Big Ag Goes Green

Sadly, the green I'm referring to is the color of money. As Tom Philpott reports,
Big Ag is trying to get an agricultural technique known as "chemical
no-till" established as a legitimate carbon offset in the Waxman/Markey
legislation. There's only one problem, all the research out there says
that chemical no-till doesn't actually sequester carbon:

In no-till systems, farmers plant directly into fields
without plowing. One of the main reasons farmers plow is to control
weeds. In a practice that has become known among critics as "chemical
no-till," farmers idle the the plow and rely on chemical herbicides for
weed control.

...As a source of carbon sequestration, chemical no-till is a highly questionable practice. In a 2006 peer-reviewed paper
[PDF] called "Tillage and soil carbon sequestration" what do we really
know?," a group of soil scientists led by John M. Baker of the USDA's
Agricultural Research Service took a hard look at conventional no-till.
They report: "Long-term, continuous gas exchange measurements have also
been unable to detect C gain due to reduced tillage." Translation:
No-till doesn't seem to sequester carbon. Their conclusion: "Though
there are other good reasons to use conservation tillage, evidence that
it promotes C sequestration is not compelling." The report compelled
climate expert and frequent Grist contributor Joe Romm to declare that no-till farming "does not save carbon and is not a carbon offset."

So the USDA itself thinks
the practice's emissions impact is bogus. In fact, there's even
evidence that chemical no-till leads to increased carbon emissions
through nitrous oxide outgassing from the synthetically fertilized
fields. And who's taking the lead in all this? Why our good friends at
Monsanto, of course!

Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" seeds-genetically modified to
withstand lashings of Monsanto's herbicide glyphosate-have greatly
facilitated chemical no-till in the Midwest: farmers can spray their
fields with Roundup as needed, without affecting the crops. According to the Center for Food Safety
[PDF], glyphosate use jumped 15-fold between between 1994 (when GMOs
were first released) and 2005, generating a windfall in Roundup sales
for Monsanto. Monsanto now clears more than $1 billion per year in
profits from Roundup alone.

Monsanto has even created a new carbon-trading entity to take
advantage of this glyphosate-fueled scheme. These guys don't fool

The unfortunate thing is that there is a no-till technique out there
whose carbon sequestration benefits have solid science behind it - the
Rodale Institute's "organic no-till" regime, which I wrote about some time ago with regards to saving bees. So, there's hope right?

Nope. Because this is Congress we're talking about. To paraphrase
Frank Herbert (and apologies to all you Dune fans out there), "He who
controls the committee, controls the universe." And, the man you love
to hate - House Ag Committee Chair Rep. Collin Peterson, is in charge
of ag offsets hearings. Guess how many sustainable ag experts or
farmers are testifying? Would you believe "zero"?

This is shades of the recent and under-reported harassment of single-payer advocates
during recent health care reform hearings. Not only were they not
invited, but when a group of nurses attended hearings wearing t-shirts
advocating their single-payer positions, they were arrested and thrown
in jail. No, I'm not making this up.

If Congress doesn't hear the facts that apparently means they don't
exist. So much for the return of science to Washington, DC. When the
truth hurts, it's best to ignore it. And barring that, arrest it.

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