David Granatstein

A wrong decision for the right reason?

Posted by David Granatstein | April 24, 2013

A couple of weeks ago Dr. Jeff Ullman, formerly of WSU, gave a provocative seminar on the fate of various constituents of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment.  He and his co-researchers have discovered that a wide range of chemicals from these products do not degrade when going through our bodies, animal bodies, or wastewater treatment facilities, and can sometimes be detected at very low levels in drinking water.  He focused on recent work1 trying to test the hypothesis that antibiotics fed to livestock (often in continual sub-therapeutic doses) can be excreted by the animal, remain biologically active, exert selection pressure on human pathogens that might be present in the environment outside the animal, lead to the development of antibiotic resistance by these pathogens, and then be ingested by another animal.  Ultimately, their careful step-by-step study did show it was possible for this to occur.  However, they found that not all antibiotics act the same.  Cefoxitin and florfenicol, for example, retained their bactericidal activity and thus could select for resistance, while tetracycline and ciprofloxacin were almost completed deactivated within 24 hours of contact with the soil.  They conclude that efforts to control antibiotic contamination might best be focused on those compounds that retain their biological activity in soil since these are the ones that could exert a selective pressure for resistance in the environment.  Read more »

Treating Tree Fever

Posted by David Granatstein | April 2, 2013
A block of apple trees infected with fire blight (photo courtesy of Tim Smith)

A block of apple trees infected with fire blight (photo courtesy of Tim Smith)

Organic tree fruit growers face a dilemma. The disease fire blight, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, can infect apple and pear trees primarily through their blossoms during the flowering period when the bacteria are present and the weather conditions are right.  It is a disease native to North America that has spread to other continents as well.  Currently, there is no available diagnostic tool to determine the presence of the bacteria, although a molecular method called LAMP is under development.  As a result, growers rely on disease models to inform their management decisions.  In Washington, the COUGARBLIGHT model developed by Tim Smith at WSU Extension is the standard tool used.  The most common and effective treatment for fire blight in the state is the antibiotic oxytetracycline.  When timed properly, it kills the bacteria in the blossoms before they are able to infect the tree.  Once infected, the only response is pruners or chainsaws, as no material can control the bacteria inside the tree.  And depending on cultivar, tree age, vigor, and other factors, fire blight can kill limbs, trees and entire orchard blocks.  It is a disease to take seriously.  Unlike human use of antibiotics, where we wait until we are sick (infected) and then take the medicine to cure, treatment of fire blight is primarily preventative and based on probability of infection. Read more »

Filed under Organic Farming, Toxics

The importance of planetary “skin care” for our soils

Posted by David Granatstein | February 28, 2013

Soil is often called the “living skin” of planet Earth; an essential but fragile part of the biosphere.  Attention to soil health (or soil quality) has waxed and waned over the years, but it appears to be making a comeback.  In the past few months I have been to two exceptional meetings on soil health – one in Moses Lake (>200 attendees) and one near Spokane (>100 attendees).  Growers and crop consultants made up the largest share of the audience, mostly larger commercial growers.  In my 25 years of working on soil quality, I have never experienced the level of excitement I saw and the depth of actual change on the case study farms presented.  Ideas like the soil food web, that sometimes can be vague and hard to translate to action, were illustrated in actual practices on the ground that are improving the soil and profitability at the same time.  Cover crops played a big role in the presentations.  These appear to be underused here in Washington relative to some other parts of the country.  To me, this spells opportunity. Read more »

Making “black and white” out of a “shades of gray” world

Posted by David Granatstein | October 25, 2012

I had the opportunity to attend the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting for a day last week.  The day was devoted to the Crops Subcommittee which is charged with looking at all the production inputs to be allowed or prohibited in organic agriculture.  This is a daunting job, and board members (who are volunteers) must review volumes of information on numerous materials for each meeting.  Most members do not have a technical background related to the material or topic they are voting on, so they rely on prepared documents, testimony, their own investigation, and discussions among board members.  They are each trying to do their own “sustainability” analysis in the context of the organic rule (and enabling legislation) as well as the stakeholders they represent.  Read more »

Another take on achieving sustainability

Posted by David Granatstein | October 4, 2012

As several CSANR faculty members have agreed to do, including Andy McGuire, I am responding to the question posed by Center Director Chad Kruger on September 18: Achieving farm and food system sustainability: incremental vs. transformational pathways?

First of all, my own bias is that we are not likely to achieve farm and food system sustainability. This implies that there is a line that is crossed that moves one from “unsustainable” to “sustainable.” Since the world is constantly changing, what we consider sustainable today may not be valid at the end of a five- or ten-year period over which we pursue that goal. I would rephrase the question to begin: improving (rather than achieving) farm and food system sustainability. Read more »

Its WOW time again.

Posted by David Granatstein | September 13, 2012

Every year in early September we celebrate Washington Organic Week (WOW).  Consumers have been enjoying the season’s organic harvest for several months, but things really pick up now with apples, pears, potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins, and more.  The organic farming sector in the state has a lot to celebrate.  Despite some bumps in the marketplace in 2009, consumers continue to expand their purchases of organic products nationwide, including those grown and processed here. Read more »

Filed under Organic Farming, Sustainability
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The Fruits of our Research

Posted by David Granatstein | September 11, 2012

There is no better time to find fresh Washington fruit than this time of year, be it cherries, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, strawberries, pears, apples, plums… you name it.  This abundance, and its quality, is a result of large investments in research and innovation over the years.  But does greater quantity and quality mean improved sustainability?  Let’s take a look at apples as an example of changes in sustainability.  Read more »

Towards an Index of Sustainability for Agriculture

Posted by David Granatstein | February 6, 2012

Language matters. The words we choose can greatly impact what we communicate. If I say “I see a car” most everyone who speaks English will get the exact same message. If I say “I support local foods” the interpretation will likely be highly variable. Let’s explore some of the language that accompanies society’s current heightened interest in agriculture and the food system and whether we are sharing the same message. Read more »

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Contact David Granatstein

Email: granats@wsu.edu