Posts Tagged ‘organic farming’

What dangers are threatening our food supply?

There are many things one can say about farming but “easy” sure isn’t one of them. Many things can threaten a farmer’s crop, insects, weeds, poor soil, lack of water, diseases, lack of labor, well this list could go on and on but most people are aware that there are lots of things a farmer has to deal with, just like all of us in whatever work we do.

For this post I am going to focus on a singular happening in our corner of the world that most of us have not seen in quite some time. This year we had a very dry winter and spring. This caused the plants in the foothills surrounding our valley to dry up quickly, much sooner than usual. Up in those foothills lives an insect called the Beet leafhopper.beet leafhopper

This particular little beastie is vector of a disease that is deadly to certain crops and because it can be so devasting, there was a program that the government used to carry out to spray the foothills when the beet leafhopper populations were high so that they did not desend into the valley and raise havoc to the crops below. Well, for a varity of reason, enviornmental and monetary, that program was cut way back and now they only spray ditches, roadsides and abandonned fields. So this year as the hills dried up and the large number of leafhoppers desended into the valley looking for food what did they find? Tomatoes!

Processing tomatoes has become a big part of the valley crops cycle. Many farmers have spent a lot of money putting field into drip irrigation to help conserve water and they are planting tomatoes because they yield very well with drip irrigation. But not long after planting they starting seeing plants stop growing and turn a sickly color and die. curly top All over the valley, thousands of acres of tomatoes are affected, some just a few plants here and there and some as many as 50-80% of the plants were infected.

Ok, so what is the point, other than many farmers are going to take it in the shorts because a pest damaged their crop. Isn’t that part of farming? What does this have to do with a threatend food supply. Well in all seriousness, no one will starve if we grow a few thousand tons less of tomatoes this year. But think about it. Remember the potato famine in Ireland? There is a disease that is devasting bananas right now too. We are on our 4th pesticide spray to try to keep our tomatoes from being infected and we all know that more pesticide sprays is really not a sustainable way to go. I thank the stars we are not trying to grow organic tomatoes this year. The best option would be of breed a variety of tomatoes that is resistant to this disease, but so far, through normal breeding techiques, that hasn’t happended.

What if they fould a way to genetically modify a tomato to be resistant to this? No more need to spray the hills or ditch banks or roadsides. No more multi pesticide sprays to try to ward of the leafhopper. Less pesticide sprays are what people want, right? Oh yea, I forgot, GMO food is that evil “Monsanto” thing. So what is it that people want anyway? How are we to protect our food supply and cut down on pesticide use if we can’t even use the best technology out there to fight off diesease, make plant more drought tolerant, yeild more, need less pesticides,etc. Maybe some are thinking that farmers shouldn’t have planted so many tomatoes and that our monculture type of farming is to blame. Well, seriously, a guy had to make a living and there are only so many things one can choose to grow. The choices of what to plant has a lot of componets to it. It isn’t like deciding what to put in your backyard garden.

Well, this post is long enough. Just one little scenario to think on the next time you eat something made from tomatoes and “like” another rant on the evils of “Monsanto”. There is a world to feed and a lot less land to do it on. Just think about that next time you are at the grocery store.

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Conversations that go no where?

Sometimes we try to get our point of view across to people and our converstion just goes over the heads of our audience. It is hard to have a conversation with people who think they know the facts but really are just interested in holding on to their beliefs no matter what.

Here is a funny video about one such conversation.

To know me is to love me

Well, maybe not love but it seems that there are people on social network sites that really love to pin a label on you based on very little information. Maybe that is not just a phenomenon of social network sites. Most of us do that in real life because we are “hot wired” to make snap decisions based on natural tendencies to be able to get out of back situations quickly. But on blogs, social network sites, etc, you should be able to take the time to read and ask questions before making a snap judgment. I find people like to comment on stores based on just a headline and an opening paragraph. Some cable news sources know this and love to use it to manipulate the bits of information they give out to fit an agenda. And people do this to each other based on a few things shared on a profile page and a few short posts on some topic somewhere.

So, I have had a back-and-forth with some people on a Facebook group called Roots of Change. Most of the people on this group think that pesticides are bad and the people who use them are evil and out to kill them. Seriously, they have said this. Needless to say, I have posted about what I do and that I think responsible pesticide use isn’t evil but now these people swear I work for Monsanto or some other chemical company and what I have to say is just worthless propaganda. They say they have looked up my bio (from where I do not know) and think they have me “pegged”. The fact that they think they know all about me, my job, my education, etc, from a few posts on a blog or Facebook page and a small bio sort of proves my point that people think they can know all that is need to know based on very little information. Makes me wonder about the validity of their statements on pesticides being bad as they obviously are just parroting information they get from the “pesticides are bad” groups.

A friend of mine sent me this quote, “We must view with profound respect the infinite capacity of the human mind to resist the introduction of useful knowledge.” Thmas R. Lounsbury, American linguist (1838-1915). Seem like this sure fits today’s society as well. Things don’t change much.

The best laid plans

I have a vineyard I’ve been consulting on for a number of years now in southwest Fresno county. When I first started there was a terrible problem with mites. The mites were out of control in the late summer and took at least two pesticide applications to control. The biggest issue contributing to the problem was dust. The vineyard is located near the main shop and main road in and out of the area. Traffic was heavy all around the vineyard, especially during harvest season when surrounding lettuce, tomatoes and onions dramatically increased the volume of trucks and labor moving through the area. It took some time and pushing but we finally got traffic rerouted and a water truck making frequent runs to keep the road wet to finally bring the dust issue under control. For a few years we were able to avoid a mite spray altogether. A few years ago a neighbor planted Almonds next to the vineyard. Hasn’t been a problem until this year the started farming them organically. The mites were not controlled with the organic pesticides and got so bad the started defoliating the trees. Finally the mites blew into the vineyard. So much for our balanced program. We sprayed the vineyard once but if the mites continue to blow in, we may need to spray again. Who says organic always decreases pesticide use?

To be or not to be, organic, why is that the question?

Seems like there has been a lot of talk, hype, musing, etc, on organic farming being the savior of the planet and the answer to all our food and environmental needs. Can there really be one simple answer to all of our woes? If you listen to the those that firmly believe in the organic lifestyle, you would think so. But I think that any reasonable person would think that there is a place for a fully organic style of farming and a place of more “conventional” means. There is even a place for biotech crops, if used wisely and judiciously. I have many farmers I work with that use Roundup Ready crops (crops you can spray with Roundup to kill weeds but won’t kill the crop) to help with weed control. But they can’t plant just these kinds of crop all the time in every field. The weeds would evolve to being resistant to Roundup and that system would not work any more. So we rotate in and out of these crops. Is there a chance that the Genetically Modified (GM) crop would escape and grow wild and pollute the gene pool of natural crops? Well, there isn’t much wild corn or cotton around so that seems to be a false premise to me. Most crop plants do not do well outside of a farmer’s field anyway. They are bred to be pampered. Now, there are some social issue I have with GM crops, especially in poor countries where farmers really can’t afford the strings attached to these crops. But that is for another post. Genetic modification has been going on a long time in farming. This new kind of genetic modification I think can be a good thing and shouldn’t be labeled as something evil.

Now back to organic farming. Why is it better than other types of farming? I’m not really sure. People say they like organic because there are no pesticides. Well, that is a myth the organic farming machine does little to dispel. In fact, on the organic crops I look at, I generally use more pesticides than on the other crops. Organic pesticides do not work as well and do not last as long as the chemically made ones. So you use more. Better for the environment or the food? I don’t really know. I do know that the toxicity of many of the regular pesticides I use are not any more toxic than some of the organic ones. I do try hard to use the least toxic ones available. Chemical fertilizer is bad for the soil? I haven’t seen that directly. If a farmer is using chemical fertilizer alone, I do see that the soil gets worn out faster. But most farmers are not doing that. Chemical fertilizer is just one tool they use in the whole program. Most farmers need to maximize yield to the fullest extent to pay the bills and that is hard to do on a purely organic program. Which is why organic food costs more. You need to use more expensive organic inputs and the yields are generally lower. The market is also not as big for organic food, as many people can’t afford them, so they can’t put all their crops into that market. Most of the growers I know who grow organic produce also grow non-organic crops as well because they can’t find a market of everything in the organic arena.

There is a big bandwagon going around now that we need to all eat local, organic food. Well, I like that idea of a farmer’s market where you go and buy directly from the farmer and all is happy happy touchy feely. But there are a lot of people that needs to be fed in this world. Farmers are having a hard time making money as it is. We cannot support our whole ag industry just on locally grown food. We need to sell to other places and export as well. Organic, local, etc, has a place but it is a place in the picture, not the whole picture. If we can’t find a way to support all of our agriculture, we may see that we can’t sustain any of it.