The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem. Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But the plant's legal status is unresolved.
The grow room at Medical MJ Supply in Fort Collins, Colo., has all the trappings of a modern marijuana cultivation facility: glowing yellow lights, plastic irrigation tubes, and rows of knee-high cannabis plants.
"We're seeing a crop that's probably in it third or fourth week," says Nick Dice, the owner.
What if farmers, instead of picking up some agricultural chemicals at their local dealer, picked up a load of agricultural microbes instead?
It's something to contemplate, because some big names in the pesticide business — like Bayer and Monsanto — are putting money behind attempts to turn soil microbes into tools that farmers can use to give their crops a boost.
It's a symptom of the soaring interest in the ways microbes affect all of life. In our bodies, they help fight off disease. In the soil, they help deliver nutrients to plants, and perhaps much more.
It’s May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It’s pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he said, holds more than just water.
“Chances are it’s carrying the excess nitrogen we’re talking about,” mused Cheatham.
For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.
Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 3:25 pm
A bill to expand farm-to-school programs in Colorado initially cleared the state House Tuesday, but it still faces objections from some lawmakers who call it unnecessary.
House Bill 1088 [.pdf] would set up grants to help farms and ranches meet federal safety standards to they could sell their locally produced food to schools.
"This program boosts our economy, it creates jobs, and we have schools right now who want to buy more local food from our farmers and the supply chain does not exist," said bill sponsor Representative Faith Winter (D-Westminster).
Originally published on Sun April 26, 2015 1:14 pm
California is parched. Wells are running dry. Vegetable fields have been left fallow and lawns are dying. There must be some villain behind all this, right?
Of course there is. In fact, have your pick. As a public service, The Salt is bringing you several of the leading candidates. They have been nominated by widely respected national publications and interest groups.
There's just one problem: Not all of these shady characters live up to their nefarious job description. Let us explain.
Pesticide-free? Nurtured with organic fertilizer? No antibiotics?
Ask any shopper, and you're bound to find mixed answers for what an organic label means.
Now, an association is trying to draw funding from something called a "checkoff" to pay for consumer advertising and research. For a checkoff to work, each farmer pays a small amount. For example, a penny-per-bushel of wheat or a dollar per cow would generate millions of dollars in pooled funding that could pay for splashy ad campaigns.
The water outlook in drought-racked California just got a lot worse: Snowpack levels across the entire Sierra Nevada are now the lowest in recorded history — just 6 percent of the long-term average. That shatters the previous low record on this date of 25 percent, set in 1977 and again last year.
Originally published on Thu March 19, 2015 1:57 pm
For the past two years, at an undisclosed location in the Upper Midwest, a large commercial egg farm has been probed with every tool of modern science. Researchers have collected data on feed consumed, eggs produced, rates of chicken death and injury, levels of dust in the air, microbial contamination and dollars spent. Graduate students have been assigned to watch hours of video of the hens in an effort to rate the animals' well-being.
Originally published on Thu March 12, 2015 2:23 pm
For many years, if a public school district wanted to serve students apples or milk from local farmers, it could face all kinds of hurdles. Schools were locked into strict contracts with distributors, few of whom saw any reason to start bringing in local products. Those contracts also often precluded schools from working directly with local farmers.
Sara Creech has grown dependent on farming. She started out planting an orchard of fruit trees: apples, peaches, cherries and pears. She added berry bushes and rows of vegetables.
And then she bought her first chickens.
"A lot of people call chickens the gateway animal," says Creech, who lives in rural North Salem, Ind. "Like once you have a chicken on the farm, then you end up getting sheep on the farm, and then you end up getting horses, and cows. And then it just explodes from there."
The political battle over immigration, now provoking a confrontation between Congress and the White House, touches all of us in one very direct way: our food. That salad mix, and those apples, may well have been harvested by workers who arrived here in the U.S. illegally.
Originally published on Mon February 23, 2015 12:20 pm
The federal government banned the sale of raw milk across state lines nearly three decades ago because it poses a threat to public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association all strongly advise people not to drink it.
Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 3:29 pm
As most people know, mushrooms love dark places. You can find them growing in the dim recesses of forests or at the foot of old trees. But is that where we get most of the mushrooms that end up in our hearty risottos and juicy portabella sandwiches?
Originally published on Mon February 16, 2015 2:57 pm
On a breezy morning next to a cornfield in rural Weld County, Colo., Jimmy Underhill quickly assembles a black and orange drone with four spinning rotors.
"This one just flies itself," he says. "It's fully autonomous."
Underhill is a drone technician with Agribotix, a Colorado-based drone startup that sees farmers as its most promising market. Today he's training his fellow employees how to work the machine in the field.
Originally published on Fri February 6, 2015 6:25 am
After more than a decade of explosive growth, sales of local food at U.S. farmers' markets are slowing. A January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that while more farmers are selling directly to consumers, local food sales at farmers markets, farm stands and through community supported agriculture have lost some momentum.
Originally published on Tue February 3, 2015 12:58 pm
When it comes to organic certification, food producers must follow strict guidelines.
For an organic steak, for instance, the cow it came from has to be raised on organic feed, and the feed mix can't be produced with pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetic engineering.
Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. Several consumer groups, though, say the recommended rules don't go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.
Originally published on Fri January 23, 2015 10:34 am
2014 brought with it an abundance of grain for Colorado farmers and it doesn’t look likely to change in 2015. While farmers wait for a rebound, the new year could bring substantive policy change.
Great Plains farmers are unlikely to see relief in 2015 from sluggish commodity crop prices, according to Brian Kuehl, director of federal affairs with K-Coe Isom, one of the country’s largest agricultural consulting firms. Kuehl spoke at an economic forecast event in Greeley.
Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 1:17 pm
Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it's not the only food or drink made by a religious order. Many abbeys and convents have deep roots in agriculture, combining farm work with prayer.
Federal researchers are on a mission to back up the genetic material of the plants and animals that the nation’s food supply depends on. A pair of ranchers in the hills of western Colorado are joining in and are trying to ensure the future of the rare Black Welsh Mountain sheep.
It’s a sunny morning at Desert Weyr, a 40-acre sheep farm outside of Paonia, Colorado.
Oogie McGuire and her husband own this farm. They raise Black Welsh Mountain sheep. They’re smaller than the white sheep most people are used to seeing. They’re solid black, and the males have curled horns.