In her new book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland,” published Sept. 6, Miriam Horn follows five people whose forward-looking practices sometimes defy widely held beliefs about sustainability and farming. Below, Horn pulls from the story of Justin Knopf, a farmer in central Kansas, to show that industrial-scale farming — and yes, even the pesticides that come with it — can be sustainable.
Researchers at DuPont Pioneer have published a study about a strain of corn engineered with CRISPR to be more resistant to drought. Once it receives government approval, this could soon be the first-ever CRISPR-modified crop to go on sale. In this study, the DuPont engineers didn’t use CRISPR to alter maize’s DNA per se; instead, they changed how one single gene is expressed. Earlier studies had shown that if ARGOS8 was over-expressed, the plant would have a higher yield under stressful drought conditions, without changing how much food it can produce under typical conditions, the researchers write. When the researchers tested their CRISPR-altered maize in eight locations across the U.S., they found that it performed much better under dry conditions compared to conventional crops and those engineered in traditional plant breeding processes outside the lab. Before DuPont can make its maize available to farmers, the plant needs to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa, a New Mexico State University graduate and minister of the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, will visit the New Mexico State University campus Sept. 9. During his visit, Calzada Rovirosa and Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, will sign a memorandum of understanding committing to strengthening communication; promoting scientific research, knowledge transfer and technological innovation; and collaborating with Latin America, the Caribbean and other countries on research, extension, training and assessment.
The widespread adoption of genetically engineered (GE) crops has clearly led to changes in pesticide use, but the nature and extent of these impacts remain open questions. We study this issue with a unique, large, and representative sample of plot-level choices made by U.S. maize and soybean farmers from 1998 to 2011. On average, adopters of GE glyphosate-tolerant (GT) soybeans used 28% (0.30 kg/ha) more herbicide than nonadopters, adopters of GT maize used 1.2% (0.03 kg/ha) less herbicide than nonadopters, and adopters of GE insect-resistant (IR) maize used 11.2% (0.013 kg/ha) less insecticide than nonadopters. When pesticides are weighted by the environmental impact quotient, however, we find that (relative to nonadopters) GE adopters used about the same amount of soybean herbicides, 9.8% less of maize herbicides, and 10.4% less of maize insecticides.
In the ferocious, sprawling brawl over genetically modified crops, one particular question seems like it should have a simple factual answer: Did those crops lead to more use of pesticides, or less? Sadly, there's no simple answer. Pesticides include both insecticides and herbicides. Backers of GMOs point to the example of crops containing new genes that fight off insect pests, so farmers don't have to spray insecticides. Biotech critics point to the example of crops that have been altered to tolerate specific weedkillers, like glyphosate, thus encouraging farmers to rely more heavily on those herbicides. This week, scientists at Iowa State made a fresh attempt to answer this question. It's based on the most detailed data ever assembled to examine the issue. Those data came from a private company, which gathered information about the farm practices of 5,000 randomly selected farmers who grew corn and soybeans, the two most widely planted crops in the country. That information allowed detailed comparisons of pesticide use on fields planted with GMO corn and soybeans, compared to non-GMO fields. Unfortunately, this study probably won't settle the debate. It's that complicated. One of the study's conclusions is straightforward and difficult to dispute. Genetically modified, insect-protected corn has allowed farmers to reduce their use of insecticides to fight the corn rootworm and the European corn borer. There is, however, concern that this effect won't last. Corn rootworms have evolved resistance to one of the genes that has been deployed against them.
A Swiss agrochemicals company caught up in legal battles over its farming of genetically modified crops in Hawaii is planning to sell its operations in the state. Syngenta announced Tuesday that it is looking for a buyer for nearly 6,000 acres of land it leases or owns on Oahu and Kauai. The company says it will continue to operate in Hawaii, but under a contract with a new owner. Syngenta and four other companies — BASF, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto — operate 10 seed farms on Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Kauai. The companies produce plants using traditional breeding and genetic modification, and send the seeds to the mainland for mass reproduction and sale to farmers.
California dairy farmers are battling proposed state regulations on methane emissions they say are fundamentally flawed and unachievable and will set them up for failure. They say the state Air Resources Control Board has lost sight of reality in its Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy to reduce total methane emissions 40 percent by 2030 — including a 75 percent reduction in dairy manure emissions. While the board’s draft strategy, which also includes reducing black carbon (soot) and fluorinated gases, is not regulation, the reductions have made their way into legislation. SB 1383, awaiting a vote in the state Assembly, calls for a 40 percent reduction in methane, a 40 percent reduction in hydrofluorocarbon gases and a 50 percent reduction in black carbon by 2030. The majority of the methane reductions in ARB’s strategy are aimed at dairy manure and dairy and livestock emissions but also address landfills, the oil and gas sectors and wastewater. Rob Vandenheuvel, manager of the Milk Producers Council, said the Legislature is proposing “pie-in-the-sky” goals that target the dairy industry with no viable strategy to reduce methane and no financial assistance.
Elected officials in an Oregon county rejected a proposed plan from a group of residents that sought greater local control over the management of federal lands. The development came as local officials in the West are wrestling with ways to have greater say in how the vast swaths of federal land are managed. The issue came to a head in adjacent Harney County, where an armed group from out of state seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and held it for 41 days.The plan, drafted by a political action committee, would have ostensibly required the county court to be involved in “coordination” with federal agencies in managing hundreds of thousands of acres of forests and watersheds, prohibited retirement of grazing allotments and called for “the forest industry and the forest products commerce within the county” to be strengthened. Opponents of the plan said it had no legal basis.
Idaho wants to take over regulating pollution discharge into the state’s lakes and rivers from the federal government. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday submitted an application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to shift control of permitting and enforcement aspects under the federal Clean Water Act to the state. Idaho is one of only four states where federal authorities manage pollution discharge into surface waters, the others being New Mexico, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Idaho officials say a state-run program will have more responsive local experts better acquainted with Idaho making decisions. If the authorization process moves forward as expected, the Idaho Pollutant Discharge Elimination System in the summer of 2018 will phase in responsibility for issuing pollution discharge permits to cities, industrial businesses, mining operators, animal feedlots and others
Iowa water quality is in the spotlight for various reasons, most notably a federal lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works against upstream drainage districts and counties over high nutrient loads, mainly nitrogen. Iowa's nutrient reduction strategy calls for the state to cut nitrogen and phosphorus in water by 45% using various methods. Farmers are about halfway toward the no-till practices goal, but fall short in areas such as cover crops, wetlands and bioreactors at the end of tiling lines to lower those nutrient loads. A forum highlighted actions farmers have already taken, while stressing that more needs to be done. Northey pointed out an array of groups are now championing soil health practices across Iowa. He specifically mentioned the Soil Health Partnership developed by the National Corn Growers Association, which is working to measure how much organic matter in soil can be affected by changes in cropping practices. "We certainly see improvements when we use cover crops and when we do no-till," Northey said. "Yet, we always struggle to try to measure those. That effort (the Soil Health Partnership) is really to try to figure out how we can measure those improvements." These practices and strategies need to be quantified for farmers and the public, Northey said. Farmers need to be shown that implementing conservation practices can provide economic benefits while the public needs to know that voluntary conservation is translating into better water quality. Annette Sweeney, a former state representative who farms in north-central Iowa, noted more technology is being brought to bear toward understanding water flow and movement off fields. Earlier this year, Sweeney hosted a team from NASA and several universities that calibrated satellite imagery to see how much moisture is moving through the soil and how much evaporates after rain events. The emphasis was more on water quantity than quality, she said.