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November 2005: Agricultural Notes

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John Beeby, former Ecology Action apprentice and staff person, sent us an estimate of growing corn to produce ethanol for energy use. He states his figures are based on this information taken from a 1995 USDA article:

“If you grew one bushel of corn, you could produce roughly 209,000 BTU in the form of ethanol. It would take 199,000 BTU to produce that ethanol (farm machinery and fertilizers to grow corn, drying the corn, hauling the corn to an ethanol conversion plant, converting corn into ethanol, and distributing the ethanol. It does not include secondary energy requirements like building the farm machinery or ethanol conversion plants. So there is a net gain of about 10,000 BTU.”

John used the USDA figures to compute the following: “If we assume an acre of land in Illinois produces 120 bushels/acre, then about 1,200,000 BTU is produced per acre. 1.2 million BTU is equivalent to about 10 gallons of gasoline. In 2002, the US had 445 million acres in arable and permanent crops. If it were all used to produce ethanol, that would produce 534 trillion BTU, which is only 1/180th the energy the US used in 2003.”

• This information was taken from “A push for less pricey produce” by Kathleen Hennessey of the Associated Press, in the September 5, 2005 issue of Inland Valley Bulletin:
Protected Harvest, a Maryland-based non-profit, is “pushing to certify, label and market produce grown according to a set of agricultural standards labeled as sustainable,” to provide an alternative to the new organic certification process. “Certified growers must meet requirements regarding soil management, water quality, wildlife protection and labor practices, as well as pesticide use.” The “program does not prohibit farmers from using synthetic pesticides [but] farmers are scored on their pesticide practices and are asked to do detailed research before applying chemicals.” In a similar program in Wisconsin, “farmers used about 54 percent fewer toxic chemicals than the industry standard on that land.”

• There are two articles of interest in the May 2005 Permaculture Activist: “Silvopastoral Agroforestry Using Honeylocust” by Andy Wilson states that the tree “produces pods and seeds high in carbohydrates and protein that provide animal feed during autumn and winter when pasture grass production declines. Its open canopy produces a light shade, minimizing possible negative effect on summer grass production. Casual observations by field workers suggest that pasture grasses and legumes do well under honeylocust, growing right up to the trunk of the tree. The tree’s small leaflets are easily absorbed into pasture grasses during autumn leaf drop and provide an additional source of fertilizer. Because sheep, in contrast to cattle and swine, can digest between 70% and 90% of honeylocust seed, they fit best with silvopastoral honeylocust. The sheep reproduction cycle also coincides with pod production. Pods have a nutritional value between that of oats and barley, depending on the cultivar, growing culture and location. Although difficult to quantify, additional benefits include reduction of water runoff and topsoil erosion, shade for livestock, a productive pollen and nectar source for bees, a more diversified and aesthetically pleasing pasture environment, and timber upon project completion.” The downside to the tree is that it is thorny in its natural state and can be invasive.

The second article is “Pattern and Process in the Underground Economy,” about tree root ecology. This is a longer, detailed article which needs to be read in its entirety for those interested in the subject. However, here are a few quotes: “Most tree roots grow horizontally through the soil near the surface. The top one to two feet of soil typically contains 60-80% of tree roots by weight, the top three feet up to 99% of root mass. It appears that deep soils are important for healthy, productive trees even though most roots grow near the surface. Deep soils allow deeper rooting, therefore better nutrition and moisture supplies, hence higher and more stable yields, healthier and longer-lived trees, and better nutrient cycling for the whole system.”

• The information in this article comes from “Not So ‘Inert’ after All?” in the May 2005 HortIdeas: Two biochemists at a French University did a study on Roundup. They “looked at two different ways that Roundup might cause pregnancy problems in mammals. They looked at Roundup’s toxicity to placenta cells, as well as Roundup’s ability to inhibit an important enzyme, called aromatase, that synthesizes a sex hormone. Next they compared Roundup to glyphosate, the ‘active’ ingredient in Roundup. Differences between the two are related to the inert ingredients in Roundup” [which are not required to be named on the label]. “The researchers found that Roundup damaged placenta cells ‘at least 2 times more efficiently than glyphosate.’ The concentration of Roundup that inhibited the enzyme was four times less than the concentration of glyphosate.” The inert ingredients “probably make the glyphosate more available to living cells by making it easier for the glyphosate to penetrate inside them.”



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