Emma Watson Got Something Wrong About Agriculture Production

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Actress Emma Watson might be best known for playing “the brightest witch of her age,” Hermione Granger, in the Harry Potter movies, but she has gotten some of her facts wrong about agriculture.

Watson wore a dress made partially of organic silk at the recent Met Gala, a celebration of fashion and art. On her Facebook page, Watson said she chose organic cotton because it’s more sustainable than conventionally grown cotton. In reality, organic and conventional farmers, who grow food and fiber, use a number of tools to promote sustainability on their fields.

And that’s important because Americans are concerned about the sustainability of their food. According to the 2016 Food and Health Survey, 73 percent think it is important for food products to be produced in a sustainable way.

Organic farmers do use tools like inter-cropping (growing two or more crops near each other) and crop rotations (changing which crops are planted in which fields from year to year) to boost soil health.

But conventional farmers use the same tools, which are often enhanced by the use of crop protection tools and biotechnology.

The use of herbicides, like glyphosate and atrazine, has ushered in a “no-till revolution.” With no-till farming, farmers grow their crops without disturbing the soil with plowing or tillage.  This dramatically reduces the effect farming has on the environment. Without herbicides, plowing would become more common, with increases in erosion and water pollution quickly following.

No-till farming is also helping prevent climate change. When soil is tilled, carbon is released, but with no-till farming that carbon stays in the soil. Additionally, biotech crops need fewer pesticide sprays, so farmers don’t need to fuel their tractors and sprayers so much.

All told, conventional farming tools helped remove 19.4 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2010.

Advances in agricultural technology are helping farmers to grow more food on less land.  A Stanford University analysis found that advances in agriculture between 1961 and 2005 spared as much as 6.8 million square miles from cultivation. This is roughly the same size as three Amazon forests.

About 70 percent of Americans agree that modern agriculture practices play at least some role in ensuring that all people have access to healthy food, according to the 2016 Food and Health Survey. So let’s support farmers, organic and conventional, as they flex their green thumbs and continue to feed the world in a sustainable way. 

Elizabeth Held is a director at the White House Writers Group, where she advises food and agriculture clients.