Midwestern BioAg CEO: Organic Label About Marketing, Not Nutrition

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no prohibited substances have touched the land for at least three years.

Another requirement for certification is not repeatedly growing the same crop in the same field, says Harriet Behar, who has served on the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board since 2016, and has visited thousands of organic farms.

“You have to have a crop rotation,” Behar says. “You can’t grow corn every year. Organic farms sequester carbon in the soil.”

Scientific studies have suggested that organic farming methods yield healthier soil than conventional methods.

Modern conventional farming techniques have depleted soil of nutrients, according to a 2004 study led by Donald Davis of the University of Texas at Austin’s Biochemical Institute.

Davis and colleagues compared USDA nutrient data for 43 crops between 1950 and 1999. They found “statistically reliable declines” in protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and vitamins C and B2.

Crops “selected for yield, rapid growth, or other non-nutrient characteristic may suffer resource limitations in their abilities to extract soil minerals or transport them within the plant, or in their abilities to synthesize proteins, vitamins, and other nutrients,” Davis and his co-authors wrote.

While many studies have indicated that organic farming is better for the environment than conventional methods, there has been debate about whether organic foods are any healthier for consumers than conventionally grown ones.

Stanford University researchers concluded in a 2012 study that despite costing more, organic produce and meats were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventionally grown analogs. Organics were also just as likely overall to be contaminated by E. coli and other harmful bacteria, the researchers found.

Still, side-by-side comparisons of organic foods and conventionally grown ones are a relatively new concept, and it’s possible that future comparisons will yield different results than the 2012 Stanford study.

In 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act, which required the USDA to set national standards for organic products, was signed into law. Michaels notes that Midwestern BioAg had already been in business for several years at the time of the law’s passage.

“We have been at this since before there was an organic label,” he says. “‘Organic’ is a set of rules that allow for a marketing certification. We have a system of farming. When it comes to nutrition, it’s about the farming system, not the standard that you certify from a marketing standpoint.”

The approach Midwestern BioAg’s favors, which it calls “biological farming,” is a process of working with nature that keeps chemicals use to a minimum and maintains a balance that keeps soils healthy. This focus on soil quality ultimately improves the health and productivity of farmers’ land, crops, and livestock, according to company materials.

The farm management plans Midwestern BioAg creates with its customers are aimed at helping them “feed high-performance farms, whether they be organic or conventional,” Michaels says. “It’s just that with organic, you get paid two times as much.”

Midwestern BioAg currently has about 130 employees, and operates 11 production and distribution sites across eight U.S. states, Michaels says. He declined to say what the company’s revenues were last year, or share sales projections for 2018.

With a new round of funding at its disposal, Midwestern BioAg appears poised for more growth. Making progress toward the company’s goal of having 400 million acres of farmland using its biological farming system will require Midwestern BioAg to continue working with large numbers of conventional farmers, in addition to those whose land has been certified as organic, Michaels says.

“Only 20 percent of farmland is appropriate for organic,” he says. “There’s just a lot of ground that’s too heavy or too light, and you can’t farm it organic. We always tell the farm, ‘You’ve got to do what’s best with the property you have [and] the crops that you can market out of that location.’”

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Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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