AcresUSA.com links

Archive | Eco-Philosophy

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.

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.

True Grit in Battle Against Weeds

battle-against-weedsU.S. Department of Agriculture agronomist Frank Forcella has devised a tractor-mounted system that uses compressed air to shred small annual weeds like common lambsquarters with high-speed particles of grit made from dried corn cobs. Ongoing field trials may confirm the system’s potential to help organic growers tackle infestations of weeds that have sprouted around the bases of corn, soybean and other row crops.

Dubbed “Propelled Abrasive Grit Management” (PAGMan), the weed control system Forcella is testing disperses 0.5-millimeter-sized grit particles in a cone-shaped pattern at the rate of about 300 pounds per acre using 100 pounds per square inch of compressed air.

This summer marked a second round of field trials of PAGMan on multiple rows of silage corn grown on 10-acre plots of certified organic land in Minnesota. Field trial results from 2013 showed season-long weed control levels of 80 to 90 percent in corn using two treatments of the abrasive grit-one at the first leaf stage, and the second at the three- or five-leaf stage of corn growth. Corn yields also compared favorably to those in hand-weeded plots used for comparison.

The crop plants escape harm because they are taller than the weeds during treatment and their apical stems (growing points) are protected beneath the soil by thick plant parts. Results from small-plot studies have been published in Weed Technology and other journals.

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

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.