Organic Versus Conventional--Can't Everyone Just Get Along?

11:19AM Oct 09, 2019
Joel Layman is 100% organic but used to farm all conventional. While there are differences in production, he says everyone is needed to produce food and fiber for the world.
( Joel Layman )

When you hear the term ‘organic’ it likely evokes some kind of strong emotion. For consumers, it’s a positive reaction, but for many conventional farmers it provokes animosity. For Michigan farmer Joel Layman, it was a tough row to hoe when switching his farm, employees and family to organic from conventional production.

“I remember driving home and thinking ‘How am I going to break the news to my full-time guys?’” he says. “I thought they were going to throw me out of the shop. I’d won the battle in my own mind, but now I had to win over my local support system.”

That system includes employees, family, bankers, input suppliers, crop insurance agents and neighbors. In addition, he’s battling the ever-criticizing public eye.

“Conventional ag feels targeted by organic and feels like everyone is saying they’re doing a bad job—they’re getting defensive,” Layman says. “They put their heart and soul into their crop and think people are passing judgement, it’s natural to get defensive. But, on the other side, as an organic farmer the first thing conventional farmers do when they talk to me is tear down what I do.”

He’s convinced his employees, family, bankers and suppliers. But for neighbors and fellow farmers? It’s still an uphill battle, and he hopes one day everyone will be more accepting of all farming methods.

“I hate chickens, but I thank God there are people who want to raise them,” Layman says. “It takes us all—organic, conventional and everything in between.”