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Pamela Ronald Talks About The Limits of Organic

If you have a couple of free minutes, check out Pamela Ronald’s new post on Michelle Obama’s organic garden and the limits of organic agriculture as it is currently defined. If you do, be sure to scroll down to the bottom to see the comparison between organically grown sweet corn and sweet corn engineered to resist pests. Sweet corn is one of the crops where a significant fraction of consumers actually prefer to purchase GM over organic, because GM sweet corn will have substantially less worm damage than corn produced using organic or conventional techniques.

Still, I love the symbolism of it, and though it will be costly (vegetables harvested from showcase gardens such as the Obamas’ are much more expensive than produce from an organic commercial farm), it will provide a great education tool for the fifth graders that will help tend the farm and for White House visitors.

I hope one of her assistants plants some corn and teaches them about insects and disease. She can show them how to feel the tip of a mature ear to see if it is filled out. As we described in “Tomorrow’s Table”, they may discover some ears with hollow spots created where a corn earworm has been feeding. 

The corn earworm is not a picky eater and will eat almost any crop that we rotate in such as tomatoes, beans, or lettuce, and the adult moth is a good flyer. Even conventional breeding has failed to solve this problem because scientists have not yet been able to find a corn gene that gives protection from earworm. So organic controls dont work very well for the corn earworm making it difficult to control this pest on organic farms. Most organic farmers and consumers accept this problem in exchange for the benefits of not spraying insecticides. 

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