By s.e. smith
You might think this is the time of year when things are calm on the farm, but just the opposite is true. While the fields are quiet and the farming equipment is quietly tucked away in the barn, it’s time to select the crops for next year and determine what’s being planted where.
Choosing crops, however, isn’t just about deciding to grow carrots, peas or corn (or, more accurately, corn, wheat, or soy), but what kind of any given crop a farmer wants to produce: sweet corn vs. high-starch corn, for example, depending on what’s likely to sell best in the coming year. Furthermore, the farmer needs to make another critical decision: genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or non-GMOs?
For some farmers, it’s an easy choice. Some are actively trying to avoid GMO crops to obtain specialty certifications and the premium price that comes with them, while others may be seeking to produce crops more sustainably and ethically. Others prefer GMO crops for a variety of reasons, including perceived ease of harvesting, specific desired traits and contracts with seed companies.
There’s a serious drawback to growing with GMO seeds, though: They tend to be extremely costly. Biotechnology companies need to recoup their research and development costs, which requires high prices for seed and related specialty products such as specially formulated herbicides and pesticides. Farmers who pay these premiums can get locked into a merry-go-round with the biotech company, finding themselves trapped with GMO crops or reluctant to change.
That was certainly the case with Chris Huegerich, a farmer in Iowa who started out growing with GMO seeds because his father had embraced the technology and didn’t see any other way to grow. Initially, the crops performed extremely well, but in recent years, Huegerich had noticed a decline in yields and performance as pests and weeds became resistant. So he decided to run an experiment, planting part of his fields last year with conventional seeds. He immediately noticed a difference: they were cheaper to buy and cheaper to grow, and the yield was higher, too. In 2013, he repeated the experiment, converting an even higher percentage of his acreage to non-GMO planting, and he was similarly pleased by the result.
Considerable consumer pressure already has played a significant role in attitudes about GMO crops. As more and more consumers demand food labeling and specifically seek out GMO-free products, companies in turn are asking their supplying farmers to consider planting with conventional seeds. This is combined with a growing realization that GMO crops may not be as miraculous as previously believed when it comes to pest resistance and pairing with herbicides for weed control is leading some farmers to do the same thing Huegerich did, questioning the value of GMOs and giving conventional seeds a go.
One of the things that’s particularly interesting about these cases is that the farmers involved are not necessarily pushing for organic certification or even aiming for consumers who prefer GMO-free products. They’re just finding that non-GMOs work better for their needs, illustrating that sometimes, a revolution can come from a surprising corner.
If farmers continue to turn away from GMOs, biotech companies will have to scramble even harder to come up with new products and persuasive sales techniques. And even that may not be enough. In this case, a persuasive economic argument for working with non-GMO crops is emerging from multiple perspectives—those of consumers and farmers alike—and it may prove to be a tipping point for the industry.
Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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In 'Road Map for a More Sustainable Future,' NY Regulator Tells Banks to Consider Climate Risks in Planning
By Brett Wilkins
Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.
There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.
A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Exxon Mobil will lay off an estimated 14,000 workers, about 15% of its global workforce, including 1,900 workers in the U.S., the company announced Thursday.
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