Category Archives: Industrial Ag

On Neonicotinoids

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Neonicotinoids (neo-nih-CAH-tin-oids) are systemic chemicals, which are absorbed into the plant’s vascular system, leaving the entire plant toxic to both target and non-target insects.  Systemic chemicals affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. This class of insecticides is particularly harmful to bees as accumulated neonicotinoids are consumed by adults or stored, concentrated, and fed to developing young.

These days we are hearing more reports of Honey Bee die-offs and Colony Collapse Disorder, though the European Honey Bee is but one species of invertebrates facing a precarious future. Native insect species all over the world are subjected to a deadly combination of stresses (with undiscovered species disappearing completely before being properly studied or understood). These stresses are widespread and stem directly from human activity. Habitat loss, fragmented ecosystems, alien organisms, industrial farming practices, climate change and the proliferation of lawns are a few major sources of invertebrate decline. Pesticides, which indiscriminately kill insects by design, pose the most immediate danger to invertebrates worldwide.

Following registration in the mid 1990’s, neonicotinoid use has grown to make this the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. While large-scale agricultural applications account for the greatest levels of cumulative harm (chronic lethal exposure), landscaping and garden use result in higher rates of death (acute lethal exposure) in non-target insects. The most notible victims of neonicotinoid exposure are pollinator species, which perform a key role in over one-third of our food system. This disproportionate frequency of non-target insect mortality is largely due to the abundance of unregulated insecticides available in retail stores, and a lack of understanding by those who use them.

Neonicotinoids are systemic chemicals, which are absorbed into the plant’s vascular system, leaving the entire plant toxic to both target and non-target insects. Neonicotinoids exhibit long periods of toxicity, with two of the most widely used insecticides persisting in soil at toxic levels for many months and even years. Metabolites (the breakdown product of complex substances) and synergisms (combined substances which result in a greater potency than the original) could make neonicotinoids even more toxic and persistent than is already known.

The accumulation of neonicotinoids may adversely affect many invertebrates beyond those targeted through the initial application. Routes of unintended exposure can originate from spray drift, residual contact, particle exposure (from mechanized planting of treated seeds), as well as exposure through contaminated soil, nesting resources, water, pollen and nectar. Pollen and nectar contamination is especially worrisome for bees as accumulated neonicotinoids may be stored, concentrated, and fed to developing young. Adults can also suffer from chronic and acute exposure, through foraging and ingestion of toxic nectar. The sublethal effects on Honey Bees range from inhibited flight, navigation and taste, in addition to a decrease in learning and foraging ability. Sublethal effects on native bees, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, include reduced food consumption and reproduction success, decreased worker survival, reduced foraging and delayed development.

Environmental stresses are pushing native pollinators to the edge of ecological collapse, with cascading effects seen globally. You can begin helping pollinators right away by conserving and promoting native habitat, gardening with native plants and avoiding insecticide use. Your contributions are essential to curbing the decline of native pollinators and invertebrates. Over one-third of your food supply hangs in the balance.

Reference sources for information on this page were publications of the Xerces Society. For more information visit the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at http://www.xerces.org, or view their special reports on Neonicotinoids (also available in printed form) at http://www.xerces.org/neonicotinoids-and-bees/ and http://www.xerces.org/beyond-the-birds-and-the-bees/

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On frac sand

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With only 1/100th of 1% remaining, tallgrass and shortgrass prairies are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. Once expansive mosaics of interconnected diversity, these biomes extended through most of our midwestern states. Today prairie remnants are small functionally extinct islands of great biodiversity, surrounded by seas of GMO monoculture, development and invasive species.  Despite such precious rarity these prairie “postcard” relics, which survived the plow and pylon, face immense dangers.

Much attention has been directed toward the looming disaster which is Hydraulic Fracturing, but recognition must also be focused on the atrocity which is Frac Sand Mining. The destructive consequences of mining are well known and often too common, including habitat loss, air and water pollution, hazardous dust, excessive carbon emissions, high traffic frequency and noise pollution. These byproducts of mining are not new to our world of endless development and sprawl, but the stakes are higher now than ever before.

The greatest human flaw is a failure to recognize the big picture, an inability to see the interconnectedness of everything. In 1863 a settler could live lightly off of a few acres and would see endless undeveloped land in every direction. Under such low population density the use of natural resources was easily absorbed by the native biome (of course the Native Americans were the best example of sustainable living). As population grew the “settled” spaces began to expand outward. Then the small sections of land started to touch resulting in the need for legal definition and fencing. As agriculture became industrialized the fences were pulled out and the soil was turned under without restraint. Only islands of natural history exist today, usually protected by flooding or shallow top soil. In 2013 a land owner may look at forty acres and say “there are plenty of trees here for birds, I’ll just cut down a few”, though arrogantly fails to look beyond the fence row. On the outside of each boundary may sit thousands of acres, striped, plowed and sterilized by industrial agriculture. Over 150 years the islands of habitat are shrinking in frequency and size. The damage from fragmentation has already been done, but those who worship the winking dollar still want more.

Now new technologies are squeezing profits out of previously considered “useless land”. These ecosystems, once protected from human hands by their pure rugged terrain, survived the plow but are now falling to the blasting fuse and shovel. Remnants of 1/100th of 1%, more endangered than rainforests, are being blasted, dug, stripped and leveled to provide a necessary product for another destructive human practice. Underground, the  concealed pollution and destruction caused by hydraulic fracturing requires a terrestrial travesty that is frac sand mining. Just as before, the industrial need to exploit our native biomes pushes forward, fulled by money, and legalized by filthy political inventions.

Just as it has happened for hundreds of years, the pursuit of profits shows no concern for anything beyond exploitation and wealth. The most disgusting fact of this exploitation is that we now collectively know better. History and validated research have told us that plundering any and every resource from the earth will result in adverse affects. A brief look at the Dust Bowl should be enough to shock every American into a mindset that values environmental protection, but we seem to have poor memory and the advertisements tell us not to worry.

If our society continues to ignore science the push for endless growth will cover us in sand. America will become a vast desert as native ecosystems are carelessly destroyed for meaningless numbers in a bank account, or hollow shares in a company. Only one species on earth makes such irrational and cataclysmic decisions based on the values of imaginary currency. It’s time that we figure out a better way.

On frac sand 131019.001 DB

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On concerns over irrigation

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From the archive

07.27.2012
Daniel Barron

With fifty-six percent of the lower 48 states held captive by drought (NOAA) and a farm subsidy program which values corporate interests and raw yield over quality food and sustainable practices more American citizens will soon be faced with a water shortage reality. Heavy use of modern farming practices, such as chemical dependent “No-Till” and genetically modified plants have increasingly allowed commodities farmers to plant corn and soy beans in less viable regions, such as the Great Plains regions. The ability to plant large scale commodity crops in these climates says nothing about whether or not farmers should do so.

On a recent trip through the Midwest my travel partner and I admired the Platte River in Nebraska, slowly cutting through agricultural land with sandy islands, entombed by its slow path to the Missouri river. It wasn’t until we spoke to a few long-time local residents that we realized the river was not as charming as it appeared. Once a consistently powerful waterway, stretching over a mile wide in some places, the Platte River has been overwhelmingly depleted by damaging water diversion and irrigation. Water scarcity is increasing in many regions of the United States and agricultural irrigation accounts for 80% of all U.S. consumable water use (USDA). Between 2003 and 2008, the number of wells operating in the U.S. with flow meters increased 76 percent to 107,384 wells, increasing the total amount of U.S. irrigated acres 4.6% from 52.5 million acres to 54.9 million acres (USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture). Incidentally, Nebraska exceeds all other U.S. states, including California and Texas, in total irrigated acres.

When traveling through Nebraska on a warm June day you would see the radial green fields, connected like an endless mat of pearls under the extensive arch of countless center-pivot irrigation systems. What drives the need for such agricultural engineering? As of July corn prices are over $8.00 per bushel in Northern Illinois (growers-edge.com) and the price of tillable acreage has surpassed the $10,000 per acre mark in some areas. The incentive for farmers to expand or increase production is obvious, there is simply too much profit potential to gain or lose. Most farmers were looking toward 2012 as a year to come out with record earnings, though the sustained drought and high temperatures have withered many ambitions of even a decent harvest. With so much at stake and rainfall coming up well below the average I fear that we may begin to see the irrigation practices of the Plains farmers move into regions historically fortunate with consistent precipitation.

Clearly the water intensive farming practices of the Great and High Plains are not sustainable. Given the detrimental strain that large scale farming practices are having on the waterways and aquifers of the Plains states, one would immediately begin to see a cycle of water depletion for the sake of a giant business interest, industrial commodity grain farmers. The actual strain of aquifer depletion is being reflected by an increasing need for deeper wells which, over a five year average, increased 5 feet in depth (USDA).

The growing disregard for hydrological conservation hardly comes as surprise to those familiar with the industrial agriculture model. This is the industry that has destroyed most native habitat and species, contaminated our drinking water with nitrites and Atrazine, ignored dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and crafted trade policies that have ruined sustainable farmers around the world. With millions of acres in monoculture crops and nothing allowed to exist beyond GMO “franken-plants” (inventions which cannot exist without an endless supply of petroleum based chemicals and fertilizers) the sustainable ecological loop has been destroyed. As informed citizens and inhabitants of this state, country and planet we must look beyond the rhetoric of the industrial commodity agri-giants. We need to understand what these farming practices mean for everyone, not just the powerful interests which capitalize on the precious and unquantifiable resource which is our environment. The under regulated, under restricted use of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMO plants, antibiotics, petroleum intensive farming methods and abusive over-planting practices are the summation of common atrocities which demand accountability. As the profit driven monetary pressures of $8.00 corn and $10,000 per acre land prices become more common, the industrialized desire to “dominate mother nature” will unfortunately persist. What will be the engineered industrial solution to drought in our typically plentiful region and how far will the giants of agriculture go to maintain record yields and incredible profits? Keep watching, ask questions and be critical of the corporate interests. Your children and grandchildren deserve a healthy planet to live on.

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