November 23rd, 2020
Keith Kimball Guest essayist
If I were to highlight the most important theme to come out of 2020 so far, it would be the importance of science. But this is where things get a bit divided. As diligent as New York and our leaders have been in navigating the pandemic and utilizing facts and science to do so, as a farmer, I often see politics, rather than science driving the conversation and policy around the tools I use to manage my crops.
Earlier this year, legislation was passed in Albany that, if signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, could have a devastating impact on the ability for farmers to grow food across the state. This legislation bans the use of glyphosate on state owned lands.
Why would that impact farmers? Well, because many of us lease state land to supplement our existing farms. There are more than 5,000 acres of state-leased agricultural lands in New York.
BARDA, Department of Defense, and SAb Biotherapeutics to Partner to Develop a Novel COVID-19 Therapeutic
Published by Medical Counter Measures
A therapeutic to treat novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is moving forward in development through a partnership between BARDA, the Department of Defense Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense (JPEO – CBRND), and SAb Biotherapeutics, Inc. (SAb), of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Using an interagency agreement with JPEO’s Medical CBRN Defense Consortium, BARDA transferred approximately $7.2 million in funding to (JPEO – CBRND) to support SAb to complete manufacturing and preclinical studies, with an option to conduct a Phase 1 clinical trial.
Bovine plasma donors genetically engineered to produce human antibodies are in the front lines of the struggle against coronavirus.
SAB Biotherapeutics, a Sioux Falls, S.D., biotechnology company that has been successfully testing use of antibodies from cows to fight diseases such as another coronavirus, Middle East respiratory syndrome, now is engaged in developing a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Chestnuts harvested from high branches on a chilly fall morning look typical: they’re marble sized, russet colored and nestled in prickly burs. But many are like no other nuts in nature.
In a feat of genetic engineering, about half the chestnuts collected at this college experiment station feature a gene that provides resistance to blight that virtually wiped out the American chestnut tree generations ago.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo must ignore overstated claims about the safety of a critical tool for New York farmers and veto a bill that would prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos in the coming weeks.
In a recent letter, “Cuomo, sign ban on dangerous pesticide,” Aug. 8, the author states that chlorpyrifos is “extremely toxic to human health and wildlife” and therefore should be banned.
There are many everyday tools and products that all of us use — a car, gasoline, prescription drugs — that if misused could prove deadly. Those risks are minimized when used properly or when used, in some cases, by trained professionals as is the case with chlorpyrifos.
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.
April 22, 2019
What U.S. dairy farmers of today are doing to preserve our environment
I’ve had the honor of working with dairy farmers for years, and a lot of what you think about them is true. They’re modest. They’re connected to the earth. And they work incredibly hard. Every day, they’re up before dawn, working 12 and 14-hour days, whether it’s 90 degrees out or 50 degrees below zero.
They choose this hard work because they believe in the importance of providing nutritious, great-tasting food, like the milk in your child’s glass or the slice of cheese on her favorite sandwich.
What you might not know is that dairy farmers are working just as hard to ensure our children inherit a healthy planet. They know it’s the right thing to do. And when 95% of dairy farms are family-owned, they do it to ensure the land is there for their children.
But the issues facing our planet require more than just individual action, which is why the U.S. dairy community has made sustainability an industry-wide priority. Years’ worth of investments, research — and, yes, hard work — have allowed us to address critical environmental issues, like climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
Dairy farmer and environmental scientist Tara Vander Dussen with her family on their farm, Rajen Dairy. (Photo: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy)
Ten years ago, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — created by dairy farmers to identify best practices and unite around common goals — established a voluntary yet aggressive goal for the industry. The U.S. dairy community would reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity 25% by 2020.
Today, we are on track to meet that goal.
In making the investments necessary to meet the goal set, U.S. dairy farmers have become global leaders in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report earlier this year from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Climate Change and the Global Dairy Cattle Sector, North American dairy farmers are the only ones who have reduced both total GHG emissions and intensity over the last decade.
Dairy farmer and nutritionist Rosemarie Burgos-Zimbelman, who has dedicated her life to dairy nutrition. (Photo: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy)
It’s not just greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. dairy farmers work more closely with animals than just about anyone, and they know that while they are taking care of the cows, the cows are taking care of them. That’s why they created the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program, the first internationally-certified animal welfare program in the world.
The U.S. dairy community’s commitment to sustainability isn’t new. It has been going on for generations. Indeed, producing milk now uses fewer natural resources than it ever has before. Over the course of the lifetime of today’s average dairy farmer, producing a gallon of milk now requires 65% less water, 90% less land and 63% less carbon emissions.
While progress has been made, there is still a lot to be done. That’s why the U.S. dairy community and dairy farmers are committed to identifying new solutions, technologies and partnerships that will continue to advance our commitment to sustainability.
So why do America’s dairy farmers work so hard to farm more sustainably? Why spend countless hours looking for innovative ways to be more efficient when they’ve already put in a 14-hour day?
It’s not because anyone told them to, or because regulation forced them to. It’s because so many of them are farming land their families have been farming for generations. They know they’re just the latest people entrusted as stewards of the earth. Farmers came before them, and farmers will come after them. Sure, they have more information than any of their predecessors did, and they are now tackling challenges, from climate change to global trade, that their forefathers could scarcely dream of. But the responsibility of today’s dairy farmer — leaving the planet better than they found it — is no different.
This Earth Day, and every day, America’s dairy farmers are living up to that responsibility. May they never tire.
Vilsack is the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the current president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
There’s a big molecule, a protein, inside the leaves of most plants. It’s called Rubisco, which is short for an actual chemical name that’s very long and hard to remember.
Amanda Cavanagh, a biologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, calls herself a big fan of Rubisco. “It’s probably the most abundant protein in the world,” she says. It’s also super-important.
Scientist Amanda Cavanagh snap freezes plant samples with liquid nitrogen to study how the metabolism differs between unmodified plants and plants engineered with alternate pathways for photorespiration.Claire Benjamin/RIPE Project
Rubisco has one job. It picks up carbon dioxide from the air, and it uses the carbon to make sugar molecules. It gets the energy to do this from the sun. This is photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to make food, a foundation of life on Earth. Yay for Rubisco!
“But it has what we like to call one fatal flaw,” Cavanagh continues. Unfortunately, Rubisco isn’t picky enough about what it grabs from the air. It also picks up oxygen. “When it does that, it makes a toxic compound, so the plant has to detoxify it.”
Plants have a whole complicated chemical assembly line to carry out this detoxification, and the process uses up a lot of energy. This means the plant has less energy for making leaves, or food for us. (There is a family of plants, including corn and sugar cane, that developed another type of workaround for Rubisco, and those plants are much more productive.)
Cavanagh and her colleagues in a research program called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), which is based at the University of Illinois, have spent the last five years trying to fix Rubisco’s problem. “We’re sort of hacking photosynthesis,” she says.
They experimented with tobacco plants, just because tobacco is easy to work with. They inserted some new genes into these plants, which shut down the existing detoxification assembly line and set up a new one that’s way more efficient. And they created super tobacco plants. “They grew faster, and they grew up to 40 percent bigger” than normal tobacco plants, Cavanagh says. These measurements were done both in greenhouses and open-air field plots.
The scientists now are trying to do the same thing with plants that people actually rely on for food, like tomatoes and soybeans. They also working with cowpeas, or black-eyed peas, “because it’s a staple food crop for a lot of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, which is where our funders are interested in making the biggest impact,” Cavanagh says.
The funders of this project include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Disclosure: The Gates Foundation also funds NPR.) The USDA has applied for a patent on plants that are engineered in this way.
“This is a very important finding,” she says. “It’s really the first major breakthrough showing that one can indeed engineer photosynthesis and achieve a major increase in crop productivity.”
It will be many years, though, before any farmers plant crops with this new version of photosynthesis. Researchers will have to find out whether it means that a food crop like soybeans actually produces more beans — or just more stalks and leaves.
Then they’ll need to convince government regulators and consumers that the crops are safe to grow and eat.