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I was humbled when Australian farmer and International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) president Andre Leu drove here recently from San Francisco to record a “Down on the Farm” radio show before winging it back Down Under. Leu seemed as genuinely pleased to be touring our 75-acre Madera farm as he’d been to address World Soil Day celebrants at United Nations’ New York headquarters several days before. He farms a half-dozen exotic Asian fruits, only two of which I had ever heard, in Queensland, Australia’s tropical north. It was hard to imagine Andre, whose orchard is commonly drenched by 200 inches of annual rain, having any insight into a drought stricken operation. As we surveyed our yet unharvested winter potato crop, I explained how recent warm falls boost yields but increase dreaded late blight disease, apparent in several patches across the field. He recommended a practice I’d heard of but thought odd. Organic farmers in some parts spray crops with milk, as a general tonic I’d thought, but which Leu asserts is rich in lactic acid that can desiccate fungal hyphae attacking leaves. Sure enough, Internet sleuthing revealed, where late blight has wreaked havoc over centuries, University College Cork, Ireland researchers investigate which species of lactic acid bacteria successfully antagonize Phytophthora infestans. Our “Down on the Farm” radio conversation centered on Andre’s newly published The Myths of Safe Pesticides, a scientifically informed thesis that rips at the curtain of comfort pesticide manufacturers and regulatory agencies drape over countless toxins contaminating our food supply and environment. Alleging pesticide residues particularly endanger children and the unborn, Leu cites published, often government- funded, peer-reviewed science that those we entrust to safeguard human health ignore in favor of industry-generated data. For most crops, according to Leu, farmers amongst the 800 member organizations in 120 countries he represents as IFOAM president have shrunk the yield lag between organic and conventional production to less than 20%. This achievement, he points out, has been realized on our bootstrapping organic community’s own dime and through an open source culture of transparency, without much assistance from the world’s research community. In fact, Leu claims only $4 of every $1,000 spent from a global $52 billion annual agricultural research budget generate results with any relevance to organic production systems. IFOAM’s president believes redirecting that treasure towards sophisticated biological solutions could close that yield gap and eliminate poisons from our diets. –Tom Willey
IFOAM: www.ifoam.org/ Book: bit.ly/1A6ULCH