Category Archives: farm methods

Global Productivity Growth of Agriculture Developing vs. Developed

Productivity growth in agriculture enables farmers to produce a greater abundance of food at lower prices, using fewer resources. A broad measure of agricultural productivity performance is total factor productivity (TFP). Unlike other commonly used productivity indicators like yield per acre, TFP takes into account a much broader set of inputs—including land, labor, capital, and materials—used in agricultural production. ERS analysis finds that globally, agricultural TFP growth accelerated in recent decades, largely because of improving productivity in developing countries and the transition economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

During 2001-2010, agricultural TFP growth in North America and the transition economies offset declining input use to keep agricultural output growing. By contrast, declining input use in Europe offset growing TFP, resulting in a slight decline in agricultural output over the decade. In most regions of the developing world, improvements in TFP are now more important than expansion of inputs as a source of growth in agricultural production. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only major region of the world where growth in agricultural inputs accounts for a higher share of output growth than growth in TFP.

source: USDA

20 Organic Recipes and Products to Control Bugs, Pests and Weeds


Photo by Andy Potter.

It is that season when those of us who garden or farm try to protect our produce and crops from a very long list of pests. Below, I’ve compiled a list of 20 products, hints, and household recipes which may be useful to you in combatting the pests and weeds in your garden.

1. Orchard/Apple tree pest recipe: You need an old cleaned plastic gallon milk jug. Cut a 3 inch diameter hole on the side-top, leaving the jug’s handle intact. Add to the jug a banana peel, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. Add a few cups of hot water and mix until the sugar dissolves. Hang 1-3 of these prepared jugs near the trunk of your apple tree. Replace the solution as needed throughout the summer, starting early. (My sister-in-law swears by this and has used this recipe for 20 years in our farm’s wonderful old McIntosh Apple tree.) Try on any other fruit tree, too, especially pear and cherry.

2. To kill weeds use a 10% vinegar spray (is about twice as strong as household vinegar). You may add a little soap, too.

3. Clove oil works to kill weeds and bugs. It is best for wide-leafed weeds. To make clove oil weed spray, pour 10-20 drops of clove essential oil into an empty spray bottle. Fill the remainder of the spray bottle with tap water, close tightly and shake well. Use as needed. Clove oil has fungicidal, herbicidal and insecticidal properties in addition to being a weed killer.

4. Herbicidal and/or insecticidal soap based products such as “Safer” are available commercially. Non-toxic herbicide sprays are more effective if you spray the weeds when they are young and during full sun. Get the tops and the undersides of the leaves.

5. Dried or liquid molasses can be used to kill weeds and insect pests including fire ants. It also enriches the soil. Apple cider vinegar and molasses have been used together to fight fungal diseases.

6. Fill a milk jug half-full with water and add 1/2 cup of milk. Use in a spray bottle to control powdery mildew.

7. Home Recipe for Bug Spray #1: 1 teaspoon vegetable oil + 1 teaspoon dish soap + 1 teaspoon baking soda. Add to a quart of water in spray bottle and shake before using for aphids and other bugs.

8. Home Recipe for Bug Spray #2: Mix several cloves of crushed garlic, ¼ cup canola oil, 3 tablespoons hot pepper sauce and ½ teaspoon liquid soap in 1 gallon of water, mix well. Put into spray bottle, shake well before using.

9. Home Recipe for Bug Spray #3: Blenderize or finely chop one garlic bulb and one small onion. Add 1 teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper and mix with 1 quart of water. Steep 1 hour, strain through cheesecloth, then add 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap to the strained liquid. Mix well. Spray plants, including leaf undersides. Store the mixture for up to 1 week in a labeled, covered container in the refrigerator.

10. Use boiling water to kill weeds in sidewalk cracks.

11. 4-Legged Pests: 1) Keep out deer, rabbits, raccoons, and cats by placing rags soaked in white vinegar on stakes around your vegetables. Re-soak the rags every 7-10 days. 2) For deer, blend 2 eggs and a cup or two of cold water at high speed. Add this mixture to a gallon of water and let it stand for 24 hours. After 24 hours, spray on foliage. The egg mixture does not wash off easily, but re-application 2-3 times a season may be needed. 3) For deer, mix together 1 tablespoon of baking powder + 1 egg yolk + 1 litre of water. Spray plants every 2-3 weeks. 4) Use the ScareCrow motion sensor water sprinkler. 5) Use Nite Guard Solar lights which are motion sensored to scare away your night time visitors.

12. Tobacco as pest repellent for caterpillars, aphids, other insects, rabbits, and slugs: Soak 1/2 cup chewing tobacco in 1 cup Listerine mouth wash plus 2 cups water for 1-3 days. Strain, and spray affected plants.

13. Marigolds and nasturtiums help control bugs by attracting them, so intersperse these flowers through out the vegetable and squash garden. For the squash bug, try to plant resistant varieties such as the butternut, acorn, zucchini, and cheese squashes, or set traps, such as cardboard or flat rocks under the plants. They will hide under the cardboard or rock, and then you can destroy them.

14. Use salt or salt water to kill slugs.

15. BT spray works well for worm prevention for the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. If you see those little white butterflies in your garden, get the BT spray out. (See top photo) Bioinsecticide BTSD spray works for very young potato beetles, too.

16. Mulches: To kill or prevent weeds, use corn meal, or, corn gluten meal mulch which also provides nitrogen fertilizer while smothering out the weed seeds. Chipped wood mulch 2-6 inches thick helps control weeds. Gravel mulch works well for xeriscape plantings. Hay or straw mulch is good in the garden, but remember it may contain seeds. Shredded leaf mulch (cold mulch) in the fall improves soil microbiota and fungi. Or, organic farmers commonly use black plastic (mulch) around row crops to prevent weeds.

17. Flame weed propane torches can be used to kill weeds.

18. For mechanical weed removal, experiment to find your favorite hoe or tool. There are many kinds on the market, with both long and short handles. I love the short handled Japanese Nejiri Weeder hoe. A great gardener friend prefers the winged weeder; another, the stirrup, or scuffle hoe.

19. Row crop cover fabric helps control insect pests. It may be used on potatoes or squash or any crop being plagued by insects.

20. For a bug repellent for yourself as you work in the garden, try mixing lavender with vinegar. Put dried lavender into a bottle and add 2 cups of vinegar. Let set for a week to infuse. Strain to remove lavender. Dab on skin when working outdoors. For a natural fly repellent for cattle, try pyrethrin (an extract of chrysanthemums) sprays. Or, make your own natural fly sprays by combining one cup vegetable oil, two cups vinegar, one cup water and one tablespoon essential oil (clove, eucalyptus, mint, citrus or citronella).

YOUR TURN… If you have any favorite weed and pest remedies, please leave in the comments below to share with other organic growers. Let us know what does or doesn’t work best for you.

How are California’s Almonds Harvested?

Almonds are dominating agricultural production in California. Their water requirements have been in the news this year because of California’s serious drought. We’ve heard that they use 10 percent of the state’s water. And we’ve heard that it takes a gallon of water to grow one almond.

Besides the water requirements of almonds, they have an annual pollination requirement which has resulted in a spring pilgrimage of bee hives to the West Coast each year via commercial beekeepers. Almond growers may pay around 150 to 225 dollars per hive for pollination. According to ScientificBeekeeping.com, a few years ago “it took about 1.5 million colonies of bees to pollinate 750,000 bearing acres of almond trees, producing nearly 2 billion pounds of nutmeats in 2012.” The business is lucrative for the bee keepers who participate, and the service provided by the worker bees is vital to the almond growing industry.

But, did you ever stop to wonder how almonds are harvested?

This seven minute youtube video shows you the whole process from shaking the trees, sweeping the ground, harvesting using a tractor with “Jack Rabbit” equipment, hulling and shelling. It is impressive to see how much automation and machinery is involved. (Never mind that the narrator pronounces the word almonds “amonds”.)

The almond that we eat originated in the Mediterranean climate region of the Middle East.

In 2012, almonds were a $4.35 billion crop in California, and have become the state’s second highest dollar valued commodity, after dairy, and higher than grapes. Almonds are the leading exported commodity crop out of California, with $2.83 billion in foreign sales.

When you think of industrial agriculture, you usually think of corn or soybean row crops. Almonds certainly fall into the industrial production category, as well.

Sustainable Intensification in Farming

Readers, today’s post is republished by permission from ILRI, and the writing summarizes a Science Policy Forum article by Tara Garnett, of the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), in the UK, and her team et al.


Banalata Das, a shrimp farmer feds her cow at the family home. Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo by Mike Lusmore, 2012

 Banalata Das, a dairy and shrimp farmer, feeds her cow in Khulna, Bangladesh . (photo credit: WorldFish/Mike Lusmore).

Ramadjita Tabo, a member of The Montpellier Panel and deputy executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), recently described the recent rather divisive nature of academic discussions on the viability of the ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture as follows.

Sustainable intensification, an agricultural development pathway that aims to reconcile food production and environmental protection, is a highly politicised term that divides academics and practitioners alike. Although, when first coined by Jules Pretty, the term was a way of bringing often divergent priorities such as addressing declines in land and agricultural productivity, pollution and food insecurity together under a new paradigm, it has been since accused of being a ruse for big, industrial agriculture. — Ramadjita Tabo, Sustainable intensification: A practical approach to meet Africa’s food and natural resource needs, Global Food Security blog, 18 Apr 2013

Now a team of diverse scientists and other experts, having broadened the concept, make a case in a new report published in the journal Science that sustainable intensification is absolutely central to our ability to meet increasing demands for food from our growing populations and finite farmlands.

Tara Garnett and Charles Godfray, the article’s lead authors, say that we can increase food production from existing farmland if we employ sustainable intensification practices and policies. These, they say, can help minimize already severe pressures on the environment, especially for more land, water, and energy, natural resources now commonly overexploited and used unsustainably.

The authors of this Science ’Policy Forum’ piece are researchers from leading universities and international organizations as well as policymakers from non-governmental organizations and the United Nations. One of the co-authors is Mario Herrero, an agricultural systems scientist who recently led a ‘livestock futures’ team at theInternational Livestock Research Institute (ILRI, a member of CGIAR), in Nairobi, Kenya, and who earlier this year moved to Brisbane, Australia, to take up the position of chief research scientist for food systems and the environment at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Another co-author is Philip Thornton, another ILRI systems scientist and a leader of a multi-institutional team and project in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

The authors of this Science paper outline a new, more sophisticated account of how ‘sustainable intensification’ should work. They recognize that this policy has attracted criticism in some quarters as being either too narrowly focused on food production or as representing a contradiction in terms.

Why does articulating this new, more refined, account of sustainable intensification matter so much? ‘We often confuse sustainable intensification as synonymous with increases in productivity and resource use efficiency, but the picture is far more complex’, explains Herrero. ‘We attempted a balanced definition, one that encompasses all major perspectives.’ Such a new definition, Herrero says, can be telling. Take the pig and poultry sub-sectors, he says, which are commonly lauded for being more efficient than raising cattle, goats, sheep, water buffalo and other ruminant animals. ‘Well, that can be true. But not in large parts of Europe, for example, which import grain to feed their pigs and poultry, with one result being that Brazilian farmers are chopping down the rain forest to provide that feed to Europe’s livestock farmers. From this perspective, those “efficient” pig and poultry business are just not sustainable. In our endeavour to intensify’, Herrero continues, ‘we can overlook important aspects of agricultural intensification like ecosystems services, biodiversity and human health. Take the livestock sector, for example. With this sector so intimately connected to land management issues and with so many livestock-based livelihoods of poor people at stake, it’s essential that we don’t pay lip service to the ‘sustainability aspects’ of livestock intensification.

We need to  come up with suitable practical indicators of just what is sustainable, and the fact is that we’ll sometimes need to reduce intensification, as in places where additional increases in yields or efficiencies could place too much pressure on other facets of food systems. — Mario Herrero, agricultural systems scientist, CSIRO (formerly of ILRI)

Herrero’s colleague, Philip Thornton, agrees. And he reminds us of the ‘multi-functionality’ of agricultural production systems in developing countries, particularly livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa. ‘These ‘multifunctions’ (such as keeping cows for household milk, and/or to generate a daily household dairy income, and/or to produce manure to fertilize croplands, and/or to transport produce to markets, and/or or to build household assets) differ by place and context, and our interventions aiming to enhance them need to differ accordingly, Thornton says. No ‘silver bullets’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, he says, is going to work in these varied smallholder production system contexts.

‘As usual, it’s a matter of scale, with landscape or regional approaches expected to become critical to success. To achieve our desired development outcomes, we’re going to have to “intensify” small-scale livestock, mixed crop-livestock and other agricultural production systems where intensification can be done viably, and we’re going to have to ‘extensify’ these smallholder systems elsewhere in the landscape, where intensification is just not viable.

The main reason for producing this Science paper was to try to wrest the concept of ‘sustainable agricultural intensification’ back from those driving specific agendas. (We may well have to try to do the same for ‘climate-smart agriculture’, but that’s another story.) — Philip Thornton, ILRI and CCAFS

Similar arguments were published in a previous article in Science by Herrero, Thornton and their colleagues (Smart investments in sustainable food production: Revisiting mixed crop-livestock systemsScience, 12 Feb 2010, DOI: 10.1126/science.1183725). This new investigation, Herrero says, is something of a follow-up to that earlier paper. The new Science article stresses that while farmers in many regions of the world need to produce more food, it is equally urgent that policymakers act on diets, waste and how the food system is governed. The authors say we must produce more food on existing rather than new farmland; converting uncultivated land, they say, will lead to greater emissions of greenhouse gases, which are causing global warming, and greater losses of biodiversity.

The authors make a strong case for sustainable intensification being the only policy on the table that could generate ways of producing enough food for all without destroying our environment.

But, warns Charles Godfray, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, sustainable intensification should be only one part of an agricultural and development policy portfolio. ’Sustainable intensification is necessary’, he says, ‘but not sufficient’.

Achieving a sustainable food system will require changes in agricultural production, changes in diet so people eat less meat and waste less food, and regulatory changes to improve the efficiency and resilience of the food system. Producing more food is important but it is only one of a number of policies that we must pursue together. — Charles Godfray, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food

Increasing productivity does not always mean using more fertilizers and agrochemicals, which frequently carry unacceptable environmental costs, argue the authors. They say that a range of techniques, both old and new, should be employed to develop ways of farming that keep environmental damage to a minimum.

The authors of the paper accept that the intensification of agriculture will directly as well as indirectly impact other important policy goals, such as preserving biodiversity, improving human nutrition and animal welfare, protecting rural economies and sustaining development generally in poor countries and communities. Policymakers will need to find ways to navigate conflicting priorities, they say, which is where research can help.

Lead author Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network at the Oxford Martin School, says that food security is about more than just more calories. Better nutrition also matters, she says.

Some two billion people worldwide are thought to be deficient in micronutrients. We need to intensify the quality of the food we produce in ways that improve the nutritional value of people’s diets, preferably through diversifying the range of foods produced and available to people but also, in the short term, by improving the nutrient content of crops now commonly produced. — Tara Garnett, Food Climate Research Network

Michael Appleby, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, says that ‘Attention to livestock welfare is both necessary and beneficial for sustainability. Policies to achieve the right balance between animal and crop production will benefit animals, people and the planet.’

Agriculture is a potent sector for economic growth and rural development in many countries across Africa, Asia and South America, says co-author Sonja Vermeulen, of CCAFS.

Sustainable intensification can provide the best rewards for small-scale farmers and their heritage of natural resources. What policymakers can provide are the strategic finance as well as institutions needed to support sustainable and equitable pathways rather than quick profits gained through depletion. — Sonja Vermeulen, CCAFS

Get the paper: Sustainable intensification in agriculture: Premises and policies, by T Garnett, MC Appleby, A Balmford, IJ Bateman, TG Benton, P Bloomer, B Burlingame, M Dawkins, L Dolan, D Fraser, M Herrero, I Hoffmann, P Smith, PK Thornton, C Toulmin, SJ Vermeulen, HCJ Godfray, Science, vol. 341, 5 Jul 2013.