Margaret Reeves's blog | Pesticide Action Network
Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Margaret Reeves's blog

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Organic farming better for bottom line

There is nothing “niche” about the recent story on the economics of organic farming in the Agronomy Journal.

The journal reports on an 18-year study demonstrating that organic crop rotation is consistently more profitable than conventional corn and soybean production, even when organic price premiums are cut by half. That is very good news for both organic producers and the agricultural economies in which they operate.

Margaret Reeves
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RoundUp hurts the crops it’s supposed to help

A new study supports earlier findings that Monsanto’s biggest selling weedkiller may actually be harming crop production by increasing the incidence of fungal root disease. This could be why the "RoundUp-ready" corn and soybeans that Monsanto has engineered to be used with the herbicide have failed to deliver promised yields.

Add this to recent stories of RoundUp’s ubiquitous presence, concerns of serious health effects such as birth defects, and the creation of superweeds (as RoundUp resistance spreads from engineered crops to weeds) — you'd think this would be the final nail in RoundUp’s coffin, right? Not quite, but we're keeping the pressure on.

Margaret Reeves
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Farm Bureau nixes safety net for green farmers

Farmers know that taking care of soil and water is essential to keep farmland productive, both now and for future generations. We, as taxpayers, should be doing all we can to support those farmers who steward the land best — especially when they face unavoidable losses.

That’s precisely why Iowa Farm Bureau leaders had agreed to press for renewing the link between crop insurance and conservation in the new Farm Bill. Sadly, it seems this position supporting sustainable farmers was overturned by last-minute, behind-the-scenes caucusing. It makes one wonder, just who is the Farm Bureau supporting?

Margaret Reeves
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RoundUp RoundUp everywhere...

Like many people, I once believed in the safety of RoundUp. Back in the 1980s when I was a young graduate student in ecology, it was the “safe” herbicide of choice for clearing weeds from study plots.

Monsanto would like us to continue to believe their flagship product is safe, but the data are increasingly saying otherwise. The latest? Widespread exposure is a near certainty, since RoundUp — now linked to birth defects — shows up regularly in our water and air.

Margaret Reeves
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New science on soil critters, carbon & climate

Soils are the Earth’s largest carbon storage depot after oceans and fossil fuels. Yet scientists estimate that since the industrial revolution, agricultural practices have caused massive carbon losses from the soil, contributing up to a third of all the increased CO2 in the global atmosphere.

But there's hope for restoring this great carbon sink. The science and practice of ecological farming now show that farmers can effectively put carbon back into the soil – and that this, in turn, can be a huge help in the battle against climate change.

Margaret Reeves
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Pesticides harm worms — & it doesn't take much

While there are hundreds of species of earthworms, anyone who makes compost knows the redworm, or Eisenia fetida. They make what's considered perhaps the richest form of natural fertilizer — a true friend to farmers and gardeners alike.

What you might not know is that very low levels of pesticides can kill these "black gold" producers. If they don't kill outright, pesticides can cause other serious harm, like reducing worms' ability to reproduce. Exposure to the neonicitinoid pesticide imidacloprid — well-known for its toxicity to honeybees — can also cause serious harm to worms, damaging DNA and deforming sperm. Bad news.

Margaret Reeves
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Dangers of farm work in the sunshine state

In last week’s Atlantic, Barry Estabrook shines a light on the horrific story of pesticides and farmworker families in Florida's Lake Apopka. Thousands in the small African American community suffer from myriad maladies including kidney failure and a rate of birth defects that is 4 times greater than in other Florida towns.

The response? Florida governor Rick Scott blatantly turns a blind eye, vetoing an allocation of $500,000 to investigate the birth defects. What was he thinking?

Margaret Reeves
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Bilingual pesticide labels: It's about time!

Nearly 2 million U.S. farmworkers make up the backbone of our agricultural economy, performing some of the most demanding manual labor in any economic sector. Farmworkers are also some of the least protected, experiencing a rate of pesticide poisoning 39 times higher than that found in all other industries combined.

This month Pesticide Action Network joins other farmworker advocates in urging EPA to reduce these over-the-top rates of pesticide-related illness by ensuring that farmworkers have access to basic safety information — in a language they can read.

Margaret Reeves
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Strange bedfellows on immigration reform

Who'd have thought? United Farmworkers (UFW) and the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) are on the same side of the table when it comes to farm labor and immigration reform. Since 2007 the Farm Bureau has been supporting and promoting AgJobsa compromise bill negotiated by farmworker leaders and farmers.

This month CFBF took their message to Washington, D.C. to argue against introduction of E-Verify, a mandatory electronic verification program to determine an employee's eligibility for employment. E-Verify, the Bureau claims, would lead to the collapse of the agricultural industry. UFW agrees.

Margaret Reeves
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Organic vs Conventional: Do N-fixing bacteria care?

Healthy crops come from healthy soil. Soil fertility depends on an incredible diversity and abundance of soil critters, from the microscopic to the flying and creepy crawly. Together these critters cycle nitrogen (N) and many other essential minerals and nutrients, making them available to plants. The complexity of what goes on in healthy soil is truly awe-inspiring.

A key group of organisms that provide the soil with one nutrient that's often in short supply are the N-fixing soil bacteria. And according to a recent study by UK scientists, it turns out these organisms do a better job when they're working on organic farms.

Margaret Reeves

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