The Economics of Non-GMO Segregation and Identity Preservation
The conclusion of this extensive research report reads: "The
major costs of non-GMO segregation and identity preservation will
depend crucially on the tolerance levels that governments set
with their laws or consumers set with their preferences. Currently,
it seems that a major cost in non-GMO segregation and identity
preservation does not come from cleaning machinery or testing,
but rather from the "reshuffling" of the grain handling
system. This cost of reshuffling invites change in the infrastructure
of grain handling. But because of the large fixed costs of building
grain handling facilities, the adjustment to a new economic equilibrium
in which there are more and smaller handling facilities located
in the economically efficient places is likely to be a very lengthy
one. It seems most likely that in anything but the very long run,
a higher level of segregation and identity preservation will be
managed at a lower cost within the current grain handling infrastructure.
The effect of labeling, segregation and identity preservation
on grain prices at various stages of the grain production and
handling industry is theoretically ambiguous. In this paper, we
report the start of what should be further empirical investigations
into the effects of segregation and identity preservation on grain
production and handling costs."
New Tool Improves No-Till Seeding
A new attachment designed by Agricultural Research Service scientists
can improve performance of seed drills for growers who want to
use no-till planting techniques.
No-till--placing seeds into soil through the leftover plant stalks,
known as crop residue-- improves water use and reduces erosion.
But even drills designed for no-till are not without problems.
In heavy residue, plant material lodges on the seed drill's furrow
opening shank and gets dragged along as the equipment moves forward.
Piles of residue up to four feet long and one foot high can spill
over into the adjacent seedbed, smothering seedlings as they try
to emerge. ARS researchers in Pendleton, Ore. set out to make
existing seed drills more effective. Their hope is that by reducing
problems with the drills, more farmers will adopt no-till practices.
The new device consists of a rubber wheel with flexible "fingers"
that attaches next to each furrow opener on the drill. The fingers
pin the residue to the soil surface and hold it in place as the
seed gets planted, preventing the plant material from lodging
onto the drill. The scientists tested their prototype in eastern
Oregon, where narrow-row crops like wheat with heavy residue are
common. Their results showed that seeding with the wheel attachment
increased the number of seedlings 10 to 50 percent, depending
on field conditions. ARS has applied for a patent on the equipment,
which is available for licensing (Patent application 09/594,659).
Fitting Farming Practices to Minimize Water Pollution
How much herbicide or fertilizer runs off farm fields to pollute
streams and rivers may depend less on the amount of the chemical
applied and more on other factors such as soil characteristics,
farming systems, and how soon it rains after the chemicals are
applied, according to studies by Agricultural Research Service
scientists. For example, ARS scientists at Columbia, Mo., found
that heavy rains that often fall on Midwest claypan soil soon
after fertilizer application may pose the greatest risk for nitrogen
losses in the forms of nitrate and ammonium. That's why, in the
five-year study on the claypan soil that is representative of
10 million acres, 75 percent of such losses occurred within six
weeks of application. Fertilizer was also more susceptible to
runoff when it was spread evenly and then incorporated into the
soil by tilling than when it was knifed into the soil surface
in narrow bands. And the herbicides atrazine and alachlor were
more prone to runoff in a no-till farming system than when they
were incorporated into the soil in a minimum-tillage system.
In another watershed study with different soil characteristics
and amounts of row cropping, the influences of agricultural chemicals
on water quality were nearly the opposite. The scientists found
that herbicide concentrations were much lower in streamwater from
watersheds with soils having good structure and pore space. However,
nitrate concentrations were higher because farmers in such watersheds
typically rotate soybeans and corn and apply more nitrogen fertilizer.
Nitrate moves easily with percolating water heading toward the
Iowa Census Shows Where Milkweed Grows
A census of the common milkweed in Iowa by USDA scientists indicates
the plant can be found along almost three-quarters of the roadsides
and in about half of the state's corn and soybean fields. Corn
and soybean fields had the lowest average percent area infested
with common milkweed-- less than 0.03 percent--but these crops
cover 78 percent of Iowa's landmass. Of the various other habitats
surveyed--pasture, roadsides and undisturbed areas--lands in USDA's
Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Reserve Program
(CPR) had the highest percentage of area infested with milkweed
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is a native of the
northeastern and north central United States and adjacent areas
of Canada. It is the primary plant on which monarch butterfly
eggs are laid and the main food source for monarch caterpillars.
The study is part of the research response to concerns raised
by a note published in Nature in June, 1999 about a small,
preliminary laboratory study on the potential for the pollen of
Bt corn to cause harm to monarch caterpillars. Bt corn is corn
that has been genetically modified to express proteins found in
the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, to reduce the need
for applying chemical insecticide to the crop.
The distribution of common milkweed is simply one piece of the
picture helping to clarify the true risk, if any, that Bt corn
might pose to monarch butterflies. Other pieces needed to complete
the risk assessment include identifying monarch preferences for
milkweed in particular habitats, the distribution and extent of
Bt corn pollen during pollen shed, and the actual toxicity of
Bt corn pollen to monarchs.