September 18th, 2014
by Rachel Armstrong
NCAT/ATTRA, in collaboration with California Farmlink, has produced a booklet that outlines the things all growers should know about labor regs, and use of volunteers, apprentices, and interns. This free publication can be found at:
The guide is intended to help farmers become familiar with the labor laws that govern California agriculture as they pertain to having someone work on your farm, whether in an educational capacity or not. It includes basic information about farm labor law as well as discussion of alternative options for small growers who host interns or have an apprenticeship program.
While this guide is written for California and does not discuss the labor laws in other states, the information on federal laws and alternative options may be applicable in all states and may help lay the foundation for understanding state-specific requirements.
For-profit farms that use volunteers are taking risks. To further emphasize this, here is a story about a California farm that was fined $115,000 for violations extending from the use of volunteers. Read Full Article »
September 18th, 2014
Pesticide Action Network
by Paul Towers
|Image courtesy of Lars Plougmann|
Today the US Department of Agriculture granted Dow AgroSciences approval of its controversial new herbicide-resistant, genetically engineered corn and soybean seeds known as Enlist. The seeds have been engineered to withstand applications of the toxic herbicide, 2,4-D. Using Dow AgroScience’s projections in its final report, USDA predicts 2,4-D use in corn and soybean production to increase between 500% and 1,400% from 2011 to 2020, depending on farmers’ practices and changes in Dow’s share of corn and soybean seed markets.
Dow’s proposed introduction of the 2,4-D-resistant seeds two years ago immediately unleashed a firestorm of protest, with nearly half a million farmers, farmworkers, health professionals and concerned individuals from across the country voicing opposition. Fruit and vegetable farmers are particularly concerned that 2,4-D drift will lead to frequent and extensive crop damage. However, USDA continues to ignore the crop damage likely to accompany the projected increase in 2,4-D use. Instead, the agency is focused exclusively on whether the seeds themselves—but not the herbicides that go with them—might pose a threat to other crop plants. Read Full Article »
September 17th, 2014
by Andrew Jenner
In 2010, a young man on a quest for enlightenment walked into the office of Jerry Hatfield, director of the USDA’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. His name was John Kempf, and he was eager to learn more about Hatfield’s plant physiology work, which deals with the complicated interactions of plants, soils and the atmosphere.
The two talked agronomy for several hours before Hatfield sent Kempf on his way with a stack of literature to devour. The visit was just one of many steps on Kempf’s journey, which had begun six years earlier in a blighted cantaloupe patch. Desperate to rescue his family farm from worsening disease and pest problems, Kempf dove into deep-end science, looking for solutions he couldn’t find in the conventional farming playbook.
In the process, Kempf became a staple on the alternative-ag lecture circuit and the CEO of a rapidly growing consulting firm that his followers hail as the next best thing in sustainable, profitable agriculture. The most hopeful even say that he and his company offer a glimpse of a better farming future, uniting the best that our various schools of agricultural thought have to offer.
Kempf is just 26 years old. He is also Amish, and has only an eighth grade education. Read Full Article »
September 17th, 2014
University of Wisconsin-Madison
The mechanical force that a single fungal cell or bacterial colony exerts on a plant cell may seem vanishingly small, but it plays a heavy role in setting up some of the most fundamental symbiotic relationships in biology. In fact, it may not be too much of a stretch to say that plants may have never moved onto land without the ability to respond to the touch of beneficial fungi, according to a new study led by Jean-Michel Ané, a professor of agronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Many people have studied how roots progress through the soil, when fairly strong stimuli are applied to the entire growing root,” says Ané, who just published a review of touch in the interaction between plants and microbes in the journal Current Opinion in Plant Biology. “We are looking at much more localized, tiny stimuli on a single cell that is applied by microbes.”
Specifically, Ané, Dhileepkumar Jayaraman, a postdoctoral researcher in agronomy, and Simon Gilroy, a professor of botany, studied how such a slight mechanical stimulus starts round one of a symbiotic relationship — that is, a win-win relationship between two organisms. Read Full Article »
September 16th, 2014
NOTE: PCC Natural Markets, in Seattle, coordinated a letter to members of Congress expressing the concerns from three dozen retailers about the arbitrary changes made by the USDA to NOSB governance and advice over organic food and agriculture. These changes continue to trouble Cornucopia and many others in the organic community.
PCC Natural Markets
To the Congressional Organic Caucus,
We the undersigned organizations are writing to ask you to advocate reversal of USDA’s unilateral changes to the organic program’s Sunset Provision. We believe these changes violate the intent and the letter of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).
A high bar to allow and renew synthetics
We have re-read OFPA and the letters from Sen. Leahy and Rep. DeFazio to Sec. Vilsack, as well as the letter from three former chairs of the National Organic Standards Board, and we respectfully disagree with the Deputy Administrator’s statement that the changes “shouldn’t make it harder” to remove items from the National List.
NOP staff has admitted in various settings that materials up for Sunset from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances were subject to being removed by a minority vote, and that materials some interests wanted to renew [leave on the list] weren’t getting enough votes, so USDA changed the voting process. In other words, NOP staff has admitted publicly it changed the rules to make it easier to keep synthetics on the National List.
OFPA established the two-thirds supermajority requirement for “Decisive Votes” [Sec. 2119 (i)] intentionally to establish a very high hurdle for prohibited synthetics to be allowed, even temporarily, in organics. Within the context of the overarching principle in Sec. 2105 [7 USC 6504], that foods labeled organic must be “produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals …,” Congress certainly intended the Sunset Provision to emphasize the temporary nature of exemptions. Read Full Article »