Biotech Crops Prevent Global Warming

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The New Scientist reports in a short item that with regard to cutting carbon dioxide emissions growing biotech crops is the equivalent of removing 4 million cars from the roads. How does this work? Farmers who plant herbicide resistant biotech crops don't have to plow their fields in order to get rid of weeds which leaves more of organic matter sequestered in the soil. This also means that they burn less fuel.

Naturally, as the article points out, the organic folks pooh-pooh these findings. Evidently they prefer to eliminate weeds the old-fashioned way–peasants using hoes.

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  1. “peasants using hoes”

    Well that is one way of ‘re-habilitating’, sex workers, but I think making it a legalized, regualted market is a better way.

    (what’s that? A garden tool? Oh.
    Never Mind.)

  2. Maybe those food hippies (friend to old Yul Gibbons, sleeve of my peasant shirt, etc, etc) are just in denial about global warming. You have to have symapthy for those who haven’t discovered the inconvenient truth about global warming quite as quickly as we have!

  3. Naturally, as the article points out, the organic folks pooh-pooh these findings.

    Naturally, because it was never about being pro-environment. It’s always been about being anti-human

  4. Maybe the AEI is paying the organic farmers to highlight doubts about the theory that growing-sans-plowing contributes to CO2 emissions.

  5. Ron,
    I hate calling bullshit on you but this is bullshit. The only statement by “organic folks” pooh, pooh-ing anything is the statement that “the ISAAA is only interested in promoting GM crops.” Well, let’s see, it’s an organization with “Biotech” in the name and that recieves a large portion of it’s funding from the GM agro producers. Maybe, just maybe, they are right about that.

    It’d be like the ONDCP claiming that the DPA is only biased towards legalizing drugs because it says so in thier mission statement and they recieve funding from Soros and Lewis. Well, no shit, but would they be “pooh pooh-ing” the idea by pointing out a fact? Now, you show me “organic folks” criticsm of the actual claim and I will be happy side with you debunking said criticsm, but an organization pointing out how funding and motivation may taint a report’s findings is valid criticsm.

    Of course I could be wrong and CSPI is truly an unbiased scientific powerhouse looking out for my well being.

  6. Kwix,

    I am going to call bullshit on you. What the hell kind of response is “they are only interested in promoting GM crops”? Big fucking deal. What about the susbstance of their point? Judging from the lack of substance in the response, my guess is that there is not a good response.

    When the hell are we going to stop playing the tainted messanger card? Just because you recieve funding from someone doesn’t necessarily mean your data is wrong. Merely saying they just want to do so and so is not a response.

  7. Now then, regarding the actual (detail poor) article, poor soil tilth is a major problem in modern, large scale farming. Tilling, and over tilling, of the soil does destroy a fair amount of the drainage and moisture/nutrient holding capacity of the soil. Of course, anti-human organic farming methods that replace lost organic material with agricultural waste products (manure, straw, etc.) help to offset that. The report findings are interesting in that they may help to eliminate one of the major soil destroying factors in modern farming thereby increasing yield, decreasing fertilizer and also saving on fuel and decreasing CO2 emmisions. I’d like to read through the actual paper rather than this terse Press Release before making a judgement on it.

  8. That’s great, as long as the production, transportation, application, and decomposition of the herbicides doesn’t relase any carbon. Ummmm………

    Or if the weeds that traditional farmers remove manage, somehow, to release more carbon during their decomposition than they captured during their growth. Hmmm…

  9. New Scientist?

    Ron, the link goes to Macroworld Investor, not NewScientist

    (harsh critcism redacted by commentor)

    And you might want to look into just what the Greens/pro-environment p[ersons are advocating for agriculture, rather than just make flippant statements about peasants.

    A non-state subsidized semiorganic Permaculture would seem to be the best choice:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture

    Though weenie purists would likely insist on pure organic…(/me shrug)

  10. kwix: Calm down. I was being snarky about the organic folks. And of course, the Soil Association would offer nothing but a fair and balanced view of the benefits of genetically enhanced crops for reducing greenhouse gases, right? 😉

    BTW, despite its industry funding ISAAA is often cited by researchers and is generally regarded as a pretty source for information about how biotech crops are being used around the world, especially in developing countries.

    I personally believe that combining some of the techniques of biotech with organic cultivation techniques could probably create one of the most ecologically benign forms of farming ever invented.

  11. And a quick perusal of http://www.newscientist.com reveals no such article. And even if it did, I am almost certain someone here would lambast them as Greenie stooges.

  12. “That’s great, as long as the production, transportation, application, and decomposition of the herbicides doesn’t relase any carbon. Ummmm………”

    That is doubtful. It doesn’t take as much horsepower to spray as it does to plow. Further, that is a pretty obvious point. I would imagine the auditors thought of that. That are not stupid.

    “Or if the weeds that traditional farmers remove manage, somehow, to release more carbon during their decomposition than they captured during their growth. Hmmm…”

    Plant decomposition is going to release that much CO2? I would like to see some statistics on that and also I doubt the researches are so stupid they never thought of that.

    Again, it would have been nice if the organic folks had bothered to make a substantive point about the research other than to say “ewww, they are GM people”. Perhaps they could have made your points if there is any substance to them.

  13. I always buy pro enviroment foods, you know, the non-organic kind.

    Oranic food requires more labor, more “organic” fertilizers and herbicides. They have lower yields and higher waste requiring more land for the same yields.

    So tell me again why I would buy it if I truly believe in helping the enviroment.

  14. Thirdly, if I were a farmer seriously interested in using farming to address global warming, I might look into artificial peat bogs. Apparantly bogs are great low maintenance carbon sinks. SOmone would have to pay me of course… 😀

  15. Art-

    Because it makes you feel good.

  16. John,

    “It doesn’t take as much horsepower to spray as it does to plow.” I wrote “production, transportation…”

    “I would like to see some statistics on that and also I doubt the researches are so stupid they never thought of that.” As a matter of fact, the release of CO2 by decomoposing weeds is rather central to their arguments. Avoiding this release is how they, allegedly, achieve their CO2 savings. Are you even aware that you just posted an argument against the authors’ claim?

  17. Organic folks or not…. there are ways to eliminate the use of constant cultivation thus stirring up the soil time after time…. One of my favorites is the use of a living mulch in between rows of crops that are planted in a black plastic mulch. Of course as always no matter what, farming especially in the North relies on alot, a wicked lot of platic and petroleum products. Even if what Ron Bailey (Who I usually agree with ) says is true, it is still wiped out by the use of plastic for greenhouses, mulch, planting pots, fuel for the tractor, fuel to heat the greenhouse, fuel to get the product to market….and on and on and on…. Gm crops have not had enough time to be proven or disproven as being bad for the environment and human consumption… Generally though when I order my seeds for the growing season I go with old varieties… mostly because they TASTE like food. If it aint broke dont fix it.. old varieties are not broken and have worked for a long time… This is just someone trying to use bad science in order to make a buck…. In my view theres nothing wrong with trying to make a buck, but to try to make a buck using bad science is just dishonest….and takes all the sport out of being a farmer… .. separates the men from the boys….

  18. Sam-hec,

    Interesting article and a great system for a few hippy comunes. I am skeptical, however that it would ever do anything on a wide scale besides create high food prices and malnutrition. My favorite line from it ” Most farms specialise in a few crops at a time and seek to maximise surplus in order to increase profit.” The supidity of that statement is just beyond belief. The assumption seems to be that creating a large surplus of food is a bad thing as well as operating for a profit.

    Let the organic fruitcakes have their fun, just as long as they stay out of poorer countries where they can really do damage.

  19. Art,

    Organic farming used labor to replace polluting technological fixes like herbicides and persticides.

    “Natural” fertilizer is a waste product anyway – organic farming doesn’t increase its volume one ounce, but removes a great deal of it from the waste stream, and in doing so, obviates the production of additional fertilizers and pesticides. They also apply this fertilizer more carefully than ordinary farms dispose of it, and more carefully than ordinary farms apply chemical fertilizers.

    Not that you actually care, but somebody might be clueless enough to think there is some truth behind your snark.

  20. John,
    This is a fucking terse PR news release. Who knows, maybe the Soil Association’s representative actually said something along the lines of:

    Well, I haven’t read the report yet so I can’t make any judgement of the substance but “since the ISAA is only interested in promoting GM crops” I wouldn’t be suprised if this report concluded that GM crops are beneficial.

    Perhaps then the reporter, or the editor, cut it down to what was printed. Who knows? I have yet to see either the report, or the Soil Association’s full response to it.

    What I do know is Ron was claiming that they “pooh-poohed” the report based on a statment of funding. I guess Ron is psychic now and can guess thier response based on that one (non quoted) sentence.

    As for funding tainting the messenger, I agree that it is over used, but you have to admit that certain groups in the past, the TASSC being a prime example, have released papers only in support of thier funder’s position and suppressed information that was contrary to it. Is it not wiser to judge a report based on all of it’s factors, including funding and motivations?

  21. Sorry Ron,
    I spent so much time using the damn “Preview” button that I missed your response.

  22. sam-hec: I originally linked to the MacroWorld site because I couldn’t find the link to New Scientist thru google. Evidently you couldn’t it either, but strangly it now appears in the browser. BTW, the article was identical so get over your suspicions of intellectual hanky panky.

    Here’s a link to some of my reporting on organic agriculture.

    Finally, I was one of the peasants with a hoe (weeding tobacco, corn, and “chopping” thistles in the pastures all summer long) before I went off to college and “got above my raising.”

  23. Fat man,

    The best way to control pesticide and herbicide use is to use GPS and precision farming. If every farmer in America were required to use percision farming, we would use probably 50% less chemicals, get better yeilds, have many fewer non-point pollution problems and burn less fuel becuase the applications would be more effective, although I had never thought of that effect. There are ways to greatly decrease the pollution associated with farming and the best ways are with technology, not organics.

  24. Joe,

    You don’t need organics, you can do it through GPS, get better yeilds, and less pollution.

  25. John,

    You are only counting runoff pollution, which would be reduced through more precise applications.

    But 1. more precise application is one of the hallmarks of organic farms and 2. especially when we’re talking about petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides, their very manufacture is a source of pollution.

  26. John wrote:
    “Interesting article and a great system for a few hippy comunes. I am skeptical, however that it would ever do anything on a wide scale besides create high food prices and malnutrition”

    Take a look at what Cuba is managing to do with those ‘organic fruitcakes’, and do so because they are without Soviet subsidies. ( I do not endorse Communism or Socialism btw. Freemarket communes are OK I guess.)

    http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/articles/657

    Is that large scale enough for you?

    keep in mind that U.S. agriculutre is heavily subsidised by our taxes whcih i’d rather not pay.

  27. Joe,

    I frankly not familiar with pollution created by the manufacture of petreolum based pesticides. Whatever that is, I seriously doubt that if begins to compare with the nitrate problem that the country has. I don’t care if you use chicken manure or manufactured fertilizer, you still going to get nitrates in the water. Further, can organic produce the same yeilds and the same level of production done by current methods? I doubt it.

  28. sam-hec,

    Cuba? Are you kidding? Cuba is so poor that no one over the age of six recieves a milk ration. This country is so rich that our biggest problems are obesity and over production of food. I am sorry but I can’t buy it that Cuba is a model for food production.

  29. “I don’t care if you use chicken manure or manufactured fertilizer, you still going to get nitrates in the water.”

    As you suggested earlier, how they are applied makes a considerable difference.

    But look, organic farms aren’t manufacturing chicken poop that wouldn’t otherwise be created. That chicken poop would be there, regardless. And the fertilization methods they use keep that chicken poop out of the water a lot better than the chicken farmers manager to.

    “Further, can organic produce the same yeilds and the same level of production done by current methods?” If the measure is “yields per unit of pollution,” organic farming can achieve a much higher level of production.

  30. Agriculture-baed economies usually are poor, John, compared to manufacture- and idea-based economies. So?

  31. Ron,
    You are correct regarding the Soil Association’s potential stance regarding this article. Just as an organization who is “Pro Stanley Steamer” would likely frown on a report stating how much more fuel efficient internal combustion engines are, especially since it was funded by the Ford Corporation, I suspect that the Soil Assn’s stance will be unfavorable even if the science is sound. But the article did not state thier stance, in fact it didn’t technically quote anybody (it attributed, but I saw no quote marks).

    I guess I shouldn’t be so touchy, but it seems to me that some folks around here look at the organic farming movement as a bunch of backwards thinking, smelly, dirty hippies that ignore science. The truth to the matter is, I have seen what “modern” farming has done to tracts of my family’s land in Iowa, converting it from rich black soil to dust. I have also seen that certain organic farming techniques can bring that dust back to life (manure application, fallow tillage, ‘green compost’). I have my doubts that GM is the magic bullet that so many seem to think it is, but I don’t dismiss it out of hand like so many do of “traditional” methods. I think the future lies in a combination of the two.

    That is, we will reach farming perfection two days before the Grey Goo destroys all life on earth.

  32. “Cuba? Are you kidding? Cuba is so poor that no one over the age of six recieves a milk ration. This country is so rich that our biggest problems are obesity and over production of food. I am sorry but I can’t buy it that Cuba is a model for food production.”

    John your question was whether permaculture could be applied on a large scale. I believe I showed as much. It should also be noted that Cuba, despite being a dumbass socialist/communist dump, has still managed to go from two meals a day to three using permaculture, post Soviet subsidies. They could of course do better by fully dupming the communist state. But then that fact is the only thing protecting them form all the corporate welfare state up north wiht all it’s subsidized agriculture.

    *hint hint*

  33. mediageek:
    And if it feels good do it?

    John:
    I am sure they handle the sh**, I mean organic fertilizer much better, because when your handling sh**, I mean organic fertilizer you can never be to careful.

    BTW, why would green groups and green concerned nations be against GMO food. Its a complete oxymoronic stance if they really “care”about the environment.

  34. I can’t wait for the day when all of our food is just recombined submolecular particles generated in a microwave looking device. Instead of genetically modified, it’ll be genetically reconstructed food. Woohoo!!!

  35. Kwix:
    Sorry I sold you short. Didn’t realize your firsthand experience. Actually, Norman Borluang, has stated that we should use the natural fertilizer first but that it will never be enough to have promising results. He recomends a combination of natural and sythetic fertilizers combined with more robust varieties of plants (read GMO or natural hybridization).

  36. Sam hec,

    The article you linked to is a complete joke. It is talking about how much food people have in Cuba. That is just not true. Yeah, they make it work but at what cost to the consumer?

    Joe,

    If organic farms are really that competetive, they should be able to beat their corporate competitors in the market place. I am not saying they won’t, just saying if they are more efficient they should win.

  37. John,

    Sadly, Big Agriculture gets away with passing their externalities on to everyone else better than just about anyone. Ever read about hog feedlots in Carolina? Horrible.

    Until that’s addressed, Big Ag will always have a competitive advantage.

    They also have a built-in advantage in calories per acre.

  38. John,
    What was the cost of food to the Cuban consumer just after the fall of the Soviets, ie when subsidies of fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides were halted, when they were forced to live with two meals a day; vs the cost of food to the Cuban consumer today with their semi-organic permaculture?

    Answer: A lot less. They have their third meal back.

    To answer for Joe, Organics foods in the U.S. aren’t beating conventional foods, no product ever has to beat a competitor, they just have to stay in the game. And they are doibng quite well despite the subsidies that conventional foods enjoy.

    Lets change the discussion why should conventional crops enjoy subsidies? Especially when alternatives are doing so well without them?

  39. P.S. here is a more compklete description of what Cuba was going through and how they got better:
    http://www.harpers.org/TheCubaDiet.html
    (I don’t agree with the authors politics, but the observations about subsidies are valid)

  40. p.p.s I found this amusing Frank Capra global warming video fom 1958.
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=0lgzz-L7GFg
    While it is brief and inaccurate, don’t say we weren’t warned.

  41. John,
    GPS on a small farm is not only unneccesary it is a bit like using a tractor to plow a dusting of snow… OVERKILL.
    The problem with your argument about using technology (Which I will admidt has its uses on Large Farms…even GPS) to farm is that it does not take into consideration that the soil is a living entity and should be treated as such… I spray almost nothing…. and if I do spray anything it is almost completely benign… How do I do that? I Take care of my soil…Generally speaking when you feed your soil with natural fertilizers and soil amendments, incidents of pest and disease alike are reduced. Herbicides basicly over time add too much salt to the soil to make it worth much. I understand where you are coming from, but you are ignoring the fact that there are still those of us that farm as if the soil matters and that is what the CONSUMER wants. Just for the record I am not nor will I ever be certfied organic, but use alot of the basic premeis of growing organicly….

  42. It amazes me (well, it really doesn’t) how controverted the issue of food production can be. I see it this way, whatever may be the case in the future, right now if we went “all organic” we’d apparently have a severe drop in food production. Well I ain’t volunteering to be a hungry mouth in that scenario.

  43. And another thing….. I will agree that just because it is organic does not necessarily mean that it is good. I know plenty of shitty organic farmers… but those of us who have the balls to do this stuiff right are gettign great yields….This idea that technology will be the thing that saves us and all that crap is just as ludicras as my customers who insist that I am “Saving the world” Farming is a bitch of a lifestyle to persue even with technology…but sometimes the old ways are the best….But what would I know? I am just a toothless fat man at the buffet line….

  44. This crap about lower yields is unsubstantiated anyways…That is usually based on farmers who stop growing conventionally and use the same methods as they used to but only using organic fertilizer….there are so many other little details that need to be addressed when growing organicly for real… which is probably why it only works well for small growers such as myself. Face it though as far as I can tell organic is a freaking buzzword anyways..the best way to get good healthy vegetables is to buy from local growers … conventional or organic… reason being the freshness of the food. Plus oh never mind… I am done ranting for now… I think.

  45. Why anybody believes anything the Cubans claim to have accomplished is beyond me. If any system has a built-in bias against the truth built in at the molecular level, it is an authoritarian state running a top-down command economy.

    People who are convinced every word that comes out of Bush’s mouth is a lie are nonetheless willing to lap up every word that comes out of Castro’s mouth. Go figure.

  46. Interesting discussion. I’ll admit I’ve leaned towards the bio-tech side as I’m impressed by the argument that much less land needs to be used for cultivation with biotech to produce the same yield sizes as organic farming techniques – a benefit to both the environment, as more land can then be set aside for growing trees, and the world’s food supply, especially those depending on imported food to survive.

    This doesn’t mean I’m closed to hearing out the other side. I genuinely would like to understand the organic argument better. Can you provide some links?

    A few questions:

    Without biotech how will we supply enough food for the world’s hungriest people?

    Also, what about the land needed for organic farming? Won’t needing to use more land be more harmful to the environment?

    Some of you have mentioned combining the two techniques. How is this to be done? If you are pro-biotech, why would you want to combine, and vice versa?

  47. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t use biotech crops and organic cultivation techniques.

  48. R.C. Dean,
    I will agree with you to the extent that at least all those grinning faces and well placed tubers and such seem have been indluenced by state happy-police, and possibly even photographed and written up as a propaganda piece. But…they are clearly doing something different than when they were being subsidized by the Soviets; which they claim to be some sort of semi-organic permaculture. I don’t see any evidence they aren’t using such techniques in lieu of conventional soviet super-comune silly farming. Someone would need to show me evidence they are still trying the old soviet way and not the permaculture way in order for me to withdraw my point. Incredulity, however well deserved, is not evidence.

  49. So the only alternatives are 1) large-scale row-cropping with heavy herbicide use; 2) large-scale row-cropping with heavy mechanized cultivation; and 3) back-breaking work with a hoe. Uh, ever heard of raised-bed production or mulching? Comparing the organic farming techniques of the Rodales and John Jeavons to great-grandpa’s methods is utter nonsense.

    “If organic farms are really that competetive, they should be able to beat their corporate competitors in the market place. I am not saying they won’t, just saying if they are more efficient they should win.”
    –John

    Uh, yeah, it’s not like corporate agribusiness is, like, *subsidized* or anything! Eliminate the USDA, eliminate subsidized R&D for chemical farming techniques and GM crops, eliminate the subsidized irrigation water from dams, eliminate the subsidized shipping costs from giant plantation farms to their markets–eliminate all that, and watch Cargill and ADM bleed red ink faster than AMTRAK.

  50. But Kevin, can organic farming as you describe it produce the same crop yields per acre?

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