Archive | November, 2015

Got Allergies? Question GMOs.

Got allergies? Question GMOs.

On the eve of the Federal government shutting the door on ever labeling foods made with genetically modified materials, it’s important to restate the science which shows problems with this grandest-ever of experiments with our health.

The engineering of genetic material is not the surgical process we are led to believe. Genetic code is carried in on the backs of metals, viruses and bacterium causing “genetic debris” to exist. The body reacts to foreign material with an immune response. Rampant, chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases are more prevalent than ever.

We won’t reiterate every fact, but urge readers to check out some of the informative links following this message. The precautionary principle is a bedrock of public health policy. The uninformed legislators voting on a bill they do not understand, the corporate puppets cashing paychecks to promote the death of transparency and disclosure, and the self-serving makers of this experimental technology all should be ashamed. But alas, shame is a rare commodity in this era of the self-serving lout.


Meet an Eco-Farmer: Lupine Knoll Farm

Lupine Knoll Farm

Jonathan Spero, Lupine Knoll Farm

Why did you begin farming?

I like working in the dirt. I like being outside physically working, and I like the quiet of the field. I began plant breeding because it is a way a person working in the dirt can make a lasting difference and contribute to the quality and diversity of the food supply for many people.

Have you always been an ecofarmer, or did you make a change?

I have always used organic practices.

What was the biggest hurdle you have overcome?

Finding land to farm. It took until I was almost 50 years old.

What do you enjoy most about farming?

I like physical work outdoors. I like mud between my toes. I like producing high-quality food and new seed that will produce more high-quality food, and that open source will mean others can reproduce that food and those seeds into the future. Looking to create new open-pollinated varieties of sweet corn, I planted a 100-foot row of each of 14 sugary enhanced f1 hybrids and picked a favorite. Eight generations later, Top Hat, one of my first releases, was selected out of Tuxedo, one of those 14. Tuxana (white corn) Festivity (multi-color corn) and Ana Lee (yellow corn) all come from a cross between Tuxedo and an Anasazi landrace corn. Continue Reading →

Natural Coating Protects Alfalfa Seeds


Scientists have developed an alfalfa seed coating that is effective against several soilborne plant pathogens. Photo by Deborah Samac.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists have found that a natural seed coating can protect alfalfa against some soilborne diseases. Alfalfa is a $10 billion-a-year crop in the United States, but producing it can be a challenge. Farmers in the Midwest often plant it early in the spring when the soil is cold and damp. That makes the seeds vulnerable to a number of soilborne diseases.

To minimize the damage, most alfalfa seeds are coated with a fungicidal treatment. But the treatment, mefenoxam, is ineffective against the pathogen causing Aphanomyces root rot (ARR), which is common to Midwestern soils.

Demand for organic alfalfa for organic dairy operations is also increasing, and alfalfa treated with a fungicide can’t be labeled as organic. Many organic dairy farmers would like to expand but may face a roadblock due to a lack of available organic feed, according to Deborah Samac, a plant pathologist in the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Samac wanted to see if coating alfalfa seeds with a naturally occurring mineral would protect them from soil diseases, including ARR. The mineral, zeolite, comes from degraded volcanic rock, has antifungal activity and qualifies as an organic soil treatment. Samac also wanted to assess zeolite’s effects on the health of plant roots and beneficial soil microbes. Continue Reading →

Hedgerows Aid in Pest Control


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


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.

Organic Production Continues Growth


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released the results of the 2014 Organic Survey, which show that 14,093 certified and exempt organic farms in the United States sold a total of $5.5 billion in organic products in 2014, up 72 percent since 2008.

The top 10 states in sales accounted for 78 percent of U.S. organic sales in 2014, with California leading the nation with $2.2 billion. Additionally, the industry shows potential for growth in production as approximately 5,300 organic producers (39 percent) report that they intend to increase production in the United States over the next five years. Another 688 farms with no current organic production are in the process of transitioning into organic agriculture production.

Organic Production Mostly Sold Locally

The vast majority of organic agricultural products sold in 2014 were sold close to the farm. According to the report, the first point of sale for 80 percent of all U.S. organic products was less than 500 miles from the farm, compared to 74 percent in 2008. Additionally, 63 percent of U.S. organic farms reported selling products to wholesale markets.

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