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Big tractor – little tractor, we pull weeds – they spray ’em

A farmer named John from Tennessee who operates a large family farm responded an earlier post – What is Pesticide and GMO Drift – by stating “What about thousands of acres of Corn? And if you waited to pull the weeds at that size you have suffered a sizable yield loss already.” Another farmer John R. wrote “And how on earth are we supposed to hand weed thousands of acres of land of crops that aren’t worth as much as fruits and vegetables?” They do have an important point. But one that we disagree with.

Seagate tomato field overrun with weeds

Seagate tomato field overrun with weeds

These farmers saw the photo above of one of Seagate’s farms, where we were pulling weeds by hand from a tomato field. We had actually neglected it a little too long and the crop got buried in weeds. Seagate does not use GMOs, or spray herbicides or pesticides. Some of our weeding is done by hand, as in the above picture, when the weeds get out of control. However, normally we space our rows far enough apart so that our tractor can pull mechanical claws in between the crops which grab most of the weeds and drag them off the field.


Seagate tomato field properly spaced to allow mechanical weeding by our tractor

The big corn, soybean, and cotton crops, which are now mainly GMO’s do not have the luxury like our smaller vegetable farms (250 acres) which can afford the extra hand labor, can space out the rows for mechanical weeding … and also do not try to farm 3,000 acres.

However, the question is – have U.S. big agri farms gotten so big that they have to use herbicides, pesticides, and GMO crops that are more and more resistant to chemicals? Herbicide use actually decreased at the beginning of GMO use in the early 1990s  (see Tom Philpot).  But according to Chuck Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, weeds that were sprayed with herbicides became more tolerant to the chemicals being sprayed and now need more and more herbicide spraying. According to Benbridge, by 2011 Round-up ready GMO crops required 24% more herbicides than the same crops that were planted with non-GMO seeds.

Or has Big Agri grown so big that they can afford the $250,000 air-conditioned tractors, complete with entertainment systems and GPS, but cannot afford the labor costs to pull their own weeds?

Case IH Magnum tractor

Case IH Magnum tractor looks a lot more comfortable than a car

Case IH tractor 235

Case IH tractor 235 inside view of luxury

Seagate has less fancy equipment, without the luxury of a stereo and air conditioning. The fellows running our tractors have to jump down very frequently to take care of the crops …  and get dirty.  We are certainly not feeding the world from our much smaller operation. We also do not need to add chemicals and herbicides to grown crops.


Seagate’s “modern” tractor with “air conditioning” – when the wind is strong enough

While these farmers may complain about pulling weeds in cornfields, keep in mind that the U.S. taxpayer (CBO data – Congressional Budget Office) subsidizes the farmer approximately ~$4.8 billion dollars/year, which is projected to average this amount for the next decade. Of course these numbers a skewed a bit — Around 2.2 million farms of all sizes are counted in an annual United States Department of Agriculture survey, and 62 percent of these farms did not collect any government subsidy payments in 2011. The top 10 percent collected 75 percent of all subsidies from 1995 to 2011, and these large farming operations collectively received more than $172.2 billion of farm subsidies during the same period. They can receive subsidies for growing or even not growing crops.  Seagate does not receive any money in subsidies because we don’t grow those cash crops nor do we ask the government for any money. That is part of the reason for keeping the red tractor above running and for still pulling weeds by hand, though sometimes we do drag a type of  grappling hook behind the tractor to grab the weeds.

So what is the solution? Do conditions now dictate that herbicides are absolutely necessary to run a big farm or their yields would decrease? Are their labor costs so prohibitive that spraying is the only alternative? Or are farms getting so big and so industrial that without Round-up and the use of Round up Ready seeds (a.k.a GMOs), that this level of agriculture would not be profitable or sustainable without chemicals?

One alternative is the outright ban of GMOs’ which has been done in Europe, Russia and 60 other countries.

Another alternative is perhaps to just allow economics to take its course. If the GMO crops were allowed to be labeled as GMOs — which big agriculture, the biotech industry, and our Congressmen are fighting to prevent — and people were allowed to know what they were eating, the consumer might pay less money for GMO-labeled foods and foods that were grown with herbicides.  Those farmers using either one would be paid less for their modified or herbicide-sprayed crops. The processed foods that are using those ingredients would also see their prices fall.   The big agricultural farms would then have the incentive to pull their weeds, stop spraying chemicals and would ultimately get a higher price for their crops or could plant other crops that were not tainted.  Either way, this is going to be a painful process for the farmer.  However, it will ultimately reduce the circulation of toxic chemicals in our food system which is important to everyone … well, at least to most people.

This Honeycomb Cowfish is a friendly fellow that uses it fins to flit around like a Hummingbird. It is easily approachable by a diver. Consider that the pesticides and herbicides that are being used on your lawn and by large farms will eventually end up in the ocean and will poison the creatures living in it. Global warming, acidification of the oceans, radiation, heavy metals and dioxins are not the only sources of pollution and destruction of the oceans. You can do you part by not using chemicals on your lawn and not buying foods that have been farmed with herbicides and pesticides.

Honeycomb cowfish

Honeycomb cowfish





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Nathan - This is a very interesting article but there r many things in this farm that r also not environmentaly friendly I will with the older tractor that is used to cultivate which is way less fuel efficient then modern tractors an also has no emmsions on the exhaust which can cause ozone depletion by excessive carbon an then there is no GPS which is used for efficiency to make less trips across the feild which entails using less fuel an causing less exhaust gas also in a cultivation style farming how is this farm compating soil erosion an movoment of nutrients to streams an river which can also kill ur fish friends u were talking about in the article all I have to say there is no perfect way to farm just as there are no perfect people in the world before you go bashing other farms u should take a look at urs first

Richard (Founder) - Nathan,
Just a quick note — that paragraph was one sentence with 123 words!! I have never seen such a long sentence in my life. It was painful to read with all the grammar and spelling errors.
Anyway, we got your point. Here is a response:

1. We farm in a desert. There are no rivers or streams. Anyway we are not using chemicals. So there is nothing to contaminate.
2. That old tractor is a relic which we fire up once in a while.
3. We don’t need GPS on a 250 acre farm. We can see the end of our rows.
4. The tomato rows were planted fairly straight without GPS. It is not as critical as straight rows of corn.
5. Methane is the real culprit causing ozone depletion, not carbon from tractors. Do you have any cows?
6. The Case Magnum in the 3rd photo, even with the smaller 6.7 liter diesel still gives off carbon because carbon is the end-product of combustion of fossil fuels — even when the exhaust is at its cleanest — water vapor and CO2.
7. Carbon is what is screwing up our oceans causing their acidification and resulting destruction (Bleaching) of reefs and change in seawater composition. This is killing off a lot of species and destroying reefs around the world.
8. Debate is not bashing if it is done correctly. You can take a side of an issue and discuss it rationally without the adjectives flying.
9. We use mostly hand-labor to walk our vegetable fields. Zero emissions.
10. If you look very closely at the second picture, you will see that all the plants are fed off drip irrigation. There is no other way to farm in a desert. There is no run-off from a drip system.

Anyway to get to the point — If you are arguing that a new giant tractor having a somewhat more efficient diesel engine compensates for your operation, that is likely spreading GMO Round-up ready seeds, herbicides and pesticides which end up in food, and that is environmentally friendly, I think you missed the entire point of this blog.
Thank you for posting your comment/sentence.
We enjoy a good debate.

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