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MICH-ORGANIC  August 2008

MICH-ORGANIC August 2008

Subject:

What's New in Organic (Part 1 of 2)

From:

Katherine Jane Leitch <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Katherine Jane Leitch <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 27 Aug 2008 14:47:32 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (667 lines)

What’s new in Michigan Organic Ag?
August 15 – 27
Compiled by Vicki Morrone and Kate Leitch

PRODUCTION NEWS AND INFORMATION
1. New Ag Network Newsletter (in part 1)
2. MarketMaker links producers with agricultural businesses and consumers
(in part 1)
3. Field Crop CAT Alert, MSU (in part 1)
4. Summary of 2008 Soil-Building Workshop at Morgan Composting (in part 1)
5. Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One-Straw Revolution, passed away this
month (in part 1)
6. The Dynamics of Change in the US Food Marketing Environment (in part 1)
7. Legislation connects local farming to schools (in part 2)

EVENTS
8. University of Wisconsin-Madison organic workshop and field tour - Sep 4
(in part 2)
9. Entrepreneurial Farm Tour - Sep 9, 10, 11 (in part 2)
10. Growing Hope’s Tour de Fresh - Sep 16 (in part 2)
11. Gearing up to increase production: An equipment field day in Southwest
Michigan - Sep 18 (in part 2)
12. Intro to Permaculture: Ecological Edible Landscapes - Sep 20 (in part 2)
********

PRODUCTION NEWS AND INFORMATION
********

1. New Ag Network Newsletter
Vol. 5, No. 9 - August 27, 2008
http://www.new-ag.msu.edu/

In this issue:
Soil organic matter in a continuous corn cropping system
Bullet Canada thistle management strategies for sustainable and organic
farming systems
Canada thistle biology: Knowing your enemy
Gearing up to increase production: An equipment day for vegetable farmers
Chatting up sustainable ag in Chattanooga
Reports from organic growers


Canada thistle management strategies for sustainable and organic farming
systems
Abram J. Bicksler and John B. Masiunas
University of Illinois

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is a vigorous, perennial weed that spreads
by a fibrous root system or wind blown seed. Canada thistle is considered a
noxious weed and has become a common problem of sustainable and organic
farms. What makes Canada thistle such a problem weed? It can rapidly spread,
forms dense patches, suppresses growth of crops, and is poorly controlled
using standard approaches. Tillage can cut the roots into small pieces,
spreading patches; tillage equipment can also carry root pieces to new
sites. Mowing must start at thistle flowering and be repeated numerous
times. Common winter annual cover crops (i.e. cereal rye, hairy vetch,
wheat) are not present during the most susceptible growth stages of Canada
thistle.

What are the key factors to controlling Canada thistle? It is a long-day
plant; flowering and seed production starts in July through August. Shoots
must be killed to prevent seed production. Emerging Canada thistle seedlings
will not survive shading from other plants. Grow competitive crops that
rapidly close canopy. Thistle plants store sugars and other carbohydrates in
their roots. The stored carbohydrates allow thistles to overwinter and
emerge in the spring or after disturbance. Established Canada thistle is
best controlled after emergence at the beginning of flowering, when root
carbohydrate reserves are lowest. Depletion of these reserves will reduce
the thistles’ fitness and ability to re-grow from roots.

Our research combined tillage, summer annual cover crops, and mowing to
control Canada thistle. Sudangrass alone or combined with cowpea (70:30
sudangrass:cowpea) produced 13 to 14 Mt/ha of biomass. Sudangrass alone or
combined with cowpea caused a 96 percent reduction in thistle density in the
first growing season. One year after planting sudangrass, thistle numbers
were still below 10 percent of the beginning densities. Neither buckwheat
nor a summer fallow adequately suppressed Canada thistle. Mowing is less
important for reducing thistle fitness and survival compared to the
Sudangrass cover crop.

We recommend disking thistle-infested areas several times during the spring
to eliminate emerged thistle, prevent flowering, cut roots into small
pieces, and create a uniform seed-bed for sudangrass. In early June, drill a
sterile sudangrass hybrid such as “Special Effort” at 55 lbs/acre into
the freshly prepared seedbed. The thick sudangrass canopy can shade out
Canada thistle. Sudangrass may be mowed when 4 to 6 feet height to manage
cover crop growth and prevent flowering of surviving Canada thistle. Use a
flail mower to create a surface mulch and encourage sudangrass regrowth and
tillering. In late fall or early spring, incorporate the sudangrass residue
into the soil and plant a competitive crop. Use cultivation, hand-removal,
or spot treatment with herbicides or flaming to control any remaining Canada
thistle.


Canada thistle biology: Knowing your enemy
Abram Bicksler, John Masiunas, and Dan Anderson
University of Illinois

Canada thistle, also called creeping thistle, California thistle, and field
thistle, Cirsium arvense, is a vigorous, competitive perennial weed that can
establish from seed or wide-ranging, deep creeping roots. It is native to
Europe, parts of North Africa, and the Middle East, and was introduced to
North America in the early 17th century and has spread extensively. Canada
thistle is a problem throughout the Midwestern United States on organic,
sustainable and conventional farms. Cirsium species are troublesome weeds in
organic cropping systems of northern Europe.

Canada thistle can be distinguished from other thistles by three
characteristics: 1) creeping horizontal lateral roots, 2) dense clonal
growth, and 3) small dioecious (contain both male and female parts) flower
heads (Nuzzo, 1997). Moreover, Canada thistle can be differentiated from
other Cirsium and Cardus species by the following traits: 1) small dioecious
flower heads <1 inch high; and 2) stems not conspicuously spiny-winged. Up
to four varieties of Canada thistle have been recognized across the world,
based predominantly upon their leaf morphology and pubescence. Canada
thistle may change morphology in response to environmental conditions, and
various ecotypes may respond differently to management practices.

Limitations to Canada thistle spread
Canada thistle is the most frequently declared noxious thistle in this
country. Canada thistle requires a day-length of at least 14 to 16 hours for
flowering to be induced, depending on ecotype. Canada thistle can survive
winter temperatures of -17o F but is limited in its southerly distribution
in the United States because it is less successful in hot, dry climates. It
is generally a serious weed problem in areas receiving 18 to 36 inches of
rainfall a year and it thrives on deep, productive well-aerated soils that
do not become too warm. Optimum growth occurs at daytime temperatures of 77o
F and nighttime temperatures of 59o F in soils with high nitrogen.

Thistle flowering and seed production
Thistles flower from July to September and sometimes into October. Seeds
become viable within 8-10 days after flower opening, and an individual plant
may produce from 5,000 to 40,000 seeds a year. There are conflicting reports
about the number of days after flowering that a plant can be cut and still
produce viable seed. Viable seed may be produced if the plant is cut down 4
days after flowering, 7 to 9 days after flowering, or 10 to 11 days after
flowering. A small proportion of seeds (0.2 percent) can disperse one-half
mile or more from the parent plant; thus, Canada thistle is difficult to
prevent even if you are using best management practices. Canada thistle
seeds float and are easily spread by flooding or in irrigation water from
surface sources. Viable seeds can also be dispersed in manure. Canada
thistle seeds germinate best in the top one-third inch of soil at
temperatures averaging from 68o to 86o F. Approximately 60 to 90 percent of
seeds germinate within one year; however, some seeds can remain dormant in
the soil for up to 20 years. The deeper the seed is buried, the longer the
viability.

Seedlings
Seedlings are sensitive to competition for light and are unlikely to survive
in competition with established plants. Once established, however, Canada
thistle spread is primarily vegetative in both agricultural fields and in
natural communities. Within 8 to 10 weeks of emergence, seedlings develop a
taproot and spreading lateral roots that can penetrate to over 2 feet after
6 months. The horizontal spreading lateral roots can grow up to 25 feet in
one season, but most patches spread at the rate of 3 to 7 feet per year. At
the base of these spreading lateral roots, adventitious buds develop,
rendering the plants able to regenerate if hoed or cultivated.

Roots and vegetative reproduction
Edges of shoots can pinpoint the spread of the patch, because roots do not
spread far beyond aboveground shoots. Most regeneration occurs from roots
within or just below the plough layer. Most root buds are produced in the
center of the Canada thistle patch, and each foot of root can average 4 to 8
root buds. The greatest Canada thistle shoot density corresponds to regions
with the most underlying root biomass and adventitious root buds. The
densities of adventitious root buds are three to five times greater in late
summer than in spring. Cultivation stimulates the growth of horizontal
roots, which increases the number of new vertical shoots borne by the
chopped horizontal runners. Root fragments smaller than 1 inch in length may
not re-grow, whereas root fragments 2 to 3 inches long readily regenerate
shoots. Adventitious root buds are inhibited when the main shoot is present.
If the main shoot is removed by tillage or mowing new shoots can emerge
rapidly. In outdoor boxes, a single C. arvense plant was able to produce 26
emerged adventitious shoots, 154 adventitious root buds, and 360 feet of
roots after just 18 weeks of growth. Even in systems that use herbicides,
such as glyphosate, dose-response and time-course experiments have shown
that the herbicide is more likely to reduce root bud numbers and secondary
shoot re-growth potential than overall root biomass, still rendering Canada
thistle able to regenerate.

Control strategies should aim to deplete carbohydrate reserves. Carbohydrate
reserves are stored in roots rather than in shoot bases or root buds, and
that these reserves can range from as low as 3 percent of root fresh weight
in spring to as high as 26 percent of root fresh weight in the fall. Canada
thistle carbohydrate reserves were lowest from May through August, increased
in the fall, and then began decreasing in April. In growth chamber
experiments, carbohydrate movements to and from the roots correspond to
environmental conditions typical of fall and early spring. Moreover,
environmental cues seem to supersede growth stage control of carbohydrate
movement. Development of root buds is highest in the autumn when short days
and moderate temperatures dominate, and root bud elongation is greatest with
the long days and high temperatures of summer.

In addition to regeneration from root buds, Canada thistle shoots can grow
from lateral buds at internodes on stem segments. These shoot pieces then
survive if partially buried in the soil. This capacity to regenerate from
root and stem fragments is particularly troublesome, as cultivation has been
used for Canada thistle control.

Canada thistle impact on crops.
Canada thistle causes extensive crop yield losses through competition, and
perhaps, allelopathy (release of inhibitory chemicals). The prickly mature
foliage increases harvest difficulty and deters livestock from grazing. A
density of 2 Canada thistle shoots per 1 ft2 caused yield losses of 34
percent in barley, 26 percent in canola, 36 percent in winter wheat, and 48
percent in alfalfa grown for seed. In addition to deterring livestock
grazing and competing with crops, Canada thistles’ shoots, roots, and leaf
litter can reduce shoot and root growth of other plants through allelopathy.

Canada thistle and other perennial weeds are very difficult to control once
established, so any management strategy must also prevent their introduction
and spread. Canada thistle spreads as a contaminant in crop seed, hay and
packing material. Additionally, it can be spread in soil attached to
vehicles and farm equipment. Thus, using clean seed, hay, and packing
material and cleaning equipment are important for preventing Canada thistle
from being introduced or from spreading once on a farm.

There are a few key places in the Canada thistle life cycle that are most
susceptible to management. Thistle seedlings are very sensitive to
competition for light and cannot survive in dense competitive stands of
established plants. Canada thistle seedlings were very sensitive to plant
stand density, light, soil aeration, and soil moisture conditions. The
seedling to rosette and the rosette to flowering transitions, when root food
reserves are at a minimum, are particularly important times for reducing
Canada thistle populations. During July to October, carbohydrate reserves
accumulate in thistle roots while from May to July the carbohydrate reserves
are at their lowest. The lowest root carbohydrate reserves in Canada thistle
occur just before flowering. If insect (such as stem-mining weevil) feeding
on Canada thistle shoots occurs just before flowering, levels of
carbohydrates in the root system tend to be reduced. Moreover, if shoots are
tilled between the 7-10 leaf stages (for plants originating from 5 cm and 20
cm root fragments, respectively), minimum re-growth is observed. Drought
stress on Canada thistle also increases the efficacy of mechanical control.
Several years of drought can reduce perennial root biomass and decrease
adventitious bud production, limiting adventitious shoot production.

In conclusion, you should focus on maximizing early spring rosette and
seedling mortality. Reducing seed production and inhibiting the survival of
newly shed seeds is also important, but persistence of seeds that are
already in the soil seed bank has little effect on population growth because
of the importance of vegetative propagation in Canada thistle patch growth.

Selected Sources
Bond, W. and R. Turner. 2006. The biology and non-chemical control of
creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense). HDRA online publication:
www.organicweeds.org.uk

Doll, J. D. 1997. Controlling Canada thistle. University of
Wisconsin-Madison: North Central Regional Extension Publication. No. 218.

Donald, W. W. 1994. The biology of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). Rev.
Weed Sci. 6:77-101.

Doyle, S., M. Morgan, and S. K. McDonald. 2005. Organic noxious weed
management. Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense Family Asteraceeae.
www.cepep.colostate.edu/factsheets/CanadaThistle.pdf

Graglia, E. and B. Melander. 2005. Mechanical control of Cirsium arvense in
organic farming. 13th European Weed Research Society, #4600.
http://orgprints.org/4600/01/4600.pdf

Graglia, E., B. Melander, and R. K. Jensen. 2006. Mechanical and cultural
strategies to control Cirsium arvense in organic arable cropping systems.
Weed Res. 46:304-312.

Gustavsson, A-M. D. 1997. Growth and regenerative capacity of plants of
Cirsium arvense. Weed Res. 37:229-236.

Haderlie, L. C., S. Dewey, and D. Kidder. 1987. Canada thistle biology and
control. University of Idaho Cooperative Extension Service: Bulletin No.
666.

[HDRA] Henry Doubleday Research Association. 2006. Creeping Thistle
Management Strategies in Organic Systems. Available:www.organicweeds.org.uk.

Hogdson, J. M. 1968. The nature, ecology, and control of Canada thistle.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Technical Bulletin: 1386.McAllister, R. S.
and L. C. Haderlie. 1985. Seasonal variations in Canada thistle (Cirsium
arvense) root bud growth and root carbohydrate reserves. Weed Sci. 33:44-49.

Nuzzo, V. 1997. Element Stewardship Abstract for Cirsium arvense. The Nature
Conservancy. Arlington, VA.Sullivan, P. 2004. Thistle control alternatives.
ATTRA NCAT www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/thistlecontrol.pdf
********

2. MarketMaker links producers with agricultural businesses and consumers

(This story is from the MSU Fruit CAT Alert Newsletter, Vol. 23, No. 16,
August 19, 2008. http://ipm.anr.msu.edu/cat08fruit/f08-19-08.htm )

Anyone in Michigan who grows, sells, processes or eats food now has a new
resource to help them. Market Maker© locates producers, businesses and
markets of food products, providing an important link between Michigan
producers and their buyers including end-consumers. The on-line information
is provided on maps so that producers, businesses and markets can be
visually located. Producers can use the web site to find processors,
wholesalers, distributors, retailers, restaurants or farmers’ markets who
might buy their products. Producers who are registered on the site can be
easily found by their potential buyers and end-consumers.

Registration and use of MarketMaker is free. Producers, processors,
wholesalers, retailers, restaurants, farmers’ markets and wineries can
register by going to the website at http://mimarketmaker.msu.edu/ and
clicking on the link, “Register Your Business.” Producers can also
download a paper registration form by going to the Michigan State University
Product Center web site at www.productcenter.msu.edu. Complete that form
and return it per the instructions. Businesses that are already on the web
site can establish their own unique user name and password so they can
update their information at any time.

“Consumers are increasingly interested in buying food that was produced
closer to home. MarketMaker is an important tool to help all parts of the
supply chain meet this consumer need,” said Don Koivisto, Director of the
Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Wayne Wood, President of Michigan Farm Bureau, adds, “We support the
development of an Internet marketplace for farmers to feature Michigan-based
commodities and value-added products. MarketMaker meets that need.”

MarketMaker has been brought to Michigan by the MSU Product Center with
funding support from Project GREEEN, the Nowlin Chair for
Consumer-Responsive Agriculture, Greenstone Farm Credit Services, the
Southeast Michigan Food Systems Economic Partnership, the C.S Mott Chair for
Sustainable Food Systems, Michigan Food & Farming Systems, and the Washtenaw
County Agricultural Council. “In addition to our financial supporters, the
Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Farm Bureau, and Michigan State
University Extension have provided information to help build the database of
producers, farmers markets, processors and wineries,” reports Chris
Peterson, Director of the MSU Product Center. MarketMaker is active in ten
states with two more states plus the District of Columbia scheduled to
become active in the near future.

The Michigan State University Product Center was established to improve
economic opportunities in the Michigan agriculture, food and natural
resource sectors. The Product Center assists the development and
commercialization of high value, consumer-responsive products and businesses
in the agriculture and natural resource sectors.

For more information, contact the MSU Product Center by e-mail at
[log in to unmask] or call (517) 432-8750.
********

3. Field Crop CAT Alert, MSU
Vol. 23, No. 16, August 21, 2008
http://www.ipm.msu.edu/cat08field/fc08-21-08.htm

The above link will be helpful for folks growing crops- you can see what’s
going on with corn and bean pests in your region of Michigan.

In this issue:
Soil organic matter in a continuous corn cropping system
Fungicidal seed treatments for wheat
Agricultural labor statistics for summer 2008
Regional reports
Weather

Soil organic matter in a continuous corn cropping system
Lowell Gentry and Sieglinde Snapp
Crop and Soil Sciences, Kellogg Biological Station

Soil organic matter (SOM) plays a critical role in fertility, water holding
capacity, aggregate stability, tilth, and overall soil quality. It has been
estimated that 50 percent of the SOM of most soils was lost in the first 100
years after the agricultural conversion of prairies and savannahs. A major
goal of the USDA/NRCS has been to decrease soil erosion through practices
such as reduced tillage, contour farming, grassed waterways, and buffer
strips. These techniques have been instrumental in saving billions of tons
of topsoil and have helped conserve SOM levels across the United States,
especially on vulnerable lands.

Recently, the predominant cropping system in the Midwest (a corn-soybean
rotation) has been under scrutiny in regard to the potential mining of SOM
and has been questioned for its overall sustainability. The argument has
been made that continuous corn, because of its large volume of stover
return, can build SOM. As corn acres increase in response to market demands,
the question arises “How will this influence SOM?”

Surprisingly, results from a long term rotation experiment initiated in 1993
at the Kellogg Biological Station indicate that SOM has not increased under
a continuous corn cropping system during the past 15 years, but rather has
increased for a four-year rotation of corn-corn-soybean-wheat (see Figure
1).

In 1993, this sandy loam soil had 1.5 percent organic matter. After 15
years, SOM has remained the same for the continuous corn cropping system;
however, there is a significant increase in SOM due to crop rotation; and a
trend for increased SOM for soil receiving cover crop inputs.

Here we explore several possible explanations for this observation: A)
microorganisms in low organic matter soils (1.5 percent SOM) may be carbon
limited and have a greater propensity to degrade corn residues; B) diversity
and quality of biomass inputs may contribute to carbon sequestration; C);
greater living cover exists in the rotation (especially when using cover
crops) compared with continuous corn (see Figure 2); and D) corn grown in
northern latitudes becomes source limited and partition more dry matter to
grain.

In regard to explanation C, a corn crop only has living roots in the soil
for about five months per year, or 20 months over a four-year period. A
corn-corn-soybean-wheat rotation has living cover for about 33 months, and
adding cover crops such as interseeding crimson clover into corn and
frost-seeding red clover into wheat provides living roots for a total of 40
months. We believe that continuous living cover likely plays a role in
building SOM over time.

In regard to explanation D, source limitations, such as sunlight, lead to a
physiological response of corn where more kernels are set than can be
filled, and in an attempt to fill those kernels the plant is forced to
cannabolize dry matter from the leaves and stalks to make grain. In 2006,
the continuous corn plots at the Kellogg Biological Station produced 159
bu/A of corn with 135 lbs of N/A. The harvest index of this crop, which is
the ratio of the amount of grain divided by the entire above ground plant
biomass, was 59 percent (many working agricultural models use a value of 50
percent for harvest index). A high harvest index directly reflects the
increased partitioning of dry matter from the leaves and stalks to the
grain. Therefore due to light limitations in northern states, continuous
corn cropping systems return less stover than is generally expected and this
may be part of the reason why SOM has not increased in the continuous corn
plots over the past 15 years.

Today, with the high price of organic corn, there may be some temptation to
grow second year corn. However, we need to remember the benefits of crop
rotation, such as improved soil fertility, reduced soil erosion, breaking
pest cycles (weed, disease, and insect problem), and spreading the workload.
These results from the Living Field Laboratory demonstrate the need for
long-term research studies to quantify the accumulative benefits of both
crop rotation and the use of cover crops on SOM. For more information about
our long-term research site, go to the Living Field Laboratory at:
www.kbs.msu.edu/faculty/snapp/LFL.php
********

4. Summary of 2008 Soil-Building Workshop at Morgan Composting

Speaking of building soil organic matter...

This year’s annual soil-building event was held last week at Morgan
Composting in Sears, MI. Both days of the event were successful, thanks
very much to the weather and the perfect backdrop of the Morgan family’s
innovative composting facilities. Brad Morgan and his family shared so much
of their time, their ideas, and their wisdom with all of us; it was lovely
to have the example of their business to illustrate the soil-building
principles of the event. We are also so thankful to our financial sponsors:
The C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU, Michigan State
University, Michigan State University Extension, MSU Dept. of Crop and Soil
Sciences, Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, and the USDA Farm
Service Agency.

Our keynote speaker was Bob Schindelbeck, a Soil and Water Management
Research Support Specialist at Cornell University. His keynote addresses
broadly covered soil building topics, with a particular emphasis on the
physical properties (“crumb” or tilth) of your farm’s soil. He
described how the biological webs in your soil, as well as the chemical
properties of your soil, can affect your soil structure. Later in the day,
to demonstrate these ideas, he performed an aggregate stability test on some
soils brought in by participants. This simple test showed that a heavily
worked sample had poorer aggregate stability than an unworked soil sample
from the same field. Bob helped explain this result in terms of soil
biology.

Our other speakers did a fantastic job, as well! We had a wide variety of
talks, all united in the common theme of making one’s operation more
environmentally and financially sustainable. For example, we heard a talk
from the co-owner of a successful greenhouse which has just recently
transitioned to organic production. His talk was honest and straightforward,
and his perspective as a “converted organic guy” was very helpful for
those considering ways to increase the sustainability of their production
methods.

We also were given tours of the Morgan Composting facility. For many, the
highlight of the tour was the vermicompost room. The sheer number of these
wriggly workers was staggering. We learned a lot from the Morgan folks- they
have figured out some clever ways of keeping their worms healthy,
reproducing, and producing beautiful mountains of rich black castings. And
you wouldn’t think it, but a room full of worms smells pretty nice!

Throughout the day, participants had many chances to walk around the trade
show booths at their own leisure. There were tables with information about
organic seed sources, loan options, organic soil amendments, and some very
innovative growing techniques being started up right here in Michigan. Of
course, we tried to keep our participants well-fed throughout the day. We
were careful to fill our menu with as many local and sustainably produced
items as possible. Perhaps most notable was the potato salad, featuring
potatoes and kohlrabi from a non-certified organic farm in Leslie, Michigan.
Finally, everyone had a chance to watch equipment demonstrations. We put
some brassicas in the ground with a mechanical transplanter, and showed
various ways to mulch and spread for your fields.

We recorded the events of the day with photographs and video. We plan to
post these materials on our website, www.MichiganOrganic.msu.edu , in the
future.

We provided evaluation forms at the event, but if anyone has thought of any
more suggestions since then, we would absolutely love your feedback! We
want next year to be even better. Please contact Vicki Morrone with your
ideas.

Vicki Morrone
Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist
Michigan State University
C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems
303 Natural Resources Bldg.
East Lansing, MI 48824
517-353-3542
517-282-3557 (cell)
517-353-3834 (fax)
********

5. Masanobu Fukuoka, 1913-2008
By Tom Philpott for Grist Environmental News and Commentary
http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/8/25/211438/300
August 26, 2008
“I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming which results in
making the work easier instead of harder. ‘How about not doing this?’
‘How about not doing that?’ -- that was my way of thinking.

I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plow, no need
to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide.
When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are
necessary.

The reason that man's improved techniques seem necessary is that the natural
balance has been so badly upset beforehand by those same techniques that the
land has become dependent on them.”

 -- Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

Masanobu Fukuoka died last week at the age of 95.
Like the 20th century's other great critic of industrial agriculture, Albert
Howard, Fukuoka got his start as a conventional plant pathologist. Both
spent lots of time staring into microscopes looking to "solve" the various
problems associated with teasing food out of the earth.
They came of age when plant science was beginning to splinter into a set of
specializations, each viewing particular aspects of agriculture in
isolation.
Fukuoka and Howard both decided that the conventional scientific approach
led to disaster: a downward spiral of "solutions" to problems created by the
previous solution. As Fukuoka, Japan's most celebrated alternative farmer,
put it in his masterpiece, The One-Straw Revolution:
“Specialists in various fields gather together and observe a stalk of
rice. The insect disease specialist sees only insect damage, the specialist
in plant nutrition considers only the plant's vigor.”
These specialists are blind to the broader context in which the rice plant
thrives or flails -- and to the vast ignorance that surrounds their narrow
bands of knowledge. Many conventional scientists (such as the one now
shaping our nation's foreign policy with regard to ag development) exude
arrogance about humanity's ability to control "nature"; Fukuoka preached
humility.
"The irony is that science has served only to show how small human knowledge
is," he writes.
Here's another irony:
Fukuoka's "do-nothing" style of farming is extremely difficult in our era.
As he writes, the "the natural balance has been ... badly upset"; our
farmland has become dependent on heroic interventions. Restoring the proper
balance for do-nothing agriculture takes time and resources. Fukuoka offered
no one-size-fits-all method for proper farming. He urged farmers everywhere
to discover simple, low-input, synergistic/symbiotic approaches appropriate
to their areas. That project takes time and resources. It could -- and
should -- be the main task of publicly funded ag research, and indeed of all
ag policy. It isn't, though.
As Fukuoka well knew, you can't just take over a piece of farmland, "do
nothing," and expect a bumper harvest. He tells an anecdote about his first
attempt to farm without chemicals after abandoning his science career. He
took over a patch of tangerine trees owned by his father, and proceeded to
"do nothing." The result: "the branches became intertwined, insects attacked
the trees, and the entire orchard withered away in no time." He concludes:
“I had acted in the belief that everything should be left to take its
natural course, but I found that if you apply that way of thinking all at
once, before long, things do not go so well. This is abandonment, not
‘natural farming.’”
In our time, small-scale farmers operate under brutal economic pressure --
and the resources needed to develop a truly sustainable agriculture too
often lie beyond their grasp. So we slog on, doing our best, often falling
short.
Fukuoka's vision offers a beacon, a goal, an ideal to strive for. Making
predictions is arrogant, but I'll venture one anyway: As long as humans are
still scratching their sustenance out of the earth, Fukuoka's work will
remain an inspiration.
********

6. The Dynamics of Change in the US Food Marketing Environment

Last month, the USDA issued a fairly hefty booklet describing the current
trends in food markets, which may be of interest to some readers. The
publication contains a segment explaining how direct-to-consumer markets
such as CSAs and farmers’ markets are “gaining traction,” and a
segment on trends in organic foods. These two segments are posted below. To
view the booklet in its entirety, please visit
www.michiganorganic.msu.edu/portals/organic/2008FoodRetailTrends.pdf

“The popularity of direct-to-consumer marketing outlets, such as farmers
markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture, is another
challenge to supermarket profitability. According to the 2002 Census of
Agriculture, the value of direct-to-consumer food sales in the United States
grew 37 percent between 1997 and 2002—from $592 million to $812
million—reflecting the enormous growth in the number and accessibility of
direct-to-consumer marketing outlets, especially in urban and suburban
neighborhoods. This increase has been bolstered by the growth in the number
of farmers markets in the United States—from around 1,750 in 1994 to
approximately 4,475 by late 2007. By the end of 2005, farmers markets in the
United States were estimated to generate more than $1 billion in sales per
year. Furthermore, the number of community supported agriculture (CSA)
operations, in which customers purchase advance shares of a farm’s
production in return for regular deliveries during the growing season, has
expanded from an estimated 60 operations in 1990 to approximately 1,150
operations in early 2007. The farmers market movement in the United States
was initially concentrated along the West Coast and within parts of the
Northeast. However, during the last few years the number of farmers markets
throughout the country has increased significantly, especially in Midwestern
States with a tradition of small farms, and where farms are close to
population centers (figure 3). Direct-to-consumer marketing channels appear
to be especially important to buyers of organic food products. According to
the Organic Trade Association, about 7 percent of U.S. organic food sales in
2005 occurred through direct sales at farmers markets and other nonretail
direct market outlets (including sales to foodservice customers). In
contrast, only 3.9 percent of all U.S. food sales in 2005 were made through
any form of direct sale or home/mail order delivery. The exponential growth
in access to direct marketing outlets, such as farmers markets and CSAs,
throughout the country appears to have stimulated significant growth in the
value of locally grown food sold to consumers. The market research firm
Packaged Facts estimated in 2007 that consumer demand for locally grown food
could rise from around $4 billion in 2002 to $5 billion a year by the end of
2007 and to as much as $7 billion a year by 2012, refl ecting both increased
consumer patronage of farmers markets and CSAs and an expanded effort by
retail and foodservice fi rms to procure more locally grown food that
appeals to consumers.12 Indeed, the popularity of farmers markets has grown
so rapidly in the United States that a recent national survey reports that 2
percent of U.S. food shoppers now say farmers markets are their primary food
shopping venue.13 In light of these developments in the marketplace,
mainstream news media are giving increasingly prominent attention to the
growth of the local food movement.

“Despite several consecutive years of aggressive sales growth in recent
years (figure 7), the organic food market is expected to continue expanding
rapidly, rising an average of 16 percent per year between 2005 and 2010,
compared with a projected annual growth of 2–3 percent in the conventional
food sector.27 With organic food sales currently representing less than 3
percent of the U.S. food market, consumer demand for organic foods appears
far from saturated.28 A slight slowdown in growth rates for well-established
product categories such as fresh produce (about 39 percent of the organic
food market) is likely to be overshadowed by a growth surge in such
less-well-established product categories as meat, poultry, dairy, and
sauces/ condiments. The Hartman Group, a market research fi rm that
investigates trends in the natural product marketplace, reported that
two-thirds of U.S. consumers purchased organic food and beverages on an
occasional basis in 2004 and that 30 percent purchased them on a regular
(daily or weekly) basis.30 Additionally, organic food purchases were
motivated primarily by health and nutritional concerns, most specifi cally
an interest in avoiding pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics, and growth
hormones. However, the motivation behind organic food and beverage purchases
becomes more complex as the level of organic patronage increases. Among the
most dedicated “core” organic consumers (accounting for 21 percent of
organic food and beverage shoppers), most prefer to support brands that
“are not owned by conglomerates” and that have “an authentic story
behind their creation.” The interest of core organic consumers in learning
where their food comes from and in supporting small businesses creates
unique opportunities for those food producers and processors that can
satisfy this interest. In addition, the organic food market can expect to
receive a boost from demographic trends as increased buying power among
Hispanic-Americans, Asian- Americans, and African-Americans should further
help promote consumer demand.32 Recent analysis of organic food patronage by
the Hartman Group indicates that Caucasian consumers in the United States as
a whole are less likely than other racial/ethnic groups to purchase organic
foods on a regular basis.”
********

If you would like to access previous postings to the Mich-Organic listserv you can copy and paste the following URL into your browser address bar
 http://list.msu.edu/archives/mich-organic.html

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