By Ian Fletcher
Larry Jacobs, a visionary from California, pioneered a new form of agriculture three decades ago that demonstrated to skeptics food could be cultivated profitably without the use of farming chemicals and pesticides. He went on to found the Del Cabo Cooperative in Mexico, which continues to assist indigenous farmers in growing and selling their produce at a price that creates a sustainable livelihood for their families.
In part one of a two-part interview with Seedstock.com, Larry Jacobs, NRDC’s 2013 Growing Green Award winner, explains why he chose in 1980 to make the switch to organic farming. This occurred at a time when U.S. farmers who experimented with organic farming methods were not even on the radar screen, and were often considered residents of “Kookville,” Jacobs says.
THE INTERVIEW (Published in Seedstock, May 1, 2013)
What was the impetus that led you to where you are today, as an organic-farming advocate?
We’ve been farming organically since 1980. At that time there was no organic [produce] available and anyone that suggested you could grow crops without using the most modern chemical techniques thought you were just off the wall. But I had one of those life-changing experiences 10 years earlier, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, where I got pretty sick using a pesticide. That sent me down the trail of looking for ways of managing insects without pesticides. The end result is we’ve been farming without any of those chemicals since 1980.
So that’s one big idea–it’s not revolutionary and a lot of people are doing it. We were maybe one of the first ones on the train at that time. And the other big idea in the mid-‘80s was that poverty is a bane on the planet. It’s a driver for social unrest, and it causes enormous health problems. A good part of the world’s poor make their living farming.
What was the initial response to your efforts to farm without chemicals?
Ourselves and a cadre of other individuals in the late seventies and early eighties–we didn’t take the adviser’s advice: ‘You cannot do this–You guys are nuts.’ And we went ahead and pioneered and looked for ways to solve these agricultural problems. That evolved into systems that eventually became acknowledged in the Organic Foods Production Act.
How did your foray into organic growing lead to working with growers in Latin America?
It took a long time for the public to acknowledge that organic food is best. There’s really something different [about organic produce] and we can certify that it is being produced according to whatever the guidelines are. They change a little bit here and there as the laws change. So we were at the early stages of that and then in the mid 1980s, [there arose] opportunities to use our experience in growing food organically for those markets that weren’t being filled in the wintertime. So we connected to growers in Latin America–a growing organic market–and thereby address this issue of poverty. At the same time, we spread that idea and the technology for farming and growing food without all these chemicals, which was counter intuitive to what local government officials were doing.
What direction did the work in Latin America take?
A big idea was early adoption of organics, and the other was using what we had learned to teach others how to do that. Now I work with over a thousand small shareholder farmers in Mexico and some in South America and Peru. The important metric is that it creates a change in annual income. In Baja, California we have measured that since we started in 1985, and most families that previously earn between two and three thousand dollars a year, now earn in the high twenties.
The average is $30,000 a year and some families make much more than that. So it’s a tenfold increase in their income. Young men that were working in the U.S. illegally, are returning to their family farms, because they can make just as much money working with their fathers and the rest of their families in their communities. And they could work here without [Immigration and Naturalization Service] documentation.
Click here to continue with Part 1 of the Larry Jacobs interview in Seedstock.
Larry Jacobs: 2013 Growing Green Business Leader
Larry Jacobs of Del Cabo Discusses Lessons Learned in Sustainable Farming, Part 2
By Ian Fletcher
Published in Seedstock, May 2, 2013
In Part II of a two-part interview with Seedstock.com, Larry Jacobs, NRDC’s 2013 Growing Green Award winner, offers his insights in what can be gained by working in tandem with nature.
What larger lesson have you gleaned from your work?
The lesson is what’s out there in nature–how does nature do it? What can we learn from that? How can we take those ideas and either manipulate them and use them in our farming systems to accomplish the same kind of things that we’ve done as we’ve short circuited [the process] with off-the-shelf chemicals? If we do it by using systems that nature has evolved, we bypass the danger zone of creating things that nature hasn’t learned how to deal with. And we’re using materials and ideas that already exist on the planet. There’s microbes that already exist and know how to metabolize the stuff. The planet knows how to deal with these things as part of the system.
When you look at a field, you see a complex system and that system provides answers for addressing pests. What have your discovered in this area?
When you look at a field that’s going to be cultivated, it is really a very complex biological system that needs to be looked at with that view, instead of ‘it’s just dirt.’ Anybody that’s farming organically is going to tell you that. Every organic farmer is going to say, ‘the essence of growing my crop is taking care of my soil, and it’s a pretty complex system.’ Nobody really understands it very well, but through trial and error [we discovered], ‘If I add organic matter to that soil, and feed that soil properly with green manures or compost and build my soil up, then I get healthy soil. I’m going to have healthy plants and I’ll have less problems. And that’s absolutely true. Still, you end up with problems every once in a while. The insect problems are typically the result of some critter coming from far away without a passport.
What is wrong with the current approach to crop cultivation?
[A pest] shows up in your field from 2,000 miles away, and it has none of the organisms that it evolved with and learn how to feed off of, so it’s kind of here with a green light to do whatever it wants. There’s no policeman stopping it from doing anything. It finds a field of tomatoes and just goes nuts. It finds a cherry orchard and multiplies like crazy and there’s nothing [parasitically feeding on its eggs] or feeding on it, because those insects that evolved to cue into the signals of that insect are 2,000 miles away. That’s what we call a pest.
You say you hate the word, ‘pest.’ Why
I hate it because it’s a loaded word–because insects are organisms like anything else and it’s just trying to make a living. The fact that they showed up without the other organisms that keep them in check isn’t their fault. They came in on somebody’s luggage or they hitchhiked in a marine container. They got here somehow, but they become a problem, if you’re trying to grow a crop, because you have just gone to the bank, and you’ve borrowed everything you can on your property and you’ve got it all invested in growing crops. Then some insect shows up and is about to wipe it out and the implication is you’re going to lose everything you’re worked for over the last 10 years.
So that’s the impetus. That’s the moment when somebody’s growing a crop and says, ‘What do I do?’ In the 1950s it was get the DDT. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and until now, it’s get the organic phosphate. But what do you do if your entire livelihood is going to be wiped out by some insect that finds your crop a great carbohydrate source?
You don’t agree with the idea of portraying farmers who don’t use organic methods as villains. What’s that all about?
My point is let’s not ‘villainize’ the farming community that relies on these chemicals. Instead, let’s understand nature has evolved all kinds of solutions to this stuff, and we really need to refocus our research and our public money. There’s not a profit [motive], and there’s no ‘product’ involved, when you find ways to introduce other organisms into the system and balance it.
Click here for the continuation of part 2 of the Seedstock interview with Larry Jacobs.
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NASA Study Projects Warming-Driven Changes in Global Rainfall
A NASA-led modeling study provides new evidence that global warming may increase the risk for extreme rainfall and drought.
The study shows for the first time how rising carbon dioxide concentrations could affect the entire range of rainfall types on Earth.
Analysis of computer simulations from 14 climate models indicates wet regions of the world, such as the equatorial Pacific Ocean and Asian monsoon regions, will see increases in heavy precipitation because of warming resulting from projected increases in carbon dioxide levels. Arid land areas outside the tropics and many regions with moderate rainfall could become drier.
The analysis provides a new assessment of global warming’s impacts on precipitation patterns around the world. The study was accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters.
“In response to carbon dioxide-induced warming, the global water cycle undergoes a gigantic competition for moisture resulting in a global pattern of increased heavy rain, decreased moderate rain, and prolonged droughts in certain regions,” said William Lau of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of the study.
The models project for every 1 degree Fahrenheit of carbon dioxide-induced warming, heavy rainfall will increase globally by 3.9 percent and light rain will increase globally by 1 percent. However, total global rainfall is not projected to change much because moderate rainfall will decrease globally by 1.4 percent.
Heavy rainfall is defined as months that receive an average of more than about 0.35 of an inch per day. Light rain is defined as months that receive an average of less than 0.01 of an inch per day. Moderate rainfall is defined as months that receive an average of between about 0.04 to 0.09 of an inch per day.
Areas projected to see the most significant increase in heavy rainfall are in the tropical zones around the equator, particularly in the Pacific Ocean and Asian monsoon regions.
Some regions outside the tropics may have no rainfall at all. The models also projected for every degree Fahrenheit of warming, the length of periods with no rain will increase globally by 2.6 percent. In the Northern Hemisphere, areas most likely to be affected include the deserts and arid regions of the southwest United States, Mexico, North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and northwestern China. In the Southern Hemisphere, drought becomes more likely in South Africa, northwestern Australia, coastal Central America and northeastern Brazil.
“Large changes in moderate rainfall, as well as prolonged no-rain events, can have the most impact on society because they occur in regions where most people live,” Lau said. “Ironically, the regions of heavier rainfall, except for the Asian monsoon, may have the smallest societal impact because they usually occur over the ocean.”
Lau and colleagues based their analysis on the outputs of 14 climate models in simulations of 140-year periods. The simulations began with carbon dioxide concentrations at about 280 parts per million–similar to pre-industrial levels and well below the current level of almost 400 parts per million–and then increased by 1 percent per year. The rate of increase is consistent with a “business as usual” trajectory of the greenhouse gas as described by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Analyzing the model results, Lau and his co-authors calculated statistics on the rainfall responses for a 27-year control period at the beginning of the simulation, and also for 27-year periods around the time of doubling and tripling of carbon dioxide concentrations.
They conclude the model predictions of how much rain will fall at any one location as the climate warms are not very reliable.
“But if we look at the entire spectrum of rainfall types we see all the models agree in a very fundamental way — projecting more heavy rain, less moderate rain events, and prolonged droughts,” Lau said.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.