Blog | February 7, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniHydraulic fracturing, more commonly called “fracking,” is a highly controversial method to extract natural oil from deeply buried shale rock layers through extremely high water pressure. Like many areas where fracking occurs, farmers in Ohio are largely divided on the issue. While farmers reportedly receive compensation of $2,500 per acre on average when fracking companies use their land, the method is extremely invasive and the toxic chemicals pumped into the land can threaten the standards of organic farming. Though it is clear that fracking can pollute soil and water, neither the Ohio Farm Bureau nor the Ohio Farmers Union have taken an official position on the issue. The Ohio Farmers Union had plans to issue a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing last year, but backed off with the realization that compensation farmers receive from fracking companies is often the only thing allowing them to remain on the land. On the other hand, farmers are tied to the health of water, soil and air for their work. So far the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is the only organization in the state to take a firm stance against fracking, calling for a moratorium until the EPA releases a report on the practice.

Rick Martinez has been a crusader in the organic growing movement, beginning his pesticide-free vegetable farm 35 years ago, long before the practice was popularized. In 1993 he began the Sweetwater Organic Community Organic Farm in Tampa, Florida with a mere seven members. Today the undertaking has grown exponentially to encompass over 300 members. Sweetwater Organic is designed so each member gets a share of the crops grown, but the farm’s focus lies in educating the community of the importance of green growing and a healthy lifestyle. The fees that each member pays go in part to education services including field trips to the farm for elementary and middle school students, as well as college students. The trip to the 6-acre farm incorporates transplanting sprouts, pulling weeds, feeding chickens and, of course, eating fresh vegetables. Many of the students who attend the farm trips are from low-income families. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Sweetwater Organic!

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is shaking up agroforestry with a new guide to change policies in hopes of increasing global efforts surrounding this farming method. Agroforestry combines growing trees, livestock and crops in the same area; a method of farming that the FAO says can strengthen communities and increase food security.  The guide that the FAO released this week tells stories of success and failure within the industry as well as a comprehensive overview of policies that have proved to be effective. The guide also says that farmers should receive added benefits for switching to this practice, as it naturally creates more sustainable land.

The USDA released a study showing climate change could shatter the agricultural industry with more weeds, different pests and increases in disease. Additionally, climate change could force farmers to move where they grow crops, an effort that would cost a great amount of money. Though the climate has been changing for the past century, the rapid rate at which temperatures are rising could prove to be inadaptable for agriculture. In this frightening trend, 2012 was the warmest year on record thus far and the nation was plagued by an incredibly detrimental drought. The USDA report showed that farmers can modify practices to adjust to this climate change by growing within a different timeframe and increasing the amount of specialty crops grown. The higher temperatures could potentially cause crops to grow faster with a smaller yield, reducing grain, forage, fiber and fruit output if methods cannot adapt. The temperature in the U.S. is predicted to increase by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century. The temperature increases could spark a rise in disease that could impact the health and production of livestock. In the 146-page study released by the USDA, there was no clear solution as to how to halt this dangerous development.

Many farmers were recently disappointed by the federal government’s failure to pass a new farm bill, passing instead a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, in the midst of the worst drought in fifty years. Thirty-seven relief programs to aid farmers during times of crisis, such as the 2012 drought, expired, but Congress is considering changing this. Though a new farm bill still remains out-of-sight, five of the 37 disaster programs intended to assist farmers in situations like this drought may be reestablished in a move sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). The legislation would help pay for dead livestock and provide disaster relief for produce not covered by typical crop insurance.

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