Five key messages from the 2016 Acres U.S.A. Conference
December 28, 2016
The Acres U.S.A. Conference & Trade Show is one of the premiere events nationwide for commercial-scale sustainable and organic agriculture, bringing together the world's leading farmers, consultants, scientists and activists. Skillfully navigating diverse topics ranging from water management, GMOs, soil fertility and carbon sequestration to pastured livestock, biological weed control, human health and natural beekeeping, the 2016 Acres U.S.A. Conference in Omaha, Neb, provided an invaluable learning and networking opportunity for more than 1,200 attendees from across the U.S. and many countries, including Guam, Mexico, Germany, Japan, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and more.
The event included focused pre-conference intensive workshops taught by a diverse group of farming and health experts, including Glen Rabenberg, Neal Kinsey, Don Huber, Gary Zimmer, Leilani Zimmer-Durand, Bob Yanda, Arden Andersen, Grace Gershuny, Howard Garrett, Jeff Moyer, Emmanuel Omondi, Gabe Brown and Ben Hartman. Conference options for attendees included interactive lectures, workshops and consulting sessions, as well as informative and inspiring keynote speeches by Andersen, Denise O'Brien and Gershuny. Screenings were held of Seed: The Untold Story and Circle of Poison, two new, thought-provoking documentaries.
The 2016 Acres U.S.A. Eco-Agriculture Achievement Award was presented to Phil Wheeler during the 2016 Acres U.S.A. Conference.
In 1971, Wheeler started his own organic farming operation near Vestaburg, Mich., while working for Michigan Tech University. He and his wife Louisa raised their children while tending goats, collecting eggs, raising organic beef, pork and lamb for direct marketing, and unloading truckloads of natural fertilizers. He then worked for a Michigan company selling and developing biologically orientated soil and foliar products. Wheeler was a partner in TransNational AGronomy, Ltd. for about 10 years whereupon he started CSI with Louisa. He is co-author of The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook.
Wheeler was honored by Acres U.S.A. for his tireless efforts through decades of technological innovation for sustainable farming, his true unbridled sharing of information and teaching on-farm with individual farmers, seminars and through his writing. For decades he has been teaching and changing agriculture one farm at a time.
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Below are key messages from a selection of this year's presenters that had attendees buzzing:
1Healthy bodies and minds: Renowned eco-farming consultant and physician Arden Andersen helped kick-off the conference with a keynote address on "the ultimate issue of agriculture," which Andersen related is human health. He touched on the topics of nutrition, glyphosate, GMOs, genetic expression, cancer, biochemistry and epigenetic research.
Andersen talked about the Standard American Diet and its role in contributing to inflammation and thus a host of ailments; "We pride ourselves as Americans as being really innovative in a lot of things — as being first in the world. We are basically first in the world in providing the most disease-causing diet in the world as well."
2Healthy soil: Longtime consultant Dennis Warnecke discussed ways that every farm can cultivate good soil biology and achieve healthy soil. He emphasized soil as a functioning system and the fact that there is no silver bullet in building soil biology. "Living things cannot be managed by coercion, they have to be understood. To me this is critical anytime we go to build soil health, build biology and making a functioning digestive system within our soil environment."
Warnecke talked about the "field of dream" with an emphasis on soil, rather than the crop; mineralization and nutrient availability; building habitat and biodiversity within the soil environment and soil structure.
3Healthy creatures: Natural beekeeping and horizontal hive expert and advocate Leo Sharashkin shared management strategies for raising healthy local bees, pollinator crops and marketing of pesticide-free foraged honey. He discussed the importance of swarming behavior and the viewpoint of most commercial beekeepers to look at bees as "disposable." "Amazingly, as far back as the 19th century, there were insightful beekeepers here in America saying fighting against swarming is like not wanting your livestock to breed. Why would you want to go against this natural process? This is how colonies multiply."
4 Healthy economics and societies: Agricultural systems designer and consultant Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin spoke on poultry-centered regenerative agriculture and the role of smallholders as well as global poverty and food insecurity.
"There is a need to reinvent, to reengineer at least one universal agricultural option for all of the small farmers in the world," Haslett-Marroquin said. "Over half a million farmers that produce 70 percent of the food we consume today have around 10 to 12 acres of land. "Whatever your proposition is needs to have the largest potential ripple effect, and that ripple effect has to be able to engage people first, ecology second and the economy third."
5Healthy crops: Soil microbiologist Robert Kremer, Ph.D., discussed the impacts of the widespread use of glyphosate on soil biology and the environment as a whole, the science and farm-level implications of the chemical in terms of interactions and direct and indirect effects. "Just to give you an idea of what we're encountering with GE crops, glyphosate and GE crops plus glyphosate … without any treatment these genetically modified crops are altering associations with rhizobium, mycrorrhiza, Bt toxins can be leached out the soil and have an effect on nontarget invertebrate organisms. . . ."
Kremer also talked about alternatives to overcome pesticide resistance and the need for a truly biological approach rather than other chemical concoctions on the horizon that haven't been thoroughly tested.
The 2017 Acres U.S.A. Conference & Trade Show will be held Dec. 5-8 in Columbus, Ohio. ❖