Weed Management and Pesticides | Vermont Farm to Food
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Louise H. Calderwood, who teaches at Sterling College, is government relations director for Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, is a maple syrup producer and an agricultural consultant. She also grazes a herd of 60 goats for meat.
I‘ve been deeply involved in Vermont agriculture for nearly 40 years, first as an employee on a 60-cow hill farm, then as an extension agent, in state government, as co-owner of a 160-cow dairy herd, and now teaching the next generation of farmers at Sterling College.
I have worked across the full spectrum of Vermont dairy, from a family with three cows selling raw milk to the largest conventional dairies in the state. One of my sons owns a 200-head goat dairy and the other son is employed by a 600-head grass-based cow dairy. Heck, my license plate is “BOVINE.” Agriculture is all my family does and we believe strongly in it.
By working with every type of dairy farmer imaginable (even water buffalo), I have come to see that there are many right ways to steward soil and water and animals. I would never impose my choices on others and I would never accuse any responsible farmer of not caring about the land they farm or the animals they raise. All conscientious farmers have a lot in common as they do the best possible job of improving for the resources under their care.
I’ve heard some farmers say Vermont should be organic or bust. But that’s simply not how I see it. And quite frankly, that kind of hostility doesn’t help anyone, nor does it help the situation we’re all facing — a challenging market that has forced milk prices way down.
Consumers are willing to pay more for organic foods and milk because they believe the food is different. If every farm became organic there would be no price differential between organic and non-organic products and organic farms would be in rough shape. Organic farmers rely on their higher-priced products to provide the income needed to allow them to follow the organic standards.
Whether you farm organically or not, the reality is the market is saturated for both types of dairy farms. Our vendors aren’t buying as much and they’re also not paying as much. Every farmer in Vermont is working hard to stay afloat and productive. The key to profitable farming is building the health of our soils. After all, if land is our most valuable resource, why would any farmer not care about improving it?
There are several water quality challenges we face in Vermont connected to agricultural production, including temperature, pathogens, sediments and phosphorus. Vermont farmers have taken the situation of impaired waterways seriously and conscientiously. They are complying with the new regulations, participating in extensive research projects and, in many cases, doing even more than is required. Vermont farmers, both conventional and organic, have been planting vegetative buffer barriers, using methane digesters, cover cropping with winter rye, and implementing many other good farming practices. It’s paying off — the latest USDA report released a few weeks ago found a reduction in phosphorus making its way into Vermont’s waters.
There is no war between organic and conventional farmers in Vermont and it’s not helpful for those on the outside to hurl accusations, many of which are not scientifically backed up. Different types of farming necessitate different techniques, and all farmers are guided by strict regulations. While there’s an ideal sort of farming that every farmer believes in and works to achieve, it doesn’t mean another way of farming is bad. Dairy farmers have much more in common than not.
Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of Vermont’s economy and farming in Vermont is one big wheel propelled by many varied and important cogs. All our farmers are doing their very best to be good stewards of the land and we should work to support each other.
On 30, Oct 2017 | In Weed Management and Pesticides | By Admin
By Genetic Literacy
The widely used weedkiller glyphosate is available in every garden store, but now there are fears it can cause cancer.
Politicians in Europe were sufficiently alarmed that the European parliament called for a ban.
Let’s hope they … look at the evidence – or rather the lack of it. While banning glyphosate is unlikely to make people any healthier, it is certain to harm the environment.
Until recently, every regulatory agency that had assessed the safety of glyphosate had concluded it poses no risk for people. Then, in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) sparked concern by adding glyphosate to its list of things that “probably” cause cancers.
Before you run from the room screaming because you once ate some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream – recently found to contain glyphosate – you should know that red meat, wood fires, emissions from frying, shift work and drinking beverages hotter than 65°C are all on the same IARC list.
The IARC’s list of things that definitely cause cancers includes alcohol, sunshine, diesel exhaust fumes, processed meats, outdoor air pollution, salted fish, soot and wood dust. That’s right, beer and bacon are more dangerous than glyphosate.
So the evidence that glyphosate is harming our health is weak or non-existent. But it certainly has environmental benefits.
Vermont’s water pollution problems are writ large in regions of Lake Erie that provide drinking water to millions of people in Ohio.
The city of Toledo had to close off its drinking water supply to about 500,000 people for three days in 2014 because of the presence of toxic algae in the lake. Photographs in The New York Times this week showed a luminous green sheen on a portion of the lake this year — equivalent to a patch about 24 miles by 30 miles.
The algae bloom in Lake Erie is not as bad as it was three years ago, but the stinky discolored water is raising alarms in Ohio.
Ag—it’s who we are
Vermont has a robust agricultural community that’s engaged in providing healthy food for consumers in our state and across the country. From dairy and maple, to beef and vegetable products, our farmers are the best of the best.
Our family has worked with Vermont farmers for more than 40 years, providing them with safe seed and fertilizer treatments, and doling out healthy portions of advice on best land management practices, soil testing and nutrition, and animal care.
We’ve seen a lot change over the years—new and improved seed, like GMOs that can withstand attack from insects and allow farmers to use less pesticides, less fertilizers and less land while simultaneously achieving higher yields and improving the quality of their forages.
We’ve also witnessed new and improved conservation techniques that allow our farmers to preserve the land, such as cover cropping and no till or reduced till. By using seasonal cover crops such as small grains, farmers are able to protect the soil from eroding and improve the quality of the soil—these crops are high in nitrogen which is a natural fertilizer.
Not tilling the land, or tilling it less, increases the amount of water that soaks through the soil and increases organic matter and the variety of life in the soil. This makes soil more resilient.
Right now, many farmers are starting their late summer seeding planting small grains and certain grasses. At other times of the year they’ll rotate crops on that same land. These are all practices that have developed as needs have evolved. And, along with myriad other agricultural techniques practiced by our farmers, they certainly reduce the carbon footprint.
Every year, Bourdeau Brothers, Inc. has hosted the Addison County Ag Showcase. Before it was that, it was known as our “Corn Day.” Vendors from all parts of the farming system participate and it’s always proven a great environment for the exchange of innovative ideas. We will always need those.
There are more than 800 dairy farms in Vermont. Each one represents a family who has dedicated themselves to a job that’s tough and, often not in their control thanks to the ever-changing climate. Some are organic and others aren’t. Every farm has its challenges.
For example, some have fields that get easily waterlogged and they use tile drainage to siphon off the excess water below the soil’s surface. This allows plant roots to take hold, get strong and produce high yielding, healthy crops.
Some of the state’s dairy farms have methane digesters which convert manure into electricity via a generator. The compressed and dried-out manure also serves as a good bedding alternative to wood chips for animals on the farm.
Farming is the economic backbone of this state providing thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars in business annually. What makes this state so great, are the variety of farms we have.
Unfortunately, over the years we’ve seen too many that have shut their barn doors, simply unable to make it work. As the U.S., and indeed the world population increases, supporting each other is critical.
At Bourdeau Brothers we’re grateful for the hard work that all Vermont farmers are doing. Farmers face tough odds, and we are lucky that ours are dedicated to preserving the open landscape, water quality and high quality healthy food options. They are shepherds of their land, putting best practices in place so that future generations can work and live on it.
Jacob Bourdeau is a member of the management team at Bourdeau Brothers Inc. His company provides dairy nutrition and crop management services to farmers throughout the northeast. Bourdeau is a member of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance.
Grasses of the future will make animals healthier, more productive and reduce their impact on the environment.
AgResearch scientist Tony Conner said advances in modern grasses would bring many advantages to farming.
The forage science group leader said the conference was timely given the work the organisation was doing in the area of forage science. He said there were many benefits for New Zealand in building upon the DairyNZ forage value index and the emerging pastoral industry forage strategy.
“Our teams are engaged in underpinning science and plant breeding research to create high-performance forage legume and grass varieties for New Zealand farms and the international market,” he told farmers at the NZ Grasslands Association conference in Timaru last week.
“We develop animal safe endophyte strains that add value to production from elite grasses, and are also pursing research and development related to biofuels, speciality forages, new endophyte traits and animal/forage interactions. Our group is home to world-leading teams in the genetic development of forages and encompasses a broad range of capabilities with staff working in areas from fundamental to applied research.”
Most of the cultivars are commercialised through Grasslanz Technology.
An investment of $25 million over five years into genetically modified forages research was made possible with a grant from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour fund
“What we are doing is enhancing the ryegrass so that there is more energy and nutrition stored in the grass,” Conner said.
“This means the animals feeding on it are healthier, and therefore they become better producers for the farm. The result will be a major boost for the agricultural economy.”
“What we are also finding is that a by-product of these changes to the grass will be important gains as far as the impacts on the environment. This includes less methane gas produced by the animals and the change in nitrogen requirements with these grasses could reduce nitrate runoff.”
“We are mindful of the need to continue strong working relationships in this sector, including the scientists and its many stakeholders so that our advances are relevant to the industry.”
NZGA president, David Stevens of AgResearch, said the conference had been an opportunity for farmers and their agricultural industry business partners to hear from and quiz scientists who were taking the industry forward.
“It’s really about the interface of science and practice: what works and how can you get it to work. It’s summed up in the association’s motto: fuelled by science, tempered by experience.”
Leading local farms hosted field trips during afternoon sessions including a robotic but pasture-based dairy farm, intensive sheep and beef finishing with and without irrigation, and a more traditional breeding-finishing operation making use of some of the latest forages.
November 9, 2016
A European court has a chance to weigh whether biased science can justify a costly chemical ban.
Feb. 15, 2017 2:37 p.m. ET
A pesticides ban in Europe could soon be overturned on the grounds that it was based on unreliable data. Meanwhile, revelations that one of the scientists behind the ban was also involved with a nongovernmental organization that campaigns against pesticides continue to undermine the ban’s integrity.
Two European chemical companies, Bayer and Syngenta, appeared before the European Court of Justice this week to argue that the European Union should revoke a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. “Neonics,” as these sprays are known, were introduced in the 1990s as a safer, greener alternative.
One of the advantages of neonics is that they can be used as a seed “dressing,” so that crop plants are protected from birth and need less or no spraying later. They only affect those insects that eat the crop, not innocent bystanders.
Though green activist groups claim neonics devastate bee populations, there remains much debate over how much neonic residue gets into the pollen that bees consume. But the fact remains that there has been no “bee-pocalypse.” In Europe and North America, honeybee numbers are higher today than they were two decades ago when neonics were first introduced.
As for wild bees, a 2015 study in Nature found that only a tiny fraction of wild-bee species pollinate crops. These bees, which come into the most-direct contact with neonics, are thriving.
The real danger lurks elsewhere. The French Ministry of Agriculture recently concluded that diseases, bad beekeeping and famine are the main causes of bee mortality. Pesticides play only a minor part. France’s final court of appeals in civil and criminal matters would agree. In a ruling last month, the Court of Cassation found that no causal connection has been established between the neonic Imidacloprid and bee mortality.
Such findings are in stark contrast to the recommendations in the draft Bee Guidance Document (BGD), a paper prepared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the scientific basis of the 2013 neonic ban. But the BGD’s methodology also raises many questions. It ruled out large-scale field studies and forced regulators to rely on lab studies mostly using unrealistically high doses of neonics. Acceptable field studies had to demonstrate with 95% statistical confidence that a neonic would have no more than a 7% effect on the number of bees within a hive, even though bee numbers can fluctuate by twice as much just from cold weather. Field studies were also required to cover 448 square kilometers to meet the BGD’s conditions. Each test field had to be 2 kilometers from every other test field, other crops, orchards and even wildflowers.
No one has figured out how to meet these specifications. Meanwhile, some 18 major field studies and nine review articles published over the past 10 years have overwhelmingly showed that under realistic conditions, neonics have no effect on bees at the hive level.
It’s as if the EFSA’s standard of evidence was purposely set so high as to preclude evidence of neonic safety.
David Zaruk, an investigative journalist who blogs as the Risk Monger, may have discovered how this happened. He noticed that although the EFSA working group that prepared the BGD had removed all scientists affiliated with industry-funded research during the preparatory work, it retained several activists among its five final members. One of them was Gérard Arnold, at the time also listed as the scientific coordinator at Apimondia, a beekeeper lobbying group.
When Mr. Zaruk asked the EFSA about this, he writes that the head of EFSA’s legal department agreed that if Mr. Arnold had been working with Apimondia at the same time, this would have been a serious breach of ethics. But Mr. Arnold had assured them that he was not, so the EFSA was willing to overlook an accusation that he was chairing an antipesticide working group for an NGO.
What this doesn’t explain, however, is why, after Mr. Zaruk started making his inquiries, every reference to Mr. Arnold’s work with Apimondia during his EFSA years started disappearing from the internet. When I asked Mr. Arnold about this, he said his work with Apimondia had ended before he started working with EFSA and the Apimondia website had simply been out of date. But given Mr. Arnold’s known antipesticide activism, there was still at best a conflict of interest.
Brussels entrusted a known antipesticide activist with the task of preparing what was supposed to be an objective report on the testing procedures of pesticides. Instead, the EFSA working group, which included Mr. Arnold, resulted in a ban that contradicts scientific evidence and has devastated European farmers. The total cost of the neonic ban has been estimated at some €900 million ($954.1 million) a year for oilseed rape alone. It would seem incumbent on the EFSA to at least perform a thorough investigation.
The EFSA has so far resisted calls for a review and re-examination of the deeply flawed process that resulted in the ban, but the exclusion of evidence under the BGD is one of the central arguments presented to the European Court of Justice this week. The judges there may well take a more objective and science-based view.
Mr. Ridley is a columnist for the Times (U.K.), a member of the House of Lords and the author of “The Evolution of Everything.”
SHELDON — One Vermont dairy farm is taking a novel approach to reducing polluted runoff in Lake Champlain by spinning its manure in a centrifuge to remove some of the phosphorus that has contributed to toxic algae blooms.
Machia and Sons Dairy LLC is believed to be the first farm in Vermont to use the technology for phosphorus removal after having it installed last year in a pilot project with Burlington-based Native Energy.
A screw press removes the solids from the manure that are then decomposed into bedding for the cows. The manure liquid is put through the centrifuge that rapidly spins it in a large canister to remove half of the phosphorus that then can be sold as a soil additive.
Phosphorus is a nutrient that comes from a number of sources including fertilizer and manure. An excess amount of it — in runoff from rain, snowmelt or erosion — feeds toxic algae blooms in the lake. The state says 40 percent of the phosphorus flowing into the lake comes from farms; the rest comes from roads, parking lots and discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its final phosphorus reduction goals for the lake, calling for a decrease of 33.7 percent in the entire lake and 64.3 percent in Missisquoi Bay in the northern end of the lake, an area known in the state for its dairy farms.
Machia and Sons is one of the larger farms in Vermont, where 725 cows are milked. Like some other local farms, it has taken steps to reduce phosphorus runoff such as planting cover crops and expanding or adding vegetative buffer strips between fields and ditches. The effort is to help clean up the lake and to “keep us in farming, keep the community happy. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” said Dustin Machia, one of the farmers.
The family business invested about $100,000 in the screw press and centrifuge project. The rest of the $525,000 cost is being covered by Native Energy, a seed grant from Green Mountain Power and the purchase of the expected reduction in greenhouse gases from the project by Ben & Jerry’s, according to Native Energy.
Now the Machias are seeking a market for the phosphorus.
Why do the farmers choose to use GMO seeds? What do they see as the benefits that influence their decision to adopt GMO technology? Why are they willing to pay more for GMO seed than conventional seed? Are GMOs part of sustainable agriculture?
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