Conventional vs. Organic: Your Answer from a Real Farmer

We had another great question come in to the blog from a reader:

“What’s the real difference between conventional and organic? I’ve been buying organic produce – is it really better than the cheaper non-organic? Is it the same with meat? Which one should I really be buying?”

This week, Neil and Stephanie Stedman, Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Committee members from Burr, have responded:

First of all, thank you for taking an interest in how your food is produced. You have raised several good questions. Conventional and organic foods are identical:  They will taste the same and generally their appearance is very similar, and they have the same nutritional content. 

The difference lies in how they were produced. Conventional methods use modern growing techniques, which may include applications of pesticides and use of commercial fertilizers. These growing practices are less labor-intensive, usually equate to a higher yield of the item being produced, and as a result the cost to the consumer is usually less. As farmers, we are careful to apply fertilizers and chemicals in according with the strict government requirements that are in place. We do this to ensure the food we grow is safe, we’re protecting the environment, and we’re able to offer you a good-looking product that doesn’t have insect or disease damage.

Organic methods use different growing techniques. Pesticides are not used to control weeds, insects or diseases. Additionally, commercial fertilizers are not used. Organic methods are generally more labor-intensive, and may require more energy use to maintain pest control. This may have environmental consequences because the soil is exposed to increased risk of water and wind erosion due to mechanical tillage under some organic growing conditions. Fertilizers are often still applied, but rather than commercial fertilizer it is common to use poultry or animal manure. 

The same philosophies carry over to the meat case as well. Conventional methods utilize vaccination of animals, much like we use with our own children, to insure that the animals stay healthy and avoid unnecessary illnesses. This results in healthy animals that produce safe meat and dairy products that we can use to feed our families.

Which one should you buy? You won’t go wrong with either one! Consumer choice is wonderful, and our food system allows for all the different growing methods to compete in the marketplace. But when we go to the store, we purchase the conventionally grown product, knowing that we’re buying a safe, nutritious product for our family, and that it was produced using the modern techniques that will be required to feed a growing world population!

Keep asking great questions! Our Nebraska farmers and ranchers look forward to explaining what they do every day to produce safe food for you and your family.

Learn more about ag families in Nebraska by visiting www.nefb.org. And while there, be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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