International Organics Weekly - Edition 73

This week's dose of organic headlines, updates, resources and recipes courtesy of dsnodgrass...


 

Last week, this column included the article 'Working with pesticides linked to dementia: study'. Here is a profile of some farmers in search of solutions.

Farmers Find Organic Arsenal to Wage War on Pests

While conventional farmers have a quiver full of chemical arrows to battle the invasion of weeds and pests, the organic farmer has a tougher row to hoe. There simply aren’t organic bug sprays that can match the power of synthetic chemicals and almost nothing in the way of organic herbicides.

Instead, there’s a growing understanding among organic farmers of ways to harness natural systems as part of what is called integrated pest management.

And there’s a small burst of new research into organic farming techniques as a result of the 2008 farm bill, which finances a range of agricultural programs at a total of $307 billion. For years such research was financed at $3 million a year, and though the funds are still minuscule compared with conventional agricultural research, it’s now $20 million annually for the next few years, and may increase further. Instead of five to seven research grants per year, there are now two dozen.

“You aren’t considered a kook anymore if you do this kind of research, as you were in the 1980s,” said Fred Kirschenmann, an organic farmer and a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa.

[...]

A paper published in Nature this year confirmed what organic farmers have long suspected — that conventional farming can make the pest problem worse. David Crowder, an entomologist at Washington State University and an author of the paper, says that if there are more varieties of plants around the field, and no broad-spectrum pesticides, as in organic farming, it promotes balance among insect species, rather than letting one species dominate. “There are more natural enemies and they do a lot better job in organic fields controlling pests,” Dr. Crowder said.


 

Pesticides are also on the front burner for those who are working to prevent colony collapse disorder, which is some serious sh*t.

Beekeepers want government to pull pesticide

The judge in that case has issued his decision, and it's a mixed bag. In essence, the judge appears to be aiming for a compromise position which looks to give farmers who are growing genetically modified sugar beets the time frame of a growing season to convert to non-gm crops.

Beekeepers and environmentalists Wednesday called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove a pesticide that could be linked to colony collapse disorder from the market and to issue an order to stop its use.

The request to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson from the American Beekeeping Federation, headed by Florida beekeeper Dave Mendes, and five other groups follows the leak of a Nov. 2 EPA memo about the product.

The insecticide sold under the brand name Poncho has an active ingredient called clothianidin. Bayer CropScience AG obtained conditional EPA registration for the product in 2003. The leaked memo identified a study that is the basis for the registration as unsound, said Florida beekeeper Dave Hackenberg, who was checking hives Wednesday in Fort Meade.

The study evaluated the wrong crop, using canola instead of corn, the major pollen-producing crop bees rely on for winter nutrition, beekeepers say.

“The EPA gave Bayer the OK to bring the stuff out as long as they got a core study,” Hackenberg said. “The scientists have been telling the EPA for several years this study is flawed.”


 

Whenever there's talk of chemical pesticide dangers, Monsanto always seems to take the contrarian's view.

Altered Corn Slowly Takes Root in Mexico

The judge in that case has issued his decision, and it's a mixed bag. In essence, the judge appears to be aiming for a compromise position which looks to give farmers who are growing genetically modified sugar beets the time frame of a growing season to convert to non-gm crops.
Mexico, the birthplace of corn, is edging toward the use of genetically modified varieties to lower its dependence on imports, but strong opposition among some growers and environmentalists, who see altered corn as a threat to native strains, has kept the wheels turning slowly.

Monsanto Co., DuPont Co.'s Pioneer Hi-Bred unit and Dow Chemical Co,'s Dow AgroSciences recently completed small, controlled experiments in northern Mexico with genetically modified corn, and are seeking government authorization to enter a "pre-commercial" phase, expanding the growing area to nearly 500 acres from 35 acres.

The trials began in October 2009, four years after Mexico lifted an 11-year moratorium on genetically modified corn—or maize—to which scientists have added desirable traits like pest resistance.

Many farmers and environmentalists, however, fear that altered corn will cross-breed with the nearly 60 documented native maize varieties, transforming the biology of the grain, a dietary staple with deep cultural significance here. By contrast, genetically modified cotton, alfalfa and soybeans are widely accepted and cultivated on nearly 250,000 acres across the country.

"We are the children of corn. It's our life, and we need to protect it," said José Bernardo Magdaleno Velasco, a corn producer in Venustiano Carranza in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where he grows two native varieties. According to Mayan legend, the gods created humans from corn. The plant is still used in some indigenous religious rituals.


 

That which we learn as children becomes the norm, for better or worse. This is an example of better.

One Chicago charter school sets a healthy example for others

The judge in that case has issued his decision, and it's a mixed bag. In essence, the judge appears to be aiming for a compromise position which looks to give farmers who are growing genetically modified sugar beets the time frame of a growing season to convert to non-gm crops.

Organically grown fruits and vegetables, daily yoga and a chicken coop.  Not what you would expect to find at a Chicago public school, but the Academy for Global Citizenship is doing something out of the ordinary and hoping that other schools will follow suit.

Each weekday during growing season, the southwest side school serves students students an organic breakfast and lunch, drawing on produce grown in the academy garden. The students help tend the garden as part of an environmental sustainability curriculum.   

“We grow flowers, corn and tomatoes,” said first grader Amelia McCabe.  “But the corn is my favorite because it’s really juicy.”

Joining a growing wellness movement whose most famous patron is First Lady Michelle Obama, a Chicago Public Schools graduate who is the face of the "Let's Move" campaign, the academy also established a goal of at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. State education authorities in Illinois require that K-12 students participate in physical activity each day, but set no minimum amount of time. 

Tending the garden is part of the physical routine. 


 

Related Reading:

Bee Populations Continue Rapid Decline
EPA Fines Monsanto for Selling Mislabeled GM Cotton in Forbidden Areas

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  • Posted on Dec. 10, 2010. Listed in:

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