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

ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: MORE CONSERVATION

[Originally posted December 14, 2016]

IL Corn and the ag industry has introduced some management practices and talked about some concepts that are different for farmers, trying to help them improve the water quality coming from IL farms.

Farmers are anxious to learn, some are trying out a few new practices, others are watching and learning from their neighbors, but …

WE NEED MORE FARMERS TO TRY MORE CONSERVATION PRACTICES.

Farmers are farming because they love it, but also because they need to provide for their own families.  So trying something completely new, and risking tens of thousands of dollars or more in the process, is a scary thing.

Research tells us that trying cover crops will cost *this much* and improve soil health *this much* while also decreasing nutrient loss *this much.*  But the research put into practice on some farms doesn’t always work out exactly the same.  Farmers get nervous to try new things … and that’s understandable!

But Santa, we’ve got to make our water quality better.  We’ve got to lose less of the expensive fertilizer we’re putting on our fields.  We’ve got to invest in our land and preserve it for future generations.  Farmers definitely want to do this!  It is their core value and the foundation of their farming business.

So one thing we’d love for Christmas is for more farmers to TRY a new conservation practice on their fields this year.  Maybe they just try it on one field, maybe they branch out to several.  Maybe they talk with a neighbor and try the same thing she had success with in 2016.  We’re making progress, but MORE progress would sure be nice.

Whisper in their ears – would you Santa?  We’ll keep providing the outreach, education, and programming in the meantime …

Note: In 2016, IL Corn offered several new educational programs for farmers!  These are just a few:

  • cover crop coupons – to try cover crops at a reduced cost for the first year
  • field days – to see how different management techniques were actually working on farms in Illinois
  • interactive maps – to help farmers understand when to apply nitrogen and when not to apply
  • Precision Conservation Management – a pilot program that helps farmers understand conservation practices AND the financial implications that correlate with them
  • water testing – to understand how much of the expensive fertilizer a farmer was losing from his/her field

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

3 WAYS FARMERS HELP THE ENVIRONMENT

Taking care of the environment is something every person in the world can contribute to. Maybe you turn off the water when you brush your teeth or carpool with friends to work. Did you know that farmers also care about the environment? Farmers want to protect the environment so they can continue to feed the world.

Here are just a few things that farmers do to protect the earth we all live on:

  1. Cover Crops. Have you ever driven by a field in the dead of winter and wondered why something was growing there? A cover crop is planted in a field during winter when other types of plants can’t grow. The reason farmers plant cover crops is to reduce the risk of soil erosion, or the wearing away of the soil. Some common examples of cover crops are crimson clover and radishes. Soil erosion causes many problems such as poor drainage that could lead to water pollution. The cover crop helps eliminate soil erosion since the root of the plant is holding the soil in place. When wind and rain come along, the soil will not wash away. Cover crops also help keep organic matter in the soil, which increases soil health. Through this practice, farmers are ensuring the health of their soil, while also protecting the environment.
  2. No-Till. Farmers prepare for the planting season through tilling the soil. Tilling is a way of preparing the soil through digging, stirring, and overturning. On the other hand, no-till is a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. The soil in the field is not disrupted and old corn stalks or leaves act as the “cover” to the soil. Because the farmers leave the soil intact, it is less likely to be washed away by water or blown away by the wind which would cause soil erosion. Farmers want to protect the soil so it can continue to be used in the future.
  3. Help Reduce Runoff. 

Agricultural runoff is water that leaves farm fields because of rain or melted snow. When the runoff moves, it can pick up pollutants, such as chemicals or fertilizers, which can then deposit into ponds, lakes, and sources of drinking water. Farmers can plant riparian buffers, which are vegetated areas that help prevent runoff into water sources.There are also programs in place to help protect water sources from agricultural runoff. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) is one of those programs. The goal of MRBI is to work with farmers to implement conservation practices that help avoid and control runoff from fields, specifically into the Mississippi River. Farmers put a lot of effort into protecting the water that everyone drinks.

Laine Honneger
University of Illinois

ARE GMOs CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEATH OF BEES?

Are GMOs contributing to the death of bees and butterflies

Bees have a very big role to play in agriculture.  Farmers must have them to pollinate plants.

Experts estimate that honey bees are worth $15 billion to the U.S. economy because of their role in pollinating agricultural crops!

The good news is that despite what you may have heard, honey bee populations are at a 20 year high!  Read more about that here.

The buzz you’ve heard about bees about started in 2006 when Colony Collapse Disorder hit and reduced bee populations considerably.  This is a complicated issue that includes mites that attack the bees and inadequate nutrition that kills them, along with other factors we probably haven’t even figured out yet.

EPA et al recognize the bee populations may be challenged by a number of factors including pests and parasites, microbial disease, inadequate diet and loss of genetic diversity, as explained by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst and author, in this post.

When scientists and beekeepers first started studying this issue, many worried that GMO crops were among the causes to blame.  GMO crops include a protein that is indigestible for many insects, but after further research, the protein does not impact honey bees.

Paul explains that “the proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences indicated that bees may be dying not from a single toxin or disease, but rather from a variety of factors.”

Concerns have also been raised that a type of insecticide called neonicotinoids — or “neonics” – could be negatively impacting honey bee health. Sometimes the use of neonics are linked with GMO crops, but neonics are used on both GMO and non-GM varieties of crops, like corn, soybeans and canola.

So far, research shows that neonics do not have a significant impact to honey bees and that climate change has among the largest impacts on the bees, including narrowing the range of locations where bees can safely live and pollinate and thus magnifying the impact of the varroa mite.

Bee Ambassador for Bayer Chris Sansone, who has more than 30 years of experience as a professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M University, points to several scientific studies indicating this is not the case. He notes that “genetically modified plants and their impact on honey bees have been widely studied, and the results indicate that GM plants are not harmful to bees.”