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Archive | Eco-Philosophy

Cover Crops for Pest Management

sunflower.tifTwo small farmers in Florida are partnering with University of Florida Extension to determine how cover crops can be used to manage insect pests. In a newly funded Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education On-Farm Research Grant, “Establishing and Evaluating Selected Cover Crops on Small Farms to Increase the Impact of Beneficial Arthropods on Crop Pests,” strips of sunflower and buckwheat are being incorporated into crop fields to act as trap crops for pests and as attractants for beneficial predatory insects and pollinators.

Bradley Hoover, of Hoover Farms, owns 20 acres of about 50 different types of vegetables, all certified organically grown and sold in the wholesale market. In his field of tomatoes and peppers, Hoover, with the help of University of Florida Extension agents, has planted rows of sunflowers and buckwheat along the field perimeters, as well as additional rows of buckwheat in the center. The study compares the cover crops to the control (no cover crop plantings) to see where they fit into Integrated Pest Management practices.

The sunflowers attract stinkbugs, specifically the leaf-footed bug, which aggressively attacks tomatoes and peppers. The sunflower is acting as a trap crop, keeping the pest away from the farm’s cash crop. In addition, buckwheat attracts a wide array of beneficial insects, including native pollinators.

Scott and Billie Rooney, with Rooney’s Front Porch Farm, are looking at the same two cover crops, but evaluating their effectiveness in fruit production. Stinkbugs easily make a meal of their U-pick blackberry and blueberry plants.

“We are only in our first year of the study, but we are not seeing as many stinkbugs in the berries as we’ve had in the past,” said Billie Rooney.

Billie and her husband have already made some keen observations participating in the project. For example, she said that the sunflowers bordering the woodland contain more leaf-footed bugs than the sunflowers bordering their hair sheep grazing pasture.

The Rooneys are also interested in planting the winter small grain triticale in their grazing pastures. Triticale, it turns out, also acts as a trap crop for stinkbugs and will attract the early flights of stinkbugs before the sunflower crop is planted and ready.

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

Restaurants Seek Unique Local Foods

local-foods-restaurantRestaurant chefs and food purchasing managers who have bought local foods in the past are more likely to continue adding them to menus and store shelves, according to a team of researchers. “Past experiences will have an impact on buying local foods,” said Amit Sharma, associate professor of hospitality management, Penn State. “Restaurant managers who buy local foods currently are significantly more likely to keep purchasing locally.” In a study of the cost and benefits of purchasing locally grown foods in restaurants, managers and chefs indicated that certain actions of producers stand out as reasons why they continue to buy locally grown foods. Managers said that a local farmer’s or producer’s response time was more important than delivery time as a factor when they considered buying local food products. Food purchasers also indicated that they would not stock local food just because it is local. Local foods must have a unique selling point. For instance, a special variety apple used in an apple pie may be more important to the food manager than just a locally grown apple.

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

Healing the Soil with Organic Methods

Healing Soil With Organic MethodsRodale Institute has launched a global campaign to generate public awareness of soil’s ability to reverse climate change, but only when the health of the soil is maintained through organic regenerative agriculture. The campaign calls for the restructuring of our global food system with the goal of reversing climate change through photosynthesis and biology. The white paper, “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming,” is the central tool of the campaign. If management of all current cropland shifted to reflect the regenerative model as practiced at the research sites included in the white paper, more than 40 percent of annual emissions could potentially be captured. If, at the same time, all global pasture was managed to a regenerative model, an additional 71 percent could be sequestered.

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

Mitigating Nitrogen Pollution with Eco-Farming

Fighting Nitrogen PollutionChemical compounds containing reactive nitrogen are major drivers of air and water pollution worldwide, and hence of diseases like asthma or cancer. If no action is taken, nitrogen pollution could rise by 20 percent by 2050 in a middle-of-the-road scenario, according to a study published by scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Ambitious mitigation efforts, however, could decrease the pollution by 50 percent. The analysis is the very first to quantify this. “Nitrogen is an irreplaceable nutrient and a true life-saver as it helps agriculture to feed a growing world population — but it is unfortunately also a dangerous pollutant,” says Benjamin Bodirsky, lead-author of the study. In the different forms it can take through chemical reactions, it massively contributes to respirable dust, leads to the formation of aggressive ground-level ozone and destabilizes water ecosystems.

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

Organic Agriculture Continues to Garner Validation

usda-organic-seal

There are many ways to measure the progress of organic agriculture. We can tally the number of farmers who adopt organic practices, the acreage, crops and livestock they steward or the value of their sales. These numbers matter but by themselves are one dimensional and can’t convey the transformative effect which organic agriculture has over life and landscape. Taking a fuller measure of organic agriculture requires the comprehensive investigation and analysis we call scientific research — establishing what we know, hypothesizing about what we don’t and working assiduously to shorten the distance between the two.

Thankfully, organic agriculture has transcended the second class status to which it was once relegated and become a vital focus of research on land grant campuses and agricultural experiment stations nationwide. The early fruits of this evolution are evident in a new publication entitled Organic Agriculture in Wisconsin: 2014 UW-Madison Research Report. The University’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, which has promoted multiple forms of eco-agriculture for 25 years, and the similarly supportive Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection jointly drafted the report.

What I find especially exciting about the report is its confirmation that the emergent organic research in Wisconsin is consistent with the closed system and renewable resource foundation of organic agriculture itself. Organic agriculture cannot be achieved through an input substitution approach which simultaneously embraces organic certification’s disregard for energy requirements, scale of production and proximity to markets. True organic agriculture must be decentralized, functional at the family farm scale and driven by renewable resources, especially solar energy. By focusing on locally adapted seed varieties, rotational grazing and other practices which optimize pasture and season extension through high tunnel systems and multi-cropping, the research in Wisconsin is reducing farmers’ dependence on non-renewable inputs and contributing to regional food systems. Continue Reading →

Scientists Make Ethanol without Using Plants

corn-fieldStanford University scientists have found a new, highly efficient way to produce liquid ethanol from carbon monoxide gas. This promising discovery could provide an eco-friendly alternative to conventional ethanol production from corn and other crops, say the scientists. “We have discovered the first metal catalyst that can produce appreciable amounts of ethanol from carbon monoxide at room temperature and pressure — a notoriously difficult electrochemical reaction,” said Matthew Kanan, an assistant professor of chemistry at Stanford and coauthor of the Nature study. Most ethanol today is produced at high-temperature fermentation facilities that chemically convert corn, sugarcane and other plants into liquid fuel. In some parts of the United States, it takes more than 800 gallons of water to grow a bushel of corn, which, in turn, yields about 3 gallons of ethanol. The newly developed technique requires no fermentation and, if scaled up, could help address many of the land- and water-use issues surrounding ethanol production.

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