Thursday, September 18, 2014

UPDATE & Videos: Ditch the Rule!

Last week I announced that the House of Representatives had passed a bill that would stop the EPA from implementing the new rules under the Clean Water Act. (If you'd like to learn more about these rules, check out my article on it here.). Some people have guessed that Senator Harry Reid will not allow the legislation to go to a vote in front of the full Senate. Even if it was passed, President Obama's advisers would urge him to veto the bill. 

So, that means we need to keep letting the EPA know how we feel about it. 

Check out the videos below and then head over to the EPA's website and submit your comments. Comments are only accepted until October 21, 2014.Click here to find out how to contact your Senator. You can also telephone your Senators and the White House at that link.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Renewable Fuel Standard 101

What Is The Renewable Fuel Standard? 

The Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, was signed into law in 2005 by President George W. Bush as part of the Energy Policy Act. The RFS was later expanded under the Energy and Independence and Security Act of 2007. The law requires a certain amount of biofuels to be blended into gasoline each year in increasing amounts annually. These biofuels produce less greenhouse gases as they are burned and, therefore, are better for the environment than burning regular fuel. Use of the biofuels allows us less independence on oil, which was one of the goals for passing the RFS. The RFS also encourages investment and expansion into renewable fuel sources. The RFS is administered by the EPA.

What are the RFS Requirements? 

Originally, the RFS set the amount of biofuels for the years 2006 to 2012. By 2012, 7.5 billion gallons of biofuels were required to be blended with gasoline. The expansions to the RFS that took place in 2007 now require that by the year 2022, we will be blending 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel annually!

How Does the RFS Work? 

According to American Progress:
To ensure RFS compliance, gasoline and diesel-fuel refiners must annually purchase a set amount of renewable fuels. The refiners are required to submit renewable fuel credits to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to show that they have covered their annual obligations. These credits, known as Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, are generated by the production of biofuels—one RIN is generated for each gallon of fuel in the RFS program—and can be bought and sold by refiners, as well as banked for future use.
The renewable fuels used also must meet certain requirements, including a certain percentage in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. 

What is the Impact? 

Since the RFS was passed in 2005, the United States has become the number 1 producer of corn ethanol in the world. Corn ethanol is by far the favorite biofuel. Other types of biofuels have been slower to expand, which was hampered by the economic recession in 2008. However, the EPA predicts it will become more widely available as the amount of biofuel required each year continues to rise. 

By 2022, the EPA estimates biofuels will replace 13.6 gallons of gasoline and diesel consumption! That would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 138 million metric tons. In (slightly) more relatable terms, that would be like removing 27 million vehicles from the road!

Doesn't the RFS Increase Food Costs? 

Slightly. By 2022, corn prices are expected to be 8.2% higher than usual based on the RFS. Although corn prices soared in 2012 due to the drought, they have since come down significantly. The higher prices of corn has increased the price of animal feed and, therefore, an increase in total groceries. Nonetheless, the estimated annual food cost is only expected to increase by $10 per person annually by 2022.

How is the RFS Working Now? 

Each year the EPA sets forth the requirements for meeting the RFS. Unfortunately, they have still not rolled out the 2013 requirements, delaying them until September 30, 2014. The EPA is also struggling to come up with the 2014 standards, which they insist should be released before making manufacturers comply with the 2013 standards. One set back is the sheer volume of public comments on the RFS, which was about 300,000; no doubt farmers had something to do with that!

To learn more, check out the Renewable Fuels Association's online webinars.

Monday, September 15, 2014

There Is Someone I'd Like You to Meet....

Two people, actually. Although, I'm sure there are many more like them.

I'd like you to meet Bruce Schulz. He's a fourth generation farmer in Oregon. Mr. Schulz's family has a 250 acre farm. He dad grew up on the farm. His mom still lives on the farm in their family home. He currently grows alfalfa.

I'd also like you to meet Jim Frink. Mr. Frink is 72 years old. He started farming when he was 12 years old. He started out with 10 acres that he leased from his dad. Mr. Frink's farm is now about 900 acres, including 150 that is currently in alfalfa.

Why do I want you to meet these guys? Because they're both farmers that will be hurt by the Jackson County, Oregon ban on GMOs.

Source: Oregon Live
Mr. Schulz has GMO alfalfa that he will have to destroy at the end of the year. In a sane world, he would have gotten 5-8 more years out of that alfalfa field. He anticipates that he'll lose 30% of his gross income next year as a result.

Mr. Frink has decided he's not even going to bother. He plans on retiring, selling the farm, and moving out of state. He pointed out that GMO alfalfa can be treated with one pesticide at about $6 per acres, while non-GMO alfalfa requires three pesticides costing $75 per acre.

So there are at least two family farmers in Jackson County, Oregon that will be hurt by the GMO ban. One will close up shop and retire for good. The other will take a huge hit financially and his farm may not survive it. 

Less farmers, less food. 

Here's the thing: anti-GMO activists have lied, cheated, and stole to promote their fear-mongering anti-science agenda. The result? They are destroying family farms. There has not been a single scientific study showing GMOs are harmful to human beings or the environment. But there are some people that cannot accept the truth when it is staring them in the face.

It breaks my heart to see these guys in this position. It makes me sick to know that this was promoted by people who have very little knowledge of agriculture. And it makes me mad that organic farmers -who have gotten away with negative marketing of conventional crops for years - supported this measure.

Consumers deserve the truth and farmers deserve the choice.

Which is precisely why we do this; right? Because I don't want to one day see my brother's face on the news as he tells everyone that our family farm will be divided up and sold off because of a ridiculous ballot initiative. I recognize that there are going to be great challenges within the next 50 years (and beyond) when it comes to producing enough nutritious food for our growing population. We cannot allow fear take away the tools that we need to reach those goals. 

It's too late for Jackson County, Mr. Schulz, and Mr. Frink, but hopefully there is still time for the rest of us.

(Source: Oregon Live.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

TNT's Radio Broadcast on Measure P

Miss the program?
You can listen to the
recording here!
This past week I had the opportunity to take part in a discussion about GMOs on Humboldt State University's radio station KSHU. On the ballot in November is Measure P, which would make the cultivation of any genetically modified crops in the county illegal. KSHU's Thursday Night Talk program presented the opposition to Measure P on Thursday evening.

Also on the show were scientists Rollin Richmond and Mark Wilson.

I'm very happy that I got to participate in the show and speak out in favor of GMOs, especially next to a couple of scientists who offered new and interesting insight into the issue. I certainly hope, for the sake of the farmers in Humboldt County, that some voters were swayed by the discussion.

You can listen to a recording of the show here. If you do, I would love to hear your feedback in the comments!

Thank you to the station and TNT host Kevin Hoover for having me on and for giving us the platform for this topic.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Farming Fridays!

White Mold

Last week we discussed Sudden Death Syndrome, so this week I decided to continue talking about problems that farmers face with a soybean crop. On Sunday, we drove past a few fields on the way to church that have been hit by what's called white mold. Once we changed into more field appropriate clothing, dad went with me to a neighbor's farm to get a closer look at the sick plants.

The brown patch in the top middle is actually soybean plants that have been hit by white mold.

This spring and summer were particularly cool. Although we had some dry spells, it was also wet or damp. As you can imagine, just like other molds, white mold tends to favor those conditions. The mold, which officially is called Sclerotinia stem rot, thrives in cool damp fields. The symptoms from the mold usually show up in July and August. The disease will start with just a single plant here and there where the leaves will wilt and die. Eventually, the entire plant will die.

As you can see from the photos, a bean crop tend to create somewhat of a canopy with their leaves. Beneath the leaves, where it is protected and shaded by the sun, it can remain damp. Again, it creates a favorable environment for the mold.

Although it is a little hard to see on the above picture, there are actually "clumps" of white stuff on the stem of the dead plant. As you can imagine, the mold can really hit yields. Once the plant dies, it isn't going to allow the soybeans to fully mature and (obviously) it won't create any new ones.

Currently, the best management for the mold is just stopping it from getting into the field in the first place. In fact, farmers are usually advised not to harvest a field containing white mold before harvesting a field that does not have it. The spores can actually get on the equipment and be transferred from one field to the next.

Soybean plant with white mold.
Some seed companies promote bean varieties that are better equipped to resist the mold, but there are currently no beans available that are completely resistant to it. There are also some fungicides that are available, but won't necessarily control all of it or eliminate it from the field.

The other difficulty is that some methods for increasing soybean yields can also be a boost to the mold. For example, although planting in narrow rows with high seed populations can increase yields for soybeans, such planting methods also increase the likelihood that the mold will spread. The more soybeans that are planted closer together, the thicker the canopy will be.

Further, the mold can live in the soil for up to 10 years, so crop rotation does not necessarily help unless farmers can keep that land productive in other crops for a decade. Many types of weeds are also good hosts for white mold and can spread the spores even when soybeans aren't planted in the fields. However, rotating with plants that are not susceptible to the mold can at least help cut down on the number of mold spores in the field and reduce future incidents in soybeans.

If you'd like to learn more about white mold, check out my sources at Purdue Extension, Pioneer, and Crop Production Services.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dr. Peter Davies of Cornell University on GMOs

Dr. Peter Davies talks about the safety of GMO foods. Davies is a professor at Cornell University and lectures widely on “GMO Crops and Food: Fact & Fiction”.