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Re-assessing the sustainability of genetically engineered crops?

Posted by Chad Kruger | January 24, 2014

Historically, there has been passionate resistance from advocates of organic and sustainable agriculture systems to the introduction and use of genetically engineered (GE) crops.  The position, as most often stated, is that GE and sustainable agriculture (specifically organic agriculture) are mutually exclusive.  This position is codified in the National Organics Standards which have excluded the intentional use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in organic production and handling.  The high-profile ballot initiative (I-522) had this issue front and center in Washington State for most of last fall. Read more »

The “Rest” of the Food System

Posted by Craig Frear | January 22, 2014

In recent years, increasing numbers of consumers have become interested in making sure the food system is more sustainable. However, the bulk of effort and attention has gone toward the part of the food system that leads up to their forks. Much less attention has been paid to the “post-fork” part of our food system. This part of the food system is big. In 2008, food losses were estimated to be 30% at the retail and consumer levels in the U.S., with a total estimated retail value of $165.6 billion (Buzby and Hyman 2012). Other estimates are similar, ranging from 25–40%. Read more »

On whether the “organic vs. conventional” comparison is meaningful

Posted by Chad Kruger | December 11, 2013

My colleague Chuck Benbrook posted a fascinating article this week summarizing his recent paper that evaluates how organic milk impacts human nutrition. If you haven’t read it, you should. In the comments of Chuck’s post, another colleague Andy McGuire inquires and Chuck confirms, the likely reason organic milk is nutritionally superior to conventional milk is the composition of the feed ration (i.e., more grass).

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Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming, Sustainability
3 Comments

Expanding organic on the landscape: does farm size matter?

Posted by David Granatstein | November 3, 2013

In the 1970s, I was part of the “back to the land” movement and very interested in organic farming as the solution to sustainability problems in agriculture. At that time, organic was close to invisible on the agricultural and food landscape. In spite of this, many of us strived toward “the whole world being organic.” A lot has changed since then; and a lot has not. Organic has undergone exponential growth in the marketplace, with increases in both the number of farmers and the land area involved. Organic is still a small fraction of the market, however, and many of the problems we saw decades ago still persist. 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 »

Organic farming – environmental benefit, yield cost?

Posted by David Granatstein | August 27, 2013

While most consumers may choose organic foods for their potential health characteristics (e.g., lower chance of pesticide residue and potentially greater nutrient value), these same consumers generally believe that organic farming is “good” for the environment and thus worth supporting.  But is the assumption of environmental benefit correct? And is there a cost? Let’s take a look at how the newer studies compare to older research findings. Read more »

When soil carbon sequestration REALLY pays

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 15, 2013

The dog days of summer have arrived in Eastern Washington – with daily temps reaching the high 90s every day. This is the second extended stretch of heat in the region this year. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Organic Farming, Sustainability
9 Comments

Change your crop, change your soil

Posted by Andrew McGuire | August 9, 2013

When I was a college student, almost every ag-related class I took mentioned the benefits of the “rotation effect” (better yields, fewer pests, etc.). However, aside from insect pests, how the “rotation effect” actually worked was always taught in only general terms, especially when it came to rotation effects in the soil. Recently, however, genetic methods are allowing soil scientists to begin to see what happens in the soil when a crop is grown. In their paper, Comparative metatranscriptomics reveals kingdom level changes in the rhizosphere microbiome of plants, Turner et al. describe the genetic tool they used, metatranscriptomics, and how they used it to get an “initial comprehensive picture of the [soil] community structure” in the plant rhizosphere. Read more »

Study Shows Soil-Building Benefits of Manure and Crop Rotation, so why didn’t they say so?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | June 27, 2013

Here is the secret to building soils – manure and diverse crop rotation. Underwhelmed? Researchers in Iowa (Delate et al, 2013) came to this conclusion after conducting ten years of field research. Only this wasn’t their conclusion.

“Iowa State study shows soil-building benefits of organic practices,” reads the headline of the Leopold Center press release on this research. This is misleading for two reasons. Read more »

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