Posts Tagged ‘food production’

Pesticide Fear Mongering continues on social media

Two headlines are traveling the social media circuit recently that continue to use non-scientific evaluations of pesticide use to try to shape the cultural myth that pesticides are inherently bad for everyone. The first one is the continued publication by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of their so called Dirty Dozen list, a list that supposedly warns consumers of the produce with the highest pesticide residues. This list has been debunked by peer reviewed analysis to show that the methodology they use to rank the selected produce has no scientific backing. Even the very report the EWG says it uses to generate the data for their list, the USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP,) states that the “… summary shows that, overall, pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and do not pose risk to consumers’ health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that pesticide resi220px-Warning2Pesticidesdues pose no risk of concern for infants and children.” Nutritional experts continue to say that increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetable decreases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. This includes a recent study titled UCL study finds new evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with lower mortality. Studies have shown that conventional and organic produce have the same healthy outcomes for consumers. Why does the EWG continue to scare consumers away from healthy food choices? Because it fits the narrative they want to promote. They do not seem to care that studies are finding that their scare tactic are doing more harm than good, especially for low income shoppers who have far few food choices than other income groups.

The second is an article titled “UN experts denounce ‘myth’- pesticides are necessary to feed the world” published by The Guardian and picked up by a number of anti-pesticide activist sites. This report is yet another “white paper” put out as a UN source that is nothing more than an opinion piece. It doesn’t even quote or review any of the official UN FAO or scientific literature from any UN committees. It continues in the same way as the EWG piece, to come to a conclusion first and work backwards, using cherry picked peer reviewed studies, to find information to justify the headline. In his evaluation of the article, David Zaruk, an EU science communication specialists writes “The “Pesticides are a myth” report has no authors and was submitted in the name of a rapporteur who has no experience in agriculture. And the Guardian published an article without any interest in analyzing its foundations or sources – just quotes the “UN report”. It doesn’t look at the FAO or basic science.” Lumping all pesticides and all farming types into a story trying to say that the benefits of pesticides are a “myth” just doesn’t explore in depth the vast literature available that is contrary to the thesis of the article. The article even draws conclusions that are contrary to the sources it cites. “It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
In a Facebook discussion digging into the articles references one commenter says, “Production is increasing because pesticides have enabled it. Their references don’t back their claims.” He then goes on to detail the conflicts in many of the cited reference and what the article is saying.

Fear of pesticides has been around a long time. Even before Racheal Carson’s “Silent Spring” people were questioning their wide spread use in farming. But questioning their use and using science to find out what the problems were and how to fix them has only strengthened the crop protection industry. Now trained professionals with expertise in Integrated Pest Management have the tools to carefully evaluate and choose the right crop protection product needed and have the information to evaluate and mediate health and environmental concerns. That knowledge is growing all the time. ‘Of course, there are always risks associated with using such chemicals, but the answer is to heavily regulate the industry and increase transparency, not to ban their use. The scientific evidence time and again demonstrates the benefits for using pesticides far outweighs the risks.’ – Professor Kathleen Lewis, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at University of Hertfordshire’s Department of Human and Environmental Sciences (HES) and Research Leader for the Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU). Crop protection tools are getting better all the time. They are becoming more environmentally friendly and safer for workers. New technologies are developing products that are more selective, targeting the pest and leaving other flora and fauna in our fields intact.

It is important for those in the agricultural industry to speak up and tell the truth about pesticides and their use so that the continued mantra of the “evil pesticide” is not the narrative that sticks in the minds of our consumers. People are susceptible to fear on topics they know very little about. Those of us that have the expertise on these matters should keep ourselves informed and be willing to engage people in conversations that will help educate and ease people’s fears. Acknowledge the reality of their fears and do not use scorn to put them down as that only further entrenches them in their position. Once you understand why they have the fears they do you can then empathize and tailor your response in a why they will be more accepting to the information.

Further reading:

Is Conventional Produce Dirty? No, But the Marketing Tactics Of Big Organic Are

Anti-Ag U.N. Report Written by Attorneys Argues for Big Ag

3 Reasons The EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” Is Still a Dirty Lie

The Perils of Anti-Pesticide Hysteria

For the Benefit of Consumers, It’s Time to Promote Positive, Reassuring Information

No, The UN Did Not Dismiss Pesticides as Unnecessary


Harvest is Upon Us

This is the time of year when all the crops are going into harvest. I thought I would share what goes on in some of the crops I works with during this very busy part of the season. At this point most of my work is done. It is report card time and I get to see how well I did keeping the pests low when I see how the product comes off the plants.

Tomatoes: the tomatoes I work with are the processing varieties. These primarily go into paste which is shipped all over the world and used to make all the great tomato products you are familiar with. Some are also used for sliced, diced and whole peeled canned products. They are machined harvested. Workers are on the machine to help sort out the MOT (materials other than tomatoes) and any other thing not wanted to get into the truck. There are drivers for the tractors pulling the trailers through the fields and drivers for the trucks taking the trailers to the plant.

Cantaloupes: These are harvested and either packed in the field or taken to an indoor packing plant. They may be in the field for a number of weeks, picking as the melons become ripe. This video is a good one showing the entire process.

Cotton: This will be harvested in the early fall in my area. My job is to recommend products to apply to get all of the leaves dried and removed from the plant before the crop can be harvested. This video clip from the TV show America’s Heartland shows what comes next.

Almonds: As the nuts dry and open they are ready to be shaken off the tree. Then they continue to dry on the ground and when they are ready they are swept into rows, picked up by a small trailer and loaded into trucks off to the processing plant. Walnuts are also picked in much the same way.

Peaches and Nectarines: This harvest starts in late April and goes all summer. They are hand harvested and the crews move from field to field as the varieties become ripe.

Table grapes are picked and packed in the field.

Raisins can be harvested by hand and laid onto the paper trays on the ground or, as labor becomes more expensive, growers can use machines to shake the grapes off the vines and laid on the paper trays.

Wine grapes are picked much the same as mechanical raisin grapes harvest except they go into the trailers and out to the winery.

Thanks to all the wonderful videos being shared by farmers throughout the state for sharing with everyone what you do. Don’t forget to thank a farmer for your food and clothes.



Foreign Invasion threat to farming

Creeping MenaceForeign terrorists have been invading our farms and environment for a long time. These terrorists are called Invasive species. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species); and has a tendency to spread, which is believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy and/or human health. Species that are moved or migrate to an area where they have not been to before can disrupt the ecology of an area because the native species have not evolved to interact with the newcomer. There may be no natural predators to keep the new species in check or the new species may find a food source that has no defense against the newcomer. There are invasive pests that have invaded our forests, waterways, homes and fields.

The following are just a few I’ve chosen to highlight from the USDA APHIS Hungry Pest website:

gypsy moth“The Asian gypsy moth (AGM) is a destructive, non-native pest that feeds on over 600 types of plants. Large infestations of AGM can completely defoliate trees, leaving them weak and more susceptible to disease or attack by other insects. If defoliation is repeated for two or more years, it can lead to the death of large sections of forests, orchards, and landscaping.” Not only damaging our forests but our landscaping in our cities.

Imported Fire Ants are nasty pests. If you have run into these and have been attacked, you’ll know why. They also damage crops and attack livestock.

giant-snailGiant African Snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world because it consumes at least 500 types of plants and can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco structures. This snail can also carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans.

Some of these pest have been here a long time and have become “established”. The Asian Tiger Mosquito arrived a long time ago, hitching a ride in some imported tires from China. This mosquito carries West Nile Virus (Link for more on West Nile Virus for WebMD). West Nile virus infects humans and horses. Invasive mosquitoes are also carrying yellow fever, Dengue fever and chikungunya fever.

HydrillaInvasive plants can cause problems as well. Hydrilla is an aquatic plant that invaded Florida and has spread across the country. It is an aggressive plant that out competes native aquatic species and destroys native aquatic ecosystems.

What are some of the more important invasive species that agriculture has to deal with? There are quite a few. First I’ll cover a few that directly impact the crops and then I’ll explain some other ways invasive pest cause problems for agriculture.

Let’s start with one that is something I’m dealing with directly, the Asian citrus psyllid. This pest feeds on the new leaf growth of citrus trees cause the leaves to twist and die back. They are not a particularly difficult insect to control. The biggest problem with this pest is that it can, if infected, transmit a bacteria that causes Huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening) disease.

Citrus GreeningHuanglongbing causes shoots to yellow, asymmetrically (blotchy mottle), and results in asymmetrically shaped fruit with aborted seeds and bitter juice. The disease can kill a citrus tree within 5 to 8 years, and there is no known cure for the disease.This has already devastated the citrus industry in Florida. It has spread to California, first detected in the Los Angeles area. Even with strict regulations in place about moving citrus trees (the pest does not get on the fruit) it still managed to move from Florida to LA and now up into California’s central valley, the largest citrus growing area in the state.Until just a few months ago none of the psylids found were infected with HLB. Quarantines are in place around areas where the psylids have been caught and this means a lot of extra work if you have to move your fruit to a packing house outside of the area. This includes, but not limited to, spraying pesticides before each pick. A farmer may go through and pick many times before all the fruit is harvested.

BMSBAnother invasive pest headed my way but not yet here is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). It “has been detected in California. Wherever BMSB takes up residence, it causes severe crop and garden losses and becomes a nuisance to people. The ability of BMSB to hitchhike in vehicles and planes has allowed it to spread rapidly to new areas. Since it was introduced to the United States from Asia in the 1990s, BMSB has become established in the mid-Atlantic states as well as in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles”. (from UCIPM website). This pest has recently been found in large numbers in the Sacramento area and has been found Stockton. A number of other native stink bugs are pests in agriculture  They are not easy to control and usually require harsher pesticides to get rid of them. The BMSB has been found to be very hard to control and will definitely be a big impact to our IPM programs as they infest a large number of crops.

These are just two but there are many. Many that have come into California and many that are being tracked for possible entry. You can see a pretty comprehensive list for California here

But other countries are watching us as well and they have their own lists and things they do not want us introducing into their environments. This creates issues for farmers because the packers and shippers must ensure what they are exporting comply with the importing countries regulations concerning these pests. Following is a summary of a few of our pests that we have to take extra measures to control and monitor, and why, in some cases, this causes a problem in our IPM programs.

The Oriental Fruit Moth is a common pest that mainly infests stone fruit (Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, etc). Mexico does not have this pest (or so they claim) so they do not want any fruit coming across the border that may have any of this pest in it. Growers and Packers who want to ship fruit to Mexico must pay into a program for extra monitoring for this pest. This includes paying for inspectors for Mexico to be on site during the growing and harvest season, increased trap density and the costs to have people check these traps more frequently than on a non export field, Since you are not allowed to have ANY of this pest in your fruit you need to make sure you spray every hatch (one a month) even if your trap catches do not indicate a serious infestation. Any trap catches and you are required to spray and you can’t use any of the newer more environmentally friendly products because Mexico doesn’t think they work as well. You really can’t have a good IPM program with someone else dictating what you have to do.

fuller rose beetleFuller Rose beetle is a pest that will lay it’s eggs on citrus fruit, under the stem and can be hard to find. South Korea doesn’t want it. Even if you don’t have it in your fields you are required by the packers to spray at least once before harvest. The citrus industry exports a lot of product and there are other spray programs that are dictated more for appeasing the export markets than for what is going on in the field.

A few years back we had an outbreak of European Grapevine Moth that had hitched a ride on some smuggled grapevines from France over to Napa. They hung out in the Napa area, slowly building populations before someone noticed these were not our common type of worm generally found. Napa doesn’t normally have a big problem with worm pests and this one was causing a lot of problems especially for organic growers. Then it moved. Someone brought infested wood down to Fresno and then the export of table grapes came to a halt. For me, it was just another worm pest that was easily dealt with in my current program but in order to satisfy export markets areas with the pest were quarantined and when and what to spray was dictated by the USDA. No one in those areas could ship out of the US and the industry lost a lot of money.

Spotted Wing Drosophila is a fruit fly that, unlike many of our native fruit flies, will attack undamaged fruit and has many generations in a short period of time. They infest cherries and berries mainly. Also a pest we have to spray for even if we don’t see it because one fly can cause the whole field to be kicked out of an export program.

How do these pest move around? Well, mostly by human activity but also changing climate patterns are opening up new habitats in locations where these pests can move to as well. I mentioned that the European Grapevine moth came in by way of some grapevine cuttings that were transported from France to Napa. They did not go through legal import procedures, otherwise the pests would have been detected. Plants and fruit travel to and from places all the time but if they go through airports or border stations, they can generally be intercepted. But it they do not, hitchhiking pests are never far. This local story is about smuggled fruit being sold by roadside vendors and some had invasive pests on them.

We can all help in the fight against these pests. The USDA’s Hungry Pest website has good information on “What Can You Do“.


Thrown out – food waste and the war on farming

There has been plenty of talk lately about who is wasting water. Farmers are the newest target for the wrath of the newly water conscience public. People complain about many things that farmers do. Too much water, too many pesticides, the list seems to just keep growing. It is always easier to point a finger at someone else and not look at your own contributions to a problem. I thought I would use this post to talk about one aspect that many probably don’t consider, the problem of food waste.

In an archived episode of Science Friday, one of the authors of “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill” stated that “over half the land area in the U.S. is dedicated to food production, and over 80 percent of the water that we consume goes into growing and producing our food. So when we throw out, say, half a hamburger, according to an estimate by the Water Footprint Network, that’s equivalent to taking over an hour shower, in the water use that was required for that half hamburger you just tossed.” I wonder how much water the cities are wasting in this way, while they complain about how much water it takes to grow an almond.

Another aspect of food waste is the “ugly food” issue. On recent news story from my local NPR station KVPR, there was a story about “ugly food” which stated that “because of food beauty standards over 6 billion pounds of produce is wasted on farms every year.” No scar, blemishes, bumps, lumps, malformed produce allowed. Damage from hail, mechanical damage, fruit that just has the wrong shape, size or color can all be kick out of the box and into the cull bin.  Also, some insect damage can also cause cosmetic damage that would send an otherwise perfectly edible piece of fruit straight to the dumpster. A small bite on a small piece of fruit can turn into a large ugly scar as the fruit sizes. A small bite on a piece of fruit just before harvest can send it straight to the dumpster.

People complain about pesticide use but I have to do many sprays that are only done so that produce can make the grade as far as looks go. Insects called Thrip can scar nectarines when they are small, just after bloom and even just before harvest when their feeding on the surface of the fruit can cause the fruit not to color properly. Thrip will also scar developing citrus just after bloom as well. For this reason, these crops are sprayed just after bloom to keep these scars from forming. Katydids, a type of grasshopper, can also cause scars and small bite damage on fruit. These are larger insects and can take harsher insecticides to kill them, all in the name of the perfect piece of fruit. Worms in apples and pears will also cause a small bite mark on the surface of fruit. Less toxic materials can’t be used because these insecticides need to be ingested by the worm to work and it is that first bite that causes the damage. The worm doesn’t even have to get into the fruit to cause damage enough to send the fruit to the trash.

Damage on outside of orange only.

Damage on outside of orange only.

Early thrip feeding at bloom causes a scar that expands as fruit grows.

Early thrip feeding at bloom causes a scar that expands as fruit grows.

Worm will take a bite on the outside of the fruit. Cut it away and you have a nice apple.

Worm will take a bite on the outside of the fruit. Cut it away and you have a nice apple.

Katydids will take a bite out of a nectarine.

Katydids will take a bite out of a nectarine.

Katydids can damage small fruit causing a scar that will get larger as fruit grows.

Katydids can damage small fruit causing a scar that will get larger as fruit grows.

When thinking about agricultural practices, it is best to remember that this is a business. A business that wastes expensive resources doesn’t stay in business long. All businesses that want to remain profitable are constantly refining their practices and farmers are doing this all the time. If farmers could sell ALL the produce they send to the packing house and save money on sprays that really don’t protect anything, it would certainly be a better use of resources, and would save me some time as well.

Note: I have not fact checked the stories mentioned above as I consider them credible sources. There are links to other sources of information in those stories if you are interested in reading further on this topic.


The Joy of spring. The agony of weather.

With the spring comes the hope of a new season. Trees bloom, vineyards push new shoots and fields are planted in tomatoes and cotton.


There is just something beautiful about a newly planted field. The dark soil and the smell of freshly plowed earth is stimulating. Send the new plants planted in the ground or coming up through the earth from seeds makes me feel alive and part of the earth.


It is nice to see the workers back out in the fields. Farmers are so thankful that there are people willing to do this hard and hot work and the people are grateful to be able to have the work.

But with the hope of a new spring there is always the possibility of a pending disaster. All of those that work in agriculture know that the promise that the fields hold will live and die by the weather. Too little rain, too much rain; wind, Frost, hail, floods could strike at any moment.

One of the farmers I work with experienced bad hail damage this year. The new shoots in some of his vineyards were stripped of their leaves and developing clusters.


Not much for the plant doctors to do. The only cure for this problem this time and a little hope. In a few weeks never leaves will push out and hopefully some of those leaves will develop new fruit  clusters. But there won’t be the same amount of fruit as it would have been before the hail. This is very sad to see but something farmers everywhere have to deal with.


Dirty Dozen?

There was a report on our local news about the Environmental Working Groups “Dirty Dozen” which they claim to be the worst food for pesticide residue. The list hasn’t seemed to change much over the years. That seems odd to me because I do pest control on many of those crops and I know my pesticide practices on those crops have changed dramatically over the years. They say these crops have “detectable” pesticide residues. I look at the information they have and there is one column that is titled “total number of pesticides found on the commodity” and under peaches it says 67. 67!? What does that mean? That they found 67 different pesticides on the peaches? Even on my worst pest year I bet I only use maybe 5 or 6 pesticides in one season. On the early harvest fruit, a lot less. I can’t see under any real life scenario how that many different pesticide could possible be found? What levels? It looks like they add up all the residue levels and come up with a number but are any of those levels even toxic? I bet you could add up all the household product residues on your kitchen counters and come up with a number but what does that mean as far as being dangerous? Knowing that this is very anti-pesticide use it is hard to think that this so-called “science” they are using isn’t tweeked and massaged to prove their point of view. Is this “real” science? Are we all going to keel over and die from eating these fruits and vegetables? Most of the health and cancer information that is coming out lately seem to point to unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, smoking, etc, as the biggest worries for our health. Trying to scare people away from healthy food because of some made up fear of pesticides seems to be a poor way of helping people be more healthy. If there are some concerns about the environment regarding the use of pesticides, those should be dealt with in an honest way, not by making up data to scare people. Our society does not have the resources to be trying to deal with issues made up by special interests that have an agenda they want to push. This leads to over regulation that hurts the economy and wasted tax dollars by over burdening government agencies that have to try to regulate all this stuff. Most people do not have the time or inclination to follow up on stories like this and try to get a balanced view. Even the reporter that ran this story couldn’t be bothered to do research on the facts and took what was released by the EWG on face value. Are you fearful about pesticides in your food? If so why? Do you use chemicals around your home or business? Are you fearful of those? If so, have you bothered to find out if you should be?


Do you choose the things you support?

People seem to have a lot of ideas on how things should done. If we make decisions on how business should be conducted, do we then have the obligation to support those businesses if they comply? If you want your food to be grown organically, pesticide free (those two things are not the same, by-the-way), with labor paid good wages and benefits, livestock cage free and running free on the range, etc, then do you make purchases accordingly? What are your priorities when you are making purchases? Do you choose first based on your “moral” preferences or do you consider price and value first? As we know, the majority of consumers go for price and value and if it then fits their “moral” standards, they consider that a bonus. Should it be any different for a farmer making a choice on how he should grow his crops? We all share the same environment and resources. The choices a farmer makes affects more than just his crops and his land. Same thing with the consumers at the other end of the line. Your choices on what you buy affects many other things, all the way back to all of those people who participated in producing it. Remember that Americans pay a lower percentage of their disposable income on food than any other developed country. We like things cheap. We are the consumers that are always going after the best deal, latest sale, lowest price. But if we demand certain things from those that produce those products that continue to increase the cost of production, is the constant search for the best and lowest price really what we should be after?