Alternative Agriculture News, 6/97
Alternative Agriculture News
Henry A. Wallace Institute for
9200 Edmonston Road, #117
Greenbelt, MD 20770
* * *
If You Are Interested in Sustainable Agriculture...
In addition to this monthly newsletter, the Henry A.
Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture publishes the
American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, a quarterly,
peer-reviewed journal of research on alternative agriculture. It
is a scientific forum for disseminating technical, economic, and
social research findings about the character and requirements of
alternative agriculture systems.
The current issue (Volume 11, No. 4) includes articles on
a first study of managing vertebrates in cover crops, the links
between pesticide use and pesticide residues, and production-side
progress and demand-side constraints in sustainable agriculture
in the Corn Belt. Abstracts from the conference on
"Environmental Enhancement Through Agriculture," sponsored by the
Wallace Institute, Tufts University, and American Farmland Trust
in November, 1995, are also in the new issue. Subscriptions to
AJAA are $44 for libraries, $24 for individuals, and $12 for
students; contact the Wallace Institute, 9200 Edmonston Road,
#117, Greenbelt, MD 20770; (301) 441-8777; e-mail
Table of Contents
Ecosystems Provide "Services" Worth $33 Trillion 1
Push to Label Genetically Engineered Food is Growing 2
Mite-Eating Mite Save Cassava Crop in Africa 3
Is Organic Food More Nutritious? 3
EQIP Final Rule Reflects Public Comments on Herd Size 4
Five New Members Named to Organic Standards Board 4
Upcoming Events 5
ECOSYSTEMS PROVIDE VALUABLE "SERVICES" WORTH $33 TRILLION, STUDY
The "services" of the earth's ecosystems "represent part of
the total economic value of the planet," and are valued at $33
trillion per year, according to an article by 13 ecologists,
economists, and geographers in Nature (May 15, 1997). "Because
ecosystem services are not fully 'captured' in commercial markets
or adequately quantified in terms comparable with economic
services and manufactured capital, they are often given too
little weight in policy decisions," the authors wrote. "This
neglect may ultimately compromise the sustainability of humans in
the biosphere. The economies of the Earth would grind to a halt
without the services of ecological life-support systems, so in
one sense their total value to the economy is infinite."
Among the 17 services provided by ecosystems are nutrient
cycling, including "nitrogen fixation, N, P, and other elemental
or nutrient cycles" (valued at $17 trillion); erosion control and
sediment retention, including "prevention of loss of soil by
wind, runoff, or other removal processes, and storage of silt in
lakes and wetlands;" soil formation, including "weathering of
rock and the accumulation of organic material;" pollination,
including "provisioning of pollinators for the reproduction of
plant populations;" biological control, including "keystone
predator control of prey species;" and genetic resources,
including "medicine; products for materials science; genes for
resistance to plant pathogens and crop pests; pets; ornamental
species; and horticultural varieties of plants."
According to an article about the study in The New York
Times (May 20, 1997), "nature performs a long list of other
economic services as well. Flood control, soil formation,
pollination, food and timber production, provision of the raw
material for new medicines, recreational opportunities, and the
maintenance of a favorable climate are among them."
One way to put a value on such services, according to
Newsweek (May 26, 1997), "is to figure out what it would cost to
substitute technological fixes for what nature does.
Substituting chemical fertilizer for natural nitrogen fixation,
for instance, would cost at least $33 billion a year. Growing
crops without soil by substituting the hydroponic systems beloved
of urban gardeners would cost $2 million per acre in the United
PUSH TO LABEL GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOOD IS GROWING, SAYS N.Y.
A "small but growing movement of people" is pushing for food
labels that indicate what genetically engineered ingredients the
food includes, according to The New York Times (May 21, 1997).
Because the federal government does not require such labels, most
Americans have no idea which foods are genetically engineered, or
"transgenic." A recent survey found that 93 percent of
respondents agreed that food labeling is needed, and "small
groups of consumer advocates are raising health and environmental
concerns about genetically engineered products," according to the
"There are signs that the consumer movement is gaining
momentum. Nebraska and Maine are considering legislation for
labeling. Mothers for Natural Law, a nonprofit consumer advocacy
group, has begun a public awareness campaign....Critics have
raised concerns about potential environmental problems, like the
unintentional creation of weeds resistant to some herbicides and
pests resistant to certain pesticides." There is also concern
among organic farmers and processors, consumer advocates, and
some scientists that the USDA "will override the recommendations
of the National Organic Standards Board, which voted to prohibit
genetically engineered foods from being labeled organic."
MITE-EATING MITE SAVES CASSAVA CROP IN AFRICA
Predator mites are being credited with saving African
farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost cassava crops,
according to articles in The Wall Street Journal (May 16, 1997)
and The Washington Post (May 19, 1997). The cassava is a tuber
that serves as a dietary staple for a half-billion people,
including 200 million Africans. "The predators attack green
mites, which seriously damage cassava plants, especially during
dry spells, when the root crops are the only thing standing
between peasants and hunger," wrote The Wall Street Journal.
"Researchers estimate the predator mites, especially one known as
T. aripo, have saved farmers in West Africa alone as much as $60
million a season, allowing them to produce more cassava for their
families, sell more surplus roots for cash, and spend less time
in the cassava fields and more on other income-generating
The predator mites first checked and then reversed the
damage caused by the green mite. "What actually happened was a
rare collaboration between scientists on two continents to stem
the destruction of cassava," wrote The Washington Post. "Their
apparent success...was hailed as a victory against world hunger
and a milestone in the search for chemical-free solutions to
agricultural pests." The Nigeria-based International Institute
of Tropical Agriculture worked with the Columbia-based
International Center for Tropical Agricultural "in search for
natural enemies of the green mite in its native turf in Latin
America," according to The Post.
Scientists found that not only can the T.aripo mite devour a
green mite in minutes, it can also travel a mile or more on the
wind. The first colonies of the predators introduced in Africa
spread over a radius of seven miles the first year; this year,
after dozens of introductions in several countries, the predators
have advanced over a 150,000 square-mile area that encompasses 11
countries. "For scientists, it was the most ambitious and most
successful attempt to control a pest mite on a continent-wide
scale using what [entomologist Steve] Yannick calls 'a classic
biological approach,'" wrote The Post. "The key, he said, was
using 'nature's own equilibrium' to human advantage. 'It's
easier and less energy-consuming if we work with nature and not
IS ORGANIC FOOD MORE NUTRITIOUS?
"Is organic food more nutritious?" wrote Joan Dye Gussow in
the first part of a two-part series on organic food in Eating
Well (May/June, 1997). "I've been asked -- and been asking --
that question for 30 years." While the idea that organic food is
more nutritious is "long on history," she wrote, "it's short on
evidence....There's plenty of anecdotal evidence, but little hard
proof that organically grown produce is reliably more nutritious.
But being healthful is different than being more nutritious.
After poring over the cumulative evidence from 70 years' worth of
studies, the sum total strongly suggests that food grown
according to organic principles is likely to have a variety of
qualities that should, over the long term, make it more
"For example, organic foods usually have few, if any,
chemical residues, and lower levels of nitrate nitrogen. These
facts in and of themselves, while not a statement about
nutritional values, make organic foods healthier."
The introduction to the series states that "what began as a
grass-roots farming movement is now a $2.8 billion-a-year
industry. And the long-held assumptions about organic food --
combined with the growing emphasis on health in this country --
has rendered it an industry with seemingly endless potential,
already growing by more than 20 percent a year."
EQIP FINAL RULE REFLECTS PUBLIC COMMENTS ON HERD SIZE
The USDA last month announced the final rule for the
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), including a
limit on the size of livestock operations eligible for assistance
from the new program. The rule prohibits assistance to large
confined livestock operations, which the rule defines as having
more than 1,000 animal units. Analysis of public comments on the
proposed rule done by the Wallace Institute for the National
Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture found that a clear majority
supported setting national herd size limits for EQIP.
"The final rule in part reflects public comments received by
USDA," said Kathleen Merrigan, Senior Analyst at the Wallace
Institute who did the analysis of public comments. "The Wallace
Institute will continue to monitor the USDA's adherence to public
input to assure that the public's voices are heard."
Although the final rule set a herd size limit, it also
provided a procedure for the waiving of the national ceiling,
according to the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.
"I hope that the waiver provision does not become a backdoor way
for large corporate operations to siphon off EQIP funds," said
Loni Kemp, new co-chair of the Campaign. "If waivers become
routine, the national ceiling will become meaningless. A
national limit is the only way to insure the program works as
intended -- to help small and moderate-sized family farmers solve
environmental problems on their farm."
FIVE NEW MEMBERS NAMED TO ORGANIC STANDARDS BOARD
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has named five new
members to the National Organic Standards Board: Marvin L.
Hollen, Nyssa, OR (farmer/grower); Steven J. Harper, Bellingham,
WA (handler/processor); Carolyn W. Brickey, Tucson, AZ
(consumer/public interest); William P. Welsh, Lansing, IA
(environmentalist); and Eric J. Sideman, Greene, ME (scientist).
Kathleen Merrigan, Senior Analyst at the Wallace Institute, is
also a member of the Board. The 15-member National Organic
Standards Board advises the Secretary of Agriculture on
implementation of a certification program for producers and
handlers of agricultural products that have been produced using
organic methods. The USDA is developing a proposed rule for
implementing a consistent national standard for organic
production and processing, and for accreditation of certifying
"Cultivating a Better Future: Sustainable Agriculture in
Montana" is $7 from Alternative Energy Resources Organization, 25
S. Ewing, #214, Helena, MT 59601; (406) 443-7272.
"Building a Sustainable Future," the proceedings from the
4th North American Agroforestry Conference, are $35 plus $5 for
postage from John H. Ehrenrich, Editor, College of Forestry,
Wildlife, and Range Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
83844-1135; (208) 885-7600; e-mail email@example.com.
"Consolidating the Commodity Chain: Organic Farming and
Agribusiness in Northern California," published by the Institute
for Food and Development Policy, is $6 plus $3 shipping/handling
from Subterranean Co., Box 160, 265 S. 5th St., Monroe, OR 97456;
"1997 Directory of Flower & Herb Buyers" is $7.50 from
Prairie Oak Seeds, P.O. Box 382, Maryville, MO 64468-0382; (816)
"1997 National Organic Directory" is $44.95 plus $6
shipping/handling from Community Alliance with Family Farmers,
P.O. Box 363, Davis, CA 95617; 1-800-852-3832.
"Directory of Water and Wildland Expertise," listing experts
at the University of California campuses, is on the World Wide
Web at http://www2.nceas.ucsb.edu:8502/exp/db/intro; contact
Centers for Water and Wildland Resources, (916) 752-8070.
News from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and
Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois is available
on the World Wide Web at http://www.ag.uiuc.edu/news/
Ohio State University seeks a Full Professor for the first
Endowed Chair of Agricultural Ecosystems Management at its Ohio
Agricultural Research and Development Center; send letter,
resume, and five references to Dr. L. R. Nault, Chair, Search
Advisory Team, Associate Director, OARDC/The Ohio State
University, 1689 Madison Avenue, Wooster, OH 44691.
Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural
Economics, seeks an Assistant Professor of Food and Agribusiness
Management; send application to Dr. Larry G. Hamm, Chairperson,
Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University,
East Lansing, MI 48824-1039; (517) 355-4567.
Mount Air Farm seeks resident couple to manage small
diversified organic farm and retail store; applicants must have
college degrees in animal science; send resumes to William
Keller, 4503 Mount Air Farm, Crozet, VA 22932; (804) 823-4242.
June 27-29, Second Decentralist Conference will be held in
Williamstown, MA; contact E.F. Schumacher Society, 140 Jug End
Road, Great Barrington, MA 01230; (413) 528-1737.
July 4-6, "Teaching Sustainable Agriculture to Students,
Apprentices and Farm Workers," Part One: Teacher Training
Workshop, will be held at NewFarms, HC 69 Box 62, Rociada, N.M.
87742; (505) 425-5457.
July 7-26, a Summer Series in "Development, Economics and
the Environment" will be held in Berkeley, CA; contact Amanda
Hickman, Center for Sustainable Resource Development, University
of California, Berkeley, 112 Giannini Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-
3100; (510) 643-1655; e-mail
July 22-25, 52nd Soil and Water Conservation Society Annual
Conference will be held in Ontario, Canada; contact Jennifer
Pemble, 1-800-THE-SOIL, ext. 18; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 25-26, "Global Challenges in Ecosystem Management In a
Watershed Context" will be held in conjunction with the Annual
Conference of the Soil and Water Conservation Society in Toronto,
Canada; contact Jennifer Pemble, 1-800-THE-SOIL, ext. 18; e-mail
July 28-29, "Prairie Pastures: Native Plants and Wildlife
for Rotational Grazing Systems" will be held in Howard County,
IA; contact Laura Jackson, Department of Biology, University of
Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA; 50614; (319) 273-2705; e-mail
July 30-31, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture's
10th Anniversary Conference will be held in Ames, IA; contact
Rich Pirog, Leopold Center, 209 Curtiss Hall, Iowa State
University, Ames, IA 50011; (515) 294-3711; e-mail