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The disconnect between the production and consumption of food

Posted by Chad Kruger | May 5, 2014
photo: Kabsik Park

Photo: Kabsik Park

Over the past several months we’ve seen: a freak early-season snow storm in the Dakotas that killed tens of thousands of cattle that could take affected ranchers more than a decade to recover from, continued and expanding drought conditions in the corn belt of the Upper Midwest, extended drought cutting off irrigation water in the “produce basket” of the Central Valley of California, massively destructive storms and flooding in the Gulf Coast, and a deadly virus killing piglets in more than half the country. In spite of this, we’re just finally seeing reports that the price of food is creeping higher – a whopping 0.4% two months in a row! – with the increasing price of bacon the one most people are complaining about. Read more »

Scaling Up Organic Production to Lower Costs: Will Quality Suffer?

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | April 24, 2014

An April 19, 2014 blog post by NPR correspondent Dan Charles discusses Wal-Mart’s plans to develop a substantial new line of organic food products that will be sold at a 25% lower price than other organic brands. The story quotes individuals who question whether Wal-Mart will be able to deliver on the idea without hurting farmers or cutting corners and sacrificing organic integrity, but they may be underestimating the benefits of Wal-Mart’s economy of scale. Read more »

Ecosystems are Not Smart, We Are – Applications on the Farm

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 5, 2014
17 species cover crop seed blend

Cover crop seed blend of 17 species

In a recent post, I argued that we should cast aside the ideas of “balance of nature” and “nature knows best” in designing farming systems. If nature has not been optimized by any process that we know of, and therefore consists of mostly random mixes of species dictated primarily by natural disturbances, then there is no reason to “follow nature’s lead.”  But if we don’t, what are we left with? Read more »

Don’t Mimic Nature on the Farm, Improve it

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 3, 2014

Garden of Eden. Thomas Cole [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Behind many efforts to make agriculture more sustainable is the idea that our farming systems need to be more like nature. According to agroecologist Miguel Alteri, “By designing farming systems that mimic nature, optimal use can be made of sunlight, soil nutrients, and rainfall.” This strategy arises from a long history of thinking that there exists a “balance of nature.” This idea has greatly influenced how we look at nature1 and agriculture. In the latter case, it drives much of what is done in organic farming and agroecology, but also finds its way into no-till farming. Nonetheless, it is false, and because it is false we can abandon the restrictive “nature knows best” argument in designing agricultural systems. Instead, we can improve on nature.

Read more »

Reflections on the Science Breakthrough of the Year

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 27, 2014

Science MagazineIn its December 20, 2013 issue, the journal Science identified cancer immunotherapy as the science breakthrough of the year.  An editorial by the journal’s Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt explains the basis for the selection.

She notes that the war on cancer started 40 years ago and has had great success in treating some cancers, while others remain difficult to effectively combat. She also explains that as the baby boomer generation ages, cancer incidence, morbidity, and mortality will almost assuredly increase – hence the need for new tools. Read more »

Do Farm Bills Drive or Deter Change?

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 5, 2014

Farm bills over the last forty years have shaped today’s agriculture systems and technology.  They have done so by setting the “rules of the road” and defining or shaping research and investment priorities.

The new farm bill provides farmers, agribusiness, rural communities, and the food industry a more stable policy framework in which to make investment and planting decisions.  But my sense is this farm bill could mark a historically significant inflection point. Farm bills since the 1970s have tried to become more market-driven, by lessening the impact of USDA farm programs on the choices made by farmers.  Read more »

The Foley Institute Panel: The Science, Ethics and Politics of GMO’s and Your Food

Posted by Chad Kruger | October 25, 2013

In an effort to provide a balanced and pro-active public forum for the discussion of issues related to GMO’s and the I-522 Initiative, Washington State University’s Foley Institute is hosting a lecture and panel discussion on Monday, October 28th. The panel features Michigan State University’s W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair Paul Thompson, one of the world’s most widely known and respected academics for his research on the intersection of ethics and science in GMO technology. I’ve personally read much of Thompson’s work going back to my days as a graduate student and have found his insights very helpful in developing my own “non-expert” perspective on GM technology.

In addition, two WSU Faculty Members with expertise in GM technology and its broader implications, Mike Neff (Crop Biotechnologist) and CSANR’s own Chuck Benbrook will be part of the panel.

This event should be very informative and worth your efforts to attend in person if possible. However, realizing that Pullman is a long trek for many Washington citizens, the lecture and panel discussion will be recorded and broadcast by KWSU.

The recording is now available here: http://foley.wsu.edu/ ; scroll down to “I-522 debate.”

WSU’s Official Policy on Initiative 522.

WSU’s Official Position on I-522, the GMO labeling initiative

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 12, 2013

Several people have inquired about the position of WSU, the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources on I-522, the initiative focused on GMO labeling in Washington State. The attached memo from Provost Dan Bernardo and Interim Dean Ron Mittelhammer clarifies that WSU and CAHNRS are officially neutral in relation to I-522. It further explains that while individual faculty members (current and emeritus) have the right to express their opinions as individual citizens, these opinions do not constitute a position for the University or College. This position is consistent with the investments that the University and College have been making in sustainable and organic agriculture research and education over the years, including CSANR. Read more »

No, I won’t stop eating meat to feed the planet

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 6, 2013

Full disclosure: I come from a livestock-producing family tradition and I eat meat. And I like it. A lot.

In his latest provocative post, my colleague Andy McGuire reflects on a new paper that assesses the potential to feed a growing global population by shifting from meat consumption to a vegetarian diet. The paper presents a very compelling scientific rationale for the shift and has Andy contemplating his future dietary choices. Go read Andy’s post – it’s worth your time. In the conclusion of his post, Andy asks readers whether they would quit meat to feed the planet.

My answer to Andy is an unequivocal “No.” Read more »

Forego a Hamburger, Feed a Person

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 5, 2013

I eat meat. More specifically, I eat feedlot beef from major supermarket chains and generally enjoy it. Nonetheless, the implications of a recent study have me questioning whether I will eat meat in the future. Read more »

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