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The phrase "carbon sequestration" is often used in connection with so-called "clean coal" technology that doesn't exist. Scientific debate over the best methods of carbon capture and storage tends to weigh the costs and benefits of various high-tech solutions to the problem.

But Tim LaSalle, CEO of the non-profit Rodale Institute, reminds us in a guest column for the Des Moines Register that an effective means of sequestering carbon in our soil already exists.

From LaSalle's opinion column:

By using organic agricultural methods and eliminating petroleum-based fertilizers and toxic chemical pest-and-weed control, we build - rather than destroy - the biology of our soil. While improving the health of the soil we also enhance its ability to diminish the effects of flooding, as just one example. In some laboratory trials, organically farmed soils have provided 850 percent less runoff than conventional, chemically fertilized soils. This is real flood prevention, not sandbag bandages for life-threatening emergencies.

When the soil is nurtured through organic methods, it allows plants to naturally pull so much carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the soil that global warming can actually be reversed. Farms using conventional, chemical fertilizer release soil carbon into the atmosphere. Switching to organic methods turns a major global-warming contributor into the single largest remedy of the climate crisis, while eliminating toxic farm chemical drainage into our streams, rivers and aquifers.

Using such methods, we would be sequestering from 25 percent to well over 100 percent of our carbon-dioxide emissions. Microscopic life forms in the soil hold carbon in the soil for up to 100 years. This is much more efficient than inserting foreign genes. Healthy soil already does that at such remarkable levels it usually can eliminate crop disasters, which means greater food security for all nations. And the beauty is, investing in soils is not patentable, enriching just some, but instead is free to all.

Where has this science, this solution, been hiding? It has been intentionally buried under the weight of special interests - that are selling chemicals into our farming system, lobbying Congress, embedding employees in government agencies and heavily funding agricultural university research.

A few years ago, the Rodale Institute published a detailed report on how Organic farming combats global warming. Click that link for more facts and figures.

For more on how groups promoting industrial agriculture lobby Congress, see this Open Secrets report and this piece from the Green Guide on The New Food Pyramid: How Corporations Squash Regulation.

Expanding organic farming and reducing the amount of chemicals used on conventional farms would have other environmental advantages as well, most obviously an improvement in water quality both in farming states and downstream. Last week the National Academcy of Sciences released findings from the latest study proving that chemicals applied to farms are a major contributor to the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico:

The study, conducted at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, recommends setting pollution reduction targets for the watersheds, or drainage areas, that are the largest sources of the pollution that flows down the Mississippi River to the gulf.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was urged to help fund a series of pilot projects to test how changes in farming practices and land use can reduce the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus. The report, written by a panel of scientists, did not say how much money would be needed. Agricultural experts and congressional aides said it wasn't clear whether there was enough money in federal conservation programs to fund the necessary projects.

The government has been debating for years about how to address the oxygen-depleted dead zone, or hypoxia, in the gulf. The dead zone reached 8,000 square miles this year, the second-largest area recorded since mapping began in the 1980s.

Agricultural groups don't want mandatory controls put on farms.

However, a scientific advisory board of the EPA has recommended reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing to the gulf by 45 percent. More than 75 percent of those two pollutants originates in nine states, including Iowa, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Here's a link to more detailed findings about how agricultural states contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Organic farming is also good for rural economic development because it employs more people. I'll write more soon on the economic benefits of implementing other sustainable agriculture policies.

UPDATE: When OrangeClouds115 speaks, I listen:

BTW - can you request in your diary that people who support your ideas here sign the petition at ? Apparently its 40,000+ signatures have gotten the attention of Obama's transition team and Michael Pollan himself thinks that they may actually listen to us if we get to 100,000 signatures.

SECOND UPDATE: Thanks to understandinglife for the Digg link.

Originally posted to desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 05:40 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  tips for healing our planet (155+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    boydog, Chi, Phoenix Woman, Odysseus, grollen, dansac, kate mckinnon, AlanF, Geenius at Wrok, Randomfactor, alisonk, Pandora, BigOkie, RunawayRose, wu ming, meg, rhubarb, eeff, dkistner, Matilda, MarkInSanFran, opinionated, bronte17, mbayrob, understandinglife, SecondComing, MD patriot, linh, Patricia Taylor, mkfarkus, roses, javelina, peraspera, Jesterfox, Eddie C, wader, Ryvr, grannyhelen, rcd, homo neurotic, Sychotic1, cholla45, MH in PA, OrangeClouds115, Thestral, Timroff, Gowrie Gal, Big Tex, rapala, greenskeeper, maybeeso in michigan, radarlady, Tinfoil Hat, jrooth, mjd in florida, Halcyon, PBen, DrFood, Simplify, Claybow, howardfromUSA, where4art, Ice Blue, blue jersey mom, Yamara, thiroy, reddbierd, ksingh, Tin hat mafia, trashablanca, BachFan, Orinoco, tecampbell, MJ via Chicago, A Siegel, Bob Sackamento, ER Doc, rage, kurt, Nulwee, Aaa T Tudeattack, ibonewits, dotsright, Old Gardener, desertguy, BruceMcF, crodri, LillithMc, Jimdotz, deepeco, gchaucer2, Got a Grip, willb48, Terra Mystica, TomP, BustaVessel, flowerfarmer, 1Eco, judith2007, Cat Servant, beach babe in fl, OregonOak, mofembot, The Anomaly, omegajew, BYw, Guadalupe59, Leo in NJ, fayea, legendmn, Neon Vincent, Stranded Wind, slaney black, history geek, LeftyEngineer, OR indie, Daily Activist, prgsvmama26, bfitzinAR, allegretto, kl5, Wings Like Eagles, BigVegan, ppl can fly, political junquie, TFinSF, miss SPED, ArtSchmart, FritztheCat, LaughingPlanet, fidellio, TheWesternSun, MelKnee, sullivanst, Benintn, DailyDrew, DrFitz, NYWheeler, MsGrin, CA Berkeley WV, science nerd, Always Thinkin, gobears2000, heart of a quince, cultjake, etbnc, The Network Guy, itzik shpitzik, blueinmn, Ebby, zukesgirl64, BicycleDave, ElsieElsie, athena47, Oogity Boogity Boo

    while producing healthier food.

    Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

    by desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 05:41:29 AM PST

  •  Excellent article...and we need to keep info (12+ / 0-)

    like this front and center while Team Obama decides on a Sec Ag.

    "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

    by grannyhelen on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 05:52:43 AM PST

  •  climbdown is the issue (5+ / 0-)

     Y'all know I work in the area of renewable ammonia fertilizer and while this sounds like a wonderful goal I always have to ask this - "How do we get down from where we've climbed without starving billions?"


    •  obviously it won't happen overnight (14+ / 0-)

      but I reject the premise that more organic farming would mean less food for the hungry.

      Jill Richardson published a good piece on this not long ago.

      Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

      by desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 06:38:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Protein Problem (8+ / 0-)

        I recommend a book called ""Feeding the World"" by Vaclav Smil - the basic problem you have with the "no synthetic fertilizer mode" is lack of fixed nitrogen for plants. Ammonia (and its salts, as well as oxidized form = nitrate) is what puts the AMINO in amino acids. While some plants host bacteria that fix nitrogen in return for the plant providing lots of sugars to provide the energy needed to fix N2 into NH3 (about 2 moles of glucose fixes one mole of N2) - beans, clover and alfalfa being great examples - most plants do not host such bacteria. And the N2 fixing plants don't leave that much fixed N2 behind - that would be wasteful (to them), after all. You also have bacteria that eat ammonia (and protein metabolites) as food and spit out nitrites and nitrates as the oxidation products, while other bacteria use oxidized nitrogen (NO2- and NO3-) as their oxygen source, spitting out mostly N2 as their waste by-product, and returning the N2 to where it originated. You know, the circle of life.....

        Anyway, without synthetic NH3 derived fixed nitrogen, the world's "equilibrium" of fixed N would be less than half of what is currently circulating in the biosphere. And since over half of the protein in your body (more if you live in the U.S., and especially if you are a daily carnivore) comes from synthetic NH3....well, which half do you wish to lop off and/or give up? Actually, the carrying capacity of the earth is somewhere between 2 to 3 billion people (more meat eating = fewer people possible). which 3 to 4 billion people have to get rapidly deceased in inorder that enough plant derived protein is left to go around (all protein comes from plants and bacteria, anyway). And all the starch and fats won't substitute for proteins. Do we really need another "Great Leap Forward", that left 30 million people dead in China in the early 1960's? I'd prefer to pass on that future.

        Also, even with less protein consumed, this has dramatic effects on the starches and sugars produced by plants. In a recent "organic farming manifesto", the range of crop production via no fertilizer mode was given as 700 to 3000 kg of CO2 fixation per hectare. Translated into corn, this is 30 bushels/acre tops. Could the U.S. survive on an average of 30 bushels of corn/acre (in 2008, the average will be near 154 bushels/acre, for about 78 million acres)? How about wheat with very low protein contents.... and soybeans at 30 bushels/acre average, and not the 41 (soybeans do fix a lot of their N needs)? Not likely.

        Remember, NH3 can be made synthetically in a renewable mode, using renewable electricity and water to make hydrogen, and nitrogen from the air. No fossil fuels need be used to do this...except, in polluting mode, using fossil fuels is cheap as long as the fossil fuels are cheap, and there is no CO2 pollution taxes. Sure, it might be a bit more expensive, but for corn, the difference between $1000/ton ammonia and $500/ton ammonia is less than 25 cents/bushel - and corn is selling for around $3.50/bshl  Actually, the more expensive the ammonia fertilizers (ammonia, urea, ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphates, etc), the more efficiently they are used, but those costs need to get passed along, otherwise, no more farming, and no more food. And who is in favor of more expensive food, anyway?

        As to the Dead Zone in the Gulf, there is a pretty simple solution - and it also restores the bayou, too...see here.

        Anyway, happy reading, and please consider dumping the carnivore way of life, unless you already have, in which case, way to go, as you have lessened the load on our planet's atmosphere to the tune of 3/4 of a ton of CO2 per year per person. Not to mention getting more efficient with protein.


        •  We can produce protein and still reduce (7+ / 0-)

          carbon emissions

          Organic farming isn't just crop farming.  Organic farming includes how we raise animals.  Holistic management (using tools such as managed intensive grazing and mob grazing) can raise high quality animal protein on permanent pasturelands that are not suitable for tilling.  Grass-fed meats are high in good fats such as Omega 3's, as well as other nutrients (check out the research at Eat Wild).  And the grasslands store immense amounts of carbon in the organic matter of the soil and the deep root systems (check out Holistic Management)

          It is NOT a choice between the environment and nutrition.  That's just as false as claiming that it's a choice between the environment and the economy.  

          •  Efficiency Helps, but... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            If you only make 1/6 th of protein per acre when no synthetic fixed N is used versus using synthetic fixed N.....well, you better get efficient, and fast. But every year, less fixed N will exist in the biosphere as the denitrifing bacteria reduce oxidized N back into N2 and/or N2O and we get back to equilibrium levels.

            Eventually, its just a mass balance question. There may be enough starch and fats to go around, but not enough protein. There is more to food than just the calories.

            As it turns out, the U.S. might be able to get by on a reduced N diet, because we only have 300 million people. The most intense users of fixed N are China and India, where the N goes mostly into making rice that has protein in it. They also tend to make their NH3 from coal, too. But, collectively, they would have to decide which 1 billion people would be allowed to live, and which would not...otherwise, they use huge quantities of NH3 derivatives to grow rice and wheat, while beans more or less provide for themselves. Both countries are absolutely resolute on trying to feed themselves, and they do not want to rely on imports of food unless there is absolutely no choice, and even then, they still want to supply most of their food. Check out the Great leap Forward (which went backwards) link...


            •  We eat too much protein right now. (4+ / 0-)

              A reduction in the protein supply is not going to be a problem in the short run, and we're not going to hit the point where it's a medium-run problem for quite a while.  By which point it will be solved if anyone's bothered to do a little farming.

              Proteins can be manufactured from other organic compounds, period, plants do this routinely, and as you know the only chokepoint is nitrogen-fixing.   There's no shortage of nitrogen.  There are a lot of very efficient "organically growable" nitrogen-fixing microorganisms, both on land and in the ocean, and we aren't deploying them efficiently at the moment.

              In the long run of course the population MUST be reduced.  This can happen naturally through wider use of birth control (since we haven't discovered the secrets of immortality yet).

              -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

              by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:10:52 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  You are, it would seem, assuming away the ... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              grannyhelen, desmoinesdem

              ... premise while trying to work out its implications. The reduction in protein generation per acre is for industrial farming, but the diary is not about replacing high fertilizer industrial farming with low fertilizer industrial farming, its about adopting organic farming, which is not simply about what is not done, but also about what is done instead. A healthy soil and appropriate mixed culture results in more nitrogen fixation than simply running an industrial monoculture on degraded soils with less fertilizer.

              The Chinese know that Mao's population promotion policies were a catastrophic mistake, and know they have overshot their resource base, and are working very hard on achieving a demographic transition.

              Far better the Chinese approach than the one we have imposed on much of Africa, in which domestic agriculture for local consumption is a pawn in a game of channeling subsidies in high income countries to agricultural supplier industries.

              •  Protein per acre (0+ / 0-)

                Applies to either form of farming. But it is also true that what gets done with the food is also very important. Also, for many plants, increased protein content also goes goes with increased carbohydrate production.

                Just for kicks, I looked up the nitrogen content of chicken manure - it was 0.9 wt% when fresh. So, 1 ton/acre of that stuff is 18 lbs of N/acre. To get 125 lbs N/acre, you need close to 7 tons/acre of this stuff, assuming the urea does not get hydrolyzed and then evaporate.

                I guess a lot of farmers tried this when ammonia was more than $1000/ton this spring - all it did was drive up the price of manure, and use up a lot of diesel trying to work this into the soil.

                Oh well, maybe if they would juts be satisfied with the 30 to 60 bushels/acre.....they would go bankrupt. Or get really lucky when the price of the crop triples or more.


                •  But you are looking only at the nitrogen added .. (0+ / 0-)

                  ... in fertilizer per acre, not total nitrogen added per acre.

                  Chicken manure is an excellent example. Simply added as a fertilizer in a monocrop industrial farming operation, it provides less nitrogen than as a component in a compost in an effective organic farming system. since as a component in a compost, it both adds nitrogen directly and supports the activity of nitrogen fixing bacteria.

                  Even better, in terms of GHG reduction, would be to produce methane from the chicken manure first, with the slurry by-product used as an input in an organic farming system.

        •  a lot of technical stuff there... (6+ / 0-)

          but your first paragraph describing the nitrogen fixing qualities of cover crops nails it.  we don't need synthetic anything, just better farming practices.  crop rotation and permaculture techniques can provide all necessary resources to the soil environment, without production loss or reliance on chemically derived fertilizers.  

          •  30 bushels per acre (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Even with crop rotation and stuffing as much manure and compost into the fields as can be generally only get 30 bushels per acre. So, either put 5 to 6 times the acreage under cultivation, or eat a lot less.

            Without the crop rotation and manure/compost use, 30 bushels/acre would be unattainable. Plants like corn and wheat can only manufacture protein when they have fixed fixed nitrogen, really crappy yields of crops with low protein, when you rotate corn with alfalfa or clover, that means you either eat clover, or the average production just drops by 50% (every other year).

            Let's say you get 200 bushels of corn per acre = 11,200 lbs of corn per acre. Corn is about 8 wt% that 200 bshl/acre is 896 lbs of protein per acre. If the protein is 15 wt% nitrogen, that means 125.44 lbs of N was used, and it had to come from somewhere. That would be the same as 152 lbs of NH3 per acre, and that does not include any proteins used in the roots and stalks (essentially none in the kernel). That is an application rate of about 13 acres per ton of NH3.

            Not all of it gets incorporated, but most does (bacteria eat it, weeds, run-off, volatilization, etc). And if some or all of this can be obtained non-synthetically, great! But in general, it can't, at least in these quantities. This analysis also holds for wheat, rice, oats, barley, sunflowers, safflower, canola and sugar beets, not to mention a lot of specialty crops (almonds and walnuts, for example). It's just a simple nitrogen mass balance in the end. And the plants aren't that particular...they just want ammonium ions or nitrate ions reaching their roots in desired concentrations at desired pH and with the right amount of other nutrients. They are not magicians.


            •  Something to think about re organic grains: (6+ / 0-)

              Organic wheat flour is not protein deficient, though it is lower by 3%. Still well within an acceptable range for bread. Yields may be reduced by 10-15%, though check this out:

              Organic winter wheat topped 100 bushels per acre in Bozeman last harvest

              Yields of corn can be higher, is 171 to 153 bu/acre good enough for you?
              Organic corn earns high grades in OSU field tests

              Sig line for sale- inquire at

              by the fan man on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:22:15 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  If you can get the N (3+ / 0-)

                Go for it. In the one case, a ton of chicken manure was used per acre. So, feed the crop to chickens, the chickens waste a lot of it, recycle some of that (note that there are bacteria converting the wasted food protein into both nitrates, N2 and N2O at the same time), and then consume the protein as chicken (6 to 8 lbs grain per lb of chicken). How much protein actually ever gets to humans? What if you take the chickens out of the equation, and quick recycling the N via pooping birds?

                Also, for the Bozeman experiment, you only get one crop per 2 years..the peas were turned back into the soil. And if only one crop of corn gets grown every 4 years...hopefully, there are 3 other crops which can pay the way.

                Anyway, as long as the plants get their N, they really don't care how it gets there, just as long as it is there when they need it. And if no more fixed N is needed, the NH3 makes a nice form of stored energy, too, as the tractors don't run on willpower alone.


                •  Plants don't care, but they do mind (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  DrFood, TheMadScientist

                  Anyway, as long as the plants get their N, they really don't care how it gets there, just as long as it is there when they need it.

                  This line of reasoning, something I took as an article of incontrovertible science for many years, isn't quite correct. Plant roots do respond to the content (not just chemical content) of surrounding media quite significantly and it affects the plants ability to take in nutrients as well as fend off disease. Plant and soil science has advanced a great deal since the N-P-K days. Some basic reading:
                  .Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web
                  There are a number of soil consultants working with farmers on this. The results are encouraging if not startling.

                  For the record, I'm the kind of person who (barring significant externalities) likes to goes with what works, if that's chemicals, so be it. If I had a farm and I would lose it if my crop failed and there's a chemical to solve the problem, I'm using the chemical. What I've discovered is things aren't as simple as I've been taught and there are other answers to these questions.

                  Sig line for sale- inquire at

                  by the fan man on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 10:13:23 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Crop rotation is *essential* (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RunawayRose, flowerfarmer

              Sustainable farming without crop rotation is almost impossible. (Edit -- I realized I was wrong.  There's also the mixed-crop field.  This is very effective but much more labor-intensive to plant and harvest which is why we lazy humans tend to avoid it.)

              Some people do in fact eat alfalfa (just so's you know) and we even more commonly eat several other crops -- legumes -- with symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  

              Clearly, in an overall shift to organic farming. there will need to be a shift to greater legume production, relative to corn, wheat, etc.  That's not a bad thing.  I like legumes.  Don't you?

              So your "analysis" is meaningless nonsense, because it starts from the false assumption that each farmer should try to farm a monoculture.  Medieval European farmers had complex seven-year cycles of crop rotation or even longer, and you're not even considering the intricacies of crop rotation seriously.

              Start by assuming an appropriate rate of crop rotation with appropriate nitrogen-fixing food crops, and you can get a sane analysis.  I'd be interested to see it -- you clearly have some talent for such analysis, if you just get your assumptions right.

              -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

              by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:35:57 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Starting Point (0+ / 0-)

                Actually, vegetarians learn that you need complimentary protein sources, since not all amino acids are available from one particular plant (maybe there are some exceptions). Monoculture is definitely not good. But neither is an average of 30 bushels/acre.

                But, the N balance applies for any source of fixed N. Even the legumes follow the N balance; in this case, they tend to be net producers, though whatever is removed (crop portion eaten) also has to be taken into account. Many farmers also use both crop rotation AND added synthetic ammonia based fertilizers, because this way, less fertilizer has to be purchased. And of course, the mass balance also applies to sulfur, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium and other  trace nutrients, such as molybdenum (key to N-fixing bacteria).

        •  Which half to lop off? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, neroden, science nerd

          In the high income nations, the half externalized as oversized cattle and swine herds would be the starting point.

          There is no such thing as a single silver-bullet solution to any serious problem, but for the high-income nations of the world, we tend to have a deliberate policy of encouraging meat production in order to consume the surplus of staple grain production created by subsidy and industrial farming.

          And of course, those same subsidies undermine food production in many low income nations.

        •  Digesters are our friends (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, neroden

          That's where we can get our ammonia.  And a good chunk of our power.

          Visit for Minnesota news as it happens.

          by Phoenix Woman on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:34:19 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ammonia (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Every time N gets transformed there is less and less fixed - due to the oxidizers and denitrifiers. But, any that is there should be used. You just need fresh injections of ammonia (natural or otherwise) because those bacteria, and also volatility and run-off also take their toll.

            The equilibrium fixed N content of the biosphere is a lot less than what is currently in circulation presently. And that is where things tend to go towards. And life in a protein short region is a fact of life for a lot of people already. That is not a place we really want to go towards...


    •  The issue is whether or not it is (8+ / 0-)

      compatible with factory farming, which for better or for worse is the majority of US food production (although I would love to see that reversed).

      This issue is in so many ways like our transportation issue, in that we have developed this infrastructure that requires the use of non-sustainable methods for the execution of its duties.

      We need to get rid of urban sprawl, and we need to get rid of our dependence on petroleum wherever possible.

      I don't see pharmaceuticals without some type of petroleum, but we can lessen that impact by removing its use from non-critical areas.

      (-8.50, -7.54) Klaatu barada nikto

      by Tin hat mafia on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 07:06:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Converting the farming infrastructure (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, science nerd

        is going to be a slow process and we'd better get started now.


        On some of your other comments:

        The last place we're going to be using coal is in steelmaking -- as far as I know there is no adequate substitute for "metallurgical coal" at the moment; the only substitute I know of is specially made charcoal, which is nearly as bad for global warming and even worse environmentally in other ways.  There are coal substitutes for electricity generation, but since there are none for steelmaking, steelmaking is where we should work on "carbon capture".  (You actually want to capture the carbon in the steel anyway, so they have a double incentive.)

        Similarly, the last place we're going to be using petroleum is in plastics, because organic plastics are developing very slowly.  But we'll probably get rid of that before we replace metallurgical coal.

        Other areas are going to abandon petroleum much faster.  There are already a lot of renewable lubricants.  

        Pharmaceuticals, your example, are consistently switching away from "chemical techniques" which use petroleum products, to genetic engineering techniques, where custom-made bacteria manufacture everything.  This change is happening very fast.  I expect they won't need petroleum at all, much sooner than you think.

        -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

        by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:19:00 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Slowly (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, RunawayRose, rcd, desmoinesdem

      Given that so much feed it given to meat animals, we could probably get part of the way by reducing our demand for meat products.

      There are bagels in the fridge

      by Sychotic1 on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 07:36:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Stop eating meat like it was a staple grain ... (4+ / 0-)

      ... that gives us a massive spare food capacity right there.

      Indeed, there are not billions in the high income nations, and the best thing that could be done for farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo is to stop the dumping of subsidized staple foods into the Congo, destroying the returns to local farming and turning what should be the breadbasket of central Africa into a nation dependent on food imports.

      Taking that further, the problem of the farming in China and India which does not have the luxury of a massive hidden surplus deliberately destroyed as animal feed does not mean that we should not climb down, it means that we should climb down as rapidly as we are able to, since that will help generate the breadth of knowledge that they require if they are to back down themselves.

    •  Trans-ogranic yields drop precipitously for (3+ / 0-)

      up to three years once you remove chemical fertilizer salts. Yields then increase to levels close to conventional ag (sometimes higher, see my comment below).

      Sig line for sale- inquire at

      by the fan man on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:34:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Slight problem (8+ / 0-)

    The concept of soil-based sequestration doesn't sound very sound.

    Sure using non-petroleum based fertilizers is cleaner in terms of carbon, but the carbon taken up by the plants is eventually returned through burning, digestion of decomposition.  Any biomass increase would eventually compensate, where you'd see a steady-state long term average.   More exposure to the elements would increase drying which would cause CO2 to return back to the atmosphere.

    While non-petro fertilizer is a very good idea, the reduction in GHGs by soil sequestration would be minimal at best.

  •  I can sell you... (6+ / 0-)

    all the composted goat manure your truck can carry.  I grow 10' tomatoes with the stuff.  You don't need much more than that.

    "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

    by dolfin66 on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 06:48:32 AM PST

  •  Rhetorical question (3+ / 0-)

    Will the organic gardener ever become fed-up with mulch?

  •  I have read that the (12+ / 0-)

    honey bee hive collapse is not happening at organic farms.  I know the scientists haven't nailed down the cause of this catastrophe, but wondered if there was linkage to pesticides rather than parasites.

  •  I have a share in a CSA organic farm. (13+ / 0-)

    I receive fresh veggies 6 months a year. I save money and save the planet at the same time. And I am eating better food, too.

    •  I belong to a CSA in Iowa (9+ / 0-)

      but the growing season must be shorter here. We only get boxes for 20 weeks (June to October), plus an optional Thanksgiving box in November.

      When I lived in England I could buy fresh, local seasonal veggies throughout the winter. They don't get many hard frosts, so you can get lots of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, etc. throughout the cold months.

      Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

      by desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 07:19:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  do they drive the veggies to your house? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue jersey mom

      There are some of those organic veggies clubs in CA and they drive boxes of veggies door-to-door, which seems rather energy-intensive.

      •  No, the farm is less than 5 minutes from (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        desmoinesdem, DrFood

        my house.

      •  Well... actually that can be low-energy (3+ / 0-)

        I think about transportation a lot.

        Consider four modes.

        (1) You drive to the farmer, buy a box of veggies, and drive back.

        Very wasteful transportation usage.  (I admit, I've done it.)

        (2) The farmer drives on a long loop, starting with a truck full of veggies, dropping them off, and ending up with no veggies in the truck.

        Much more transportation-efficient.  And hence energy-efficient; most of the energy goes to move the truck rather than the veggies, so one truck rather than one car per person is a huge improvement.  This degenerates if the customers are scattered in all directions and multiple customers cannot be served with a single consolidated route.

        (3) The farmer drives a truck full of veggies to the store, and drives back empty.  You walk to the store and get your veggies, because you live very close.

        Arguably ideal from a transportation energy usage point of view (better would be living next to the farmer).

        (4) The farmer drives a truck full of veggies to the store and drives back empty.  You drive to the store and bring the veggies back.

        If you think about it, you'll see that it's generally worse than (2) because of all of that individual car use.  If you can combine your trip to the store to get veggies with a trip to get a whole lot of other things, then it might be better.  It depends on whether you and the other people in the club run your cars more or less full than the delivery people delivering the veggies run their trucks.  Probably the trucks run more full.


        In fact, driving the boxes door-to-door on a long loop route is probably as energy-efficient as you can get if you're not going to pick them up on foot.  "Combine trips" is the mantra for reducing transportation energy use, and dropping off veggies to a whole line of customers is a classic example of that.

        -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

        by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 10:27:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  We've been letting (10+ / 0-)

    technology trump science for far too long.
    Damn. Dirty hippies wuz on to something.
    Maybe this time.
    Anxiously waiting Dept.Ag Sec nomination. Hopefully, we will see the forest and the trees.

  •  "850% less runoff"?? (8+ / 0-)

    What a dumb way to mangle statistics to try to make them seem more impressive.

    Wouldn't a simple "Less than 1/8 the runoff" have been clearer and served as well?

    I'd write more, but I have 427% less free time these days.

    What is valued is practiced. What is not valued is not practiced. -- Plato

    by RobLewis on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 07:40:37 AM PST

  •  i buy nothing but organic these days (4+ / 0-)

    even though it costs more.

    I am finding that organic produce definitely, definitely tastes much better and is well worth the additional expense.

    For things that are not yet available in organic form, I deliberately buy from local producers.

    Saving the environment - Yes, we can.

    •  organic is good in a lot of ways (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but it's no panacea.

      Farmers use (expensive) chemicals for a reason.  They improve yields.

      Organic does a lot of really good things, like producing better tasting, more nutritious food with a lower environmental impact, but it increases costs and reduces food supply.  Nobody likes to talk about it, but organic farming isn't good for the poor.

      Full disclosure, in a previous career I worked in agro-chem company - I'm not an ardent defender of the industry (I don't have any interest in the business, and I buy a fair amount of organic food), but I'd venture to guess that I'm more familiar with agro-chem and farming than most around here.  Suffice to say, you don't get something for nothing.

      •  Bull (6+ / 0-)

        and i have proof. Now, don't get me wrong, you can do organic wrong and in that case your yields will suck. I've tried growing things before and I kill them. But if you use the organic methods that have been pioneered by Rodale, you WILL see increased yields after the first 5 years. I've been to Rodale (where LaSalle, mentioned in this diary, is CEO) and seen it with my own eyes. Organic corn standing next to conventional corn, and the organic stands taller and the corn is bigger. They've been running this experiment for over 20 yrs and in most years organic yields trump conventional.

        •  So here's the question (4+ / 0-)

          Is it easier to get organic farming wrong than chemical farming?  If so, on average organic farms will produce less food than chemical farms.

          I'm not an expert on fertilizer, I know a lot more about pesticides.  I'm no shill, but I've done a lot of greenhouse and field testing myself, and if there is any insect or fungus pressure treated plants will (often dramatically) outperform control groups.  

          Organic farming is fine, but if we really want farming to reduce it's carbon footprint, step 1 is eat less meat.

          •  chemicals aren't magic (6+ / 0-)

            Your "easier to get wrong" question is very misleading.  Just because a farmer uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides doesn't mean that he or she is guaranteed an abundant harvest.  There are many side effects of use (and often overuse) of chemicals that do much more damage to short-term and long term quality of soil - which is the basis of this diary - and often rely on using more and more chemicals to remedy these side effects.

            This is similar to our use of drugs to treat disease.  Only the commercials for Roundup don't include 30 second disclaimers.

            Try this:

            "Use of glyphosate may cause breathing difficulty, low blood pressure, irritation of mouth and throat, tearing, skin irritation, cyanosis (blue lips or fingernails - rare), nausea, vomiting (may vomit blood), abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache, anxiety, dizziness, drowsiness, and weakness.  Please consult your physician before use."

            and those are just some of the human side effects, not to mention the soil biology side effects.

            •  re: glyphosate (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bicycle Hussein paladin

              the reason glyphosate is so very abundant is because it has a low use rate, an extraordinary short half life, and an extraordinarily well understood (and safe) ecological and biological fate.

              When glyphosate exists as glyphosate you don't want to eat it.  However in a very short time (days) there isn't any glyphosate left to be to be found - and the metabolites are benign.  It doesn't bioaccumulate, and it doesn't stay in the soil.

              The only major problem directly with glyphosate is that frequent or overuse can lead to glyphosate resistance in pest species.

              •  Actually you could put glyphosate on... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                bicycle Hussein paladin

                your kids Cheerios in the morning and it wouldn't hurt anything.  The chemical itself inhibits an enzyme in the aromatic amino acid biosynthesis pathway that humans don't have.  The surfactants and additives that break down the cuticle of the leaf and carry the glyphosate into the vasculature can cause irritation, but generally I think Roundup is about the most benign herbicide we have.  Certainly orders of magnitude safer than free-radical generators like Atrazine, Paraquat, Methyl viologen, DCMU, etc.

                •  There is some controversy (0+ / 0-)

                  regarding glyphosate. While Monsanto maintains that the stuff is as safe as mother's milk, while at least one study has found effects on human placental cells that may explain why ag workers exposed to glyphosate have more pregnancy problems than normal.

                  "All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms labor is treason. -Abraham Lincoln

                  by happy camper on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 01:25:55 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  Simple equation (7+ / 0-)

            The success of organic farming is connected to the health of the soil.

            If you do the work and infuse your soil with humus and compost, the necessary organic materials to support the good soil fungi, the farmer will have healthier plants that will show less environmental stress, which result in less infestation by insect pests.

            Think of the garden like your own health- if you eat a diet of fast food and junk snacks, the direct effect will be ill health, heart disease etc. Same for the garden environment.

            The use of pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizer are responsible for the death of the soil and, in my experience,  i would not expect to raise good food from such a barren environment.

            Gardening organically in Tucson

            by flowerfarmer on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:24:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  i would argue that ALL chemical farming (4+ / 0-)

            is wrong, so in that case, organic farming by definition is harder to screw up than chemical.

            One reason is that when you have fewer species, you have more drastic fluctuation in each species' population - in an organic system all of the pests are preyed upon by other species and they compete for habitat and resources with other species. In chemical farming when you kill off species with pesticide then you're left with a vacuum where the pests can move in en masse.

            Another reason is that plants rely on the soil microbes which are killed by conventional pesticide and fertilizer to bring them nutrients they need and protect them from pests. With the microbes, the nutrients are in a constant cycle, and the plants can make sure the nutrients are always right where they need them, when they need them. In conventional, the nutrients are not in a cycle - we dump the nutrients on, the plants soak up what they can, and the rest leach out into the waterways and create dead zones.

            •  could we support the US pop. with organic farming (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              what about the world?

              Yes, it is possible to grow food in a garden without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, but is it possible to feed the population that way?

              My entire argument is that we use chemicals for a reason, and you don't get something for nothing.  If we can produce the same amount of food with some increase in labor and acreage how many more people will have to work the fields rather than build windmills or computers or even cars.  What would that do to the GDP, would the corresponding changes in education, and health care, and poverty be something we'd want to live with?  The story of civilization is a move away from agrarian lifestyles - are you advocating reversing that trend?

              •  In the US, easily. (0+ / 0-)

                Compare the prices of organic food to regular. Of course this is a very imprecise method, but let's suppose that the price of organic food--2x to 3x the price of regular food--reflects the resources used to produce organic food. So yields would fall by 1/2 to 2/3. Imprecise, but probably not that far off, and this might be something like a worst-case scenario--better organic methods could give higher yields.

                So we could get 1/3-1/2 the amount of food from organic farming that we currently produce. Since meat is extremely inefficient, something like 10x as much calories of feed as you get calories of meat from the animal raised on that feed. So suppose we get 1/3 of our calories from meat now, and going organic, we eat 1/3 less meat than we do now. Growing organic and eating a bit less food in general, and somewhat less meat, would put us about on par with what we get eating as much meat as we eat now, and using synthetic fertilizers. That is a shift in diet that we probably ought to make anyway.

                However the US produces a lot of food that we export, and in other countries living closer to the edge in terms of food production, it might be a lot more costly in terms of the price of food and what sacrifices they would have to make.

                •  again - what would the economic impact be? (0+ / 0-)

                  What would happen to the lowest quintile's monthly budget if the cost of food tripled?

                  Also keep in mind that even though raising meat is extremely inefficient, cows don't eat the same food we do, and in at least some cases land suitable for growing cattle feed won't be suitable for growing human feed.

                  While the US produces substantially more calories than it consumes, I guarantee you it's not two to three times more.  Even if we transformed to a 90% vegetarian society, yield reductions on that order would result in food riots - and that's in the US.

                  •  You asked if we could do it, I answered. (0+ / 0-)

                    I'm not saying it's necessarily the best way to go, or that it wouldn't have other consequences. But even if it did, those consequences could be managed.

                    and in at least some cases land suitable for growing cattle feed won't be suitable for growing human feed

                    This is a non-issue. How much of the feed for our current cow, pig, and chicken population do you think comes from land that can only grow animal feed? From what I understand, we feed them mostly corn and soy. Even very marginal (dry, hot) land could be used for crops like millet or sorghum that are very tasty.

                    What would happen to the lowest quintile's monthly budget if the cost of food tripled?

                    If that happened, then lower-cost food products could replace more expensive ones to make up for the increased prices. In other words, less meat, more beans and grains, more corn, &c., and cheaper forms of those foods becoming available for people on a budget. This would only happen as part of a gradual shift and that would give people and institutions time to find ways to eat/feed people cheaply. What if McDonalds served less chicken nuggets and more bean stew, rice, or noodles? Foods like pho, kushari, and rice and curried chickpeas are the lower-cost, healthier fast food that people in the developing world already eat, and these things are extremely inexpensive. The price of food in the US now is a product of what most people are able and willing to pay, it's not a system designed to feed people at low cost. There is already a market for low-cost low-labor food, if food prices go up those products would naturally shift to lower-cost ingredients to remain affordable.

                  •  if all food was organic (0+ / 0-)

                    then it wouldn't be worth a price premium when you buy it. supply goes up, price goes down.

              •  yes, we can support the world (0+ / 0-)

                consider this: we produce enough food in the world to MORE THAN feed every single person on earth. In the US we have enough food for ~ 3900 calories per person per day - including for the babies. So world hunger is NOT a matter of not having enough food. We've got so much food at present we turn it into plastic and use it in our cars.

                However - Tim LaSalle's Rodale Institutes advocates methods that INCREASE yields using organic methods OVER what you'd get with conventional methods. So organic is the way to go if you want food production to go UP - particularly in years with climate extremes (drought, flood, heat, cold) bc organic withstands that better than conventional.

          •  It is easy to get "wrong". Easi*er*? (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pletzs, Mike Czech, judith2007

            But the side effect of "wrong" in organic farming is low yields.

            The side effect of mistakes in "conventional" farming come later, but they're disastrous -- unsustainable practices are called "unsustainable" for a reason.  

            Mass antibiotic resistance, oceanic dead zones, soil depletion, and a complex collection of poisioning-related health problems are among the things they've "gotten wrong".  Unfortunately many of these things are very fundamentally wrong and can't be solved without eliminating major components of the "conventional" farming technique.

            Anyway, attempting to completely "idiot-proof" farming is an insane idea.  Light sockets are pretty "easy to get wrong" (don't stick your finger in!).  It's important to document, write down, and teach good, effective, techniques -- as it is in all fields of endeavor.

            Bridges are very "easy to get wrong", but we haven't gone back to fording rivers (which is fairly hard to get wrong, but deadly if you do) because of that.  Instead we have engineering manuals.  Schools of agriculture exist for a reason.

            -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

            by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:58:44 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Bull. Here's where you're wrong. (4+ / 0-)

        You don't get something for nothing, but the tradeoff is not yield.

        The tradeoff is actually labor and intelligence.

        High-yield organic farming requires a great deal of work.  Mental work as well as physical work.  It involves a lot of complicated tricks, not just the old "throw mined fertilizer at it".  You have to monitor your crops and deal with pests as they come rather than just throwing blanket everything-killers at them.  You actually have to weed the fields!

        Agro-chemical farming is the lazy man's substitute for high-yield organic farming techniques.  And it makes sense that it's dominated -- the economic value of labor is probably higher than it's been in most of human history, and the value of intelligent labor is always very high.

        -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

        by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:48:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  ok so lets say the only cost is labor (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          How much is a tomato going to cost if it takes 3x the labor to produce it?  How about a loaf of bread?  And how is that going to affect the poor?

          •  AMEN!! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            That's what the Rodalites fail to appreciate.  An "organic" farmer will never be able to produce the amount of food that a conventional farmer does, simply because of the increased labor inputs inherent to organic farming methodology.  Perhaps if we go back to having 10-20% of the population working on the farm, that might work, but I don't see that happening.

            •  As a SMALL apple farmer... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I understand the labor problem. I try to do everything by a "do no harm" principle, and yes, my apples do not reach the level of visual "quality" of those in Hood River or Wenatchee Washington. Many organic growers DO reach this level of visual quality.

              It is true that I probably could compete with the level of apple visual quality demanded by the marketplace. It takes a great deal of hand labor to do, including different traps for different pests at different times, maintaining those traps and monitoring them. If I were to spray, it is one or two applications, and BAM, thats it. I get to wait for harvest.

              However, it seems to me that the big guys are getting hidden subsidies left and right, from tax breaks for corporate status, to transportation, to cheap oil supported by military adventure, to.. well.. a lot. If I got those savings, I could hire the required labor to lower my costs.

              So that is where we are. Should we continue to subsidize the Industrial size growers or should we start making the small scale growers more competitive? Only the consumer can decide, and through agricultural policy, change the emphasis.

              I think a balance is needed. There will always be a market for the cheapest products, and different price points up to the Boutique market. My apples may be wormier, but there is still a market, because they taste great. The consumer admits a little hand labor, and a little psychological distance from disgust. I have eaten hundreds of apple worms, and skin scab,  and never had so much as a moment of discomfort. Its a mind thing. We need to change our minds. This is what "closer to the earth" means, and people can and do this change all the time.

              Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

              by OregonOak on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 12:21:13 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  but if I buy an organic tomato directly (0+ / 0-)

            from a farmer, the cost will be lower than if I buy an organic tomato that's been trucked 1,500 miles to my grocery store.

            If we build up local food networks and opportunities for farmers to sell directly to consumers, the increased cost for sustainably produced food will not be as much as you imply.

            Anyway, creating more jobs in rural communities is important and will benefit the economy in other ways. In Iowa we have a lot of immigrants from agrarian backgrounds who would love to farm a few acres instead of working in a meat-packing plant.

            Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

            by desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 12:00:32 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  And cost of labor would be reduced by... (0+ / 0-)

          economies of scale (as more people learn the tricks, it's easier to build up organic farming human capital/expertise for people that don't already have it) and by better education, making it easier to find people who have the basic cognitive and academic skills to learn organic farming techniques.

  •  super post dmd (4+ / 0-)

    Organic farming is clearly a great way to protect our environment as well as maintain the health of local food economies.    

    Its also counteracts the push from corporate agribusiness with their environmentally unfriendly proprietary herbicide-resistant GMOs.

    "Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward." -Sherlock Holmes

    by The Anomaly on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 08:08:44 AM PST

  •  Going to toot my own horn here (7+ / 0-)

    a bit, if you don't mind.

    I've been an advocate of organic agriculture since I was a kid, when I watched my step-dad put pesticides on the pepper plants to kill aphids, and killed a bunch of lady bugs instead. I had one of the world's first organic gardening web sites. I blog about my organic garden. I have friends like Mort Mather, who provides his son's southern Maine restaurant with organic produce.

    I stopped eating pork after seeing Michael Pollan on Colbert, pointing out that pigs are smarter than dogs, which I remember from raising pigs, that the pigs would often try to help teach the dogs new tricks.

    Here it is the middle of December and we're still eating greens from my little zone 5 garden, which is now a cold frame.

    But, what I started out to say, before all that, was that if you can, compost. Composting lets your food waste decompose aerobically, rather than anaerobically, like it would in the land fill. The difference in carbon emissions is huge. Composting on a much larger scale, as full-scale organic agriculture requires, can make a huge difference.

    Thanks for writing this. It's high time we took the green economy everywhere it should logically be. To the fields, and back yards, everywhere.

    •  Composting is like a religion for me (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      desmoinesdem, supak, flowerfarmer

      I think it was 15 years ago when I read that the layer of soil on this planet is thinner (relatively speaking) than the paint on a globe, and it is on this living soil that all life on earth depends.  Somehow that analogy hit me very hard, and I became a serious composter.  I had a compost pile on the south side of my apartment building in med school, and I can often be seen digging into trash cans (in shared housing, I haven't gone dumpster diving, well, not all that often) for compostable materials.

      Just two nights ago I was pulling comestibles out of a garbage can at the UU potluck, to give to my chickens (who then produce good material for my giant three-bin compost factory).  UU's are notoriously open minded, but I caught some people looking at me like I was crazy!  I don't care.  My garden soil is totally awesome.  I am sequestering CO2 like mad.

      Universal Health Care - it's coming, but not soon enough!

      by DrFood on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 10:58:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Some mind-bogglers . . . . (0+ / 0-)

    You say . . .

    By using organic agricultural methods and eliminating petroleum-based fertilizers and toxic chemical pest-and-weed control, we build - rather than destroy - the biology of our soil.

    This seems to imply that biology is good.

    And then later you go . . . .

    Last week the National Academcy of Sciences released findings from the latest study proving that chemicals applied to farms are a major contributor to the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico

    This seems to imply that chemistry is bad.

    So, what about hybrids between the disciplines, such as

    Biochemisty: Good or bad?

    Biological Chemistry: Good or bad?

    Chemical Biology: Good or bad?

    •  whaaaaaaatttt? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, desmoinesdem

      that was some well done use of formatting, but the content makes no sense.  the 2 quotes you cite reconcile themselves quite well.  

      quote a: less chemical based fertilizers - better soil

      quote b: less chemical based fertilizers - better water quality

      •  Actually my point was that the (0+ / 0-)

        first quote makes absolutely no sense.

        How do you destroy the biology of soil?

        Biology means "the study of life"

        Putting the two things together you get:

        How do you destroy "the study of life" of soil?

        Is this implying the soil is alive, and is studying life?

        It's just simply bizarre.

        •  goooooogle "define: biology" (3+ / 0-)

          first result:

          "characteristic life processes and phenomena of living organisms; 'the biology of viruses'"

          re-read the quote with this in mind.  soil IS alive.

        •  I hate it when people define words via their (0+ / 0-)

          greek or latin roots, and act as if that's the authoritative meaning. Words mean what people think they mean.

          Your right that the sentence you pick out seems to disparage all chemicals, which is odd given that biology is chemistry. And organic farming does use various chemical treatments as well. However the article mentions specifically what they mean by chemicals elsewhere, the "petroleum-based fertilizers and toxic chemical pest-and-weed control" in the first quote.

    •  Knowledge is good. Applications are good or bad. (0+ / 0-)

      It's good to know what's causing the dead zone.  It's good to know how to increase the biological activity in the soil.

      Then we decide what we want.  If we like dead zones in the Gulf and dead soil, we have one definition of "good and bad".  If we don't, we have a different definition.

      Science -- biology and chemistry -- is all about knowledge.  It's only the applications which are good or bad.  You can use your knowledge of advanced chemistry to build a solar panel or a bomb.

      -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

      by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 10:01:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Really interesting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    But I wonder what the tradeoffs are.  Is organic farming as productive as non-organic farming?  If nonorganic farming can produce a larger crop at lower overall carbon costs, the sequestration may not make a difference.

    •  first of all (4+ / 0-)

      yes organic IS as productive - typically more productive - than conventional although for the first several years it will be less productive.

      Also, there is absolutely no way non-organic can produce more for less carbon overall, even during the first years of organic transition when farmers going organic see the most significant decrease in yields. The methods recommended by Rodale use 2/3 less oil than conventional methods.

      •  How many people do you supply food for? (0+ / 0-)

        The average American farmer, and that's assuming "conventional" farming practices, produces enough food for about 130-150 people per year.  

        Can organic farmers produce that same amount?  

        •  easily (3+ / 0-)

          I had a friend who used to be an organic farmer.

          She rented six acres. She put a cover crop on three and grew a variety of fruits and vegetables on the other three.

          She sold 90 "shares" for her CSA farm, and her shares were very generous--enough for a week for a family who eats a lot of vegetables. She also had excess of some veggies, which she bartered or sold through a local co-op.

          That was from three acres.

          Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

          by desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 11:57:20 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Would that 1 family x 1 week measure (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            mean you could actually feed a family for a week with one share, or would they have to supplement that with other grains, meat, beans, potatoes, nuts, eggs...? Obviously grains could be grown organically too, but that has to be factored in (and grains and legumes do give a lot more calories than veggies).

            Assuming 1 family = 4 people...

            90 shares x 4 people / (3 acres x 52 weeks) = 2.5 people/acre

            That sounds really high to me. The number of acres being farmed in the US is around 1 billion if I got my calculation right, so we could feed half the world on veggies if everybody's organic farm were that productive. So even if the real number is 1/3 the figure you gave, we'd be doing pretty well with organic farming. As long as we eat a lot less meat. Which we probably should do anyway, purely for health reasons.

  •  I've always wondered (3+ / 0-)

    how big the radius around an organic farm has to be where there is no use of pesticides, ferts & genetically modified plants. I know of a story about France where an organic farmer's crops are fertilized by a field of genetically modified plants from a field a couple miles away. Does anyone know if there is a standard for this kind of thing?

  •  Environmental and Human Health (8+ / 0-)

    are inextricably intertwined.

    We can't heal the planet without healing ourselves, and vice versa.

    Remember the Native American proverb

    "The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives."

    Nice diary!  I enjoyed it.

  •  Where would we obtain all of the organic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, desmoinesdem

    fertilizer?  While I am all for reducing the amount of pesticides and chemical fertilizers can we do that wholesale and still have enough organic fertilizer to satisfy demand?  

    Another question, would it be possible to still use chemical fertilizer along with other practices to promote microfauna growth in the soil in order to minimize the amount of chemical fertilizers used?

    •  "Animal waste". (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      desmoinesdem, DrFood, flowerfarmer

      There are some serious problems to sort out -- disease, contamination, etc. -- but frankly we have enough "fertilizer" in the world to cover every farm and then some.  There are particular problems with the vast quantity of wasted (ahem) human waste.

      Co-farming animals and plants solves two problems at once -- dealing with the animal waste and fertilizing the plants.  It's sort of pathetic that we have both problems at the moment; it's an "excess of specialization" issue, I guess.

      Someone has pointed out that bacterial "digesters" can be used on all sorts of waste to generate ammonia which can be made into chemical fertilizer without mining nitrates -- this evades the disease and contamination problem while creating sustainability.  The ammonia->fertilizer step can eventually be done without petroleum products, though that requires some extra infrastructure.  

      After all, it's not that we want to "avoid chemicals", it's that we (a) want to avoid dangerous and unknown chemicals, and (b) want to avoid unsustainable practices such as use of fossil fuels and fossil fertilizers.

      -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

      by neroden on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:43:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I didn't think that chemical fertilizers persay (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        neroden, Oogity Boogity Boo

        were the problem, but their source and overuse.  If we could focus as much on soil health as we do on yields I think we could make great progress.  

        The problem as I understand it with conventional use of chemical fertilizers is that we use way more than is able to be used by the plants, thus causing the runoff problems.  

        If we foster the growth of soil micro-fauna, which more readily uptake the fertilizer we could reduce the amount used and reduce the mount that ends up in runoff.

        •  Yes and no (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          One of the best sustainable agriculture consultants I know uses conventional chemical fertilizers with some clients, particularly as a farmer is transitioning over from a conventional model of farming.  I have a lot of respect for taking a pragmatic approach, rather than being a purist.

          But it's not just a runoff issue.  The chemical fertilizers typically kill the soil micro-fauna, even in amounts below what will cause run-off.  So you have to work with them very carefully, both in quantity and in what you mix them with, to be able to use them and still foster the growth of micro-fauna.  So their use is problematic.

    •  Organic soil fertility (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      desmoinesdem, DrFood, neroden

      Ultimately, organic farming is dependant on biological nitrogen fixation for new N. Use of organic amendments from animal production and other sources represents a recycling of nutrients, including the major nutrients that often limit production (N,P,K) as well as all other nutrients (Ca, Mg and micro nutrients like Zn).

      Growing enough legumes to provide this N is the challenge because our industrial systems have been intensified by eliminating these plants.

      Other nutrients (such as P and K) need to be added at rates that replenish the removal rates.  There are a number of options for these.

  •  Great Plains Grasses for Victory (5+ / 0-)

    I wonder how much CO2 would be left in the air if all the carbon from the grasses that used to cover the Great Plains were back there.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:47:05 AM PST

    •  I don't know the number (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DrFood, neroden, flowerfarmer

      but it must be an absolutely enormous amount.

      I heard a talk by Cornelia Mutel over the summer about her book Emerald Horizon. It's about the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and how humans have destroyed more than 99 percent of it in Iowa. Anyway, tallgrass prairies are incredible in so many ways, including biodiversity and the richness of the soil. There was a tremendous amount of carbon fixed in that soil.

      Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

      by desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 09:58:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I had a friend chewing my ear off about switch (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    grass.  Says U of Nebraska is center and it's a far better alternative to corn-based ethenol.  DMD, or anyone, ever heard of it?

    West Michigan Rising the blog for progressives building our left coast

    by philgoblue on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 10:51:11 AM PST

    •  from what I've heard, it has a lot of potential (0+ / 0-)

      It's a perennial, so we wouldn't have the energy inputs of planting and harvesting a crop every year.

      But from what I hear we're still a few years away from it being commercially viable on a large scale. I am not an expert on this at all.

      Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

      by desmoinesdem on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 11:33:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rodale has some good ideas (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and I have been a fan of theirs since the first oil embargo back in 1973.  Yep, incorporating residues and compost into the soil may be beneficial, but doesn't the composting process release emissions of some sort, such as methane gas?

    We have a composting operation in our small town that takes grass clippings, garden plant waste, and leaves for the most part.  I don't know what is being done with the composted material except to give it to those who dare to handle it.  It is loaded with glass and shredded pieces of aluminum cans.

    Sewage can also be used as a low grade fertilizer, about 5 percent nitrogen if I remember correctly.  However the risk of pathogens might limit its application to land that produced food.

    •  Sadly, your composting operation sounds very lame (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Here in Dane county, Wisconsin all yard waste is composted in giant piles managed with bulldozers, and you can fill a pickup truck (or trailer--that's what I do) for $10.  The compost is sifted, and you can fill a barrel with it and plant directly without adding anything.  The compost is rich and so dark it's almost black.  I've never seen any glass or metal, although occasionally I see a bit of shredded plastic.  

      One of the best things about the county made compost is that it has no viable weed seeds.  My own compost doesn't always get hot enough to kill all the seeds, so after I cover my beds with my compost, I often cover with a layer of the county made compost, to decrease weeding.

      Universal Health Care - it's coming, but not soon enough!

      by DrFood on Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 11:05:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The carbon sequestration is achieved (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    due to no-till planting methods, something that can be done by conventional and organic farmers alike.  The roots from the plants are what store the carbon taken from the air by the plant while it grows and as long as the roots aren't disked up the carbon stays in the ground.

    Conventional fertilizers no doubt have a higher impact on the environment but as far as carbon sequestration from the atmosphere goes the chemicals don't have anything to do with it.

  •  A nit - 850% less runoff? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Leo in NJ

    How do you produce 850% less of anything?
    Methinks somebody did the maths wrong.

    Percentages are weird things.
    If 'old' = 100 and 'new' = 200, then 'new' is 100% more than old.
    But if 'old' = 200 and 'new' = 100, then 'new' is 50% less than old.

    My guess - based on seeing fellow engineers at work do percentages wrong - is that:

    'old' runoff is 850% more than 'new' runoff

    is a true statement.

    So, if 'new' = 100, then 'old' = 950.  Resulting in 89.5% less runoff.

  •  Chicago Climate Exchange supports ag (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    soil carbon offsets by including no-till, strip till or ridge till farming in their voluntary emissions reduction program.

    A link for you guys:

    I think paying farmers for large scale carbon sequestration by issuing them credits through programs like these could eventually provide the impetus to dumping farm subsidies altogether.

  •  KOS, please front page this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    To push organic farming as a global warming offensive might be politically viable.

  •  Every Little Bit Helps (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Unfortunately, organic farming won't solve global warming because the earth's human population is too big to feed everyone from organic farms. However, it might buy us some time, and every little bit helps. (Additionally, it would reduce chemical runoff into the oceans, which can't be good for them.)

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