A highlight from A Giant Organic Farm Faces Criticism That It's Harming The Environment


Lots of big food. Companies are going green promising environmental sustainability but delivering on. Those promises can be complicated and one example is an organic mega farm. In south dakota backed by the company general mills maker of cheerios. Some of the farms neighbors are accusing the farm of doing more harm than good. Npr's dan charles has the story gun. Smoke farms is huge. It covers fifty three square miles near pierre. South dakota and investment fund based in san francisco in texas bought it a few years ago and general mills announced it would help convert it to organic farming. With the help of gary zimmer and organic expert from wisconsin my job as a soil consultant to get those calls which we're going to fix the soil and there was going to be quite a large investment. General mills even took some salt california's. I'm shoulder to see what it looked like today. And what are we going to look. We got done but in south dakota. Some were skeptical that it could work including dwayne beck a soil scientist who runs an agricultural research station for south dakota state university forty miles east of gunsmoke farms. It's scared me. Because normally organic entails using lots of tillage in these soils very fragile farmers off until the soil. Stir it up with tools like chisel plows or desks to clear weeds and get land ready for planting but beck says tillage is destructive especially where gunsmoke farm sits where it's dry and the slowest full of clay. Once you disturb it holds at soil together. It's it just turns into powder it can wash away or blow away which used to happen all the time. There were dust storms. So thick cars crashed because drivers couldn't see so most farmers in this area cut way back on their tillage. Instead they use planning equipment that slices right into undisturbed land and places the seed into the ground. We prefer to not to touch the soil at all. If we get by with we have to have some way to put the see in her to control the weeds. Herbicides but herbicides are not an option for gunsmoke farms being organic and last year to get ready for its first crops of wheat and peas. Those enormous fields were tilled. And dwayne beck says. His fears were realized. He sent me some pictures. That's just another picture. Soil in the ditch is supposed to be green grass. It's covered by small drift windblown dirt. In another photo a country road disappears into a cloud of dust. That soil that blew out of there will never be the same as it was before it blew. It won't have the stability and structure of healthy soil held together by the roots of plants when gunsmoke farms was just starting experts from the us department of agriculture up a soil conservation plan for the farm. They wanted wide strips of permanent native grasses crossing the fields and crops. you don't have to plant every year on the steepest. Hillsides gary zimmer. The soil consultant says that was part of his original plan but new far managers took over and never followed through old boy. Oh boy oh boy. It's in a deep hole. I don't know how to how you get back out ganic lake. It's hard to find more ganic if if you do it really well you've got your intensive manage. The thirty thousand acres poorly managed is a really good sign for failure. General mills said in a statement that gun smoke farms into a thriving ecosystem is journey and it promised continued efforts to minimize erosion and improve soil health. There the investment firm that owns the farm sixth street partner said in its statement that the farmers early in the process and that its mission. Organic farming also provides benefits like reduced use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer ruth beck. Who's married to duane beck used to work for south dakota state university advising farmers in this area. She says it's just really hard to grow crops. Organically on a large scale in this part of the country. You know we've got to figure out ways to do that if that's what people want but it we aren't yet a gun smoke. She says environmental marketing got ahead. What farmers can actually do dan charles. Npr news this message comes from npr sponsor ford the all electric mustang mach e and twelve foot rocket take off the rocket launches up into the atmosphere while the all electric

Coming up next