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Fourth-generation cotton farmer 'greens' family farm

In an interview with Organic Connections, the magazine for Natural Vitality, farmer Eric Herm discusses both the challenges and successes of evolving the conventional farm he grew up on into a more sustainable operation. 

Industrial farming was initiated in the latter part of the 18th century, but modern-day agriculture embracing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) truly skyrocketed in the mid-90s, leading to a massive uptick in herbicides used, like Roundup. But while the weed-killer’s active ingredient glyphosate was deemed “safer than table salt and practically non-toxic to mammals, birds and fish” by it’s maker Monsanto, studies supporting the product’s ill environmental and health effects are increasing. 

Eric Herm, author of the book Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth (Dream River Press, 2010) noticed this fouling of the land when he returned to the Texas-based cotton farm he was raised on—and decided to morph it into a sustainable operation.

After ditching GMO cottonseed his family had been planting for several years, Herm discouraged the use of pesticides. “In the years before we stopped, we were spending between $30 and $40 an acre on pesticides,” Eric recalls in an interview with Organic Connections. “The first time you spray, it kills all your beneficial insects, so you end up with aphids. Then you’ve got to spray for aphids; then two weeks later you’ve got another flair-up of bollworms or beet armyworms or whatever else comes along. It’s just a vicious cycle.”

Rather, Herm researched eco friendly ways to combat pests: For example, he found that bollworms, a bane to many cotton farmers, cannot digest sugar—so molasses and sugar water kill them just as effectively as pesticides.

“We were using more chemicals than ever, but yet here we had more insects and weeds than ever. It seemed like the land wasn’t as productive as it had been when I was a kid, with the same amount of rainfall,” Herm explains. This revelation was the driving motivation to write Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth, which both outlines his frustrations with the current state of the food system, and advocates for a more synergistic relationship with the natural world.

Read more in Organic Connections. 

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