Monday, November 17, 2014

A View of Pesticide Use--New Research Released

CAST Press Release
The Contributions of Pesticides to Pest Management in Meeting the Global Need for Food Production by 2050 
Note: CAST Issue Paper #55 is available here. Information about the pesticide panel discussion and other CAST information is available at the website here.

“You Can’t Eat What Doesn’t Grow”

All agree that the world needs a safe, plentiful supply of food, and most acknowledge that global demand will grow along with the expanding population. This peer-reviewed report looks at how pesticides fit into this equation. After a data-driven examination of past developments and current uses, the authors conclude that a safe, thoughtful integration of pesticides is essential if we hope to attain an abundant food supply for a hungry world. 

The term "pesticides" has been around for centuries, and it describes many different chemicals. The term has also--at times--been maligned and misunderstood. The authors of this publication use extensive data and provide clear examples to explain that pesticide use in agriculture has
•    increased crop yield and quality,
•    lessened the workload of pest management, and
•    improved the prospects for long-term sustainable food production.

This paper gives a brief background about the use of pesticides and then a thorough look at why they have become popular and widely used. Intelligent use of pesticides has led to crop management that is more efficient, sustainable, and productive. For example, the authors produce evidence that fungicide use has helped stem the curse of soybean rust, aided with the prevention of fusarium head blight in wheat, and increased farmer income.

Along with better pest management, pesticides have helped with the development of improved agronomic practices such as no till, low till, higher plant densities, increased yields, and efficient use of water and nutrients. The authors point out that in comparison to hand weeding, herbicide use is less expensive and more effective. "By substituting for cultivation, herbicide use leads to lower fuel use, less carbon emissions, less soil erosion, and less water use."

Of course there are controversies and challenges. The authors indicate that concerns exist regarding water, soil, and atmospheric resources, as well as the need for safety during application and food processing. Regulations, testing, worker training, and other safeguards are factors that mitigate unwanted effects.

More than 800 million people in the world are food insecure, and the amount of crop yield lost each year to pests could run upwards of 30%. But many experts are optimistic about developments involving safe, efficient production methods occurring around the globe. When pesticides are effectively applied and integrated into a comprehensive approach, the world is better able to provide food for the 9 billion humans on earth in 2050.

Task Force Authors:
Stephen C. Weller (Chair), Purdue University
Albert K. Culbreath, University of Georgia
Leonard Gianessi, CropLife Foundation
Larry D. Godfrey, University of California-Davis

CAST Issue Paper 55 and its companion Ag quickCAST are available online at the CAST website,, along with many of CAST's other scientific publications. All CAST Issue Papers, Commentaries, and Ag quickCASTs are FREE.

Contacts for this Issue Paper
Dr. Stephen C. Weller-Phone: 765-494-1333; E-mail:
Ms. Linda M. Chimenti-Phone: 515-292-2125, ext. 231; E-mail: 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Precision Agriculture—What’s in Your Cloud?

As one expert says, “We are in an era of using data to make decisions.” He suggests this will lead to a wave of connectivity, information sharing, and consultations with “decision-makers.” Precision ag is rolling in faster than you can say Big Data.

I’m all for tech that makes life more efficient, safer, and maybe even more fun. After all, who wants to plant corn like my grandpa did, with clunky two-row planters and flatulent horses. Data feedback then was learning that your planter box wasn’t dropping seed or your cantankerous mule had decided to lie down for a spell. Data feedback now concerns planting depth, GPS adjustments, and split screens that feature the football scores along with the latest grain markets.

Another ag expert says farmers need to learn how to play well with others, because this precision ag movement will connect them to a trusted network of advisers. I assume that means all the numbers a farmer gathers—cost, input, seeds planted, fertilizer used, soil quality, etc.—will be crunched by the group that is in the cloud, and they will give advice so farming can be more efficient and profitable. No doubt they will also try to sell upgrades, enhancements, and even more digital devices, but there is no free lunch--unless you head to our small town on the days the local gas station is providing a chili and pie lunch for customer appreciation day.

That one-stoplight town is where Grandpa’s cloud used to be. The technical advisers and research analysts were known then as the old boys who gathered at the hardware store, the grain elevator, or maybe at Henry’s tavern. The cloud was not only virtual—it had a concrete fog of cigarette smoke and a few empty coffee cans to collect tobacco juice. And the advice then might have been less technical. “Frank, your boots still have hog manure on ‘em. Reckon you could hose ‘em off next time ya come in or are you just tryin’ to improve the ambience in here?”

The members of Grandpa’s cloud were also a bit less cordial when they interfaced with fellow farmers about data they’d gathered while driving the country roads. “When ya gonna ship those horses of yours off to the glue factory, Berry?” or “Dan’s still got some harvesting to do before he can plant a new crop. Maybe he thinks corn is nature’s snow fence.”

Grandpa's analog type of cloud connectivity was slower than today’s satellite-driven info, but it could be crucial to a farmer’s success. An analyst in bib overalls might explain to a young farmer how to set the cultivator gangs so the shovels would tear out weeds and not corn. And it might take a growing season or two, but eventually the group would convert from “I sure as hell ain’t payin' $5 a bag for this new hybrid corn stuff” to “I hear the new corn stands taller and the yield is much higher—guess it’s time to switch over.”

These precision ag systems will have plenty of benefits, and few would want to farm using the old ways. But the analog cloud had several positives: it was cheaper—usually the cost of a cup of coffee and a donut or two; it was more social—a bit of good-natured sarcasm from a friend sippin’ coffee at Pooch’s gas station is preferable to a Siri-type voice suggesting that you adjust the chemical flow in your sprayer; and it was less intrusive—you didn’t have a screen mounted in front of you, a smartphone in hand, and a cab overhead. For better or worse, Grandpa could watch an eagle swooping low along the creek, and he could tell which way the wind was blowing by feeling it on his face.  

by dan gogerty (top graphic from, bottom one from blog.myspace.jpg)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Modern Day Lumberjack—an Artist with Belt and Spikes

The 70-foot pine tree in our backyard had to go—it should have been removed long ago as it’s been slicing into the beautiful maple tree next to it for years. But I hate taking out any tree, so I stalled and made excuses—maybe the two trees will learn how to play well together, I thought; maybe the pine will quit poking its sharp, browned-out needles into a maple that looks as if it could inspire a budding Walt Whitman to write a poem.

Actually, I was dragging my feet because of the expense, so I put it off until a neighbor recommended a local man named Pierce. “His estimates are half what others charge,” he said. “And he won’t tear up your yard; he does it by hand.”

My neighbor was right. It turns out Pierce is old school, and the only thing that distinguishes him from a pioneer lumberjack is that he uses a chainsaw rather than an ax. He hopped out of his pickup truck, eyeballed the tree, and decided it might do some damage to neighborhood property if he lopped it off at the base. “Should be an easy one to climb,” he said. “I’ll prune the branches and top it as I come back down.”

Pierce attached his climbing spikes, adjusted the tree belt, and started his ascent. Switching the small, powerful chainsaw from hand to hand, he buzzed through lower branches and steadily moved up. He made it look easy, but I know otherwise. During my college years, I did summer work for the local telephone company, and most of the lines had not yet been converted to underground cable. “Gogerty, you’re young; put on these spikes and shinny up that pole to see if squirrels have been eating into the line. It’s only a twenty-footer—you’ll just bounce a bit if you fall.”

I only fell once—about a 14-foot “burn” down a sliver-filled pole, and the boss was right—a few bruises but mainly just a jarring bounce at the bottom. A few years later, my wife told me that her great-grandfather died as a result of falling from the top of a utility pole. His broken back did him in before the horse and emergency sled could get him to the nearest hospital—30 miles away.

The phone company soon purchased a boom truck with a cherry picker, but I climbed enough poles to marvel at what Pierce was accomplishing. Climbing with a belt and spikes is an art, and Pierce is an artist. “I guess I’ve been at it for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “Started with a tree company up in Minnesota. Never been hurt, I’m happy to say.”

He notched and cut the pine so the sections would fall just right, and before long, he had the branches, trunk segments, and debris hauled away. The pine was gone, the maple seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and the modern-day lumberjack headed down the road.

“How old are you, Pierce?” I’d asked him before he left. “63,” he replied. No wonder he zipped up that tree—I’m 64 and glad to see that in this techno era, there are still some youngsters out there doing such highly skilled labor jobs. To paraphrase Monty Python, “He’s a lumberjack—and he really is OK.”  by dan gogerty