Ag is Sustainable

Americans say agriculture is sustainable, favor incentives over regs

From the notion of a modern farm or ranch being economically able to sustain a family, to the idea of working with the land in a manner that supports food and fiber production for future generations, sustainability means different things to different people. Even in agricultural circles, definitions of sustainability run far afield, from the environment to economics.

A recent Morning Consult poll asked 1,917 registered voters to give their opinions regarding agriculture and sustainability. One definition of sustainable agriculture was offered, generally, as defined by the 1977 and 1990 farm bills, a system of agriculture that will satisfy human food and fiber needs, enhance environmental quality, use resources efficiently, sustain the economic viability of farmers and benefit society as a whole. 

Almost everyone supports sustainability, by one definition or another. And, while the background noise around this discussion might sometimes suggest otherwise, many Americans think agriculture and farming are among the nation’s most sustainable sectors.

Democrats and Republicans actually agreed on many points in the survey. For starters, 80 percent of Republicans said they agreed that modern agriculture is sustainable, as did 76 percent of Democrats. There was strong bipartisan support for incentives related to environmental sustainability versus outright government regulation. Sixty-five percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats favored cooperative incentives that allow government and farmers to work together to address issues, versus 13 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of Democrats who favored more farm regulation.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they trust farmers to make the right decisions when it comes to sustainability, while just 24 percent wanted government to make the call. Seventeen percent said they did not know or had no opinion. Across party lines, the majority of respondents expressed trust in farmers over government mandates, with Republicans at 67 to 18, Democrats at 55 to 30 and independents at 55 to 23.

By nearly a five-to-one margin, respondents said cooperative incentives would boost environmental sustainability in agriculture over additional government regulations—62 to 13 percent. Again, there was agreement across party lines, with 65 vs. 13 percent of Republicans and 63 vs. 15 percent of Democrats favoring incentives. More respondents (46 vs. 26 percent) said additional government regulations would hurt sustainability on American farms rather than improve it.

Farmers are winning the popular vote. Agriculture and farming ranked as the most favorable industry section among those offered to respondents. Seventy-eight percent ranked it favorable, compared to 76 percent for the technology sector, 73 percent for the hospitality industry, 67 percent for manufacturing, 60 percent for energy, 43 percent for the pharmaceutical industry and 54 percent for airlines.

Agriculture also drew the highest marks when respondents were asked whether it was more “good” than “bad” regarding environmental sustainability—56 percent said good, 13 said bad, 19 percent said equal and 11 percent did not know or had no opinion. The technology industry came in second with 47 percent good and 15 percent bad.

A whopping 80 percent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that “the true success of an environmentally sustainable farming practice depends on whether that practice also leads to economic opportunity for the farmer.” Seventy-five percent of respondents said they were more likely to say modern agriculture is sustainable with the knowledge that a common goal among farmers and ranchers is to leave the land in better shape for the next generation. Likewise, 72 percent said they were more likely to say modern agriculture is sustainable with the knowledge that many farms and ranchers have been operated for generations, and some for more than a century.

The public “gets” it, even if zealots don’t. America’s farmers and ranchers need to build on that reservoir of trust by sharing their stories of what really happens in the countryside. They need to explain the in-the-field work they are doing to protect natural resources while providing for their families. Americans trust you. Show them why they should continue to do so.

—Mace Thornton is executive director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation

Early Valencias

Varieties: Replacing Hamlins with Early Valencias

early valencias

University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences plant breeder Jude Grosser makes a case for Florida’s citrus industry replacing Hamlin oranges with early-maturing Valencia oranges that he and others are developing.

“I think that’s a no-brainer because Hamlins are having a really bad time with greening, and orange juice sales are declining,” Grosser says. “Hamlin is half our juice. It’s half of the NFC (not-from-concentrate) product and yet it has inadequate color and flavor to make a Grade A product on its own. It has to be blended with Valencia. So you can imagine what a boost to the quality of our product it would be if you replaced all the Hamlins with Valencias. You’re going to have better color in the bottle; it’s going to be more attractive. And when somebody buys it, takes it home and drinks it, the flavor’s better and so they’re going to want to come back and buy more of it.”

Grosser mentions some existing early Valencias that have had a higher ratio than Hamlins at Christmastime and even at Thanksgiving. Traditional Valencias aren’t harvested until late winter or early spring. “They’re (the early Valencias) not home runs against HLB, but again with the right rootstock and nutrition program, they should be able to work,” he says.

Grosser’s comments address some of the biggest issues facing the Florida citrus industry. Approximately 95 percent of Florida’s oranges go into orange juice, and HLB, also known as citrus greening, has greatly reduced the state’s citrus acreage and production. HLB was discovered in Florida in 2005. There is no known cure, and most growers have struggled to find production programs that let them remain profitable in the face of the disease.

Citrus Leprosis

Citrus Leprosis Rears Its Ugly Head: Know the Details

With citrus leprosis a re-emerging threat to citrus, know the details of the disease.

Citrus Leprosis Details

  • Appearance: “On symptomatic fruit, the spots are usually brown, reddish-brown or tan-colored. The lesions on fruit are limited to the fruit rind only and do not extend into the fruit sections.” And “The symptoms of leprosis are distinctive; however, they could be confused with citrus canker lesions on leaves, fruit and twigs.” Testing confirms the disease.
  • Impact: “Left untreated, leprosis disease will kill a mature citrus tree in about four years. Leprosis affects all citrus types (sweet orange, mandarin, lemon, grapefruit and citranges) as well as Swinglea glutinosa, a citrus relative.”
  • Transmission: “The disease is spread by Brevipalpus mites, commonly called broad mites. The Brevipalpus mites have a broad host range with over 900 plant hosts reported from 513 genera.”
  • Treatment: “Mite control is essential for the control of leprosis. In Brazil, where leprosis has been endemic for many years, 12 or more miticide applications are made yearly. Leprosis-infected trees can be recovered with the pruning of the symptomatic branches, followed by good mite control, but the pruning of individual trees is expensive.”

HLB management

By Jaci Schrekengost

As huanglongbing (HLB) continues to decimate citrus crops, researchers continue to search for new, efficient ways growers can manage the disease.

HLB, also known as citrus greening disease, is vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid. The disease affects the entire tree, including the roots and fruit.

Tripti Vashisth, assistant professor and citrus Extension specialist at the University of Florida (UF), says one main concern with HLB is nutrition based on the size of the roots in HLB-infected trees. She says another researcher found HLB-infected trees have smaller root mass compared to trees that are not infected.

The concern with smaller root mass in these trees is whether they are moving the same amount of nutrients as the trees that do not have HLB.

According to the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Citrus Extension website (, “Root systems of infected trees are often poorly developed, and new root growth may be suppressed.”

Vashisth says in a new greenhouse study that she and other researchers conducted, it was actually concluded that the roots in HLB-infected trees move nutrients more efficiently than trees that do not have HLB. The issue with nutrients not reaching the top of the tree is due to the smaller mass of the roots.

The way to solve this concern is to allow a constant supply of nutrients to the HLB-infected trees, Vashisth says. “Continuous supply of fertilizer in any form is working best,” she says.

Dual Treatment Tested for HLB Trees

Dual Treatment Tested for HLB Trees

Severe pruning combined with enhanced foliar nutrition did not prove cost-effective.

By Monica Ozores-Hampton, Fritz Roka, Robert Rouse and Pamela Roberts

HLB Trees

Citrus trees affected by huanglongbing (HLB) become diminished, weak and develop dieback resulting in reduced production. Decline in fruit yield ultimately prevents economically acceptable commercial citrus production. Pruning and spraying foliar nutritionals are two practices being considered to restore some level of productivity to HLB-infected trees.

Pruning, also known as buckhorning (Figure 1), is a cultural practice that stimulates strong tree regrowth. While shown to be effective to regrow freeze-damaged trees, buckhorning has never been tested in HLB trees. Citrus growers, however, have implemented foliar treatments of micronutrients and macronutrients as a method to satisfy a tree’s nutrient requirements after HLB has blocked nutrient flow via the phloem, reduced root systems or limited uptake capacity.

The enhanced foliar nutritional treatments do not have bactericidal effects on the bacterial pathogen Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas). They may be employed, however, to maintain the nutritional health and productivity of HLB-affected trees.

A study was conducted between 2010 and 2015 to evaluate the horticultural impact, juice quality and economic returns from pruning in combination with an enhanced foliar nutritional treatment on HLB-affected orange trees. The study was located at the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee within a 5-acre block of 16-year-old Valencia orange trees on Swingle citrumelo rootstock. Trees were planted 15 feet in-row by 22 feet between rows (132 trees/acre) on two-row raised beds with micro-sprinkler irrigation and soil classified as Immokalee fine sand.

HLB Trees

A total of 14 rows on the east side of each bed were buckhorned (Figure 2). The rows on the west side of each bed were not pruned. Each row was split in half, and four foliar nutritional treatments were applied as Boyd, Fortress with KNO3 or urea (four times per year), and a control [(commercial standard), Table 1]. Each nutritional treatment was replicated seven times across the area.
Pruning was done in February 2010 using a commercial hedger and topping machine. Pruned trees were cut back to their scaffold branches, leaving only 10 to 15 percent of the original canopy (Figure 1). The products and amounts of the foliar-applied nutrient treatments are shown in Table 1. In accordance with the UF/IFAS recommendations for citrus, all treatment plots received ground-applied fertilizer twice per year using a slow-release 14-0-18 + magnesium, sulfur and boron, and calcium nitrate 9-1-14 + magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, copper and boron. The annual total amount of nitrogen was 160 pounds per acre and 205 pounds per acre of potassium oxide.

Data collection consisted of real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detection of CLas, tree growth (shoot length, tree volume and total shoot leaf area), leaf chlorophyll concentration, fruit yield and juice quality [percent juice, titratable acid (TA), total soluble solids (TSS) as Brix and TSS/TA ratio]. Prices of materials were collected from fertilizer and chemical product vendors to estimate the costs of each foliar treatment.

PCR testing confirmed that all trees were infected with CLas at the beginning of the study. Canopy volume of pruned trees increased throughout the trial, but never grew to equal the canopy volume of non-pruned trees. However, leaf area of pruned trees was consistently greater than the leaf area of non-pruned trees, beginning with the second year of the trial.

 As expected, fruit yields from pruned trees were significantly lower than yields from non-pruned trees in the year after buckhorning. While the pruned trees recovered and set a fruit crop close to the non-pruned trees, the 5-year cumulative yield from the pruned trees remained significantly less than the cumulative yield from the non-pruned trees (Table 2). Pruned trees did not produce a higher yield than non-pruned trees in any year. There were no statistically significant differences among juice-quality parameters between pruned and non-pruned trees or nutritional treatments.

The total cost of pruning was estimated to be $160/acre. When the estimated value of first-year fruit loss was considered, the total cost of buckhorning rose to $560/acre. Since the yields from pruned trees never surpassed the fruit yields from unpruned trees, there were no offsetting gains.

The annual cost of the control foliar nutritional treatments was $40/acre. Fortress treatments were between $295 and $305/acre, depending on whether KNO3 or urea was applied. The Boyd foliar nutritional treatment was $550/acre (Table 1). All treatment costs included materials and application.

HLB TreesEnhanced foliar nutrition treatments provided slight yield benefits, especially in the early years of the trial (Table 2), but the yield differences were not statistically significant. Even if a value were to be put to the numerical yield differences, the added value of the higher yields did not offset the cost of any foliar nutritional treatment beyond the control (Table 3). It should be noted, however, that the control foliar nutritional treatment did contain some micronutrients (Table 1). Given the lack of statistical differences among the nutritional treatments, the amount of micronutrients in the control treatment may have more than satisfied the trees’ requirements.

The results from this trial confirmed that HLB-infected trees can regrow after pruning and produce fruit. The pruning, as used in this trial, was not cost-effective through the first five years after buckhorning. However, the rapid regrowth of pruned trees suggests that a more moderate pruning approach may be more cost-effective at rejuvenating HLB-affected trees and may be an alternative to tree removal and replanting.

Monica Ozores-Hampton and Fritz Roka are associate professors, Robert Rouse is a retired associate professor, and Pamela Roberts is a professor — all with the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.

Gene Editing vs. GMO?

Move Over GMOs? Monsanto Experimenting With Gene Editing

Dr. Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s Chief Scientific Officer says gene editing is a new innovation that could reshape how we eat. Monsanto (MON), the world’s largest producer of GMO seeds, is betting that a new technology called gene editing may calm consumers unease about eating modified foods.

Monsanto announced earlier this month that they are investing heavily in gene editing or CRISPR/Cas9—a genome editing technology developed by Broad institute—that will allow scientists to make changes to a plant’s already-existing DNA without adding any foreign DNA (like GMOs allow).

“In the crop world we use [GMOs] to introduce a new gene into a crop, a gene that may confer tolerance to drought, or a protection against insects. With gene editing, we don’t have to put a new gene into the plant. What we are able to do is precisely modify a gene that is already existing in the plant, in the animal, or even in human healthcare applications,” Fraley adds, who says consumers can expect these new products to hit the market in the next 5 years. the latest video at <a href=”//”></a>“Some of the first products are already going through regulatory approval. Just last year, scientists developed a mushroom where they knocked out the gene that causes the mushroom to turn brown, so that will be able to reduce food waste and improve flavor,” Fraley adds.

However, some food experts and scientists are skeptical. “While these new technologies are touted to be more precise than older genetic engineering technologies, it is widely accepted in the scientific community that there can be ‘off target’ effects to the genome when the technologies are utilized. GMOs, including the products of these new technologies, have not been adequately tested—no long-term feeding studies have been conducted—and people are starting to connect these experimental technologies to health concerns,” Megan Westgate, executive director of Non-GMO Project, tells FOX Business.

Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, a scientist and CEO of CytoSolve, Inc., says gene editing sounds much simpler than it is – and for him, that is the problem.

“The human body and the human cell are an interconnected complex system of systems. Editing a single gene, has systemic effects, which cannot be done ad hoc. Changing one itsy weeny teeny weeny gene isn’t so simple. One needs to understand how that change affects the concentrations of other chemicals in the plant,” Ayyadurai tells FOX Business.

Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project and founder of Genetic Experts News Service, says that while gene editing may be an easier sell to consumers than GMOs, it also stands to boost Monsanto’s bottom line.

“CRISPR and other gene editing techniques are scientifically easier than conventional breeding. And, genetic engineering saves time and money—as much as $130 million in 10 years or more, which is the cost and time of getting a GMO approved and commercialized,” Entine tells FOX Business.

Last year, PEW Research Center found that 39% of Americans consider genetically modified foods worse for a person’s health than other foods, compared to 48% of adults who say GM foods are no different than non-GM foods.

Fraley says part of the reason that some Americans have a negative perception of GMOs is because the company didn’t educate people about the science early on said Monsanto’s chief scientific officer Dr. Robert Fraley. “That was a big mistake, and in our [absence] of communicating that other folks were able to position the technology in a negative sense, and it’s taken a long time to build back up the understanding and benefit of these tools,” Fraley says.

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