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When in Drought…Feed the Soil!

As consumers we don’t often find ourselves peeling the husk back from an ear of corn with trepidation. We’ve been trained that the corn we buy will be fresh and healthy. For small, organic farms it may feel a little like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory moment – unwrapping to find the golden ticket. Will my hard work be rewarded with a healthy ear of corn??

Conventional farmers with “big ag” contracts are protected with crop insurance. The same can’t be said for small specialty-crop farms, especially organic farms. They aren’t eligible for these benefits leaving them to take the hit. For CSA farmers, they can at least lean on their members for a type of “crop insurance.” In these desperate times, CSA members are learning firsthand what it means to share the risk with the men and women who grow their food.

Through years of inclement weather, including drought and flooding, we can’t help but wonder, “how are the organic farms holding up?” Are they doing better? And are conventional growers starting to see the pitfalls of their farming methods which deplete the soil making them more vulnerable during adverse growing conditions? It’s tough to find research on this topic, but Tom Philpott wrote a great article about Food and Extreme Weather.  I was glad to see he was asking the same questions. Studies have been done which prove that organic crops have higher yields than conventional crops during times of drought and heavy rain. Why?

Organics fields are high in organic matter. The organic matter is a result of regular composting, diverse crop rotations and cover crops. It feeds the soil and in the process stores atmospheric carbon. Carbon rich soil is able to retain moisture helping soil to be more resilient during drought years. During heavy rains, carbon high soil can manage water better so it can filter through the soil versus not being able to penetrate hard, nutrient deficient soil which leads to flooded fields.

It isn’t surprising then to learn that organically managed soil is a great way to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change. When carbon is in the soil it is not in the atmosphere. Conventional crops can’t say the same. The soil food web which creates the environment to sequester this carbon is destroyed when treated with synthetic chemicals.