Beyond GMOs and Petroleum Farming

Four years ago I was among the group of Boulder County residents who were asking to ban GMOs on our publically-owned farm lands. The Commissioners at that time voted to add GMO Sugar Beets to the already approved GMO corn, but they also increased the acreage of land to be used for organic agriculture and agreed to take another look at neonicotinoid use if there was new evidence. There is now new evidence on GMOs, Roundup that is used on 80% of GMOs and on neonicotinoids linked to the death and weakening of all our insects, including bees.

         So in 2011, in order to find out if there were practical non-toxic options to manage larger pieces of farm land (like 200-300 acres), I traveled to Ohio to an Acres USA Conference. Attending that conference were over a thousand farmers and ranchers. ACRES has been guiding eco-agriculture for 45 years now; the last conference I had attended was in 1977. I met farmers and attended talks by farmers who were managing 100-1000 acres without GMOs and without toxic chemicals.

         They were not only promoting and teaching ecological agriculture, but what they called “biological agriculture”. This focus on biology emphasizes the function and value of soil life. The beneficial bacteria, fungi and other soil organisms are Nature’s system for creating soil fertility, and the valuable tilth of the soil which allows the entry of water and air, and the movement of plant roots and human tools.

         Our soil can be supported to benefit the growth, health and drought tolerance of plants, or it can be limited and killed by harsh chemical fertilizers and by toxic herbicides like Roundup and toxic pesticides like neonicotinoids.

         I do know about this from my own experience in managing a commercial nursery using organic methods for 25 years.

         I am taking your valuable time to explain this because the future of our county and our planet could be moved significantly in a sustainable direction if you clearly understand that there is a practical and viable alternative to the chemical approach that is the product of oil thinking and marketing.    Biological thinking is much more earth friendly.

         In the 21st Century, we must consider more than making money or a product; we must consider the effects of what we are doing.

         We cannot simply use the soil for short-term gains, without helping to regenerate it. We must consider what we are leaving for our children and for their economy. It used to be common for farmers to say

 “ I’m gonna leave the land in better shape than when I got it.”

         Chemical, petroleum-based agriculture has been killing the land, killing the soil life that build fertility, tilth and nutrition in the food we eat. Now after 60 years of mistreatment, our soils are less fertile, less productive, require more costly inputs and are more vulnerable to erosion which is a major threat to food production and the environment. This is clearly not sustainable.

         I feel very sympathetic for the farmers who have been educated to buy a petroleum-based system that fights against the power of Nature, and that poisons the environment they live in and the water they drink. And that has been giving the farmers a very meager living.

         Isn’t it time we moved on to a system based on 21st Century science instead of WW II science? Even GMO technology is still old thinking, using a gene gun to slam genetic material together with often unforeseen consequences. More and more research and field testing is proving that we can build soil naturally and powerfully by feeding the soil life and partnering with Nature’s power to regenerate.

         Look what happens when agriculture fights Nature: Nature adapts, so 12 major weeds have developed resistance to RoundUp. Oil thinking responds by designing GMO crops that are 2,4-D Ready, so now farmers are using more 2,4-D herbicide. Does Boulder County really want to keep going in this direction?

         The so-called Green Revolution was really the Petroleum Revolution or the Poison Revolution. It wasn’t Green at all. It has had 60 years to prove its worth and it has failed. When chemical fertilizers were designed from natural gas, they didn’t realize that NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) only made plants grow; they did not provide the valuable micronutrients that plants depend on for their immune systems and overall health and vitality.

         The early scientists didn’t see that Pesticides don’t know when to stop killing. They didn’t see that the beneficial insects that keep the pests under control would die also. They didn’t see that pests would develop resistance and that newer and more pesticides would have to be applied for control. Of course all this was good for the oil business.

         GMOs are just another money-maker in the chemical farming approach. We were told that GMOs would reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides, but the record shows there has been a great increase. 80% of GMOs require the use of RoundUp (glyphosate) which has been classified by the World Health Organization as a probable human carcinogen. Neonicotinoids which are applied to many or most GMO crops are now recognized as a major cause of death and weakening of bees, butterflies, earthworms, ladybugs and all insects including soil-dwelling forms so important for soil fertility and tilth. Neonics are often required to be used on GMO sugar beets and neonics make it impossible to use IPM Integrated Pest Management, because all parts of the plant are toxic all the time.

Graeme Sait author of Nutrition Rules has written:

“The GMO companies have sold us the story that their GM varieties are the solution to feeding a growing world population. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that these finely tuned hybrids require very specific and precise conditions to deliver their promise. They can be very productive when given the correct fertilizer, moisture requirements and climate conditions, but they can really struggle in challenging conditions. They do not have resilience, and resilience is the single most important requirement in a world that is becoming considerably less predictable.”     

         It seems clear to those of us not dependent on chemicals and poisons, that the time for action has come to clean up our world, to partner with Nature, to take carbon from the air and sequester it into our soil where it contributes to fertility. More and more research and trials by Rodale Institute etc are showing the tremendous capacity of soil under organic culture to reverse climate change. But we have to stop killing our partners and help them instead.

         We can rebuild our public land and attract organic farmers to produce healthy food for our Farmers Markets and local grocery stores. We already have some good organic farmers and if we create a distribution center or system, we would be a lot more food secure, better nourished and GMO farmers could be making better money growing organic. The price and demand for organic corn is sky high, and the market for organic is growing rapidly.

         We do not need oil to grow plants: we can mow or cultivate or use non-toxic herbicides; we can grow with diversity, magnetize beneficial insects, and create plant vitality through soil health. Sometimes you have to spray, but it doesn’t have to be a poison.

         Our company, Harlequin’s Gardens has been growing healthy plants for 25 years without toxic pesticides. We just purchased one acre of land next to us to build a large production greenhouse that will be fossil fuel-free where we will grow pesticide-free perennials and vegetable starts. This will be a benefit to our bees, insects, frogs, birds and community. We believe this is the direction of the NEAR future, and we hope Boulder County will join us in making a practical commitment to sustainability, to cleaning up our world and to creating a healthy environment with healthy food.

         Question #1 is: Is Boulder County going to continue to use our publically-owned land to support an oil economy, WW II science and poison-based agriculture that kills our soils, pollutes our water and our environment and undermines the heath of our citizens,

OR are we going to invest in the growing 21st Century biological direction of agriculture that partners with Nature, builds healthy soil, cultivates nutrient-dense foods, is good for our bees, birds, worms and beneficial microorganisms, and for the health of our citizens and our planet.

         Question #2 is: If we choose to transition to biological agriculture, how can that transition be compassionate to our farmers so they can learn a new approach to farming without going broke? And beyond that, to become more profitable than they are now with GMOs and poisons?

         We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are thousands of farmers already on the biological/ organic path that we can learn from. Acres USA, the Rodale Institute, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Natural Science and Technology Center and dozens of other organizations are resources for the transition. And we should perhaps reduce rents and subsidize non-toxic pesticides and herbicides and possibly help with marketing.

         Change is rarely easy, but the direction of the future for our agriculture and for our planet has to be forward. And we believe that Boulder County should be one of the leaders. Please ban GMOs and neonicotinoids on our public land, or at the very least ban them on 50% of our land for a start.