Today, six chemical companies control 63% of the seed market, and their combined R&D budgets are 15 times higher than all U.S. public spending on agricultural research. And with recently announced efforts to merge it’s about to get worse.
What the agrichemical industry is selling, we ain’t buying. Learn more at seedmatters.org and sign our letter for change. #SeedMatters
The scientists investigating this soil-health connection are a varied bunch—botanists, agronomists, ecologists, geneticists, immunologists, microbiologists—and collectively they are giving us new reasons to care about the places where our food is grown.
For example, using DNA sequencing technology, agronomists at Washington State University have recently established that soil teeming with a wide diversity of life (especially bacteria, fungi, and nematodes) is more likely to produce nutrient-dense food. Of course, this makes sense when you understand that it is the cooperation between bacteria, fungi, and plants’ roots (collectively referred to as the rhizosphere) that is responsible for transferring carbon and nutrients from the soil to the plant—and eventually to our plates.
Given this nutrient flow from soil microbes to us, how can we boost and diversify life in the soil? Studies consistently show that ecological farming consistently produces a greater microbial biomass and diversity than conventional farming. Ecological farming (or eco-farming, as my farmer friends call it) includes many systems (biodynamic, regenerative, permaculture, full-cycle, etc.) that share core holistic tenets: protecting topsoil with cover crops and minimal plowing, rotating crops, conserving water, limiting the use of chemicals (synthetic or natural), and recycling all animal and vegetable waste back into the land. Much of this research supports what traditional farmers around the world have long known to be true: the more ecologically we farm, the more nutrients we harvest.
In certain situations, Virginia and Pennsylvania continue to allow the land application of organic waste to be nitrogen-based, guaranteeing a massive over-application of both nitrogen and phosphorus and proving that agricultural economic concerns continue to trump concerns about water quality.
Pollution is an externality and its real cost is never accounted for. In Virginia, dairy manure is applied assuming that 35 percent of the nitrogen is available to the next crop because it takes time for microbes to decompose the organic material in the waste and release the nutrients for plant uptake.
What happens to the other 65 percent of the nitrogen? Unless nitrogen fertilizers are considerably reduced for subsequent crops — which is not required and rarely done — much of the excess nitrogen is pollution. It is easy to understand why animal waste — poultry litter, sewage sludge and manure — accounts for half of all agricultural nutrient pollution, or a little more than a quarter of Bay nutrient pollution because less than half of the disposed nitrogen and phosphorus ends up in the crop.
On March 20 2015 the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency IARC declared that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. IARC reached its decision based on the view of 17 top cancer experts from 11 countries, who met to assess the carcinogenicity of 5 pesticides.
Over 80% of genetically modified (GM) crops grown worldwide are engineered to tolerate being sprayed with glyphosate herbicides. GM glyphosate-tolerant crops have led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the US between 1996 and 2011, compared with the amount that would have been used if the same acres had been planted to non-GM crops. People and animals that eat GM glyphosate-tolerant crops are eating potentially high levels of Roundup residues.
Over 80% of genetically modified (GM) crops grown worldwide are engineered to tolerate being sprayed with glyphosate herbicides,1 the best known being Roundup. The herbicide kills all plant life in the field apart from the crop. These crops are known as glyphosate-tolerant or “Roundup Ready” (RR) crops.
The idea behind such crops was to simplify weed control for farmers. The farmer could douse the entire field with glyphosate herbicide, killing all weeds without killing the crop.
But this is not the way things turned out. Weeds have quickly become resistant to glyphosate herbicide through a process called selection pressure, in which only those weeds that tolerate the herbicide survive to pass on their genes. The resulting epidemic of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” has caused huge problems for farmers in countries where glyphosate-tolerant crops are widely planted.