9 comments on “My Conversation With a Scientist: Part One

  1. In my experience, glyphosate has to be “dribbled” directly onto plants–leaves–to be effective. I can’t imagine Roundup being delivered via crop duster.

    Any generalization about “pesticides”–whether herbicide, insecticide, fungicide–is pointless. There are so many different classes of materials, and they have so many different modes of action, that making categorical statements is futile.

    Kevin–it’s my understanding that the neonics are nowhere near as “awful” as the organophosphates. In fact, I was under the impression that is why they were developed–to replace the OPs with pesticides with lower toxicity to mammals. The neonics imitate a natural pesticide–nicotine–but are far less toxic.

    That’s right: your local tobacco plant is a pesticide factory.

  2. Mike, that’s right. My comments come from the synthesis of several papers in the highest-quality journals over the last year that show some rather profound effects of neonics. Certainly better than OPs, but both could potentially be used 10x less with the right genetics– bred in or transgenic.

  3. Kevin and Julee, I do not believe neonicotenoid spraying is a common practice in field agriculture, at least not in the US. It is primarily used as a seed treatment or as a soil drench. Use of organophosphates for aerial spraying would be severely limited by regulations. What you most likely saw being applied by aerial application was a synthetic pyrethroid to control insect pests that are not affected by Bt..

  4. Neonictinoids are commonly found in seed treatments. In my corn fields that have these seed treatments and/or are Bt varieties it’s very rare for us to have a need to come in during the growing season for an insecticide treatment. As of last year we also stopped running liquid insecticide in the furrow, further cutting our costs and pesticide use. Seed treatments often also contain fungicides and nematicides.

    When non-farm people see sprayers and planes applying pesticides (which may also be foliar fertilizers) I wonder if they know that much of what they are seeing is water. We are generally dealing in ounces per acre of active ingredient which water being the carrier of those agents. Crops are not soaked in these chemicals. Ideally a crop is treated at the rate which provides the greatest control of the pest at the least cost. If you see a corn or soybean crop being sprayed by air in the summer there’s a very good chance you are witnessing a fungicide application rather than insecticide.

    In late summer and fall planes you see may not be applying pesticides at all. They may be flying on cover crop seed as we had done on our farm last year, and will be doing at least twice as much in 2013. Here’s a blog post of mine showing aerial application of seed into standing cash crop.

    http://thefarmerslife.com/environment/farming-smarter-with-cover-crops/

    And kudos to Dr. Folta on his explanation on the specificity of Bt. It’s amazingly specific. I’ll probably be quoting him in the future to help explain this to others.

  5. Even if a good portion of it WAS water, whatever it was, and we’ll probably never know for sure, it irritated me for quite some time…lungs and eyes especially, and I was not confident that taking a deep breath was a good idea. I was in that part of Iowa for a 24 hour period and the odor hung in the air hours after the spraying was over. It was a very profound experience for me, and definitely contributed to my interest in this topic. There is no way I could live around that. Just being honest.

    • I believe you. I’m just curious as to what was in the air that day. I’ve never experienced such a thing myself, but then I’ve never had any allergies to speak of. 2,4-D is the most definite smelling herbicide I can think of. New formulations of 2,4-D will be drastically cutting down on possibility of drift and odor.

  6. Hi Julie, Interesting post. You ask “how any environmentalist could hate this technology.” Let me make a couple of suggestions: by engineering plants to express this toxin, in every cell, all the time, you are exponentially increasing the selective pressure for insects to develop resistance to Bt. Farmers have been required to plant “refugia” of non-Bt plants in order to delay this resistance, but we now know that it is happening, and for the first time this year, there are reports that other insecticide usage on corn is increasing as farmers “hedge their bets” against encountering resistant insects. (A similar story has played out with glyphosate-resistant crops).
    This is my chief objection to the GMO crops currently on the market (and the ones closest to commercialization): they are short-term, band-aid solutions that are not sustainable – just another spin of the same old treadmill. Is this the fault of GMO-technology per se? Of course not – it’s a failure of the dominant agricultural paradigm of the last half-century. In my opinion, we’d be further ahead to invest our money and efforts toward a more systems-based approach.
    It’s important to keep in mind that we need to take a broad perspective when addressing these issues – I’ll continue to follow your blog with interest!

    • @Songberryfarm: It was Folta who said that, actually. He was referring to the use of fewer spray plane chemicals on the Bt crops… should please environmentalists, I believe. No one denies that resistance is a problem.

  7. Pingback: “GMO OMG” Documentary Revisited | SLEUTH 4 HEALTH

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