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Kaolin as Natural Insecticide for Beans

white_fliesIn Colombia, bean crops contribute significantly to the region’s agriculture. New research on the use of kaolin (aluminosilicate clay) contains information that can help bean producers limit the use of conventional pesticides. The authors of the study in HortScience said previous experiments in temperate regions have shown that kaolin foliar sprays have insecticidal attributes. The researchers studied the greenhouse whitefly Trialeurodes vaporariorum, one of the most prevalent pests in the region’s bean crops. The study design consisted of three experiments using four treatments: no insecticide, synthetic chemical insecticides, foliar applications of kaolin at 2.5 percent and foliar applications of kaolin at 5 percent (weight/volume). Foliar applications of kaolin at both doses controlled 80 percent of the population of whitefly in different stages (eggs, nymphs and adults) in all three  experiments. Analyses showed that the percentage of efficacy of the two doses of kaolin was similar to that obtained in bean plants treated with synthetic chemical insecticides (90 percent).

This article appears in the March 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.

Hedgerows Aid in Pest Control

hedgerows

Research has shown that hedgerows of native California flowering shrubs planted along the edge of a crop field help keep crop pests under control by increasing the activity of natural enemies. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Berkeley researchers analyzing hedgerows in Yolo County have found that not only are farmers diversifying their land by planting hedgerows, but those plantings are attracting natural enemies that provide economic benefits. The two-year study of hedgerows planted adjacent to processing tomatoes showed higher numbers of natural enemies such as lady beetles (aka lady bugs) and fewer crop pests compared with conventionally managed field crops edged with residual weeds.

Benefits from Hedgerows Extend into Field

The researchers discovered that the increase in natural enemy activity in the hedgerows extended 600 feet into adjacent tomato crops and resulted in a reduction of aphid pests and an increase in stink bug egg predation by parasitoid wasps. Tomato fields adjacent to a hedgerow required fewer pesticide treatments than the tomato fields without hedgerows.

This report appears in the November 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Bats a Boon to Corn Farmers

lasiurusborealis

Corn farmers, look to the sky at dusk and mutter thanks to the bats swooping over your moth-ridden fields: Those winged mammals put more than $1 billion back into your collective pockets, a new study suggests.

The first-of-its-kind research used nets to fully enclose 20-by-20-meter fragments of large corn fields at night, thereby excluding foraging bats throughout the growing seasons in southern Illinois in 2013 and 2014.

The team’s analysis focused on damage caused by corn earworms, the crop-damaging larvae of a species of moth (Helicoverpa zea) that lives worldwide and is often preyed upon by bats such as North America’s eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis). Ears grown where bats couldn’t feed on moths had 56 percent more larvae-damaged kernels, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

On the whole, bats increased crop yield by 1.4 percent — a benefit that, on average and at current corn prices, adds up to a difference of about $3.18 per acre and more than $1 billion worldwide.

The drop in damage could be attributed to bats, the researchers say, because the crop-enclosing nets were rolled up during daylight hours to provide access for farmers and pest-eating birds.

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

Book review: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth Book Review

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth by Steven Druker

by Steven Druker, review by Simi Summer, Ph.D.

Safe food activists and concerned consumers alike will not want to miss the newest entry into the GM food debate by public interest attorney Steven Druker. Endorsed by Dame Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace, the book has been launched at a critical time in the history of national and global food production.

Unwanted trends in the name of “sustainable agriculture” and international agricultural development point to the success of the Green Revolution in deceiving innocent farmers through biotechnology. This includes the widespread distribution of GM seeds to “solve” world hunger. Likewise, many countries with strict labeling laws, that have banned GMOs, are now considering commercial planting of GM crops. This reflects a change in collective thinking which seriously challenges international GM blockades currently in place. On the home front, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, otherwise known as the Dark Act, has been making headway, while GMO labeling supporters are busy letting congress know that this is not the kind of legislation they want implemented.

Although Druker’s book addresses the most current food safety concerns in an indirect manner, his topic is timely. He offers a compelling historical exposé of the way in which both the government and leading scientific bodies have convincingly misrepresented the facts about biotechnology. Druker claims that when GMO crops were first approved for commercial use in 1992, the government covered up and ignored the warnings of their own scientists, lied about the facts and subsequently violated federal food safety law by allowing these foods to be sold and marketed without using standard testing to prove that they were safe. Continue Reading →

Silicon’s Role in Rice Production

rice-fieldSilicon (Si) is the second most abundant element of the Earth’s crust after oxygen. It has long been neglected by ecologists, as it is not considered an essential nutrient for plants. However, research in recent years shows that it is beneficial for the growth of many plants, including important crops such as rice, wheat and barley.

For instance, Si enhanced the resistance against pests, pathogens and abiotic stresses such as salts, drought and storms. Silicon might, thus, play a crucial role in the development of sustainable rice production systems with lower or zero input of harmful pesticides.

Researchers from the interdisciplinary LEGATO project on sustainable rice production looked in more detail at the cycle of plant-available Si in contrasting regions of Vietnam and the Philippines to provide insights on the importance of this element in rice production.

An article published in the journal Plant and Soil reports on Si cycling and budgets on the farm level in the Laguna province of the Philippines. The data shows that the irrigation water can provide a considerable amount of the Si that is taken up by plants. In rainwater, the concentrations of Si were below the detection limit of the analytical method; the researchers, thus, assume that rain is not an important Si source for plants. Another major source of plant-available Si is the dissolution of solid soil particles. Continue Reading →