Conventional Blueberry Farming

Recently I took a look at the definition of the word "conventional".  What I found wasn't exactly what I expected; formed by agreement or compact; according with, sanctioned by, or based on convention; lacking originality or individuality; ordinary or commonplace, were the words I saw.

I guess if you just took "farming" as a whole and kind of lumped it all together, there are things that could be thought of as "lacking originality" or "commonplace".  Tractors.  Most farms use tractors.  Fairly commonplace.  But how those tractors are used is fairly specific or "original" to each and every farm.  That a farm may raise a well-known product might sound commonplace, but how each farm goes about growing that product I would imagine is in some way original to that farm.

We use of the word "conventional" as an easy way to specify the fields we maintain using what we would term as more standard practices versus the fields we use only organic farming practices.  Before we had fields specifically designated as organic, we just had blueberry fields.  
Conventional farming has become the designation for any kind of farming that doesn't meet the recognized organic farming practices.  For us, this means the style of farming we've been doing for years; with the changes that we have made along the way.  In our conventional fields, we use those products that are currently approved for use in blueberry fields as fertilizers and pest control products. 

By taking samples from the soil and plants, we can see what issues we face each year and react appropriately.  We use consultants, along with our own experience, to decide what we should be applying each year.  Usually there will be a couple of possible options that could address each issue, whether it is a lacking of some mineral or nutrient, or dealing with some pest or disease.  Our goal being to choose the option that addresses our issues, with the least impact to our employees, neighbors, customers or environment. 

In our conventional fields, we use the product we think will give us the best chance of growing a healthy, safe and profitable product.  We also do this in our organic fields, but in many ways organic is much more limited in those options. 

One thing I would like to touch on; conventionally grown does not mean bad! 

Being that we grow both conventional and organic blueberries, we have the prospective to see both sides.  We keep apprised of information coming from both sides of this issue.  One thing that I see that concerns me is that there are those out there that like to "talk" about organic versus conventionally grown, and these individuals very often like to state how bad conventionally grown food is for you versus organically grown food.  They talk like all conventionally grown food is just full of harmful chemicals that are going to make all of us sick; going to kill us all.

I'm not an expert and I could be wrong, but I just don't believe this to be true.  It seems to me that farming in general has been moving away from using high amounts of chemicals.  First, farming chemicals are expensive, conventional or organic approved.  We only use what we need to use, using less chemicals now than we did in the past.  We try to use chemicals that are safer, both for people and the environment. We sample and test our blueberries, ensuring we stay below the listed governmental MRL's (maximum residual levels).  

Reducing our chemical footprint comes from doing testing that lets us know exactly what and how much we need to apply of whatever chemical or fertilizer we need to increase our plants health.  Not just applying the same amount each year, but only the amounts we need for that specific year.  It comes from mixing organic and conventional farming practices; taking the best from both and creating substainable farming practices.  It comes from little things like using falconry and thinning surrounding vegetation cover, such as rampant blackberry growth, to help to control unwanted birds, rodents and insects.  Incorporating compost into our fertilizer programs to limit the amounts of chemical fertilizers we need to add. 

These things help us to be good stewards of the land; to be good neighbors; to be good farmers and good produce suppliers.  And we're not alone in these goals; we know of many other farms looking at and doing similar things.  Trying to find ways to limit their impact on their environment while still being successful farmers.

And I want to make sure that people understand something.  "Organically Grown" does not usually mean that nothing has been applied to that product.  The majority of organic produce is grown using some kind of pesticides.  The difference is that the products used to protect organic fields is a version that has been approved for the use in organic farming.  They are typically not manmade and tend to have natural substances in them, such as soaps, lime sulfur, citric acid, or other natural ingredients.  If you apply anything to a given product to protect it from, say, insects, no matter what that material may be, you are applying a pesticide to the product.  Just because it say's it's "all organic" or "organically approved" doesn't change the fact that you have applied a pesticide.

Is organically grown food better than conventional?  At some level for some things it might be; but to the level that some people like to speculate?  I'm not sure, maybe it is, maybe not.  According to some, our farm might be lumped in with the "bad guys" because we use "chemicals" to grow our conventional product.  But we believe our fruit is healthy, safe and good for you or we wouldn't be selling it to you.  The fruit we're selling to our friends and families.  The fruit we're eating ourselves.  Our conventional and organically grown fruit; our substainable fruit.