EXHAUST EMISSIONS LINKED TO HUMAN HEALTH THREATS

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the U.S. there are 45 million people living, working or attending school within 300 feet of a major road, airport or railroad.3 Hundreds of studies have linked air pollution to a wide range of human health threats from low birth weights to brain cancer, from asthma to leukemia.  For example:

  • A Center for Disease Control review of seven studies involving over 8,000 children found that children diagnosed with leukemia were 50% more likely to live near busy roads than children without leukemia.4
  • A UCLA study linked autism in children with prenatal exposure to traffic pollution.5
  • A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that women exposed to high levels of air pollution in their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to give birth to a child with autism6
  • A study of 60 million Americans—about 97% of people age 65 and older in the U.S.—shows that long-term exposure to airborne fine particulate matter and ozone increases the risk of premature death, even when that exposure is at levels below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. 7
  • University of Colorado researchers have warned that benzene, toluene and xylene may disrupt the hormone system in humans beyond levels deemed “safe” by federal standards.8
  • According to the University of Southern California, at least 8 percent of the more than 300,000 cases of childhood asthma in Los Angeles County can be attributed to traffic-related pollution at homes within 75 meters of a busy roadway.9
  • A study involving the VA Saint Louis Health Care System in Missouri estimates that about 14% of diabetes in the world—or about 1 in 7 cases—occurs because of higher levels of air pollution, primarily due to particulate matter. 10

These are sobering statistics—and there are hundreds more.  But there is good news:  There is an alternative octane enhancer that makes our fuel safer and our air cleaner—ethanol.

WHAT’S IN OUR GAS IS KILLING US

87. 88. 89. 91. Those numbers on the yellow stickers you see on the gas pump indicate the octane level of the fuel, a measure of the fuel’s performance under compression in your engine.

But it’s what’s behind those numbers that poses a serious health threat to you and your family. And it’s why ethanol is the “clean air choice” when it comes to better engine performance and improved air quality.

SCORE ONE FOR FARM SUSTAINABILITY

SUSTAINABILITY: A WHOLE FOOD SYSTEM APPROACH

I’m in the food business. Like you and everyone in the food supply chain, from farmers to ingredient processors to brands and retailers, I want a sustainable food supply. That means food companies work with farmers to set specific sustainability standards and source ingredients based on those standards.

Dirk and grandson

LOW SCORE WINS

The Fieldprint® Calculator app helps farmers measure and track environmental impact. I grow corn, soybeans and wheat on my farm in central Illinois. After harvest each year, I input data into the calculator and it gives me a score based my estimated carbon footprint. The scoring system is similar to golf – the lower the score the better.

The score is based on a variety of factors including:

  • Trips across the field (fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions)
  • Fertilizer used (when and how much)
  • Pesticides used (when and how much)
  • Biodiversity
  • Soil conservation
  • Water quality
Fieldprint Calculator

CALCULATING CHANGE

Next, I review a “web graph” that represents my sustainability performance compared to state and national averages. I use the results to think critically about what I could improve on my farm next year. Personally, what I value most is being able to see how my farm compares to my neighbors because they have to deal with the same weather, pests and soil that I do.

Soybeans growing in corn and cover crop residue

DATA DRIVES DECISIONS

Before this calculator, I used soil conservation practices including cover crops and minimal tillage, both of which help prevent erosion and increase organic matter in the soil. When I first began using the calculator, I was happy to see that my score was already low and I was doing excellent work in many categories. There was, however, one category that I didn’t score as well in: fertilizer use.

I applied the same amount of fertilizer to all areas of my fields at the time, but looked into other options once I knew there was room for improvement. Now, I apply fertilizer at a variable rate, meaning my field is split into sections and I only apply as much fertilizer as each individual section needs based on soil test results. It’s like each acre of my field has it’s own prescription. Giving the soil only as much fertilizer as it needs reduces waste and has improved my score in the Fieldprint® Calculator app.

WE ALL NEED TO BE PROFITABLE

To me, sustainability is about conservation practices, but it’s also about profitability. I believe the two go hand-in-hand. After all, a farmer can’t keep using sustainability measures without succeeding in their business. The calculator app is a great way for farmers to benchmark change and justify conservation methods that can improve their land and their bottom line.

DIRK RICE, IL CORN DIRECTOR and ILLINOIS FARMER

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY POSTED AT WATCHUSGROW.ORG

TELL ME MORE ABOUT FARMERS AND RECYCLING

On Tuesday, we talked about how the leftovers from ethanol production are left to livestock.  But if you don’t understand ethanol production, that might sound sort of … iffy.

Read how this mom began to understand how farmers are amazing recyclers!

WHAT EXACTLY IS THAT BYPRODUCT?

by ANITA MANN Naperville, IL

cattle, eating, byproductI don’t know about you, but I have to admit that when I heard that farmers feed their cattle byproducts I really didn’t understand what that meant. All I knew was that it didn’t sound good to me, especially if that byproduct came from an ethanol plant!

When I hear the word ethanol, I think of gasoline so I was really confused on what the byproduct was.  However, while on a tour at the Adams Farm in Sandwich, IL, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what these byproducts actually are and how they were used to feed cattle. 

The byproduct from ethanol distilleries is known as distillers grains (often referred to as DDGS). When the corn is used to make ethanol they only use the starch portion of the grain, so the byproduct is the corn germ, oil, and the outer seed shell.

The fermentation of the grain in the ethanol production process makes the byproduct a high-protein, high-fat and high-fiber product that cattle like. The farmer uses this much like we put sugar on cereal. 

Another byproduct used in feed is from a local Del Monte vegetable plant and a seed corn plant. After the sweet corn is harvested and the kennels are removed, both the cob and the husk are left over. This sweet corn byproduct is mixed with the leftover husks from a seed corn plant and then it ferments in a bunker silo. This fermented mixture is used as part of the cattle’s feed ration.

A third type of byproduct used in cattle feeding comes from a sugar refinery in the form of molasses, which is mixed with a vitamin/mineral supplement that the cattle receive. 

All of these byproducts would normally just go to waste, but the cow’s unique digestive system allows a farmer to utilize it for feed in addition to the grass that the cattle graze on in the pasture. With the human population increasing and the amount of land available for grazing decreasing, I think this is a clever way of utilizing the resources that are available.

Read this article as it was originally posted here.

FARMERS LOVE RECYCLING!

recycle, sustainability, DDGS

It’s true.  When farmers sell their corn to a local ethanol plant, the leftovers from making ethanol are perfect livestock feed.  In fact, 1/3 of the corn used for ethanol comes back to the farm for livestock.

Then, the manure produced from eating those leftovers is used to fertilize the soil to grow more corn the next year.

It’s an amazing recycling system that farmers have been using for years!

FARMER EXPLAINS WHY CHEMICALS ARE IMPORTANT TO HIS FARM

To follow up on yesterday’s post, meet Jake Freestone again, as he shows us around two local plots of farm ground in the EU.

One plot is planted in cover crops. The cover crops help fix nitrogen into the soil, so that Jake doesn’t have to apply additional synthetic fertilizer before he plants his cash crop. The cover crops reduce soil erosion because all those roots are fixing the soil and protecting it from heavy rains. The cover crops add organic matter to the soil which you can see is teaming with life. The cover crops are a huge benefit to the soil and to the environment.

But the cover crops are only an option if farmers have access to chemicals that will kill the cover crops and prepare the field for the cash crop in the spring. Without access to safe chemicals, the barren field becomes the necessary management tactic.

Without cover crops, heavy tillage is what farmers must do to prepare the field for spring planting. The soil is left vulnerable to heavy rains. No organic matter is added. No nitrogen is fixed, so fertilizers must be applied. More passes over the field use more fuel and equal more air emissions.

Glyphosate and other safe chemicals HELP farmers protect the environment. If you don’t believe me, believe Jake.

THE CONSEQUENCES WHEN TECHNOLOGY IS WITHHELD: A FARMER’S PERSPECTIVE

This article originally posted by Global Farmer Network.

How much would your life change if suddenly the government were to ban mobile phones?

It would alter everything, from how you work to how you communicate with your family. In time, perhaps, you’d get used to it: Our parents managed to survive without these devices in their pockets for most of their lives. I anticipate we’d figure out a way as well.

I, along with the majority of the population, do not want to revert to 20th-century technology. We’d lose so much.

Farmers, however, face constant pressure to go backward in time. Here in Europe, for example, politicians last year nearly banned us from using the world’s most popular crop-protection tool. This year, a court has released a judgment that will deny our access to several products that defend crops from pests whose activity damages or destroys.

All too often, people see technology as a threat rather than a resource. This is especially true when it involves a poorly understood technology that’s vulnerable to propaganda and misunderstanding. In my case, this means technology specific to agriculture, needed by farmers but also scorned by people who don’t understand or appreciate the difficulties of sustainable agriculture and take for granted that their food will show up at reasonable prices in grocery stores and restaurants.

An obvious example for Europeans is GMO food. Whereas much of the rest of the world has embraced this safe technology—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, the United States, and more—much of Europe has rejected it. Most consumers don’t know what they’re missing, but we farmers do, because we know that our competitors in other nations have taken advantage of sound science to grow more food on less land.

The debate will only intensify, as gene-editing tools give farmers even more versatility—especially as consumers begin to clamor for near-future advances that promise to improve the nutrition and taste of what we eat every day.

But that’s to come. We’re presently in the thick of several controversies that affect how I farm and produce food right now.

Consider the case of glyphosate, a crop-protection technology that helps me fight weeds. In 2017, the European Union nearly banned it—and the activists behind this political agenda haven’t given up. They may yet succeed in having glyphosate outlawed

For two decades, glyphosate has helped us grow food sustainably on our farm, which is in the United Kingdom, in an area called the West Midlands. We raise bread-making wheat, malting barley, linseed, and more. We also set aside a small part of our acreage for salad onions and handpicked peas and have a flock of 1,200 grazing ewes.

If we were to lose glyphosate, we’d have to return to old-fashioned cultivation for weed control, which means using machinery to turn over topsoil. This would come with a steep environmental and economic cost. We’d suffer soil erosion, turn to stronger chemical controls, and produce less food.

Long experience tells us that glyphosate is safe. If it weren’t safe, I would refuse to use it on my farm. When it comes to chemical applications to fields, of course, farmers are on the front lines. We face the greatest risk of harmful exposure. It makes no sense for us to adopt products that pose threats to our health. That would be suicidal.

Better than experience is science—and science, too, tells us that glyphosate is safe. It’s toxic to weeds, but it breaks down quickly and does not enter the human food chain. Regulatory panels have confirmed this, including the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemical Agency.

The French-based International Agency for Research on Cancer is the single outlier. It claims a connection between glyphosate and cancer in people. Mainstream scientists have debunked its conclusions, and IARC has a reputation for pursuing scary theories rather than embracing scientific evidence. Yet its statement have prompted activist groups to turn glyphosate into an issue of politics, rather than a matter of science, agriculture, and consumer economics.

Some might say: Better safe than sorry. Initially, that familiar saying sounds reasonable, and it’s at the heart of the “precautionary principle,” which drives so much of the regulatory decision-making in Europe.  The idea is that if we can’t be absolutely certain about a product’s potential hazards, then we shouldn’t allow its widespread use.

In practice, the precautionary principle smothers innovation: nothing is ever safe enough to satisfy everyone. If we followed it in everything, we’d have to ban mobile phones, because the IARC has classified them as “possibly carcinogenic.”

Thankfully, we haven’t taken this step—but we’ve taken it in other areas, especially agriculture. This is partly because only farmers see the regulations that affect us. They in fact affect everybody, but they’re invisible to non-farmers, which is to say most people.

As it happens, there’s nothing safe about denying farmers access to the crop-protection technology of glyphosate—and doing so would deliver a series of unwelcome and unintended consequences on my farm and the farms of others.

The first is that our soil would erode, causing us to lose moisture, nutrients, and biodiversity. We’d resort to alternative sprays that are more toxic and stay in the soil longer. We’d also run our equipment over our farmland more frequently, increasing our emission of greenhouse gases.

The advent of glyphosate allowed us to abandon these harmful practices. Banning it would pressure us to take them up again.

We’d grow less food, too. If our crops face more competition from weeds, our acres would become less productive. This means that food prices would inch upward. It’s simple economics: Reduced supplies mean higher costs for consumers.

One of the miracles of modern agriculture is that we grow more food on less land than ever before.  This is a boon for conservation.  A ban on glyphosate would turn back the clock: We’d grow less food on more land, hurting our efforts to conserve.

Will we lose glyphosate? I’m not sure. But I do know that we’re losing crop-protection tools all the time. In May, for example, a European court approved a ban of “neonics,” a popular pest-fighting technology. The allegation—and it’s merely an allegation—is that neonics kill too many bees. The science on this is far from clear, and many factors stress bee populations, from parasites and diseases to a loss of habitat and nesting sites. None of these causes have anything to do with the crop-protection tools that farmers use, and yet we’re the ones who have to pay the price.

So imagine a ban that causes you to give up your mobile phone. The sensation is not altogether different from my experience as a farmer, forced to confront the possibility of losing the latest technologies and drifting backward in time.

Jake Freestone
Farm Manager at Overbury Farms, West Midlands, United Kingdom

BUSY MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO RESEARCH WHAT TO PUT ON THE TABLE

Busy moms don’t have time to research what they put on the table.  That’s where farmers can help.

Watch this video of Texas cattle farmer Kyla meeting Kelly, a busy mom of two, and answering all her questions about how that steak gets from the farm to the table.

My personal favorite quote from the video?

“The night that I delivered Clara, Cole left to go bale hay.”

START SEEING MONARCHS

This past weekend, we celebrated National Monarch Day!

The Monarch Butterfly is an important pollinator for corn farmers and one whose numbers are dwindling.  The problem?  Monarchs need milkweed to complete their life cycle and modern herbicides are making milkweed very hard to find.

The solution?  Plant milkweed!  Farmers are working to keep milkweed in roadside ditches and waterways, pastures and creek beds, and even planting pollinator gardens around their homes.

Chris Novak, Chief Executive Officer of the National Corn Growers Association, told Prairie Farmer that he understands farmers’ reluctance to embrace milkweed.

“When I was a kid, I hated pulling milkweeds the most, and we knew at the time it was a noxious weed. We watched the thousands of seeds that came from a milkweed pod,” Novak says. “At that point, we weren’t thinking about monarch butterflies!”

But he says as science has improved, agriculture has taken a closer look at habitat for wildlife and recognized that people need to take steps to help. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a petition to list the monarch as a threatened or endangered species and plans to deliver a decision in June 2019.

“The farmers I work with are independent folks, and if they can get to the point where they don’t have government regulations coming down on them, they certainly prefer that,” Novak says.

He calls monarch habitat protection a “new part of the system farmers have to manage.” He and the rest of the Farmers for Monarchs coalition want to encourage farmers to take areas that aren’t part of productive working lands — fencerows, ditches, pivot corners — and plant habitats there.

“That’s at the heart of this effort,” Novak explains. “What we do first and foremost voluntarily gives us an opportunity to experiment and find what works best.”

Thank you to our sources:
Prairie Farmer
Start Seeing Monarchs

IS SNOW BAD FOR CROPS?

With the last few years of dry springs and summers, our crops are having a hard time getting the water they need. Just like us, they need water to prosper. Winter is coming (as they say in Game of Thrones) and with this comes usually heavy amounts of snowfall. In the Midwest last winter (fall of 2016 and spring 2017) we did not receive as much snow as years past. A lot of people wonder about dry fields does snow help the future crops or hurt them. 10 inches of snow only equals 1 inch of rain, it would take a lot of snow to make an impact. Just like driving to grandmas on Christmas to celebrate, snow can have some inconveniences too. (Insert photo of snowy field)

Snowfall can really dictate how things happen not only in agriculture but in life as well. Causing snow days and late days to work for parents is a huge impact. The snowfall can really help farmers during the spring. Even though snow can cause lots of issues for people getting to work and change of plans, it has helped farmers, especially during dry summers and fall.

Usually after harvest is complete most farmers till their fields to remove reused from other crops. Tilling is when farmers use a piece of equipment to dig into the land. When driving by fields you can tell if the field is tilled if the soil looks loose and more scattered across the top. (Insert photo of tilled field) This is a common thing to do once harvest is over to remove what is left from the crops before. The farmers who do not till their crops are at an advantage in this, the snowfall is better to be absorbed into the soil. This is important when thinking of crops such as winter wheat and how they need rainfall too. This is something that increases the water for the spring that will already be in the soil to help crops.

With snowfall comes tricky times for families. When living on a farm you have trouble with keeping animals warm and food out for them at all times. When you live in an urban area you have trouble with getting your car to work and making it to the store. We all face issues with snow big or small but they do impact agriculture. An industry that is very dependent on weather is easily disrupted by heavy amounts of snowfall and it can change the next season of crops.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University