A crescent moon brightens in a western sky draining gold as the cacophony of fighting roosters quiets to a dull roar that with darkness will become silence, broken by chirping crickets and river song.
I'm not into pop songs, but the headline Kansas Farmer has New Internet Hit with Miley Cyrus Parody caught my eye when I linked to the AgWeb site, intending to read “USDA Opens Door to New Herbicide-Resistant Seeds.”
It was another example of how farmers are taking to social media, talk shows and the lecture circuit to add their voices to the growing din about agriculture — a trend I'd read about in a series of articles in Acres USA.
Small dairy farmers in western New York spoke at foodie conventions in Manhattan to make urban “locavores” aware of their existence. Other farmers have joined Twitter and Facebook to share the farm experience. The Peterson Farm Bros reinforce the message of God-loving family farmers working their asses off to “grow your food” in viral music video parodies like “I'm Farming and I Grow It,” “Chore" and “Farmer Style.”
Sample lyrics: "Without the farmers working we would all be starving. Do you hear what I'm saying?" "Gotta feed everybody, gotta feed everybody." And "Agriculture is so important to me and it should be to you."
Though farmers are late to a public relations frenzy already dominated by anti-GMO activists and chemical/seed companies, that freshness may give them an edge. Americans are always hungry for something new to devour, and they may be getting indigestion from the ongoing bickering over GMOs.
And according to a front page New York Times article that uses Hawaii Island's anti-GMO bill as a case study, that argument won't be settled anytime soon. The piece, which follows Councilman Greggor Ilagan through his decision to ultimately vote against the bill, emphasizes the debate between scientists and lay people over the safety of GMOs.
What it ultimately comes down to is we don't know the answers to many of the questions being raised about GMOs, and even if we did, it's unlikely they'd be fully accepted by either side, seeing as how distrust is so rampant.
But some things are known, like many weeds are becoming resistant to glyphosate, the world's most popular herbicide. As you may recall, the chemical companies began by genetically engineering crops to withstand direct applications of glyphosate and other herbicides. But the weeds have adapted, prompting the chem companies to offer farmers a different mix of herbicides — and GE seeds to handle them.
Which brings us back to the AgWeb article on how Dow is seeking federal approval for its Enlist corn and soy seeds, which can withstand applicants of 2,4-D, as well as glyphosate and other herbicides. It went on to report:
Currently, the seeds, which have been under USDA review for several years, can only be used in tightly controlled field trials. USDA on Friday recommended full deregulation of corn and soybean traits.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency, which is conducting its own review of 2,4-D, will release its report in the coming months.
Today’s announcement came as something of a surprise given that last May, USDA announced that it would require a more stringent environmental review of Enlist crops waiting for market approval.
The draft EIS — prepared by the USDA — acknowledged that 2,4-D-resistant weeds could cause a new set of problems:
As noted above, 2,4-D is already the third most widely used herbicide in the United States. Among agricultural uses, 2,4-D is widely used for weed control on small grains (wheat, barley, oats, and sorghum) and orchards. If 2,4-D resistant weeds become more prevalent as a result of its use on Enlist™ corn and soybean, growers of these other crops that rely on 2,4-D for weed control may need to modify management practices to control weeds that become resistant to 2,4-D. The management changes would increase the complexity and cost of weed management programs for these growers. Growers most likely to be affected include those who grow small grains.
The EIS also pointed out that farmers aren't the only ones using it:
2,4-D is an active ingredient in hundreds of herbicide formulations and is commonly found in lawn care products (for example Scotts® Turf Builder® Weed and Feed) and widely available to consumers at retail outlets and home and garden centers.
Ultimately, the USDA determined:
While the selection pressure for 2,4-D resistant weeds is expected to be greater under the Preferred Alternative, the selection pressure for GR weeds is expected to be greater under the No Action Alternative. This is because the Enlist™ cropping system decreases grower reliance on glyphosate by including an additional type of herbicide in the weed management system.
In other words, the Roundup-resistant weeds will win for sure if they don't up the ante, which will inevitably lead to yet another re-upping of the ante, and another and another — in our yards, and in the fields.
And we know we can't keep doing that, because we know pesticides aren't good for people and the planet. We also know the population is growing, and the planet is undergoing dramatic climate changes that are going to affect food production.
It's a critical time for agriculture, and the civilization it has created.
And in a perfect expression of America today, we're responding with bitter discord and PR campaigns — a pop parody of a swan song.