A Never-Ending Battle Over Farming With Chemicals The Griffieons, who run a 1,150-acre farm in Iowa, disagree about whether to use chemicals on their corn and soybeans. They reserve a 10-acre plot for experiments with organic farming, but the crop yield wasn't as hearty as those sprayed with pesticides.
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A Never-Ending Battle Over Farming With Chemicals

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A Never-Ending Battle Over Farming With Chemicals

A Never-Ending Battle Over Farming With Chemicals

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. We first heard Iowa farmer couple Craig and LaVon Griffieons debate the merits of organically grown crops last spring. Craig prefers conventional farming with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. LaVon prefers organic. And all this year, we've been following them, their corn crop and their disagreement. Well, the verdict, of sorts, is in.

NORRIS: Why don't we go right out through here. We've had quite a bit of rain this summer and we've got a lot of places that's drowned it out and where the corn doesn't look quite as good, but for the most part, where we're at right now it's a dark lush green and the corn stalks are probably eight foot, nine foot tall.


NORRIS: I peeled back the husk off of the ear and the kernels have all got pollinated, all the way almost to the end. I'll count and see how many kernels around we've got on this ear. We got 18 around which is a pretty girthy ear and when you count the kernels around they'll either be a 12, 14, 16, 18 or 20, an even number. They are very seldom ever an odd number when you count around. This is probably about average, somewhere around 130 to 160 bushel probably. Now, if you look in this field, you can see there are no weeds. Here I put pre-emergence chemical down called Dual, which is more of a grass herbicide type, herbicide, then I came back with what was called Marksman, which will kill the broadleaves that come up later then, so.

NORRIS: I grew up on a really small farm in northwest Iowa, 80 acres. Pretty much subsistence farming. My dad's idea of weed control was me and a weed hook, and his dad's idea of weed control was pesticides and herbicides and things that you sprayed and we just didn't do that at our house.


NORRIS: I spent all my time growing potatoes this year in my garden flat. And those are sweet potatoes, which I haven't gotten - I haven't dug those yet. And it takes about 250 pounds of potatoes to feed our family over the winter and I like to have the organic potatoes.


NORRIS: My name is LaVon Griffieon, we're on a farm north of Ankeny and in a field that has organic corn. Grown and planted - grown and planted by someone who doesn't know how to raise organic crops and doesn't really care to learn.

NORRIS: We call this LaVon's field. It's kind of a standing field and we call it LaVon's field.

NORRIS: Yeah, it's a standing joke, just say it.


NORRIS: We have a conventional farmer that tries to keep his wife happy by having 10 acres of organic. Actually, I think this looks better than it has some years.

NORRIS: So, and this just had manure put it on at last fall and plowed in or chiseled in so.

NORRIS: Is this the same number?

NORRIS: Same hybrid as we have up there, the one we just looked at so came back this spring and field cultivated it early, let it sat, let the weeds start growing and then we came back and we field cultivated it again after the weed had started growing again. Then we planted it and as you can see it's not as tall as our other corn.

NORRIS: And you really don't sit up at night reading books on how to grow things organically.

NORRIS: Yeah. I read all the articles and magazines and what have you.

NORRIS: There are people out there that get 160 and 170 bushels per acre on organic. It's a science and it's a different type of farming than what Craig does.

NORRIS: It's more labor-intensive, it's more fuel-intensive as far as fossil fuels you have to use.

NORRIS: And it might all look even in the end, if you don't look at those extenuating circumstances of too much nitrogen in the water and just the environmental impacts of pesticides and herbicides.


NORRIS: And it's just - it's still filling. I'll count, see how many around.

NORRIS: Got 16 on mine.

NORRIS: And the other around?


NORRIS: Fourteen on this one.

NORRIS: That isn't a bad looking ear of corn. It doesn't compare to his chemically-fertilized and chemically-manicured corn. Is it half the size of that beastly one, of your best one, probably half the size. So probably not good enough to ever win him over but we haven't really concentrated our efforts on learning how to do this right either.


NORRIS: That's LaVon and Craig Griffieon of Ankeny, Iowa. Our series is produced by John Biewen of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University with help from Rob Dillard of Iowa Public Radio.

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