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Archive | Crops

Principles of Permanent Agriculture

When we look at the great soils of the world, we can see these principles of permanent agriculture in action. The prairies have the grasses and clovers that together structure the soil and incorporate nitrogen. The grass roots finely divide the soil particles and then decay after the tops are grazed. The mobs of bison on small acreages of the Great Plains, for short periods of time ate a small percentage of the growth and trampled the major­ity of the carbon back into the soil. The heavy animal impact included manure, urine and tillage from their split hooves. It is fascinating to watch a bovine’s hoof split apart and literally plow the soil sideways, as the weight of the animal comes down on it.

Corn growing at Long Hungry Creek Farm in Tennessee. Photo by Kristina Rossi

Afterward, the land rested with no animals, and grew back up better than ever. This cycle produced phenom­enal soil humus.

This same thing happened in Northern Europe with wolves chasing reindeer and in the African savan­na, with lions chasing water buffalo. Everywhere you find great soils in nature, you’ll find mobs of grazing herbivores moved by predators. This is how humans will reverse climate change — by sequestering carbon with the use of grass, legumes and large herds of herbivores on small acreages for short periods of time. Continue Reading →

Rethinking ‘Pandora’s Potatoes’

Former Genetic Engineer for J.R. Simplot & Monsanto, Dr. Caius Rommens Questions Biotechnology Safety, Authors Book on His Work with Potatoes

Dr. Caius Rommens

For 26 years, Dr. Caius Rommens was an ambitious and prolific genetic engineer. He held positions of great responsibility at major corporations. As director of the company’s biotech effort from 2000 to 2013, he developed GM potatoes for the Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Company, the leading U.S. producer of frozen French fries. These GM potatoes are being sold under innocuous names such as Innate, Hibernate and White Russet in thousands of supermarkets across the United States and Canada. They are not labeled as GMO.

Eventually, growing doubts about his GM creations led Rommens to question the validity of the simplistic dogma of biotechnology and renounce his career. His re-evaluation of the data and study of the broader scientific literature has given him insight into the risks and fallacies of the GM potatoes he created. He recently published a slim volume entitled Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMOs to communicate what he has learned. Continue Reading →

Preserving a Way of Life with the Cooperative Model

Most of us Amish baby boomers grew up on family farms. We were farmers. We were born on the farm, or somewhere close by. The farm provided food and shelter. It was where we gathered for worship. We got married on the farm. Our elders died and were buried on the farm. We lived and breathed farming. It was what we knew and did. Everyone expected that we would someday own and operate our own farm.

Soil samples are collected from individual fields and sent to an outside lab for analysis. The lab reports are analyzed by Green Field Farms’ trained field specialists. They make recommendations for a custom blend of soil amendments to balance the soil for the intended crop.

In addition to providing the family’s income, the farm was considered the ideal setting to raise and nurture children to adulthood. Those of us who grew up on family farms can attest to this. One of our first responsibilities was tending animals. At a young age we were introduced to the cycle of life. We quickly learned the facts of reproduction, the miracle of birth and the stark finality of death.

A short 50 years ago, 90 percent of Amish families in North America were farmers. They lived and retired on the income from their small family farms. Today, less than 10 percent farm for a living. This transition from farming to other occupations is cause for concern — even alarm — within the community. The further we stray from our agricultural heritage, the more we acquire the social ills of the world around us.

Adapting to Change

On January 20, 2003, a group of 20 Amish farmers and business owners from Holmes County, Ohio, assembled to discuss these concerns. How did we get from there to here? What happened? What changed? What has this transition from farming to other occupations done to us, to our culture, and to our way of life? Is this where we want to be? If not, are we willing to do something about it? And, finally, what can be done? What will it take? Continue Reading →

Plant Stress & Proline

In his 1995 State of the Union speech, President Bill Clinton highlighted a USDA program addressing plant stress as an example of wasteful “pet project” government spending. We knew then, and know even more now, that plant stress is a very significant yield-and-quality-robbing factor in agricultural crops to which little attention has been paid.

Samples ready for instrument analysis. Even without precision and absolute instrument analysis, comparative differences in proline (plant stress) levels can be clearly seen.

We try to optimize fertility, irrigation, weed and pest management practices to achieve the best production under the constraints of environment and economics. However, it has become clear that plant stress comes from everything we try to control; it is additive and it can be cumulative — resulting in loss of yield and quality potential.

For the grower, visual detection of plant stress often comes too late to do anything more than damage control by preventing further loss of yields and quality for the season. One visually obvious “too late” example is dropped squares and bolls in cotton. Another is shed flowers and pods or a predominance of two and three-bean pods in soybeans if stress is present early on, or empty pods if stress occurs later.

In plant health, as in human health, there are signs, although they may not be obvious, that stress is present. The trick is in detecting and interpreting those signs – ideally, before they can be seen. This is evidenced by many of us having annual physical check-ups and blood (in the case of plants, sap) tests to detect “hidden” problems. Certain biological signals accumulate in the plant during periods of stress. They are produced in response to environmental stresses such as water, light, temperature and salinity. Their appearance signals that something is hindering normal plant growth and development with consequent loss of yields and quality. Continue Reading →

Reducing Food Waste: Compost Production Recovers Nutrients for Soil Benefits

When you consider our nation’s health, the quality of our food, its decreasing nutritional value and the increased degradation of our farmland, it’s not a pretty picture — and the challenges related to these issues keep growing.

Green waste used as part of a mixture of ingredients for compost.

By 2050 the world’s population will likely reach close to 9 billion people. To feed everyone, we’ll need to globally produce more food. Yet, almost 40 percent of food currently produced ends up in landfills.

According to ReFED, a collaboration of over 50 business, nonprofit, foundation and government leaders committed to reducing food waste in the United States, American consumers, businesses and farms spend $218 billion per year growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food waste.

Food waste is a global problem. The 2017 Food Sustainability Index ranks 34 countries from best to worst. In France, No. 1 on the Index, supermarkets don’t toss food approaching its sell-by date; they must donate it to charities or food banks. This has lowered the country’s annual wastage to 1.8 percent of its total food production. Germany, Spain and Italy, which follow close behind, also scored high with agriculture-related conservation and research and nutrition education. Continue Reading →

Building the Microbial Bridge to Support Nutrient Availability

The root zone around plants, known as the rhizosphere, is an area of intense activity in the soil. It’s a lot like the snack stand at the state fair on a hot day. Everyone is crowding around trying to get to the cold drinks, funnel cakes and hot dogs. Snacks are being sold as quickly as the workers can make them. In return, the snack stand is bringing in a lot of cash.

Corn roots with lots of root exudates and soil sticking to the roots.

While the snack stand exchanges food for money, plant roots feed nearby microbes in exchange for plant nutrients. The roots put sugars down into the soil, creating an area of crowded, busy bacterial feeding in the rhizosphere, and exchange that microbial food for nutrients the plant needs but would otherwise have a hard time accessing.

We tend to think that plants photosynthesize entirely for their own metabolism, but in truth plants spend a good portion of their energy feeding soil life.

Plants fix sugars through photosynthesis, and while 55 to 75 percent of those sugars support plant growth, reproduction and defense from pests, the rest goes into the soil through the roots to feed the soil biology. This isn’t a waste of energy by the plants.

Those organisms living in the rhizosphere, primarily bacteria, not only make nutrients available to the plants — they also provide a protective layer against pests and diseases. It’s a win-win for the plants and the bacteria living in the rhizosphere. Continue Reading →