Sign Me Up For The Union Of Concerned Agriculturists

Buckeye Farm Beat

The Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Mass, has a lot to say about today's agriculture. We are currently in negotiations to bring them back down to earth.

Published on: June 20, 2013

Right away I realized the UCS is bringing a little different point of view to the table. Here's the statement you get when you open their Web page on Food and Agriculture:

"Our agricultural system has lost its way.

"Millions of acres of corn, soybeans, and other commodity crops, grown with the help of heavy government subsidies, dominate our rural landscapes.

"To grow these crops, industrial farms use massive amounts of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, which deplete our soil and pollute our air and water.

"Much of this harvest will end up as biofuels and other industrial products—and most of the rest will be used in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) or in heavily processed junk foods, which seem cheap only because their hidden costs don't show up at the cash register.

"Industrial agriculture is unhealthy—for our environment, our climate, our bodies, and our rural economies."

The UCS has a solution:

"There's a better way to grow our food. Working with nature instead of against it, sustainable agriculture uses 21st-century techniques and technologies to implement time-tested ideas such as crop rotation, integrated plant/animal systems, and organic soil amendments."

To me that just says, "We want some credit for moving agriculture in the direction it is already going."

Fine.

With help from Mosby, I called Dr. Gurian-Sherman and he answered with a friendly, "Call me Doug." Having already read the blog posting about no-till, I realized that there was some disconnect between the PR vigor and scientist's actual comments. In fact G-S notes that no-till offers some real benefits. He merely claims it is no cure-all.

Fine. We know that.

I remind him that in his blog he states that, "it appears that no-till may be contributing to some serious environmental problems." In his blog he cites a study about toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. Here is the summary of that study:

"In 2011, Lake Erie experienced the largest harmful algal bloom in its recorded history, with a peak intensity over three times greater than any previously observed bloom. Here we show that long-term trends in agricultural practices are consistent with increasing phosphorus loading to the western basin of the lake, and that these trends, coupled with meteorological conditions in spring 2011, produced record-breaking nutrient loads. An extended period of weak lake circulation then led to abnormally long residence times that incubated the bloom, and warm and quiescent conditions after bloom onset allowed algae to remain near the top of the water column and prevented ?ushing of nutrients from the system. We further ?nd that all of these factors are consistent with expected future conditions. If a scienti?cally guided management plan to mitigate these impacts is not implemented, we can therefore expect this bloom to be a harbinger of future blooms in Lake Erie."