February 18, 2005

Industrial and Biopharm Crops at NCGA

National Corn Growers To Host Conference on Biopharm and Industrial Crops

Second generation transgenic crops are being designed more for expression of traits useful to processors than to farmers. Doing so complete the industrialization of the farm and finishes the long term trend toward making farmers producers of industrial inputs rather than simply (but more importantly) food and fiber.

So now farming really has been reduced to manufacturing, but with that old sad twist we've heard before: the farmer is the only businessperson forced to buy their imputs at retail and sell all their outputs at wholesale. Read more about it here.

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2005

What Makes Worms Sick?

Breaking News Ground On Bt Resistance

Researchers at the University of California -- San Diego have identified a molecule in the gut of caterpillars and roundworms that is responsible for their susceptibility to Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxin, which is widely used by organic farmers, and has been genetically engineered into some corn hybrids to kill corn earworm and rootworm.

Since Bt is non-toxic to humans, one new idea that has come out of this work is to create a pill for that would kill roundworms, human parasites that in the developing world can cause both river blindness and elephantisis.

The research paper is available in the journal Science.

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 08:50 AM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2005

Organic Livestock and Grains in the Virginia Piedmont

Virginia Organic Producers and Consumers Association

This past Friday I paid a visit to the Virginia piedmont, just over the Blue Ridge from the Shenandoah Valley, where I was raised. I was headed to Ayrshire Farm, where Sandy Lerner has done a wonderful job of restoring a classic Piedmont farm to its glory. It is, as the website notes "a working farm that has met the 21st century with one foot firmly planted in the 19th."

The occasion was a conference for Piedmont farmers who are considering an entry into the organic meat market. As many of you certainly know, organic meat is the fastest growing sector of the organic market (79% a year), which is the fastest growing section of American agriculture (20% a year). This has had the effect (fortunate from the perspective of grain farmers and unfortunate as far as prospective organic meat producers are concerned) of raising organic grain prices to record levels. To get a sense of just how high prices are -- if you can find any organic grain at all to buy -- then check out the New Farm Organic Price Index and look at what organic #2 Yellow Corn is bringing in your area! But there is a solution...

...which is to grow your own organic grain. And that is just what people at the Virginia Organic Producers and Consumers Association (VOPACA) meeting were considering. It was an eminently practical meeting, in that the main presentations included a pair (Ellen Holton and Meghan Kuhn) from one of the oldest organic certification agencies, Quality Assurance International (QAI) and one of Virginia's best known independent organic inspectors, Catherine Cash. In one afternoon the assembled forty or so farmers got a complete rundown on the size of the market and exactly what they'd need to do -- in a regulatory sense -- to take advantage of it.

Virginia is fortunate to have two slaughter facilities that can process organic meats, so the main hitch at this point (other than the farmer's decision to give organic production a try) is feed cost, and the fact that prices are high does not affect production cost for the individual farmer. Modeling those costs is exactly what FarmSelect is all about, so I was thrilled to be there, and to be given 2-3 minutes to describe what it can do to help production farmers understand the differences between conventional and organic production budgets.

Now if we can just get our online course whipped into shape by this fall, so all those newly psyched up producers can while away a few winter evenings learning about the operational differences...I'll feel like all these hours staring into a computer screen -- instead of being out in the field -- will have been worth it!

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 01:50 PM | Comments (2)

February 06, 2005

Subsidy Payments Set To Drop

The new USDA budget is set to be unveiled Monday, and the details are likely to play the devil with long standing interest group coalitions. Of course the final level of funding -- and more importantly the distribution of that funding between the various kinds of payments will not really be known until Congress does the dirty work of crafting a bill, and that is still a ways off. But you can bet the lobbyists are already on the phone.

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)

January 31, 2005

Transgenic Crops Threaten Vermont Organic Production

As many of you may know, I am a Vermont native and was a vegetable grower and seedsman there for about 25 years, including a stint on the board of the Vermont Small Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. We Vermonters (wherever we live) are a bit chauvinistic about our agriculture, small in scale as it may be (we actually like that).

Now the Vermont Public Interest Research Group has released a report on the threat of transgenic crops to the continued growth of certified organic agriculture in Vermont, even within the overall continued decline of agriculture in the state.

Growth trends highlighted by the report include:

If you'd like to see the complete report, it is available on line at http://www.vpirg.org/pubs/GMO report FINAL.pdf

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it. If you don't have Acrobat Reader, you can download a free copy from the Adobe website.

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 08:47 PM | Comments (0)

Herbicide Resistance Growing Like Weeds

This is actually old news, but was brought back to the forefront during a recent conference in Guelph, Ontario, where the researcher presented preliminary findings from a survey of more than 1100 sites, mapping the spread of the resistance. AND, their prognosis for further development of the herbicide solution was not cheery because it seems the chemical companies have been ignoring herbicides to concentrate on heart and arthritis medicines for aging baby boomers, which they see as a more profitable business.

This is a problem no one seems to want to talk about, though everyone knows it to be true: that the ag input companies might just walk away from the ag market after creating dependencies (and attendant, persistent problems) for producers who have no other "business" they would rather be in...

Herbicide resistance growing like weeds, specialist says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, April 2003. Farmers applying popular herbicides to their fields one day might receive an unwelcome chemical reaction: weeds ignoring the products altogether.

Scores of crop-damaging weeds are developing immunity to even the strongest herbicides in farmers' arsenals, said Bill Johnson, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service weed specialist. What's more, fewer chemical methods for controlling the undesired vegetation are being introduced to replace them.

It all adds up to trouble for producers, but all is not lost if farmers change some current practices, Johnson said.

"We are developing glyphosate-resistant weeds at a rate of about one new species per year over the last four years," he said.

"There are about 250 species of herbicide-resistant weeds in the world. The highest number is in areas where production row-crop agriculture is most intense and relies almost exclusively on herbicides for weed control. That would be North America, Australia and Europe."

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, considered the king of herbicides. So dominant is Roundup that 83 percent of United States soybean acres are expected to be planted to Roundup-tolerant varieties this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Indiana farmers are projected to plant 91 percent of their soybean acres to Roundup Ready varieties.

Statewide, several weeds are demonstrating resistance to herbicide ingredients and brand-name products, Johnson said.

"In Indiana we have glyphosate-resistant marestail; jimsonweed resistant to atrazine; giant and common ragweed resistant to First Rate, pigweed resistant to Scepter, Classic and Pursuit; and lambsquarter resistant to atrazine."

Herbicide resistance in weeds started slowly in the 1970s and picked up steam in the early 1980s. Between 1990 and 2000 the number of confirmed herbicide-tolerant weeds worldwide jumped from about 125 to more than 240.

The rapid increase in weeds unaffected by herbicides was caused, in part, by the use of herbicides with identical control methods ‹ known as modes-of-action - on both soybeans and corn, Johnson said. The same is now happening to herbicides with aceto-lactase synthase (ALS) inhibitors. ALS inhibitors kill weeds by preventing them from producing essential amino acids necessary for growth.

Weed-control chemistry isn't keeping up with weed physiology, Johnson said.

"For the most part we haven't lost active ingredients in corn or soybean production, but we're not getting new active ingredients introduced, either," he said.

"In the 1980s and through the early part of the 1990s, we probably were getting one or two new herbicides with a relatively new mode-of-action every couple of years. We haven't gotten a new mode-of-action introduced into research programs in probably four or five years."

Developing effective new herbicides is a time-consuming and expensive task, Johnson said.

"There's probably a misconception out there that companies can turn on the spigot and turn out a new active ingredient, when in fact it takes probably $100 million and 10 years of research to get a new product to the marketplace," he said.

Although weeds are gradually winning the control war, farmers still have a fighting chance. Johnson recommends producers avoid using similar mode-of-action herbicides on two or more crops. Also, planting soybeans in narrow rows helps minimize weed emergence later in the crop season, and can be effective with corn, as well.

"One of the best things we can do is rotate crops," Johnson said. "We rotate crops for insect and disease problems, and we need to rotate crops for weed problems. Most of our corn and soybean crops in Indiana are rotated. However, there are certain areas where soybeans are grown continuously.

"The other thing we can do - if soil erosion is not a big problem - is introduce tillage back into our systems. That could be some primary tillage in the fall, some secondary tillage in the spring or simply using a rotary hoe and cultivator in the crop. There aren't too many weeds that have developed resistance to being torn out of the ground by a piece of steel."

Source: Bill Johnson, (765) 494-4656

Related Web sites:

Purdue University Weed Science Page

International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2005

Another Biotech First For Vermont

One thing not mentioned in this particular article is that Dave Zuckerman, the farmer / legislator we interviewed for our series of articles on the Intervale in Burlington, has been appointed CHAIRMAN of the House Agriculture Committee!

MONTPELIER, VT -- The Farmer Protection Act (s.18) passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee this morning on a voice vote. The committee expressed its intention to move the bill to the Judiciary Committee, as the bill deals with liability, contract, and patent infringement issues that face Vermont's family farmers because of the presence of genetically engineered crops in the state.

"The problem is that these genetically engineered seed contracts force the farmer to assume all liability for a product that is impossible to control," explained Amy Shollenberger, Policy Director at Rural Vermont, "and the solution is the Farmer Protection Act, which places that liability squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers of the seeds. If the product is indeed safe, then the companies should be proud to stand behind it. If it is not, then farmers should not have to bear the burden and pay the price for the damages."

In his testimony, Ed Miller, lobbyist for Monsanto, explained that strict liability was originally developed because of circus animals escaping and harming people. He noted that the intent was to hold the animals' keepers harmless if they had done their best to contain the animals. Miller said that seed companies should not have to assume the liability for their seeds.

"The strongest argument coming out of the biotech industry is that organic farmers must be responsible for protecting themselves," commented Ben Davis, Environmental Advocate at Vermont Public Interest Research Group. " Why should farmers have to bear the burden when it is impossible to contain the contamination?"

The bill is expected to move to the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, and a companion bill will likely be introduced in the House next week as well. House Speaker Gaye Symington commented, "I encourage the House Agriculture Committee to seriously consider the Farmer Protection Act. I am committed to allowing all sides to be heard, and to doing all that we can to support a diverse agricultural economy in Vermont."

CONTACT: Amy Shollenberger, Policy Director, Rural Vermont 802-793-1114

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 07:33 AM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2005

Monsanto Wants To Get (The) Healthy

For years I have told people, as the little bit of "good news" to wind up a discussion of bitoech, that at least there aren't any biotech veggies on the market, or biotech seeds being sold through seed catalogs. Well, it looks like that is about to end...

Seminis (formed by the merger of Peto and Royal Sluis some years ago) and enhanced by additions such as Asgrow and Genecorp more recently) is the largest supplier of vegetable seed in the USA, especially to the home garden trade. The company is estimated to control more than 40% of the vegetable seed sold in this country, and I can tell you that through the acquisition of some of our suppliers, it became the largest domestic supplier of seed to my company The Cook's Garden.

Peto was also the most active tester of biotech vegetables in the USA, with more than 90 permits for tomatoes alone a few years back. If you are curious you can look at the status of most any permit at the APHIS biotechnology regulation website.

Anyway, here is the release from this morning:

Monsanto in .4 billion seed co. deal

January 24, 2005 -- Reuters

NEW YORK - Agriculture products company Monsanto Co. was cited as saying on Monday it will buy vegetable and fruit seed company Seminis Inc. for about $1.4 billion in a bid to capitalize on the trend toward healthier diets.

The story says that Seminis supplies more than 3,500 seed varieties to commercial fruit and vegetable growers, dealers, distributors and wholesalers in more than 150 countries around the world.
Hugh Grant, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Monsanto, was quoted as saying, "The addition of Seminis will be an excellent fit for our company as global production of vegetables and fruits, and the trend toward healthier diets, has been growing steadily over the past several years."

Posted by shepherd.ogden at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2005

Some Organic Growers Exempted From Levies

WASHINGTON - Jan 13/05 - SNS -- Some organic producers and marketers will not have to pay assessments under research and promotion programs, and for market promotion activities under marketing order programs under changes approved by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.

The change will exempt producers and marketers operating under a National Organic Program-approved organic system plan from paying assessments, provided they produce and market only commodities eligible for a '100% organic' label.

The 2002 Farm Bill directed USDA to issue regulations exempting any person who produces and markets solely 100% organic products from paying assessments under a commodity promotion law.

Currently, 17 national research and promotion programs exist for blueberries, beef, cotton, dairy, eggs, fluid milk, Hass avocados, honey, lamb, mangos, mushrooms, peanuts, popcorn, pork, potatoes, soybeans and watermelons. Eligible producers and marketers will be exempt from all assessments under these programs.

Under the marketing order programs, eligible producers and marketers will only be exempt from assessments for market promotion activities. The 28 marketing order programs that have market promotion authority are Texas citrus; Florida avocados; California nectarines; California peaches and pears; Washington apricots; Washington sweet cherries; Washington/Oregon fresh prunes; Southeastern California grapes; Oregon/Washington winter pears; cranberries; tart cherries; Oregon/Washington Bartlett pears; California olives; Oregon/California potatoes; Colorado potatoes; Georgia Vidalia onions; Washington/Oregon Walla Walla onions; Idaho/Eastern Oregon onions; Texas onions; Florida tomatoes; Texas melons; California almonds; Oregon/Washington hazelnuts; California walnuts; Far West spearmint oil; California dates; California raisins; and California dried prunes.

Details of the exemptions, including application procedures, will be available in the "Rules" section of the Jan. 14 Federal Register. Eligible persons should contact their board, council or committee for additional information.

The new Final Rule to Exempt Organic Producers from Assessment by Research and Promotion Programs, and related information is available at:


Posted by shepherd.ogden at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2005

Corn is corn? Apparently not

A post from Klaas Martens on SANET. Apparently, ARS research has determined bt corn is not really equivalent to non-bt:

"...Preliminary results suggest that the non-transgenic corn hybrids were better able to take advantage of the available nutrients in the Clarion soil than were the transgenic hybrids....the non-transgenic hybrids also were better able to respond to fertilizer placement."

I found this reference while doing an unrelated search of ARS research papers. It seems that inserting a bt gene construct into corn doesn't leave us with a substantially equivalent plant after all.


Technical Abstract: Information on the nutrient requirements and growth habits of newer transgenic corn hybrids is needed. To evaluate hybrid responses to fertilizer placement, a pot experiment was conducted in a controlled-climate chamber. Fertilizer was added to Clarion silt loam (fine-loamy, mixed, mesic Typic Haplaquolls) at two rates comparable to those used in a previous field trial (22-30-19 or 67-30-19 kg nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ha-1, respectively). Three kg of soil (dry-weight basis) were placed in 3.8-L plastic pots, vertically divided into five parts with plastic screens. Fertilized soil was placed in a 0.20 fractional volume. Seedlings of two isolines (non-transgenic hybrids Pioneer 36R10 and 33P66 and transgenic hybrids Pioneer 36R11YG and 33P67YG) were planted two per pot and grown 13d. At harvest, roots growing in fertilized soil and a comparable unfertilized 0.20 fraction were removed separately. Preliminary results suggest that the non-transgenic corn hybrids were better able to take advantage of the available nutrients in the Clarion soil than were the transgenic hybrids. Dry matter accumulation was greater for both non-transgenic hybrids, regardless of fertilizer rate or placement. Based on measurements of root length in fertilized and unfertilized soil, the non-transgenic hybrids also were better able to respond to fertilizer placement. It is difficult to draw conclusions because information on plant uptake of nutrients is not yet available.

The ARS research page

Posted by amanda.kimble-evans at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)