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Archive | November, 2014

Diversified Farming Better for Wildlife

diversified habitat.tifA study by scientists at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, published in Science, shows that evolutionarily distinct species suffer most heavily in intensively farmed areas. They also found, however, that an extraordinary amount of evolutionary history is sustained in diversified farming systems, which outlines a strategy for balancing agricultural activity and conservation efforts. The findings arise from a 12-year research project conducted by Stanford scientists at the intersections of farms and jungles in Costa Rica. Much of the research has focused on how farming practices can impact biodiversity, and has gone so far as to establish the economic value of pest-eating birds and crop-pollinating bees. Not surprisingly, the diversified farmlands supported on average 300 million years of evolutionary history fewer than forests. But they retained an astonishing 600 million more years of evolutionary history than the single crop farms.

This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Boosting Corn Yields

corn.tifEnsuring that corn absorbs the right balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is crucial to increasing global yields, a Purdue and Kansas State University study finds.

A review of data from more than 150 studies from the United States and other regions showed that high yields were linked to production systems in which corn plants took up key nutrients at specific ratios — nitrogen and phosphorus at a ratio of 5-to-1 and nitrogen and potassium at a ratio of 1-to-1. These nutrient uptake ratios were associated with high yields regardless of the region where the corn was grown.

“The agricultural community has put a lot of emphasis on nitrogen as a means of increasing yields, but this study highlights the greater importance of nutrient balance,” said Tony Vyn, Purdue professor of agronomy. “We will not be able to continually boost global corn yields and achieve food security without providing adequate and balanced nutrients.” The paper was published online in the Agronomy Journal.

While U.S. corn producers have long relied on nitrogen fertilizers to improve yields, they should not overlook other nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus, Vyn said.

“Growers need to be as concerned about the amount of potassium available to their plants as they are about nitrogen,” he said. “Corn’s demand for nitrogen and potassium is similar. We need to focus on the nitrogen-potassium balance because that’s where we have the greatest deficiency in terms of application, especially in the eastern Corn Belt.”

This report appears in the November 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Understanding Grain Defense Mechanisms

Seeking to understand grain defense mechanisms. Barley harvest in Washington. USDA photo.Crop scientists at Washington State University have explained how genes in the barley plant turn on defenses against aging and stressors like drought, heat and disease.

Professor Diter von Wettstein and assistant research professor Sachin Rustgi showed that specific genes act as a switch that enables barley to live longer and become more tolerant of stress, including attack by common diseases like mildew and spot blotch.

Helping Crops Thrive Through Unpredictable Weather

The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, solve a long-standing mystery and offer hope for production of grain crops able to thrive during unpredictable weather and climate change. Cereal grains such as wheat, barley, corn and rice need an essential amount of growing time to produce abundant yields. Environmental stressors such as heat and drought can trigger early aging of plants, which slows growth and decreases yield and grain quality.

Von Wettstein and Rustgi discovered that two barley genes, called JIP60 and JIP60-like, play a major role in the protective actions ─ internal defense mechanisms ─ triggered by a key plant defense hormone called jasmonate or JA. Like a watchful sentry, JA responds at the first sign of plant distress, producing proteins that prepare the plant to combat excess heat, lack of water or attack by disease organisms. The proteins also slow aging. It had been known since the 1990s that JA played a role in plant resistance but von Wettstein and Rustgi are the first to document how resistance actually takes place. This was reported in the November 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Understanding Grain Defense Mechanisms

grain fields.tifCrop scientists at Washington State University have explained how genes in the barley plant turn on defenses against aging and stressors like drought, heat and disease.

Professor Diter von Wettstein and assistant research professor Sachin Rustgi showed that specific genes act as a switch that enables barley to live longer and become more tolerant of stress, including attack by common diseases like mildew and spot blotch.

The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, solve a long-standing mystery and offer hope for production of grain crops able to thrive during unpredictable weather and climate change. Cereal grains such as wheat, barley, corn and rice need an essential amount of growing time to produce abundant yields. Environmental stressors such as heat and drought can trigger early aging of plants, which slows growth and decreases yield and grain quality.

Von Wettstein and Rustgi discovered that two barley genes, called JIP60 and JIP60-like, play a major role in the protective actions triggered by a key plant defense hormone called jasmonate or JA. Like a watchful sentry, JA responds at the first sign of plant distress, producing proteins that prepare the plant to combat excess heat, lack of water or attack by disease organisms. The proteins also slow aging. It had been known since the 1990s that JA played a role in plant resistance but von Wettstein and Rustgi are the first to document how resistance actually takes place.

This summary appears in the November 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Book Review: Defending Beef ─ The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

Defending Beef Book Review

Defending Beef by Nicolette Hahn Niman

Defending Beef ─ The Case for Sustainable Meat Production
by Nicolette Hahn Niman

It’s the blurb below the subtitle that gets your attention — The Manifesto of an Environmental Lawyer and Vegetarian Turned Cattle Rancher — and then the author’s surname. Yes, she is married to that Niman, and yes, she still eats no meat, now a matter of habit and comfort, she says, not any lingering animus. The irony could not be more acute, for this vegetarian makes as forceful and comprehensive a case for rational livestock husbandry as could be imagined.

Like the talented lawyer she was when she ran the Waterkeeper Alliance’s campaign to reform industrial livestock and poultry production, Hahn Niman assembles a case and argues it point by point. The vast advantage she enjoys over a writer making similar arguments from an office in Austin or New York comes from her time on the Niman Ranch. A wealth of personal experience percolates through her case, giving it detail, color and emotional logic. First-hand familiarity with the cycle of birth, death and renewal seem to have defused any ethical objections to eating meat, though that issue is not the book’s main subject.

Much of the material here will be familiar to those who follow the issues that swirl around sustainability and health, both human and animal. The trick to telling this kind of story has to do with rendering reams of data into a relatively swift narrative without oversimplifying it. Whether telling the story of Allan Savory and mob grazing or recapping the findings of the late John Yudkin — author of Pure, White and Deadly, the book that fingered sugar for crimes against health 40 years ago — Hahn Niman never misses a step. Continue Reading →

Interview: Extending the Growing Season — Organic Farmer, Author Eliot Coleman Shares Strategies for Successful Year-Round Growing

Eliot Coleman Interview

Eliot Coleman

Eliot Coleman interviewed by: Chris Walters


Anyone attempting to grow fruits and vegetables in the winter will likely come across the work of Eliot Coleman. A tireless innovator and skilled communicator, Coleman began writing about organic growing an astonishing 39 years ago. Along with fellow writer and wife Barbara, he was the host of the TV series, Gardening Naturally, on The Learning Channel. He and Barbara currently operate a commercial, year-round market garden at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, where he conducts the experiments he describes in this interview. He served for two years as the executive director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and was an advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture during their landmark 1979-80 study, “Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming.” Coleman’s books include The New Organic Grower, Four Season Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook.

ACRES U.S.A. Didn’t your wife, Barbara Damrosch, play a large part in your story? Not only personally but professionally?

ELIOT COLEMAN. No question, she is the best thing that ever happened to me. We’ve been married 23 years this December. She writes a weekly column for the Washington Post called “A Cook’s Garden,” and she has written two books by herself and one with me. I’ve written three by myself. When my first book, The New Organic Grower, came out in 1989 my publisher told me the competition for it was something called The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch. After I moved back here in 1991, I was down at Helen Nearing’s place, helping her tie up tomatoes in her greenhouse, and this very attractive brunette wandered in to visit Helen. I invited her to go for pizza, and we were married six months later. She had heard about my book, and obviously I’d heard about hers. She said she had always wanted to live on a farm, so I tell everybody that she stalked me.

Continue Reading →