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Archive | August, 2017

Genetically Engineered Moth Trials

By Lori Fontanes, August 8, New York

According to Liana Hoodes, Policy Advisor, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), Cornell University plans to begin open-air trials of genetically modified diamondback moths at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva, New York, sometime this month. Hoodes received notice of the pending first-time release of the novel species from a representative at Cornell a few days before the university’s sole public forum regarding the field release experiments. The public meeting, to be held today (August 9), will feature a panel of experts headed by Cornell entomologist Dr. Anthony Shelton and NYSAES interim director Dr. Jan Nyrop as well as a representative from U.K.-based Oxitec Ltd., the manufacturer of the imported GE insect. Oxitec is the company that also engineered the modified Aedes aegypti mosquito that has been at the center of a similar debate in the Florida Keys.

Although not listed as an invasive species in New York by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, diamondback moth is a serious scourge of cruciferous crops around the world. As Shelton and Nyrop wrote recently in Finger Lakes Times, the tiny moth is “one of the world’s worst agricultural pests,” causing global damages estimated at “up to $5 billion each year.” Organic farmers in New York, however, have also expressed concerns about the possible negative economic impacts from a GE version of the insect. NOFA-NY, in particular, has continually raised the issue of risks to organic growers’ federal certifications as well as to their livelihoods if GE insects eventually come to market. Continue Reading →

Reducing Pesticide Use

A 2017 study, conducted in France by Lechenet, Dessaint, Py, Makowski and Munier-Jolain, reveals that conventional farmers could dramatically reduce pesticide use without crop or monetary losses. With food security and food production clearly in mind, the research demonstrates that chemical crop treatments could be effectively reduced to meet farmer demand for protection of human and animal health and the environment.

Achieving sustainable crop production to feed a growing population has been acknowledged as one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. For this reason, addressing global food security while reducing pesticide use continues to be a key topic for world governments, global think tanks, nonprofits and philanthropies. As the debate continues, decision-makers are asking “Can we reduce pesticide use without sacrificing crop yield and farmer income?”

Arable farmland is defined as land capable of being plowed and used as farmland to grow crops. The study demonstrates clearly that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability on arable farms. Analyzing data from 946 non-organic arable commercial farms, the authors could not find any conflict between low pesticide use and high productivity and profitability in 77 percent of the farms. As a result, the authors of the study estimate that total pesticide use could be reduced by 42 percent without any negative effects on either productivity or profitability in 59 percent of the farms surveyed.

This corresponds to an average reduction of 37 percent, 47 percent and 60 percent of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide use, respectively. The authors also suggest that these findings would produce major changes in market organization and trade balance between the country’s imports and exports. Continue Reading →

Biochar: Prepping it for Soil

Biochar can benefit your soil, but only if properly prepared prior to application. In November 2007, scientists at the USDA National Laboratory for Agricul­ture and the Environment (NLAE) in Ames, Iowa, began multi-year field trials to assess the effects of biochar on crop productivity and soil quality. Scientists amended almost 8 acres with biochar made from hardwood. Twelve plots re­ceived 4 tons per acre; 12 were treated with 8 tons per acre.

Prepping soil for biochar

Author David Yarrow helps install a biochar test plot at Subterra in Kansas.

They found no significant difference in the three-year average grain yield from either treatment. Other USDA field and laboratory studies in Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Texas showed hardwood biochar can improve soil structure and increase sandy soils’ ability to retain water. But soil fertility response was more variable.

USDA scientists violated four key principles for biochar use: they used 1) bulk char, in one large load; 2) raw, uncharged char; 3) sterile, uninoculated char, with only a tad of microbial life; and 4) synthetic salt fertilizer, tillage, and other antibiotic practices.

Biochar, like water, is best added in a series of small doses so soil has adequate time to distribute and digest it. After all, soil may get 25 or more inches of rain a year, but not all at once in a single event. We already know from research in the Amazon that dumping 5, 10, or even 20 tons of raw char all at once into poor soil retards plant growth for one year and maybe two. After that, though, plants erupt in impressive, vigorous growth.

But a dip in yield isn’t acceptable for production agriculture. Farmers can’t wait a year or two to harvest a profit­able crop. Professional growers need fast response and strong stimulus to growth. Economics and handling logistics require convenience and low cost, with vigorous growth from minimal applied material.

Fortunately, we are learning how to prepare char for optimum results in soil and on crops. Biochar research in America is hardly 10 years old, but solid research shows that properly prepared, intelligently applied biochar has dramatic effects on soil structure and plant growth at as little as 500 pounds per acre.

There are four fundamental steps for optimally preparing biochar for use in soil: moisten, mineralize, micronize, and microbial inoculation. Continue Reading →

Tractor Time Episode 9: Ben Hartman and How to Make a Living on One Acre

In this week’s podcast, we’re going all the way back to last year’s Acres USA Eco-Ag Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. There, an author-farmer named Ben Hartman spoke for more than an hour about a little miracle he and his wife, Rachel Hershberger, created in southern Michigan.

Ben Hartman, courtesy of claybottomfarm.com.

In The Lean Farm, the title of his book, Ben shows how he and his family connected with local restaurants in Chicago and the southern Michigan area to create a sustainable, profitable farming venture on less than one acre of land.

His talk last year at our conference was educational, inspiring, and one worth sharing. For those who want to attend our conference in Columbus, Ohio, from Dec. 5-8 this year and talk with hundreds of farmers and experts, including last week’s guest Andre Leu, you can learn more at www.acresusa.com, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and of course, subscribe to our monthly magazine.

Learn more about Ben Hartman at http://claybottomfarm.com, or by buying his book at www.acresusa.com/the-lean-farm.

Check out all of our Tractor Time podcasts here.