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Interview: Poisoning Paradise for Profit — International Organic Authority, Author & Farmer André Leu Shatters the Myths of Safe Pesticides

André Leu Interview

André Leu

André Leu interviewed by: Chris Walters


Over the years a queasy complacency has replaced the alarm once triggered by the subject of pesticides. While millions of people strive to avoid using them or eating food containing residues, many millions more accept their continued use in the belief that agricultural chemicals are understood, regulated and used with discretion. André Leu’s new book, The Myths of Safe Pesticides, demolishes these notions with a steady stream of hard facts derived from solid science. He puts a hand grenade into the layer cake of wishful thinking, and there isn’t much left after it goes off. As he explains, Leu was moved to write the book by repeated exposure to a series of mistaken ideas about pesticides, massaged into the public mind by public relations professionals working for industrial ag concerns. He hears these dangerous misapprehensions parroted far and wide as he travels the world in his capacity as president of IFOAM, the international organic umbrella group. Hailing from Queensland, Australia, Leu raises tropical fruit in a bucolic spot where the tropical rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. His activism on behalf of sustainable farming brought him increasing prominence over several decades, leading to his current post. He is a longtime friend of Acres U.S.A.

ACRES U.S.A. Every so often an apologist for mainstream agriculture takes the line that Rachel Carson and her supporters overstated the problem, since their apocalyptic fears of pesticide effects were not borne out in the decades following publication of Silent Spring. DDT was banned, better chemistry came on the market, integrated pest management techniques evolved, and so on. The world didn’t end. What do the facts really tell us?

ANDRÉ LEU. The reality is that after generations of increasing life expectancy, we’re at the point now in the developed world where we are looking at the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than ourselves, so we can see that something clearly isn’t right. If you look at the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel report, it clearly says that 80 percent of cancers are caused by what we call outside environmental influences, of which chemicals are one of the most considerable causes. That is also backed up by the International Agency for Research on Cancer which says breast cancer, for instance, is at an epidemic level when we measure the number of women getting it and the number of women dying. In the developed world we have much better medical intervention, so we’re getting higher survival rates. In the rest of the world, where they don’t have our level of medical care, there’s incredible mortality. The United Nations’ World Health Organization maintains an environmental program looking at endocrine disrupters, particularly diseases of the sexual tissues. Those cancers are on the rise — birth defects, lower reproductive rates. Across the board we can see negative health outcomes as a result of chemicals. This is borne out by good, peer-reviewed science. It’s not dogma, it’s published, peer-reviewed science, meta-studies by the WHO and findings of the President’s Cancer Panel in the United States. We’re talking about some of the world’s best experts getting together, reviewing all the data and presenting their findings. They cannot be discredited and ignored. Continue Reading →

Soil Fertility: 16 Methods to Understand

Establishing a Self-Sufficient System

In nature, soil organisms cultivate the soil.

Soil fertility and sustainable agriculture practitioners know that most soils today need their health and vitality rebuilt. In times past, nature built healthy, vital soils, and there is value in copying nature in rebuilding soil health. However, we cannot afford to take millions of years to do so as nature did — we need intelligent intervention. Cultivation, grazing, composting, soil conservation, green manuring, soil testing, soil remineralization, fertilizer priorities, fossil humates and visual soil assessment all play a role in establishing self-regenerative, self-sufficient fertile soils.

The biological activities at the basis of self-regenerative soil fertility occur at the surfaces of soil particles where minerals come into contact with water, air and warmth. It is at these surfaces that biological activities provide nitrogen fixation and silicon release. Continue Reading →

Improve Soil Health with Mob Grazing

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4x4 vehicle.

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis places posts without having to leave his 4×4 vehicle.

by Tamara Scully

Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis comes from a long line of pioneering innovators. His grandfather raised purebred cattle, sheep and racehorses. His father was one of the first to use an air seeder. Dennis himself is now a leader in promoting Holistic Management grazing techniques, and he has pushed the boundaries of high-density stocking on the 1,200-plus acres of the family’s Sunnybrae Farms.

Today, the pastures of Sunnybrae Farms are thriving, with over 40 types of native plant species and a variety of legumes, none of which were ever seeded. The pastures boast a very high plant density, and water is retained in the soil with little runoff. The carbon content of the soil has dramatically increased over the past two decades, along with the microbial activity. Soil warms up earlier in the spring, stays cool in the summer and produces well into the fall. Salt and mineral supplementation of the 800 to 1,000 head of cattle that call these pastures home has been greatly reduced, as the nutrient content of the forages has increased. Continue Reading →

A Mighty Big Backyard—Texas Organic Farm Continues Growth

JGG Planting

Now encompassing more than 200 acres, Johnson’s Backyard Garden began in Brenton Johnson’s backyard

by Claire Bontempo

The Johnsons of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, or JBG, can’t seem to grow vegetables fast enough, but they’ve managed to keep up with the demand and remain a successful local organic farm located just outside of Austin, Texas. From the very beginning it has been all about organic. “I never even considered farming a different way. I didn’t have a history of farming so I’ve never farmed anything but organically,” said Brenton Johnson.

In 2008 JBG became certified organic by the Texas Department of Agriculture. Now encompassing more than 200 acres, the farm began in Brenton’s backyard on a cozy 30 x 50-foot plot in 2004. That spring he ventured to the local farmers’ market for the first time with his yield of vegetables. Continue Reading →

Grasping the True Value of Cover Cropping

cover crop

Photo by USDA NRCS

Planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops is even more valuable than previously thought, according to a team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Research, published in Agricultural Systems, quantified the benefits offered by cover crops across more than 10 ecosystem services. Benefits included increased carbon and nitrogen in soils, erosion prevention, more mycorrhizal colonization and weed suppression. Researchers simulated a three-year, soybean-wheat-corn rotation with and without cover crops in central Pennsylvania, which presented agroecological conditions broadly representative of the Northeast and mid- Atlantic regions. The cover crop rotation included red clover, frost-seeded into winter wheat in March, and winter rye, planted after corn was harvested in the fall. The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, used simulated management practices, including tillage, synthetic fertilizer use and mechanical weed control.

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

Companion Planting: The Magic of Corn, Beans and Squash

Companion planting

Companion planting is an important part of any gardener or farmer’s planning.

Recent discoveries in quantum physics, microbiology and ecology verify something gardeners have long known. Everything in nature is related. There are no solid lines between the plants’ roots, the soil and the bacteria and fungi tying it all together. To help understand why garden crops do or do not thrive, we are led into the enigmatic field of companion planting.

Just as we work and feel best around our friends, plants will grow better in their preferred company. Although the reasons may be obscure, a lot of observation and a little intuition can reveal mutual attractions and aversions. The garden teaches us the value of old-time practices, fresh experiments and keeping our eyes open. Continue Reading →