Cow urine kills farmers’ pests in India’s first fully organic state

Nimtshreng Lepcha seeps medicinal leaves in cow urine and sprays the brew over his tomatoes. It’s the main way pests are repelled on his farm in the Himalayan foothills and across the northeastern state of Sikkim, the first in India to go fully organic.

For more than a decade, Sikkim’s 66,000 farmers have shunned chemical weed killers, synthetic fertilizers and gene-altered seeds. Their return to traditional farming methods has made the tiny state, sandwiched between China, Nepal and Bhutan, a testing ground for a counter movement to the Green Revolution, the half-century-old system that relied on modern seeds, chemicals and irrigation to boost crop yields and stave off hunger.

Now, faced with health and environmental problems ranging from poisoned waterways and degraded farmland, to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and diet-linked disease, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is backing Sikkim’s approach as a safer, more sustainable way to produce food, support farm jobs and reduce the nation’s fertilizer bill.


A general view of the city of Gangtok, Sikkim, India, on Monday, May 2, 2016. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

“Other states can take a lead from Sikkim,” Modi told political leaders in the nearby state of Meghalaya last month. “The North East can become the organic food basket for this country. Organic products are going to be increasingly used widely,” he continued, and the practice “will contribute immensely to the income of the people and the region.”
Employment Boost

India already has some 650,000 organic producers—more than any other country. Expanding the industry could boost employment by 30 percent through recycling resources, and certifying, marketing and packaging products, a parliamentary committee said in a report in August, without giving a time frame. Farmers in more than a dozen states, including Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Modi’s home state of Gujarat, are embracing organic farming.

India isn’t the only country looking for alternative ways to nourish its people. The United Nations’ new development agenda, which began in January, calls for more sustainable food production systems and the implementation of resilient agricultural practices that increase production, help maintain ecosystems and progressively improve land and soil quality.

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“Poor farmers who cannot afford the inputs for intensive agriculture can benefit most from adoption of organic methods,” said Anil Markandya, a British environmental economist, who has advised international development banks, the UN, European Union and the governments of India and the United Kingdom.

Farmer Lepcha, who also grows maize, cardamom, cauliflowers, carrots, radishes and pumpkins on 2 hectares (5 acres) in Lower Nandok, abandoned his father’s farming practices 20 years ago, returning instead to the natural cultivation methods of his grandfather. The rewards from organic farming aren’t just monetary, he said.

“This field has given us enough of the best-quality food for my family and enabled me to provide higher education for three of my children,” said Lepcha, 56. “We all are in good health and stamina. I don’t remember when we last purchased medicines.”

Soils are nourished with composted cow manure and other organic matter, while pests are managed with the cow-urine spray brewed for three months, he said. In the colder months, Lepcha grows vegetables under clear plastic domes that trap heat and moisture, and are fitted with sprinklers for irrigation.

Yields Rebound

Crop yields fell in the first few seasons after he stopped using conventional fertilizers and chemicals, but then increased as the fertility of his soil improved, he recalled. These days, Lepcha earns more than 400,000 rupees ($6,000) a year.

“I am getting profit with low input costs and higher margins,” he said.

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Organic tomatoes: Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Benefits of organic farming include less pesticide-related illness, improved household nutrition and gender equality, said Markan, who is the former scientific director of the Basque Centre for Climate Change in Spain. Last year, he edited a 415-page report on organic agriculture for the Asian Development Bank.

“I don’t see organic agriculture replacing conventional, intensive agriculture, but as an important complement to it,” Markandya said. “There are many places where producers can benefit from adoption of such methods, and the demand for organic products is growing—not only in the rich countries, but also inside India.”

Growing health consciousness among India’s middle-class consumers is fueling demand, TechSci Research said in a report last August. It predicts the organic market will expand more than 25 percent annually to cross $1 billion by 2020.

“Consumers want it even though there is a premium attached to it,” said Renzino S. Lepcha, chief operating officer of Mevedir, a non-government organization in the Sikkim capital, Gangtok, that helps farmers to grow, certify and sell their organic produce.

Organic goods typically fetch about 20 percent more than conventionally grown products, according to Lepcha, who is not related to farmer Nimtshreng Lepcha. “This is creating jobs, an avenue and a market. This is favoring farmers and India.”

Sikkim achieved organic certification of 74,190 hectares (183,000 acres) of agricultural land last year, the culmination of a movement that began in 2003.

organic bonanza

“The start was not smooth,” said S. Anbalagan, executive director of the Sikkim Organic Mission, in an interview in his office in Gangtok. “We struggled to provide farmers required knowledge and infrastructure.”

Birds and the Bees

With those problems behind them, farmers are now expanding into poultry, bee-keeping and other areas of livestock production, while the state focuses on improving services, including marketing, cold storage and transportation, he said. “Whatever Sikkim has achieved, it has done it mostly on its own,” Anbalagan said.

Organic exports will be bolstered by an airport in Sikkim, Modi said in January at an organic festival and conference. Discussion at the meeting “set the tone for a new holistic vision for the country’s agriculture,” he said. “The winds of this organic effort would now spread across the country.”


Vendors sell organic vegetables from stalls at the Sikkim Organic Market in Gangtok, Sikkim, India
Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Modi’s government has earmarked 4.12 billion rupees ($61 million) for spending on organic farming in the year ending March 2017. It’s promoting organic fertilizer and says the use of natural nutrients could defray part of the 700 billion rupees India spends each year on fertilizer subsidies.

With the second-highest number of undernourished people in the world and an annual food requirement set to increase by almost 20 percent to 300 million tons by 2025, India’s needs won’t be met with organic farming, according to Shanthu Shantharam, a scientist who helped formulate the country’s agricultural biotechnology regulations in the 1990s.
‘Romantic Idea’

“In many ways, organic farming is a romantic idea that won’t work,” said Shantharam, who teaches plant biotechnology at the Iowa State University. He argues that organic production is impractical on a mass scale because of inadequate supplies of organic fertilizer and the lower crop yields resulting from organic farming. “India cannot meet its food security obligations if the entire nation goes organic. Organic is good as a kitchen garden.”

Product integrity is also a challenge for India’s organic industry, he said. “Whether organic rules are strictly followed or not, they slap an organic label on it and sell it a premium price,” Shantharam said. “Their niche market is urban elites who have lots of cash jingling in their pockets, and who want to buy organic just to feel good.”

Prohibitive Prices

At the Sikkim Organic Market in Gangtok, vendor Birbal Rai says it’s mostly the health-conscious who are aware of the advantages of organic products and are buying from his stall. “Others turn away when they see the price difference,” Rai said. Still, “the demand for the organic foods is gradually picking up.”

About 40 kilometers away, Vivek Cintury has set up a business to process ginger and turmeric, and dreams of becoming one of his country’s biggest organic exporters. “After overcoming some difficulties, like a lack of cold storage and residue-testing laboratories in Sikkim, we have started making a profit,” Cintury, 29, said. “This inspires me to expand the business.”


Vivek Cintury: Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg


Environmental activist Vandana Shiva says organic farming provides a solution to conventional “chemical farming” promoted since the late 1960s’ Green Revolution, which she says, leads to $1.2 trillion a year in environmental and social costs in India.

“Organic farming is also the only solution to climate change,” said Shiva, a former atomic physicist and the managing trustee of Navdanya, a movement that promotes organic farming, biodiversity and conservation. “All the mega problems, it has a solution to. All the life and death problems, it has a solution to.”
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Reblogged from Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences news During 3-day training workshop, participants learnt how to validate Plantwise diagnoses and recommendations and how to analyze data from Vietnam stored on the Plantwise Knowledge bank. This activity is useful and necessary for the staff working in plant protection because they can examine and evaluate skills and […]

via Plantwise Vietnam training on data validation, processing and analysis — The Plantwise Blog

Updated Mon at 12:10am

A researcher is looking into the possibility of using remote sensing to detect diseases in banana crops.

University of New England PhD candidate Aaron Aeberli said different sensor systems could be attached to satellites or drones.

“Remote sensing records the interaction of different objects to different levels of electromagnetic radiation systems,” he said.

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

Mr Aeberli said the technology was already being used in other crops such as sugar cane, wheat, cotton and peanuts.

“A lot of the broadfield cropping systems have used them overseas to find out yield and other predictions like that,” he said.

“There’s potential to find out the health of the different plants, and if we can work on it enough, the potential to detect disease occurrence.”

Diseases could be detected early through the application of thermal imaging.

“It uses a different part of the spectrum to monitor the warmth or heat of the object, and a lot of plants, their function is impaired by disease, particularly the heat or thermal regulation,” Mr Aeberli said.

“There is potential to notice changes in the leaf temperature if the plant is no longer able to function normally.

“Some of the bigger crops like wheat, they use it a fair amount and it does save them time. It can help with production and management systems.”



Fresh Plaza

US: New potato disease has major impact

A new potato disease in the United States, Dickeya blackleg, often just called Dickeya, has the potential to cause more severe losses than species of Pectobacterium (aka Erwinia) causing the type of blackleg that has been occurring. High temperatures (exceeding 77 F) are favorable for Dickeya, consequently the greatest losses have been in the southern portion of the northeast (especially the mid-Atlantic region) and further south. Total crop loss has occurred.
Dickeya was severe in 2015 at least partly reflecting hotter weather than previous 2 years when the pathogen likely was present. This new disease is developing again in 2016.
Symptoms of Dickeya blackleg in the photographs above were found the first week of June 2016 (starting May 31). 
First symptom is poor emergence (skips in a production field) due to rotting seed.
Plants that emerge from contaminated seed wilt and typically have black stems extending upwards from rotting seed piece.
Poor emergence: Dickeya Infected seed or poorly suberized seed may decay after planting, resulting in uneven stands (Courtesy: Amy Charkowski, UW)
Occasionally, especially late in the season, only internal stem tissue will be discolored. The fact stem symptoms start at the seed and progress upward illustrates that Dickeya dianthicola is in potato seed.
Blackleg caused by Pectobacterium differs from Dickeya in that it starts on the outside of stem tissue, infects through wounds, and then moves downward as well as upward causing stem rot that is dark brown.
Affected tissue typically has an offensive odor and is slimy. In contrast, plant tissue affected by Dickeya typically has an earthy smell; occasionally it has an offensive smell indicating soft rot bacteria are also present.
Dickeya is a destructive pathogen that cannot be managed when present in production fields. There are currently no resistant varieties and no effective fungicides.
This bacterium is not known to be able to survive in soil more than about two months, which is not long enough to be able to serve as a source of inoculum the following growing season.
Potato seed that is free of Dickeya is the best management practice for this disease.
One challenge is that symptom development is limited by cool temperatures that are typical in seed producing areas: the pathogen can be present in a plant but cause no symptoms (wilt or black stem).
Unfortunately there is not a reliable seed testing procedure identified yet. Infected seed can appear healthy.
Dickeya is developing in crops established in 2016 with seed that tested negative with the dormant tuber test.
Most affected seed was produced in Maine; some lots came from New Brunswick or Wisconsin.
For more information, please visit vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu.


Publication date: 7/18/2016

Kudzu bugs move toward Arkansas soybeans

Patience is key to proper control

Chuck Capps, DeShea County, Ark., Cooperative Extension Service agricultural agent, examines a vial containing kudzu bug specimens during field training in Phillips County, Ark. Agents and specialists with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture collected kudzu bugs from both a commercial soybean field and a large kudzu patch in Phillips County on July 6, 2016. The pests, which overwinter in kudzu, were discovered in soybeans for the first time this year, after having been first detected in the state in 2012.

(Photo: University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture/Ryan Mcgeeney

After almost five years of waiting, the inevitable has finally arrived: Kudzu bugs have made their way across the Delta, into Arkansas, and are poised to begin affecting soybeans in the fall.

The pest, which overwinters in kudzu, was first detected in Arkansas in 2013, mostly in small numbers. Robert Goodson, Phillips County agricultural agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that only within recent weeks had the pest been discovered in large numbers in a commercial soybean field near Helena, Ark.

“It’s an unusually high amount,” Goodson said. “We’ve never had these numbers in the state of Arkansas before. We found them here in Phillips County last October for the first time.”

Nick Seiter, Extension entomologist for the Division of Agriculture, said research in North Carolina had shown that, left unchecked, heavy concentrations of kudzu bugs can sap the vigor of soybeans in the field, and lead to large-scale yield losses.

However, growers were unlikely to see such concentrations in real-world scenarios, and growers who actively scout their fields will be in the position to effectively control the pests before they inflict serious damage.

The key, however, is recognizing the pest’s true threat: the nymphs, rather than the adults, Seiter, Goodson and others said.

Addressing a group of about 20 Cooperative Extension Service agricultural agents from throughout the Delta region, Seiter emphasized the importance of growers focusing not on the adults, which are mobile, but on the nymphs, which will stay on a given plant and do far more damage.

“If you find a lot of those, if it’s your first time, you’re going to panic a little bit,” Seiter said. “What’s happened in the Southeast, in just about every state it’s come over, is, people have tried to spray those adults. And they end up in that situation where you’re putting out multiple sprays, trying to control these adults that are coming right back into the field.”

The treatment threshold for kudzu bugs is 25 nymphs per 25 sweeps, Seiter said. Because the insects have a maturation window of about six to eight weeks from nymph to adult, growers will have plenty of time to control them.

Controlling kudzu bugs in soybeans will bring trade-offs, Extension experts warned.

Gus Lorenz, Extension entomologist with the Division of Agriculture, said spraying pyrethroid insecticides will likely impact beneficial insects, including nabids and parasitoids, which would in turn lead to greater management challenges regarding pests such as bollworms and loopers.

“It’s the whole complex of predators and parasites we have in the field that maintain those populations below treatment level,” Lorenz said. “When you spray a pyrethroid and wipe them out, it kind of opens the door for those other pests.”

From the Ohio State University Vegetable Newsletter

Matt Kleinhenz, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, The Ohio State University

Many articles, including one in the June 21 edition of VegNet, have stated that grafted fresh market tomato plants can out-yield ungrafted ones by up to 50% or more depending on the circumstances. Those circumstances appear to include abiotic and biotic stresses that also occur in processing tomato production in Ohio and elsewhere. In some tests, grafted fresh market tomato plants have also out-yielded ungrafted ones when lower rates of fertilizer were used.

So, at first glance, it seems obvious that grafted plants will also be useful in processing tomato production. However, that has not been proven. Clearly, more information is needed to understand the value of grafted plants in processing tomato production. Their value is increasing in fresh market production and their potential to enhance processing production is real. That said, differences between fresh market and processing tomato production, including their economics and varieties, requires the value of grafted plants in processing production to be validated separately. Grafting effects on processing tomato yield, quality, and profit potential must be tested thoroughly.

Growers, researchers, and others must do the testing. Teams in California and Ohio have started. Currently, as described in Figure 1, plots at the OARDC in Wooster, OH contain plants representing thirty rootstock-scion variety combinations and ungrafted plants of the fruiting (scion) varieties. We are tracking crop development and we will record fruit yield and quality, including color and soluble solids. Our work is supported by The Ohio Vegetable & Small Fruit Research & Development Program (OVSFRDP), the USDA-SCRI program, The OSU-OARDC, and the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science. We will be happy to assist growers with tests on their farms. Contact Matt Kleinhenz (ph. 330.263.3810; kleinhenz.1@osu.edu) for more information. Also, see resources at http://www.vegetablegrafting.org/ for additional information.



Delta Farm Press

What is in this article?:

“This been one of the worst thrips seasons we’ve had in Mississippi in recent years,” says Angus Cachet. “We’ve made multiple applications on a lot of acres.” 

Mississippi is now into the eighth season of boll weevil-free status, thanks to the success of the years-long beltwide weevil eradication program. 

If you need a refresher course on the destructive power of the boll weevil — the pest that cost U.S. growers billions of dollars in treatment costs and lost yield over many decades — you have only to go to Brazil, says Angus Catchot, a Mississippi State University Extension professor of entomology.


He and Darrin Dodds, associate Extension/research professor of plant and soil sciences at MSU, took a group of research students to the World Cotton Research Conference in the South American country, and spent a few days in the field looking at cotton and other crops.

Check Current Cotton Futures Prices

“I had almost forgotten how bad boll weevils can be,” Catchot said at the joint annual meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Policy Committee, where it was announced that Mississippi is now into the eighth season of weevil-free status, thanks to the success of the years-long beltwide weevil eradication program.

Larry Coker, cotton producer, Blue Springs, Miss., and Ed Humphrey, Jr., Ellistown, Miss., were among those attending the joint annual meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Policy Committee.


“Brazilian cotton farmers were making 25 to 30 applications for boll weevils,” he says. “It’s unbelievable how bad the weevils were. In that area, weevils were pretty much putting them out of business.

“It was a good experience for our students to see this firsthand — most of them had no idea how devastating the pest can be. That we’re into our eighth year with no weevils in Mississippi is a testament to the hard work and investment of Mississippi and U.S. cotton growers.”

Here at home, Catchot says, “This been one of the worst thrips seasons we’ve had in recent years. We’ve made multiple applications on a lot of acres. We had dry weather during much of that time, and thrips tend to be worse during dry periods.”

Adding to the problem, he says, is increasing resistance to the common seed treatment insecticides used by cotton growers.


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