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University Park, Pennsylvania

Organic amendments for crop production

Mushroom growers in Pennsylvania generate over a half million tons of spent mushroom substrate (SMS) annually. A team of researchers at Penn State University has been evaluating this by-product as a soil conditioner and fertility source in high value vegetable production, with encouraging results. In 1990, SMS or well rotted manure was incorporated to a depth of 0.2 metres in "soil building" plots (BLD). These were mulched with straw and then compared with unamended plots with either plastic or no mulch. Among the findings reported by Kenneth L. Steffan, an Assistant Professor of Vegetable Crops Physiology at Penn State, at an international symposium on SMS in Philadelphia, was that all major crop nutrients were higher in amended BLD soils. Tomato plants in the BLD plots demonstrated less evidence of Pythium root rot and blossom end rot, and yields were 66 to 82 per cent higher. "When all shipping and incorporation costs for the soil amendments were charged to a single year, there was still a $3,680 per hectare greater net return in the BLD as com pared to the next best treatment," says Steffen.

Since 1990, research has continued with sweet corn, snap beans and broccoli. "We are continuing to follow the effects of this initial amendment," Steffen notes. "We currently are growing winter rye and will follow with sweet corn in 1994. The effect of less intensive SMS amendments designed to just meet crop fertility needs over a number of years also are being studied."

Source: BioCycle, August 1994


Night soil treatment in China

The use of human excreta, or night soil, to fertilize crops and feed fish - a common practice in China for thousands of years - appeared to be on the decline due to changes in established collection systems and the introduction of chemical fertilizers. However, as commercial fertilizer prices continued to rise, the use of night soil - now required to be treated for sanitary reasons - has again become a common practice in the Chinese countryside. According to a recent article in ILEIA Newsletter, there's ample material available to work with. Presently, around 164 million metric tons of night soil are produced in China each year - equivalent to four million metric tons of commercial fertilizer - of which only 30 per cent is being utilized.

In the past 20 years, several facilities have been built to process night soil via mixed composting, fertilizer manufacturing or biogas digestion. "However," says the article. "on the whole, urban night soil treatment is still in the primary stage." for mixed composting, author Bo Ling writes that "after pretreatment, domestic waste is mixed with night soil for cocomposting in windrows," a process he says is difficult "especially in the rain-ridden areas of the south."

To make fertilizer, "after dewatering, night soil is mixed with waste or crop straw. Then, anaerobic fermenting takes place in containers during 20 days. After drying the product is granulated, packed and sold to farmers."

For methane production, "today there are 6.5 million family-sized digesters - connected with the latrine and the pigsty - serving 3.8 per cent of China's population. A preliminary target of some 20 million digesters and 10,000 electricity generating stations based on biogas has been set. This would supply about five per cent of total household energy in the near future."

Bo Ling is an associate professor of environmental health and engineering at the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, 29 Nan Wei Road, Beijing, People's Republic of China.

Source: BioCycle, January 1995


Ames, Iowa

Corn gluten used as herbicide on lawns and vegetable crops

An Iowa State University horticulture professor has come up with a new, all natural weed killer that is made from corn gluten, the protein powder remaining when corn is milled into other products. developed by Nick Christians, it's currently being marketed under the name "A-Maizing Lawn."

In 1986, Christians set up experiments with cornmeal to establish a beneficial fungus. Although the attempt failed, he observed that the plot with cornmeal had much fewer weeds. Further research isolated corn gluten as the material that prevented week germination. According to Christians, the corn by-product reduces crabgrass growth by 60 per cent the first year, and up to 80 per cent the second year. To be effective, corn gluten must be applied at the proper time, when weeds are germinating.

Right now, the EPA is in the process of declaring corn gluten a safe, natural substance, but until the declaration is made, "A-Maizing," needs to carry a warning label. Meanwhile, the director of the ISU Research foundation says the product is good not only for gardeners and homeowners, but for Iowa farmers as well. "Finding a new use for an agricultural product is going to add a lot of value to our corn crop," he notes.

Source: BioCycle, January 1995


EPA to review health risks of three pesticides, regulate plant-pesticides

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun a special review of three pesticides: atrazine, cyanazine, and simazine, "triazines" which are used to control broad leaf weeds and some grasses, primarily as pre-emergent pesticides. It is also proposing a number of actions to regulate certain pesticidal substances, designated "plant-pesticides," genetically introduced into plants for the purpose of protecting the plants against pests and diseases. In announcing the review of the three triazines, EPA said it is "concerned that long-term exposure to these pesticides in food and in drinking water may pose a risk of cancer to the general U.S. population." Field corn accounts for about 80 per cent of the use of the three pesticides, with sorghum accounting for another 9 per cent. The review could result in use restrictions or even cancellation of the pesticides if health data warrant such action. By proposing regulations to address plant-pesticides, EPA is addressing the ability to deliberately introduce into plants characteristics that give plants the ability to produce pesticide substances from many sources, including bacteria, insects, viruses, animals, or other plants. The regulations will focus on those plant-pesticides posing new exposures and having the greatest need to be evaluated for potential adverse effects.

Source: Alternative Agriculture News, January 1995


Rising biopesticides

Biopesticides such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) derived from living organisms are more and more available. World sales reached 50 million U.S. in 1992. There are 104 different formulas on the market today, all derived from bacteria, 44 from beetroot worms, 12 from mushrooms, eight from virus, six from protozoans and 107 insect varieties.

Source: Sustainable Agriculture Week, June 1994


Canadian action alert: pesticides


Pesticides must be registered with the Federal Government before they can be used in Canada. The registration system being used today was developed in 1969. In 1989, the Mulroney government commissioned a review of the system. After intense negotiation with environmental, labour and industry groups, a difficult consensus was achieved (with the exception of labour representatives). The proposed new pesticide registration system put forward in December 1990, contained some major environmental gains, but was not implemented, although there was selective implementation of some of the gains won by industry in 1990, at the expense of environmental and health gains.

Now the Chretien government is offering to develop a new pest management system in the form of new federal legislation for 1995, but what they are offering has again watered down the environmental and health gains made in 1990.


A coalition of member groups of the Canadian Environment Network Pest Management Caucus urge you to contact the following at their postage-free address: C/o House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0H3 or fax to the following numbers: Sheila Copps (Environment): 819-953-3457; Diane Marleau (Health): 613-952-1154; Ralph Goodale (Agriculture): 613-996-9219; Anne McLellan (Natural Resources): 613-996-4516.

Some key arguments

• The Pest management system must include an Alternatives Program that meaningfully fosters a reduced dependency-addiction to pesticides.

• The registration system for pesticides must be moved from Agriculture to Health; qualified health and environmental professionals must be hired to oversee the registration process.

• The full cost of registering pesticides in Canada must be borne by industry, not the taxpayer (and especially not Green Plan funds).

• The public must have access to industry data on products before registration is approved to ensure a transparent and accountable system that protects health, safety, well-being and environment.

• The criteria to be used for pesticide registration must be developed in consultation with public non-governmental environmental, health and labour groups.

• Provisions for special reviews and appeals of registration decisions must be available to the public.

• No part of the new registration system can be based on cost/benefit or risk/value balancing. If a product poses unacceptable risk to human or animal health or to the environment, it must be removed from the system, regardless of its value.

• Products disallowed or deregistered in Canada must not be exported to other countries.

• The system must be open, transparent, accountable and trustworthy. The overall goal of the system must be to move Canada away from chemical dependency towards environmentally sustainable agriculture and forestry and other natural resource uses.

Source: The Ram's Horn


Grain chilling is competitive alternative to pesticide treatment.

Stored grains are routinely treated with pesticides to minimize losses to insects. In a particularly egregious recent case, Dursban was used illegally on oats in a General Mills grain elevator. The grain was used in making Cheerios and ten other packaged cereals which were then sold to the public for 13 months before the contamination was discovered.

Grain chilling utilizes refrigeration to create an environment inhospitable to pests, fungi and molds. It is used on over 1 billion bushels of grain in countries like Argentina, Australia, Germany, Great Britain, France, Indonesia, Israel and Mexico, but so far has been used but little in the U.S. The costs are similar: commercial pesticide treatment costs from 0.33 to 1 cent per bushel, compared to chilled aeration costs of 0.5 to 1 cent. Purdue University scientists are becoming involved in developing and commercializing this technology here.

Source: NYCAP News, Fall 1994


US pesticide use still increasing.

A June 1994 EPA report says that in 1993 US pesticide use reached 2.23 billion pounds, up from 2.15 billion in 1990. US purchases account for 1/3 of the total world market, measured in dollars. The report also finds: pesticides were used on over 900,000 farms and in about 69 million households, and farm pesticide purchases equal 4.2 per cent of farm production costs, up from 3.9 per cent in 1991.

Source: Safe Food News, Fall 1994









Copyright 1994 REAP Canada

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