Dear Readers…Sorry about the long break between posts, but farming requires one to take advantage of weather breaks…we finally had a break from several weeks of rain, tilling and planting had to get done.
But, I am back at the desk and this is the first of several posts that will go up over the next few days. The first section here is not really research but I do want to point out actual, current phenomenon that relate to this theory of sustainability. These entries are clarifying examples of why we need, and may be forced, to do things differently when it comes growing and consuming food.
Gaia Gets Back or Free Fertilizer?
First, the Iceland volcano situation. I started college many decades ago in geology and it remains a reference point for me when I look at the environment, agriculture, soils and soil fertility. Volcanic action may be part of a natural cycle of nutrients.
In fact, this is a key aspect of the theory of “paramagnetism.” Work by Carey Reams, and covered in the book “Paramagnetism,” by Dr. Philip S. Callahan, discuss this idea. It reduces much of soil nutrition into physics, the transfer of electrical energy at the molecular level feeding growth. This is why we see glacial dust and worm castings being sold as soil amendments. Rocks feed the soil organisms that break them down so the plant roots can absorb them as nutrients, especially the many minor elements.
When Mt. Saint Helens exploded and dumped a layer of ash over central Washington, it was, at first, a huge nuisance. But, within a few years, growers in the rich, agricultural region noticed their crops were doing fine, in some cases, better, since the eruption. The mountain had brought up a rich mixture of raw nutrients, and broadcast them over a wide region. It turned out to be free fertilizer!
But I had not thought of volcanic activity being the problem it became. Not only can an extended eruption play havoc with the transportation, affect economies and public health, but it could lead drastic climate change. One European climate expert said it could lead to extended, colder winters and reduced crop production for several years. Luckily this specific event seems to be settling down, but I don’t want to think where it could send the fragile world economy if it continued.
Yet, it also seemed almost a practice run of what would take place, over several decades, if there does become an oil/natural gas shortage. I mentionedThe Long Emergency several posts ago and have continued to re-read it. James Kunstler’s chapter on banking, investing and our financial system was probably written in 2004. His predictions were dead-on for what finally happened in 2008. You tend to listen those whose predictions start ringing true, so again, this book deserves your time. Since it is older book, I am sure it is available in many libraries or used. Check with Powell’s Bookstore online at www.powells.com.
As I mentioned, the eruption actually, in the long run of a few years, had a positive effect by providing a fresh, dusting of rock that used in the complex soil microbiology as food. So, let’s not hate volcanoes.
Monsanto Products Questioned
This week two articles appeared concerning Monsanto’s products, one an herbicide, the other a transgenic crop.
First, here in Oregon, we are following a regional alfalfa grower who has forced the company all the way to the Supreme Court today (April 27). His claim is that Monsanto’s transgenic alfalfa crossed with his crop, which then limited where his alfalfa can be sold. The article in the Oregonian points out the existing rules for approving this crop for general release were not even followed.
Then, another report on recent research showed that the “Round-Up resistance” is spreading to other plants, many which are common weeds. Won’t that eventually defeat the strategy and require another new herbicide to be developed? I guess Monsanto wins either way, but weed control can be simpler and weed growth greatly reduced just by having healthy soil. Believe it or not, weeds tend to grow in poorer soils and can be indicative of specific nutritional problems. More on that in a later post.
A related research story from AgCanada.com reported that scientists at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Crop Protection Lab confirmed herbicide carry-over in ag soils. It was at levels that damaged the following sensitive crop. This is another reason for planting fields with certain cover crops that remove the negative compounds so other following crops are not harmed. And another reason to revisit how we control weeds, again looking at healthier soils.
And then, the other night, I stumbled across a 2008 documentary on Monsanto, called “Monsanto,” on the Sundance Channel. I knew much of the history, having followed the company for years and having read many well-researched commentaries. It was clear that the company focuses on stockholder demands. This drives it to take what are interesting technologies, combine them with rigid market agreements, and twist it into a rather arrogant sales strategy. Much of genetic engineering may be fine, but let’s just take one step back and study it more.
But, actually, my main concern is Monsanto’s deliberate, and brilliant, plan to corner the “seed” market. I am not just talking about Round-Up Ready soybeans, but a much, much wider net the company has thrown over the entire seed industry. The company has bought dozens of smaller seed companies over the past decade. Once they “own” all the genetic material that creates the annual food cornucopia, they can slowly (or not so slowly) ratchet up prices and demand the growers not save seed from “their” crops. The documentary includes several instances of just how far Monsanto will go to harass growers that don’t use their seed.
Seeds are literally the transference of life. Groups like Seed Savers have formed networks so there will be a genetic base of common vegetables and other food plants readily available to gardeners. It is an effort worth supporting. It is an effort that is part of making sure we can feed ourselves.
Enough for now…see you soon.
Tags:glacial rock, green practices, healthy landscapes, herbicides, home food production, hybrids, Monsanto, Monsanto legal issues, organic gardening, Round-up herbicide, seed genetic material, Seed Savers, seed saving, soil amendment, soil biology, soil health, soil micronutrients, Sustainable landscape, transgenic crops, Urban agriculture, worm castings