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May 2008: Agricultural Notes

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•  From “The Organic Farming Response to Climate Change” by Paul Hepperly in the Vol. 27, #1, 2007, issue of Pesticides and You. The whole article can be accessed at

“The Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST), which began in 1981 as the longest running agronomic experiment designed to compare organic and conventional cropping systems,” has shown that “besides being a significant underutilized carbon sink, organic systems use about one-third less fossil fuel energy than that used in the conventional corn/soybean cropping systems. … Since 1981, data from the FST has revealed that soil under organic agriculture management can accumulate about 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre foot of soil each year. This accumulation is equal to about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre taken from the air and sequestered into soil organic matter. … Why does the soil carbon level increase in organic systems but not in conventional systems when crop biomass is so similar? We believe the answer lies in the different decay rates of soil organic matter under different management systems. In the conventional system the application of soluble nitrogen fertilizers stimulates more rapid and complete decay of organic matter, sending carbon into the atmosphere instead of retaining it in the soil as organic systems do.” Studies conducted by the FST in collaboration with the USDA “show that mychorhizal fungi are more prevalent in the FST organic systems. These fungi work to conserve organic matter by aggregating organic matter with clay and minerals. In soil aggregates, carbon is more resistant to degradation than in free form and therefore more likely to be conserved.”

•  From “USDA Introduces Small Lots of Seed Program” by Steph Hughes in the 2007 Summer Edition from the Seed Savers Exchange:

“For years the United States has required that all seed being sent into the country be accompanied by a Phytosanitary Certificate. At $50 or more per certificate, that price is prohibitive for small-scale gardeners like Seed Savers members. … Recently the USDA has introduced a new program that makes it easier for small-scale growers to import seeds from outside of the US. The Small Lots of Seed Permit allows the importation of up to 50 seeds of 50 different varieties per shipment, and is valid for three years. Currently, there is no charge for this permit.

There is a website that explains the program in easy-to-understand terms”.

•  This information appeared in the May-June 2007 issue of HortIdeas, but was originally written by Valerie Imbruce of the New York Botanical Garden:

In Homestead, Florida small-scale fruit and vegetable growers from Southeast Asia “participate in a form of alternative agriculture which is actually embedded in global agricultural marketing and distribution systems. Their highly diverse ‘home gardens’ are the antithesis of large-scale monocultural farms in the mainstream of American agriculture, yet most of the income derived from them comes not from local markets, but rather from the same regional and national markets relied upon by conventional agribusiness. In some cases, various types of produce from various growers are shipped together to satisfy large orders received from municipal areas in the North. … Some of the Homestead growers use the Blue Book of produce buyers to identify potential sales prospects at a distance. … Cooperation with fellow growers can sometimes contribute greatly to marketing success. For instance, it is apparently a common practice, as noted above, for a number of Homestead growers to participate in fulfilling a single order. The idea, which makes good marketing sense, is to be able to offer ‘one-stop shopping’ for a wide range of fruits, vegetables and herbs, which can be supplied consistently even if some growers have crop failures.”

•  The January 17, 2008, “Organic Bytes,” put out by the Organic Consumers Association (, lists “The Top Agricultural Breakthroughs of 2007.”

It notes that “a deluge of new scientific studies from a wide variety of institutions indicate that in comparison to genetically modified (GM) crops, organic agriculture can better feed the world, reduce global warming, provide greater nutrition, and boost the economy. … The UN announced that organic agriculture is the best way to feed the world and help stabilize the climate.” Crops that are being developed through traditional breeding methods include “a wheat variety that can withstand high salinity in soil, non-GM corn and rice varieties that can tolerate droughts, an iron-fortified non-GM maize strain that reduces anemia rates in children and the discovery of a non-GM variety of allergen-free peanut.”

•  In the May/June 2007 HortIdeas, Permaculturist Dan Hemenway responds to an earlier article about the benefits of using charcoal for farming and sequestering carbon in the soil. He cautions: “The drawback of your report was the lack of stress regarding the prospect of producing pollutants in the process of making charcoal. Any kid who ever made charcoal sticks in a test tube can attest to the foul gases that are released. These are combustible and are indeed used as a fuel in some cases.”

•  There’s a very interesting article in the May/June 2007 Organic NZ magazine, called “Growing Your Way to Fat-Free: The very versatile plum.” One of the facts mentioned is that a particular variety of plum can be identified by its pit. There are also sections on plum Botany, Cooking and Medicinal Uses, Species, Growing Conditions and Harvesting. According to this latter section, “The best way to tell if your plums are ripe is to taste them. Flocks of birds, wasps and kids circling your trees are usually reliable indicators.”

•  The following is taken from “Put farm subsidies out to pasture” by Brian M. Riedl, in the Christian Science Monitor but originally printed in the Los Angeles Times:

[F]ederal farm policies specifically bypass family farmers. Subsidies are paid per acre, so the largest (and most profitable) agribusinesses automatically receive the biggest checks. Consequently, commercial farmers—who report an average annual income of $200,000 and a net worth of nearly $2 million—collect the majority of farm subsidies. Fortune 500 companies, celebrity ‘hobby farmers,’ and even some members of Congress collect millions of dollars under this program. These farm policies … impose substantial harm. They cost Americans $25 billion in taxes and an additional $12 billion in higher food prices annually. Environmental damage results from farmers overplanting crops in order to maximize subsidies. By undermining the nation’s trade negotiations, subsidies raise consumer prices and restrict US exports. … Lawmakers would be hard-pressed to enact a set of policies more destructive to farmers, taxpayers, consumers, the environment, trade, global antipoverty efforts, and even our health than the current farm policies.





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