New Way to Boost Crop Production Doesn’t Rely on GMOs or Pesticides


Researchers are fiddling with the plant equivalent of gut bacteria.

A new treatment for cotton seeds draws on beneficial microbes that live inside plants—much like the good bacteria in our own guts—to help the crops thrive in dry conditions.

The microbe-enhanced cotton, the first product from startup Indigo Agriculture, is already growing on 50,000 acres spread across five different states in the southern United States. Indigo CEO David Perry says the treatment increases yield as much as irrigation can. The company also today announced a new $100 million investment round that brought its venture funding total to $156 million.

Many experts argue that global agricultural productivity is not growing fast enough to keep up with the increase in global demand for food. Intense competition for land and pressures to reduce chemical fertilizer and pesticide use have led technologists to search for new ways to increase yield. Adding beneficial microbes to crops could be an effective but less controversial alternative to genetic engineering.

A field of cotton from seeds treated with Indigo’s microbes.

Seed treatments containing such microbes are part of an emerging class of agricultural technologies known as “biologicals.” The microbiome—the communities of bacteria and fungi that live in the soil around the roots, on the surface of the plant, and inside the plant tissue—contributes to a plant’s health and growth. The idea is that by isolating these good bacteria and fungi and then adding them back into the plant, they could stimulate more growth and make crops healthier.

Agriculture companies including Monsanto have already released a number of microbial products. But most of what’s on the market now is focused on organisms that live in soil. Indigo’s focus is on so-called endophytes, or the bacteria and fungi that actually live in the plant tissue. Researchers have studied the interactions between these particular microbes and their plant hosts for several decades, but are just now beginning to realize how to apply what they’ve learned, according to Betsy Arnold, a professor of plant sciences and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, and an academic collaborator with Indigo.

On the left are cotton plants grown with Indigo’s seed treatment. On the right are untreated crops.

Recent advances in DNA sequencing and inexpensive computing have made it more economical to perform computational analysis on huge databases of microbial genetic information in search of insights that might help improve crops. Indigo has built a database of tens of thousands of individual microbes isolated from crops that thrive under harsh conditions. The company’s scientists use machine learning and other techniques to probe that data in search of new insights.

Tyler McClendon, president of Oxbow Agriculture, which is currently growing 1,000 acres of Indigo’s cotton, says he believes Indigo’s focus on isolating specific microörganisms that seem to help plants thrive under stress makes more sense than the “broad based,” soil-focused approaches other companies are taking.

McClendon says Indigo’s business model is also unique, in that the final cost of the technology to the farmer is tied to a “measurable increase in crop yield.” Under the traditional model, farmers must pay for everything up front and then hope for the best, says Perry. Indigo doesn’t ask for much financial commitment up front, he says. Instead, he says, “we ask for a share of the value we create at harvest.” McClendon says this kind of approach makes farmers more receptive and could speed the adoption of new biotechnologies.

Monsanto’s Roundup system threatens extinction of monarch butterflies .


Reuters / Michael Fiala

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready system – a potent herbicide combined with genetically-modified seeds that can withstand it – has decimated the monarch butterfly’s only source of food in the Midwest, putting it on the edge of extinction, according to a new study.

Biotechnology conglomerate Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup has become the most common herbicide in American agriculture today, used in tandem with the company’s genetically-engineered Roundup Ready crops.

Since its heavy proliferation began in the 1990s, glyphosate has been a leading killer of 99 percent of milkweed in the Midwest’s corn and soybean fields. Glyphosate-sensitive milkweed plants are the only spots where monarchs lay eggs, as the plant is the only food source for monarch larvae.

According to the Center for Food Safety’s new report, Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America,” these conditions have contributed to a drastic 90-percent drop in population for monarchs in their main habitat, crop fields in the Midwest.

“This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety.

“To let the monarch butterfly die out in order to allow Monsanto to sell its signature herbicide for a few more years is simply shameful.”

As Monsanto is on the precipice of receiving US government approval for its next generation of the Roundup Ready system, the report raises the question of how much longer will the monarch survive?

“Milkweed growing in Midwest cropland is essential to the monarch’s continued survival. Without milkweed, we’ll have no monarchs,” said Dr. Martha Crouch, a biologist for the Center for Food Safety and a co-author of the report.

“Very few of us fully understand the ecological impacts of our food system, but we need to pay attention. The decline of the monarch is a stark reminder that the way we farm matters.”

The Center for Food Safety said it was presenting the new report “to Congress today at an expert briefing on the decline of monarchs.”

In December, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it may designate the monarch as a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act. The agency review comes in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to list the subspecies of monarch (Danaus plexippus plexippus).

Disregarding their natural beauty, monarch butterflies play an important role in ecology. They carry pollen from plant to plant, helping fruits and flowers to produce new seeds. In their caterpillar stage, they are a food source for birds, mammals, and other insects.

While milkweed can grow away from main cropland, there is an increasingly low amount of habitat that can support monarchs. Herbicide spraying over corn and soybeans fields that dominate the Midwestern Corn Belt leave monarchs to search for milkweed in other areas like roadsides and pastures, according to the report. Monarchs also produce four times more eggs per plant on milkweed growing in a crop field as opposed to milkweed sprouting elsewhere, the Center for Food Safety claimed.

Monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl, and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the monarch’s entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to these threats.

The report said that as monarch population sinks, they will likely become more susceptible to remarkable weather events.

The Center for Food Safety listed a host of policy recommendations in the report, including that the US Department of Agriculture should “reject applications to approve new herbicide-resistant crops, and [US Environmental Protection Agency] should deny registrations of herbicides for use on them, unless or until appropriate restrictions are enacted to ameliorate their harms to milkweeds, monarchs and pollinators.”

“Glyphosate is the monarch’s enemy number one. To save this remarkable species, we must quickly boost milkweed populations and curtail the use of herbicide-resistant crop systems,” said Bill Freese, a co-author of the report.

As RT reported last month, the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved Monsanto’s new GMO cotton and soybean plants. The company now awaits approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for it latest herbicide – a mix of the formidable chemical dicamba and glyphosate, which the company has developed for use on the newly-approved GMO crops.

The new GMO crops – coupled with the dicamba/glyphosate cocktail – make up what Monsanto has dubbed the ‘Roundup Ready Xtend crop system,’ designed to trump super weeds that have evolved along with its Roundup biocide.

For its part, Monsanto says it is seeking alternatives for the monarch.

“At Monsanto, we’re committed to doing our part to protect these amazing butterflies. That’s why we are collaborating with experts from universities, nonprofits, and government agencies to help the monarch by restoring their habitat in Crop Reserve Program land, on-farm buffer strips, roadsides, utility rights-of way and government-owned land.”

New painkiller found in coffee – stronger than morphine .


Coffee contains a protein that has an effect similar to morphine, specialists at the University of Brasilia and Brazilian agriculture research company Embrapa have discovered. Moreover, the new substance’s effect lasts longer.

The research was conducted by Felipe Vinecky of the Molecular Biology Department at the University of Brasilia (UnB) in cooperation with the Genetics and Biotechnology Division of state owned agriculture and livestock research company Embrapa. The research involved searching for and combining coffee genes to affect quality. In the course of study, the scientists managed to find new substances in the product.

While analyzing the coffee genome sequence and corresponding proteins, Vinecky and his research adviser Carlos Bloch Junior found some proteins similar to those typical for humans. So they decided to synthesize their structural analogues and test their properties.

The researchers “identified previously unknown fragments of protein — peptides — in coffee that have an effect similar to morphine, in other words they have an analgesic and sedative activity,” the Embrapa company press release said.

Both the University and Embrapa applied for patents to the Brazilian government for seven proteins they called “opioid peptides.”

Those peptides “have a positive differential: their effects last longer in experiments with laboratory mice,”the press release said. According to the scientists, it lasted up to four hours and no side effects were recorded.

Embrapa believes their discovery has great “biotechnological potential” for the health food industry, and could also help to minimize stress in animals at slaughterhouses.

In 2004, Embrapa succeeded in determining the sequence of coffee’s functional genome and the discovery made it possible to combine coffee genes with a view to improving the quality of coffee grains. Thanks to this achievement, the researchers managed to discover the new peptides.

Embrapa is a state-owned company affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Embrapa conducts agricultural research in many areas including livestock and crops.

Monsanto’s Roundup may be linked to fatal kidney disease, new study suggests


A heretofore inexplicable fatal, chronic kidney disease that has affected poor farming regions around the globe may be linked to the use of biochemical giant Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide in areas with hard water, a new study has found.

The new study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Researchers suggest that Roundup, or glyphosate, becomes highly toxic to the kidney once mixed with “hard” water or metals like arsenic and cadmium that often exist naturally in the soil or are added via fertilizer. Hard water contains metals like calcium, magnesium, strontium, and iron, among others. On its own, glyphosate is toxic, but not detrimental enough to eradicate kidney tissue.

The glyphosate molecule was patented as a herbicide by Monsanto in the early 1970s. The company soon brought glyphosate to market under the name “Roundup,” which is now the most commonly used herbicide in the world.

The hypothesis helps explain a global rash of the mysterious, fatal Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown etiology (CKDu) that has been found in rice paddy regions of northern Sri Lanka, for example, or in El Salvador, where CKDu is the second leading cause of death among males.

Furthermore, the study’s findings explain many observations associated with the disease, including the linkage between the consumption of hard water and CKDu, as 96 percent of patients have been found to have consumed “hard or very hard water for at least five years, from wells that receive their supply from shallow regolith aquifers.”

The CKDu was discovered in rice paddy farms in northern Sri Lanka around 20 years ago. The condition has spread quickly since then and now affects 15 percent of working age people in the region, or a total of 400,000 patients, the study says. At least 20,000 have died from CKDu there.

In 2009, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health introduced criteria for CKDu. Basically, the Ministry found that CKDu did not share common risk factors as chronic kidney disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and glomerular nephritis, or inflammation of the kidney.

Based on geographical and socioeconomical factors associated with CKDu, it was assumed that environmental and occupational variables would offer clues to the disease’s origins – or in this case, it came from chemicals.

The new study noted that even the World Health Organization had found that CKDu is caused by exposure to arsenic, cadmium, and pesticides, in addition to hard water consumption, low water intake, and exposure to high temperatures. Yet why that certain area of Sri Lanka and why the disease didn’t show prior to the mid-1990s was left unanswered.

Researchers point out that political changes in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s led to the introduction of agrochemicals, especially in rice farming. They believe that 12 to 15 years of exposure to “low concentration kidney-damaging compounds” along with their accumulation in the body led to the appearance of CKDu in the mid-90s.

The incriminating agent, or Compound “X,” must have certain characteristics, researchers deduced. The compound, they hypothesized, must be: made of chemicals newly introduced in the last 20 to 30 years; capable of forming stable complexes with hard water; capable of retaining nephrotoxic metals and delivering them to the kidney; capable of multiple routes of exposure, such as ingestion, through skin or respiratory absorption, among other criteria.

These factors pointed to glyphosate, used in abundance in Sri Lanka. In the study, researchers noted that earlier studies had shown that typical glyphosate half-life of around 47 days in soil can increase up to 22 years after forming hard to biodegrade “strong complexes with metal ions.”

Scientists have derived three ways of exposure to glyphosate-metal complexes (GMCs): consumption of contaminated hard water, food, or the complex could be formed directly within circulation with glyphosate coming from dermal/respiratory route and metals from water and foods.

Rice farmers, for example, are at high risk of exposure to GMCs through skin absorption, inhalation, or tainted drinking water. GMCs seem to evade the normal liver’s detoxification process, thus damaging kidneys, the study found.

The study also suggests that glyphosate could be linked to similar epidemics of kidney disease of unknown origin in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and India.

Recent investigations by the Center for Public Integrity found that, in the last five years, CKDu is responsible for more deaths in El Salvador and Nicaragua than diabetes, AIDS, and leukemia combined.

Can organic agriculture feed the world better than GMOs?


For years now, the most-asked question by detractors of the good food movement has been, “Can organic agriculture feed the world?” According to a new United Nations report, the answer is a big, fat yes.

The report, Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, reveals that small-scale sustainable farming would even double food production within five to 10 years in places where most hungry people on the planet live.

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“We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations,” Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, said in a press release. “The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”

The report suggests moving away from the overuse of oil in farming, a problem that is magnified in the face of rising prices due to unrest in the Middle East. The focus is instead on agroecology, or eco-farming. “Agroecology seeks to improve the sustainability of agroecosystems by mimicking nature instead of industry,” reads a section.

The report shows that these practices raise productivity significantly, reduce rural poverty, increase genetic diversity, improve nutrition in local populations, serve to build a resilient food system in the face of climate change, utilize fewer and more locally available resources, empower farmers and create jobs.

Of 57 impoverished countries surveyed, for example, yields had increased by an average of nearly 80 percent when farmers used methods such as placing weed-eating ducks in rice patties in Bangladesh or planting desmodium, which repels insects, in Kenyan cornfields. These practices were also cost effective, locally available and resulted from farmers working to pass on this knowledge to each other in their communities.

While the report admits that agroecology can be more labor-intensive because of the complexity of knowledge required, it shows that this is usually a short-term issue. The report underscores that agroecology creates more jobs over the long term answering critics who argue that creating more jobs in agriculture is counter-productive. “Creation of employment in rural areas in developing countries, where underemployment is currently massive, and demographic growth remains high,” states the report, “may constitute an advantage rather than a liability and may slow down rural-urban migration.”

Mark Bittman put it aptly in his column on the UN report at the New York Times, saying:

Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellectual—much research remains to be done—and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization.

This is not the first time such a report has declared more productive ways to feed the world other than leaving that important task to large corporations. In April 2008, the IAASTD report (the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development)–which was supported by the World Bank, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, among others, with the participation of over 60 world governments and 400 experts–found that not only would industrial food production not be able to feed the world in the long term, but the practices being employed are actually increasing hunger, exhausting resources and exacerbating climate change. However, the U.S., under the Bush Administration, was one of the countries that decided not to endorse the findings.

Though agroecological farming has benefits for industrialized countries too, both reports focus largely on what to do in the least-developed nations on the globe. The status quo for U.S. foreign policy in agriculture up until now has been to leverage our political muscle to force countries to except our subsidized crops, even if it meant destroying local agricultural economies. (Former President Bill Clinton apologized for this policy last year, saying that it has “failed everywhere it’s been tried,” and “we should have continued to work to make sure [Haiti] was self-sufficient in agriculture.”) Will the Obama Administration be more receptive to these findings and could there be a change in the way we work with other countries in our support for agriculture?

Looking back at this (proudly pro-business) administration’s follies in hiring a pesticide lobbyist as our Agricultural Trade Representative, maintaining the USDA in the confusing role of promoting and regulating agriculture, and focusing on “improved seeds,” which usually means funding for the development of genetically modified crops for poor countries and you might be discouraged.

But De Schutter argues that real change to improve the livelihoods of rural farmers requires governments to be on board. “States and donors have a key role to play here,” he said. “Private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don’t open markets for chemical products or improved seeds.” In other words, feeding the worlds hungry should not be left to the market alone.

The report makes these specific recommendations for governing bodies:

making reference to agroecology and sustainable agriculture in national strategies for the realization of the right to food and by including measures adopted in the agricultural sector in national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs) and in the list of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) adopted by countries in their efforts to mitigate climate change; reorienting public spending in agriculture by prioritizing the provision of public goods, such as extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research, and by building on the complementary strengths of seeds-and-breeds and agroecological methods, allocating resources to both, and exploring the synergies, such as linking fertilizer subsidies directly to agroecological investments on the farm (“subsidy to sustainability”); supporting decentralized participatory research and the dissemination of knowledge about the best sustainable agricultural practices by relying on existing farmers’ organizations and networks, and including schemes designed specifically for women; improving the ability of producers practicing sustainable agriculture to access markets, using instruments such as public procurement, credit, farmers’ markets, and creating a supportive trade and macroeconomic framework.

The report also gives recommendations for donors seeking to decrease hunger and improve rural livelihoods and for research organizations.

Source: civileats.com

New approaches are needed for another Green Revolution.


Twenty-first century agriculture needs low-input advances like the System of Rice Intensification, says Norman Uphoff.
According to the principle of diminishing returns, continuing to producesomething in the same way, with the same inputs and technology, usually becomes less productive over time. This appears to apply to agriculture‘s ‘Green Revolution, as yield improvement has slowed in recent decades, no longer lowering the real price of basic foods as it did in its first three decades. Diminishing returns may not be a universal principle — but agronomists should take it seriously.

Although there is talk of another Green Revolution, the approaches beingproposed are essentially more of the same. This technological strategy for raising production is running into major economic and environmentalconstraints, however. The costs of fossil fuel-derived inputs keep rising, while impaired soil health and degraded water quality are growing concerns. 

Paradigm shift
Fortunately, there are agroecological options available, such as conservation agriculture and the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which differ fromhigh-tech and input-dependent production systems. 

Agroecological management systems capitalise on the potential for more productive and robust crops from existing plant genomes and on their intricate, symbiotic associations with other organisms, particularly microorganisms — in what is now becoming better understood as the plant-soil microbiome. [1]

A paradigm shift  from regarding non-crop organisms as mostly pests or pathogens and treating plants as carbon-based machines, to understanding networks and webs of symbiotic relationships  can help us ‘rebiologise‘ agriculture and adopt alternative methods that are better suited to current and foreseeable challenges.

More for less
By changing how plants, soil, water and nutrients are managed, SRI practices grow larger, betterfunctioning root systems that interact with a bigger and more diverse soil biota, also promoted by these same practices. 

Compared with standard crop management methods, SRI practices raise yields usually by 50100 per cent and sometimes more. These gains are achieved with less water, greatly reduced seed rates, less or no inorganic fertilisers, and often even with less labour once the methods have been mastered. [2,3,4,5]

Other benefits include greater resistance to drought and water stress, storm damage, and to pests and diseases  pressures on crop production that willcertainly increase with climate change. 

Record yields
In 2011, a farmer in the Bihar state of India who had adopted SRI reportedlysurpassed the world-record paddy yield previously set in China. This stirred controversy — but having analysed how this yield of 22.4 tonnes per hectarewas achieved and measured, with data from the Indian government’s Directorate of Rice Development, I am satisfied that the farmer achieved this yield. [6

Agriculture in the twenty-first century will need to change considerably from the technologies and paradigms that evolved in the preceding century.

Norman Uphoff, Cornell University

This record yield is less significant, however, than two other statistics. First, the rice area under SRI methods in Bihar has risen from 30 hectares in 2007 to more than 300,000 in 2012, a 10,000-fold increase in five years. Second, even without all of the farmers following SRI recommendations fully, their average SRI yield in 2012 was calculated by government technicians as 8.08tonnes per hectare — three times the usual yield in Bihar. 

These figures and differences are so large that SRI can no longer be ignored by sceptics and critics. They come from farmers’ fields and from officialreports, not from experimental stations and partisan sources.

Winning the argument
Published criticisms of SRI have ebbed since 2006, with the benefits from SRInow demonstrated in more than 50 countries. But initial opinions die hard,even as governments in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, where two-thirds of the world’s rice is produced, have begun supporting the spread of SRI, based on farmers’ experiences and scientific evidence.

It is time to put the ‘controversy’ over SRI behind us. And it is time to begin learning more about how these new ideas and methods can help get more from less. 

For instance, we have begun to learn how microorganisms that livemutualistically within plant organs and tissues, and even cells, bring benefitssuch as increasing the chlorophyll levels in leaves and protecting against pathogens in roots. [7,8]

Learning from farmers
Importantly, experience with SRI in countries such as Burundi, Cuba, India,Madagascar, Nepal and Rwanda is helping us to better understand how to learn from and with farmers. Some very informative and impressive videos are now available where farmers themselves explain their good experienceswith these new methods. [9]

Farmers have been adapting and improving the methods to which they were introduced, and they have been disseminating their knowledge and experience to other farmers — changing the usual linear ‘from lab to land’model of developing and transmitting innovations.

SRI is one of the few innovations where scientists have had difficulty replicating farmers’ results in their on-station trials  usually the situation is reversed. Farmers may be getting higher yields than the researchers dobecause, more often than not, farmers’ soils have less impairment fromfertiliser and agrochemical applications than on experiment plots. 

Changing times need changing practices
Agriculture in the twenty-first century will need to change considerably from the technologies and paradigms that evolved in the preceding century.Conditions are becoming increasingly different from the past. The need to change should not be taken as derogation of past research and practices. 
Both scientists and farmers need to evaluate alternative methods that could be more suited to our new realities. Proponents of agroecological alternatives welcome systematic evaluation that is conducted rigorously, with open minds and with farmers’ participation. 

Norman Uphoff is professor of government and international agriculture at Cornell University, United States, and senior advisor to the SRI-Rice Centerthere. For 15 years he has been trying to get SRI principles and practices better known, evaluated and taken up where beneficial for farmers, consumers and the environment. You can contact him at ntu1@cornell.edu

This article is part of the Spotlight on Producing food sustainably.

 

References

[1] Nature  doi: 10.1038/501S18a (2013)
[2SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice) website
[3] Sato, S. and Uphoff, N. Raising factor productivity in irrigated rice production: Opportunities with the System of Rice Intensification. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources (Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International, UK2007)
[4] Experimental Agriculture doi10.1017/S0014479707005340 (2007)
[5] Agriculture and Food Security doi: 10.1186/2048-7010-1-18 (2012)
[6] Diwakar, M.C. et al. Report on the world record SRI yield in kharif season 2011 in Nalanda district, Bihar state, India (Agriculture Today, New Delhi,July 2012)
[7] Applied and Environmental Microbiology doi: 10.1128/AEM.71.11.7271-7278.2005 (2005)
[8] Proteomics doi: 10.1002/pmic.200900694 (2010)
[9] Farmers from Burundi, Cuba, India, Madagascar, Nepal and Rwanda speak for themselves in videos about their experiences with SRI: Flooded Cellar Productions,

Study Finds Link Between Herbicide Exposure and Depression.


Knowing that herbicides are poisoning ecosystems and degrading human health is enough to get you down. Hold on, though. Recent research has found a significant link between herbicide exposure and depression. Findings were reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
A study of more than 700 French farmers found that those who used herbicides were 2.5 times more likely to develop depression than those who did not. Further, the higher the exposure to herbicides, the greater the chance of being treated for depression.

The authors go on to say: “If true, our findings have important public health implications for agricultural workers given the tremendous public health burden of depression and the fact that herbicides are widely used in agriculture and landscape management.”

As REALfarmacy reported previously, the EPA has raised the allowable level of glyphosate  in our food. This comes on the heels of a tremendous rise in the use of glyphosate after Monsanto unleashed its RoundUp Ready crops that are engineered to be drenched in the herbicide. The hbiotech industry is working on new GMO crops that can withstand other, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D and dicamba.

Although the mechanism behind this disturbing relationship of herbicide use and depression is not yet known, it adds to the growing scientific evidence that herbicide exposure is a health hazard. Studies are finding possible links between Parkinson’s disease, infertility, cancer, and birth defects. Now we find out that herbicides can have psychological effects too.

Herbicide use by homeowners is certainly common. And it’s no wonder, as a visit to the big box home improvement stores inundates a person with ads for manufactured poisons. The biggest herbicide use, however, exists in the agricultural sectorAccording to EPA reports from 2007, 80% of pesticide use (including herbicides) was in agriculture.

Herbicide use is bound to continue rising as long as industrial agriculture and GMO companies control the food system. In fact, this is a market strategy considering that herbicide-resistant crops are central to their plans for the future. Can we expect a concomitant rise in cases of depression?

Source: http://www.realfarmacy.com/

 

Bhutan: The Worlds First Organic 100% Nation.


Bhutan soon may be the first nation to go 100% organic, hopefully paving the way for others to do the same on a global scale. Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley has made an  announcement regarding the organic farming project at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. It’s called the National Organic Policy and it’s concept is: ‘in harmony with nature’ will yield the most powerful results, keeping in mind human health and the environment.

What it really comes down to is that they will use no GMO, no pesticides, no herbicides, no fluoride-based spray products, no Monsanto and plenty of high quality food available for the average 700,000 citizens of Bhutan. In the statement to other policy makers, Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley explained the move: “By working in harmony with nature, they can help sustain the flow of nature’s bounties.” Bhutan’s land currently supplies mostly corn, rice, fruits, and some vegetables and it’s perfectly positioned to begin developing 100% organic farming. This will be easy considering some lands in Bhutan have never been touched with harsh chemicals of any kind. Traditional techniques are utilized to produce high yields without GMO’s or GE food.

Australian adviser to Bhutan, Andre Leu, explains: “I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult given that the majority of the agricultural land is already organic by default.”

Source: nature cure

GMOs Become Obsolete, Bazilian Scientists Make Breakthrough.


Agriculture scientists in Brazil have spent the past decade developing so-called “superfoods” that will soon become a natural alternative to genetically modified frankenfoods grown in many countries including the United States and will alleviate malnutrition for nearly one-third of the world’s population.
These eight biofortified foods are expected to be widely available to consumers throughout Brazil in less than a decade; already there is a pilot program underway in 15 municipalities around the country, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Continuing, the paper said:

Biofortification uses conventional plant-breeding methods to enhance the concentration of micronutrients in food crops through a combination of laboratory and agricultural techniques.

The goal is to combat micronutrient deficiencies, which can cause severe health problems such as anemia, blindness, impaired immune response and development delays. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, micronutrient malnutrition affects 2 billion people globally.

Taking on ‘hidden hunger’

Efforts to develop biofortified superfoods began a decade ago, when Embrapa, the government’s agricultural research agency, began the project as part of a group of nations seeking to develop varieties of crops that have higher concentrations of necessary micronutrients. The department chose eight foods that are staples in the Brazilian diet: beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas), rice, sweet potatoes, corn, wheat, cassava and squash.

“We are working on increasing the iron, zinc and provitamin A content. These are the nutrients most lacking not only in Brazil, but in the rest of Latin America and the world as well, the cause of what we call hidden hunger,” food engineer and a biofort co-ordinator, Marilia Nutti, told Tierramerica.

Nutti said iron was especially important, because half of Brazil’s children suffer from some level of iron deficiency.

In addition to the current biofortification project, Brazilian scientists are also working to breed plants of the same species, choosing seeds that appear to exhibit the best traits regarding micronutrient content.

“This is not transgenics. We want a varied diet. Biofortification attacks the root of the problem and is aimed at the poorest sectors of the population. It is scientifically viable and economically viable as well,” Nutti said.

And it’s not genetic modification, either – and that’s key.

The development project is being supported by HarvestPlus and AgroSalud, a pair of research programs that operate in Latin America, Africa and Asia with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and other developmental agencies.

Booming nutritional content

So far, it looks as though the project is, um, fruitful. The iron content of the beans, for instance, has been elevated from 50 to 90 milligrams of iron per kilogram; cassava, which normally has almost no beta-carotene, now has nine milligrams of the essential vitamin A source per gram.

Meanwhile, the beta-carotene level in sweet potatoes has grown from 10 micrograms per gram to an astounding 115 per gram. Zinc content of rice has grown from 12 to 18 milligrams per kilogram.

Not bad – and without turning the foods into “Frankenfoods.”

Already pre-school children are benefiting from the bio-nutritionally enhanced foods. “In Itaguai, an industrial municipality 44 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, about 8,000 pre-school children are benefiting from these extra-nutritious foods,” the Guardian reported.

Eventually all of the municipality’s family farmers will be included in the project – at least, that’s the goal. Further, within a couple years, the plan is to offer biofortified foods in all schools within the municipality, as well as in stores and public markets.

Curiosity of children is one factor that is “selling” the new biofortified superfoods. “When we tell them that these foods have more vitamins, and they see the deeper colors [of the biofortified crops], they are eager to try them out,” municipal secretary of environment, agriculture and fisheries, Ivana Neves Couto told Tierramerica.

“Brazil is the only country working with eight biofortified crops. Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda are conducting research on one crop each,” Guardian reported.

Source: Raw For Beauty

Scientists Discover That Plants Communicate via Symbiotic Root Fungi.


Human arrogance has always assumed we are evolutionarily superior to plants, but it appears that modern science may be the antidote to this egocentric view.

Researchers in the UK have discovered an extensive underground network connecting plants by their roots, serving as a complex interplant communication system… a “plant Internet,” if you will.

One organism is responsible for this amazing biochemical highway: a type of fungus called mycorrhizae. Researchers from the University of Aberdeen devised a clever experiment to isolate the effects of these extensive underground networks. They grew sets of broad bean plants, allowing some to develop mycorrhizal nets, but preventing them in others.

They also eliminated the plants’ normal through-the-air communication by covering the plants with bags. Then they infested some of the plants with aphids. The results were remarkable.1

Most people have no idea how important mycorrhizal fungi are for plant growth. They really are one of the keys to successful growth of plants. In my own garden, I just purchased a 15 gallon vortex compost brewer in which I grow these fungi in large quantities for my ornamental and edible landscape.

Underground Communications Network Thwarts Infestation

The aphid-infested plants were able to signal the other plants, connected through mycorrhizae, of an imminent attack—giving them a “heads up” and affording them time to mount their own chemical defenses in order to prevent infestation.

In this case, the alerted bean plants deployed aphid-repelling chemicals and other chemicals that attract wasps, which are aphids’ natural predators. The bean plants that were not connected received no such warning and became easy prey for the pesky insects.

This study is not the first to discover plant communication along mycorrhizal networks. A 2012 article in the Journal of Chemical Ecology describes mycorrhizae-induced resistance as part of plants’ systemic “immune response,” protecting them from pathogens, herbivores, and parasitic plants.2

And in 2010, Song et al published a report about the interplant communication of tomato plants, in which they wrote:3

CMNs [common mycorrhizal networks] may function as a plant-plant underground communication conduit whereby disease resistance and induced defense signals can be transferred between the healthy and pathogen-infected neighboring plants, suggesting that plants can ‘eavesdrop’ on defense signals from the pathogen-challenged neighbors through CMNs to activate defenses before being attacked themselves.”

Miles of Mycorrhizae in One Thimbleful of Soil

The name mycorrhiza literally means fungus-root.4 These fungi form a symbiotic relationship with the plant, colonizing the roots and sending extremely fine filaments far out into the soil that act as root extensions. Not only do these networks sound the alarm about invaders, but the filaments are more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the plant roots themselves—mycorrhizae increase the nutrient absorption of the plant 100 to 1,000 times.5

In one thimbleful of healthy soil, you can find several MILES of fungal filaments, all releasing powerful enzymes that help dissolve tightly bound soil nutrients, such as organic nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron. The networks can be enormous—one was found weaving its way through an entire Canadian forest, with each tree connected to dozens of others over distances of 30 meters.

These fungi have been fundamental to plant growth for 460 million years. Even more interesting, mycorrhizae can even connect plants of different species, perhaps allowing interspecies communication.6

More than 90 percent of plant species have these naturally-occurring symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizae, but in order for these CMNs to exist, the soil must be undisturbed. Erosion, tillage, cultivation, compaction, and other human activities destroy these beneficial fungi, and they are slow to colonize once disrupted. Therefore, intensively farmed plants don’t develop mycorrhizae and are typically less healthy, as a result.

Making Farming More Eco-friendly

The discovery that fungi may be providing plants with an early warning system has profound implications for how we grow our food. We may be able to arrange for “sacrificial plants” specifically designed for pest infestation so that the network can warn, and thereby arm, the rest of the crop.7 In order to feed the world’s increasing population, farmers must return to working WITH nature, instead of against it.

Raising food is really about building soil, and modern agricultural practices are degrading million year-old topsoils, without any attention to rebuilding them. Spreading toxic chemicals, monoculture, using genetically engineered seed, generating toxic runoff and destroying biodiversity are all examples of working against nature. Mycorrhizae not only assist the plants in staying vital and healthy, but they enrich the soil and improve its productivity, add organic matter, protect crops from drought, and increase the overall balance and resilience of the ecosystem.

Many fungi are as beneficial to people as they are to plants. Mushrooms are powerhouses when it comes to nutrition, with high-quality protein, enzymes, antioxidants, and B vitamins.

About 100 species of mushrooms are being studied for their health-promoting benefits, and about a half dozen really stand out for their ability to deliver a tremendous boost to your immune system. Studies have shown that mushrooms can combat infectious disease (including smallpox), inflammation, cancer and even help regenerate nerves. A compound from the Coriolus versicolor mushroom was recently found to significantly slow hemangiosarcoma in dogs, a deadly cancer.

Mushrooms are also nature’s recycling system, according to mycologist Paul Stamets. Various mushrooms can break down the toxins in nerve gas and clean up petroleum waste.

Mushrooms and their parent mycelium break down rocks and organic matter, turning them into soil. The mycelia, just like the mycorrhizal network, occupy landscapes in a web-like mat that, in some cases, stretches across thousands of acres. Stamets describes this intricate, branching network as “the Earth’s Internet” because it functions as a complex communication highway. There is also evidence mycelia are “sentient” beings that demonstrate the ability to learn. Speaking of cool and calculating…

Now that the secret’s out, companies are beginning to offer mycorrhizae to home gardeners and commercial farmers alike. If you have an organic garden, adding a sprinkle of mycorrhizae, along with good organic fertilizer, is a great way to ensure your garden will be the envy of your neighborhood.

For tips on how to use this in your garden at home, I recommend watching the “smiling gardener” video above. It’s important to remember that mycorrhizae must be applied to the roots of your plants. If you just sprinkle the granules onto the soil and they don’t make contact with the roots within about 48 hours, they’ll die and your efforts will be wasted. So, you can make a “tea” out of it and apply it as a spray, or you can rub a small amount directly onto the roots of your transplant. But it has to come into direct contact with some part of the root.

The only vegetable garden occupants that will not benefit from mycorrhizae are your brassicas (members of the mustard family, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, radishes, etc.), because they don’t allow this colonization.8 But all your other veggies will love you for it. The benefits will be even greater in a year or two, after the mycorrhizae really have a chance to grow and spread.

Also, remember to refrain from tilling and manipulating the soil. This isn’t necessary and is actually counterproductive, as it disrupts helpful organisms and crushes their tunnels.9 Just topdress your garden with a blend of good compost and topsoil each year, and leave the bed alone, which will allow those beneficial organisms to grow and flourish, undisturbed.

When you practice ecofriendly gardening, you greatly lessen your need for fertilizers and herbicides, reduce your need for watering, and reduce runoff and erosion, while giving your garden plants the best nutrition and resistance to disease. And best of all, a healthy veggie garden means more nutrients passed along to you!

Source: http://www.wakingtimes.com