Conventional Farmers Learn to Reduce Dangerous Chemicals
Workers prepare a Salinas area field for planting. As methods have grown more sophisticated, this process has involved less pesticide application. Photo : Danielle Venton
January 6 | Danielle Venton The fields of Henry Hibino Farms are empty. Neat rows of raised dirt stretch along the fields, ready for the next planting.
Kent Hibino: this is more of clay loam, it’s got a higher organic matter, as you get to the river it’s a sandy loam.
Kent Hibino looks out on his fields from his Chevy truck. They’re bare now, but a few weeks ago they held lettuce, romaine, celery, broccoli and cauliflower. Kent is a third generation farmer in the Salinas Valley, managing about 1,000 acres. And while these fields grow many of the same crops Kent knew as a child, he’s seen some big changes since then.
Modern farming, he says, uses new techniques that let farmers apply fewer chemicals to their land. Take, for example, the soil tests they do before a planting. Kent sends dirt samples from each field to a lab. The lab tests for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and a host of other elements. The results inform him exactly what to apply.
Hibino: so we’ll take a hard look at that before pre-plant and sometimes we don’t even pre-plant because we feel everything is there, so that’s definitely a change from my dad’s time where they were just on program, now we look at everything field by field, what does that field need to survive.
Kent sees a slow, steady movement among farmers. Acre for acre, they’re having less of an environmental impact now than they did 10 years ago. Regulations are strict and pesticides and fertilizers have become expensive. Maximizing their efficiency is all a matter of staying competitive.
According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, this trend is real, and dramatic. Between 1998 and 2009 the total pounds used of the broad-based, more highly-regulated and generally more toxic pesticides — things like organophosphates, for example, declined 66 percent.
Growers now use licensed pest control officers to issue spray orders. They’ll only recommend a spray if pests are present above certain thresholds. Many farmers now use drip irrigation as well. This waters the plants at the roots, and reduces the chance of mildew. Using drip irrigation, by some estimates, allows farmers to cut fungicide use by half, and their pesticide use by a quarter.
Hibino: when you’re using drip irrigation, your spray bills will be a lot less when you use drip irrigation, and and you can fertilize through them, not using creating a mildewy microclimate overhead.
Farmers are also fertilizing through the drip systems. By targeting the application they can apply less overall. And farmers switch plantings to put organic matter back in the soil, and reduce the chance their crops will catch a disease.
April Mackie: that’s one reason we rotate crops, if you grow lettuce, that’s why we rotate with strawberries, reduce the number of bacteria and viruses in the soil
April Mackie is the Food Safety Manager for Martin Jefferson and Sons a large, family-run operation in Castroville. Spraying costs a couple of hundred dollars per acre so, April says, they’d rather not do it all.
Mackie: we don’t spray just to spray, we have a guy walking the fields if he sees a certain amount an area then he’ll know he needs to apply, it’s so expensive, they try not to spray if they can get away with it, that’ll eat you alive.
In this way, simply watching the bottom line is helping farmers have a smaller footprint. For KUSP, I’m Danielle Venton.
September 8 | Sean Rameswaram • Charlie Hong Kong is a Santa Cruz fast food restaurant that has made a number of moves to run as green an operation as possible. It recently won an award from a local environmental advocacy group for doing so. But is Charlie Hong Kong’s model practical for any restaurant?
EPA Settles Methyl Bromide Complaint, Leaves Complainants Out Of Discussion
Courtesy of Flickr user benketaro
August 31 | Sean Rameswaram • Fumigation season is approaching on the Central Coast and foes of methyl iodide are ramping up the campaign to have the known carcinogen banned. They’re taking their case to court and to Governor Jerry Brown via Facebook.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has made a landmark decision regarding the use of methyl iodide’s predecessor methyl bromide: The EPA found that Latino schoolchildren on the Central Coast and in Ventura County were exposed to the toxic pesticide at a greater level than their peers.
Some say the settlement is historic: The EPA has never before confirmed “adverse disparate impact” on a community in a civil rights case. But others say justice was stymied in the name of a toothless settlement that quickly closed out a complicated case.
August 5 | Sean Rameswaram • The Monterey Bay area is home to a number of endangered species. Local photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht spent the last 4 years of his life taking photos of them. He hopes his artful images will compel people to take action and help conserve species’ habitat. He gave KUSP’s Sean Rameswaram a tour of Endangered Neighbors, a collection of his work showing now at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.
July 29 | Sean Rameswaram • Global warming means that temperatures across the globe are on the rise, right? Well, maybe not entirely. Some recently released numbers suggest that California’s coast may actually be cooling over time becauseof warming temperatures inland.
Leatherback Turtles Edge Toward Federal Protection
Courtesy of Claudia Lombard, USFWS
July 18 | Sean Rameswaram • Leatherback sea turtles recently came one step closer to having part of their favorite ocean pathway recognized and regulated by the federal government. Part of that pathway is here in the Monterey Bay.
Courtesy of Tagging of Pacific Predators (c) Dan Costa, UC Santa Cruz
July 8 | Sean Rameswaram • Over the past ten years marine biologists across the globe were busy taking part in the first ever Census of Marine Life. One group involved in the census focused on tracking migration in the Pacific Ocean and it recently published a remarkable discovery: Marine predators, including everything from leatherback turtles to blue fin tuna, are traveling across the planet’s biggest ocean on a superhighway.
June 23 | Sean Rameswaram • Summer is officially here, so we’ll be seeing many more a beachgoer enjoying the water around the Monterey Bay. A report from Santa Monica’s Heal the Bay says some of that water may not be as clean as we would like.
May 27 | Sean Rameswaram • Local, natural, sustainable, and organic are all terms we see on our food labels, but only one is explicitly defined. KUSP’s Sean Rameswaram spends an afternoon at the Farmers’ Market and New Leaf Community Market in downtown Santa Cruz to clear up some of the confusion surrounding “organic.” He’s joined by Amy Lamendella from California Certified Organic Farmers.
Freewheelin’ Farm Builds a Business around Community Supported Agriculture
Courtesy of Freewheelin’ Farm
May 26 | Sean Rameswaram • Americans are trying to eat more locally and sustainably – a trend that’s easy to spot at your grocery store or farmer’s market. Yet one of the most local and sustainable food options has struggled to win over consumers.
A Community Supported Agriculture or “CSA” share cuts out the middleman and sometimes even the travel, getting subscribers a hand picked assortment of fruits and vegetables delivered directly from the farm. The content of the share can typically feed a family of four and is determined by the farm producing the food.
While the CSA model hasn’t exactly taken-off nationwide, one local farm is making a go of it. Freewheelin’ Farm in Santa Cruz has built a successful business around CSA and it’s seeking more converts.
O’Neill Sea Odyssey: Attempting to Change Environmental Behavior
April 29 | Sean Rameswaram • The day students spend out on the Monterey Bay with the O’Neill Sea Odyssey enhances their understanding of classroom standards, but the program seeks to do more than that—the Odyssey tries to change the environmental behavior of its 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. It’s a difficult shift to gauge, but they may have found the formula.
Veggielution Redefines Community Gardening in Downtown San Jose
Courtesy of Veggielution
April 22 | Sean Rameswaram • Demand for community garden plots far outweighs supply in the city of San Jose, but at Veggielution everyone pitches in and walks away with some produce. The community farm near the intersection of Highways 680 and 101 in downtown San Jose is a bit different from most community gardens. Rather than assign plots to individuals, the farm produces food through the combined efforts of all participants.