Mar 04 2016

The Cost of Banning GMOs

farm1What would happen if the US or the world banned the use of GMO (genetically modified organism) crops? A new study out of Purdue addresses that question.

The authors estimated the reduction in yields for corn, soybeans, and cotton if GM traits were abandoned. They then plugged the results into a well-established model of how much additional land would be needed to make up for that reduction in yield. They found:

Eliminating all GMOs in the United States, the model shows corn yield declines of 11.2 percent on average. Soybeans lose 5.2 percent of their yields and cotton 18.6 percent. To make up for that loss, about 102,000 hectares of U.S. forest and pasture would have to be converted to cropland and 1.1 million hectares globally for the average case.

The most significant environmental footprint of agriculture is land use. Every hectare (2.471 acres or 10,000 square meters) of forest or pasture that you convert to farmland increases carbon in the atmosphere contributing to global warming. Further, converting land to farmland reduces natural habitat or land for grazing.

For example, environmentalists have warned about declines in the monarch butterfly, implying that GMOs may be to blame (despite the utter lack of evidence for this claim). Declines are due to the loss of milkweed, which the butterflies need to lay their eggs. Loss of milkweed, in turn, is due to land use for farming and the use of herbicides.

Anti-GMO activists have tried to link the use of herbicides to the use of GMOs, but this is not valid. Herbicides are used whether or not the crop is GMO, and no matter what, farmers have to eradicate weeds to optimize their yields. Ultimately the key factor is the amount of land used to grow crops, and therefore displace natural weeds like the milkweed.

The deeper point is that when considering the risks and benefits of any technology, this must be put into the context of the risks and benefits of the alternative. Anti-GMO activists talk exclusively about the hypothetical risks of GMOs, but fail to consider the alternative – the very real risk of not taking advantage of GM technology.

The authors of this recent study are not the first to point out that land use is the biggest factor to consider when determining the environmental impact of agriculture. Displacing an additional 102,000 hectares of land to use for farming is a huge factor that must be considered.

This number – the amount of additional land needed for agriculture if we do not take advantage of GM traits – will only grow larger in the future. As our population grows, we will need to grow more food. Biofuels are another variable, and some argue that we should not depend on biofuels to reduce carbon emissions because of the additional land they require. But, to whatever extent biofuels to figure into our energy future, they will add to the land use differential.

Further, as GM technology improves the benefits of GM traits will only increase. There is currently no GM wheat, for example, but researchers are working on GM wheat varieties that have increased yield, have enhanced photosynthesis, or perhaps even fix their own nitrogen. We should be thinking about how much land we will need for agriculture in 2050 or 2100 with and without GM traits.

Another example of failing to consider the alternative is the focus that many anti-GMO activists have placed on the risks of using glyphosate as an herbicide. Glyphosate, like everything, is toxic at high enough dose. However, the dose that humans would be exposed to through food is far below toxic levels.

As herbicides go, glyphosate is relatively non-toxic. The herbicides it has replaced, in fact, are far more toxic. It is even less toxic than some herbicides allowed in organic farming.

(Glyphosate) has an LD50 of 5600 mg/kg based on oral ingestions in rats, according to EPA assessments, placing it in Toxicity Category III.

Rotenone, which is used on some organic farms (though less so in the US in recent years), has an LD50 162-1500 mg/kg, and Copper sulfate, which also sometimes used on certain organic farms, has an LD50 of  30mg/kg.

If you just focus on the possible toxicity of glyphosate you can make is sound scary. When you consider the alternatives, however, it is actually one of the more benign options.

The likely response from some might be not to use any herbicides, but again consider the alternatives, which include tilling or hand weeding. Tilling releases CO2 into the air. Hand weeding is very labor intensive. Both of these methods result in lower yields, which means we are back to increased land use.

When comparing different methods you have to look at the entire picture, from beginning to end, and account for all of the factors involved – not just the one you want to highlight.

Conclusion

The authors of the current study demonstrate one key advantage of using GM traits – increased yield which results in lower land use for agriculture. They also point out that banning GMO will result in higher food prices, of $14-$24 billion per year in the US alone. Higher food prices disproportionately affect those with lower income.

Those who oppose GMOs do not have a solid scientific argument to make. That are essentially ideologues. They are also attempting to “ban” GMOs through the backdoor, primarily through mandatory labeling.

In a recent e-mail to me and others, Mischa Popoff, author of Is It Organic, wrote:

On p. 3 of the bill, SEC. 293. (a) (2) instructs The Secretary of Agriculture (an unelected political appointee) to “establish such requirements and procedures as the Secretary determines necessary to carry out the standard.” As we know from Congressman Mike Pompeo’s original bill, one of these requirements will be a threshold limit on GMO content in non-GMO organic food. And it will be set at the European level of 0.9% in order to bring America into line with Europe and other trading partners.

If this passes, it will mean that GMOs will be defined, for the first time ever in America, as contaminants.

Henceforth, any organic crop found to have comingling or cross-pollination above that level will no longer be GMO free, and hence will not be able to be certified as organic. Organic farmers will then sue their GMO neighbors for loss of income, something they cannot do at present under the rules of the USDA National Organic Program.

This is another backdoor attempt to “ban” GMOs by making it financially untenable to farm them. Anti-GMO activists make no secret of the fact that their goal is the complete elimination of GM crops. That would be a disaster for the future of agriculture, and would significantly worsen the environmental impact necessary to feed the world.

42 responses so far

42 Responses to “The Cost of Banning GMOs”

  1. BenEon 04 Mar 2016 at 11:45 am

    I must be missing something, because this math doesn’t make sense to me.

    102,000 hectares is about 400 square miles, right? That’s about a third the size of Rhode Island. Is that really all the additional land area we’d need to make up for, say, a 5% – 15% lower yield on non-GMO crops?

    The additional 1.1M hectares worldwide is less than the size of Connecticut. These aren’t staggering land use numbers to me, and I would expect them to be much higher.

    What am I missing?

  2. DanDanNoodleson 04 Mar 2016 at 12:07 pm

    It does seem low, especially given that the study also gives the worldwide land use for GMO as 181M hectares, with 40% of that in the US. If those numbers are accurate, 102,000 hectares would be about a 0.1% increase for the US, and 0.6% worldwide.

  3. RCon 04 Mar 2016 at 12:46 pm

    I think the numbers are wrong – probably by an order of magnitude.

    A quick search of the USDA site gives me :

    Soy : 84.4M acres
    Corn: 88.9M acres
    Cotton: 9M acres

    The 18% decrease in efficiency of cotton alone is almost 2M acres more land needed (or 800K hectares)

  4. RCon 04 Mar 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Quick correction – those are overall planted acres, not GMO – but for Corn, Soy, and Cotton, more than 90% of the planted crop is GMO, so they should be ballpark.

  5. BBBlueon 04 Mar 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Honeybee colonies are increasing and monarch butterflies are rebounding. What’s a poor anti-GMO, anti-pesticide fanatic to do? Calling Dr. Seralini: Can you please come up with some more contrived data, STAT?

  6. Vijayon 04 Mar 2016 at 5:42 pm

    We probably need to clarify that in the case of LD50, a lower number is *worse*. Superficially, Glyphosate appears much more dangerous than Rotenone and Copper sulfate because of its very high LD50 number.

  7. Lane Simonianon 04 Mar 2016 at 10:24 pm

    The article on the monarch butterfly provides some hope for the future of the species. Whether it can be sustained remands to be seen. The apparent reason for the rebound is the following:

    The monarch’s recent comeback is due to favorable weather and the planting of more milkweed, an important plant to keep numbers up on its migration route, the survey said.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-butterflies-monarchs-idUSKCN0VZ2YA

    Still even with this year’s rebound, the monarch butterfly’s population has dropped from approximately one billion in 1997 to around 150 million today. How much of that was due to habitat destruction and how much of it has been due to the loss of milkweed, in part caused by pesticide use is difficult to determine. Mexico, for its part, had sought to protect monarch habitat. I saw the monarch butterflies draping the oyamel fir trees in state of Michoacan in the late 1980s–an amazing sight. I wonder how different it would look today.

    The news on bees is worse.

    40 percent of US honeybee population lost over year, as mysterious die-off accelerates.

    https://www.rt.com/usa/258333-honeybee-population-decrease-us/

    Now how much of this die off is due to neonicortinoid pesticides and how much of the increase in the use of neoncortinoid pesticides is due to GMOs is a matter of great contention.

    http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-food/gmo-corn-treated-with-neonicotinoids-pesticides-manufactured-by-Bayer-Syngenta-kill-honeybees.php

    Add this to the potential intestinal damage due to increased pesticide use on GMO crops and you have to begin to at least wonder how much environmental and human health damage one is doing. At the very least a much more thorough vetting of the impact of certain GMO modifications is needed.

    http://digestivemedicalsolutions.com/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-side-of-gmos-and-their-link-to-ibd

  8. michaelegnoron 05 Mar 2016 at 8:11 am

    ‘The deeper point is that when considering the risks and benefits of any technology, this must be put into the context of the risks and benefits of the alternative.’

    Well put. The anti-GMO hysteria is akin to the anti-DDT hysteria, and to the anti-fossil fuels hysteria.

    All are motivated by junk science, and all are lethal to millions of people.

    Real skeptics would see the similarities.

  9. Lane Simonianon 05 Mar 2016 at 10:06 am

    I will try this again without the links.

    The article on the monarch butterfly provides some hope for the future of the species. Whether it can be sustained remains to be seen. The rebound was apparently due to more favorable weather and the planting of more milkweed.

    Still even with this year’s rebound, the monarch butterfly’s population has dropped from approximately one billion in 1997 to around 150 million today. How much of that was due to habitat destruction and how much of it has been due to the loss of milkweed, in part caused by pesticide use is difficult to determine. Mexico, for its part, had sought to protect monarch habitat. I saw the monarch butterflies draping the oyamel fir trees in state of Michoacan in the late 1980s–an amazing sight. I wonder how different it would look today.

    The news on honeybees is worse. According to one headline (and most other sources agree):

    40 percent of US honeybee population lost over year, as mysterious die-off accelerates [2014-2015].

    Now how much of this die off is due to neonicortinoid pesticides and how much of the increase in the use of neoncortinoid pesticides is due to GMOs is a matter of great contention. In any case, it is not going to help to increase yields per acre if you do not have honeybees to pollinate the crops.

    Add to this the boom in intestinal problems likely caused by the greater use of Roundup (perhaps due to the adjuvant polyethoxylated tallow amines) and you begin to have a different equation.

  10. michaelegnoron 05 Mar 2016 at 1:33 pm

    @Lane:

    After the tens of millions of deaths in the developing world caused by the DDT ban, inspired by Rachel Carson’s junk science on pesticides and birds, it’s hard for an historically-informed person to get worked up by honeybees and pesticides/GMO’s.

    Same story, different generation. This time the “Silent Spring” will be without bees buzzing.

    Same junk science. Same Luddite hysteria. Hopefully not the same death toll among impoverished people living on the edge of food scarcity.

    A couple of billion people need advances like pesticides and GMO’s so they have enough food and are protected from disease. Please don’t kill any more of them with your moronic pesticide/GMO hysteria.

  11. BBBlueon 05 Mar 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Hey Lane,

    You’re no Seralini, but thanks for answering the call.

    Yes, difficult to tease out different effects responsible for monarch decline, but I don’t think there is any question that habitat destruction and land use decisions are the most important factors. As for the effect of pesticides, well that takes us back to land use decisions because they are a part of this system you may have heard of called “farming”. Of course there are farming systems that use natural pesticides and which include diverse, non-crop components to sustain local flora and fauna, but that brings us back to the question of what represents the greatest net benefit for monarch populations, fewer acres of intensively farmed land and more acres available for undisturbed natural habitat and set-aside preserves or more acres of polyculture and fewer acres of undisturbed natural habitat and less land available for non-ag preservation?

    As for honeybees:

    “The winter loss numbers are more hopeful especially combined with the fact that we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for several years, but such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling,” said Jeff Pettis, a survey co-author and a senior entomologist at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. “If beekeepers are going to meet the growing demand for pollination services, researchers need to find better answers to the host of stresses that lead to both winter and summer colony losses.”

    We are shifting away from blaming everything on CCD and looking at all stresses in aggregate. “CCD is caused by neonics” makes for better headlines, especially if one can shoehorn Monsanto into the article, but I think the reality is that there is a lot of stress on commercial colonies from many sources, not just pesticides:

    “An increase in honey bee colony failure has been reported for much of the Northern hemisphere, especially in the United States and Europe, but the underlying causes likely consist of multiple factors, including the parasite Varroa destructor Anderson & Trueman (Acari: Varroidae), pathogens, pesticide poisonings, and land cover alterations resulting in a reduction of floral resources. Identifying the true causes for honey bee colony loss has been hampered by the perceived lack of reliable, long-term data on honey bee colony numbers.”

    And what’s going on in Europe? “The distribution on this map is interesting given that neonicotinoids were used in many places where bees survived very well.”

    As for the US, considering that all roads for pollination services lead to California almonds (only slight exaggeration), and we are in the midst of a 5-year drought, I am not particularly surprised by the ups and downs in colony numbers. Used to be that beekeepers would linger in California after the almond bloom to give colonies a chance to build up their strength on orange and wildflower bloom before the next move. Not so much anymore. Furthermore, one needs to be careful about using data for honey-producing colonies only, which is what the USDA does:

    “This survey was not intended to represent anything more than the number of colonies used for honey production, and the amount of honey produced, by state. Although these data have been used by some to document long-term declines in honey bee colony numbers, others argue these data cannot be used to estimate the number of managed colonies because they assess only honey-producing colonies (colonies can be used to provide other commodities, such as pollination services, queens, and packaged bees)… However, this tendency for the honey count to be lower in more recent years could be caused by a relatively recent reduction in the proportion of colonies used for honey production and changes in beekeeping practices (such as a decrease in the number of colonies that produce honey in more than one state, or a tendency to divide colonies late in the year, such that the total number of colonies in December is less than during honey production). In any case, the annual sum of all state colony numbers in the Honey Counts clearly does not correlate well with the national total from the Census of Agriculture. Thus, the Honey Counts should not be used to examine total colony numbers in the United States, as has sometimes occurred in the past.”

    And finally, there is simply no credible evidence behind the claim that POEA found on the food we actually eat (if it is found at all) is responsible for a boom in intestinal problems, so I will invoke Hitchen’s Razor on that one.

  12. Lane Simonianon 05 Mar 2016 at 2:02 pm

    This is usually presented as a black and white situation with no alternatives. As one alternative, mosquito netting for malaria (although some are treated with insecticides).

    The argument is usually this: even if a few people died from the pesticide/herbicide use many others were saved by it. But usually the estimates for the people who died or whose health was harmed by the pesticide/herbicide are too low whereas exaggerated claims are made for the benefit. At the very least, there is a need to find the least harmful pesticide/herbicide.

    Rachel Carson did not present junk science. Indeed despite being crucified by some at the time, she added greatly (if not perfectly) to our understanding of the environmental and human health effects of pesticides.

    http://pittsburghquarterly.com/index.php/Environment/was-rachel-carsonright.html

    Also be careful about dismissing the die off of bees. Your survival and mine and everyone else’s depends upon viable bee populations.

  13. Willyon 05 Mar 2016 at 2:02 pm

    michaelegnor: Same old, same old. It’d be fun to trade thoughts, but I don’t care for another lawsuit threat.

  14. bachfiendon 05 Mar 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Michael,

    Why don’t you resuscitate your blog ‘Egnorance’ and we can come there and document how silly your ideas are? I could do with the entertainment. Your musings don’t have any basis in reality. I seem to remember that you were predicting that your neurosurgeon colleague Ben Carson would easily defeat Hilary Climton in a presidential election gaining at least 40% of the Afro-American vote. Trouble is, he forgot to get more than about 4% of the Republican primary votes.

  15. BillyJoe7on 05 Mar 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Michael Egnor,

    Considering your unqualified condemnation of Rachel Carson, I assume you have read her book “Silent Spring”. I mean, of course you have, otherwise you wouldn’t have such a strong opinion of her, would you?

  16. Willyon 05 Mar 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks for the Carson “prophecy” reference, bachfiend. I was unaware of it. Shows just how much evidence and detail it takes to convince some people they’re onto the “real truth”. Feed ’em something they like and they’re onto it like stink on doo. I guess one gets wrapped up in one’s own world and doesn’t see what is really happening out “there”. Reminds of the story of the Manhattanite who was shocked that Nixon (?) was elected because no one she knew had voted for him.

    BTW, I used the term “prophecy” intentionally because, like most prophecy, it was vague enough to allow a plausible escape.

  17. bachfiendon 05 Mar 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Wildly,

    Michael Egnor tends to get his thoughts from two sources. Most of them come from conservative ones, such as websites (which include his ones on DDT). They’re not completely wrong; there’s a few percent truth in these. The other thoughts come completely from Michael, such as his expectation that Ben Carson would defeat Hillary Clinton in an election, with 40% of Afro-American voters going against their self interests. Almost invariably they’re 100% wrong.

  18. Willyon 05 Mar 2016 at 10:10 pm

    bachfiend: “Wildly”. How do you know me so well? LOL

  19. Teaseron 06 Mar 2016 at 12:05 am

    Is the Purdue study is peer reviewed?

  20. mumadaddon 06 Mar 2016 at 3:19 am

    Lane Simonian, in response to Michael Egnor, regarding Ben Carson’s wife:

    “despite being crucified by some at the time,”

    Brilliant! You have made my day, sir!

  21. mumadaddon 06 Mar 2016 at 7:02 am

    Oops – Rachel Carson is not Ben’s wife. Still funny though.

  22. michaelegnoron 06 Mar 2016 at 8:02 am

    I’m debating DDT and malaria with a guy who thinks Rachel Carson is Ben’s wife.

    *sigh*

  23. michaelegnoron 06 Mar 2016 at 8:04 am

    Here’s a reference for the holdouts who insist on endorsing Ms. Carson’s deadly junk science:

    http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=833

  24. mumadaddon 06 Mar 2016 at 8:36 am

    Michael,

    I skim read the previous posts and made an error, which I have corrected. And you aren’t debating anything with me. I was merely amused by Lane’s reference to crucifixion, given your funny beliefs about the all mighty having himself crucified to appease himself, and save us from his wrath.

  25. michaelegnoron 06 Mar 2016 at 8:51 am

    @muma:

    You skimmed Christianity, just like you skimmed Rachel Carson and DDT.

  26. mumadaddon 06 Mar 2016 at 9:05 am

    Whatever. I prefer police procedurals anyway.

  27. BillyJoe7on 06 Mar 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Michael Egnor,

    And of course you have read Rachel Carson’s book and therefore you know that the characterisation of that book contained in your link is correct, right? I mean, you wouldn’t endorse the contents of that link unless you had read the book right?
    Please tell me you’ve read the book!

  28. bachfiendon 06 Mar 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Michael,

    As I noted, you don’t have many if any original good thoughts. Either you take the ideas you find on conservative sites (such as your discoverthenetworks one on DDT), which are a few percent correct, or they’re all yours, and almost always 100% wrong.

    I pointed out on your blog many times that your narrative concerning DDT is just wrong. And you refused largely to respond to them.

    It was quite reasonable to ban DDT for agricultural use. It’s a long lasting insecticide with a half life in the environment of around 11 years, so if it had continued to be used in the industrial quantities of the ’50s it would be reaching its maximum level in the environment (after 5 half lives) by about now. It’s probable we missed a bullet. Also, resistance to DDT in the target pests was an increasing problem making DDT’s use problematic.

    It’s also reasonable to use DDT to spray internal walls of houses to prevent malaria transmission – it’s longevity becomes an advantage. It probably doesn’t cause any harm, although there are few studies confirming this.

    In the late ’50s there was a campaign to eliminate 3 diseases – malaria, smallpox and polio. With malaria, it was claimed that it could be eliminated if transmission of malaria was prevented and human cases were actively sought and treated, over a period of 4 years. So the American Congress generously funded a 4 year program (which didn’t include subsaharan Africa, which was regarded as logistically too difficult). And it wasn’t renewed, perhaps because it was thought to have succeeded.

    Eradication in developed countries was dependent more on eliminating breeding sites for mosquitoes (such as draining swamps and removing pools of water near human habitation) than a widespread spraying with DDT. Mussolini eliminated malaria near Rome by draining the pontine marshes. The Germans, after Italy changed sides in 1943, destroyed the drainage systems in place reflooding the marshes in an act of bastardry and malaria came back with a vengeance.

    But anyway. As a typical Internet troll, you’ve attempted to hijack a website thread, going from one which is about GMO food and its opposition being based on a lack of science understanding to DDT and its opposition being based on concerns based on science.

    If you want to promote erroneous non-reality based views, then resurrect your blog and we’ll come there to critique them.

  29. Willyon 06 Mar 2016 at 8:15 pm

    BJ7: he hasn’t.

  30. BBBlueon 07 Mar 2016 at 10:56 am

    Hey Lane,

    You’re no Seralini, but thanks for answering the call.

    Yes, difficult to tease out different effects responsible for monarch decline, but I don’t think there is any question that habitat destruction and land use decisions are the most important factors. As for the effect of pesticides, well that takes us back to land use decisions because they are a part of this system you may have heard of called “farming”. Of course there are farming systems that use natural pesticides and which include diverse, non-crop components to sustain local flora and fauna, but that brings us back to the question of what represents the greatest net benefit for monarch populations, fewer acres of intensively farmed land and more acres available for undisturbed natural habitat and set-aside preserves or more acres of polyculture and fewer acres of undisturbed natural habitat and less land available for non-ag preservation?

    As for honeybees:

    “The winter loss numbers are more hopeful especially combined with the fact that we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for several years, but such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling,” said Jeff Pettis, a survey co-author and a senior entomologist at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. “If beekeepers are going to meet the growing demand for pollination services, researchers need to find better answers to the host of stresses that lead to both winter and summer colony losses.”

    We are shifting away from blaming everything on CCD and looking at all stresses in aggregate. “CCD is caused by neonics” makes for better headlines, especially if one can shoehorn Monsanto into the article, but I think the reality is that there is a lot of stress on commercial colonies from many sources, not just pesticides:

    “An increase in honey bee colony failure has been reported for much of the Northern hemisphere, especially in the United States and Europe, but the underlying causes likely consist of multiple factors, including the parasite Varroa destructor Anderson & Trueman (Acari: Varroidae), pathogens, pesticide poisonings, and land cover alterations resulting in a reduction of floral resources. Identifying the true causes for honey bee colony loss has been hampered by the perceived lack of reliable, long-term data on honey bee colony numbers.”

    As for the US, considering that all roads for pollination services lead to California almonds (only slight exaggeration), and we are in the midst of a 5-year drought, I am not particularly surprised by the ups and downs in colony numbers. Used to be that beekeepers would linger in California after the almond bloom to give colonies a chance to build up their strength on orange and wildflower bloom before the next move. Not so much anymore. Furthermore, one needs to be careful about using data for honey-producing colonies only, which is what the USDA does:

    “This survey was not intended to represent anything more than the number of colonies used for honey production, and the amount of honey produced, by state. Although these data have been used by some to document long-term declines in honey bee colony numbers, others argue these data cannot be used to estimate the number of managed colonies because they assess only honey-producing colonies (colonies can be used to provide other commodities, such as pollination services, queens, and packaged bees)… However, this tendency for the honey count to be lower in more recent years could be caused by a relatively recent reduction in the proportion of colonies used for honey production and changes in beekeeping practices (such as a decrease in the number of colonies that produce honey in more than one state, or a tendency to divide colonies late in the year, such that the total number of colonies in December is less than during honey production). In any case, the annual sum of all state colony numbers in the Honey Counts clearly does not correlate well with the national total from the Census of Agriculture. Thus, the Honey Counts should not be used to examine total colony numbers in the United States, as has sometimes occurred in the past.”

    And finally, there is simply no credible evidence behind the claim that POEA found on the food we actually eat (if it is found at all) is responsible for a boom in intestinal problems, so I will invoke Hitchen’s Razor on that one.

  31. daedalus2uon 07 Mar 2016 at 11:33 am

    Honey bees are an exotic species.

    POEA are highly biodegradable. Their “toxicity” is associated with their surfactant properties. Thus other surfactants are expected to have similar toxicity at dosages that produce similar surfactant effects.

    People use surfactants all the time. Soap is a surfactant that is toxic to some organisms (particularly bacteria where it degrades the cell membrane).

    DDT is very persistent. We really shouldn’t be generating it because it is so persistent. It does have endocrine disruption effects which are poorly understood and very difficult to do research on because trace levels have important effects and the effects are non-linear (and sometimes non-monotonic) with dose. Larger doses can have smaller effects than small doses, depending on the timing of administration. This “shows up” as lots of scatter in the data.

  32. RCon 07 Mar 2016 at 11:54 am

    The entire mobile-pollination industry is a biosecurity nightmare – so its not surprising that its crashing and burning at this point (and Varroa seems to be the largest indicator – not neonictinoid use)

    The big problem with most of the honeybee numbers is that a significant amount of colony death is completely normal – a normal wild hive may throw several swarms a year – and only roughly 30% of those swarms survive. Some basically find a cavity, and then build comb while they starve to death, and a later swarm will come and occupy that cavity.

    Beekeepers produce new colonies by essentially making artificial swarms – and they do their best to help them along, but they still die in relatively high numbers their first winter.

    Almond honey is largely useless – there are a couple of industries that use it- but it has a really heavy aftertaste – so a lot of it gets fed back to split out artificial swarms – beekeepers use the almond rush to produce a ton of bees to use for the rest of the pollination season – expecting that many of those first year colonies will die.

    If you start out with 2000 hives, split to 4000 at the end of almond season, and then lose 40% of your hives during the winter, you still had a good year.

  33. Willyon 07 Mar 2016 at 4:58 pm

    “You’re no Seralini”. LOL, Double LOL

    BBBlue–I really appreciate your posts on ag related topics. Are you a farmer or just an interested person?

  34. BBBlueon 07 Mar 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks Willy.

    33-year career in California agriculture and counting; mostly table grapes and tree fruit. Started out as an agronomist and IPM specialist. Have managed farming operations for a couple of large family-owned farms, and now doing what amounts to consulting work and R&D related to the postharvest handling of fresh fruits.

    I’ve never been more frustrated by the disconnect between science and politics in government policies related to agriculture than I am right now. Steven’s blog has been a wonderful escape from the echo chamber on both sides as well as an opportunity to improve my critical thinking skills.

  35. Willyon 07 Mar 2016 at 9:15 pm

    BBBlue: Ah, tree fruit! I have about 20 fruit trees of various kinds–apples, apricots, peaches, plums, pomegranates, cherries, almonds, all planted in 2008). My nectarine has always suffered horribly. Tiny fruits the size of a grape with heavy scarring and a surface that looks “sugared”. For a few years I thought late frosts were the culprit, but last year I finally figured out that the Western Flower Thrip was the culprit. I’m trying spinosad this year (the only recommended insecticide I could find for thrips). We’ll see the results soon. Meantime, I worry about the effect on the bees, so I spray after sundown.

    A side bonus. I can now tell people to plant peaches, not nectarines, in places where the WFT is a pest. My peaches are virtually unscathed. I understand the primary reason is that peaches have enough fuzz to deter the thrips. Ain’t science grand?

  36. BillyJoe7on 08 Mar 2016 at 5:35 am

    willy,

    “BJ7: he hasn’t.”

    Yeah, my questions were retorical and designed to get him off the thread.
    Seems it worked…unless he has taken time off to actually read the book (400 pages!), so that he can come back and say “Of course I’ve read the book, you idiot. Do you think I’d presume to pontificate about something I know absolutely nothing about!”, the irony of which would leave us in stitches of belly snorting laughter.

  37. Willyon 08 Mar 2016 at 11:37 am

    BJ7–ROFLMFAO!

  38. BBBlueon 08 Mar 2016 at 11:54 am

    Willy,

    Yes, WFT is a key pest of nectarines. You can usually wait to spray until petal fall when bloom is no longer attractive to bees but before jackets (calyx) tighten around the developing fruit. If populations are large, two sprays may be needed, one at full bloom and another around 10 days later. WFT control in nectarines is a case where one must abandon the IPM concept of economic thresholds; if WFT is present at all, the application of insecticide is warranted, unless you don’t mind scarred, deformed fruit. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r540300411.html

    Nectarines don’t like high humidity, persistent dews, or summer rains. If grown where those conditions occur frequently, they tend to develop an unattractive, rough, russeted skin. That’s the primary reason almost 90% of the nectarines grown in the US are grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

    As for tiny fruit, the mistake most folks make is not adjusting crop load. http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/8047.pdf

  39. Willyon 08 Mar 2016 at 12:28 pm

    BJ& I understood you were mocking him. I just wanted to be on record.

    BBBlue–Thanks. I am in the high desert of SE AZ, so I’m good on the humidity preference–not that I knew that when I planted. The fruits are ripe well before summer rains come and I don’t think we even know what dew is around here. I do thin–and thin heavily. The fruits are literally grape size anyway. My peaches are fine with regard to size, so I have blamed the thrips for the tiny size. The skin is covered in what appears to be sugar crystals, appearing in long (how long can they be on a grape-sized fruit–LOL) wide bands. I’ve hit ’em twice with spinosad now–about a week apart and I sprayed after sundown–and will check to see if thrips are present tomorrow again. I just shake ’em onto a paper plate to test for their presence. The petals are now mostly gone, but I did spray the tree in full bloom the first time as lots of thrips were present.

    If the fruit was edible, I wouldn’t mind the scarring. It’s way short of edible.

  40. BBBlueon 08 Mar 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Willy,

    Ain’t Google wonderful? Searched on “sugar crystals on skin of nectarine” and your 2014 post to Dave’s Garden was the top result.

    Those who suggested that piercing-sucking mouthparts are to blame may be right, but the specific insects listed among their replies are not likely to cause the severe cat-facing symptoms you describe. Plant bugs or stink bugs of some type are more likely candidates.

    http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r540300111.html
    http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r540301711.html

    They are strong fliers that don’t stay parked in one spot for long and it takes time for symptoms to develop, so when you see the damage, you may not see the responsible insect. They will usually feed on both nectarine and peach, so it’s a little odd that you don’t see any damage at all in your peaches, but some combination of an insect’s preference for certain varieties, timing of fruit development, and proximity to overwintering sites could account for that.

  41. Willyon 08 Mar 2016 at 3:23 pm

    BBBlue: Wow! I turned up in a Google search! Is that my five seconds of fame? LOL

    What I had read (somewhere) is that nectarines are much more susceptible than peaches to WFT due to their lack of fuzz. I don’t see my fruit as being cat-faced, but maybe I don’t understand to idea of CF well enough. I think of CF with regard to say, distorted maters.

    We get stink bugs and their kin (leaf-footed and others) here, but I rarely see them this early in the year. I will watch for them. The damage described in the links you provided doesn’t sound like the damage I see.

    In any event, it sounds like my WFT hypothesis may need revision. I will continue to monitor.

  42. BBBlueon 08 Mar 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Bugs with stout piercing-sucking mouthparts are typically the most common “cat-facing insects”, at least in California. Toxins present in their saliva kills plant cells well below the surface, and so when they feed on very small green fruit, those spots never grow and the fruit becomes misshapen and stunted. Gumming will occur at the point of penetration. Thrips feeding is confined to the epidermis, so they cause superficial scars with little or no damage to the flesh and gumming is not a common symptom, although it can occur if scarring is severe enough. (It’s never that severe in a well managed, commercial orchard.) If you slice just below the surface of a fruit at a spot where gumming has occurred and you find a spot of brown tissue, a plant bug or stink bug is usually the culprit. If there are no necrotic lesions in the flesh, then it is not plant bugs or stink bugs and if severe scarring is present, it could be due to thrips. There are some physiological disorders that cause gumming, but if that is the case, you also won’t see necrotic lesions in the flesh or puckered cat-facing symptoms. Thumbnails in the Dave’s Garden post were not much help.

    Yes, thrips damage to young fruit is usually confined to smooth-skinned fruits. Not hard to imaging why when you look at the ovary in a peach flower; thrips mouthparts can’t reach the skin through all that fuzz. However, there is another type of thrips damage called silvering (http://bit.ly/1LbWspl) seen close to harvest, and while more common and obvious on nectarines, it can also occur on peaches, especially high-color, less hirsute varieties.

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