Farmland worm survey reveals worrying results

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Farmland worm survey reveals worrying results

Britain’s first farmland worm survey has revealed that nearly half the fields in England lack sufficient earthworms which may help explain the alarming decline of one of the country’s most loved birds, the song thrush.

The citizen science project, led by Dr Jackie Stroud, a NERC Soil Security Fellow at the Rothamsted Research centre, involved farmers digging for worms in their own fields. It found “most fields have basic earthworm abundance, but 42 per cent of the fields may be over-worked”, thus creating scarcity or absence of surface-dwelling and deep-burrowing worms.   Worms are a vital part of the thrush (and other birds’) diet, and adds to the evidence that they are being affected by a reduction in farmland earthworm populations, along with the loss of hedgerow nesting sites.

The farmers dug a series of 20cm2 pits across their land in the spring of 2018. The average field had 9 earthworms in every spadeful of soil, with top fields having three times that number. One in 10 fields had high earthworm numbers of more than 16 worms per spadeful.  Dr Stroud said the absence of deep-burrowing worms from 16 per cent of fields was of particular concern because they are ‘drainage worms’ with vertical burrows that aid water infiltration and help stop fields getting waterlogged.

She said: “The deep-burrowing worms have slow reproduction rates so recovery in their populations could take a decade under changed management practices. In fact, we know very little about earthworm recovery rates.”

Nearly 60% of the farmers pledged to change their soil management practices. Dr Stroud added that empowering farmers to survey their own soils would save about £14 million in soil health monitoring if rolled out nationally. Stressing the importance of earthworms, Dr Stroud added: “Earthworms play really important roles in plant productivity and are great bird food as well. They are really important in our soil systems. They influence carbon cycling, water infiltration, pesticide movement, greenhouse gas emissions, plant productivity, the breeding success of birds and even the susceptibility of plants to insect attack.”

Decisions made above the ground, whether by farmers or policy makers, influence the billions of earthworms that are engineering the soil ecosystem below the ground.”

See here  for the full survey and report
And here  for information about how important earthworms are in your organic gardenPosted: Monday, 25 February 2019

Organic Growing: Supporting Animal Farms?

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Organic Growing: Supporting Animal Farms? post image

If you’re truly interested in organic (i.e. ecological and healthy) alternatives to chemical fertilizers, then it’s time to start scrutinizing organic growing practices and store-bought fertilizers a bit more carefully.

When you bite into an earthy organic tomato, you may not be thinking about blood, bone, feces, fish sludge and antibiotics, but you should be. These “fertilizers” and the hidden chemicals inside are commonly used in organic farming, and their environmental and ethical implications make them far from sustainable soil amendments.

I am by no means suggesting that we do away with “organic farming” and give the chemical companies a stronger stranglehold on the market than they already have. But it’s time that we ask these “green” growers to live up to their hype and grow sustainably and ethically with stock-free, vegan-organic methods.

Why is Veganic Agriculture Important?

Veganic farming makes it possible to grow food without the use of animal by-products, which is essential for those of us who value the rights of nonhuman animals and choose not to consciously cause them harm. But you don’t have to be a vegan to see the benefit these stock-free practices provide both in your garden and on a large scale.

For one thing, many of the fertilizers veganic growers use can be created from what you already have in your own backyard (green cover cropscompost teas etc.) or purchased at a reasonable cost. These environmentally sound alternatives to chemical fertilizers replace manure, for example, which is revered in organic farming for its high nitrogen content. We forget though that the nutrients in manure are themselves derived from what the animal ate which, in ideal situations, is solely plant-based.

By going directly to the source of nitrogen (the plants themselves) we reduce waste and the danger of contamination that animal byproducts can provide, such as livestock grade antibiotics:

“People have long been exposed to antibiotics in meat and milk. Now, the new research shows that they also may be ingesting them from vegetables, perhaps even ones grown on organic farms.

The Minnesota researchers planted corn, green onion and cabbage in manure-treated soil in 2005 to evaluate the environmental impacts of feeding antibiotics to livestock. Six weeks later, the crops were analyzed and found to absorb chlortetracycline, a drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock. In another study in 2007, corn, lettuce and potato were planted in soil treated with liquid hog manure. They, too, accumulated concentrations of an antibiotic, named Sulfamethazine, also commonly used in livestock. 
As the amount of antibiotics in the soil increased, so too did the levels taken up by the corn, potatoes and other plants.”

– Environmental Health News

You may say to yourself – well what if I get my manure and blood meal from “organic livestock” that haven’t been treated with antibiotics? Answer: It is still a waste of environmental resources. For example, if you took the hay/grass normally fed to cows (or simple lawn clippings) and add it directly to your garden or compost, the gardens will receive all the nitrogen and nutrients normally found in manure and more.*

*Much of the plant-based nitrogen that cows ingest is lost through their urine. Adding grass/hay directly to a garden or compost also gives you more compostable material to work with and a greater abundance of minerals that would normally be absorbed during digestion.

When you factor in:

  • The space required for grazing (The space required for grazing and growing crops to feed animals takes up over 30% of the earth’s landmass)
  • The space required to grow crops to feed farm animals (More than 70 percent of the grain and cereals that is grown in the United States is fed to farmed animals)

And finally…..

  • The space it takes to house the animals themselves

It turns out that the space required to fertilize one-acre of garden with manure instead of simply using the hay/grass itself is over four times greater!

Some people may say that the animals these byproducts are derived from are already being “used for other means” and thus using their bodily functions and internal fluids to grow crops is still an environmentally sound thing to do. Waste not, want not?

It’s true that there is a heaping pile of dung to deal with on this planet, but the question is: Are we really the ones that should be paying for it? Farmed animals in the United States create approximately 89,000 pounds of excrement per second! The nitrogen in this waste is converted into ammonia and nitrates that seep into the water system contaminating wells, rivers, streams and eventually the ocean. And let us not forget the blood, bones, fish sludge, eggshells and more that these farms must also dispose of.

Animal farms have a huge waste problem on their hands and while using manure, blood and bone, and slaughterhouse sludge in organic farming isn’t going to fix this problem, industrialized farms have nonetheless figured out a way to get organic growers and us to pay for it. If you buy manure and other fertilizers made from animal byproducts, you are supporting the cruel and environmentally destructive practices of these farms, instead of forcing them to deal with the impact of their claustrophobic feedlots and toxic slaughterhouses. Even with organic growers and homeowners buying some of the waste, the runoff from these unsanitary facilities is leaking into fields and poisoning our water and food supply.

It is not only possible, but practical and ethical to truly green our organic growing practices both on a large scale and in our own homes. If you’re interested in banning blood, bone, feces and other animal byproducts from your garden and subsequently your table, you’re in good company.

There are a number of organic growers out there that have gone stock-free, such as Tolhurst Farm in Whitchurch-on-Thames in south Oxfordshire, UK. They have been successfully stock-free for over 10 years now, demonstrating that this practice is definitely viable on a large scale! They aren’t the only ones though; there are a growing number of farms worldwide that are going veganic. For a list of these farms, check out the Veganic Agriculture Network. This list is continuing to expand, but some stock-free farms still haven’t joined the network. If you know of a farm practicing veganic agriculture that is not on this list please contact the VAN and let them know.

I know many of the people reading this article believe strongly in organics and sustainable agriculture, as do I. This is why, from our home garden plots to the sweeping crops that cover this land, we have the right to raise the standard, stop supporting environmentally destructive and unethical farming practices and go VEGANIC!

What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food

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A study helps answer a question many of us ask when deciding whether to buy organic food: does it really make a difference?

Kendra Klein and Anna Lappé

Fri 15 Feb 2019 14.02 GMTLast modified on Fri 15 Feb 2019 14.45 GMT

When Andreina Febres, a mother of two living in Oakland, California, signed up for a study evaluating whether an organic diet could make a difference in the amount of pesticides found in her body, she didn’t know what researchers would find. But her family, and the three others across the country that participated, would discover that they all had detectable levels of the pesticides being tracked. They would also discover that after only six days on an organic diet, every single person would see significant drops in those pesticides, including several linked to increased risk of autism, cancer, Parkinson’s, infertility, and other significant impacts on health.

“It’s good to see that just after a week there was a dramatic drop,” Febres said after seeing the results. “I would love to get those pesticides out of my body and my family’s bodies.”

This just-published peer-reviewed study helps answer a question many of us ask when deciding whether to reach for the conventional or organic option at the store: does organic really make a difference? The results say yes, a big difference. Choosing organic can protect you from exposure to toxic pesticides.

Does organic really make a difference? The results say yes, a big difference

This study, led by researchers at University of California, Berkeley and Friends of the Earth, and co-authored by one of us, tracked pesticide levels in four families from across the country for two weeks. The first week, the families ate their typical diets of non-organic food; the following week, they ate completely organic. Urine samples taken over the course of the study were tested for pesticides and the chemicals pesticides break down into, called metabolites.

The results? Of the 14 chemicals tested, every single member of every family had detectable levels. After switching to an organic diet, these levels dropped dramatically. Levels across all pesticides dropped by more than half on average. Detectable levels for the pesticide malathion, a probable human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization, decreased a dramatic 95% .

Malathion was just one of the pesticides found in this study that are part of a group called organophosphates, which have long concerned public health experts because of their impact on children’s developing brains. Created as nerve agents in World War II, organophosphates have been linked to increased rates of autism, learning disabilities, and reduced IQ in children. The organophosphate chlorpyrifos, found in all of the family members, is so worrisome to public health that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) planned to ban it in 2017 – a proposal dropped by the Trump administration. In the wake of inaction from the administration, Hawaii passed the first state level chlorpyrifos ban in 2018; and Representative Nydia Velázquez introduced a federal bill to ban it.

This brings us back to the case for organic. When you choose organically-grown products, you’re guaranteed they were not grown with chlorpyrifos or the roughly 900 synthetic pesticides allowed in non-organic agriculture. Many of these pesticides are now understood to cause cancer, affect the body’s hormonal systems, disrupt fertility, cause developmental delay for children or Parkinson’s, depression, or Alzheimer’s as we age. This study shows that eating organic can dramatically decrease the pesticides you’re exposed to.

Organic for all, is that too radical of an ask?

But we know providing people with information about the benefits of choosing organic foods is not enough. Far too many of us don’t have the choice. Today, billions of our tax dollars are subsidizing pesticide-intensive agriculture while organic programs and research are woefully underfunded. This misdirection of public dollars is one of the reasons many people across the country still don’t have access to, or can’t afford, organic food.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has argued that in a modern, moral, wealthy society, no person should be too poor to live. We believe it follows that in such a society, none of us should be too poor to afford food raised without toxic chemicals and that all of us should be able to support a food chain that protects the health of farmers, farmworkers and communities who are otherwise on the fron-tlines of pesticide exposure.

As another mother in the study put it: “Health should not be limited to your income, your education, your race, your gender, or your geographic location. I think everyone has the right to clean, organic food.”

Organic for all, is that too radical of an ask?

  • Kendra Klein is senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth-US, a national organization working to create a more just and healthy world. Anna Lappé is a national best-selling author and co-director of Real Food Media. Together, they have collaborated on Organic for All


Substainably farmed Europe can feed a growing population a healthy diet

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Europe could be farmed entirely through sustainable systems, such as organic, and still feed a growing population, claims recent research.
The ‘Ten Years for Agroecology’ study, from European think tank IDDRi, shows that pesticides can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming – which would still produce enough healthy food for a growing population.
With more than half the cereals and oilseed crops grown being fed to animals, the report argues that we have to reorientate diets towards plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, away from grain-fed white meat.  There is no doubt that intensive agrichemical farming has contributed to a steep decline in global insect populations, birdlife, and ecosystem degradation – much of it linked to pesticide use. The report argues that the next 10 years will be critical in engaging Europe in this agroecological transition.
The paper suggests that agroecology – using ecological principles first and chemicals last – presents a credible and holistic way of feeding Europe by 2050. But action is needed now. 

Rob Percival, Head of Food Policy at the Soil Association, said “Pesticide-hungry intensive production is not the only way to feed a growing population. The ‘Ten Years for Agroecology’ study shows that agroecological and organic farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and maintaining vital biodiversity.”

The ‘Ten Years for Agroecology’ study suggests a future in which:
• Meat production in Europe has been reduced by 40%, with the greatest reductions in the production of grain-fed pork and poultry.
• European diets include less meat and more plant-based proteins overall, but with an ongoing sustainable role for grass-fed meat and dairy.
• Europe has achieved protein self-sufficiency, halting the import of protein crops for animal feed, which are often associated with deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions abroad.
• Europe’s biodiverse and carbon-rich grasslands are maintained, nurturing biodiversity and contributing towards a reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions of 40%.

IDDRi is a think tank that facilitates the transition to sustainable development. Acting as an independent policy research institute, IDDRI identifies conditions and proposes tools to place sustainable development at the heart of international relations and public and private policies.

100 Lives Saved from slaughter

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The Vegan Organic Network (VON) is working with beef farmers who have decided they no longer wish to rear cattle for meat. Instead they will make the transition to ethical, environmentally beneficial veganic (stockfree) organic horticulture. An animal sanctuary has agreed to give the animals a new home where they will have the freedom to live out their 25 year lifespan.

The farm was inherited when it was dairy, but in order to obtain milk the calves were separated from their mothers. As vegetarians they found this separation distressing for the cows and calves and a contradiction of their ethics. The change to beef farming did not alter this contradiction for them. They moved to cruelty -free stockfree organic farming and growing. VON and the Vegan Society are providing support to the farmers. Three hundred dairy farmers went out of business in 2016.This significant change of using the land to feed people instead of farmed animals, demonstrates to other farmers that it is possible to grow food without killing. For further information about the work of VON: