It’s time for the “spring flush”… of pesticides

What, you may ask, is the "spring flush?" In late spring and early summer,  large concentrations of herbicides are flushed from croplands. These chemicals — like the herbicide atrazine — then get transported far and wide through surface water systems.

Herbicides are water-soluble and thus have the potential to leach into groundwater supplies as well as streams, lakes and other surface waters. Atrazine is a frequently found contaminant in drinking water supplies throughout the Corn Belt, and every year the spring flush raises concerns over the potential of atrazine spikes in drinking water supplies.

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Iowa lawmakers tackle pesticide drift

In Iowa, two proposed laws would have provided support to farmers facing crop damage from drifting herbicides, and improved reporting and regulations around drift. While the laws were introduced this session, they will not be moving forward but the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU), PAN and other coalition partners have put the drift issue front and center on the legislative agenda in Des Moines.

A statewide, farmer-led coalition supporting these bills are asking for things like improved liability insurance and more readily available information about pesticide use and drift incidents. These are important pieces of legislation for small farmers growing healthy, local food for Iowa communities.

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The “Big 6” drifting to a farm near you

Two weeks ago, I was speaking to a roomful of specialty crop growers and organic farmers from Indiana. They were concerned about the pesticide drift that is expected to accompany the planting of Dow and Monsanto’s new herbicide-resistant corn and soybean seeds this spring. Presenting alongside me was Anita Poeppel of Broadbranch Farms, a family-owned and operated farm in north central Illinois.

Anita shared a message with her fellow growers: We need to be ready. If USDA allows these new GE seeds — that’ve been designed to be sprayed with highly toxic, drift-prone herbicides — onto the market, we are all going to be in a lot of trouble.

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In California, Saving Water Is All Over the Map – Wall Street Journal

In California, Saving Water Is All Over the Map
Wall Street Journal
Sepp is a leader in the Agroecology or Agroforestry movement. His yields exceed those conventional agriculture obtains. He uses no pesticides or herbicides. He might irrigate selectively in the beginning, but the goal he achieves is no irrigation.

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Garden & Farm Fungicides, Herbicides & Pesticides Far More Toxic Than … – Permaculture Magazine

Garden & Farm Fungicides, Herbicides & Pesticides Far More Toxic Than
Permaculture Magazine
Permaculture viable option – pharmaceutical companies struggle to tackle chemical resistance · Farming for the Future – despite what the neighbours think. Enjoying our posts? Want to keep in touch with our most popular pages on this website? Sign up

Scientists group: Proliferation of ‘superweeds’ a growing problem – Grand Island Independent

Scientists group: Proliferation of 'superweeds' a growing problem
Grand Island Independent
By contrast, UCS said farming practices based on the science of agroecology and adapted to fit the needs of farmers in particular areas can help combat weeds while dramatically reducing the need for herbicides. UCS cites recent research at Iowa State 

Bad science makes the news. Again.

I hate bad science. It’s hard to do good science, but science is only effective when it is good science. This isn’t a rant about the bad science of genetically engineered foods (which certainly deserves a post of its own) but about a recent study published by Stanford scientists about organic food. You’ve probably read about it in the news, but if you haven’t you can do so here. The main point of the study was to test organic foods to see if they were more nutritious and safer to eat than non-organic foods. They found that organic foods were not more nutritious than non-organic foods and not any safer regarding E. coli contamination. Lower levels of chemical pesticides were found.

Why is this bad science? One of the points made to my cohort of graduate students was that getting results, even statistically significant results, is irrelevant if the questions being asked aren’t relevant. A corollary was that you need the right measures to test the questions you are asking. In this case, asking about nutrients is irrelevant because the organic standards aren’t about nutrition. They are standards for producing food without using artificial pesticides and herbicides. So, studying the nutritional value of organic foods is simply the wrong question. The correct question is whether organic foods have lower level of chemical pesticides and herbicides on them. This question was asked, and the researchers found that organic foods did have lower levels of these chemicals. But, this was not the emphasis of the study. Instead, they focused on nutrients and on E. coli levels. The latter was one of their metrics of healthy food, and they found no significant difference in organic vs. non-organic foods. Such results make for great headlines and lots of food industry punditry, but they are irrelevant and therefore bad science.

For further information and commentary on this topic, read this post by Marion Nestle (always a good source of scientific information on food issues), and a fuller commentary with multiple viewpoints here. Of the six commentators at the second link, I think Marion Nestle is the most succinct and accurate, based on what I know about organic foods from my many years following food issues.