Organic strawberries better pollinated

(PhysOrg) Organic cultivation methods not only benefit biodiversity; they also appear to have a positive effect on the ecosystem service pollination. In a study of strawberry plants in Skåne, the proportion of fully pollinated flowers was significantly higher on organic farms. This is shown in new research from Lund University in Sweden.

The study is based on studies of strawberry plants on twelve farms in the county of Skåne, Sweden. On the farms with KRAV organic certification, where neither pesticides nor non-organic fertiliser are used, 45 per cent of the strawberry flowers were fully pollinated. On the conventional farms, the corresponding figure was 17 per cent.

“The results show that the pollination service is benefited by organic cultivation methods, which is an important factor in the development of sustainable agriculture”, says Georg Andersson, a doctoral student in environmental science at Lund University.

The research also shows that the positive effects of organic cultivation are evident within 2-4 years of the farm receiving KRAV certification.The research results have been published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031599

via Organic strawberries better pollinated.

EU court restricts honey with traces of genetically modified pollen

By Gabriele Steinhauser (AP) Honey that contains traces of pollen from genetically modified crops needs special authorization before it can be sold in Europe, the European Union’s top court said Tuesday, in a judgment that could have widespread consequences on the bloc’s policy on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The ruling from the European Court of Justice came after several Bavarian beekeepers demanded compensation from their government for honey and food supplements that contained traces of pollen from genetically modified maize.

The beekeepers had their hives close to fields where the Bavarian government was growing Monsanto’s MON 810 maize for research purposes.

via The Associated Press: EU court puts limits on modified honey.

Organic farmers expand lawsuit against Monsanto

(Nature News Blog) An ambitious lawsuit against the agricultural firm Monsanto was initially filed in March by the Public Patent Foundation PubPat, a non-profit legal services organization based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, on behalf of 60 organic farmers and associated organizations. The farmers want assurance from Monsanto that they will not be sued for patent infringement if their farms become contaminated with the company’s genetically modified crops.

On 1 June, PubPat announced that the list of plaintiffs had grown to 83, and that the original complaint had been amended to include a recent exchange with Monsanto’s lawyers. In a letter written on behalf of Monsanto, Seth Waxman, former solicitor general under Bill Clinton and a partner at the law firm WilmerHale in Washington, DC, said Monsanto has no intention of suing the farmers for patent infringement.

“Monsanto policy never has been, nor will be, to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of its patented seed or traits are present in a farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means,” he wrote, echoing a statement Monsanto has also made on its website.

But rather than placating PubPat, executive director Daniel Ravicher says he saw a veiled threat in the statement’s ambiguity. Farmers whose crops contain more than a “trace” — whatever that means — of contamination are still vulnerable to action by Monsanto, he argues. Instead, Ravicher wants a legally binding declaration that Monsanto will not sue his clients for patent infringement.

via Nature News Blog: Organic farmers expand lawsuit against Monsanto.

Farmers in India are applying rice innovations to wheat crops

By Matt Styslinger (Nourishing the Planet) The System of Rice Intensification SRI is an innovative method of increasing the productivity of irrigated rice with very simple adjustments to traditional techniques. It involves transplanting younger seedlings into the field with wider spacing in a square pattern, irrigating to keep the roots moist and aerated instead of flooding fields, and increasing organic matter in the soil with compost and manure.

The SRI method of crop management has been shown to increase yields in over 40 countries, while simultaneously reducing costs, labor, and the need for inputs of chemical fertilizers and water. By allowing the roots of wheat crops to develop more fully, farmers are seeing higher yields with less water, fertilizer, and labor.

The methodology—dubbed System of Wheat Intensification SWI—is improving wheat yields for small-scale farmers in India and Mali, while reducing costs and labor. In Mali, wheat farmers can increase their yields by 15 to 20 percent, and Indian farmers have seen yields 2 and 3 times higher than those from conventional methods. SWI practices have spread quickly in India, and farmers have spontaneously begun applying the principles to other crops, such as millet, mustard seed, soybean, eggplant, and maize. Collectively, these practices are becoming known as System of Crop Intensification SCI.

“Two years ago there were 400 farmers—most of them women, and most of them illiterate and landless—who used SWI,” says Uphoff. “The next year it was 25,000, and this year it was 50,000. To go from 400 to 50,000 in two years is unprecedented.” Uphoff believes that this is because the methodology is well-suited to the needs of small-scale farmers in India, and that it is making big improvements to the food security of farming families.

“[The state of] Bihar is where we’ve seen the most excitement generated by farmers who say that between SRI in the summer and SWI in the winter, they’ve gone from producing three months’ supply of food for their families to 6 or 7 months.”Uphoff says that the method is about managing the crop, soil, and nutrients to promote a vibrant soil system that, in turn, promotes larger root systems. With adequate spacing and loose soil, the roots of the crop can grow deeper than from conventional cropping methods. “The extra root activity keeps the soil from compacting,” he says. “It’s really a less is more strategy.” By using fewer plants and reducing the amount of inputs, each plant is hardier and can grow to its natural potential.

Read the rest: Researchers Find Farmers Applying Rice Innovations to Wheat Crops.

Researchers substitute feathers for petroleum in biodegradable flower pots

(AP) Researchers have developed ways to substitute chicken feathers for petroleum in some plastic products, and at least two companies are working to bring items ranging from biodegradable flower pots to office furniture to market.

The substitution would allow the U.S. to cut back on its oil use, however slightly, and give poultry producers another market for the more than 3 billion pounds of chicken feathers they have leftover each year, the developers and others said. The challenge, they added, is coming up with products that manufacturers and consumers want at a price that’s right.

“What works in the lab and what works commercially are two different things,” said Sonny Meyerhoeffer, whose company began selling flower pots made partially from feathers last fall.

His company has patented a process for removing keratin resin from feathers for use in making plastics. Keratin, a tough protein fiber also found in fingernails, hair and horns, can replace petroleum in some cases. Right now, Meyerhoeffer’s company sells flower pots that contain 40 percent bioresins, although it has been able to make ones that are completely biodegradable and made from feathers.

via Researchers sub feathers for petroleum in biodegradable flower pots; other products in works – The Washington Post.

‘Bee Roads’: UK creating network of wildflowers to boost declining bees

By Meera Selva (HuffingtonPost) Farmers and landowners are being asked to plant rows of wildflowers along the edges of England’s fields to create a network of “bee roads” to boost declining numbers.

Conservationists said Tuesday they hope the wildflowers will provide food and shelter for wild bees, honeybees and butterflies, which play a crucial role in pollinating crops.

As part of the initiative, wildlife charity Buglife and The Co-operative grocery store chain are donating seeds, such as knapweed and red clover, to farmers and landowners in the Northern English county of Yorkshire, and asking them to plant them in rows along the edge of their fields.

Britain has 250 species of bees, but – as in other countries – most are in decline. Scientists say pesticides, disappearing habitat, wet weather and a parasite called the varroa mite are among the culprits.

via ‘Bee Roads’: UK Creating Network Of Wildflowers To Boost Declining Bee Population.

$500,000 damages awarded in genetic rice trial

(CN) – A federal jury awarded a rice farmer $500,000 for his claim that genetically modified rice contaminated his crop. It was the third of five “bellwether” trials involving hundreds of lawsuits that farmers have filed against Bayer CropScience. The complaints are the result of an August 2006 announcement that LibertyLink, a herbicide-resistant rice, had somehow been released from testing facilities. The rice had not yet been approved for sale for human consumption, causing rice futures to plunge.

The rice has been approved, but is not being commercially marketed.

Denny Deshotels claimed that he and his family lost more than $1 million when the market dropped, and he incurred more costs by switching crops and cleaning his equipment of the LibertyLink rice. He sought $1.5 million in damages.

via Courthouse News Service.

Pesticide exposure in childhood linked to ADHD

By Carla K. Johnson

(Huffington Post/AP) A new analysis of U.S. health data links children’s attention-deficit disorder with exposure to common pesticides used on fruits and vegetables. While the study couldn’t prove that pesticides used in agriculture contribute to childhood learning problems, experts said the research is persuasive.

Read the rest: ADHD In Children: PESTICIDES May Be Missing Link.

Genetically modified flax contamination wrecks Canada’s exports

By Ken Roseboro

Last September, the Flax Council of Canada (FCC) announced that an unapproved variety of genetically modified flax was detected in food products in Europe. The GM flax variety was identified as FP967 or “Triffid,” which had been developed in Canada, but was never commercialized and has been illegal to grow in Canada since 2001. Since the initial announcement last September, GM flax contamination has been reported in 35 countries.

The contamination has decimated Canada’s flax exports to Europe, which buys 70% of Canada’s flax exports worth an estimated $321 million (Canadian). The European Union has zero tolerance for unapproved GMOs.

Read the rest Disturbing Questions Remain about GM Flax Contamination.