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*Co-Authors Madeline and Dr. Charles Mellinger are, respectively, Founder/CEO and Technical Director of Glades Crop Care in Jupiter, Florida. Madeline is also a member of the Farm Foundation. HHRA ED Charles Benbrook has worked as a consultant and collaborator with GCC on the adoption of biointensive Integrated Pest Management systems for 40 years.

Archived Blog Posts
  • A man spraying pesticides California’s Bold Plan to Transform Pest Management Systems is Long on Ambition and Light on Details

    By: Chuck Benbrook, HHRA ED By: Mark Lipson, HHRA Director of Policy and Regulatory Engagement We welcomed the invitation from California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation for members of the public to offer comments and guidance as the State begins to take concrete actions needed to achieve the goals set forth in the new report Sustainable Pest Management: A Roadmap for California. Reviewing the 94-page Roadmap report reminded us how many constituencies, forces, and factors are pushing and pulling farmers, pest managers, and government agencies in multiple directions that are rarely aligned. This Roadmap document describes a very different pest management future that will hopefully become the “de facto” way pests are managed on and off the farm by 2050. If successful by 2050, prevention-based biointensive Integrated Pest Management (bioIPM) will be the norm and there will be minimal if any use of high-risk “Priority Pesticides”. Some thirty-two years ago, DPR hired Chuck Benbrook to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of DPR’s programs and policies to assist in the integration of DPR into the newly-formed Cal-EPA. The resulting report, Challenge and Change: A Progressive Approach to Pesticide Regulation in California, came out in March of 1993. It provides dozens of recommendations intended to do many of the same things that the 2023 Roadmap report hopes to bring within reach. The fact that most pest management systems in California have become more, not less reliant on pesticides over the last 30 years suggests that DPR’s and CDFA’s efforts to achieve Roadmap goals are going to entail heavy lifting, mostly uphill. For this reason in HHRA’s comments, Mark and Chuck describe the nature and substantial scope of changes in laws and policy that will be required to track progress toward Roadmap goals and hopefully, someday, achieve them.

  • Europe is Growing Organic Production, Will the US Follow Suit?

    Advocates calling for change in US Ag Inc often struggle to point to successful models through which farming and food chains have evolved toward safer and more sustainable production systems. The surest way to largely eliminate the impacts of prenatal pesticide exposure on birth outcomes and children’s development – HHRA’s foundational goals – is converting US farmland to organic production. We are often asked how such change can come about. Convincing answers to this key and important question are few and far between in the US, but some key lessons are emerging from efforts in Europe to expand organic farming and food supply chains. The Cilento organic food bio-district in Italy was established in 2009 and is thought to be the first-ever in the world. Overcoming challenges faced by organic farmers in marketing their produce was a primary driver. Municipal actions expanded demand for organic food and ingredients via public food-purchasing programs. The lure of scenic rural landscapes and strong support from the agrotourism industry for organic food and farming created new market demand. Today, organic farming is thriving in the Cilento district, profit margins have expanded, and enhanced soil health is supporting higher yields at lower costs on many farms. An action by a city council led to the formation of the Södertälje organic food system in east-central Sweden, some 35 kilometers from Stockholm. The goal was to expand the supply of organic products for public food-procurement programs as a way to advance health and environmental quality. The municipality’s Diet Union developed new food products and recipes in the context of a “Diet for a clean Baltic” to promote health and reduce food waste. Restaurants and cafeterias began using smaller plates to cut down on waste, an intervention that has proven to be surprisingly effective. In south-eastern France the mad cow disease outbreak across Europe was the trigger of action leading to the Mouans-Sartoux organic food system. The initial focus was on supplying organic beef to school canteens, coupled with municipal government support for regional sustainable farm research and food education programs. A multi-faceted effort to provide organic food to children led to greater awareness of the diversity of benefits arising from organic farming. New efforts emerged to reach other vulnerable segments of the population with organic food (e.g. the elderly, pregnant women). These three region-based organic food systems in Europe are case studies in a just-published paper by Lilliana Stefanovic (2020), a scientist in the Department of Organic Food Quality and Food Culture at the University of Kessel in Germany. Imagine that. An academic department focused on organic food quality and culture. How long might it take for such a department to take hold at Iowa State University, in the heart of American farm country? The Stefanovic paper addresses how local organic food systems in Europe can contribute in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set forth by the United Nations, and especially SDG 12, “responsible consumption and production.” Her analysis concludes that local and place-based organic food and farming districts can make important contributions in transforming food and farming systems to promote human and animal health, and soil health and environmental quality. Two drivers played key roles in all three case studies: relatively short distances to population centers, and significant support for organic supply chains from public food-procurement programs, and especially those feeding children. And just a few months ago, the Italian government pledged to invest 3 billion euros (about $3 billion US) to convert at least 25% of the country’s farmland to organic systems by 2027. The funds will come from Common Agricultural Policy payments supported in part by a tax on pesticide sales. There are about 16.6 million acres of arable land in Italy. Reaching the 25% organic goal would entail the transition of around 2 million more acres to organic, given that a little over 15% of Italian farmland is already managed organically. If $3 billion in transition payments were spread over 2 million acres, average payments would be around $1,500 per acre. A multi-pronged effort in Italy is planned to simultaneously grow the supply of organic foods and demand for them. Investments will be made in the infrastructure needed to support profitable regional organic food supply chains, while increasing the supply of value-added, premium foods for sale throughout Italy, Europe, and for a few commodities (especially olive oil), the world. Such bold pledges and audacious goals have come and gone in many countries with little concrete and sustained change to show for the resources invested. But perhaps the time is right in Italy for acceleration in the transition to organic farming in light of the many scientific studies showing that organic farming can both slow global warming and render farms more resilient in the face of drought and flooding. What about here in the USA? The USDA has recently pledged to invest $300 million in a new Organic Transition Initiative. This program will provide new funding via many USDA-program channels to encourage the transition of farms to organic production. While a major increase in USDA funding dedicated to expanding organic production, $300 million over several years is a small share of the approximate $20 billion in annual federal spending on farm commodity and crop insurance programs. It is also instructive to compare the $3 billion investment in Italy to reach their goal of 25% of farmland in organic by 2027 to the $300 million investment just announced by USDA. The Italian program, if it actually happens, would provide about $1,500 per acre transitioned to organic. The USDA’s investment of $300 million translates into about $4.30 per acre across the approximate 70 million newly transitioned acres necessary for 25% of the US cropland base to be managed organically. Current disparity in public support for and investment in the transition to organic farming in the US versus Europe arises from vastly different public awareness of the benefits likely to stem from the transition of more farmland to organic production. Many public and private institutions […]

Securing the Future Supply of Apple Pie and Related Challenges

Nov 23rd, 2021
*Co-Authors Madeline and Dr. Charles Mellinger are, respectively, Founder/CEO and Technical Director of Glades Crop Care in Jupiter, Florida. Madeline is also a member of the Farm Foundation. HHRA ED Charles Benbrook has worked as a consultant and collaborator with GCC on the adoption of biointensive Integrated Pest Management systems for 40 years.

By Madeline Mellinger, Charles Mellinger, and Charles Benbrook*

What does Mike’s Pies in Florida have in common with a pregnant woman in the Midwest who is worried about the potential impact of rising herbicide use on her pregnancy and soon-to-be delivered child?

It turns out a lot. “How climate change and extreme weather are crimping America’s pie supply” (Laura Reiley, Washington Post, November 17, 2021) explains the myriad of ways climate change has disrupted the food-supply chains supporting Mike’s Pies in Florida.

Glades Crop Care (GCC) is one of South Florida’s largest and oldest independent crop consulting firms. Crop Care works with growers and shippers producing Florida’s fruit and vegetable crops. Disruptions all along farm-to-table supply chains starting out in GCC-grower fields have been unprecedented.

The list of endemic and disruptive forces impacting Florida agriculture is a long one. Big hitters include new invasive pests, water issues and runoff, labor shortages, demand changes due to COVID-19 lockdowns, endless economic pressures and the many factors undermining our growers’ profit margins.

But there are four major drivers of ag and food industry problems that all Americans should be concerned about. Collectively they are beginning to cut deeply into the muscle of American agriculture.

Plant pathogens like the citrus greening shown here are often worsened by climate change.

First, climate change is leading to more frequent and severe droughts and flooding. The GCC team is struggling to help growers preserve at least some of the Florida citrus industry plagued now for over a decade by greening disease. Too often our scouts deal with a new pest or one that is surging and beginning to require more frequent pesticide treatments.

Second, growing high-quality fruits and vegetables and getting them to people and into Mike’s pies takes people with skills and experience, time, and patience — and a living wage all along food chains. Those people who promise a robot for this and a drone for that mistake growing food for writing computer code. Artificial Intelligence has its place, but will benefit farmers only when wisely deployed and not asked to do too much.

Biological systems don’t follow code or behave as we think they should. Boots on the ground connected to people with experience and knowledge cannot be replaced. Those companies, academic institutions, and enthusiastic entrepreneurs promising solutions programmable from smartphones are overstating what artificial intelligence can bring to the task of feeding the world.

Third, cheaper imports arguably dumped into the US market have been steadily trimming the diversity of fresh produce grown and marketed in Florida, Texas, the Southwest and key production regions in California, Oregon and Washington.

The price of land, water, inputs, regulatory compliance and labor is much higher in all these states than in Mexico, Latin and South America, and many other countries. Our markets are the promised land for them. Their success comes at the expense of our growers and our nation’s capacity to feed our people. How about this radical idea — Buy local, or at least American.

Fourth, we see no end in sight of climate-change driven shifts in pest pressure. Some of our pests in South Florida are headed north into Georgia and the mid-West where they will pose new challenges. Our growers in South Florida will be contending with new invasive pests from Cuba, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Movement of people creates movement of pests and pathogens and resistance genes. Our inspection systems need upgrades because prevention is so much cheaper and better than treatment.

And farmers everywhere will have to find ways to contend with the growing number of pests that have become or are becoming resistant to several, if not most widely used pesticides.

This brings us to the connection between Mike’s Pies and pregnant women in the Midwest. In the Heartland the spread of weeds resistant to most widely used herbicides is driving an unprecedented increase in reliance on higher-risk herbicides and may soon threaten the sustainability of corn-soybean production, the backbone of the US food system.

Rising herbicide use is accompanied by rising human exposures. Pregnant women, infants and children are the most vulnerable among us when pesticide exposures are rising. Climate change in the Midwest is making weed management even more challenging.

Rising use = Rising Exposure. Concern about the possible health implications to our most vulnerable – pregnant women, infants, and children – of increased herbicide use is why our team came together to plan and conduct The Heartland Study.

Solving the climate-change driven problems facing Mike’s Pies in Florida and corn and soybean farmers in Iowa will be the stress test for this generation of farmers, food companies, scientists and policy makers.

For the health of the next generation of babies born in the Midwest and apple pie lovers in Florida, we need to address these four major drivers of change more effectively. Let’s encourage unbiased research. We worry that the scope and scale of challenges facing farmers and the food industry might outpace agricultural system and food industry innovation. If that happens we will have to become accustomed to periodic shortages of apple pie and a whole lot more.


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