Pesticide Guy Signing Off

Pesticide Guy’s last blog post will be posted on December 30 and that will be it. I have truly enjoyed sending out the almost 300 messages on the worldwide benefits of pesticides. I think that I met my objective of providing a broad set of scientific documentation on this topic. Pesticide Guy has been accessed over 26,000 times. The set of Pesticide Guy blog posts will continue to be available on the WordPress website and can be searched for individual topics indefinitely.

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Organic Cotton Acreage Down 99% in California

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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.

They’re Only in it for the Money: Organic Farming in the EU

Organic Farmers in Greece

Organic Farmers in Greece

Organic farming regulations are implemented by EU Member States mainly through the provision of financial support to farmers. There has been an increase in the areas under organic management in most EU countries, which is probably related to the direct effect of financial support. Greece is an important country with respect to organically cultivated land and has one of the highest rates of increasing organic areas in the EU. However, Greek organic products are very difficult to find in the market, and sales are extremely low. In other words, only a small amount of organic products are labeled and sold as organic products. Since farmers were willing to switch from conventional to organic agriculture, with the procedure to obtain the organic label being quite simple for farmers to follow, why are so many farmers not enthusiastic about certifying and labeling their products as organic?

“In Greece, organic farming was majorly promoted through the provision of subsidies to farmers, i.e., since 2004. An average organic farmer in Greece has one of the highest per hectare support compared to other countries. However, subsidies are provided with no limitation regarding crop type, geographic region or other more specific characteristics. It is very likely that farmers are not selecting organic management for ideological reasons, but are driven by financial incentives to receive the available subsidies… In any case, when the organic agricultural sector operates in this way, it stops at the farm, resulting in it being short term and highly unsustainable, as it is completely dependent on direct and uninterrupted financing. 

Consequently, since organic farming is made profitable because of subsidies (sometimes double, as in the case of wheat), it is much easier for the farmers to sell organic products as conventional products in a market that they are already familiar with.

As the majority of EU Member States offer per area payments for the conversion and/or maintenance of organic land, the “Bio without Bio”, i.e., organic farming – without organic products case of Greece, is probably not an exception.”

Authors: Argyropoulos, C., et al.
Affiliation: DIO-Certification Body.
Title: Organic farming without organic products.
Source: Land Use Policy. 2013. 32:324-328.

Insecticides Required to Meet Consumer Demands for Blemish-Free Carrots in the EU

nasty carrots

Carrot Fly Damage

Carrot is one of the most important vegetable crops in the EU with 6 billion pounds of annual production. The carrot fly is the major insect pest of the carrot crop in Europe. Before the introduction of insecticides in the 1950s, the carrot fly typically damaged 20-50% of the carrots grown in Europe. In some parts of Europe, the damage from the carrot fly was so severe that it was not profitable to grow carrots. Today, European carrot growers spray insecticides to prevent damage from the carrot fly.

“Carrot fly, is the most widespread and serious pest of carrot, parsnip, parsley and certain other umbelliferous herbs in temperate regions of the world. … The insect has two and, in some parts of Britain, Europe and New Zealand, three generations each year. Adult insects feed on the nectar and pollen provided by flowers and spend most of their life in the hedgerows, ditches or amongst herbaceous plants in gardens. Females search out carrot plants to lay their eggs which are inserted in crevices around the crown of the host plant. The larvae, which emerge from the eggs, migrate downwards to feed on plant roots.

Carrots grown commercially can be rendered unmarketable by even slight carrot fly damage.

To meet the stringent levels of blemish-free produce demanded by the supermarkets in the UK and Europe, commercial carrot production depends precariously on a few insecticides to control this pest.”

Author: Ellis, P. R.
Affiliation: Horticulture Research International, UK.
Title: The identification and exploitation of resistance in carrots and wild Umbelliferae to the carrot fly, Psila rosae (F.)
Source: Integrated Pest Management Reviews. 1999. 4:259-268.

Slugs Thrive When Policies Promote Biodiversity

Garden Slug

Garden Slug

In order to increase biodiversity around crop fields, some countries have adopted policies to reward farmers for growing a diversity of plants in field margins. These diverse plants attract other species. Unfortunately, slugs thrive in these diverse field margins and move into fields.

“Most field margins on arable land in Switzerland are narrow and intensively managed. As a consequence, field margins generally harbor few plant and animal species. To enhance biodiversity in arable landscapes, sown species-rich field margins, so-called improved field margins, were introduced in 2008 as a part of the Swiss agri-environment scheme.  

Such field margins are semi-natural, permanent habitats a minimum of 3m wide sown with indigenous forbs, grasses and legumes and adjacent to arable fields.

Slug activity density was increased by the establishment of improved field margins in our study. This means that crops grown near improved field margins suffer a higher risk of slug damage. Where possible, farmers should refrain from growing susceptible crops such as oilseed rape or sugar beet adjacent to an improved field margin. If necessary, a strip treatment with molluscicide pellets may reduce slug damage.”

Authors: Eggenschwiler, L., et al.
Affiliation: Agroscope Reckenholz-Tanikon Research Station ART, Zurich, Switzerland.
Title: Improved field margins highly increase slug activity in Switzerland.
Source: Agron. Sustain. Dev. 2013. 33:349-354.

Rotted Carrots: Not A Pretty Picture

Scleretinic Rot of Carrots

Sclerotinia Rot of Carrots

Sclerotinia rot of carrot (SRC), caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, is one of the most economically important diseases of carrots. Losses to this disease can occur from pre-harvest epidemics, originating in the field, or from post-harvest outbreaks caused by infected carrots entering storage. Post-harvest outbreaks are particularly devastating, with storage losses of some commercial growers reported as high as 50% in Canada.

“Typically, in Prince Edward Island (PEI), where about 300 ha of carrots are grown, losses in storage due to SRC occur in most years. In 2006, losses due to SRC cost carrot growers in PEI approximately $500,000. In 2007, losses in storage of approximately 25% (valued at $350,000) occurred, and yet, 2007 was not considered a year with high disease pressure. After witnessing the serious disease pressure and crop losses occurring at the local vegetable co-op first hand, our research teams initiated a program to examine potential post-harvest control options for SRC in storage.

Based on the results of our studies, fludioxonil (Scholar) was found to be an excellent tool for managing SRC in storage. …In 2008 and again in 2009, Scholar 50WP (a product currently registered in Canada for post-harvest control of some fruit diseases) received emergency registration in Canada for post-harvest use by carrot growers for control of SRC in storage. Feedback from growers in PEI indicated that the post-harvest use of fludioxonil in 2008 prevented the type of losses due to SRC experienced in previous years.”

Peters, R. D., et al.
Affiliation: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Title: Post-harvest Application of Fludioxonil for Control of Sclerotinia Rot (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) of Carrots in Storage.
Source: Carrot Country. Winter 2009. Pgs. 12-15.

Gentlemen Farmers Find the Going a Little Rough

picture caption

Steve Kettelle, successful real estate broker

When several ultra-rich celebrities and businesspeople tried their hand at organic farming, they found the going a little rough.

Of course, they knew going in that growing any kind of crop these days demands not only a high level of skill and knowledge, but a comprehensive grasp of factors affecting the bottom line. Didn’t they?

According to an article in WSJ. Money magazine, these modern-day gentleman, and gentlewoman, farmers – who had hoped to prove the principles of organic farming once and for all – instead found it costly, incredibly labor intensive and full of confusing and often conflicting regulations.

“The nation is in the middle of an organic-food boom, and in case you haven’t noticed, a surprising number of boldfaced names are becoming part of it. That includes Oprah Winfrey. …as well as comedian Roseanne Barr.

This gentleman’s farming—or gentlewoman’s farming—movement has spawned its own lifestyle brand.

But the good intentions of these type-A types notwithstanding, the economics of organic farming are a potential blow to their fairly large egos. These are individuals with scores of successes in life, but experts say that despite the price premiums that come with organic labeling or other likeminded practices, the math doesn’t always work out. It is just too expensive to do.

With organic farming, there’s an issue of scale that makes turning a profit hard. In myriad ways, conventional factory farms benefit economically by virtue of their size; not just by purchasing feed and seed in volume, but also in handling pest and weed control. For example, on an organic farm, weeding can be far more labor intensive because it can involve actual weeding. And crops can wither due to one problem or another, with no jug of Roundup to remedy the situation.

“We had a late-season blight which consumed an entire potato crop….It can happen in a day,” says Steve Kettelle, a successful Florida real-estate broker who started a certified-organic farm in Pine City, N.Y., after partially getting out of the business before the bust, Kerrelle has learned over time to maintain a good diversity of crops in case one fails, which they inevitably do. He considers himself a success story in that he’s in the black with his roughly five acres of produce, but he concedes if he factored the time he puts into his plot, his hourly earnings “would probably be below minimum wage.”

Author: Passy, C.
Affiliation: Reporter.
Title: The New Gentleman Farmer.
Source: The Wall Street Journal. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303997604579242722533288250

Seed Treatments Could Increase Food Production in Africa

Roots

Seedling Disease: no treatment (L) seed treatment (R)

Seeds may be attacked by insects and pathogens once planted in the soil. Treating seed with insecticides and fungicides is commonplace in the U.S. and other developed countries. Contact insecticides and fungicides coated on the seed create a protective barrier on the seed that slows or stops the insects and pathogens from attacking the seed. In Africa, seed treatments are not widely-used to protect seeds planted by small-scale farmers and crop losses occur. Research shows that the use of seed treatments could substantially increase African crop production.

“Disease and insect attacks are an important constraint for crop productivity in the drylands of West Africa. A test was therefore included to find out whether treating seeds with a combined fungicide/insecticide could increase yields. The results showed that the treatment of seeds increased yields by 17% on average, compared with untreated seeds. A previous study showed that the average yield increase due to seed treatment with fungicide/insecticide was 30% for pearl millet in West Africa.

This study shows how low-cost options can increase agricultural productivity in the millet-producing areas of Mali.”

Authors: Aune, J. B., C. O. Traore, and S. Mamadou
Affiliation: Norwegian University of Life Science.
Title: Low-cost technologies for improved productivity of dryland farming in Mali.
Source: Outlook on Agriculture. 2012. 41[2]:103-108.

To weed or not to weed: Shakespeare as Ag Communicator

Shakespeare

Shakespeare

An Ag Communication specialist recently read through the Bard’s plays and found several quotes about the importance of controlling weeds.

“I suppose Shakespeare wasn’t an agronomist in the proper sense so much as he had an acute, affectionate love of nature along with the transcendent genius to contemplate and express his sublime sentiments. It wasn’t that he surveyed or discovered things in the world that no one else could see externally, but everywhere in nature he found metaphors for the human condition.

The Bard was so comprehensive and universally appealing that multitudes of professions have “claimed” him as their own practitioner: Why can’t we agricultural communicators claim him as our own as well?

Without further ado, here are just a few quotes I plucked out of the Bard’s works pertaining in some manner to the foulness of weeds or other pests.

Gardener:
I would go root away
The noisome weeds, which without profit suck
The soil’s fertility from wholesome flowers.

Servant:
The whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit-trees all unpruned, her hedges ruin’d
Her knots disorder’d and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars?
Richard II, act iii, sc. 4

I think the above clearly shows that Shakespeare would’ve concurred with our contention that one must control weeds if one wants to preserve moisture and nutrients for one’s crops.

Hamlet:
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fye on it, ah fye! ‘tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.
Hamlet, act I, sc. 2

Fye on you weeds! Thou art rank and gross! My fellow ag communicators have been proclaiming this for years… just like Hamlet.

Friar:
I must up-fill this willow cage of ours0
With baleful weeds and precious juiced flowers.
Romeo and Juliet, act ii, sc. 3
 
“Baleful weeds”…now that’s ominous.

Queen:
Now ‘tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted;
Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden,
And choke the herbs for want of husbandry.
2nd Henry VI, act iii, sc. 1

Bravo! Spray weeds early and often!”

Author: Loftis, D.
Affiliation: McCormick Co.
Title: To weed or not to weed
Source: Agri Marketing. November/December 2009. Pgs.54-55.

Very Few Pear Growers in the Netherlands Dare to Go Organic

Pear Scab

Pear Scab

Organic growers face the same potentially severe pest problems as non-organic farmers. By contrast, the organic farmers have a very limited range of approved products with which to control these problems. In many countries, very few fruit farmers even dare trying to grow with the less effective organic pest control methods.

“The demand for organic pears in North-western Europe is high compared to the limited production. In spite of the good market perspective there are very few pear growers in the Netherlands who dare convert to organic production. The most prominent reason for this is their fear of scab (Venturia pirina). And indeed it is the experience of those who are growing organically that it is very hard to control this important disease. This is even more so since Copper based products were banned as fungicides in the Netherlands.”

Author: Jansonius, P. J.
Affiliation: Louis Bolk Institute, Hoofdstraat, NL
Title: Conference pears; work on system changes to enable better scab control in organic orchards in the Netherlands.
Source: Ecofruit Proceedings. 2008.