Thursday, July 11, 2024
Chris Judd

When natural selection doesn’t work

“Survival of the fittest” was nature’s way of weeding out the weak. It was the biggest, strongest buck that got to pass on his genes to the next generation of deer. It was the fastest, smartest doe that could outrun the wolf. It is the healthiest field of corn or grain that grows in a field where the balance of Ca-Mg-K2o is correct, that gets avoided by armyworms. It is a lawn that grows on the best balanced soil that doesn’t get invaded by white grubs, June bugs and skunks, that looks the best year after year. It is often after man intervenes with new science that things go sideways.
It was during the war that chemists developed a defoliant to spray on the forests where the enemy army hid under cover of leaves on the trees, so the army could spray the forest and kill the foliage to expose the enemy army. This defoliant was later known as brush killer or 2-4-5-T and used by railroads, hydro and even municipalities on roadsides to keep brush and weeds under control. After the war, chemical companies developed variations of 2-4-5-T like 2-4-D, MCPA, MCPB, and 2-4-D-B for agricultural applications on corn, grains and hay crops to control weeds without killing the crops.
It was shortly after that that Rachel Carson released a book called Silent Spring because many songbirds were disappearing with the increased use of both herbicides and new insecticides.It was not until later that user manuals were written to inform farmers how to use these chemicals to greatly reduce health damage to crops, animals and man. Too many chemicals are released before adequate testing is done to estimate long-term health risks.
Nature also gets her say in how both weeds and insects can adapt to survive these new chemicals. If only one weed in a thousand acre field can survive a new weed spray like 2-4-D, Atrazine, Roundup, or whatever comes along, or one bug can survive an insecticide spray, that weed or bug can reproduce seeds or bugs that grow into another generation of weeds or bugs that are all resistant to that new weed killer or insecticide.
Many very persistent weeds and bugs are more prevalent in fields that have an unbalanced fertility profile. Unhealthy plants give off a different electric signal than healthy plants, and the moths lay their eggs on unhealthy plants. That’s natures way of letting the strongest healthy plants survive.
Doctors sometimes can’t treat every disease with a drug and have to operate. Sometimes a farmer cannot kill every weed with a chemical but has to use mechanical cultivation to control certain very stubborn weeds. Some weed killers are not only registered as chemicals that control weeds but are also registered as a bactericide which can kill many beneficial bacteria, some that are necessary to maintain a healthy gut-biome in animals. A healthy gut-biome is not just necessary for good digestion, but extremely necessary to maintain a healthy digestive tract.
Recently, a local doctor informed us that an unhealthy gut-biome can affect mental health and even reduce your will to live. When these beneficial bacteria are reduced in numbers, more room is available for other very harmful bacteria like E-coli, salmonella, or clostridium to multiply. Sometimes, even years after a new chemical has been approved by a government licensing agency, an increased risk of certain cancer has been linked to that chemical. Sometimes that chemical is then banned from both sale and use, but too often it is not. Sometimes acceptable levels of residues measured in parts per million of a certain chemical found in water, foods, or air are raised when manufacturers appeal the accepted level. The acceptable levels or residue can be much different in different countries. Some chemicals are banned completely in some countries yet acceptable in others.
Consumers are always concerned about the price of the food but are becoming much more concerned about how their food is grown, how animals are cared for, and how many miles their food had to travel before they buy it. Farmers are quick to adjust to consumers’ demands and like to explain how they look after their animals, crops, and the conditions they are produced in. Consumers have the right to ask how their food was produced, and the seller better have the answer. Some of our Canadian farmers have already been testing their carbon balance and can become carbon neutral within a few years, but many very profitable corporations don’t even want to try.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.

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