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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 »

How about GMO cover crops?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | January 28, 2014

This post follows Chad Kruger’s introduction to the discussion of GMOs and sustainability.

In a past post, I argued that killing a cover crop with an herbicide was better for building soil than killing it with tillage. Here is another option. Why not develop genetically engineered (GE) cover crops that die easily when sprayed with an innocuous substance? Read more »

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 »

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.

Cover the Soil for Quick Benefits

Posted by Andrew McGuire | October 16, 2013

As noted in colleague Chad Kruger’s informative posts about soil carbon sequestration (1, 2), it takes a long time to reap the benefits of building up soil organic matter. There is, however, a quick way to improve the function of your soil; keep it covered with crop residues. Read more »

When MANAGING for soil carbon really pays

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 27, 2013

In August I published a post describing one mechanism by which increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) can lead to direct financial benefit on irrigated farms. In that particular example, the agronomic value of the carbon could be more than 10X greater than the potential value of a “carbon credit”.  While it’s clear that there are general benefits to increasing SOC, in reality the specifics of each situation, such as the climate, soils, and management system, will all have an impact on monetizing any benefit. In this post I’ll examine a different case example published by some of my colleagues working at the WSU Cook Agronomy Farm, a dryland wheat farm near Pullman, Washington. Read more »

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 »

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 »

More Independent Science Must be Part of Regaining Public Confidence in GE Food Technology

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | July 2, 2013

The finding of some Roundup Ready (RR) wheat plants in an eastern Oregon field must leave some PNW wheat growers feeling snakebit, since they decided a decade ago to oppose the commercialization of RR wheat until the technology is fully approved and accepted by consumers, both here and abroad.  While this episode has disrupted trade flows and will undoubtedly increase wheat industry testing costs for the foreseeable future, some good could come from it if it triggers a fresh look at why skepticism and/or opposition to genetically engineered (GE) foods is growing in the U.S.  The fate of many new GE crops hangs in the balance, including Simplot’s new potato technology that reduces levels of the known human carcinogen acrylamide. Read more »

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