Soil Solarization: Harness The Sun To Kill Soil Pests & Diseases

My latest article at Hobby Farms

Some of the best things in life are free, and the abundant energy of the sun is one of them. This is very good news for those of us who work with garden and agricultural soils, which are home to hundreds of thousands of crop pests: insects, nematodes, termites, arthropods, rodents and weeds, as well as fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens. The power of the sun can be used in a passive way to defeat a number of these barriers to productivity, using a process called soil solarization.

Conventionally, since at least the 1930s, soil sterilants, like methyl bromide, have been used to fumigate agricultural soils and kill all sorts of organisms, whether or not they are harmful to the crop. Because this chemical depletes the ozone layer, its use has been steadily declining in most of the world since the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The United States is one of the only nations that has lobbied for significant exceptions, despite having more than 1,000 documented cases of poisoning among agricultural workers using the stuff.

Although a solar alternative to using dangerous chemical fumigants has been documented as being used in ancient times by farmers on the Indian subcontinent, it didn’t really catch on here until the mid-1970s.

Soil solarization—also called solar soil heating—is accomplished by mulching and covering agricultural soils during the hot season, usually using a transparent or translucent polyethylene tarp. This is different from plasticulture, in which a polyethylene mulch is used during the growing season to suppress weeds and increase the efficiency of drip irrigation.

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Image: California Agriculture
Largest US food producers ask Congress to shield lobbying activities
United Egg Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council are proposing a change to the Freedom of Information Act
By Sam Thielman

Some of the largest food producers in the US have successfully petitioned Congress to propose a change to the Freedom of Information Act that would shield their communications with boards overseen by the US Department of Agriculture from the scrutiny of the public, the Guardian has learned.

The move follows a series of stories that showed the government-backed egg promoter, the American Egg Board, had attempted to stifle competition from Silicon Valley food startup Hampton Creek, in direct conflict with its mandate.

Several agricultural lobbyists including United Egg Producers, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council have now sent a letter to the congressional subcommittee overseeing appropriations for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking to be exempted from Foia requests to their own respective promotional boards.

The letter to the subcommittee reads, in part:

We support inclusion of language in the Committee report urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to recognize that the research and promotion programs are funded solely with producer dollars, and therefore are not agencies of the Federal government or subject to the Freedom of Information Act (Foia).

The language added to the bill reads thusly:

The Committee notes that the commodity Research and Promotion boards that the agency oversees are not agencies of the federal government, nor are Research and Promotion programs funded with federal funds. The funding used to operate and carry out the activities of the various Research and Promotion programs is provided by producers and industry stakeholders, and employees of the boards are not federal employees. Therefore, the Committee urges USDA to recognize that such boards are not subject to the provisions of 5 U.S.C. Section 552.

The bill has not yet been passed.

The government-backed food marketing groups are called “checkoff”programs, dedicated to promoting individual commodities and backed by a levy on farmers. Their most recognizable presence is in the form of marketing slogans such as “The incredible, edible egg” or “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner”.

The administrators of checkoff programs are appointed by the USDA and the programs themselves are funded by a levy on goods sold. The supreme court has ruled that contributing to the programs is mandatory, and that the programs themselves constitute government speech. That decision was controversial – small producers have long argued that checkoffs exclusively serve the interests of the their largest competitors, and environmental and animal rights activists say checkoffs often obscure the cruelties of industrial farming.


These bees are being recruited to save your strawberries from mould
Let's Take The "Factory" Out Of Factory Farms
If there is one term I am most frustrated at hearing people say, it is Factory Farms. What are factory farms? Are they harmful to animals?

I love this article. Over 90% of all farms are family own. I believe the current number is 97% across the board. Let’s take the “factory” out of factory farms. Even though corporations that process animals for meat products exist, they are simply buying from these family farms.

Take Harris Ranch for example, as one I know off the top of my head. I have a friend here in school who is a cattle rancher. Her family produces cattle on their farm, then sells that cattle to Harris Ranch. Driving down Interstate 5, upon passing the Harris Ranch feedlot, one would think that is a factory farm. Cattle only spend a few months of their lives at that facility, while the rest of the time is spent on the various family farms who raise the cattle to be sold to the companies who process our meat.


The National Laboratory for Genetic Resources is run by the USDA and aims to preserve and catalog the genetic diversity of all of the different varieties of fruits vegetables and cereals found around the world. Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, it is the nation’s largest repository of plant germplasm with over 680,000 unique accessions . Similar to the famous Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway, the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources serves as a library of genetic diversity that farmers and plant breeders can utilize to find plant varieties that may have a trait of interest such as disease resistance or drought tolerance that can be used to improve the crops we eat. Germplasm centers also act as repositories for plant varieties that may have been lost due to natural and/or human disasters. Institutions like the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources ensure that the plant varieties we depend on to feed our growing population do not disappear over time.

The newest apiary inspector at the Maryland Department of Agriculture has four legs, golden fur and a powerful sniffer.

Mack, a 2-year-old yellow Lab, joined the team last fall to help his mom, chief apiary inspector Cybil Preston, inspect beehives for American foulbrood — AFB — a highly contagious bacterial disease that infects honeybee brood and, eventually, kills the colony.

“Maryland has a thriving beekeeping industry, and most of our beekeepers have thousands of hives that travel from state to state for pollination,” explains Preston. “It’s our job to make sure that infected hives don’t cross state lines.”

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has had a “bee dog” on staff since 1982 and is believed to be the only state agency in the nation using a dog to detect AFB.

Keeping Bees Safe: It’s A Ruff Job, But This Doggy Detective Gets It Done

Photo credit: Morgan McCloy/NPR

If Google built a city, it might look like this

A Google City might be somewhere in the Midwest.

WiFi hotspots might be widespread across the city, offering a free and public alternative to broadband internet use.

The rise of self-driving vehicles could make speed limits and traffic lights obsolete.

Ride-sharing programs might lead to fewer cars on the road and eliminate the need for parking garages.

Facial recognition technology could make security as simple as taking a picture.

Public ads powered by big data might personalize billboards and posters to your interests.

Energy sources would be entirely renewable, as wind and solar eliminate the need for fossil fuels.

Farmers could get real-time updates on soil health and moisture levels, yielding richer growing seasons.

Schools might be densely connected webs of collaboration between students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Public transportation would allow for real-time updates on delays, traffic jams, and ridership volume.

Health care might be highly patient-centric thanks to comprehensive health records that can be shared between hospitals.
Researchers create natural insecticidal proteins to target resistant bugs
"The hope is that by applying this strategy, we can overcome what's considered to be one of the biggest threats to sustaining the yield gains of modern agriculture," he said.

Harvard scientists have developed molecules that may help to solve one of the most pressing problems in modern agriculture: the rise of insects that are resistant to traits that were engineered to help crops withstand pests.

Using phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE) technology developed by Harvard’s David Liu, professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and his co-workers, a team of researchers evolved new forms of a natural insecticidal protein called “Bt toxin.” The proteins can be used to assist in controlling Bt toxin resistance in insects.

Liu is the corresponding author of the study, which was co-authored by graduate student Ahmed H. Badran from Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, along with Cornell University entomologist Ping Wang and a number of collaborating scientists at Monsanto, which produces Bt toxin crops. The work is described in the May 5 issue of Nature, published online April 27.

“Our goal in this collaboration was ambitious,” Liu said. “The key questions were: Can we retarget a Bt toxin to a different insect gut protein by evolving the Bt toxin, and will doing so enable us to kill insects that have become resistant to wild-type Bt toxin? Our hope was to use PACE to help stay ahead of insect resistance.”

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