Posts Tagged ‘food’

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.

 

 

Thankful for our food

As we prepare our Thanksgiving day feast it may be a good time to reflect on what it takes to get that food to your table. There are many people in many industries that work hard to bring us the abundance of food we have come to take for granted when we go to our local grocery store. As a plant doctor, I will use this post to summarize what my part of the “food chain” contributes to your Thanksgiving feast.

What is on your table?

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As you can see, without the benefits of crop protection products, organic or conventional, yields would suffer and the abundance of food we rely on would decrease making our Thanksgiving feast much more expensive.

Do you like pie?

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Plant bugs of all types are very hard to control. Even organic farmers have problems with these pests. Organic pesticides only deter these bugs for a short time making multiple applications necessary to protect the crop. Nasty little buggers!

Modern technology is doing more to increase yields and decrease the amount of pesticides needed to bring food to your table. Not so long ago many of our crop protection chemicals were broad spectrum and applied in pounds per acre. Now they are more targeted to the pest, safer for beneficial insects, safer for workers and applied in oz per acre. Better application techniques make spraying these low rates effective with less impact on the surrounding environment.

Agriculture has many challenges ahead of it to be able to bring more food to a growing population with less land and other resources.

There are still many challenges ahead. Environmental issues to solve. Promises of new technology such and Genetically Modified crops and other new technologies like CRISPer are just a few things science is looking into to make sure everyone on this planet has enough to eat. GMO technology has already  reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68% (from an articled penned by Klumper and Qaim in 2014; a meta study that summarizes his findings of 147 original studies on the impact of GMOs). 
With the help of modern agriculture techniques, hunger is disappearing but we still have a long way to go before the problems of food insecurity disappears as well.
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As our technology continues to improve, better solutions arise and agriculture continues to tackle the challenges of producing more food with less resources and keeping our environment, workers and families safe and healthy. The more we know the better we do. It is a challenge we take on with pride.

Border Patrol and rot watch

Well, it is now August. I have a harvester in one tomato field and two melon fields. Not nearly as close to more fields coming off than I usually am this time of year. We started some wine grapes last year by the second week of August but my earliest block of White Zins are not even fully colored yet. Table grapes and stone fruit seem to be the only crops that are not significantly late. So now in the raisin and wine grapes, that need to hang until the get very, very sweet, I do what I call Border Patrol and rot watch. Border patrol is just making sure no mites are coming in from neighboring crops or along dusty roads. These are notorious “hot” spots for mites. We have all the fields sprayed for mites now and we just need to keep them under control for a few more weeks. The morning dews have been good with the night time temperatures being cool so this helps to slow the mite populations down. I am also on the look out in the grapes for rot

. As the clusters ripen and the berries soften, they have a tendency to pop and leak, especially if the bunches are real tight. This tightness of bunches is usually dependent on the variety. The leakiness of the berries is also dependent on variety, for the most part. Also growing conditions can cause the skin of the berries to be thin and that is also a problem. With this cooler growing season we make see more leaking, which means we may need to use more fungicides (pesticides that kill fungal diseases) than we normally would. And if the grapes hang longer trying to sugar up, that leaves them vulnerable to more rot developing. We have issues with rot an mold on other crops as well. Tomatoes are vulnerable to rot and mold as they ripen. Sun damage on the exposed fruit makes the tomatoes susceptible to black mold . So we spray to keep that from developing as well. This year is seems the cooler nights have come earlier and the dew on the exposed fruit is starting up black mold earlier. So if people wonder why some pesticide use goes up this year, it’s all in the weather!

Thanks to UCIPM for the photos

Decisions, Decisions. What to spray and how to decide

Well, the worm cycle in the alfalfa hay is going full bore this time of year. Seems like before July, most years, they are easy to manage and are controlled but most pesticides that you choose. There are some, what we call, “soft” chemicals that target the worms and are not toxic to other organisms. I really prefer to use these types of products. But something happens when the temperatures get hot. The worms just explode. The go from eggs to causing big areas of damage very quickly and these soft materials just do not work as well later on in the season. This happens with other pests as well. The heat just makes the populations go faster and the pests grow bigger faster and the pesticides just do not work as well. In the alfalfa, the material that works the best at this time of year has some side effects though. It shows up in the water samples in the rivers. Not a good thing. We cannot use it within 24 hrs of putting water onto the field but even doing that it is still showing up in water samples. The problem is now that it is very hot and the alfalfa needs water. The other options do not seem to be working as well to kill the worms and these options are much more expensive as well. On a crop that is not making that much money to begin with, using a more expensive option is not very popular. So do you go with the cheaper option with environmental problems or the more expensive options that may not be most effective but safer for the environment? Well, what do you do? What changes have you made in your life to help the environment? Have you made those easy, cheap fixes but not the ones than may be more expensive? Have you bought that Prius yet? Farmers make the same choices. It isn’t that they don’t want to do everything they can to help the environment. They have to do what they can afford to do. We all make those choices. We have a budget to consider and sometimes the options available to us are not as good as we’d like but we have to do what is best for our business, family, crop, etc. Think about that next time you hear about farmers maybe spray a chemical that some find questionable for the environment?

How much spray is too much?

July is here and now things start to get interesting. This year seems like it may be a relatively quiet year, pest-wise. We had a very cool spring and early summer. This puts many of the crop woefully behind schedule but it also makes for lower “bug” pest populations. For example, in the grapes I have not seen or sprayed for many of the pests I usually do. I have sprayed in the table grapes and in the stone fruit for pest but we usually do in “fresh” market crops. The trigger for when you spray in these crops is lower because the amount of damage you can have is lower. People do not like worm hole, insect scars, etc on the fruit they buy. I think if people were a bit more tolerant on how their fruit looked and allow for some superficial bug damage, I could spray even less. I finally saw some mites in the big walnut trees I watch. These are big trees and hard to spray and usually the mites get so bad by the end of the summer the trees are losing leaves. But I hardly see any mites at all. This is a good time to spray as I can use less pesticide to knock down a very small population. Usually in the summer when it gets hot the good bugs can’t control the rapidly climbing pest populations so when July comes I usually start to clean things up so I can use small amounts of pesticides instead of waiting for pest levels to explode and having to bomb them. I have some cotton I look at. The cotton crop is very far behind schedule. I can usually leave a small about of Lygus bugs in the field but this year I had to spray early. Why? These bug damage the flower buds and they fall off. Because the crop is late we cannot afford to lose the early crop that is now forming as we will not have time in the fall to get any later flowers to develop into cotton bolls. Every year is different.

When you look at news articles that groups like the Pesticide Action Network puts out about “Pesticide Use was up” is such and such year, do not just think farmers were irresponsible for some reason. Weather conditions dictate a lot of what goes on in a natural system and how farmers must respond. I bet pesticide use will be way down this year in California but you won’t see the Pesticide Action Network or other anti-pesticide group tell you that.