#Farming Friday 51: In England, A Farmer Tries No-Till



In this piece, the writer follows a farmer practicing no-till farming for a year, instead planting a cover crop of fodder radishes. Notill farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. The idea is to protect the soil, allow it to soak up more water, and replenish the nutrients, thus boosting soil health.

Does it work? In this story the yields were comparable to conventional farming using ploughing and  the farmer was hoping to recoup the big upfront cost of buying the machinery which would allow him to sow seeds directly into the cover crop in future years from lower input costs, and the benefit of good harvests from the richer soil.  Good development for a sustainable future!

How To Talk About GMOs?


I have been away from the blog for a while, part of that time was spent in taking a MOOC course offered by Cornell University: “The Science and Politics of the GMO”. This was an excellent and enriching experience, balanced in its presentation of the issues while exploring them in depth, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interesting in being a part of the discussion on GMOs.

As part of the course, we learnt how the communication of the issues surrounding GMOs is a fraught issue. There are so many possible answers to the question, “what is a gmo”, for instance! Why is is that so many people see the risks as much larger than the benefits? Why does evidence and data fail to convince while anecdotes from friends or acquaintances carry so much weight?

So a  recent piece in Time, caught my attention for laying out the case for GMOs: why we need them, specially with climate uncertainty, how we accept genetic modification in certain areas like medicine (the author has an unexpected example of this acceptance!) but are so opposed or ambivalent when it comes to our crops; and for saying all of this in a beautiful, poetic way.

All the time we present the studies and the data, and it comes across as dry and distant while the other side makes its case with anecdotes and is seen as green and nurturing. But it is precisely because we love the woods that we are glad to have the possibility of bringing back the American ChestnutWe just have to share our enthusiasm in a way that cuts through the fact free fog and speaks not just to reason but to the heart…

Something Old, Something New….


It was an unexpected delight to read this piece on the Moringa plant! Unexpected because I have grown wary of the term “superfood”, but I was curious: what is this moringa? The delight was at discovering that the spotlight was on a favorite vegetable from my childhood, known to us as “drumsticks”.

The spotlight on the Moringa tree is welcome as it thrives under very hot and dry conditions which bodes well for its cultivation in times of climate uncertainty and water scarcity. And that is just the start, because here is what we learn about the Moringa:” it produces edible leaves that are unusually rich in protein, iron, calcium, nine essential amino acids, and Vitamins A, B, and C. Its seedpods, which are as thick as the meaty part of a drumstick and about a foot long, are also high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Jed Fahey, a biochemist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has collaborated with Olson on Moringa research for more than a decade, has found that the tree’s leaves and pods have strong anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties, and may also contain enzymes that protect against cancer. Mature Moringa seeds can be pressed for vegetable oil, and the seed cake that is left over can be used to purify drinking water. (It contains a protein that makes bacteria glom together and die.) When dried, crushed seeds can also serve as a good fertilizer.”

As I read this, I can almost taste the steaming bowl of stems cooked in lentils from all those years ago, for once, “superfood” might just be an accurate description!

If one front in the effort to combat the impact of climate change on food production involves taking a second look at resources that have been neglected in the past, another strategy is to use technology to bring to farmers the information and data they need to make optimal decisions. An interesting read on how this is working in Africa is here.

Combating global hunger in a climate uncertain time will require all the tools we have, taking another look at old ones and trying out some shiny new ones as well.

(Image courtesy of zirconicusso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

What is rock picking? Interesting read…

For three years, Alex Potter has lived in war-torn Yemen, documenting the civilian toll of a war that has brought relentless destruction. She has learned how to flee for shelter during air strikes and witnessed the tragic deaths that follow. But this summer, she shifted gears to tell a story a little closer to home—in…

via A Summer Ritual: Rock Picking in the Midwest — TIME


Woo-meisters overrun Westport Farmer’s Market

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Originally posted on Food Science Institute:
It finally happened. The sincere vendors of local produce at Westport Farmer’s Market have been joined or outnumbered by the crazy peddlers of pseudoscience and other woo. Starting out with organic. Organic farming is…

#Farming Friday 50: What’s In My Corn?


Are you looking forward to some grilling this weekend? But you are worried about all those news reports on Bt corn and what’s in them? You could just buy organic, but maybe, like me, you are watching the budget and the price difference might make you pause. So, if you catch yourself standing in the produce section not sure what to do, and wondering what on earth is glyphosate and why are farmers using it, if it is as awful as the meme in your newsfeed suggests, hear it straight from the source: a Minnesota farmer on why she grows GMO corn.

Happy grilling, happy 4th!!

(Image Courtesy: “Fresh Corn Cobs” by foto76, freedigitalphotos.net)

Why Are We Discussing Golden Rice…Again?


Golden Rice is in the news again: this time because 107 Nobel Laureates have written to challenge the anti-science stance of Greenpeace which has opposed the adoption and testing of Golden Rice, among other genetically modified crops. The purpose of modifying rice in this case was to fortify it with Vitamin A. This would provide a much needed solution to the problem of Vitamin A deficiency which causes blindness and death in children in the developing world every year.

It sounds like a cause that would find widespread support and yet, for the past three decades, Golden Rice has been out of the reach of those who need it most. As I wrote earlier, this is a case where there are no corporations involved and there are millions of lives to be saved. Yet, it faces opposition that is not evidence based and blocks progress, trials of Golden Rice in the Philippines, for example, were attacked and destroyed by Greenpeace.

The boost given to the Golden Rice project by the support from the Nobel Laureates is encouraging but it is sad that we have to have the debate at all. In all the  years of opposition and fear mongering on the issue, millions of lives have been lost while no other effective solution has been suggested or implemented. It is ironic that those most vocal about opposing biofortification are often those least likely to need it. The voices in this debate are not those of the rural poor, often living at subsistence level, condemned to watching their children slowly lose their sight and their lives, because they are invisible to us. Greenpeace is worried about the possible impact on the environment (without proven evidence of harm), yet it remains impervious to the daily suffering of people, mostly children. Are they not a part of this planet and the environment?

One of the points Greenpeace likes to repeat is that it is a long, costly experiment that has not borne fruit. If we do not try it and test it, how can we know if it works or fails? Do we abandon the search for cures for ALS or cancer for example because it is costly or is taking time? Or is it just easier to ignore suffering when it is far from home? Vitamin A deficiency is not a problem in most western societies, Golden Rice will not appear on your local grocery store shelves. So why the intense opposition that will snatch away the choice for a cure from those who really need it?

The statement from Greenpeace and the response from the Golden Rice project is here. If you would like to inform yourself on the project, please read here.

I, and many others, will continue to support a technology which would spare millions from suffering and death. And I will hope for the day when facts overcome unfounded fears, Golden Rice is a reality and no more blog posts like this need to be written.

(Image Courtesy: “Rice Isolated on a White Background” by SOMMAI, freedigitalphotos.net)

#Farming Friday 48: So You Want To Be A Farmer?

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Today was a perfect early summer day: gorgeous sunshine, with a breeze to lighten the warmth. The sort of day when, driving past a farm on a quiet road; or heaping up your baskets with berries or summer squash at a pick-your-own farm; or, even watching a baby goat video your friend shared, you might say: “One day I am going to have my own farm.” And you would not be alone. There is a renewed interest in farming amidst the ongoing noisy debate on food issues.

But what is life on a farm really like? Like the pretty pictures on Instagram or Pinterest? Sometimes, yes. But what is often not visible is the sheer hard labor, the exhaustion of caring for animals, the regulations and paperwork that need to be followed and the overwhelming amounts of poop!

Still interested in following the farm dream? Here is an inside look, honest and also funny, from three people who did follow the dream and raised goats, pigs and hens.

(Image Courtesy: “Rustic Vermont” by EA, freedigitalphotos.net)

#Farming Friday 47: GMO Sugar- A Farmer’s View


When a prominent company like Hershey announces that it will no longer be using sugar from sugar beets, it is touted in social media as a victory for anti-biotechnology groups. But does this really say anything about the safety of sugar from sugar beets for human consumption? What impact would this have on sugar production? And what might be a farmer’s opinion on all of this? A great read with informative links for further exploration from Wanda Patsche, who lives and farms with her family in Minnesota.

(Image Courtesy: “Beet Harvest” by xedos4 at freedigitalphotos.net)

Did you hear about the plane that didn’t crash?

A great place for answers to your farm questions!

Ask Me About Agriculture

Did you hear about the plane that didn’t crash?


No, probably not.

Because that wouldn’t make for a very good story, would it?

You only hear about the rare plane that does crash because it makes for a story.  According to statisticbrain.com, the odds of being killed in a plane crash are 1 in 29 million.  So, I wouldn’t say that plane crashes are the norm, would you?

This same reasoning can be applied to agriculture.

You see posts or hear about a farm abusing their livestock; However, this is NOT the norm.  These people are horrific and should be punished to the full extent of the law.  These rare, awful stories get the media attention, but like a plane crash they are just that-rare.  You hardly ever hear about the normal farms that do the right thing, care for their livestock and the land, and provide for their communities and the world.

By now it…

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