The Future of Agriculture
Welcome to the Future of Agriculture and learn how biotechnology and agriculture are helping to shape the way for a sustainable future.
By Dean Cray, opinion guest column. • June 26, 2019 11:03 am
For centuries, physicians have been controlling human diseases using all the tools available to them: proper nutrition of patients, sanitation, early disease diagnosis and intervention through medicines, including those derived from natural sources, chemicals and with more recent innovations, such as gene editing.
Likewise, farmers also control plant and animal diseases using the same approaches — proper plant and animal nutrition, sanitation, early disease diagnosis and intervention through natural, chemical and genetic sources.
The terms vary, but the products used to control diseases are analogous. If the affected organism is a human, the common term is medicine. If it’s an animal, the term is veterinary medicine. If it’s a plant, the term is pesticide. The word pesticide doesn’t sound as soothing or healing, but pesticides are indeed plant medicines. And there are several kinds of pesticides.
Many of the stressors plaguing these different fields of work are the same — bacteria, insects, fungi, viruses, etc. And they all have an equivalent objective: effective human, plant and animal health management.
To achieve that, each relies on a known set of approaches: identify the problem, quarantine the impacted areas so that the disease doesn’t spread, and implement evidenced-based strategies to ensure a healthy result. In farming and land management, that includes techniques such as crop rotation, use of more tolerant varieties of plants, targeted soil nutrition and manipulation of harvest dates to avoid blight or insect infestations.
It’s only when other approaches don’t provide adequate control that other scientifically-proven interventions are brought into the picture such as chemical and gene editing treatments.
Indeed, these are the principles that form the basis of integrated pest management, where several approaches are incorporated into a holistic, comprehensive and sustainable treatment plan that is environmentally sound and cost effective.
Simply stated, integrated pest management is the most effective tool we have available to protect our health and that of crops and the environment. For the eight years that I served as a state representative on the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, integrated pest management was by statute and I believe still is the policy of the state of Maine. But several towns and cities are attempting to take away a key element of integrated pest management by passing or voting on municipal ordinances that preclude the use of synthetic pesticide applications not just on town owned property, but also on privately owned residential lawns and lawns and gardens.
This is a misguided solution in search of a problem and an infringement on our private property rights. When used following the directions, these applications aren’t harmful. To quote the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, integrated pest management “is a comprehensive, decision-making process for solving pest problems in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings,” and by using it, “informed decisions can be implemented to achieve optimum results in ways that minimize economic, health, and environmental risks.” And the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Pesticide Data Program annual survey corroborates that integrated pest management is working.
We can all relate to wanting our families to live in a non-toxic environment, but banning the use of synthetic pesticides will simply mean residents will lose the ability to choose how to protect their properties.
Often a treatment plan involves several strategies. The same goes for a healthy garden and backyard. Just as physicians cannot always effectively protect us from human maladies without chemical interventions, neither can farmers, foresters, landscapers nor passionate gardeners when disease or insect outbreaks strike. Think browntail moths, West Nile virus, avian flu, poison ivy or encephalitis.
These problems impact not just vegetation, but humans as well. That’s why integrated pest management is the most effective tool we have to protect our health, crops and environment. Towns and cities should not be precluding its use.
Dean Cray is a Somerset County commissioner and former state representative who served on the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Curious about what gene editing is? Watch this video to learn how CRISPR is helping farmers grow better crops to feed our growing population.
April 23, 2019
Our family has been farming in upstate New York for generations. We take great pride in helping to feed our community, taking care of the land that we farm and protecting the natural resources that have sustained us over the years. While much of what we do daily on the farm has roots in the work of generations past, there have been huge strides in innovation and the way we work has evolved. Thanks to new technology and precision practices, we can do more with less, yet we still need a variety of tools to ensure that we can keep pests and disease managed. Farming is precise and complex, and the decisions I make each and every day reflect the importance of my family’s health and the continued viability of my farmland. This is why it’s discouraging that New York lawmakers are considering a ban on an invaluable product that is used to help protect our crops and livelihood.
Currently, lawmakers in Albany are considering proposals that would ban an important tool and pesticide that protects some of our state’s most significant and popular fruits and vegetables. The proposed ban on chlorpyrifos would have far-ranging and potentially devastating effects to crops on my farm and those across the state.
Chlorpyrifos is an integral tool in the control of the cabbage and onion maggots, two destructive pests that severely damage cabbage, brussels sprouts, radishes, onions, garlic and shallots. Farmers must protect their crops from several types of these maggots each year. Chlorpyrifos provides excellent control when properly timed before periods when the flies lay their eggs. Since the application of chlorpyrifos is precisely applied and only at specific times when the crop is susceptible, human and environmental exposure is limited. As part of our ongoing integrated pest management system, chlorpyrifos is used in rotation with other products to avoid building resistance in the pest population.
In an unpredictable and challenging farm economy, farmers are facing a myriad of issues, from climate and weather shifts, labor, unpredictable commodity costs and trade, we operate on razor thin margins and rely on regulated and science-backed tools to manage some of these challenges. We encourage policies that rely on the science and expertise of state and federal agencies, and that state decision makers continue to support New York farmers to stay competitive and viable in such challenging times.
The problem with banning any control is that we don’t know what future implications and applications could be needed, much less undermining the regulatory framework. We need to look no further than our neighboring state of Pennsylvania — where in the last few years, an infestation of the Spotted Lanternfly has devastated vineyards and orchards. Growers and researchers in Pennsylvania are racing to find a solution and have invested in research of products to manage this rapidly expanding invasive species. Initial research has indicated chlorpyrifos could potentially be a tool used to manage the eggs and larva of this insect, helping decrease the spread of this devastating insect. We will be fighting Spotted Lanternfly in New York and we may need chlorpyrifos to effectively fight this pest.
Already, New York is unique in that it goes an extra step beyond the recommendations of the federal government with additional state agency review, monitoring and regulating pesticides. This dual layer of regulation should give consumers and state lawmakers additional reassurance that the application and use of pesticides like chlorpyrifos is safe and responsibly done. Because of the work done by the state Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation, growers in New York are among the most responsible when it comes to pesticide use and application. Banning chlorpyrifos through this proposed legislation would undermine the professional, scientifically grounded process that currently serves our state.
As a farmer, I hope to see Albany work to provide funding and pass laws that help our local farmers, not remove tried and tested tools important to protecting our crops, land and viability. Just as my family farm has been passed down through generations, we need to do all we can to preserve the rights of farmers to use all the tools available to them to continue serving their community and being stewards of the lands for future generations.
Brian Reeves is a farmer in Baldwinsville and President of the NYS Vegetable Growers Association.