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When it Comes to Pesticides and Kids, The EPA Looks the Other Way

HOMESTEAD, FL – SEPTEMBER 09: Stephen Jenner, from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, sprays an insecticide under an avocado tree where some Oriental fruit flies were found on September 9, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. The discovery of the flies has forced the state to quarantine about 85 square miles of farmland in Southern Miami-Dade county until they have been eradicated. The flies have the potential to damage Florida’s $120 billion agriculture industry. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It’s easy to lose count of all of the pesticides that are sprayed on crops in the U.S., and well-nigh impossible to know all of the names (dichloropropene and pyraclostrobin and spinetoram and on and on). But it’s not hard to guess who gets hit hardest by all of these chemicals: kids, whose brain, nervous and hormonal systems are still developing at the time of exposure. What’s more, a new pesticide introduced today will have fewer years to build up in the tissues of, say, a 50-year old, compared to a child who will accumulate a lifetime load of the stuff.

That’s the biggest reason that, in 1996, Congress passed and  Bill Clinton signed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The legislation represented one of the most effective crackdowns on pesticides in the food supply to date, requiring the Environmental Protection Agency not simply to establish a safe threshold of exposure for the population as a whole, but to limit permissible levels much further—10-fold further in fact—to ensure that children are protected too. The legislation benefits everyone of course: Ten times less pyraclostrobin on your apple is a good thing no matter how old you are, but it’s children who are the most important beneficiaries.

But a law is only as good as its enforcement and a new study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, —a nonprofit advocacy organization—and published in the journal Environmental Health found that when it comes to the FQPA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is laying down on the job. The group surveyed 47 non-organophosphate pesticides—a category that tends to persist in soils—and found that the 10-fold safety standard was being applied only to five of them.

“The FQPA was a revolution in how we think about pesticides’ effects on children,” said Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook in a statement accompanying the release of the study, “but it does no good if the EPA doesn’t use it.”

In response to the study’s release, an EPA spokesperson told TIME: “EPA takes our commitment to protect public health, including our most vulnerable populations, and following the law seriously. EPA uses the default 10X safety factor unless a wealth of high-quality, peer-reviewed data has shown an alternative safety factor can provide an equal amount of protection.”

The study, which stands by the the ten-fold standard as the true gold standard, looked back at FQPA enforcement from as early as 2011, during the Obama administration—generally seen as an environmentally friendly presidency—and saw the same spotty pesticide enforcement even then. But the Obama White House did take some proactive steps, seeking to extend the 10-fold standard to organophosphate pesticides as well, which break down relatively quickly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but while they are around can be even more toxic than other varieties of pesticides, affecting the nervous system in much the way sarin and other nerve gasses do.

Under the Trump Administration, however, the Obama ruling was reversed for the most widely used organophosphate, known as chlorpyrifos. Nonetheless, Corteva Agriscience, the nation’s largest manufacturer of the chemical, under pressure from multiple states that are banning its use, announced on Feb. 6 that it would voluntarily agree to stop producing it.

It’s a manifestly good thing that in that one case, market forces were sufficient to stop a bad chemical from getting into the food supply. But it’s a manifestly bad thing that in a far larger share of cases, apparently the health of America’s children does not have the same power in Washington.

“With the FQPA legislation, Congress clearly gave the EPA the power to protect children’s health from pesticides,” says Olga Naidenko, vice president of science investigations at the Environmental Working Group, and lead author of the paper. “The EPA should be able to fully use this authority without waiting for additional instructions, if the EPA leadership decides to do so.”

By Jeffrey Kluger February 12, 2020

Source: When it Comes to Pesticides and Kids, The EPA Looks the Other Way

View full lesson: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/do-we-reall… Annually, we shower over 5 billion pounds of pesticides across the Earth to control insects, unwanted weeds, funguses, rodents, and bacteria that may threaten our food supply. But is it worth it, knowing what we do about the associated environmental and public health risks? Fernan Pérez-Gálvez weighs the pros and cons of pesticides. Lesson by Fernan Pérez-Gálvez, animation by Mighty Oak.

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Mexico’s Avocado Growers Increasingly Face Cartel Violence

Aavocado takes from farm to toast is increasingly punctuated by chain-link fencing and AK-47s.

At least, that’s become the case in Mexico, where the meteoric rise of the avocado industry has attracted unwanted attention and an increase in violence toward growers and their workers. The threats are perpetrated by cartels and vigilantes, looking for ways to capitalize off the money the trade has infused into western Mexico.

A lot of those avocados wind up crossing the border into the US, satiating a fast-growing appetite Americans have for them. Sometimes referred to as “green gold,” avocados have been rising in popularity in the US for years. Consumption of the fruit—yes, it’s not a vegetable—has increased significantly, from 2.2  to 7.1 pounds per capita between 2000 and 2016, according to the USDA data.

The regional problem with violence was catapulted onto the international stage earlier this year, when a spate of violence wound up threatening the safety of food inspectors from the US Department of Agriculture.

In mid-August a team of inspectors fell into danger in Ziracuaretiro, a town in the state of Michoacan. Local authorities told the media that an armed gang stopped and robbed a truck in which inspectors were traveling. There are close to 60 inspectors in that region, charged with checking conditions on the farms. The threat to them resulted in US officials saying they would suspend its avocado certification program if precautions weren’t implemented.

Now some Mexican avocado growers are hiring private security firms. A spokesman for Villita Avocados, a subsidiary of Mexican avocado exporter AgroExport Avocados, said this week that the company hired a firm to assess operational risk.

“There have been times when there have been upticks in the violence, and then we aren’t able to operate at 100% capacity,” said spokesman Aaron Acosta in a statement.

According to the Associated Press, many growers have erected chain-link fencing and hired guards armed with AK-47s to protect workers from violent thieves and cartel extortionists.

And while the US is the tenth largest producer of avocados in the world (they are mostly grown in Florida and California), Mexico is the dominant grower, supplying some 43% of world demand. In 2017, the US produced about 133,000 metric tons, a number that is dwarfed by the more than 2 million metric tons grown across the border.

Source: Mexico’s avocado growers increasingly face cartel violence

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Some Mexican avocado growers armed with AR-15 rifles are guarding against thieves and drug cartel extortionists in Michoacan, a state know for its production of the fruit locals call “green gold.” The region’s avocado boom, fueled by soaring U.S. demand, has raised parts of western Mexico out of poverty in just 10 years. Now, gangs and violent cartels are threatening the newfound prosperity.

This Fruit Company Sells Out Each Summer in 12 Crazy Weeks. Inside the Logistical Madness of The Peach Truck

Stephen Rose wouldn’t shut up about peaches. Specifically, the 32-year-old native of Fort Valley, Georgia, was stunned to find that nobody around him knew how a real Georgia peach, fresh off the tree, tasted. Not his neighbors in Nashville, just 300 miles northwest of his childhood home. Certainly not his Seattle-born wife, Jessica, who was growing tired of hearing about it.

Until, that is, the couple visited Stephen’s family in July 2011. Jessica’s first “real” peach experience was tart. Sweet. Just the right amount of messy. Summer incarnate.

It changed her life. Both their lives, actually: The revelation that out-of-staters like Jessica could be so easily evangelized prompted the couple to launch The Peach Truck in 2012. Georgia’s highest-quality peaches start to rot just days after they’re picked, and the fruits in grocery stores are usually bred for longevity, not taste. The company’s mission: Drive “real” peaches to deprived souls across the rest of the country.

The couple started out part-time. Year one featured 32 boxes of fruit donated by a family friend from a farm in Georgia’s aptly named Peach County; a ’64 Jeep; and $30,000 in revenue from a 12-week selling season. That was enough to convince the Roses to go all-in. Jessica shuttered her independent house-cleaning venture. Stephen quit doing sales for radio personality Dave Ramsey.

Jessica and Stephen Rose.Courtesy The Peach Truck

Seven years later, The Peach Truck is an eight-state logistics operation that sold roughly five million pounds of Georgia peaches in 2019 (the last day of sales, dictated by the growing season, was August 10). The company projects that will be more than any other U.S. vendor, including Whole Foods. Its extremely photogenic Instagram account boasts more than 85,000 followers. And the business is completely bootstrapped. The Roses have never sought or accepted external funding.

The company, with seven full-time employees and 65 to 85 seasonal workers, earned $7 million in 2018 revenue. The Roses expect 2019 sales will be 50 percent higher. And that growth should continue now that the founders have solved a tricky riddle: how to turn a high-risk seasonal venture into a year-round moneymaker.

The race against rot.

Georgia peaches really are different, their flavor more intense and their shelf life shorter than that of grocery store rivals. Most come from just five farms in Peach County, Stephen says. Off the trees, they last roughly three days.

That makes The Peach Truck’s mission difficult. Jessica, who runs operations, recalls waking at 4:30 a.m. each day during their first full-time year to wipe rotten, fly-infested fruit pulp off the warehouse floor. “When we first started and talked to people in the peach business, they literally laughed at us,” Jessica says. “They were right to laugh. It was a lot of work, and it still is.”

Such extreme perishability complicated the business model. Selling small bags of peaches meant the Roses risked massive daily inventory loss. But selling in bulk wasn’t an option. Few individual consumers would buy whole bushels of peaches that would quickly rot.

The couple landed on a three-pronged strategy. In summer, the Peach Truck sells produce daily at 50 locations around Nashville, where it is based. It also embarks on a 12-week, eight-state peach-selling tour that traverses Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, and Florida. And it ships small boxes of peaches across most of the country. (The company is unable to ship to Hawaii or Alaska for logistical reasons, or to California or Arizona because of state environmental regulations.)

Consumers who encounter the business during the tour can buy a 25-pound box of fruit–roughly 50 peaches–for $42. In Nashville, they also have the option of a three-pound bag for $8. Online, there’s a significant up-charge due to shipping expenses. That same $42 will get you just 13 peaches.

Data is critical to managing this short-lived product. The Roses communicate constantly with Georgia peach farms to learn how many peaches are picked each morning and how many fresh bins are available for sale, so they can control inventory and prevent fruit waste. They also analyze their audience. Stephen estimates that 95 percent of The Peach Truck’s customers come from outside Georgia, and the majority prefers in-person to online sales.

Transporting the peaches across country before they rot is, predictably, the company’s greatest challenge. The Roses hire truckers to handle the bulk of the trip. For the last mile the fruity cargo is handed off to Peach Truck employees operating locally rented vehicles. But the trucking industry is awash in regulations, including a new law mandating electronic logging of hours that has caused many drivers to quit. That’s made it harder to line up quality freight service. And drivers aren’t necessarily sympathetic to The Peach Truck’s need for speedy deliveries.

“It’s multiple trucks, all over the country, every day, getting to the right cold-storage unit for our local trucks to pick it up,” Stephen says. “Just a wild, wild nightmare. But it’s what makes all the difference.”

From disaster to discovery.

Attention to audience and data has become even more important in recent years, as climate change produces increasingly unpredictable harvests. The 2017 peach crop, for example, was a disaster: 85 percent was lost before the season even began.

It was a tough year for The Peach Truck. The Roses kept prices mostly stable, forgoing profit margin to keep customers happy. But Stephen, who runs the company’s marketing, learned an important lesson from that bad time: namely, that scarcity can be an effective brand-building tool. His stress over the poor harvest came through in all the company’s external communications, from email newsletters to online ads; and the personal note struck a chord with customers. So did his warnings about how rare peaches would be. “I’m not joking when I send these emails, that I’m not sleeping because [the weather is] legitimately a threat,” says Stephen. That summer, The Peach Truck sold out its entire inventory.

An effective level of tension is easy to maintain: Will there be peaches? Won’t there be? “We don’t have to create scarcity,” says Stephen. “We have 12 weeks of business every year.”

Courtesy The Peach Truck

And the company’s peach-loving customers make the most of that brief season. Stephanie Jernigan, a school librarian in Lebanon, Tennessee, discovered The Peach Truck six years ago on Facebook. She buys the three-pound bags weekly. Katie Baltas, an assistant principal at Cleveland Metropolitan School District, stumbled across the peaches at a Nashville farmer’s market in the summer of 2013. Now she partners with friends to buy 25-pound boxes each time the tour sweeps through Cleveland and orders the 13-peach box for her mother every Mother’s Day. “I honestly don’t buy peaches at the store,” Baltas says. “I just wait until summer, and I get my peaches, and that’s it. You’re just so disappointed when you eat a different peach.”

That kind of loyalty–and the closer connection with customers forged during the harrowing summer of 2017–made the Roses think: Could they do more than 12 weeks of annual business? Since the peaches themselves were un-tweakable, they set about developing a line of fruit-adjacent products including peach jams, Georgia pecans, apparel, tote bags, peach cobbler mix, and most recently, a cookbook that quickly became a Wall Street Journal bestseller. None have three-day shelf lives. “We’re in the process of training our customers not to just think of us in the summertime,” says Stephen.

The Peach Truck unveiled those offerings this year, and early signs are positive. E-commerce, which includes the new products, is projected to top local Nashville peach sales for the first time.

But both those channels pale compared to the eight-state peach tour. And that scares the Roses. If a crop disaster like 2017’s happened again–and it easily could–the tour would be most affected. They also worry about the slow decline of Facebook as an advertising platform, since Facebook ads created much of The Peach Truck’s early traction.

Fortunately, as the company grows, the Roses are finding it somewhat less difficult to distribute fresh fruits across the country. And they trust, so long as Georgia’s soil and sun continue to ensure the highest quality, that devoted customers will stick with The Peach Truck no matter what. “It’s a logistical nightmare,” Stephen says. “But we felt like if people could taste what a peach should taste like, it’s a game-changer, and they won’t go back.”

 

By: Cameron Albert-Deitch

 

Source: This Fruit Company Sells Out Each Summer in 12 Crazy Weeks. Inside the Logistical Madness of The Peach Truck

Coming off a couple of challenging years due to late freezes, peach growers around Georgia are in need of a good 2019 harvest. Damon Jones tells you how this year’s crop is looking and what kind of quality consumers can expect to see.

Can Blockchain Technology Make Agriculture Safer?

Smart contracts built on blockchain technology may eliminate the need for middlemen. Energy grids could use that tech to increase cybersecurity. And aerospace suppliers look to blockchain as a potential investment in keeping track of their supply lines and boosting efficiencies. But perhaps one of the most unexpected – and impactful – applications of blockchain may be in agriculture…………

Source: Can Blockchain Technology Make Agriculture Safer?

By Raising Productivity, Agtech Boosts Value Of Farmland

Against the backdrop of the partial shutdown of the federal government, U.S. farmers and ranchers are no doubt looking for a happier new year in 2019. The burgeoning agtech sector could brighten things up by continuing to boost productivity and reverse the market setbacks of 2018. Not since the 1980 embargo on U.S. grain exports to Russia have farmers been so pressured by the vagaries of global trade policy. The statistics are telling. According to the USDA’s World Outlook Board, soybean exports hit by the retaliatory tariffs put in place by top importer China dropped in 2018 by about 11%.

 

Source: By Raising Productivity, Agtech Boosts Value Of Farmland

Can Blockchain Technology Make Agriculture Safer – Hiroyuki Shinohara

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Smart contracts built on blockchain technology may eliminate the need for middlemen. Energy grids could use that tech to increase cybersecurity. And aerospace suppliers look to blockchain as a potential investment in keeping track of their supply lines and boosting efficiencies.

But perhaps one of the most unexpected – and impactful – applications of blockchain may be in agriculture.

Blockchains could ensure vegetable quality

The blockchain is a byproduct of Bitcoin, but its application range is infinite. Blockchain can have a significant impact beyond the internet, and it is likely the concept will be applied to all industries in the future. One example of this potential is in quality assurance – a process all businesses must contend with.

An active example of the impact of blockchain technology on agriculture is the increase in traceability of agricultural products. In Aya-cho, Higashi Morokata-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan, demonstration experiments are being carried out using blockchain technology to assure the quality of organic agricultural products. The data recorded includes who farmed the product, condition of the soil, nature of the pesticides and production environment. This proves the quality of the product.  Agriculture experts are taking notice of these products, too, which trade at almost twice the market price due to the spotlight on them.

In the manufacturing industry, the traceability of parts has been advancing significantly. The same cannot be said for that of software, though the role of software in terms of products and services will become more significant in the future. When this happens, businesses must assure the quality of the software by disclosing who wrote the program and how it was written. The blockchain should be an important part of this assurance process.

Keep information in a virtual safe

In the years to come, a company’s survival will greatly depend on “the amount of useful information” it possesses. One example is Uber, a car dispatch service provider. They are a well-known business, but like any other, they are looking further into the future to see “how they can optimize the huge customer data base they possess for their next business endeavor.” Uber may just completely change the logistics of the world by making use of “movement of people” data accumulated by their dispatch service. Imagine the impact on Japanese business if leaders thought so deeply about the relevance of their future data and technology.

Since the introduction of IoT, the number of data-collecting sensors and amount of information collected from them has dramatically increased. IoT technology becomes more capable by the day. However, too many companies use a low-security system to manage high-value information. Japan is a developed country with a strong manufacturing base, and it is the only country that can create its own social infrastructure from beginning to end. If Japanese manufacturing companies were to turn their expertise into data and store it in a trustworthy blockchain, that shift would create huge value.

Requests would come from all over the world from those who want to analyze the data. Furthermore, utilization of this data could bring about new innovations, such as a never-before-seen refinement of strong metals. Ultimately, to make use of this data, we have to keep it in a safe. That safe is a blockchain.

The Gardening Channel

One of the web’s most vibrant communities of current and aspiring green thumbs, The Gardening Channel offers advice and tips on growing vegetable, fruit, and trees, as well as on landscaping, composting, and (much) more.

via The Gardening Channel

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African Agri-tech Startups Boom With 110% Growth Since 2016

Investments in agriculture technology in Africa have seen $19-million invested in the past two years, with a new report showing agri-tech startups have grown 110% in the period.

There are 82 agri-tech startups operating across the continent at the start of this year, 52% of which started in the last 24 months, according to the Agrinnovating for Africa: Exploring the African Agri-Tech Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 report by Disrupt Africa.

Kenya and Nigeria both lead the agri-tech markets, followed by Ghana, and collectively account for over 60% active startups in the sector.

Although the report tracks annual startup activity in the agri-tech space since 2010, the authors say it began to boom in 2016, after which 43 new ventures were launched.

“The research shows that while Kenya was the early pioneer of the African agri-tech sector, accelerating interest in West Africa over the past two years means this region now dominates the market; and is home to two of the top three agri-tech ecosystems on the continent,” Disrupt Africa co-founder Tom Jackson said in a statement. ““Everyone knows how important the agricultural sector is across Africa, but until very recently it remained relatively untouched by tech innovators. That is suddenly changing as entrepreneurs and investors realize the scale of the challenges facing farmers, and spot opportunities to reach huge addressable markets.”

Fundraising grew 121% from 2016 to in 2017 alone.

“The scope for innovation in the agricultural sphere is vast – a refreshed take on the sector could unlock huge value for the whole of Africa,” says Gabriella Mulligan, co-founder of Nairobi-based Disrupt Africa. “Behind the scenes, there has been formidable acceleration in the agri-tech market recently, and it is one of the most interesting spaces to watch in Africa today.”.

The report shows how the continent’s entrepreneurs are already disrupting the agricultural industry, she adds, especially in using e-commerce agri-focused platforms accounting for 32.9% of startups.

One such entrepreneur is Ntuthunko Shezi, whose startup is called Livestock Wealth and sells a “share” in cows in South Africa. Calling it “crowdfarming” he believes people can invest in cattle, which have traditionally been a signifier of wealth in Africa, instead of stock markets.

“Given the space that Africa has, this business model could help the continent once again become the breadbasket of the world,” Shezi said at TEDxJohannesburg’s #HackingTheFarm event in Johannesburg in March.

“We can grow through crowdfarming. Sole ownership isn’t possible for a lot of people, but partial ownership is.”

Thato Moagi is a 27-year-old farmer in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province, who traded the upmarket Bedfordview suburb of Johannesburg for the Legae La Banareng Farms, where she is he managing director and overseas crop and livestock production.

“Young people don’t have access to finance, which is why the average age of farmers is high, 60 years old. This is also why young people aren’t getting into farming. There is also no direct focus on a particular sector of the industry. The private sector right now are entirely unincentivized to fund young farmers,” says Moagi, who was chosen by the South African National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as the Young Farmer of the Year in 2015. She was also named the Female Entrepreneur of the Year 2015.

“Agriculture isn’t very sexy,” says Joshua Ngoma, a mining engineer who now works with entrepreneurs through the Enterprising Africa Regional Network (EARN) Group he founded in 2013.

How do you change that perception? he asked the TEDxJohannesburg audience. “You change this by introducing young people to the tech that changing farming. Solutions to society shouldn’t be complex. Take luggage. If you were born in my time we had to carry everything giving us bad backs and pinched nerve – until someone decided to put wheels on their bag. Those wheels have change the way we travel for the better.”

“How do you put wheels on agriculture?” he asked.

His solution is to train young farmers but also to give them business and technical skills training. “We also need to change the exit plan. This is a 360 degree model; while training progresses the program looks at funding options for the, either by buying land from the government or tribal authorities. Once they’re settled they can begin work and start producing.”

His network also offers access business and agricultural specialists to help operate the business much like other startup initiatives do in the tech space.

Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine. Based in Johannesburg, his TED talk on innovation in Africa has had more than 1.4m views.

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