Sustainable Agriculture News Bulletin
Volume 2, Number 16
September 2, 1993
- USDA STUDIES SHOW LOW TILL IS BEST
- WHAT FLOODS LEAVE BEHIND RAISES CONCERNS
- ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES WETLANDS POLICY OUTLINE
- DUPONT MEMO IMPLIES KNOWLEDGE OF BENLATE PROBLEMS
- WASHINGTON STATE BANS USE OF MEVINPHOS
USDA STUDIES SHOW LOW TILL IS BEST
USDA studies have determined that tilling fields as little as possible is
the best defense against soil erosion. William Edwards, a soils scientist
with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, said at a meeting of the
American Chemical Society in Chicago that thirty years of research at a
site in Coshocton, OH determined that low-till farm fields have reduced
rates of erosion and allow herbicides to filter into the soil thereby
lessening the risk of groundwater contamination. "Eliminating
conventional plowing has changed the flow of soil from tons to pounds
per acre," he said. The study showed herbicide run off occurred
mainly on slopes and in heavy downpours. Edwards said that these
were the only conditions that would put groundwater supplies in
danger. At another research site in Watkinsville, GA, soil scientist
George Langdale said research showed that "even six inches of rain
failed to move more than nine pounds of soil per acre off the fields."
In a recent letter to the editor, Jim Porterfield of the American Farm
Bureau Federation defended the practice of no-till as being the safest
for the environment. He criticized a recent WALL STREET JOURNAL
article which concluded the no-till method is not necessarily the most
environmentally-sound as it still requires the extensive use of
herbicides. "I conclude that no-till is still a far better system for the
environment, the consumer and the farmer than conventional
moldboard plow tillage," Porterfield's letter says.
Source: Jennifer Loven, "Farm Scene," AP, August 26, 1993; Jim
Porterfield, "No-Till Farms Better, All the Way Around," WALL STREET
JOURNAL, August 20, 1993.
WHAT FLOODS LEAVE BEHIND RAISES CONCERNS
A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which concluded
that the flooding in the Midwest has increased the amount of
agricultural chemicals present in the upper Mississippi River basin,
has increased the talk about what the floods have left behind. The
widely-used herbicide atrazine is cause for particular concern, a press
release by the USGS states. The maximum acceptable level of atrazine
in drinking water is 3 parts per billion (ppb). Atrazine levels in most
of the USGS samples ranged from 1.5ppb to 3ppb. Other chemicals
that showed up high concentrations in drinking water were cyanazine,
alachlor and metolachlor. "Our immediate message that we have
learned from this flood is the need to consider water quality issues as
well as water quantity in future floods. Toward that end we are
planning to convene a meeting at the USGS National Center in Reston
(Virginia) to develop plans for monitoring the water quality aspects of
future floods in coordination with other agencies," said Philip Cohen of
Chris Offutt, an author whose editorial appeared recently in the NEW
YORK TIMES, reports that Iowa residents are being told not to use the
sand from the sand bags used to stem the floodwaters. Full of water,
the sand is now poisoned with industrial waste, pesticides and sewage.
Free tetanus shots are also being made available due to the high
number of illnesses contracted from the flood waters. Diseases like
meningitis and hepatitis have also occurred and Offutt reports that an
outbreak of hepatitis was narrowly contained by state officials.
In other flood news, Ciba-Geigy, the manufacturer of the
aforementioned chemical atrazine, is reportedly contributing $500,000
to the American Red Cross for flood victims. A company spokesperson
said that the money came out of the company's advertising budget.
"We decided this was a better way to use the money," he said.
Source: "Agricultural Chemicals Reported in Mississippi Floodwaters,"
USGS PRESS RELEASE, August 30, 1993; Chris Offutt, "Troubles Rise as
the Water Drops," NEW YORK TIMES, September 1, 1993; Jerry Perkins,
"Ciba Joins Flood Donors," DES MOINES REGISTER, August 21, 1993.
ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES WETLANDS POLICY OUTLINE
Last week, the Clinton administration released an outline for a new
federal wetlands policy which resulted from a study by an interagency
task force. Over the past 200 years, the U.S. has lost an estimated 130
million acres of wetlands, leaving only 100 million acres behind. The
plan, which continues a Bush administration promise of no net-loss of
wetlands, will establish a compromise to a long-running debate
between environmental and private property interests over saving the
nation's wetlands. The wetlands act as a filter for rain and farm
chemical runoff before they reach groundwater or streams and rivers.
"We're taking a program that has been highly controversial and
criticized from all sides and making it workable," said an official from
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The plan accomplishes several controversial things. First of all, it
places sole responsibility for making wetlands judgments on the
shoulders of the USDA's Soil and Conservation Service (SCS). Currently,
farmers are required to obtain approval for filling, planting or
draining wetlands from the SCS, the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers
and various other agencies. Secondly, it exempts the 53 million acres
of wetlands that were drained prior to 1985 from the rules. In other
words, farmers who drained their wetlands before 1985 will still be
eligible for benefits under federal farm programs which now prohibit
farmers who have drained their wetlands from receiving subsidies.
Third, it removes a clause included by former President George Bush
that would open up one million of the state of Alaska's wetlands
acreage to commercial development. Finally, it allows for "mitigation
banking," which means that property owners can develop areas of
wetlands if they restore other areas.
Reactions to the proposal were mixed. Secretary of Agriculture Mike
Espy praised the measure that will allow one agency to preside over
wetlands. "It tells the EPA and the Corps that we're the ones to do it,"
he said. Jan Goldman-Carter of the National Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) responded that "the Soil and Conservation Service has
historically had a mission primarily to protect farmers. The notion of
protecting wetlands is not central to the mission of the soil
conservation service." She also said NRDC expected "a greater
commitment to wetlands protection than we're getting here." Dean
Kleckner, who was identified as an Iowa farmer in USA TODAY, said,
"It (the plan) will help alleviate farmers' concerns." An official
statement from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which Kleckner
is president of, was not available at this writing. Bob Szabo, who
represents the National Wetlands Coalition, which is made up of
farming and land owner interests, said the plan "acknowledged some
of our problems. They moved in our direction."
Reaction from policy makers was also predictably mixed. Senator Max
Baucus (D-MT), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee and has introduced wetlands legislation, praised the Clinton
plan, saying it "addresses the legitimate concerns of both those who
work our lands and those who care about them. Senator Frank
Murkowski (R-AK), on the other hand, was reportedly angry over the
plan to exclude the Alaskan wetland acreage from development. "It
makes it very difficult for any development to occur in the state of
Alaska," he said.
The proposal contains some administrative directives that go into
effect immediately, such as the Alaskan wetlands clause. Other
policies will be dealt with by Congress through changes in the Clean
Source: "Key U.S. Senator Praises Clinton Wetlands Plan," REUTER,
August 24, 1993; Rita Beamish, "Wetlands, AP, August 24, 1993; "State
Agriculture Officials Back Wetlands Plan," REUTER, August 24, 1993;
Linda Kanamine, "Wetlands policy Appeases, Doesn't Please," USA
TODAY, August 26, 1993; Robert Greene, "Espy-Wetlands," ASP, August
21, 1993; Timothy Noah, "Clinton Will Withdraw Proposed Rule on
Development of Alaskan Wetlands," WALL STREET JOURNAL, August
24, 1993; Jonathan Tolman, "The Dry Facts About 'Wetlands,'" WALL
STREET JOURNAL, August 25, 1993; Juana S. Wilcher, "A Truce on
Wetlands," NEW YORK TIMES, AUGUST 30, 1993.
DUPONT MEMO IMPLIES KNOWLEDGE OF BENLATE PROBLEMS
An internal memo introduced into a Florida court this week indicates
that the DuPont chemical company knew that its Benlate DF product
could harm plants under certain conditions. The memo, written by
DuPont scientist Michael J. Duffy in September 1991, said that the
product could hurt plants under hot, moist conditions and that
accidents during the manufacturing process caused high levels of
harmful chemicals to form in the product. "These findings implicate
Benlate DF as a potential cause of some of the alleged complaints," the
memo said. The company is currently facing a lawsuit by a Florida
orchid grower who alleges the product killed 71,000 orchid plants.
The company in turn accused the grower of careless farming. A
DuPont spokesperson declined to comment on the memo due to a gag
order imposed by the judge in the case. The trial is expected to last
another three weeks.
In a letter to the editor, DuPont executive Stacey Mobley defended the
company and their actions in the last Benlate trial which resulted in an
out of court settlement amounting to $4.25 million for four Georgia
growers who originally sought over $400 million in damages. Mobley
says that an article earlier this summer in the WALL STREET JOURNAL
painted a misleading picture of the events leading up to the Benlate
lawsuits and the opinions offered in the article do not reflect the
company's current understanding of what happened. Mobley claims
that an internal memo that said Benlate supplies had been
contaminated by sulfonylureas was incorrect and that the employee
who had written it had meant to say atrazine was the source of the
contamination. "We have waited until now to respond to this article
because we wanted to have a trial under way before publicly
addressing accusations," Mobley concludes.
Source: "Memo Shows DuPont Scientists Knew Benlate Could Hurt
Crops," INVESTORS BUSINESS DAILY, August 31, 1993; "DuPont in
Court Again," DES MOINES REGISTER, August 21, 1993; Stacey J.
Mobley, "DuPont Answers Fungicide Charges," WALL STREET JOURNAL,
August 19, 1993.
WASHINGTON STATE BANS USE OF MEVINPHOS
This week, the state of Washington placed a ban on the use of the
insecticide mevinphos in fruit orchards after 18 farmworkers were
poisoned by the chemical. Most of the victims were involved in
mixing or spraying the chemical which is also known by its brand
name Phosdrin. Four of the workers required treatment at a local
hospital; all were wearing protective gear at the time of the poisoning.
"The toxicity of this pesticide is so high that if you get it on your skin
you cannot wash it off fast enough," said Vicky Skeers of the
Washington State Department of Agriculture. A spokesperson for
Amvac, the manufacturer of the chemical, said the company stands by
the safety of their product. "If it is used properly ... it can be used
safely," said Jack Prieur. The United Farm Workers (UFW) called the
suspension a victory. "It's one of the few times a pesticide has been
pulled because of harm it caused to farmworkers instead of
consumers. It's just the tip of the iceberg. Farm workers are being
poisoned every single day," said UFW spokesperson Kurt Petersen.
State officials said they will hold hearings on the future of the
pesticide next month. For its part, the EPA, in conjunction with the
Washington State Department of Agriculture, issued a warning about
the potential dangers of the pesticide shortly after the poisoning
Source: "Washington Suspends Use of Insecticide," REUTER, August 31,
1993; "EPA's Region 10 Issues Warning to Prevent More Poisoning
Incidents From Exposure to Pesticide Phosdrin," EPA PRESS RELEASE,
August 20, 1993.
The Gidlea Resource Center has published a new manual on
organic farming. INCREASING ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AT THE
LOCAL LEVEL: A MANUAL FOR CONSUMERS, GROCERS,
FARMERS AND POLICY MAKERS by Maren Hansen addresses issues
pertinent to every sector of society involved in food production and
sales. A well-documented chapter on pesticides provides a compelling
argument for organic agriculture and one on consumer education
outlines how community activists can get the message out. Other
chapters discuss organic production, outlets and promotions in stores,
steps to increase consumer knowledge and demand, and public policy
that will create a more even playing field for organic farmers. The
book is available for $16.00 (add state sales tax in California) plus
$2.00 shipping and handling from Gidlea Resource Center, 930
Miramonte Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, Tel: (805) 963-0583.
THE NEW FARM is a magazine published bi-monthly by the
Rodale Institute. The September/October 1993 issue reports on the
federal debate taking shape on organic standards, the benefits of rye
as a cover crop and how Swedish farmers report an increase in hog
profits when they provide their livestock with a natural environment
within which to grow. Subscriptions begin at $15.00 a year. For more
information, contact The New Farm, P.O. Box 7306, Red Oak, IA 51591,
Tel: (800) 365-FARM.
BRINGING RIO HOME: USING AGENDA 21 TO PROMOTE
SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, August 31-September 3, 1993 in
Ruhr, Germany. FFI, contact: European Ecumenical Organization for
Development (EECOD), 174 rue Joseph II, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium.
THE EXPERIENCE OF INTEGRATED RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
(IRM) FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, September 5-13, 1993.
FFI, contact: Prof. Cheng Xu, Beijing Agricultural University, Beijing,
P.R. China, (861) 258-2244, fax: (861) 258-2332 or Prof. Shu Geng,
Department of Agronomy and Range Science, University of California,
Davis, CA 95616, (916) 752-6939, fax: (916) 752-4361.
AGRICULTURE IN OUR ENVIRONMENT, University of Illinois
Agronomy Day, September 2, 1993. FFI, contact: Agronomy-Plant
Pathology South Farm, University of Illinois - Champaign-Urbana,
ECOLOGICAL SAFETY OF REGIONS IN THE CONDITIONS OF
MARKET ECONOMY, September 6-10, 1993, Moscow, Russia. FFI,
contact: Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources
of Russian Federation, 107078 P.O. 438, Moscow, Russia, tel: 207-
4783, fax: 207-5628.
TRADE IN ORGANIC FOODS: 3RD INTERNATIONAL IFOAM
CONFERENCE, September 7-9, 1993, Baltimore, MD. FFI, contact: New
Hope Communications, IFOAM Conference, Expo Registration
Department, 1301 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO 80302, tel: (303) 939-
8440, fax: (303) 939-9559.
SIXTH NATIONAL URBAN FORESTRY CONFERENCE, September
14-18, 1993, Minneapolis, MN. FFI, contact: National Urban Forestry
Commission, P.O. Box 2000, Washington D.C. 200013.
PLANTING SEEDS OF HOPE IN OUR RURAL COMMUNITIES,
September 15-16, 1993, Jefferson City, MO. FFI, contact: National
Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, IA
50310, (515) 270-2634.
MINNESOTA FOOD ASSOCIATION 10TH ANNIVERSARY
CELEBRATION, September 17-18, 1993, St. Paul, MN. FFI, contact:
Minnesota Food Association, 2395 University Avenue, Room 309, St.
Paul, MN 55114, Tel: (612) 644-2038.
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON DIFFUSE POLLUTION:
SOURCES, PREVENTION, IMPACT AND ABATEMENT, September
20-24, 1993, Chicago, IL. FFI, contact: Dr. Vladimir Novotny,
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Marquette
University, 1515 West Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233.
INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON NITROGEN UTILIZATION
AND LOSSES IN ECOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE, September 27-
October 1, 1993, Copenhagen, Denmark. FFI, contact: Royal Veterinary
and Agricultural University, Department of Agricultural Sciences and
Ecological Agriculture, Thorvaldsensvej 40, DK-1871 Copenhagen,
Denmark, (45) 3528 3456, fax: (45) 35283468.
SYMPOSIUM ON AGRICULTURAL NONPOINT SOURCES OF
CONTAMINANTS: A FOCUS ON HERBICIDES, September 28-29,
1993, Lawrence, KS. FFI, contact: Larry Fergusun, (913) 551-7447.
Produced by: Michelle Thom, Institute for Agriculture and Trade
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