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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sustainable Practices Are Catching On

After a small decline in steps taken toward sustainable ag in the Rabobank Fall 2009 U.S. Farm & Ranch Survey, 72% of all U.S. ag producers now report that they have taken steps toward sustainable ag – the highest since the inception of the measurement!

"U.S producers understand that to be in the ag business for the long term means taking care of the land," says Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory Vice President Sterling Liddell.

The most significant steps are using direct seeding (64%), minimizing use of chemicals (42%), crop rotation or diversification (39%) and reduced energy inputs (39%).

The survey also found that those who were most likely to have taken steps toward sustainable ag practices were:

Tenant farmers – 80%
Row-crop farmers – 79%
Farmers in the Western Region – 77%
Farms with gross farm income of $1 million and more – 77%
Farms run by someone less than 40 years old – 76%
Farms with more than 3 employees – 74%
Dairy producers – 73%

"Since larger producers tend to lead trends, it's encouraging that they are making sustainable ag practices a part of their operations," says Liddell.

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On the other hand, California's Department of Pesticide Regulation just issued a notice to approve methyl iodide with an exposure limit of 96 parts per billion for workers. That is 120 times higher than 0.08 parts per billion recommended by the independent review panel that was brought in by state regulators to help staff scientists evaluate the fumigant, which is set to replace methyl bromide in strawberry plantings. Animal studies show that methyl iodide is a carcinogen and a neurotoxin, and it can cause miscarriages. Proponents main concern, however, is that fumigated strawberry plots produce twice as many strawberries as nonfumigated plots.

An e-mail obtained through California's Public Records Act shows that staff scientists were also perplexed by how exposure levels had jumped from the recommended 0.8 parts per billion to 96 parts per billion. They stand by the lower numbers.

Managers at the agency say it's not up to scientists to decide whether methyl iodide is approved and at what levels. "We went through a very careful review process of all the scientific information before us," says Mary-Ann Warmerdam, director of California's Department of Pesticide Regulation.

She says methyl iodide can be used safely and points to the EPA's exposure limit for workers, which is 193 parts per billion – twice what California is proposing. Warmerdam also points to a list of regulations intended to protect people from inhaling or coming into contact with the chemical. Things like face masks, gloves, heavy tarps and buffer zones. "The mitigation factors that we've put forward are extraordinarily health protective, and they stand up against the health protective levels put forward by others, including EPA," she says.

Meanwhile, the EPA, under President Obama, appears to be reconsidering the previous administration's approval of methyl iodide. According to state transcripts, EPA officials say they may take another look at the chemical, depending on what happens in California.

Read or listen to the full story on NPR here and read the director of DPR's talking points here.

posted by CASFS 2006 @ 8:07 PM

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