Renewable Farming

No-Till Farmer names glyphosate as a threat to soil health

No-Till Farmer’s publisher, Frank Lessiter, is a bit more daring than many of his ag magazine colleagues in tackling subjects important to farmers, but threatening to ag magazine advertisers. In the current issue, he took the risk again. 

Nov. 16, 2017 By Jerry Carlson — Here’s one thing I learned in a decade on the editorial staff of a major U.S. farm magazine: The lifeblood of an advertising-supported publication means that our copy must never antagonize companies buying ads that pay the way for our “objective” stories. I never saw an editor fade the truth, as he or she could discern it. But… some “controversial” issues just didn’t arouse editors’ interests. 

I joined the Farm Journal staff in Philadelphia as a rookie in 1964 for a princely $7,000 per year. Herbicide and pesticide advertising was becoming a growing share of ad revenue. Our crops editors pounced on stories about the latest chemical wonders, like Treflan and Amiben. Managing Editor Lane Palmer told us he intended to help us lead the way into the “chemicalization of agriculture.” When the wonders of genetic engineering and Roundup later emerged into the ken of their field editors, it looked like the miracle of weed control could have no downside and an unlimited future.

That’s still the mantra of most ad-dependent farm publications. And it’s underwritten by federal officials at the highest levels of USDA and EPA. 

However, No-Till Farmer senior editor John Dobberstein based his report on more than EPA or the chemical companies. His article, Is Glyphosate Harming Your No-Tilled Soils? was posted online Oct. 28, 2017. It’s a comprehensive and helpful analysis, citing reliable sources such as Dr. Bob Kremer, ARS/USDA scientist who has semi-retired and is now freer than ever to discuss scientific facts.

I encourage you to read Dobberstein’s analysis.

This isn’t the first time No-Till Farmer reported on this touchy topic. The magazine published a feature in March 2010 asking a hesitant question pointed to glyphosate: “Are We Shooting Ourselves in the Foot with a Silver Bullet?” 

That 2010 article quoted Bob Streit, one of America’s most-respected crop consultants, and Don Huber, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology, Purdue University. Both experts pointed out the damaging impacts of glyphosate on soil micronutrients and microbes. That was more than seven years ago. As we Swedes say, “We get so soon oldt, und so late schmart.”

Yet today, the wise men in Washington D.C. show no inclination to take notice of glyphosate’s chelating and micron-toxic impact. Bob Streit and an entourage of experts personally briefed key USDA scientists and administrators on these problems several years ago — and received vacant stares. That remains the attitude in the agencies. Witness the advice which President Trump just received, encouraging him to nominate Michael Dourson to lead the EPA. The Center for Food Safety disagrees with that nomination

Another thing I’ve learned, looking back on a half-century in the ag news business: Eventually, facts leak past the gatekeepers — if people who need those facts are interested enough to search for them and wise enough to accept them.