Blogs | June 2013

Mark Keating's picture

GE Wheat Found Growing Wild in Oregon

On May 29, USDA announced that a western white wheat variety genetically engineered to withstand applications of the herbicide glyphosate (RoundUp©) had been discovered growing wild in an Eastern Oregon field.  The ultimate source of the wheat is no mystery: USDA confirmed that it was the same variety which Monsanto had been authorized to field test in sixteen states, including Oregon, between 1998 and 2005.  What remains unknown is how the wheat, which was never approved for commercial release, migrated from those research fields onto a commercial farm.

Karen Adler's picture

The Real Dirt on Organic Farming

This is part 3 of the 3-part series "From the Ground Up: What Does It Mean to be Certified Organic?"

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
--Wendell Berry

Mark Keating's picture

Fall Bill Seeds Beginning to Sprout…

Driven by strong bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate on Monday night approved its version of the 2013 Farm Bill by a vote of 66 to 27.  The bill renews Washington’s commitment to organic agriculture by reauthorizing three key programs – the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) and Organic Data Initiative (ODI) – which were allowed to lapse under the current Farm Bill extension.  The funding for these programs is limited - $16 million annually for OREI, $11.5 annually for NOCCSP and $5 million for ODI over the bill’s five year lifespan – but these are essential investments in the future of organic agriculture.  Similarly, the Senate’s Farm Bill offers modest but meaningful support for a number of vital beginning farmer, conservation and direct marketing initiatives and reforms which stalled during the extension.  The good news overall is that the Senate stepped up to the plate and passed a Farm Bill which validates organic production as an important part of American agriculture’s future.

Karen Adler's picture

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Seeds…

With more than two-thirds of all agricultural plants dependent on insect pollinators, primarily bees, to produce seed, effective pollinator management is important to organic seed producers, especially in light of increasing pressures from two key challenges.

Challenge #1: Genetic contamination of seed crops

Undesirable outcrossing can occur when wind or pollinators transport pollen from an outside source into a seed crop field. This can produce a number of different results for organic seed producers; if two organic varieties are crossed, the result may be a new, undesirable variety, even if organic. However, when the movement occurs between an organic seed crop and a genetically modified seed crop, the result might be a seed crop with the genetically modified trait.

Karen Adler's picture

More Buzz on Pollinators

In celebration of National Pollinator Week, we are following last week’s post with some great buzz on native bees, courtesy of our friends at The Xerces Society and the Wild Farm Alliance.

While we love European honey bees, and promote practices to ensure their survival and safety, they are, as the name says, not native to North America. Many crops are dependent on honey bees for pollination, but native bees are often better adapted to various climatic conditions than honey bees. Also, some native bees can be more efficient pollinators than honey bees for native American crops such as tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cranberries, and blueberries, as well as many old world orchard crops, such as apples and cherries.

Fast facts on native pollinators:

  • Native bees are more effective than honey bees at distributing pollen.
  • Native bees get to work earlier in the day and put in longer hours.
  • Many native bees are more active in colder and wetter weather: mason and bumble bees fly at lower temperatures than honey bees and work in the rain.
Mark Keating's picture

House Farm Bill is Resoundingly Defeated

The journey towards a new Farm Bill took another detour last Thursday when the U.S. House of Representatives rejected by a vote of 234 to 195 the proposal which Republican leadership brought to the floor.

Multiple factors contributed to this outcome: Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the bill which included onerous changes to federal nutrition assistance programs and many Republicans who wanted to see more reform and savings from the commodity programs joined them. The House Agriculture Committee acknowledged when submitting this bill that they had a narrow pathway to passage and in the end, they could not attract enough support to get there.

Karen Adler's picture

Knowledge is Power: The Natural Farmer Shares Its Bounty

A wealth of practical organic farming information has been gathered over the years by farmers and researchers all over the country, and is shared through a variety of methods. One storehouse of knowledge is The Natural Farmer (TNF), which is the quarterly journal of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), a 5,000-strong membership organization with chapters in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

photo of Jack KittredgeThe Natural Farmer, edited since 1988 by Jack Kittredge, a Massachusetts organic farmer, has published hundreds of useful articles since 1988, with each issue focused on specific production and marketing topics ranging from crops such as cucurbits, potatoes, and minor fruit, to explorations of climate change, internet marketing, and manure. And now, with the support of a grant from Organic Farming Research Foundation, 101 of these articles, from twelve issues, are available in a searchable archive by topic and key phrases, such as “organic potatoes,” or “forages for swine.”