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Delate gives NOFA attendees an Iowa view

By JANE PRIMERANO
AFP Correspondent

LINCROFT (Feb. 15, 20116) — New Jersey couldn’t be more different from Iowa.
The Garden State is the most densely populated.
It is ethnically diverse, all but surrounded by water, hilly with a legacy of the Wisconsin Ice Age that has left large swaths of shale and meandering buried rivers.
A cursory glance would indicate New Jersey grows cranberries, blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, horses, kids’ soccer fields, senior citizen condominiums and Subarus.
Iowa is flat, has a homogenous population and is very far from an ocean. It grows corn and soy.
That doesn’t mean the two states don’t have much in common.
One of those things they have in common is a population interested in organic farming. It was a citizens’ group that appealed to Iowa State University to start an organic specialty. Kathleen Delate, the Saturday keynote speaker at the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference, holds that professorship in organic agriculture in the departments of Agronomy and Horticulture at Iowa State University.
That fact that Iowa State has a professorship in organic agriculture made the audience sit up and take notice. Eight of the country’s land grant colleges have a major, minor or certificate program in organic agriculture, although, when she was first hired, Delate said she was told she could do research but not advocate for organic agriculture. Once the initial shock wore off, the audience was receptive to Delate’s message.
Delate explained she grew up in Wilmington, Del., with a mother who had a background in organic farming and gardened with her mother. She attended University of California, Berkeley, as an undergraduate and then graduate school at ISU.
She said there are a number of reasons organic farming is increasing: consumer demand, a greater overall awareness of organic products, improved taste and quality, the implementation of national organic standards, large companies entering the organic market, more competitive pricing, improved trade conditions, financial investment and an increased interest in eating local.
The increase in the United States isn’t as high as in Europe where 29 percent of the farms use organic practices compared to 7 percent here.
Nevertheless, organic has reached a $39.1 million industry with an 11 percent annual growth rate. The recession slowed, but didn’t stop, the growth rate, she said.
“They have a different approach,” she said of European nations. “They support organic more than the United States does because they see all the benefits on a society level.”
Benefits such as lower energy use and an abundance of antioxidants in organic produce. the degradation of the environment and decline in soil productivity
“If you do the science, acceptance will follow,” she said, noting that there are big increases in funding for organic research. Despite the doom and gloom all around. insects’ resistance to GMO crops, more Roundup resistant weeds, glyophosphate declared by WHO as possible carcinogens, Delate is no pessimist.
She quoted the late Stephen Jay Gould: “We still have time; the ink on our contract with Mother Earth is still not dry.”