Monsanto makes the wrong choice – again

Just what exactly is Monsanto playing at? Apparently not satisfied with its continuing role as the favourite pantomime villain for every anti-GMO activist in the world, the St Louis-based company everyone loves to hate seems to be doing everything possible to make its predicament worse.

I’m a fan of some aspects of its biotech work. Unlike Bill Nye the Science Guy, I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting Monsanto’s HQ or been on a guided tour of the labs and greenhouses, but I occasionally run into Monsanto people at conferences and the like. I had a brief conversation with Robb Fraley at the World Food Prize, and later at the IQ2 debate in New York that he and Alison van Eeenenaam won.

Monsanto doesn’t ask my advice. But I give it anyways – for two years at least I’ve been urging the company to ditch the glyphosate division and focus entirely on seeds. Most anti-GMO people don’t seem to realise it, but glyphosate has been off-patent for a while, and most of it these days is made in generic form in China. Roundup is a cash cow for the company, but nowadays comprises only a third of overall turnover.

I see biotech as a disruptive technology in agriculture, potentially challenging the age of chemistry – meaning chemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers – and ushering in an age of biology, where the technology is in seed genetics rather than in added inputs from outside. In principle this should be more sustainable, more targeted and help address public concerns about industrial agriculture.

Because Monsanto is still a maker of Roundup-brand glyphosate, the old idea that all GM crops are a Monsanto plot to sell more weedkiller refuses to die. I often think that herbicide tolerance is the ‘original sin’ of GM crops – people simply can’t get over it, or understand that there are many different traits nowadays. For the antis, all roads lead back to Roundup. Seralini, Benbrook, the Center for Food Safety – they’re all obsessed with Roundup.

My recent New York Times piece on pesticide-reducing Bt eggplant in Bangladesh was tailed by all the usual comments about Roundup, even though the Bt trait has nothing to do with herbicides, and indeed often enables a 100% reduction in insecticides. Things have got even worse recently with the furore about the WHO ‘probable carcinogen’ designation.

So what does Monsanto do? Instead of hiving off Roundup and becoming a non-pesticides seed company, it does the precise opposite. In seeking to take over Syngenta, it looks to double down in agro-chemicals, including many more forms of pesticide and insecticide in Syngenta’s current portfolio, most of them far more toxic than glyphosate.

Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, Monsanto has pledged to regulators that it would sell off Syngenta’s seeds division, keeping the chemicals instead. It combines this with the usual arrogant corporate PR campaign with soft-focus imagery and warm words – all the sort of stuff that just puts thinking peoples’ backs up.

This is to my mind the exact opposite of what the company should be doing. Okay, so I accept its corporate strategy is none of my business, and I’m an ignorant outsider who knows very little about its real-world operations.

But the problem we have today is that Monsanto is in the way – the awful reputation that Monsanto has managed to garner – up there with Chernobyl and Union Carbide – is not just hindering the rollout of large-scale GM crops in Europe and North America, it is potentially affecting such badly-needed innovations as virus-resistant cassava and wilt-resistant banana in East Africa, which are both opposed by anti-Monsanto activists.

Similarly in Bangladesh, where the Bt brinjal project has seen very successful results in pesticide reduction and increased productivity, anti-Monsanto attitudes are probably the biggest single problem: because of the use of the Bt trait, the crop is seen as a Trojan horse for the hated Monsanto. (And I’m apparently the Trojan horseman!)

I believe that biotechnology is too important to the future of world farming, particularly in developing countries, for its future to be curtailed because of this toxic witches’ brew of corporate myopia combined with public hysteria. Yes, the green movement is in the way of GM technology, but so too, judging by its lamentable current performance, is Monsanto.

At this rate I will be joining the March Against Monsanto on May 23 (though I’ll wear my Groucho Marx glasses to be on the safe side!). The corporate bigwigs ensconced in their offices in St Louis still don’t seem to get it. If Monsanto wants to get out of the hole it is in, it needs to change its business positively, not sell more chemicals and pump out more PR. Perhaps this message needs further amplification before it finally hits home.

46 Comments

  1. Mary M

    It certainly is frustrating that the fog of conspiracy theory blown by activists about GMOs has a cartoon villain to use as their focus. But I think your dismissal of herbicides is almost equally as one-sided as the gene-haters.

    I was chatting with a person who does ag development projects a while back. We were talking about herbicides. Here’s the quote [http://boringdevelopment.com/2014/12/01/deconstructing-green/]:

    “I remember in rural Venezuela coming across a family the neighbours described, with averted gazes, as “so poor they can’t even afford round-up.” I was pretty green (in the other sense!) at the time, and didn’t get it, so I pressed them.

    “Bueno, they said, their son isn’t going to school because they have to keep him home to do the weeding by hand.” Then the penny dropped.”

    I think getting this kid to school matters very much.

    Also, not long ago, Nathanael Johnson was talking with farmers in rural Africa, and looked into an interesting story from someone who championed organics for decades: Even this organic advocate thinks African farmers need herbicide. http://grist.org/food/even-this-organic-advocate-thinks-african-farmers-need-herbicide/

    Herbicide is a tool that can benefit farmers, and it’s not clear to me why throwing this under the bus because activists whinge about it makes sense.

    Reply
    1. SageThinker

      Glyphosate is a biocide that blocks the EPSPS enzyme that is in the human gut microbiome. Weeding by hand is good work. I think you make a strange story here. Smells like crocodile tears.

    2. Scott

      You said Herbicide is a tool that can benefit farmers. Well theoretically that may be true, but certainly not the way it is being used commonly now. Maybe as a spot treatment here and there against tough invasive noxious weeds. But as a general rule, the biological function of weeds is to heal soil. A biological approach is almost always better than an indiscriminate herbicide.

  2. Robert Wager

    I have followed your work for a while now Mark but you missed a huge amount of contextual information to jump to your conclusion on this article. Herbicides come in many colours and many different EIQ’s. It is very clear that herbicide, (when used sustainably) offer many benefits to farmers (luck enough to be able to afford them). Glyphosate is a very low impact herbicide that has allowed a tremendous increase in no-till farming. It has replaced other older herbicides with higher EIQ’s. This has resulted in huge conservation of soil and reduction in ground water contamination. I suggest you read the 2010 National Academy of Sciences report-Impact of GE crops on Farm Sustainability in the US for a detailed evaluation of all GE crops including Ht crops and glyphosate use.

    They said:

    “In general, the committee finds that genetic-engineering technology has produced substantial net environmental and economic benefits to U.S. farmers compared with non-GE crops in conventional agriculture.”

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Sustainable herbicides? Are you kidding? It is an oxymoron.

  3. Westcoastsyrinx

    I agree with you Mary M, and was disappointed to see Mark Lynas getting sidelined with one company’s ethics rather than the whole topic of agricultural practices and what will work best to prolong the viability of our planet.

    Reply
  4. Clyde Davies

    *bangs head against desk*
    I can only hope that publicly-funded research carries on regardless and without activist-led disruption. I also suggest that you can do a great public service by highlighting this research.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Don’t hurt yourself Clyde. Mark is spot on in this essay.

    2. Clyde Davies

      I wasn’t disputing that.

  5. Stewart T

    1) Many companies removed thimerosal from vaccines, despite that no scientific evidence was indicating any harm from them, and they did so with hopes that there would be less resistance to getting vaccines. And did it curb the anti-vaccine movement? Nope.

    2) As somebody who is constantly exposed to GMO-phobic propaganda, I have already see anti-GMOists scream murder when plants are genetically engineered to produce a pesticide against this or that pest. They were alarmed! Plants producing pesticides inside them too, no! Oh no! (Except plants have always done so naturally, but science, meh.)

    3) One of the overlooked but awesome aspects of herbicide-resistant crops like Roundup Ready crops is that it allows for no tilling agriculture. This factor has been estimated to reduce topsoil loss by 93%. Topsoil is a scarce resource which cannot replenish itself at the rate that we are currently using it up. And, in drier climates, when you aren’t regularly tilling your soil, it also helps you trap soil moisture.

    4) The other great thing about glyphosate-resistant crops? Well, without needing to till regularly, you are reducing your carbon emissions imprint substantially too. Which is good for the climate.

    See http://www.soyconnection.com/soybean_oil/comparison_of_sustainable_production_systems.php

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Glyphosate is absolutely NOT required for no-till agriculture. In fact it actually reduces the benefits seen in no-till agriculture compared to no-till without herbicides.

  6. Jonathan Gressel

    Mark,
    It is unfortunate that you have such a low opinion of glyphosate resistant crops.
    It is also unfortunate that it has been Monsanto’s policy not to push glyphosate resistant crops where they are most needed – in the developing world. It is there that women toil from dawn to dusk with short handled hoes to weed their maize crops. The possibility of having no-till maize available to the old farmers in villages where the young have disappeared to the cities or to the ravages of HIV would be ideal. The farmers weakened by HIV or malaria could then have decent yields, in the fields that they are not strong enough to cultivate. In Africa where parasitic root-attaching witchweed is devastating and cannot be hoed away, glyphosate resistant crops would be ideal. Generic glyphosate is the cheapest herbicide on the market, and the one most appropriate for this task. Glyphosate resistant maize is only available in South Africa, where poor farmers have rapidly adopted its use. Unfortunately, Monsanto has not seen these other countries in Africa as sufficient markets. Well over a decade ago I was at a meeting with their rep in Kenya at the Ministry of Agriculture – the local officials asked Monsanto to put in a request to register glyphosate resistant maize, and the answer from St Louis was negative.

    Reply
  7. Steve Crook

    I’d imagine that Monsanto look at their business and factor in the opposition as a cost and have decided that, frankly, they’re coining it anyway.

    That and the fact that they’re already so vilified it wouldn’t matter if it came out they were testing Glyphosate on babies and conversely they could invent a cure for cancer and still have people oppose its use because it was invented by Monsanto.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      That actually might be true. But it is precisely due to a track record of bonehead moves like the one Mark just referenced.

  8. August Pamplona

    Monsanto doesn’t ask my advice. But I give it anyways – for two years at least I’ve been urging the company to ditch the glyphosate division and focus entirely on seeds. Most anti-GMO people don’t seem to realise it, but glyphosate has been off-patent for a while, and most of it these days is made in generic form in China. Roundup is a cash cow for the company, but nowadays comprises only a third of overall turnover.

    If you think that Monsanto not manufacturing glyphosate would ever remove the objections of someone opposed to GMOs I think you are sadly mistaken. That’s the problem many of us have, we overvalue the significance of facts when it comes to something like opposition to GMOs (or vaccine denialism, or climate warming denialism, or evolution denialism, etc.).

    Reply
  9. Ena Valikov

    I am quite pleasantly surprised by your reprimands of Monsanto on this stupid decision–which is just another bumbling in a series of epic mistakes the crazies at Monsanto have always made–including the one choosing to roll out herbicide resistant trait as the first agricultural GMO, in the first place. But speaking of myopia, I am wondering if you finally recognized that your epic flip to support GMOs was myopic, as well–if you envision how associating with a global public menace could easily hurt deployment of fourth generation nuclear molten salt power reactors, which could be a real global game changer. As someone who has been interested in Gen IV since way before Pandora’s Promise was released to the public, and yet has been a critic of Agricultural (not medical) GMOs–I chose to overlook the tasteless insipid rancid propaganda stew- simmering together vaccines, climate change denial and creationism, spiced with moronic inflammatory terms to describe GMO critics as hysterical. I know that I can’t hold GMO zombies commenting here accountable for their idiocy any more than holding a schizophrenic accountable for their disease.

    But I have wondered how long it would be before you’d come to your senses and realized that your association with a toxic company, hated by the entire planet is a seriously dumb strategy if you ever want to see us move towards the atomic age, like I would.

    Dr. Ena

    Reply
    1. Eric Bjerregaard

      Mark, after having read the article I had mixed thoughts. After reading the comments. Came to remember just how fanatical the antis are and that this decision was irrelevant to acceptance of g.e. crops. Finally after reading Ena’s response. I am completely convinced you erred on this one. She is almost always incorrect. Where as the other commenters rarely are.

  10. Mike

    I don’t think caving to the cranks will help in the slightest.

    Reply
  11. Susanne Günther

    Mark, I guess I have understood your criticism but the Anti-GMO-Movement won’t. If you join them at the March against Monsanto they will celebrate their victory. Cause they have no interest in explainig your differentiated point of view. They will just say “Look he is back on our side”.

    Regards

    Susanne

    Reply
  12. Rich Kozlovich

    In spite of your “conversion” to support GMOs – and the comments made here – this “failure” by Monsanto is a red herring in an effort to continue an attack on Monsanto and shift the burden of blame. Furthermore, if it wasn’t Monsanto it would be someone else and with the same level of virulence.

    Exactly whose fault is it Monsanto has an “awful reputation”?
    Whose fault is it the public is “chemophobic”?
    Whose fault is it there is resistance to the introduction to all these wonderful GMO plants?
    Whose fault is it Golden Rice has been kept off the market all these years?
    Whose fault is it junk scientists continue to spew out nonsense supporting green initiatives?

    It’s your fault! You and your peers in the green movement. A movement that’s irrational, misanthropic, morally defective and clearly insane. Start there – then maybe you’ll have credibility with “thinking people”. This mere conversion on GMOs doesn’t absolve you from all the damage you’ve done in the past and any damage you will clearly continue to do in the future.

    Reply
  13. Jonathan Gressel

    I am amused by some of the comments by “experts” on weed control who think you can perform no-tillage agriculture without herbicides. Either you till, use herbicides, or lose your crop, unless you want someone else (never the one who is against herbicides) to pull the weeds by hand. Other herbicides can replace glyphosate for pre-plant use in no-till, and should be used to delay resistance, but alas they are more expensive, and excellent ones such as paraquat are also more human toxic.

    Monsanto surely makes mistakes and is vilified by some, but their pioneering products are loved by millions of farmers in both the developed and developing, who have a choice, and make it with their wallet. Europe is anti-choice, and does allow the farmers to cultivate GMO’s, but glyphosate is widely used pre plant in no-till.

    The expert remarks made about weeds by one discussant remind of another expert who wished to deny farmers choice, and dictate what they may do – Trofim Lysenko. In one of his books (that I read 60 some years ago) he declared that “there are no such things as weeds. Weeds are a capitalist construct. All plants work together cooperatively to fulfill their Marxist ideals.” (approximate citation from memory, from an English translation). The preface to the book had the imprimatur of the Central Committee of the Party, so it must be accurate.

    Anyone who does not like herbicides should have spent a day in the sun working with a short-handled hoe before deciding that he/she is an expert on weed control.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Always amused by “experts” that say what is being done already is impossible. Maybe impossible for you, considering you lack the skill and knowledge. Certainly not impossible for those educated and experienced in the most modern scientific methods.

      Here is one:
      http://www.milkwood.net/2010/12/07/why-pasture-cropping-is-such-a-big-deal/

    2. Jonathan Gressel

      There are no yield data in the website report that you cite – and no comparison with other other forms of cultivation in controlled experimentation, not for yield, soil organic mater, nutritional status, water usage, nothing of any value that would allow evaluation of the technology. Such non-data are fine for “believers”, but experts in weed science demand hard scientific evidence, typically published in creditable scientific journals with peer-review. People who believe junk science follow one-off “news” reports/infomercials on the web such as this. The co-cultivation technology described is not too different than cultivating a crop in a weedy field, and such technologies have long been abandoned by farmers who see a need to feed the world, and simultaneously send their kids to school to learn scientific farming.
      If the technology was any good, it would have been adopted by millions of farmers. They rapidly adopt new technologies that they themselves or their neighbours first tested by experimentation in their own fields; which is what was observed with genetically-engineered herbicide resistance – adopted much faster than anyone’s estimation. Farmers are not dumb – they astutely evaluate new technologies as they come out.

      You may wish to check out my credentials as an unbiased, academic innovator in developing new and biosafe technologies for weed control and food security on Google Scholar or on my website. Others may wish to check the expert credentials of Scott Crook there, and might have more success than I have – I came up empty handed when I tried. And before you label me as a shill for your favourite devil, read my article “Gressel, J. (1996) Fewer constraints than proclaimed to the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Resistant Pest Management 8 (2):20-23 (available on the internet) – the only academic who published a paper telling the world that their theory that there would not be a problem of glyphosate resistant weeds, was crap.

    3. Rich Kozlovich

      Good Job!!!!

      Rich Kozlovich

    4. Scott

      Jonathan,
      Ironically you spoke from ignorance, because the technique is rapidly being adopted by farmers after experimenting themselves or their neighbors. And there are multiple academic studies right now attempting to catch up with the innovators and early adopters by scientifically confirming the observed effects.

      You seem to have a mistaken view of how progress is made. In the real world scientists do not innovate. The Wright Brothers were not scientists. What scientists do is refine and expand. It is improper to declare that mankind can not fly after seeing the Wright brothers fly over head. Instead the scientist observes and asks how and why the observation is occurring.. The answers to those questions then allow improved flight. It’s not much different here. Colin Seis is the innovator. There are already many thousands of early adopters. And scientists are scrambling to understand how and why this is succeeding when similar things failed repeatedly in the past.

    5. Jonathan Gressel

      As is typical – no data – just anti-science commentary. No references other than a web infomercial – just undocumented claims. Thus, there is little more to discuss without the needed comparative data.

      Intercropping is not a new technology – so unless Colin Seis’ middle name is Methusalah, he cannot be an innovator of what was practiced for many centuries before the advent of weed killers (which raised yields incredibly). Intercropping is still sometimes practiced in subsistence agriculture by poor farmers who cannot afford inputs. When they can afford inputs, they abandon intercropping.

      On one thing we almost agree – it has been my observation over the years that the best and most innovative ag scientists typically come from a farming background – they understand the problems – and find solutions that raise yields and quality.

    6. Scott
    7. Scott

      Jonathon,
      Here is another source that may be helpful to you:
      https://publications.csiro.au/rpr/download?pid=csiro:EP123655&dsid=DS1

      Keep in mind though, as I stated before, the scientists are scrambling to catch up. It this moment they are rather far behind. That however, is no excuse to call this woo or pseudoscience.

      Nothing more than science attempting to catch up with the innovators and early adopters. By necessity, rather obviously, scientific studies on the longer term benefits observed by Coli Seis and other early adopters will take years to confirm scientifically. On the other hand since benefits can be seen even in short term, it should not stop this technique from continuing to spread rapidly.

    8. Jonathan Gressel

      The opinion of the experts show how limited the utility of such an approach – i.e may be worthwhile in specialized locations on specialized farms. I quote from the only econometric evaluation of the resuscitated method that I could find in the peer-reviewed literature:
      “However, a wide range of factors can affect the uptake of such systems. This paper evaluates the farm-system economics of subtropical grasses and pasture-cropping. The research question is: what factors affect the profitability such as (1) subtropical grass and (2) subtropical grass that is pasture-cropped. The analysis uses the MIDAS model of a central wheatbelt farm in Western Australia. The results suggest the profitability and adoption of subtropical grasses is likely to be strongly influenced by the mix of soil types present on the farm; the feed quality of the subtropical grass; whether the production emphasis of the farm is for grazing or cropping, and the level of production in summer and early autumn. The same factors are relevant to pasture-cropping, with the addition of yield penalties due to competition between the arable crop and the host perennial.” From: A bio-economic evaluation of the profitability of adopting subtropical grasses and pasture-cropping on crop–livestock farms, Agricultural Systems Volume 106, Issue 1, February 2012, Pages 102–112.
      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X11001624

      This is not a technology adaptable to broad-acre agriculture on the large scale needed to feed the world. The economic analysis states that it is only applicable to where there are poor soils and grazing sheep to utilize the intercrop. As people are using less wool, the markets would not be there if adopted on a large scale.

      The innovative new technologies using all tools available to science will be the only way to keep ahead of the growing world population. The only way to decrease the rate of population growth is to get farmers out of subsistence agriculture and into modern productive agriculture. History has shown that people with full stomachs and a consistent source of income have less children.

      To achieve this, we need to decrease our dependence on 4 crops for 80% of the calories devoured by humans and their domestic animals. We need to increase the use of under-domesticated crops, whose cultivation is limited by their genetic diversity. One way to increase genetic diversity is to bring the needed genes from wherever they may exist. Nature does this very slowly – science can do this quickly. See the book: Genetic Glass Ceilings – Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/content/genetic-glass-ceilings
      It describes how innovative modern science can do this, including how to deal with biosafety issues in the instances where this is necessary.

    9. Scott

      Well Jonathan,
      I see no reply, so I guess the scientific study was convincing. I am glad. Because one thing is certain, there is nothing more destructive to the environment than agriculture, and changes need to be made, pasture cropping being just one of many changes needed.

  14. Jonathan Gressel

    Look again

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Your post doesn’t show yet, so it is probably awaiting moderation. I’ll wait until it shows up.

  15. Jonathan Gressel

    Indeed it shows on my computer that its been “awaiting moderation” since early yesterday. Perhaps the moderator missed it….

    Reply
    1. Scott

      I see your reply now. You seem to have a problem with the fact the referenced example is not a one size fits all solution. Please keep in mind I gave it only as an example. There are multiple ways to solve that particular issue. In fact even that particular method called pasture cropping is far more flexible than you give credit. I use it combined with sheet mulching to raise organic no till vegetables. Others have used it to increase milk production beyond even what the top confinement dairies can do with their most advanced feed mixes. It can be done both with and without stock. And many types of stock can be used, all the way from rabbits and geese, to sheep and cattle, and several species in between. And keep in mind that is just one single methodology, there are others like multi-species allelopathic cover crops in off seasons to reduce weed pressure and reduce or eliminate the need for inputs of both fertilizers and pesticides.

      There is no need for a one size fits all, because there are multiple ways to accomplish no till without herbicides. All of them are more beneficial than no till with herbicide resistant GMO’s. That is in fact an antiquated model. Simply adding GMO to that model accomplished nothing more than lipstick on a pig.

    2. Jonathan Gressel

      Sorry – all solutions you propose from hand weeding, organic systems, various forms of intercropping etc. all all appropriate for minor niche systems. None of this is appropriate for broad acreage grain crops needed to feed the world.

      You mentioned allelopathy: My thesis was on allelopathy (4 score and ten years ago), and wherever there is allelopathy, there are reduced yield potentials. The energy required to produce herbicides is much much less than to produce allelochemicals giving the same level of weed control.

      It is interesting that millions of farmers worldwide seem to be painting their pigs with lipstick because they are too stupid and are conned by multi-nationals (or in the case of Brazil by EMBRAPA, or China by local research) and are cultivating GMO crops. Obviously they do not have the economic or agronomic insights that you possess.

      As Ike said many years ago – “farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from a corn field”. You can pencil all the alternatives you want to conventional herbicides, but farmers will use them because they see a value. They will often use them injudiciously, and weeds evolve resistance, an issue that I have been railing about since 1978 in dozens of scientific and semi-popular articles, but that is not the issue we are discussing here. Let me remind you that the organic industry has been using ancient herbicides – some subsequently banned by the authorities (sulfuric acid, chlorate) and now uses acetic acid and soaps, none of which are selective between crop and weed nor good for soil health, all with ultra-high doses and much greater cost than conventional herbicides.

    3. Scott

      Excuse me? Pasture cropping is broad acre grain production combined with grazing. That means more yields per acre because production is stacked. And it can be done with corn too. I know because I have done it.

      Seems to me the only one with “a plow as a pencil and a thousand miles from a corn field” just might be me. I see you can write books, but I haven’t seen your pasture cropped field where you tested the methodology first hand. Not even a small test plot against a control.

      Most farmers will take the attitude of “show me, not tell me” That’s why when people see a neighbor doing it successfully, they try it themselves. Doesn’t matter how many people like you say it can’t be done.

      I especially like what Farmer Gabe Brown says, “I like signing the back of the check, not the front.” Take that business model to a farmer and he listens, because believe me, not one of them likes paying everyone else and keeping next to nothing for themselves. They’ll do what they have to do, don’t get me wrong. If their operation is failing and no till with roundup ready GMOs will help, they’ll do it to save the farm. They’ll put that lipstick on the pig. But the reason these alternatives to that business model are spreading rapidly, in spite of heavy lobbying against them by people like you, is they work and the farmer can see the benefits, both in his land and his pocketbook. There is no comparison. It’s not even really close. Gabe Brown the farmer I mentioned above has gradually weaned himself off all commercial fertilizers, all insecticides, and is down to one herbicide application every three years on average. Meanwhile he has improved his yields per acre of both corn and more than doubled his stocking rate of cattle. He has gotten so profitable he makes 6,000 dollars an acre on the land he raises pastured poultry, cattle, and a cash crop like corn, all together. That’s what I call signing the back of the check. Not only that but he has a field up to 11% SOM! Not bad for a farm not long ago “farmed out” and averaging near 1% SOM. In my trial plots I do even better than that. But I haven’t trial my own fields large scale yet. We will see. The only thing missing is education to the fact that it can be done and then just doing it.

  16. Iida Ruishalme

    I am perplexed by this dismissal of ”chemicals”. The data I have seen has led me to conclude that smarter pesticide use, enabling no-till is the most environmentally friendly way to go. I’ve written about it here:
    http://thoughtscapism.com/2015/03/22/gmos-and-the-environment/

    “…reduced levels of greenhouse gas emissions follow largely from reduced tractor fuel use and additional carbon retained in the soil. So what about GMO farming leads to increased soil organic matter (carbon sequestration)? One of the big benefits is the wider adoption of the no-till method, also known as conservation tillage, which means omitting the plowing or tilling step (a crude means of weed management). The US Department of Agriculture notes that the spread of the no-till method is largely thanks to the adoption of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crop varieties.

    “Despite the relatively minor effect HT crop adoption has had on overall herbicide usage, HT crop adoption has enabled farmers to substitute glyphosate (which many HT crops are designed to tolerate) for more traditional herbicides. Because glyphosate is significantly less toxic and less persistent than traditional herbicides, the net impact of HT crop adoption is an improvement in environmental quality and a reduction in health risks.

    HT crops and conservation tillage

    Conservation tillage (including no-till, ridge-till, and mulch-till) is known to provide environmental benefits and is facilitated by use of HT crops. By leaving at least 30 percent of crop residue covering the soil surface after all the tillage and planting operations, conservation tillage reduces soil erosion by wind and water, increases water retention, and reduces soil degradation and water/chemical runoff. In addition, conservation tillage reduces the carbon footprint of agriculture.”

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2014-march/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-by-us-farmers-has-increased-steadily-for-over-15-years.aspx#.VWyg-VWqpBd

    I hope you could elaborate on what you so strongly object to about the use of methods with these benefits. Thanks,

    Iida Ruishalme @ Thoughtscapism

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Lida,
      Those “benefits” are only when compared earlier conventional no-till methods. Compare them to no-till without pesticide use and they are wanting, to say the least.

  17. Seetha

    I am a small tiem farmer from India. Farming is not fro feeding my belly but to feed my ego ,that i am being organic!.

    However i live in a vilage surrounded by farmers who depend on their land for a living.i see them struggling with chemicals, when i am fashionably producing organic peanuts which just enough covers my cost of ipit and have lots to use at home .additionally various schemes by the governments to keep voters happy have made sure labour shortage.We are not going there.

    Reading all the comments between Scott and Prof.Gressel i a, confused tot he hilt.

    In simple terms ,folks ,can you please tell me if there any herbicides that are safe?
    Are there any crops that can be cultivated without much debt and tilling?
    I am sincere as i live in a state in india where the rainfall is not much, execessive heat and an arid land scape is what farmers have to dela with.Millets were farmed traditionally but given the labour intesive process ,i am guessing, farmers shifted to peanuts as a rainfed crop.
    This whole thing GMO vs Anti Gmos is not what i am interested.because,in my view even the environmentalists have hidden agenda and they are ‘violent’ too.

    Thank you.

    Seetha.

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Gressel

      Whether there are herbicides appropriate for peanuts and are safe to use depends on whom you choose to believe. If you choose the many governmental authorities who demand piles of testing and utilize cadres of trained scientifically unbiased toxicologists with years of experience for advice, then there are. If you choose to believe hysteria mongering activists who seem to be more interested in keeping the poor poor, and have agendas hurting farmers, and who seem to believe it is bad for manufacturers to make money on products sold – while the farmer makes much more, then there is no such thing as a safe chemical (not telling you that organic farmers may use many unsafe chemicals), then there are no solutions to your problems other than poverty. The internet contains all these views, and the media find that promoting the hysteria helps their sales.

      An example of science based recommendations from un-biased public sources can be found at:
      http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/peanuts/otherpublications/20014382727-B6010.pdf
      which gives the recommendation for consumer safe use of herbicides for peanuts. What may be appropriate for Texas need not be appropriate for your area of India. I cite this is an example of how academic scientists in the public sector make recommendations based on their experimentation, for their area. They must take into account the regulation on each chemical made by the various regulatory authorities in their country, to assure that any herbicide residues will be below regulatory thresholds, as advised by the toxicologists (and having a huge margin of error, i.e. that go well on the safe side).

      Peanuts should not be cultivated in most climates without fungicides due to the typical infection of peanuts by fungi that produce aflatoxin, which at low levels chronic liver malfunction, and at higher levels liver cancer and death. The epitome of hypocrisy occurred a few years ago when organic peanut butter manufacturers petitioned the US Food and Drug administration to double the allowable aflatoxin level specifically for them, bacuse they could not produce their material under the threshold

    2. Scott

      Seetha,
      In this case, of peanuts, I am forced to defer to Jonathan. It is not an area of my experience or expertise. I suspect there may be an organic solution for peanuts, but that would be only a guess, not backed by data.

      Since you are a hobby farmer, I would suggest doing your own trials side by side and get them tested at a certified lab. See if you can develop the peanut method suitable for your own unique situation. If you can’t, then think about some other crop more appropriate to your area. Millets certainly can be pasture cropped for instance, but you may have a cultural taboo about raising animals? Some areas of India have this taboo and other parts of India do not. It would help to know more about this community you are trying to help. The first rule is first listen, then devise a plan,

      You asked “In simple terms ,folks ,can you please tell me if there any herbicides that are safe?” In my opinion herbicides are a last resort, when all else has failed. There are times when they are needed, so I wouldn’t want them outlawed, but they should always be minimised whenever possible. A properly designed polyculture shouldn’t require herbicides and in fact herbicides would make a good polyculture almost impossible to attain. But sometimes a piece of land is so unbalanced that it takes several years to heal. So this tool needs to be used with caution, but it is a tool you may need for a while to transition. You know you are on the right track if each year you need less and less.

      You said, “Are there any crops that can be cultivated without much debt and tilling?”. Absolutely! Hundreds of crops fit this criteria. I grow tomatoes peppers and sweet corn with no tillage or herbicides and with zero debt. My companion crops for those main crops are basil, cilantro, dill, and other herbs, marigolds, sunflowers. But to know what crops are best for your community, I would need to know more information. You are looking for a crop that produces a high dollar return for your climate and can be transplanted into a heavy mulch. Then you will use companion crops that benefit your cash crop.

      You might try contacting Dr. Vandiva Shiva’s Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, for advise on what crops fit your area both ecologically and culturally.

      Then use these principles for soil health:
      1) Least amount of mechanical disturbance possible
      2) Armor on the soil
      3) Diversity
      4) Living root in the ground as long as possible
      5) Animal impact

      To accomplish these goals use mulches, multi-species cover crop blends for the off season, companion plants according to plant guilds, keyline design for water management, and holistic management of animals (if appropriate).

    3. Seetha

      Thank you scott for taking the time to reply.can have cattle ,no problems at all.i do ask my neighbors to bring in their cattle for grazing at times.i rotated crops this time. I did a small amount of urad dal , a kind of legume / pulse ,i dont know how to classify, which we use extensively use.we had enough for us ,but no major harvest as it was completely rainwater fed.also i had not put in cow manure .but not much pests either. It was enough for a short period for our own consumption and share.with family and friends.may i knwo where do you live?so i can atlk about companion planting etc.

    4. Scott

      Seetha,
      You may click on my name and find many educational videos from my youtube channel. Or you may contact me directly by email at teamred33064@yahoo.com

  18. Seetha

    Thank you professor jonathan gressel. I had no idea of fungal infection. as of now we do manual weeding out.
    thanky uo for taking the time to reply.

    Reply
  19. Sage

    Roundup Ready seeds and glyphosate are the perfect product combination , except for the small inconvenient fact that glyphosate causes tumors in lab rats according to Monsanto’s own data.

    Reply
  20. Sage

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