Fourth-generation cotton farmer calls for non-GMO, organic agriculture

By Ken Roseboro
Published: June 1, 2011

Category: Non-GMO Farmer Profiles

Fourth generation farmer calls for non-gmo organic agriculture

To access all the articles in this month's issue of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, SUBSCRIBE NOW.

Farmer/author Eric Herm warns about problems with GMOs

Eric Herm has seen first-hand the damage that Roundup herbicide can inflict. In 2009, a chemical company sprayed a neighboring cotton field with the herbicide—only the spray went a little too far. Within 48 hours, all the plants in Herm’s garden—800 garlic bulbs, along with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, and corn—withered and died.

Herm tried to receive compensation for the damage from the chemical company but to no avail.

The incident is described in Herm’s book, Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth, that chronicles his full-circle journey as a fourth generation West Texas cotton farmer—from the family farm to college, career, and traveling and then back to the farm.

Herm’s journey includes a dramatic shift in thinking from his conventional farming upbringing to a new vision of food produced using sustainable, organic methods.

New path, new focus for agriculture

“There needs to be a new path, a new focus for agriculture,” says Herm, a self-described “hippie and redneck.” “We can’t continue down the same path, which is leading to environmental destruction and health problems.”

Herm’s farm near Ackerly, Texas has been owned by his family for nearly 100 years. Herm and his father grow cotton, wheat, sunflowers, oats, corn, and black-eyed peas on the farm’s 1400 acres. They also farm another 4600 acres of rented land. Cotton is king on their farm as it is in West Texas.

Eric Herm has 200 acres of his own where he grows organic cotton. “I really want to be an organic farmer,” he says.

Farm needed me and I needed the farm”

Herm’s journey began in Ackerly, a town of about 300 people. He attended the town’s high school, graduating in a class of 20. “I graduated in the top 20% of my class, no problem,” he jokes.

From there he attended Abilene Christian University, graduating in 1997 with a degree in broadcast journalism and worked in that field for several years. Then he “traveled the world to see how people lived,” going to Colorado, Alaska, Mexico, and Europe.

He returned to the family farm in 2005. “It was the right time for me to come back,” he says. “The farm needed me, and I needed the farm.”

When he returned he didn’t like what had become of conventional agriculture. “I saw soil degradation at a high rate and more weeds and insects than ever even with more chemicals.”

Herm planted Roundup Ready genetically modified cotton in 2005 and 2006 but stopped after that. “I started researching GMOs. Once I realized what they were and the negative impacts, I couldn’t sleep at night. I haven’t planted a single GMO seed since,” he says.

The Herms’ farm is one the few farms in their area that grows non-GMO cotton.

“We still out produce neighbors who grow GM cotton,” Eric says.

Perfect storm of disaster”

Herm sees increasing problems from GM cotton. Weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup herbicide, causing major problems for southern cotton farmers who must resort to hand weeding and older, more toxic herbicides. “There are more weeds now than I’ve ever seen,” he says.

Seed prices for farmers are also soaring. “Bt cotton seed with the Roundup Ready trait costs up to $320 per bag, and conventional seed costs less than $30 per bag,” Herm says.

Herm has other objections. “GMOs are potentially so destructive, creating plants that become poisonous. We are guinea pigs eating GM foods. It’s a perfect storm of disaster for farming and ecosystems.”

Need to steer agriculture in another direction”

Herm saw the potential hazards of GMOs and tried to tell other farmers but to no avail. “People told me ‘you read too much,’” he says.

He channeled his frustration by writing Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth. “I wrote the book from a young farmer’s perspective,” he says.

His solutions are sustainable, organic agriculture and a focus on local food production. “We need to become more self-sufficient and not dependent on multinational corporations. We need to become stewards of the earth instead of miners; localize food production and grow what we can in each region.”

Herm sees more people of his generation buying small farms to grow organic foods. A New York Times article recently highlighted this trend in Oregon. “My generation needs to put this on our back and steer agriculture in another direction,” he says.

Herm wants to increase his organic acres and produce more organic cotton for which there is a strong demand. “I want to have over 1000 organic acres. Organic cotton traditionally commands double the price of conventional,” he says.

But more importantly he wants to create a healthy, nourishing environment for his wife Alison and their young two sons. “We need to focus on what matters: food, water, shelter, and love. We are all children of the earth.”

© Copyright June 2011, The Organic & Non-GMO Report