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A third of global farmland at ‘high’ pesticide pollution risk

A third of global farmland at ‘high’ pesticide pollution risk

Nearly two-thirds  of global agricultural land is at risk of pesticide pollution, a study says
Nearly two-thirds of global agricultural land is at risk of pesticide pollution, a study says

A third of the planet’s agricultural land is at “high risk” of pesticide pollution from the lingering residue of chemical ingredients that can leach into water supplies and threaten biodiversity, according to research published Monday.

The  has soared globally as  has expanded, prompting growing fears over  and calls to cut hazardous chemical use.

Researchers in Australia modelled pollution risk across 168 countries with data on the usage of 92 active pesticide ingredients and found “widespread global  risk”.

They highlighted several acutely vulnerable ecosystems in South Africa, China, India, Australia and Argentina, at the nexus of high pollution risk, high water scarcity and high biodiversity.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, found that overall 64 percent of global  —approximately 24.5 million square kilometres (9.4 million sq miles)—was at risk of pesticide pollution from more than one active ingredient, and 31 percent is at high risk.

“It is significant because the potential pollution is widespread and some regions at risk also bear high biodiversity and suffer from water scarcity,” said lead author Fiona Tang, of the University of Sydney’s School of Civil Engineering.

Tang said there were a number of factors that would contribute to a region becoming a potential contamination hotspot, including using excessive amounts of pesticides or those containing highly toxic substances.

Some environmental factors may also slow the breakdown of the pesticides into non-toxic substances, like cold temperatures or low soil carbon, while heavy rainfall might also cause high levels of run-off.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Kelly MacNamara, phys.org, pesticides, agriculture, industrial agriculture, modern agriculture, food production, food, pollution

New England Ecology

New England Ecology

(Or Eat the Damn Deer)

Deer droppings

This week the garden finally thawed out. I can see the grass and soil and the lower trunks of trees again for the first time in months. And right along with that, I see enough deer droppings to cover an acre in an inch-thick layer. I know this because the cleared portion of my three and a half acres is just over one acre… and that’s about covered in deer poo. (OK, yes, I’m exaggerating. A little.)

So it is time to have the deer discussion again. This has been a recurring theme in my world ever since we moved to New England and I planted apple saplings as deer food. Or that’s their version of the story. Other unwitting deer buffets include six cherry trees, three walnuts, twelve each of the blueberry and hazelnut saplings that I intended as an edible hedge on the veg patch, several hundred-foot rows of corn, all the peas I ever planted, same for all the sunflowers, two really expensive apothecary roses (though never the rugosas), a whole slew of willow and viburnum, every strawberry that dared show its rosy cheeks to the sun, and possibly several hundred dollars worth of tulip bulbs.

Meanwhile, the deer diners have left tips in the form of small, blood-sucking parasites that gave my aging dog Lyme disease and hastened her demise. They also latched on to my body frequently enough to merit several trips to the doctor to be tested. (Four negative, one “probably but can’t confirm” because the little buggers go dormant. They may still be in there, causing periodic mayhem.)…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can organic farming feed the world?

Can organic farming feed the world?

I discuss various aspects of so-called ‘alternative’ agriculture at some length in Chapter 6 of A Small Farm Future1, and I don’t intend to retrace many of those steps here. But there’s a couple of further things I do want to say in this blog cycle. Here, I’ll focus on organic farming.

On page 125 (and also page 150) of my book I cite a 2007 study by Catherine Badgley and co-authors2, one of whom is Jahi Chappell who sometimes comments here, so I’m hoping he might weigh in with his thoughts on this post. Their paper suggests that organic agriculture based on biological fixation of nitrogen is capable of meeting global food demands without reliance on industrial synthesis of nitrogenous fertiliser (from now on in this post I’m going to use the symbols N to refer to plant-available nitrogen, BNF to refer to biological (or ‘organic’) nitrogen fixation and SNF to refer to synthetic/industrial nitrogen fixation). Interestingly, the Badgley paper also suggest that while organic yields in rich countries are typically lower than their ‘conventional’ counterparts, the opposite is often the case in poor countries, a point to which I’ll return.

Since the publication of my book, I’ve become aware of various papers by Professor David Connor critiquing the Badgley paper, and more generally the notion that it’s feasible to feed the world without SNF. Although I identify with organic/alternative agriculture and have never used synthetic N in my own farming, I don’t take an absolutely purist line about it in relation to the global food system. If SNF is necessary in some circumstances, I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Still, SNF is an energy-intensive business requiring a complex industrial infrastructure…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

chris smaje, small farm future, organic farming, organic food production, organic agriculture, food production

Here’s the catch

The journey of an agricultural pollutant from its source, along its flow path (often in surface water flooding across fields), to its end destination, where it has the potential to do damage to the natural environment, is an essential concern of Catchment Sensitive Farming officers (CSFOs) on every farm they advise. Understanding how pollutants manifest on a farm, and the journey they subsequently take into the surrounding environment, enables farm advisers including CSFOs to evaluate how to address water and air pollution from agriculture.

Successful reduction of this diffuse pollution from food production can best be achieved by the adoption of practices which stop nutrients or pesticides becoming a pollutant in the first place. This not only has benefits for the environment but also for the farmer who saves money by wasting fewer inputs. Inevitably though, some agricultural inputs (such as fertiliser and manure) escape down a field or out of a livestock shed. Here, measures to intercept the errant material along its flow path come into play.

To mitigate this, a buffer strip of grassland and trees protecting a river or a ditch from waterborne nitrates or a shelterbelt of trees trapping ammonia emanating from a poultry house are just two examples of how Catchment Sensitive Farming is helping farms to address such diffuse pollution. And in flood prone areas of farmland, these practices can also help slow the flow of surface water encountered during storm events, enough to reduce the worst of its impact further down river catchments.

It takes careful consideration of each field and cropping rotation, each hedge or drystone wall boundary, farm track and gateway for the full benefits of Catchment Sensitive Farming to be realised…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

David Burton , sustainable food trust, pollutants, farming, food production



A design system that offers a radical reimagination of the possible

Permaculture is a design system that mimics the patterns of flourishing ecosystems to create ecologically regenerative human societies.  First developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture takes inspiration from Indigenous and ‘traditional’ agrarian practices. Mollison and Holmgren created a philosophy and a set of principles for producing diverse and dynamic ecosystems in which humans play a positive role.

Permaculture is strongly associated with specific practices, such as planting perennial polycultures. However, its most distinctive aspect is a focus on ecological design that is based on careful observation and deep interconnection. Through this design process, permaculturalists co-create, with non-human nature, spaces and lives that restore soil, build biodiversity, and allow for the flourishing of multiple species, including humans.

Permaculture emphasises that the Earth is full of abundance, not in commodities, but in energy from the sun, wind, water, food, and life itself. According to permaculture ethics, this abundance should be shared with other people, non-human animals, and the Earth. Permaculturalists do not view humans as inherently destructive or greedy. Within healthy ecosystems, animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria form cooperative, rather than competitive relationships, and humans can be an integral part of these ecosystems. As a system based on cooperation and solidarity among humans and non-human nature, permaculture offers a radical reimagination of the possible.

As a system based on cooperation and solidarity among humans and non-human nature, permaculture offers a radical reimagination of the possible

Permaculture has spread from Australia throughout the world and been interpreted in a variety of ways. This has led to some important debates within the international permaculture movement. Some proponents of permaculture aim to keep it de-politicized and professionalized as a system of ecological design only, while others seek to align with other social justice movements…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

permaculture, uneven earth, food production, agriculture, food, rebecca ellis

Home is not the house but where the garden is

Home is not the house but where the garden is

My title is a quotation from archaeologist Francis Pryor’s book about ‘prehistoric’ Britain, but it serves well enough as a summary of the general argument in my own book about our likely global future, and the need to refocus the household from a place of economy to a place of ecology1. Pryor suggests that early farmers in Britain grew mixed crops including vegetables in small provision grounds from which livestock were fenced out, provision grounds that were associated with small houses accommodating a handful of people. In fact, he argues that small-household sedentism stretches far back into the pre-agricultural Mesolithic in Britain, and we know that it’s been a common arrangement in agricultural and non-agricultural societies globally down to the present.

I’ll discuss in later posts the social and political implications of such household arrangements. Here, I’ll just raise a few points about their ecology that I touch on in my book, mostly in Chapter 7 (‘The apothecary’s garden’).

There are basically four reasons why I think a garden homestead commends itself as the habitation of the future (and, apparently, the past). First there’s an input-output circularity that’s ecologically efficient. The food and some of the fibre and medicines that the household occupants need is conveniently right there outside the house, and the waste products of the house – food scraps and human waste – are conveniently located as inputs into the garden to build its soils and organic matter.

Second, the garden requires a lot of human labour, which is most efficiently and effectively delivered when it’s associated with where people live…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

small farm future, chris smaje, garden, home, garden homestead, food production, local food production,

Is Farming the Problem?

Is Farming the Problem?

Here is a story that we tell ourselves. From The Good Ancestor: “Consider the immense legacy left by our ancestors: those who sowed the first seeds in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago, who cleared the land, built the waterways and founded the cities where we now live, who made the scientific discoveries, won the political struggles and created the great works of art that have been passed down to us.”

We don’t question this narrative. We simply accept it as “the way things happened”. But read it again with your critical brain engaged. To begin with, this ancestral narrative begins in Mesopotamia. This is not accurate. A few people in the Mesopotamian river basins started writing down what they were doing (mostly with regard to how much grain and gold were passing through their hands), but our cultural story begins long before Mesopotamia and in many different parts of the world, and ultimately, the human story begins in Africa, not the Middle East.

Farming did not begin with sowing seeds. This is a classic chicken egg of an assertion. What seeds? Where did they come from? How did humans even know to put them in the ground and expect to harvest something humans could eat? We’ll come back to this because this is the focus of this essay.

Let’s consider the assertion that humans built waterways. Yes, there are some canals, some irrigation projects, a few long-distance pipes and aqueducts. These are not generally waterways in terms of transport, which is I believe what is being referenced. Humans have not, in any case, built most of the bodies of water we use. Waterways are part of this planet, a priori; humans have done more to break rivers, lakes and oceans than to build them…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Letter From The Farm | Three Years In: Realism And Planning For Utopia

Letter From The Farm | Three Years In: Realism And Planning For Utopia

We are back on Chiara Garini’s forest farm at the foot of the Italian Alps. Three years in, her mushroom farm and forest garden is at a crossroads: should she expand or diversify? In any case Chiara is determined to bring utopia into her business plan, and tells us about an exciting new development on the farm…

Temperatures today are again close to zero. But the snow in the last days has finally started to melt after weeks pretty much spent in an unusual peace, with lots of snow and inevitably limited social interactions.

Leaving aside the moments of loneliness and concerns due to the current pandemic situation, I had the chance to take a good amount of time for the necessary evaluation and (re) design of our farm enterprise.

Planning for utopia

As I wrote in previous letters multidisciplinarity is crucial for managing a newborn farm.

This time of the year is when economic skills are needed, to evaluate past year performances and work on the business plan for the coming years. I do not really enjoy this task as the economic burden puts a lot of pressure on me. Models are not always an easy tool. However I know this evaluation is fundamental. It is actually very useful to understand the pitfalls and strengths of our past and present decisions.

Starting a new farm from scratch and dealing with the reality of food production is not easy at all. It is hard to find a balance between personal objectives (with the amount of utopia they often come with) and the harsh reality of production and marketing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Citizen power: A force for change

During the run up to the COP 26 meeting which will take place in Glasgow this November, the discussion about food related policies and practices is livelier than ever.

Currently, there are several government consultations taking place – gene editing, bovine TB, the Welsh Agriculture Bill, food trade and more, some of which the SFT has responded to and all of which are evoking strong emotions and responses. Some of these discussions relate to regulation – for instance, should the government outlaw various pesticides or designate the whole of Wales as a nitrate vulnerable zone? Should it permit gene editing which is likely to set a precedent for allowing the production of GMO crops and a further narrowing of the gene pool?

But alongside regulation, there are a range of other ways in which damaging practices can be discouraged and the right kind of farming practices encouraged, including government policy incentives, food company sourcing criteria and food labelling, certification schemes and support from the investment community.

Whatever the government decides about gene editing, the use of glyphosate or other inputs and practices which are causing damage to the environment or public health, change is coming anyway.

I say that because there is a third force at work here which will drive change in more ways than we have yet imagined – and rapidly too! The source of this third force is the growing awareness amongst millions of citizens that the consequences of continuing to farm intensively in the way that we have for the last century are unacceptable: potentially irreversible climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and massive negative impacts on public health.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Regenerative Agriculture part 3 | Working With Nature, Not Suppressing It

Regenerative Agriculture part 3 | Working With Nature, Not Suppressing It

In the third and final installment in this series on regenerative agriculture, Peter Dunne explains how regenerative agriculture is about working with nature, not suppressing it. We’re often told nature and agriculture can’t share the same space. But we urgently need a paradigm shift, because true resilience only comes through diversity. Full series will be available to download as a pdf.

The Insidious Agrochemical Treadmill

The backdrop for the emergence of regenerative agriculture, and its emphasis on soil as a fulcrum of farming has been the ongoing, worsening ecological crisis and the phenomenon of climate change. Both are anthropogenic. At the farm level, declining economic returns have become commonplace. Although sometimes influenced by the first, perhaps it is the last issue which is persuading increasing numbers of farmers that the current agricultural paradigm is not working.

Over the past handful of decades, farmers have found themselves resorting to ever-increasing inputs to improve production to maintain financial income as the real farm-gate price fell. It has long become a downward spiral. It is the classic treadmill created by the continual adoption of technology. To ensure a viable farm business, the system had come to favour yield above all other considerations.

In contrast, regenerative agriculture is about returning to systems reliant on an understanding of how natural ecology produces without anthropological intervention. The latter is then about working with nature, not governing it, or suppressing it to the degree where, as often now predominates, nature and agriculture cannot share the same physical space. It has become an either or. Monocultures devoid of nature have become commonplace whereas true resilience, in fact, only comes through diversity.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Sustainability Metrics

There is growing evidence that agriculture and food is one of the most significant contributors to the transgression of ‘planetary boundaries’, especially in the area of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, soil, water, and nitrogen use. As Professor Johan Rockström pointed out at the World Economic Forum, “A transition to sustainable agriculture and forestry is a fundamental prerequisite to succeed,” yet this transition is prevented by several significant barriers to change.

One of these barriers is the lack of a unified means of measuring food system sustainability. At present, there is a diverse range of overlapping assessment tools and labelling schemes for monitoring and communicating on-farm sustainability. This makes it impossible for consumers, farmers, food businesses and policymakers to gain an accurate understanding of the comparative sustainability of products resulting from different methods of production.

We believe that there is a real opportunity to influence future policy to better reflect the values agriculture provides and its place within society. We propose that this should involve rewarding and incentivising good practice and continuous improvement, rather than the very black and white ‘you’re in or you’re out’ school of thought associated with many certification schemes including organic.

Therefore we need a new initiative, led by farmers, to encourage a move towards convergence of existing schemes for measuring on-farm sustainability. This would make the monitoring process more efficient and less costly and burdensome for farmers, help to inform decisions about farm management practices and reward every step of the journey. A common framework could also be used to provide data for certification schemes, government agencies, food business supply chains and the research and investment communities. Through working with food businesses, it could also have the potential to provide consumers with a more accessible and easily understood means of evaluating the sustainability of food products in the market place.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Co-op says #NotInMySupermarket


In response to a civil society appeal for UK supermarkets to back strong regulation of new gene-edited crops and animals, the Co-op has made a clear statement of its support.

The #NotInMySupermarket campaign is a response to the current UK government consultation on removing regulations and labelling from plants and animals in the food chain created using a new experimental genetic engineering technique called ‘gene editing.’

joint letter, organised by Beyond GM and Slow Food UK, and signed by more than 50 UK leading civil society groups, academics and producers, calls for UK supermarkets to respect the wishes of their customers – the majority of whom, surveys show, oppose genetically engineered foods. It also asks the retailers to show leadership by supporting strong regulation of genetically engineered crops and foods and refusing to stock unregulated, unlabelled gene-edited foods in their stores.

In response to the letter, which has generated media coverage and a lively awareness-raising campaign on social media, Co-op Chief Executive, Jo Whitfield says:

“Genetic editing is one of several new technologies and innovations that may in the future help us to address the challenges facing our global food system. However, as with any new technology, it is important citizens are assured about food safety and the environmental and economic impacts are thoroughly understood before any decisions on widespread adoption are made. To this end, scrutiny by independent scientists and officials, as well as engagement with civil society, is essential. We would expect government to clearly set out how it intends to regulate gene editing, whilst providing clear conditions of use and any labelling requirements…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Comparing Organic, Agroecological and Regenerative Farming part 1 – Organic

Comparing Organic, Agroecological and Regenerative Farming part 1 – Organic

In this new three part series we present an analysis by Dr. Andrea Beste on the similarities, differences and synergies between the organic, agroecological and regenerative farming movements.  Part one here outlines the history and current status of the organic movement. A German version of the entire series is also available at the link below.

Early pioneers, bitter resistance, globalization

The first organic farming activities in Europe emerged with the “Life Reform Movement” after the First World Wari, which turned against urbanisation and industrialisation. The aim was to return to a natural way of life: they wanted to settle in rural nature and establish a gardening existence there. This led to a focus on production techniques such as: – fertilisation with rotting organic waste, composting, green manure and green soil cover, gentle soil cultivation, nutrient supply through the recycling of composted urban organic waste and human waste, as well as rock powder.

Even then, problems such as soil compaction, soil fatigue, poor seed quality and an increase in plant diseases and pest infestations led to a rethink in farming. Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) established biodynamic farming with the “agricultural course” during a seminar lasting several days in 1924, which dealt with these problems. In 1928, three years after Steiner’s death, the “Demeter trademark” was registered. Organic-biological agriculture, from which the “Bioland” association emerged, was also developed in Switzerland by Dr. Hans Müller (1891 – 1988) and his wife Dr. Maria Müller (1894 – 1969) at the beginning of the last century. The theoretical basis was provided by the German physician and microbiologist Dr. Hans Peter Rusch (1906 – 1977).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


New research challenges scientific orthodoxy on the role of grazing livestock in relation to emission reduction targets


This week we are highlighting the announcement of what we think is one of the world’s first soil carbon sequestration offsetting partnerships, between Microsoft Corporation and the Australian Wilmot Cattle Co. The reason we are drawing this news to wider attention is not because of potential for offsetting, but rather the impact of the research – which highlights the fact that regenerative farming can deliver significantly in terms of carbon sequestration.

What I found particularly interesting is that the scheme involved cattle ranches and the very significant soil carbon gains made by them: 0.8% per year of organic matter; in other words double the 4 per 1000 target set by the French Minister Stéphane Le Foll at the COP21 Paris summit where he announced his ‘quatre per mille’ scheme.

If this level of soil organic matter gain can be verified through ongoing research and monitoring using evolving and ever more sophisticated techniques for measuring soil organic matter, this represents a very significant breakthrough. In combination with the new information from Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University on the reduced impact of methane on climate change, there is a compelling argument for the scientific community to reassess the role of holistic grazing systems involving ruminant livestock – which could make a very significant contribution towards reducing climate change impacts.

This potential is highlighted in the press release from Wilmot Farms, who have calculated that were these soil carbon gains to be replicated across all the cattle farming grasslands in Australia, it would have the potential to sequester just under one quarter of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. It should also be emphasised that this is a net calculation which includes the counter benefit of the methane emissions from grazing animals, which makes it even more significant.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…



Are glyphosate-based herbicides poisoning us and the environment?

A new study, published on 27th January in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, conducted by an international team of scientists led by Dr Michael Antoniou of Kings College London, found that exposure to glyphosate and its commercial Roundup formulation, can disrupt the function of gut microbiome (bacteria and fungi) and internal body systems with potentially serious effects on human health.

In controlled laboratory animal experiments, glyphosate was found to alter the composition and more importantly the biochemical function of the gut microbiome by the same mechanism through which the chemical acts to kill weeds (inhibition of the shikimate biochemical pathway), even at doses claimed to be safe by the regulators. Roundup was also shown to be more toxic than glyphosate alone, underpinning existing evidence that the additional substances present in commercial products, collectively known as “adjuvants”, are not “inert” as claimed by its manufacturers and regulators but highly toxic in their own right.

In-depth biochemical analysis of both the gut and the blood of the test animals showed that they were put under “oxidative stress”, a highly damaging process, by glyphosate and to a greater degree by Roundup.

From my reading, this research appears to go a long way towards vindicating the conclusions of the many organisations and individuals throughout the world who were convinced from the very beginning that it would be unlikely in the extreme that this herbicide, an agricultural poison which has the capacity to kill all green plant material except that which has been genetically modified to be tolerant to it, would not have adverse effects on the human health.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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