of what once were little-known technologies. "Farmers are now learning that the key to success will be their own understanding of nature's intricacies, not a magic bullet from the chemist's lab," he says.

Gary Zimmer isn't keeping his profits to himself. He now spends as much time teaching other farmers how to successfully - and economically - convert to organic production than he does in the tractor seat. Zimmer, along with two-dozen other farmers and consultants, are scheduled to appear at the Eco-Farming '02 conference held in Indianapolis this December. The conference features workshops covering topics such as new organic regulations, balancing soil fertility, compost teas to fight crop disease, natural veterinary care, non-toxic inputs available for farmers, and more. This years' conference - to be held December 12-14, in Indianapolis, Indiana - will draw close to 1,000 farmers and farm consultants from throughout the world to discuss innovations and proven techniques for profitable large-scale sustainable farming.

The conference, now in its 30th year, has a reputation of being the Mecca of non-toxic farming. "This conference was a wonderful, hope-affirming event. It was great to see and speak with so many young farmers interested in reducing or eliminating the use of herbicides and pesticides," said one attendee who journeyed to the conference from Australia.