On Opposition to the USDA's Organic “Check-off” Program:
"This program is a tax on organic producers and handlers; it is not a 'check-off.' A check-off program is voluntary, hence the need to 'check off' the box to make a contribution. I oppose adding to the direct cost of organic production and handling.
– Nick, in comments submitted to the US Department of Agriculture, April 18, 2017
Note: Consistent with the opposition from Nick and many other organic farmers, USDA withdrew its proposal for an organic check-off program.
On Agriculture’s Role in Reducing Climate Change by Building Healthy Soils:
"Most of these principles have been practiced for many centuries of recorded agricultural history, because they are all part of a natural system—they were just not stated explicitly because humans lived closer to nature and did not question it."
On “Coexistence,” Compensation, Insurance and Pesticide Drift:
“I do not support any coexistence policies that charge non-GMO growers insurance premiums to compensate for rejection of their products because of unintended GMO content. As I stated in previous testimony, compensation is not the relief that I seek. I am seeking true coexistence that avoids or minimizes any need for compensation. My understanding is that the Committee is now seeking information on how to best achieve this coexistence, and it is toward that end that I am commenting. I also address some issues of pesticide drift.”
“If bio-tech were a ‘silver bullet,’ we would know it by now. Instead, my customers and consumer across the nation are demanding GMO labeling laws. They want to know what they are eating. They want a choice. Just as farmers want a choice to buy non-GMO seeds and vaccines.
“Our rights as farmers and consumers to know and choose is in danger of being lost. Federal Judge Jeffrey White warned in a recent case involving Round Up Ready sugar beets, genetic engineering could mean the ‘potential elimination of farmer’s choice to grown non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food’.”
On an article in the Wall Street Journal about organic yields:
“John Block's ‘A Reality Check for Organic Food Dreamers’ (op-ed, Dec. 24) incorrectly states that ‘organic farming cannot produce the amount of food that is demanded in today's world,’ and that it ‘stands in the way of progress.’ While most studies show that certain organic crops, such as corn, would have slightly lower yields and lower total production than conventional crops, the studies also show organic farming can feed the world, and in developing countries organic methods would increase food production and self-sufficiency…”
“Very legitimate scientific inquiry has enabled biotechnology to be a powerful tool. However … I do not want to use it, and I should not be subjected to it.
“I am reminded of some older technologies. The introduction of organochlorides in agriculture was heralded with the slogan ‘End world hunger.’ Science led the way, but the path turned perilous to the environment and human health. Unrelated to agriculture, scientists touted nuclear power generation as ‘Energy too cheap to meter.’ Again, major environmental and health concerns emerged. Organochlorides and nuclear power can be stopped or severely restricted. Once released, biotechnology products may never be recallable.
“Acknowledging these broader concerns is key to understanding what is lacking in the compensation models presented in the report. They provide no adequate incentive for patent holders or GMO users to prevent GMO material from finding its way into unintended places. I want effective means of preventing adventitious presence. I do not want to substitute compensation. The damage I seek to avoid cannot be compensated with money.”
On questions surrounding GMO & non-GMO production:
“Are there models of preserving GMO free zones, i) on public lands, ii) through policy changes to zoning laws (especially in urbanized areas), or iii) through private cooperation in land preservation?…
“How do you compensate a GMO-free seed producer if only one crop is contaminated, but thirty years of reputation are called into question, affecting all seed crop sales?...
“Having a robust array of non-GMO and GMO seed options could lead to less reliance on a single technology or source of germplasm, improving the security of our food supply and perhaps leading to easier co-existence. What can USDA do to give new priority to public plant and animal breeding, including training of the next generation of breeders?...
“ If we are considering compensation for GMO contamination, do we really know the source and how it was introduced? How do non-GMO producers take on the responsibility to avoid possible contamination? What products actually contain GMOs? … What can USDA do, in cooperation with industry and other agencies, to maintain a database of GMO products and processes used in agricultural and food production?…
“Can a class of GMO-free producers seek compensation for system-wide damages? … If organic farmers find they are losing the effectiveness of their Bt formulations and suffering yield loss, should organic farmers of certain commodities be compensated as a class?”
“Because our farm is different in many ways from the majority of America’s farms, we often do not easily meet the eligibility criteria for the programs created to reduce nutrient pollution and encourage conservation. This is both a problem and an opportunity. The problem is most existing programs do not provide a strong incentive to adopt comprehensive approaches that inherently prevent nutrient pollution—most programs go after specific practices only, not complete systems.
“The opportunity is to promote new programs tailored to the regional nutrient reduction needs of our nation’s farms.”
"What I have been working towards with many other people has been a regional approach to our food supply. This approach relies on many small farms and relies on much more direct contact between producers and consumers, so that we know where our food comes from, we know how it's produced, we know it's safe, and we can rely on it without having to worry about disasters or events in far-away places. There's a food-security aspect to a regional food supply.
“The majority of focus from the state level has not been on regional food systems. Whether intentional or not, the small farmer—and for a long time the sustainable and organic farmer—has been left out of the process. It's time to express our views in the policy debate, in things like the Farm Bill, so that we're not put at a disadvantage but also so that our vision can become a larger vision for others who engage in agriculture."
– Nick, in remarks for Food and Water Watch, July 2011
On the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) in organic crops:
“Many organic growers in the state have contacted me to see how I am going to handle this infestation. I do not have any answers. I have encouraged the organic growers in Maryland to meet and work with the USDA-ARS task force on BMSB and to cooperate with the efforts of Dr. Ted Rodgers at ARS—which they have done. As a result of these and other efforts from the grassroots, you are receiving the planning proposal that Drs. (Matt) Grieshop and (Anne L.) Nielson are submitting…. A well conceived and coordinated strategy, with organic grower involvement from the very start, needs to begin immediately, and this proposal will accomplish this task.”
“GE alfalfa designed to tolerate the weed killer Round Up is just not that necessary or beneficial. My alfalfa does just fine without any weed killers….The purity of organic milk from alfalfa-fed dairy cows is a major concern….USDA has NOT shown that contamination-free coexistence with deregulated GE alfalfa is likely or possible.”
– Nick, in a letter to President Obama urging the USDA not to approve the commercial release of GE alfalfa, Jan. 18, 2011
On the future of small-scale direct-marketing for farms:
“Our marketing strategy must complement our production diversity. As a small diversified urban-fringe farm, we must add value on-farm to be economically viable. We do this by making the products organic, by selling about 90% directly to the final user, and by on-farm processing…. We are, in effect, an example of what USDA currently is advancing as the “Know Your Farmer” model.... I see this trend growing significantly in the Washington region over the next ten years.”
“Over the last 30 years, I have seen tremendous growth and vitality in small and diversified farms, in on-farm value added processing, and in decentralized direct to consumer marketing channels. Growth of farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), the Buy Local and Slow Food movements, and the expansion of organic and sustainable food and farming practices have given the consumer many choices. None of the growth areas, especially those direct-to-consumer areas, have been associated with major food safety issues….As long as they provide safe food, these approaches should be given incentives, not barriers, to continue their growth by adding new entrepreneurs and expanding existing operations.”
“I am a strong supporter of food safety and I often think that I am more concerned about food safety than my customers are—and that is the way it should be—my customers should not have to worry about the safety of my products…. In most cases, we are only one step down from the final consumer. This direct marketing system builds in ultimate accountability and traceability for the customer, another factor in food safety.”
“We have found that by extending our rotations to include hay and pasture, we have been able to break weed, disease, and insect cycles in both our row crops and our forages. Consequently we use no insecticides, herbicides or fungicides on our crops. We have found that leaving our cattle on pasture, never putting them inside, and feeding no grain, even during the cold winter months, results in an annual veterinary bill of zero.”
“Only an ecologically based agriculture, such as a well managed organic agriculture, has any hope of feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population…. Ecologically sound organic farming emphasizes building soil organic matter which leads to improved water-holding capacity. Studies show that organic fields withstand drought much better and are generally more resilient in the face of environmental extremes than equivalent chemically-farmed fields. In addition, increasing soil organic matter increases soil organic carbon, pulling greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the air.”
“Crop rotations combined with our other practices serve many useful purposes, and generally demonstrate the advantages of encouraging diversity and decentralization, of fostering synergy and symbiosis, and of relying on nutrient recycling and self-regulating systems…. People often ask me, what is the main thing that you do that makes your organic system work? My response is: “No one thing I do is very important—everything I do is important in its own small way,”
“It is far easier to deal with only one component of a farming system at a time and to simply mask nature’s systemic responses with further additions of minerals and chemicals than to address the complexity of nature…. This optimizing model in organic agriculture seeks stability and adaptability by emphasizing naturally occurring and self-regulating system dynamics….High yield remains an important system output. However, yield is placed in the context of overall system stability and health, emphasizing a yield that is more resilient in the face of seasonal variations and adversities.”
– Nick, in “Two contrasting models in crop production: maximizing vs. optimizing yields,” in 2007 National Organic Research Agenda, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Santa Cruz, CA, January 2007
On the definition of organic farming:
“In the ideal, an organic farmer attempts to do three things: First, create a self-sufficient and biologically diverse production system with elements that complement each other and also cooperate with the natural systems already present on the farm; second, reduce off-farm inputs to a minimum; third, enhance a decentralized bio-regional infrastructure that can support such things as: family farms, rural communities, and regional markets; and encourages regionally adapted biodiversity to help ensure food security.”