One of the odd things about this production year is the lack of Macrophomina showing up in strawberry in comparison to the amount of Fusarium. While I've been called out on a good number of fields that ultimately turned out to be Fusarium (thank you Steven Koike and your diagnostic lab staff!), I haven't been called out to a single one that's been found to be Macrophomina.
Recall that both of the diseases caused by these two pathogens look very similar in the field - plant collapse associated with a discolored crown.
Now for some of the work that Steve has been doing for his DNA testing for plant pathogens, he's been eager to get his hands on Macrophomina material. I've submitted a sample from a field off of Old Stage which had it last year and so the assumption is that it does this year too, and indeed plants are starting to go down.
I dutifully submitted a sample to Steve, and told him that if it wasn't Macrophomina I'd eat my hat. It just has to be Macrophomina, but then again with the current spate of all Fusarium calls, who knows?
Is it or isn't it?
Announcing a collaborative Sustainable Berry Workshop this coming August 9. This event is hosted by local business Farm Fuel Inc. and sponsored by UCCE and the Shennan Lab at UCSC. This event, the only meeting being run out of this office this summer, will give people the opportunity to get a first rate perspective on what is new in soil pathology research, as well as how to obtain funding as a grower for implementing sustainable practices.
Catered breakfast provided, translation available as well. See you there!
Please register by emailing email@example.com
- Author: Eric Brennan
- Author: Thomas Flewell
Mark here. The video by Dr. Eric Brennan concerning the sustainability problems of using what is essentially repackaged synthetic nitrogen in organic agriculture that I posted a few weeks ago has sparked a lot of discussion in my social circles, most recently for me at a dinner with a big ag company and a local PCA specializing in organic consultation. These conversations turn around the same point that reader Thomas Flewell (Thom - note you got your byline!) brings up below. Best to go to the expert on this very subject so I asked Dr. Brennan if couldn't answer the question for all of us, and he graciously accepted my invitation to do so.
Follow along below:
Thomas Flewell: Preface- As the world population approaches 9 billion within the next 100 years, it is clear that organic farming will not serve up enough food for everyone.
Dr Brennan's reasoning toward the use of synthetic nitrogen in organic farming is persuasive but I see an error of omission. Dr Brennan failed to note that manure derived fertilizer will be produced whether or not it is used for agriculture. Cows poop. Chickens poop. Pigs poop. Goats poop. All god's creatures poop. And none of them are raised only to produce fertilizer. So the energy to produce argument seems weak. Also, while manures are used as pre-plant fertilizer and in some instances as a top dress or side dress for crops, fish fertilizers are also used. I have had very good results with a hydrolyzed (not emulsified) fish fertilizer with a very low N analysis. Perhaps just an academic point.
Thanks for your interest in my ‘repackaged' synthetic nitrogen video and for your comments on it. I've heard others raise similar questions after seeing my video. I'm working on an opinion paper that will provide more details on the arguments that I raise in the video, and hopefully will bolster my arguments with citations, and examples that I was able to fit into the video. But in the meantime here are some ideas to consider and some articles to help with that.
I agree on the value and importance of recycling nutrients from manure and animal slaughter by-products; to my knowledge slaughter by-products are more important than manure in high-value organic crops California. However, I imagine that rendering process (extraction, grinding, heating, pressing, etc.) to convert this material into pelleted fertilizers takes a fair bit of energy to ensure that the material is safe to use, and easy to handle and apply. And transporting this bulky material to where it's used is also energy-intensive. Consider an organic system in a place like my home state of Hawai'i where there is relatively limited animal production. Think of the energy costs to move organic fertilizer made of chicken manure, meat, bone, and feather meal all the way from California, for use on an organic farm in Hawai'i! To me, this seems like a relatively inefficient way to get N in these systems.
Ideally these animal production by-products could be used in organic and conventional systems near to where they are produced and in systems that need the full suite of nutrients they contain; even better would be for the nutrients in these materials to return to the systems that produced the feed for these animals. But having to rely heavily or almost exclusively on this type of fertilizer material (as in often the case in organic vegetable production in many regions) for nutrients like nitrogen (N) can be problematic and quite expensive. As I mentioned in the video, one problem is that N in many of these ‘repackaged' synthetic N fertilizers often come with excessive amounts of phosphorous (P) that far exceed what is being removed from the soil in crop yields. I became well aware of this issue of excessive P inputs in my research when I collaborated with researchers from Stanford and UC Davis to calculate P budgets (P inputs versus P outputs) in two long-term organic studies in California. This is described in detail in the a few publications like this one available here. To improve our P budgets in our long-term study in Salinas we switched from using pre-plant fertilizers with a 4-4-2 analysis to an pre-plant with a 8-1-1 analysis which was more expensive per unit of N; from what I've seen with pelleted organic fertilizers, unfortunately the materials with lower P or no P have a higher per unit cost for N. Switching to 8-1-1 helped with our P budgets, but we still were applying more P than needed when we added yard-waste compost to these systems. This improvement in our P budget is very obvious in figure 2B in of the paper note above that shows a big decline from 2007 to 2008 in the P balance. This also highlights the importance using cover crops to add carbon back to the soil, rather than over relying on compost which can add too much P. Carbon added by cover crops represents ‘on-farm carbon production' that doesn't add P, but just recycles what's already in the soil to produce the organic matter. Furthermore, organic matter inputs from cover crops appear to be a more important driver of soil health improvement than organic matter from compost. Here's our recent paper that describes that issue
Getting back to the P budget issue, during 8 years of our long-term trial on high-value vegetable production, we added more than 400 lbs of P per acre than was needed to replace what was removed in exported yields ! It's important to highlight that unlike N that we can capture out the air with biological N fixation (using legumes) and by synthetic fixation (using the Haber-Bosch process), P is a limited, mined nutrient, and there is considerable concern about the worlds dwindling P reserves; this highlights why we should only apply P when needed. Here's a link to another paper from our long-term study that provides some information the biological N fixation potential from legume-cereal cover crop mixture in these systems. While legumes do fix N in these systems, this is limited by their ability to complete with non-legumes likes cereals that provide other important services like nitrogen scavenging from previous vegetable crops, … and there can be other challenges with legume-cereal cover crops that I highlighted in this video Are legume-cereal cover crops a good fit for organic vegetable production?
Another issue to consider with organic soil fertility management that is relevant to the arguments in my ‘repackaged' synthetic N video is the total supply of manure and slaughter by-product based fertilizers available in a region like California. I don't know the extent of this supply, but it seems likely that as organic agriculture acreage grows here and uses more of these organic fertilizers, this supply of fertilizer will become more and more limited unless animal production (that relies primarily on feed grown synthetic N) increases. This is concerning because the science of climate change indicates the need for people in regions like the U.S., with excessive protein consumption, to reduce consumption of animal products. This important dietary shift to less meat consumption would likely reduce the amount of manure and slaughter by-products available for recycling as fertilizers. Furthermore, relying on fish as source of N for organic agriculture could overtax the world's oceans that are already over fished in many regions. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't believe there is a sound scientific basis for a total ban on the use of pure synthetic nitrogen in organic agriculture. That's why I argued for what I call ‘SPorganic' (i.e., scientifically progressive organic) agriculture that would allow the careful use of synthetic N in it's pure form, rather than only in the ‘repackaged' synthetic forms that are currently allowed in organic systems. However, I believe that limiting the use of N inputs (from ‘repackaged' and pure synthetic forms) and greater adoption of best-management practices like cover cropping, make scientific sense. ‘Enriching the Earth' by Vaclav Smil is a book that I highly recommend for additional reading on the complex issue of nitrogen in agriculture and how the Haber-Bosch process has transformed our lives and accounts for at least 40% of the world's dietary protein. Here's link to an entertaining RadioLab podcast on the Haber-Bosch story that you might also enjoy.
My N video was first presented along with 10 other 5 minute videos at a 2016 symposium that I helped organize at the American Society of Agronomy conference; here' a link to the 11 videos. One of my intentions with my N video was to start a conversation around a complex issue that I believe limits the sustainability of organic systems like those that I work with in California. Thanks for joining that conversation.
Take care, Eric Brennan
Mark here - thanks Thom and Eric for a most informative exchange - really appreciate it!!
A trend not unnoticed by many professionals in this country over the past decade or so has been an increasing mistrust of the advice of experts. Some of this has to do with a long standing suspicion towards people of professional classes like doctors, lawyers and scientists, but a lot more of it lately seems to have much to do with the easy availability of information of any kind from the Internet.
The linked article details the dwindling faith in this country of people who are experts:
I will make a few comments on this phenomenon as it does have some relevance to my work as a UCCE Farm Advisor. Say what you will, these are positions which for decades across California have been recognized by growers, academics and lay people as those of significant expertise gained over many years of formal education, research and observation. This is not a small thing, yet I too find a growing opposition and doubt to what I know and what I have to share.
More and more, I am confronted with a myriad of questions, either being pictures sent to my phone or questions concerning field problems that are then compared and contrasted to other sources on the Internet. Research conclusions which don't correspond to a personal conceit can quickly be countered with thousands of opinions from all over the world. To use the words of the linked article, normal, healthy skepticism has now metastasized through a “ Google fueled, Wikipedia based, blog sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople…”, to an outright loss of faith in anything an expert lays claim to know. I am certainly not infallible and make errors like anybody else of course, but that my information is being compared at the same level to some closeted individual pounding out stuff on his own without the education and experience is more than annoying - it's become disconcerting.
The problem is of course that while one may access lots and lots of information through the use of the Internet, these answers or facts are not knowledge nor do they confer ability on their own. Knowing that Emmanuel Macron was elected the president of France, and after wards found his centrist political party also in majority of parliament, are indisputably facts, but still understanding the larger effect on the possible future of France and the European Union from this event takes a lot more than knowing this guy and his party got elected. A yellowing plant is clearly dying, and a little bit of disease is found, and again these are all facts, but what is the fuller picture? None of this sort of analysis can be done with the tap of a key, and will take background education, thought and at least some research to get right. So, I'm betting that economic activity in the EU is turning a corner (and the bond markets there agree), and you might want to take a hard look at one of those mineral levels which isn't where it is supposed to be, and very likely predisposing your plants to disease. You'll find none of this on the Internet.
The fact of the matter is that the expertise and the actual research to understand the MEANING of obtained facts are difficult, requiring an ability to sort through information by knowing what is important and what is not, analyzing the balance and ultimately making the decision on how to apply it. People who depend simply on gathering a mass of facts in isolation to everything else are kidding themselves if they think that is all what is needed to find the solution to their problem.
People might want to come around and realize that the Internet is not the end all for authority on a given subject, and may want to grant more respect for what the expert in a field knows and in turn give him or her a fair hearing. In turn, the expert could do well by realizing that there are far more sources of information available these days, and today people are going to be invariably including these pieces of advice when making an observation or a decision.
I am currently reading "A Rabble of Dead Money" which is a depiction of the financial, military and political threads which ultimately led to the Great Depression in the United States. Excellent read, but a striking quote which comes out of the second chapter is that of Nikola Tesla in reference to Thomas Edison's persistence in discovery - recall that he tested some 3000 variations of the light bulb before finally arriving at the incandescent bulb. Tesla's quote is "a little theory and calculation would have saved (Edison) 90% of his labor". Rationality and logic before perseverance and heroism.
Broken down a different way is that a lot of time can be spared by avoiding randomly testing variation after variation, ie guessing, to arrive at a desired result and instead think the problem through from what is known and then working toward the conclusion, either through calculation or by deduction. Then and only then run the study.
I like this, especially since field testing of something like a fumigant alternative is an enormous undertaking and randomly testing stuff just to see if it works is not efficient at all. Let's start by putting together what we know so far about the fumigant alternatives, what happens to the soil when we use them and then make some decisions on what to test from there.
Which we can very well do. A good point to start would be a meeting being arranged by Farm Fuels, Inc. of some of the local greats of our soil science and pathology group which will meet this upcoming August 9 at the auditorium here at my office. Looking to engage in discussion and get into some good takeaway advice. More details to follow - save the date.