Mark Bittman visits an industrial tomato farm in California. I like that he swipes at ‘heirloom’ tomatoes. But his admiration for sustainable farming permeates the entire piece.
I’VE long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?
The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.I began by touring Bruce Rominger’s farmin Winters. With his brother Rick and as many as 40 employees, Rominger farms around 6,000 acres of tomatoes, wheat, sunflowers, safflower, onions, alfalfa, sheep, rice and more. Unlike many Midwestern farm operations, which grow corn and soy exclusively, here are diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food — not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel. That’s a good start.
GMOs are a controversial climate adaptation measure. But, drought resistant crops are necessary.
Agricultural biotechnology companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into developing plants that can withstand the effects of a prolonged dry spell. Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, has received regulatory approval for DroughtGard, a corn variety that contains the first genetically modified trait for drought resistance.
Seed makers, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. of Johnston, Iowa, and Swiss company Syngenta, are already selling drought-tolerant corn varieties, conceived through conventional breeding.
At stake: a $12-billion U.S. seed market, with corn comprising the bulk of sales. The grain is used in such things as animal feed, ethanol and food. The push is also on to develop soybean, cotton and wheat that can thrive in a world that’s getting hotter and drier.
"Drought is definitely going to be one of the biggest challenges for our growers," said Jeff Schussler, senior research manager for Pioneer, the agribusiness arm of DuPont. "We are trying to create products for farmers to be prepared for that."
Their efforts come amid concerns about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and the unforeseen consequences of this genetic tinkering. Californians in November will vote on Proposition 37, which would require foods to carry labels if they were genetically modified. The majority of corn seed sold is modified to resist pests and reap higher yields.
Opponents say the label would unnecessarily dampen further development that is intended to feed a growing global population dependent on the U.S., the largest exporter of corn and soybean.
"Trying to create drought-tolerant crops is not going to be easy to do," said Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis. “We certainly need all the tools [available] to do that, and that includes conventional breeding and adding transgenic traits. We don’t need to stigmatize these approaches.”
Great read via LATimes
Here’s the secret of the modern dairy farm: The essential high-tech advances aren’t in machinery. They’re inside the cow.
Take a cow like Claudia. She lives at Fulper Farms, a dairy farm in upstate New Jersey. Claudia is to a cow from the 1930s as a modern Ferrari is to a Model T.
In the 1930s, dairy farmers could get 30 pounds of milk per day from a cow. Claudia produces 75 pounds a day.”
Looks interesting, though it could be lefty anti-Monsanto panic - stuff I try to avoid posting here. I do not know if glyphosate is all that dangerous, nor what levels would be OK to consume. Wikipedia has a clear article on glyphosate, which points to an article that states impacts on humans is not known. The Wiki entry has a short lawsuit section covering Monsanto’s key ingredient herbicide, but again these are related to regulation rather than impacts.
A recent study conducted by a German university found very high concentrations of Glyphosate, a carcinogenic chemical found in herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup, in all urine samples tested. The amount of glyphosate found in the urine was staggering, with each sample containing concentrations at 5 to 20-fold the limit established for drinking water. This is just one more piece of evidence that herbicides are, at the very least, being sprayed out of control.
"Honeybee populations have been in serious decline for years, and Purdue University scientists may have identified one of the factors that cause bee deaths around agricultural fields.
Analyses of bees found dead in and around hives from several apiaries over two years in Indiana showed the presence of neonicotinoid insecticides, which are commonly used to coat corn and soybean seeds before planting. The research showed that those insecticides were present at high concentrations in waste talc that is exhausted from farm machinery during planting.
The insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam were also consistently found at low levels in soil — up to two years after treated seed was planted — on nearby dandelion flowers and in corn pollen gathered by the bees, according to the findings released in the journal PLoS One this month.
"We know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees; we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees," said Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology and a co-author of the findings.
The United States is losing about one-third of its honeybee hives each year, according to Greg Hunt, a Purdue professor of behavioral genetics, honeybee specialist and co-author of the findings. Hunt said no one factor is to blame, though scientists believe that others such as mites and insecticides are all working against the bees, which are important for pollinating food crops and wild plants.
"It’s like death by a thousand cuts for these bees," Hunt said.Krupke and Hunt received reports that bee deaths in 2010 and 2011 were occurring at planting time in hives near agricultural fields. Toxicological screenings performed by Brian Eitzer, a co-author of the study from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, for an array of pesticides showed that the neonicotinoids used to treat corn and soybean seed were present in each sample of affected bees. Krupke said other bees at those hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning.
Seeds of most annual crops are coated in neonicotinoid insecticides for protection after planting.”