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Genetic Drift: Protecting Your Crops from Contamination

Genetic drift is one of the most common problems organic farmers in the United States face. Recently, my husband Klaas looked across the road at our neighbor’s farm and said in a horrified tone, “You know, if Harold plants Bt corn on that field next year, we won’t be able to plant organic corn anywhere on this farm.” This sudden realization, born in the increasing knowledge that organic

Seed contamination can occur when farms cross-pollinate, or when waterways carry contaminants into other fields.

farmers can no longer ignore the impact of their neighbor’s genetically modified crop varieties, struck us hard. We had thought that the neighbor’s corn pollen might affect a small portion of our nearest field, something that appropriate buffer zones would take care of, never really thinking it could render many downwind acres unsuitable for corn. But it certainly could. This is the reality of organic farming today.

The impact of genetic drift can affect my farm, my planting plans, my certification, my income — not on just a few rows, but possibly on many acres. The scariest part of this reality is that the farmer won’t know if contamination has occurred until it’s too late, and then there is relatively little he can do to prevent it. To be prepared for the 2000 crop, organic farmers must start thinking of GMOs as being their problem too.

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Rhodium: The Mystery Nutrient Revealed

Rhodium is not a common term used among farmers and health professionals. But the mineral nutrient does matter.

Rhodium

Rhodium’s molecular formula.

Trace nutrients tend to become submerged once the so-called roster of essentials is exhausted. They do not count, if standard books on the subject are to be taken seriously. Yet peer-reviewed research says something else. Unfortunately, it takes research between 40 and 50 years to make it into the clinic.

For this reason and for reasons to be explained, you won’t encounter the mineral rhodium in the vocabulary of most health maintenance providers or nutritionists who hope to cope with metabolic mischief. It is rare, this element called rhodium — number 45 on the Periodic Table of Elements, number 56 on the Olree Standard Genetic Periodic Chart.

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Soil Minerals: Nature’s Sunken Treasure for Health and Fertility

Soil minerals not only can help your plants, but they can help your health too. 

Periodic Table of the Elements with atomic number, symbol and weight.

Readouts from high-priced instruments tell us that ocean water contains 92 elements — give or take a few, depending on location near ocean vents and extraction methods — which appear as the first 92 entries of Mendeleyev’s periodic table. We rely on paleontologists and archeologists to tell us what happened with the North American continent. One single event suggests recall before we move forward to place ocean minerals under the microscopic eye. About 55 million years ago an asteroid crashed into the shallow sea near what is now the Yucatan Peninsula. It had been traveling at perhaps 85,000 miles per hour, give or take, and lost its way for reasons only speculation can supply. The crash terminated the age of dinosaurs, literally leveled most of the continent, extinguished species, annihilated woodlands, and prepared the way for mountains to rise, savannahs to form, and, not least, for mineral dusts to be distributed worldwide.

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Urban Bee Environments Boost Pathogen Pressure

bee flowerResearchers from North Carolina State University have found that urban environments increase pathogen abundance in honeybees and reduce honeybee survival. The research team found that colonies closer to urban areas and those managed by beekeepers had higher pathogen pressure. “Overall, we found that the probability of worker [bee] survival in laboratory experiments declined threefold in bees collected from urban environments, as compared to those collected in rural environments,” says associate professor of entomology Steve Frank. However, the researchers also found that immune response was not affected by urbanization. Because immune response was the same across environments, researchers think the higher pathogen pressure in urban areas may be due to increased rates of transmission, which could be because bee colonies have fewer feeding sites to choose from in urban areas, so they are interacting with more bees from other colonies.

This article appears in the February 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

More Sustainable Strawberry Production

Plasticulture

Strawberry field

A team of researchers from North Carolina State University set out to provide strawberry growers with information that could help them transition to more sustainable soil and pest management production practices. Their study, published in HortTechnology, compares conventional, compost and organic strawberry production systems in the southeastern United States, and revealed good news for growers. All three systems resulted in positive net returns, and two showed “considerable reductions” in negative environmental and human health impacts.

According to the authors, the nonfumigated compost system and organic system resulted in reductions in negative environmental and human health impacts measured by a set of indicators. “For example, the total number of lethal doses (LD50) applied per acre from all chemicals used in each system and measuring acute human risk associated with each system declined from 118,000 doses per acre in the conventional system to 6,649 doses/acre in the compost system and to 0 doses per acre in the organic system,” the authors explained. “Chronic human health risk, groundwater pollution risk, and fertilizer use declined as well in the compost and organic systems as compared with the conventional system.”

This article appears in the December 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Natural Coating Protects Alfalfa Seeds

alfalfa

Scientists have developed an alfalfa seed coating that is effective against several soilborne plant pathogens. Photo by Deborah Samac.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists have found that a natural seed coating can protect alfalfa against some soilborne diseases. Alfalfa is a $10 billion-a-year crop in the United States, but producing it can be a challenge. Farmers in the Midwest often plant it early in the spring when the soil is cold and damp. That makes the seeds vulnerable to a number of soilborne diseases.

To minimize the damage, most alfalfa seeds are coated with a fungicidal treatment. But the treatment, mefenoxam, is ineffective against the pathogen causing Aphanomyces root rot (ARR), which is common to Midwestern soils.

Demand for organic alfalfa for organic dairy operations is also increasing, and alfalfa treated with a fungicide can’t be labeled as organic. Many organic dairy farmers would like to expand but may face a roadblock due to a lack of available organic feed, according to Deborah Samac, a plant pathologist in the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Samac wanted to see if coating alfalfa seeds with a naturally occurring mineral would protect them from soil diseases, including ARR. The mineral, zeolite, comes from degraded volcanic rock, has antifungal activity and qualifies as an organic soil treatment. Samac also wanted to assess zeolite’s effects on the health of plant roots and beneficial soil microbes. Continue Reading →