Regular organic news available from the NOP

uncle sam gardens

Uncle Sam says, "garden organically, and here are the rules."

You have to wonder sometimes. What were people thinking when they asked the USDA to take over organic. Government involvement doesn’t usually mean efficiency or proficiency, but it is what it is. At least the National Organic Program is fairly straight-forward with the information, now offering a regular email newsletter with the latest updates on various rules and initiatives related to the constantly changing world of organic.

You can sign up for it HERE.

Once you do, you’ll start receiving these really archaic and confusing emails that contain the link to the NOP Organic Insider newsletter page.

You’re welcome.

 

 

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New info on polyphenols

stress inducer

Polyphenols are a group of secondary metabolites produced by plants. Many also have health benefits for humans. In short, they are commonly considered antioxidants, but new research is revealing more detail on how these compounds work. This blog — Whole Health Source — by Stephan Guyenet is really interesting. The latest enty [HERE] is a well documented explanation of how some polyphenols don’t necessarily prevent oxidation in cells, but promote it at low levels, such that it stimulates the cells own antioxident response. His explanation is much better than mine.

The interesting thing is that some organically grown crops have been shown to contain higher levels of some polyphenols. Plants produce these compounds as a self defense mechanism against stresses caused by insects or other damage. Because organically grown crops are subject to higher levels of stress, they produce higher levels of polyphenols, and can therefor be healthier for humans.

For more info, go HERE. Dr. Alyson Mitchel (UC Davis) has done some fantastic research in this area.

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Giving up on the “silver bullet”

Waterhemp -- refusing to lay down and die.

My institution just put out the following press release, bemoaning Waterhemp’s stubborn habit of quickly developing resistance to any herbicide we throw at it. The treadmill on which researchers and farmers find themselves just keeps spinning faster and faster, as the search for yet another silver bullet solution goes on. At least Mr. Hager concedes that, “[t]his troublesome weed requires a much more integrated approach.” Maybe they should start talking to organic farmers. They might learn something about integrated approaches.

URBANA – Waterhemp has done it again. University of Illinois researchers just published an article in Pest Management Science confirming that waterhemp is the first weed to evolve resistance to HPPD-inhibiting herbicides.

“A fifth example of resistance in one weed species is overwhelming evidence that resistance to virtually any herbicide used extensively on this species is possible,” said Aaron Hager, U of I Extension weed specialist.

Waterhemp is not a weed species that can be adequately managed with one or two different herbicides, Hager said. This troublesome weed requires a much more integrated approach.

“Large-scale agronomic crop production systems currently depend on herbicides for weed management,” Hager said. “A weakness in this approach lies in its strength; because herbicides are so effective, they exert tremendous selection pressures that, over time, result in resistant weed populations as natural outcomes of the evolutionary process.”

In an article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Hager and Pat Tranel, a U of I professor of molecular weed science in the Department of Crop Sciences, shared the results of a survey of multiple-herbicide resistance in waterhemp. The results showed that all populations resistant to glyphosate were also resistant to ALS inhibitors and 40 percent contained resistance to PPO inhibitors.

Adding HPPD resistance to the mix complicates problems for growers and scientists. When weeds stack several forms of resistance, it greatly reduces the number of viable herbicide options.

“We are  running out of options,” Hager said. “This multiple-herbicide resistance in waterhemp has the potential to become an unmanageable problem with currently available postemergence herbicides used in conventional or glyphosate-resistant soybean.”

Hager said they’ve already discovered one waterhemp biotype that’s resistant to four different herbicide families. He said growers may see five-way resistance in the future.

Fortunately, there are very few annual weed species in the United States that have shown this level of multiple resistance. Waterhemp is a dioecious species and ideally suited for evolving herbicide resistance by sharing resistance genes among populations and biotypes.

“For example, you can have HPPD resistance evolving in field A, and in adjacent field B you can have selection for glyphosate resistance,” Tranel said. “Pollen is always moving in the air, allowing pollen from field A to mix with resistant plants from field B resulting in HPPD and glyphosate resistance in the same progeny. That’s how easy it is to stack resistance.”

The pressure is on for industry to develop new options and for growers to change their practices of how they use products to control the weed spectrum, he added.

Hager, Tranel and Dean Riechers, a U of I associate professor of herbicide physiology, were recently awarded a grant from Syngenta to study how waterhemp populations evolve resistance. They will collaborate with Syngenta’s scientists to find answers regarding the genetics, inheritance, and mechanisms of resistance to HPPD inhibitors.

“We are excited for the opportunity to collaborate with industry to learn more about these resistant biotypes,” Tranel said. “We want to find practical management recommendations for growers.”

Hager said that there is only so much a person can learn by looking at different treatments in a field, but if this is not done, it’s difficult to come up with the best recommendations. The U of I weed science team’s advantage is their ability to span the range from applied field and greenhouse work to basic DNA sequencing, physiology and genetics work.

At least two companies are developing crop varieties that are resistant to HPPD inhibitors. In the future, both of these companies see HPPD-inhibiting herbicides growing in importance.

“We now have known resistance before the resistant crops are on the market,” Tranel said. “That’s a real concern.”

But Hager thinks it could be a blessing in disguise.

“We have time to learn about this type of resistance in advance before these crop varieties hit the market,” Hager said. “If these crops are commercialized, we could have the recommendations in place from the onset to slow the evolution of this resistance.”

Their research, “Resistance to HPPD-inhibiting herbicides in a population of waterhemp from Illinois, USA,” was published online on January 26 in Pest Management Science. Researchers include Tranel, Hager, Dean Riechers, Nicholas Hausman, and Sukhvinder Singh of the U of I; and Shiv Kaundun, Nicholas Polge and David Thomas of Syngenta.

“Herbicide Resistances in Amaranthus tuberculatus: A Call for new Options” was published online in November 2010 by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Researchers included Tranel, Hager, Chance Riggins and Michael Bell of the U of I.

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Natural farming goes beyond organic

Guatemala: a nice place to visit in January.

Haven’t blogged for a month. I’ve been traveling. Helped take a group of students to Guatemala and Costa Rica to look at culture and export horticulture in both regions. It was a great trip and a great group of students. Now I’m preparing for my annual Brazil trip to Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, the organic coffee farm paradise I’ve taken students to the last couple years. That happens mid-March and you can read about past trips HERE.

Ran across this article on a new method of “natural farming” coming out of Korea. Sounds similar to the concepts of One Straw Revolution and Permaculture. It’s gaining popularity in Hawaii and providing solutions for small-scale pork producers in that state who are struggling with odor and the issue it raises with neighbors…

“Unlike conventional or even organic farming, “natural farming” is a self-sufficient system to raise crops and livestock with resources available on the farm. Rather than applying chemical fertilizers, farmers boost the beneficial microbes that occur naturally in the soil by collecting and culturing them with everyday ingredients such as steamed rice and brown sugar. They also feed their crops with solutions containing minerals and amino acids made from castoff items such as eggshells and fish bones.”

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Raising questions about raising beef

happy cows in a happy field

Ever since Frances Moore Lappe authored Diet for a Small Planet back in 1971, some folks have been down on beef. The premise of that early work was that the solution to feeding everyone was to eliminate one of the foods that people love most — beef. It’s a compelling argument for vegetarians. The amount of land it takes to produce a steak is orders of magnitude larger than what it takes to produce the equivalent number of calories of edible vegetables. In addition to the efficiency argument, there was the health issue. In 1971 it was clear — fat is evil, especially animal fat, therefor, beef is the devil’s food. It’s killing us and taking up too much space.

Raising cows in CAFOs — concentrated animal feeding operations — provided beef production with the illusion of increased efficiency; more cows crammed into much smaller area. Problem solved until you look at how much space it takes to grow the corn to feed wall-to-wall cattle. Not to mention the other side effects of grain-fed beef — health and environmental. Forty years down the path we also now know that not all fat is bad. The fat from grass-fed animals might actually be good for us. So now the swing is back to raising animals on pasture. For this I am glad because I like meat. I’m not ready to be a vegetarian yet, and grass-fed makes me feel a lot better about it.

The result is that we’ve circled  back on a version of the original question — is animal production bad for the planet? If so, which is worse, grass-fed or grain-fed animal protein? According to Brian Palmer in the Washington Post this week, we really don’t know. He peruses some of the recent research on both sides and concludes there’s no clear answer.

From a strictly environmental perspective the answer is obvious — grass-fed wins! On a properly managed grass-based system, the land improves (soil quality, soil conservation, species diversity, water quality, etc.). The animals are healthier, and the system is easily sustained, because it takes a lot fewer external inputs to maintain. And animals such as cows can be raised on land that is of marginal quality, leaving the better land for growing higher yields of crops, including vegetables.

The trade-offs are that it takes longer to raise beef on a pure grass system. Ultimately, that results in a higher price for consumers. But within that higher costs, consumers are paying for environmental protection they are not getting from CAFO-raised beef.

Bottom line: eat grass-fed beef (and hogs and chickens and dairy). Go one better and buy these products directly from a local farmer. Doing so will help keep him/her in business and support the protection of the local environment.

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Global organic tries to go local

Bananas with a "local" feel.

This morning, while I sat in the kitchen checking my email, I glance over and notice that my wife had bought another bunch of Dole Organic bananas.  She’s been buying these lately. They’re much more expensive and they are smaller and not as yellow as conventional bananas, but the taste better. At least, me and my oldest daughter think so. This morning was the first time I actually looked at the label. At the top of the label is the USDA ORGANIC seal, and then in small print, “Visit the Farm at doleorganic.com FARM 776 Columbia”. That caught my eye. Supposedly I can go on line and look at the farmer in Columbia who grew this banana sitting on my kitchen counter.

I went to doleorganic.com, typed in “776” and hit GO. It took me to a page Dole created for the Don Pedro Farm…

In the heart of La Guajira desert with a great view of the snowed peaks of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, there is a farm called Don Pedro. This farm has over 310 hectares of organic bananas and was established in 2005. This farm is currently certified under EU and NOP organic rules, ISO 14000 and SA 8000.

In addition to this brief description, there are eight pictures, most of the farm, and a list of the farm’s certifications. You can even click on PDFs and look at a copy of the certifications. It also has a link to a Google EARTH Map showing the location of the farm. There are a total of 34 farms one can “visit” through the site.

Reconnecting food back to the farmer, sorta.

I have to commend Dole for helping their consumers “connect” with the farmers growing their produce. This is an ingenious attempt to frame their produce in a way that appeals to locavores. Know your farmer. That’s the locavore motto. And now, even if your farmer farms on another continent you can “know” him/her. Of course, “local,” like the term, “friend” is a relative term. For us living in the Midwest US there in no such thing as a truly local banana. South America is about as local as we can get from here. Better this side of the globe than all the way over in the Philippines. Right?

Anyway, glad to meet you, Don Pedro. Your bananas are delicious. God bless you and your farm.

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Book: a different field

the stories of real farmers in Illinois

Here’s a book I wrote several years ago. You can order it cheap from the University of Illinois.

A Different Field — Innovative Entrepreneurs in Illinois Farming

Grapes, earthworms, buffalo, pecans, honey, and catfish-not typically what comes to mind when thinking about farms in the state of Illinois. But these and other unusual “crops” are featured in a new book about innovative farmers. This book tells the stories of 18 farmers who are exploring alternatives to corn and soybeans: a first look at a growing trend in Illinois as consumers become “more conscious of their health and more particular about their food.”

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