Farm Bulletin: Response to a Reader

Under normal circumstances I don't post reader comments, but in this case I felt contributor Anthony Boutard's response to the question about short-straw grains, from his previous post about the durum wheat he grows at Ayers Creek Farm, was important to understanding the whole story.

A reader commented:

I read a book recently that said the short straw varieties were specifically developed for warm climates like Mexico and India where rust is a serious problem. In your climate I'm guessing it's a wash.

Anthony Boutard responded:

Often the second half of a story is left out to create a myth, this is especially true with respect to the “Green Revolution.”* Short-straw grains allow fungicidal sprays to penetrate into the planting more effectively, and that is one of the reasons they are favored. In the spring, spray buggies douse the field to control rust and tall plants would make it hard to get the penetration needed for effective control of the disease. Outside of organic systems, rust is managed by fungicides.

Pesticide spraying rig.

Tolerance for rusts in grains is genetic and I see no evidence that it is linked to straw length. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. Next spring, take a moment and see where the rust and other fungal diseases develop in the grain field. It is in the low areas where airflow is impeded. You can easily see the yellowing of the plants in these patches.

The problem with short-straw grains in an organic setting is the rain splashes soil and fungal inoculum onto the leaves and they take longer to dry out in the morning. Rust inoculum that blows into the field can thrive on the wet leaves and stems. Modern varieties are shin high, right in the splash zone. The durum, wheat and barley we grow are over waist high, so the foliage is well out of the splash zone. They do well in an organic setting. Bear in mind, these long-straw small grains have been grown successfully for eight millennia or more without employing a chemical arsenal. That is why we favor them.

Aerial application of pesticides.

The pernicious nature of spraying was driven home when we were planting melons and a neighbor sprayed his wheat field. As the buggy passed by, the brown ground spiders exited in a mass, crawling over our hands and legs. Thousands and thousands of refugees, an indelible moment, along with the chemical stench of the insecticide.

Unfortunately, pushing short-straw grain varieties that require heavy use of chemical inputs including fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides have damaged the health of farmers and ecosystems, especially in countries such as India and Mexico with lax environment controls. The Bhopal disaster was the result of a factory producing carbaryl, the insecticide marketed as Sevin.

Read more about legislative attempts to regulate spraying of pesticides in Oregon.

* Top photo shows an agricultural worker spraying pesticide on a short straw variety in India. These varieties require heavy use of expensive industrial pesticides (note the worker is unprotected from the spray). Often the seeds were genetically modified patented varieties, so farmers could not save the seeds from their crops as they had for millenia, and were forced to buy new seed every year or face prosecution.

Impossible Burger: Industrial Scam with a Side of Glyphosate

A couple of articles have come across my radar lately that are worth noting, and they fit in with some conversations I've been having, both casually and work-wise. Those conversations have to do with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), laboratory-produced synthetic meat products—the industry likes the hygenic "clean meat" label because it doesn't have the "dirty" association with farms and killing animals for food—and glyphosate, the active ingredient in the pesticide Roundup made by Monsanto, which has been found guilty of causing plaintiffs' cancers in three recent trials, as well as being labeled a carcinogen by the state of California.

Impossible Burger.

The articles involve the Impossible Burger, which its manufacturer enthusiastically lauds as "making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again. That way, we can eat all the meat we want, for as long as we want. And save the best planet in the known universe." It claims to taste just like meat, too, and to "bleed" (i.e. leak juices) when cooked just like a normal hamburger.

All this good news has the tech-bros in Silicon Valley and the VC dudes weak in the knees and climbing over each other to finance products that can be industrially manufactured by the zillions and sold to a public clamoring for healthy, climate-friendly, humanely produced food.

Aerial spraying of pesticides.

What the manufacturer, Impossible Foods, has neglected to say amid all this hoopla is that the soy proteins used in its burgers are derived from soybeans that were genetically modified to resist applications of Monsanto's Roundup—sold as "Roundup Ready" seeds—that is used to kill weeds that might compete with the soy plants in the field and/or impede harvest. Roundup is also sprayed on fields just before harvest to dessicate, or dry out, the soy plants before harvest.

The organization Moms Across America, with a mission to educate the public about the dangers of GMOs and toxins in the food supply, recently published an article titled "GMO Impossible Burger Positive for Carcinogenic Glyphosate" that describes tests done by Health Research Institute Laboratories showing that the levels of glyphosate detected in the Impossible burger "were 11 times higher than the Beyond Meat burger [a competing lab-produced product]. The total result (glyphosate and its break down AMPA) was 11.3 parts per billion (ppb). Moms Across America also tested the Beyond Meat Burger and the results were 1 ppb.

Monsanto's Roundup with glyphosate, a known carcinogen.

"This new product is being marketed as a solution for 'healthy' eating, when in fact 11 ppb of glyphosate herbicide consumption can be highly dangerous," according to Zen Honeycutt, the founder of Moms Across America. "Only 0.1 ppb of glyphosate has been shown to alter the gene function of over 4000 genes in the livers, kidneys and cause severe organ damage in rats."

It must be noted here that almost no mention is made of agricultural workers and the dangers they and their children face from exposure to this toxic pesticide, which can cause damage during pregnancy and developmental delays in addition to causing cancer and other health issues.

The article goes on to list the ingredients in the Impossible Burger, which it says could contain as much as 80 percent genetically modified ingredients like sunflower oil, potato protein, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, modified food starch and many others in addition to the soy protein.

Another problem with the soy protein in the Impossible Burger is described in an article from the Organic Consumers Association. It states that "in the messy world of soy studies, where 'soy' can be defined as almost anything with soy in it, there are just as many studies showing no or only marginal benefits, and in some cases, potential for harm" from diets high in soy. Contrary to the beneficial reputation of fermented soy products like tofu or miso, these highly processed soy proteins are made from defatted soybean flakes that have been washed in either alcohol or water to remove the sugars and dietary fiber. "Alcohol is the most common process, as it produces products with a neutral taste. But the beneficial isoflavones in soy are removed by this method. Soy protein concentrate has the lowest level of healthful isoflavones—including daidzein, genistein and glycitein—of any form of processed soy."

Monsanto engineer with
GMO corn.

But the biotech industry isn't taking all this lying down. An article describing the steps manufacturers are taking to undermine media reports states that "the biotech industry is particularly focused on taming controversies surrounding GMOs and the chemicals that are used on genetically modified crops, including Monsanto’s weedkiller glyphosate. The world’s most widely used herbicide, glyphosate is critical for the successful cultivation of GMO corn and soybeans. A recent study found that the chemical’s use by farmers has jumped fifteen-fold since 1996.

"One tactic industry allies employ to discredit questions about GMOs is to narrow the discussion to food safety. Pro-GMO scientists and writers mock experts and critics, by portraying them as loonies who think eating a bag of corn chips is akin to ingesting a bottle of arsenic. But this is a misleading line of attack, since GMO concerns are wide-ranging, including how well they are tested for safety, their impact on agriculture and the ecosystem, and the toxicity of glyphosate."

The article quotes author Michael Pollan as saying, "The industry’s PR campaign to reframe the GMO debate and intimidate journalists through harassment and name-calling has been remarkably successful in my view."

It remains to be seen if the recent guilty verdicts have any effect on people's willingness to subject not just themselves, their children and their pets to these pesticides, but their communities and the air, water and climate that we all depend on.

Photo of boxed burger from Wikipedia.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Time to Take Action!

With just a few weeks left in the 2019 session of the Legislature, it's time to get in gear and let your legislators know where you stand. Type your address into the box at the top of the directory and write or e-mail your own letter (addresses are included in the listings for each legislator), or copy and paste the sample letter below each bill. If you want to take an extra step, click on the "Current Committee" in the listings under the explanation and send a copy to each member of the committee.

HB 2619 would ban the use of the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, a dangerous neurotoxin that affects brain development in young children. Here's a sample letter:

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge you to support HB 2619 and ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon so that children living in our state may have a permanent reprieve from exposure to the highly toxic pesticide.

Current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxicant, by children ages one to two, exceed the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times.

Even at low levels of exposure by women during pregnancy, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood. Researchers at Columbia University have demonstrated that the presence of chlorpyrifos in the umbilical cord of developing fetuses is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. A University of California Davis study found that women who resided within a mile of farms where chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides were applied had a 60 percent higher chance of giving birth to children with autism spectrum disorder.

Two states, Hawaii and California, have already passed bills banning this dangerous pesticide. I can only hope that the Oregon Legislature follows suit and declares our children are more important than corporations that profit from exposing them (and us) to toxic chemicals.

Thank you,

[your name]

[address]

* * *

HB 2882 protects farmers by making the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially liable when their products contaminate neighboring farmers' fields. Sample text:

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge your support for HB 2882, which would protect Oregon farmers by holding the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially accountable when their products cause economic harm to farmers who experience unwanted contamination.

Contamination from genetically engineered crops can make organic and conventional crops unable to be sold. When these genetically engineered crops escape their fields, the contamination can cost farmers not just the value of that season's crops, but can can take years to eradicate, with the potential that the farmer would be deprived of a livelihood.

Oregon's family farmers and the integrity of our food supply should not be at the mercy of corporate agribusiness giants.

Thank you,

[your name]

[address]


SB 727 supports the Double Up Food Bucks program that gives food assistance (SNAP) recipients assistance in purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. Note that very SNAP dollar spent at farmers market can generate $1.79 in local economic activity!

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge your support for SB 727, which supports the expansion of Double Up Food Bucks Oregon, a SNAP incentive program with a proven record of success.

For every dollar spent on SNAP-eligible foods at participating farmers markets, farm share programs, and grocery stores across the state, shoppers will receive a dollar to spend on Oregon-grown fruits and vegetables. State appropriations have successfully funded similar statewide SNAP incentive programs in CA, MA, MI, MN and NM. 

Passage of this bill would:

  • Allow 250,0000 low-income Oregon families will be able to expand their buying power and consume more fruits and vegetables 
  • Connect family farmers with new customers, giving them a financial boost 
  • Encourage our local economies will grow: every SNAP dollar spent at farmers market can generate $1.79 in local economic activity 
  • Enable all farmers markets in Oregon to accept SNAP, by providing technical assistance: currently 25% of Oregon’s farmers markets are not currently accepting SNAP
  • Enable all farmers markets in Oregon to offer SNAP matching programs: currently they exist at only 60 of Oregon’s 120 farmers markets. This leaves many rural markets without any SNAP matching program. 
  • Leverage future federal, other public and private matching dollars to ensure the long-term sustainability of the program.

Voting for this bill helps Oregonians in need to increase their access to fresh, local food, but it will also support family farmers and boost our economy.

Thank you,

[your name]

[your address]

* * *

HB 2020, the Clean Energy Jobs bill, would cap greenhouse gas emissions from most large industrial sources—those that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) per year—and effectively put a price on carbon. Currently large industrial farms are excluded from this cap, though one of the largest emitters of ammonia gas in the country is Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman.

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge that HB 2020, the Clean Energy Jobs bill, include large industrial farms in its cap on greenhouse gases.

Climate change is a growing threat to Oregon agriculture. From extreme, unpredictable weather and drought, to declining water supplies, our rural communities, farms, and ranches are experiencing dramatic changes to the climate. While we need to stabilize the climate by reducing industrial and other large sources of greenhouse gas emissions, we also need to invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices. Oregon needs to offer a framework for Oregon’s farmers and ranchers to be a part of the solution by providing grants to engage in climate-friendly agricultural practices.

Under HB 2020, emissions from agriculture are generally exempted from the cap on emissions, even for individual large sources that exceed 25,000 metric tons per year in CO2 equivalent like mega-dairies and feedlots with more than approximately 10,000 cows. Because they are exempt from the cap, these very large operations may also qualify for "offset" funding under the bill, which are for emissions reduction projects that most smaller farms are unlikely to qualify for.

I am requesting that:

  • A minimum of 20% of the Climate Investment Fund allocated for activities on natural and working lands.
  • Applying the cap on emissions to large agricultural sources that exceed 25,000 metric tons CO2 equivalent emissions per year (for example, mega-dairies or large feedlots with at least 10,000 cows).
  • The creation of a Healthy Soils Program and an Alternative Manure Management Program like those in California which have generated millions of dollars in grants for farmers to engage in climate friendly practices.
  • Sustainable agriculture or small farm representation on the Climate Investment Fund advisory committee.

Thank you,

[your name]

[your address]

Your Food, Your Legislature: Take Action Now on Climate Change; Mega-Dairy Moratorium Fails

On the first day of the 2019 Oregon legislative session in January, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, and there are likely to be at least twice that many by the time the session ends. Here is the latest report on issues affecting the food we put on our tables. Thanks to Friends of Family Farmers for their assistance with this report.

Clean Energy Jobs or Cap-and-Trade (HB 2020): As anyone who's paid attention to the news the last few days knows, there is historic flooding happening in the Willamette Valley, made worse by the effects of climate change. This bill attempts to deal with greenhouse gas emissions from the state's largest emitters of these gases by capping these emissions from most large industrial sources—those that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) per year—effectively putting a price on carbon.

Flooding in Benton County.

Shockingly, the bill exempts the state's largest agricultural producers of greenhouse gases, and your voice is needed to amend the bill to include these factory farms under the cap.

Sign here to send an e-mail to your legislator that Oregon needs to stabilize the climate by reducing industrial and other large sources of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices.

Moratorium on Mega-Dairies (SB 103 and SB 876): Despite efforts on the part of a coalition of 22 health, environmental and animal rights organizations, both of these bills to tighten regulations on factory farm dairies, in part based on the egregious violations and environmental damage from the recent closure of Lost Valley Farm, were voted down in committee.

Toxic emissions into the air are not regulated in Oregon.

“Even the most reasonable reforms were blocked by lobbyists working with these big corporate agribusinesses,” said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, in an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal.

The article goes on to say that Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), maker of Tillamook Cheese, and Threemile Canyon Farms, the Boardman-area factory farm dairy that supplies the bulk of the milk used to make Tillamook's cheese, testified against the bills, saying the entire industry should not be punished for the faults of one bad actor. It also mentions Easterday Farms, based in Pasco, Wash., which purchased Lost Valley Farm, has indicated it will reopen it as a dairy. The facility was previously permitted for as many at 30,000 cows.

Bans Sale or Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides (HB 2619): Originally a statewide ban on the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of powerful neurotoxic pesticides that is lethal to pollinators, this bill was amended to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that has been shown to damage children's brains. It no longer mentions neonicotinoids.

Bill to limit aerial spraying of pesticides failed.

Ban Aerial Spraying of Pesticides (HB 2493): This bill, one of three that dealt with aerial spraying of pesticides, would have prohibited aerial spraying of pesticides of land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley. It died in committee along with the other two bills.

Family Farmer Loan Program (HB 3085): Provides low-interest loans to small and mid-sized farmers for land and equipment, including beginning farmers, is now in the Ways and Means Committee where funding will be decided between now and the end of the session.

Beginning Farmer Incentive Program (HB 3090): Helps beginning farmers with student loan debt and tuition assistance. It passed out of committee and is now in the Ways and Means Committee where funding will be decided between now and the end of the session.

Farmers' market tokens.

Double Up Food Bucks (SB 727A): $3 million in funding for Double Up Food Bucks programming at farmers markets and other farm-direct locations passed the Senate Human Services Committee and is awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

Restrictions on Canola in Willamette Valley (SB 885): Maintains current restrictions on canola production in the Willamette Valley, capped at 500 acres per year and only under permit to protect the region’s specialty vegetable seed industry. Passed out of committee and awaits action in Ways and Means.

Ability to Sue for GMO Contamination (HB 2882): Protects farmers by holding the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially accountable when their products cause economic harm to farmers who experience unwanted contamination. Passed out of committee and moves to the House Rules Committee for further discussion.

Find your legislators and let them know you expect action on the issues that concern you.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Report from the Halfway Mark

On the first day of the 2019 Oregon legislative session in January, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, and there are likely to be at least twice that many by the time the session ends. Here is the latest report on issues affecting the food we put on our tables. Thanks to the Center for Food Safety and Friends of Family Farmers for their assistance with this report.

Moratorium on Mega-Dairies: Introduced by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee to address the impacts of factory farm dairies in Oregon. Take action here. Read more about mega-dairies in Oregon.

  • SB 103: Establishes a moratorium on new "industrial" dairies—defined as those over 2,500 cows or large dairies that don't provide seasonal access to pasture—while making sure environmental impacts to water and air, as well as impacts to smaller farms, are considered when permitting these operations.
  • SB 104: Allows stronger local rules over siting of these industrial facilities.

Management of Future Mega-Dairies: Two bills emerged from a work group organized by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

  • SB 876: Creates a two-step permitting process for large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to ensure greater scrutiny before they go into operation.
  • SB 886: Sets limits (not yet specified) on the use of groundwater for watering livestock at large confined animal feeding operations. 
  • HB 3083: Establishes a "Task Force on Large-Scale Dairy Farms" which would submit a report to the Legislature by September, 2020.

"Clean Energy Jobs" or Cap-and-Trade (HB 2020): Establishes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest emitters—except for agriculture and forestry, two large sources of emissions and industries heavily represented by lobbyists in the Capitol—while creating an ‘allowance’ program intended to generate funding for climate adaptation and other programs. Public interest and small farm organizations are working to include agriculture and forestry in this bill.

Ban Aerial Spraying of Pesticides (HB 2493): Prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides of land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley.

Ability to Sue for GMO Contamination (HB 2882): Allows farmers who have been harmed by contamination from genetically engineered crops to sue the patent holders of those crops.

Bans Sale or Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides (HB 2619): Statewide ban on the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of powerful neurotoxic pesticides that is lethal to pollinators.

Beginning Farmer & Family Farmer Land Access: Three bills that would support new and existing small farmers have been sent to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources with a hearing set for 3 pm on Thursday, March 14. E-mail a letter of support for all three before that date (link for address and suggested verbiage).

  • HB 3085: Creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program managed by the state’s economic development agency, Business Oregon, to offer direct loans to family-scale farmers and beginning family farmers for land or equipment.
  • HB 3090: Establishes a new beginning farmer and rancher incentive program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture focused on issues of student loan and tuition assistance.
  • HB 3091: Reduces fees and costs to borrowers using the state’s existing "Aggie Bonds" beginning farmer loan program, which incentivizes private lower interest lending to beginning farmers and ranchers for land and equipment.

Beginning Farmer Tax Credit (HB 3092): Incentivizes landowners to lease land to beginning farmers and ranchers. Sent to the House Revenue Committee.

Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 2729): Provides $10 million in grants for farm succession planning and funding for both long term conservation planning and protection for working farmland at risk of development or conversion to non-farm uses.

Limits on GMO Canola in the Willamette Valley (HB 3026; SB 885; HB 3219): A 500-acre restriction on growing this crop is expiring in July, 2019. These bills seek to extend that limitation going forward because canola easily cross-pollinates with food crops in the brassica family, endangering organic growers and specialty seed growers. Contact your legislators here. More info on canola in Oregon.

Find your legislators here and let them know you expect action on the issues that concern you.