Posts Tagged ‘organic farming’

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Feed Your Family Organic

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

1.    More Nutritious
 
In an organic farm plan, the soil is managed by sustainable practices that nourish the soil, which in turn, results in more nutrient-dense crops. Multiple studies show the nutritional content in organically-grown fruits, vegetables, and grains is higher versus their conventionally-grown counterparts. And when it comes to dairy, did you know organic milk can contain about 2x the levels of heart-healthy Omega-3 fats compared to conventional milk?

2.    Supports the Farmer and the Farm
 
According to The Organic Center, about 25,800 square miles of degraded soils would be converted to rich, highly productive crop land if consumers were choosing at least one organic product out of every 10 food items purchased.  Every year, American tax dollars subsidize billions of dollars for a farm bill that heavily favors conventional agribusiness. By supporting organic farmers and their farms, you are making an investment in the farmers who care about our ecosystem and the sustainability of the soil for future generations.

3.    USDA Certification
 
Consider it a “Peace of Mind” seal of approval. Wherever you find the “USDA Organic” seal, you know that food was grown and raised by farmers who never use synthetic pesticides, GMOs, growth hormones or antibiotics.  The USDA Organic seal also guarantees no artificial colors or flavors, no artificial preservatives, no irradiated ingredients and no GMOs.  Further, to obtain the seal, organic farms have to be free from prohibited substances for at least 3 years and must pass yearly inspections.

4.    No GMOs
 
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are prohibited in organic production.  Besides concerns over forever contaminating our food supply’s gene pool and the now documented negative long-term effects on human and environmental health, GMOs have dramatically increased herbicide use.  Most GM crops are engineered to be “herbicide tolerant,” which means they’re designed to survive applications of Roundup herbicide. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides and consuming residual traces of herbicide are linked with infertility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
 
5.    No Antibiotics or Hormones
 
Antibiotics, drugs and growth hormones are directly passed into meat and dairy products. According to Prevention Magazine, roughly 70% of antibiotics produced in the U.S. are fed to animals for nontherapeutic reasons, while sex and growth hormones are injected into cattle to artificially increase the amount of meat and milk the cattle produce without requiring extra feed. These practices are strictly prohibited in organic farming, thus eliminating the negative  potential health consequences.

6.    Reduces Pollution and Saves Energy
 
Did you know that 2.9 billion barrels of imported oil would be eliminated each year if 1 in 10 purchased food products were organic? What’s more, organic farms have 30% less greenhouse gas emissions than their conventional couterparts! That’s some serious energy saved. There are also residual effects of synthetic agricultural chemicals contaminating our land and infiltrating our water supplies remain unanswered.  Sadly, an estimated 1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests, while the remaining 99% is absorbed by the surrounding environment, according to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel.  Conversely, organic farming practices require the responsible management of the soil while encouraging biodiversity.

7.    No Biosolids
 
Sewage sludge, also referred to as biosolids, are not permitted in certified organic foods. Biosolids contain heavy metals, toxins, steroids, and questionable substances that can pose a threat to your health. Possible health risks from substances in biosolids include kidney damage, adverse effects to the immune system, hormone disruption, and even cancer. (Source: Mamavation)

8.    Tastes Better
 
If you think organic tastes better, there’s actually scientific data to back up your taste buds. According to Richard C. Theuer, Ph.D, the more intense flavors in organic fruits and vegetables probably stem form two factors: somewhat higher levels of antioxidants, and somewhat lower crop yields.  Yield levels, and the availability of nitrogen to crops, can affect both nutritional and taste quality.  Organic food is harvested when it’s ripe, rather than gassed with ethylene to quickly ripen it, allowing for natural flavor development.

9.    No Persistent Pesticides
 
Organic farmers don’t uses persistent pesticides such as glyphosate and organophosphate pesticides. The negative effects of residual glyphosate traces found in GM foods has been linked to cancer, autism, allergies and a host of other health-related problems.  In lieu of these synthetic chemicals, organic farmers use natural methods to keep pests off of their crops. Some methods organic farmers employ are sophisticated crop rotation to disrupt the pest’s environment, introducing soil organisms and insects that benefit the crops, and traps or barriers.  
10. Preserves the Environment and Ecosystems
 
Organic farming is about farming in harmony with nature.  Organic farming encourages the coexistence of beneficial insects, wildlife, frogs, birds and soil organisms within its farm plans.   The cultivation of healthy soil and crop rotation keep farmland healthy, while chemical abstinence preserves the ecosystem.
 
 
 

Citrus growers use predator wasp to fight disease threat

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

California citrus farmers import a parasitic wasp from Pakistan to battle citrus greening, a disease threatening their groves.

1451159_0619-predator_wasp_05_DPB

By Ricardo Lopez (View original article here.)

Pesticides haven’t worked. Quarantines have been useless. Now California citrus farmers have hired an assassin to knock off the intruder threatening their orchards.

The killer-for-hire is Tamarixia radiata, a tiny parasitic wasp imported from Pakistan.

Its mission: Rub out the Asian citrus psyllid, which has helped spread a disease that turns citrus fruit lumpy and bitter before destroying the trees.

The pest is wreaking havoc in Florida’s 32 citrus-growing counties. In California, it’s been detected in nine counties, most of them south of the commercial growing areas in the Central Valley. Farmers are hoping the Tamarixia wasp can help keep it that way.

The wasp, which flew coach in a carry-on bag from Pakistan’s Punjab region, is a parasite half the size of a chocolate sprinkle. But it kills psyllids like a horror movie monster, drinking their blood like a vampire. The female wasp can lay an egg in the psyllid’s belly. When it hatches, it devours its host.

The wasp “is going to be our number one weapon to control to Asian citrus pysllid,” said Mark Hoddle, an invasive species expert at UC Riverside, who, over several trips, brought legions of wasps to California.

“We have no other choice except to use this natural enemy or do nothing. And the ‘do nothing’ option is unacceptable.”

A tiny parasitic wasp imported from Pakistan is used to attack nymphs of Asian citrus psyllids.

So far, Hoddle and his teams have released more than 75,000 wasps across the Southland to beat back the disease, known as huanglongbing or citrus greening. The malady was first detected in California last November in a backyard citrus tree in Hacienda Heights.

The disease can lie dormant for a few years before tests are able to detect it, so experts suspect other trees are already infected.

“We’re looking for a needle in the haystack before it sticks us,” said Joel Nelsen, president of the California Citrus Mutual, a trade group.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has enacted quarantines in nine states, including Florida, Texas and California. The quarantines prohibit interstate movement of citrus trees and require labeling of citrus nursery stocks from areas where greening has been detected.

In California, the quarantine covers nine counties. The northern border of the quarantine region had stretched across Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, but on Wednesday, agriculture officials expanded it to 178 square miles in Tulare County where the psyllid was detected.

That recent discovery raises the fear that the pest is creeping into prime citrus growing areas. It could threaten California’s $2-billion industry, which accounts for about 80% of the U.S. fresh market citrus production. Florida’s citrus is primarily processed for juice.

Since 2010, California growers have spent about $15 million yearly to fight the psyllid. Much of that money goes toward massive detection and awareness efforts. That’s on top of millions the federal government and state Department of Food and Agriculture have kicked in.

The psyllids don’t kill citrus trees. They’re merely the agent that spreads huanglongbing. An infected psyllid acts much like a dirty syringe flying from tree to tree, feeding and depositing a bacterium each time it unfurls its stinger.

Source: State Dept. of Food and Agriculture, ESRI

Whether the killer wasp can bring the psyllid to heel remains to be seen.

Florida growers imported a strain of the wasp from Vietnam, but it proved ineffective. The predator never took hold, partly because there was not enough genetic diversity needed to establish a population, researchers said. Some Florida growers now are looking to develop genetically modified citrus that would be immune to greening — a controversial strategy that could turn off consumers.

In California, farmers are betting on the wasp — and on Hoddle and his wife, Christina. The UC Riverside entomology experts have spent their careers helping control invasive species around the world.

Since late 2011, they have been releasing the wasp, mainly in Los Angeles County. Agriculture officials halted pesticide spraying in the county this year, partly because it proved too cumbersome. Six out of 10 citrus trees in the county grow in backyards, making large-scale containment efforts difficult.

“This is ground zero for our war,” Hoddle said.

The goal is to reduce the psyllid population and provide a line of defense between urban areas in Southern California and the commercial growing zones.

The Hoddles and teams they’ve trained have been going neighborhood to neighborhood releasing thousands of wasps and tracking the parasites’ success.

The Hoddles conducted extensive testing to make sure the wasp wouldn’t disrupt California’s ecosystem, considering that past efforts at introducing non-native species have gone awry.

Tiny predatory wasps just before release on a citrus tree in Pico Rivera.

To satisfy the federal government’s concerns, the Hoddles quarantined the wasp for 18 months and performed several experiments to see whether it would attack native species. Time after time, the wasp attacked only the Asian citrus psyllid. After the researchers submitted a 60-page report to the Department of Agriculture, the release program was green lighted. The wasp poses no danger to humans or pets, Hoddle said.

On a recent weekday, the Hoddles drove to Pico Rivera. It was their third trip to the area, where most of the homes have unfenced front yards, providing easy access.

The back of their Toyota SUV contained their tools: a cooler with vials of wasps, a clipboard with log sheets and equipment to inspect citrus trees.

At each tree on their route, the procedure was the same: For one full minute, they circled the tree, counting the psyllids and looking for evidence that the wasp was preying on them. The psyllid, about the size of an aphid, is easy to spot.

The first few trees were unremarkable, and the Hoddles wondered whether the wasps had survived the winter.

Still, “It’s good. We’re finding clean citrus,” Hoddle said before walking another yard.

It’s still too early to say the wasp releases are working, Christina Hoddle said. To confidently conclude that the wasp is slashing the psyllid’s numbers, at least three years of data are needed.

While the team is only about 18 months into the effort, some areas have shown promise. At some release sites, the psyllid population has been drastically cut.

At one of the last homes they visited, the Hoddles saw just how densely the psyllids can congregate. After getting permission to enter a fenced yard, they were dismayed to see one small, shrubby tree crawling with psyllids.

The pest had blanketed some of the branches in a sugary wax, an excrement of young psyllids.

The tree would need more aggressive treatment. Instead of one vial of wasps, Mark Hoddle reached for two.

Entomologist Christina Hoddle releases a vial of predatory wasps in a citrus tree.

He carefully opened the first one, placing a small tree branch directly inside the vial’s opening.

The wasps wasted no time. “They’re all over these guys!” he said. “They’re going to town.”

After a few minutes, he tied the vial to the tree with a wire. The last wasps would wander out on their own later.

As their work wrapped up for the day, the Hoddles headed back to their car.

They would be visiting another neighborhood the next day. The battle would be a long slog, with no certain outcome.

“California has been preparing for this day,” Mark Hoddle said. “It’ll be hard to fault the citrus industry. I think they’ve done everything possible.”

Uncle Matt’s note: Since 2008 our farm program has included utilizing wasps to combat and control the psyllid population. View the video below and learn from Benny McLean, Production Manager, how this practice helps groves stay healthy.

A Day in the Life of an Organic Citrus Grower

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Groves, Growing, and What I Hope to Leave My Grandchildren

By Benny McLean

What’s it like to be an organic citrus grower? We sat down with Benny McLean, production manager at Uncle Matt’s Organic and Uncle Matt’s father, to find out. Benny has been a part of the citrus industry for almost 50 years, and has been an organic citrus grower for nearly a decade and a half.  Here’s what this farmer had to say about life in the groves…

photo credit: McLean Photography

A GROWER’S MORNING ROUTINE

I live in a citrus grove and I have grapefruit trees planted there. When I leave my house in the morning, I always drive through my favorite grapefruit grove.  I’ll look at the trees and ask myself questions like, “Do I have a good bloom?” “Do I have leaf drop?” “Do I see any bugs in there that could cause a problem?” It’s a daily habit for me, like getting up in the morning and eating breakfast. And the answers are out there: in the grove. All I have to do is ride the grove and the grove will tell me if there’s a problem. My dad used to say that the rising sun has the highest amount of beneficial rays for anything that grows in the soil, so if you’re going to find a problem, you’ll find it then.

FERTILIZING, FUNGUS, AND FLYERS

As an organic grower, I don’t use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers in our farm program, so observation becomes that much more important. For example, if a grove is in need of fertilizer, it will tell you by the color of the leaf.  I look for discoloration in the old flush [leaves] and discoloration in the new flush. When a tree is off-color, it might be because the trees are running low on potassium or nitrogen. Under that scenario, I’ll pull leaf samples to be analyzed and compare the lab results with what I observe. Weather patterns and leaf analysis will determine when to apply our organic fertilizer program.

In springtime, my day will also include assessing the fungus situation in the grove and its effect on the trees and fruit. At this time of year, we’re mainly concerned with Scab, Alternaria, and Melanose.  While harmless, these three conditions can prove unsightly and can knock our fruit out of grade at the packing house.  In order to boost revenue from a grove, you need a high pack-out per acre. If we find these conditions in our groves, we’ll apply organic fungicides, like beneficial bacteria, to help remedy the situation.

Pests don’t really become a problem for us until May or June.  We do have a little pest called a “rust mite.” It’s very small, but it will put a scar on the peel that will cause the graders down at the packing house to reject it. It has nothing to do with the flavor or nutritional quality of the fruit, but the rust mite scars the fruit’s appearance.

WEEDS GOING WILD

During the summer months, rain patterns in Florida really help things grow –– including weeds.  We get a lot of questions from other growers about how we control weeds since we don’t use synthetic herbicides. Honestly, we don’t obsess over weeds.  Granted, we don’t want them growing too close to the irrigation microjet emitters, so in all our groves, we’ll use weed-eaters and in-and-out mowers for weed control, as well as good, old-fashioned hand labor.  Growing up, harvesting labor crews would have come in with hoes, and saws, and clippers and they’d cut the vines and hoe up the bad weeds and all of that. They’d work through the hot, Florida summer. Yet, some of today’s farmers don’t even know what a hoe is. Their only reaction is to spray weeds with herbicides.

My father always told me you have to look at it two ways. He said if you got an orange tree growing in your yard and you have beautiful St. Augustine grass growing under the orange tree, you could say, “Oh my, that orange tree is getting all the fertilizer and water from my beautiful grass, so I’ve got to do something about that orange tree.” The next guy comes by and says, “Oh my, that grass is taking all the fertilizer and water away from the orange tree. I’ve got to do something about that grass.” My dad would say, “You know what? They’re compatible. They exist with each other. They get along.” The exception would be what we call a “reset,” such as a small one-year old tree. It’s then that the weeds are a major problem. But a mature tree actually produces shade that doesn’t allow for weeds to grow well under its canopy anyway.

FRUIT PICKIN’ TIME

In late fall, when harvest is right around the corner, I begin to look for signs of fruit maturity. There are state-mandated maturity guidelines for harvesting based on minimum levels of brix [fruit sugar], juice, and ratio. Until the fruit meets all three of these criteria, we can’t pick it. Every variety has its own standards. After meeting the maturity levels, we’ll look at size because there are minimum size requirements as well. So, you’ll find us out in the groves with our calipers measuring fruit size as harvest time (November through May for various varieties), gets closer.

What’s funny is that it’s the buyer who decides what the right size is. The fruit falls into five different categories, with one being too small and the other, too large. So, it’s the middle three sizes that a buyer typically wants. The homemaker doesn’t have a choice when going to the supermarket. When I give grove tours, many women will see some of my biggest grapefruit and ask why they can’t buy that in the store. Well, now you know!

BEING A DIE-HARD ORGANIC FARMER

At the end of the day, I love growing organically. I have eleven beautiful grandkids and I know I am creating something worthwhile for their longtime health if they are going to eat citrus.  I believe I am educating them on how to read the label, so to speak. They can make intelligent food choices based on the knowledge of how a food was grown, how it was processed and how it was stored. I know what it is to be a conventional farmer, and I know the difference eating organic can make in your health. As long as I have a choice, I’ll never go back with all that I’ve learned and observed over the past 14 years of being an organic farmer. I believe that organic is the better choice.

A Quick Q&A with “Papaw” McLean

UM: What’s your favorite citrus variety?

Papaw: Ruby Red Grapefruit

UM: What’s your favorite tractor?

Papaw: A big green one with citrus implements

UM: How do you like your grapefruit eaten?

Papaw: “Sectionized.”

UM: Favorite breakfast?

Papaw: Fresh organic grapefruit from my grove, 4 ounces of cottage cheese, and a handful of raw organic almonds

UM: What legacy do you want to leave your grandkids?

Papaw: I want them to understand that it’s the three L’s. #1: You got to love life. #2 You’ve got to love the land. #3 You’ve got to love the Lord. And if you can understand those three principles, you’ll carry this legacy onto the next generation.

UM: In your opinion, what’s the best reason for someone to try organic for the first time?

Papaw: I know that organic is a healthier source of citrus juice –– orange, tangerine, grapefruit. I know that it has a higher antioxidant level than any of the other juices. If you’re going to drink orange juice because it’s healthy, then choose the healthiest one.