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Archive | Eco-Philosophy

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.

Farmers Battle GMO Contamination

gmo-contaminationFood & Water Watch in partnership with the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM) released survey results revealing contamination from GMO crops is happening and non-GMO farmers are paying the price.

The survey of farmers across 17 states is an effort to fill the data gap that was used to justify an inadequate policy recommendation by the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21). Heavily weighted with biotech proponents, the committee gathered for a series of meetings in 2011 and 2012 to establish a protocol for coexistence and to design a compensation mechanism for farmers who are economically harmed by contamination from GMO crops.

Unfortunately, the committee was unable to estimate the costs associated with GMO presence on non-GMO and organic farms due to a lack of data. Their final suggestion for a compensation mechanism was a form of crop insurance that included, in one proposal, a premium to be paid by producers of non-GMO crops.

“If USDA really wanted to know if contamination was happening, all they had to do was ask organic grain producers who take great pains to keep their crops from being contaminated,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Now USDA can no longer claim ignorance about this problem.”

  • Survey highlights include:
  • Nearly half of respondents are skeptical that GMO and non-GMO crop production can coexist.
  • Over two-thirds do not think good stewardship alone is enough to protect organic and non-GMO farmers from contamination.
  • Five out of six responding farmers are concerned about GMO contamination impacting their farm, with 60 percent saying they are extremely concerned.
  • One out of three responding farmers have dealt with GMO contamination on their farm. Of those farmers, over half have been rejected by their buyers for that reason. They reported a median cost of a rejected semi load (approximately 1,000 bushels) of $4,500.

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