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Comparing effects of herbicides, fertilizers, and tillage on the soil

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 8, 2016
Is this better than an herbicide for the soil? Photo: United Soybean Board.

Is this better than an herbicide for the soil? Photo: United Soybean Board.

In a past post, I argued for the use of an herbicide instead of tillage to kill a soil-building cover crop. My post was mostly observation of the damage of tillage on the soil as compared to the lack of damage, at least visually, from the herbicide. But others suggested that herbicides may not be as benign in the soil as I portrayed them. Here is the latest science on the topic.

A series of reviews have been published on the effects of herbicides on the soil, starting with Bunemann et al. in 2006. They concluded, “The herbicides generally had no major effects on soil organisms.” More recently, a review by Rose et al. (2016) found, “Overall, the majority of papers reported negligible impacts of herbicides on soil microbial communities and beneficial soil functions when applied at recommended field-application rates.” Read more »

FY15 BIOAg Request For Proposals released

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 25, 2014

BIOAg logoThis week, CSANR released its annual BIOAg Program request for proposals for new research and extension projects. The RFP can be found here.

This competitive grant program is the key mechanism that CSANR has to engage a broad, interdisciplinary spectrum of WSU faculty in projects that further the development, understanding, and use of biologically intensive and/or organic principles, practices, and technologies to improve the sustainability of agriculture and food systems in Washington State. Read more »

New Meta-Analysis Identifies Three Significant Benefits Associated With Organically Grown Plant-Based Foods

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | July 11, 2014

There have been four progressively rigorous meta-analyses published since 2009 focusing on differences in the nutritional quality and safety of organic versus conventional food. The latest comes out July 15, 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN). I was the sole American scientist on the mostly European research team that produced the BJN paper:

bjn_logoHigher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Baranski, M., D. Srednicka-Tober, N. Volakakis, C. Seal, R. Sanderson, G. B. Stewart, C. Benbrook, B. Biavati, E. Markellou, C. Giotis, J. Gromadzka-Ostrowska, E. Rembiałkowska, K. Skwarło-Son, R. Tahvonen, D. Janovska, U. Niggli, P. Nicot and C. Leifert.

Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming, Toxics

Will Second-Generation Herbicide-Tolerant Crops Dominate the Weed Management Toolbox?

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | June 30, 2014

Problems triggered by the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in corn, soybean, and cotton country continue to worsen. An industry source recently projected that 70 million acres are now infested with one or more glyphosate-resistant weed. The presence of glyphosate-resistant weeds forces farmers to add additional herbicides to their control programs, and apply herbicides more often and/or at higher rates. Costs have risen $25 to over $75 per acre. Read more »

Filed under Sustainability, Toxics
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Pesticide Residues in Organic Food — Delivering on a Promise

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | June 3, 2014

Avoiding pesticide exposure and risks remains the #1 reason most people choose organic food. This is not likely to change until there is convincing data that show only modest differences between the pesticide dietary risks associated with residues in and on organic food, compared to conventionally grown food. Read more »

Filed under Organic Farming, Toxics

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 »

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

Impacts of Organic Food on Infants and Children – The AAP Weighs In

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | October 22, 2012

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy paper entitled “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages” on October 22, 2012.  It is slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Pediatrics.  This new review comes on the heels of a September, 2012 meta-analysis by a team of physicians at Stanford University, which stirred up substantial commentary, and badly needed discussion among scientists of appropriate methods to carry out such reviews (e.g., see my September 4 post, and letters to the editor of “The Annals of Internal Medicine,” especially the excellent letter from WSU colleague Dr. Preston Andrews). Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming, Toxics

Hard lessons emerge from new study on the impacts of GE crops on pesticide use

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | October 2, 2012

I have worked for many years on pesticide use, risks, and regulation, as well as the design, implementation, and benefits of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) systems.  Given that all of the commercially significant, first-generation traits in genetically engineered (GE) crops are related to pest management, the real-world impacts of GE crops on pesticide use has always been on my radar screen.

I started tracking the development of herbicide-tolerant technology in the late 1980s during my tenure as the Executive Director of the NAS Board on Agriculture (1984-1990).  Even back then, years before the technology’s commercial launch in 1996, weed management experts were expressing concern that glyphosate-tolerant, Roundup Ready (RR) crops could lead to the emergence of resistant weeds.  Read more »

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