Organic Cotton Acreage Down 99% in California


The US produces about 1% of the world’s organic cotton with most of the production in low-wage countries such as India and Turkey. In the early 1990s, there was tremendous interest in organic cotton-growing in California and many acres were planted. However, high costs for labor-intensive tasks, especially weeding, resulted in clothing companies turning to the foreign producers.

“Organic cotton production reached its height in the late 1990’s in California’s Central Valley with as much as 20,000 acres being grown. Hundreds of textile companies began using organic cotton in their products. (Hanna Anderson, American Apparel, Norm Thompson, Nike, Patagonia, Mountain Equipment Coop, IKEA, Eddie Bauer, to name a few).

Patagonia and Mountain Equipment Coop fully converted their cotton products to 100% organic. However, by 2000, it soon became apparent that organic cotton produced overseas could be grown at about half the price and so the market for domestic organic all but disappeared, with only about 100 acres of organic cotton being grown in California in 2004, 2005 and 2006.”

Authors: Gibbs, M.
Affiliation: Sustainable Cotton Project of Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
Title: Creating Market Demand For Biologically Based Growing Systems in Cotton.
Source: 2007 Beltwide Cotton Conferences. New Orleans, Louisiana. January 9-12, 2007.

Organic Berry Production in Europe is at a Dead End

Damage from Raspberry Beetle

Damage from Raspberry Beetle

The growing of organic strawberries and raspberries in Europe has not expanded in the past decade. There is organic production in most countries, but it is on a very small scale. Organic berry production in Europe is likely to remain a niche market largely due to lack of control of very damaging insect pests.

“Many European growers of organic strawberry and raspberry have large losses in yield (sometimes >80%) and reduced quality of their products because of insect damage. Among the major threats are the strawberry blossom weevil, the European tarnished plant bug and the raspberry beetle. In organic soft fruit production there are no effective control measures for these pest insects.”

Authors: Wibe, A., et al.
Affiliations: Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming, Norway.
Title: Management of strawberry blossom weevil and European tarnished plant bug in organic strawberry and raspberry using semiochemical traps – “Softpest Multitrap”
Source: NJF Report. 2013. 9[8]:31.

The Importance of Pendimethalin Herbicide in Greece


Greek Cotton Field

Pendimethalin is normally used to control weeds on about 85% of the cotton and onion farms in Greece. During the last decade, the number of approved herbicides has drastically declined in Europe, leaving farmers with less choices and high weed control costs. Researchers at Aristotle University recently summarized the potential effects on Greek farmers if use of pendimethalin were to be stopped as a result of EU regulatory action.

“This work aims to determine the current state of experts’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs regarding pendimethalin use in three crops (cotton, onion, processing tomato). The survey is focused on experts’ perceptions towards the necessity of pendimethalin in weed control, the advantages and disadvantages of pendimethalin and the probable impacts of pendimethalin withdrawal due to EU regulation or stoppage in manufacturing.

Any action of stoppage or withdrawal of pendimethalin from the market will bring about devastated effects on the farmers and crops, mainly due to lack of effective substitutes or herbicide combinations. The most significant impact, in case of pendimethalin withdrawal, would be a surge in production cost, since farmers must apply more costly and perhaps less effective weed control techniques (hoeing, covering land with plastic and using other combinations of herbicides).

…a Greek farmer hardly can harvest cotton without chemical weed control. Also, they stated that hardly can vision the possibility to cultivate onion, in the Viotia area, and cotton in Thessaly region without herbicide availability, since cost effective alternatives cannot being foreseen.

Then, considering the withdrawal effects of the use of pendimethalin in a regional level, the growers of cotton in Thessaly will lose a total of approximately €16.4 million of their gross production value and a total of approximately €7.3 million of their net revenues. …Finally, in a national level the growers of cotton in whole Greece will lose a total of approximately €42.8 million of their gross production value and a total of approximately €19.1 million of their net revenues.”

Authors: Mattas, K., et al.
Affiliations: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Title: Economic assessment of Pendimethalin herbicide use in selective crops (cotton, processing tomato & onion).
Source: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Working Papers No 166116 Available:

Herbicide Use in Spanish Olive Groves Conserves Soil


The actual soil surface is indicated by the continuous black line, while the dashed line indicates the position of the original, eroded soil surface. The difference between both surfaces corresponds to the eroded soil profile.

Weed control in olive groves is necessary to prevent them from competing with the olive trees for moisture. In the 1970s, tillage with tractors became commonplace in Spanish olive groves. However, repeated ploughing left the soil loosened and torrential winter rains washed away the topsoil. Herbicide use has replaced tillage for weed control during the last twenty years and large reductions in soil erosion have occurred. A recent study determined that during the period of mechanical tillage, erosion rates were as high as 40t/ha/year while today, the erosion rate is 10t/ha/year.

“Olive orchards are an important agro-ecosystem in the Mediterranean. Soil erosion is a widely recognized threat to their sustainability. …This study aims at measuring and modelling soil erosion rates in olive orchards over a 250-year period, and relating these to changes in management practices and yield, as documented from historical sources. In three study areas in S-Spain, the height of relic tree mounds was measured in olive orchards dated between 153 and 291 years old to determine soil profile truncation. Historical documents allowed characterizing land management since 1752 in eight distinct periods.

Current soil losses by tillage are low because of the replacement of the spring tillage operations by herbicide application since the start of Period 8 in 2000. Only superficial harrowing is continued during summer. These superficial operations result in a lower movement of soil. In contrast, the highest soil erosion rates by tillage are found right after the introduction of mechanized agriculture, between 1970 and 1990 (Period 7), mainly because of deep mouldboard plowing, which is done at least twice a year.

Most of the tillage erosion occurred during periods of intense tillage, like from 1970 to 1990. To date, tillage is of minor importance due to the preference for herbicide use for controlling weeds.”


Authors: Vanwalleghem, T., et al.
Affiliation: Instituto de Agricultura Sostenible, Spain.
Title: Quantifying the effect of historical soil management on soil erosion rates in Mediterranean olive orchards.
Source: Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 2011. 142:341-351.

American Ginseng Production Would be Devastated Without Fungicides

Ginseng Under A Canopy

Ginseng Under A Canopy

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is a perennial herb native to parts of the US and Canada grown primarily for the medicinal properties of its root. Currently, more than 95% of the cultivated commercial ginseng in the United States is grown in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s 150 growers cultivate 1500 acres of ginseng, producing 500 to 2000 pounds per acre which represents 10% of the world’s supply of ginseng. At an approximate average of $20-30/lb, ginseng is a high value crop for Wisconsin, totaling $50 to $75 million annually. Cultivated ginseng is grown on a raised plant bed under a tree or black woven polypropylene canopy. The shade required by the crop and dense plant spacing create a microclimate highly conducive to disease with limited air movement and extended leaf wetness periods. If Alternaria leaf and stem blight is not controlled, it can reach epidemic proportions within a month after the plants have emerged in the spring, destroying all the foliage. The loss in yield reported by Wisconsin growers when the disease is uncontrolled range from 50 to 100%, with the majority of those surveyed reporting losses of 75 to 100%.

“Alternaria blight, incited by Alternaria panax Whetzel, is the most common disease of ginseng throughout the world… This disease is a yearly problem for ginseng growers in Wisconsin and can be especially destructive, causing rapid defoliation and plant death.

In the absence of effective treatments for Alternaria blight, growers could potentially lose $13,930/ha in root revenue due to repeated crop defoliation. Since A. panax also infects drupes, seed may be threatened. With an average seed yield of 337 kg/ha, growers could lose an additional $18,537/ha (current market value $55/kg) due to Alternaria blight.

Cultural strategies to manage Alternaria blight include increasing plant spacing to enhance air circulation, removing infected foliage, and replacing straw mulch in affected areas. Unfortunately, these strategies are not practical and would not preclude the reintroduction of inoculum via air currents. The use of biocontrols as alternatives to traditional fungicides has also been considered for Alternaria blight management. However, the biocontrol agent did not adequately reduce disease under field conditions due to poor survival on leaf surfaces.

Currently, growers rely on fungicides to protect their crop from Alternaria blight. Growers must apply fungicide sprays judiciously during the relatively long growing season of May through September to protect the crop and comply with product labels.”

Authors: Hill, S. N., and M. K. Hausbeck.
Affiliation: Michigan State University.
Title: Factors influencing airborne conidial concentrations of Alternaria panax in cultivated American ginseng gardens.
Source: Plant Disease. 2009. 93[12]:1311-1316.

Labor Shortages on Indian Tea Plantations Result in Need for Herbicides

Scraping Weeds In Tea Fields

Scraping Weeds In Tea Fields

Historically, the most common method of weed control on tea plantations in India was to manually scrape the weeds off the surface of the soil. However, this is a labor-intensive method and needs to be repeated at regular intervals. The paucity of labor in the tea gardens of south India has made weeding a difficult exercise. Presently, tea growers rely heavily on herbicides to control weeds due to labor shortages for manual weeding.

“Grassy weeds reduce the productivity of tea by 21 per cent, while broad-leaved weeds accounts for 9-12 per cent. Weeds remove substantial amount of nutrients and moisture from the soil besides increasing the incidence of pests and diseases in crop by serving as alternate host.

Herbicides, as a tool for controlling weeds in tea plantations is very much popular and have been widely used ever since their introduction – primarily due to their cost effectiveness, efficiency in controlling diverse weed flora and less labour intensiveness, etc. Tea plantations alone use about 20 per cent of the total quantity of herbicides used in India.

Mechanical and manual control of weed are costly, time consuming, laborious and sometimes injurious to feeder roots of young tea plants in comparison to herbicidal control of weeds. Such methods are also limited by non-availability of labours in peak season.These methods require about 75 man days/ha annually for young tea and 35 man days for mature tea while, 15 man days/ha for young tea and 8 man days for mature tea in the first year are required for herbicidal control of weeds excluding the cost of herbicides.

At present, herbicides worth over Rs.7 crores are being used by tea industry of North East. India alone is expected to increase further in view of acute shortage of labours in time and escalating wages of labour.”

Authors: Rajkhowa, D. J., et al.
Affiliation: National Research Centre for Weed Science.
Title: Weed management in tea.
Source: NRC for Weed Science, Jabalpur.2005. Pgs. 3-13.

University of California Research Saves the Date Industry

Mite damage

Mite Damage on Dates

California ranks first in the nation in date production accounting for nearly 100% of all dates produced nationally. Banks grass mite has been a persistent pest of California dates since the early 1900s. Banks grass mite causes direct damage on immature green fruit by puncturing cells and sucking the juices from the surface of the fruit. The skin of infested fruit becomes hard and then cracks and shrivels. A heavy deposit of fine webbing is spun over much of the feeding area. The mites work extensively beneath the webbing. The mite population can double every 35 hours. Banks grass mite traditionally has been controlled by applications of sulfur. Frequent use of sulfur to control mites was effective until the late 1980s. Beginning then growers reported that sulfur was no longer effective and a replacement needed to be found.

“Riverside County is the number one producer of dates in California as well as the nation but successful, economical production is limited by Banks grass mite (BGM), the leading pest of dates in the state…. Dr. Peggy Mauk, UCCE Riverside County, was asked by area growers to find an alternative pesticide for controlling BGM. In one year of testing products she came up with an alternative pesticide, Savey…. After one season of testing, Dr. Mauk was able to get EPA to approve an emergency registration for Savey in California for the following season.

The miticide, sprayed with water once early in the season, gives season-long control. In the first year of its introduction, nearly 50% of the growers used it. Three years later over 90% of growers had traded in their dusting machines for sprayers so that they could use Savey…. Savey not only gives season-long control but is easy on the natural enemies (good bugs) and overall crop quality is ideal.

Albert Keck, Chairman, California Date Commission: “The California date industry has benefited greatly from the attention provided to it by the UCCE. Through the recent efforts of Dr. Peggy Mauk, the industry has successfully combated a devastating mite infestation, which if left unresolved would certainly have led to the demise of the industry.””

Title: Mite devastating date crop is foiled.
Source: University of California Delivers. Available online:

Potato Farmers in Ecuador Depend on Fungicides

Potato leaves with late blight; Fungicide treatment on right

Potato leaves with late blight (L); Fungicide treatment (R)

Carchi is the most important potato-growing zone in Ecuador. Smallholder households dominate production and they sell the vast majority of output. The biggest biological constraint to potato production in Ecuador is the disease late blight caused by the fungus p. infestans. The fungus can infect all the potato plants in a field in three days and losses can be as high as 100%. A survey of smallholder potato farmers in Carchi showed how dependent they are on fungicides.

“Even though potatoes have been one of the main crops in the Andes for thousands of years, under present production and market conditions the farmers in Carchi cannot produce potatoes without pesticides, particularly fungicides against late blight (caused by Phytophthora infestans) and insecticides to control the Andean weevil (Premnotrypes vorax). Every one of the farmers in the area covered by our project in the province of Carchi used fungicides. On average, they treated 6.7 times with 2.6 products at each treatment. They generally applied fungicides up to eight times during each production cycle, making fungicides the most frequently applied type of product.”

Authors: Sherwood, S. G., et al.
Affiliation: Integrated Pest Management Project, International Potato Center (CIP),
Title: Reduction of risks associated with fungicides: technically easy, socially complex.
Source: 2002. Reduction of Risks Associated with Fungicides: Technically Easy, Socially Complex. pp. 93–109. In: Fernández-Northcote E.N. (ed), Memorias del taller internacional Complementando la resistencia al tizón (Phytophthora infestans) en los Andes, Febrero 13–16, 2001, Cochabamba, Bolivia, GILB, Taller Latinoamérica 1. Centro Internacional de la Papa, Lima, Perú. Available online:

Without Insecticide Sprays, European Olive Oil Would Smell and Taste Really Bad

Decay and feeding damage from olive fly

Decay and feeding damage from olive fly

More than 95% of the world’s production of olive oil (about 870 million gallons) comes from the Mediterranean region. The olive fly is an ancient pest mentioned in Greek and Roman writings dating back to the 3rd Century B.C. In heavily infested orchards more than 90% of the olives may be attacked. The larvae consume pulp which results in a reduction of oil quantity by 20-25%; the quality of the oil is also lowered. Oil obtained from olives infested with the olive fruit fly has 50-60% higher acidity. Exit holes made by larvae allow for the development of bacteria and fungi. Acidity is increased by fermentation through the action of bacteria and fungi and oxygen exposure. The larval gut contents may have an effect on the flavor of the oil and lead to a so-called “wormy smell”. In the 1960s, the availability of inexpensive chemical insecticides made it possible to protect the olive crop efficiently from the olive fly. Several countries such as Spain and Greece have government-sponsored programs that provide area-wide spray programs.

“The olive fruit fly, is considered to be the key pest of the Mediterranean Basin olive orchards. Females lay their eggs in both green and ripening olive fruit, and larvae feed upon the pulp of the fruit. They finally pupate inside the olive or exit to pupate on the ground. This pest causes a reduction in yield owing to a premature fruit drop or a loss of weight of the fruit caused by feeding larvae. Furthermore, microorganism growth inside the fruit increases the acidity of olive oils, which decreases their quality and commercial value. In table olives, B. oleae’s damage totally reduces their commercial value. Control methods against this pest include bait sprays, cover sprays and mass trapping. Traditional insecticides, such as organophosphates, and other more recently developed compounds, such as spinosad, are commonly applied as bait sprays.” 

Authors: Bengochea, P., et al.
Affiliation: Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain.
Title: Insect growth regulators as potential insecticides to control olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae Rossi): insect toxicity bioassays and molecular docking approach.
Source: Pest Management Science. 2013. 69:27-34.

Angry Italian Women Replaced by Herbicides


Le Mondine of the 1950s                                                                      Riso Amaro “Bitter Rice”

In Italian rice fields in the 1950s prior to the development of herbicides, weeding was done by hand. In May, the rice fields had to be weeded to prevent the young rice from being choked by other vegetation. Hundreds of women known as le mondine, or weeders, arrived from all parts of Italy to perform the delicate task of rooting out the weeds while leaving the young rice plants in place. Le mondine have become a nostalgic memory, immortalized by the famous film Riso Amaro or ‘Bitter Rice.’ It was a hard life for le mondine. They had to work bent double, up to their knees in water under a blazing sun. As the women weeded, they sang. One of the songs, Bella Ciao, was adopted by the Italian Communist Party to express the social injustice of the system. In the 1960s, most of the women left the rice fields when jobs opened up in cities, such as Milan, Genoa, and Turin. Today, herbicides are used in Italian rice fields.

“Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe, with about 235,000 ha in 2012. The main rice cultivation area is concentrated in the north-western regions of Piedmont and Lombardy where the continuous paddy rice system is widespread. Weed management is one of the key aspects of rice cultivation because pedo-climatic conditions are favourable to weeds that are generally competitive, there is a rich and persistant seed bank, and the weed flora is often dominated by difficult-to-control species… Consequently, farmers need to apply complex chemical and agronomic strategies to guarantee good weed control. Herbicide use is intense, with an average treatment frequency index higher than 2.5.”

Authors: Scarabel, L, et al.
Affiliations: National Research Council, Italy.
Title: Resistance evolution and sustainability of the rice cropping system: the Italian case study.
Source: Global Herbicide Resistance Challenge: Program and Abstracts. February 18-22, 2013. Pg. 105.