© 2011 – by Steven McFadden
After trucking across the high plains for five hours, and casting my eyes over perhaps 100,000 acres or more of winter’s still deathly gray industrial farmland, I came face to face with the newly famous Dr. Don M. Huber in the cave-dark meeting room of the Black Horse Inn just outside the American Heartland village of Creighton, Nebraska.
On the morning of March 24, along with about 80 farmers and Extension agents, I listened as Huber discoursed with erudition and eloquence upon industrial farming practices that may be impacting nearly every morsel of food produced on the planet, and that subsequently may also be having staggeringly serious health consequences for plants, animals, and human beings.
Huber is emeritus soil scientist of Purdue University, and a retired U.S. Army Colonel who served as an intelligence analyst, for 41 years, active and reserves. In Nebraska, he stood ramrod straight for three hours with no notes and spoke with an astonishing depth and range of knowledge on crucial, controversial matters of soil science, genetic engineering, and the profound impact of the widely used herbicide glyphosate upon soil and plants, and ultimately upon the health of animals and human beings.
Dressed in a conservative dark suit and tie, Huber set the stage for his presentation by observing that he has been married for 52 years, and has 11 children, 36 grandchildren, and a great-grandchild on the way. He then began his formal talk framed by a PowerPoint slide bearing a Biblical quote: “All flesh is grass.” – Isaiah 4:6. With this he emphasized the foundational reality that the biotech grains we eat, as well as the biotech grains eaten by cows, hogs, and chickens, are grown in vast herbicide-treated fields.
For the domineering giants of industrial agriculture — multinational corporations, universities, and governments — Huber’s assertions about the impact of glyphosate, and the mounting scientific questions about GMO crops, may be as significant and disrupting as Martin Luther’s “heretical” act in 1517. That’s when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany to challenge the systemic problems in the almighty institutions of his era.
Luther disputed the claim that spiritual forgiveness from sins could be legitimately sold for money. Huber and other researchers say they are accumulating evidence that — along with the 2010 report of the U.S. President’s Cancer panel which bluntly blames chemicals for the staggering prevalence of cancers — raises profoundly challenging questions about the chemical and genetic-engineering practices of industrial agriculture. The challenge, if it holds up, has implications not just for agricultural institutions, but also for the primary food chain serving the Earth’s population.
Not an altogether new controversy, the complex matters of industrial agriculture, genetic engineering and the far-flung use of herbicides have been exponentially accentuated in the last year by virtue of its ominous context: last summer’s epic oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the nation-ripping 9.0 earthquake in Japan earlier this month, with its subsequent tsunami and nuclear meltdown which is contaminating the nation’s water and food chain, in combination with the statistical reality that on our planet of nearly seven billion people, over a billion human beings — one of every six of us — is hungry.
All of this was brought into prominent public focus — both sharp and fuzzy — in January of this year by the unlikely matter of alfalfa.
Challenges to the Web of Life
The seminar with Dr. Huber, sponsored by Knox County Extension and the Center for Rural Affairs, commenced on a somber note. The moderator announced that Terry Gompert, 66, a veteran Extension educator and respected advocate for sustainable agriculture, and a man who had played a key role in organizing the conference, had just suffered a massive heart attack. A moment of silence followed before Dr. Huber began his presentation. Mr. Gompert died on March 25, the day after the conference.
At the conference, Huber’s talk was highly technical, yet he had easy command of voluminous detail. For many in the audience, it must have sounded like an alien language as he spun out the esoteric terms: zwitterion, desorbtion, translocation, rhizosphere, meristemic, speudomanads, microbiocidae, bradyrhizobium, shikimate, and more.
Huber spoke about a range of key factors involved in plant growth, including sunlight, water, temperature, genetics, and nutrients taken up from the soil. “Any change in any of these factors impacts all the factors,” he said. “No one element acts alone, but all are part of a system.”
“When you change one thing,” he said, “everything else in the web of life changes in relationship.”
That brought him to the subject of glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide around the world, and a chemical most commonly recognized in the product named Roundup®. Because it is so widely used, Huber said, it is having a profound impact upon mega millions of farm acres around the world. More than 155 million acres of cropland were treated with glyphosate during the 2008 growing season, and even more by now. Subsequently, Huber said, this chemical is having a sweeping impact on the food chain.
He asserted that glyphosate compromises plant defense mechanisms and thereby increases their susceptibility to disease. He said that it reduces the availability and uptake of essential nutrients, and that it increases the virulence of pathogens that attack plants. Ultimately, Huber said, all of these factors reduce crop vigor and yield (Yield Drag).
Most dramatically, Huber reported on what he described as a newly discovered pathogen. While the pathogen is not new to the environment, Huber said, it is new to science. This pathogen apparently increases in soil treated with glyphosate, he said, and is then taken up by plants, later transmitted to animals via their feed, and onward to human beings by the plants and meat they consume. The pathogen is extraordinarily small. It can be observed only via an electron microscope operating at 38,000 power of magnification. The pathogen has yet to be phenotyped (descrubed) or named, though that work is almost complete, Huber said. He specified that all the research and data would be published in a matter of weeks.
Huber warned that ignoring these emerging realities may have dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious. He said it could also, and apparently already is, compromising the health and well-being of animals and humans.
The Stratosphere of Controversy
What propelled Huber, glyphosate and biotech crops into the stratosphere of public attention earlier this year was a pending decision on alfalfa (hay) by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The “queen of forages,” alfalfa is the principal feedstock for the dairy industry. The USDA was being asked to approve unrestricted use of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds, which could result in as many as 20 million more acres of land being sprayed with up to 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides each year.
Because alfalfa is pollinated by bees that fly and cross-pollinate between fields many miles apart, the biotech crop will inevitably contaminate natural and organic alfalfa varieties.
Dr. Huber wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for a delay in making the decision, and for the resources to do further research. In his letter, Huber raised questions about the safety of glyphosate. Huber’s letter also warned of the new pathogen, apparently related to the use of glyphosate, which appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. He said laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the organism in pigs, cattle and other livestock fed these crops, and that they have experienced sterility, spontaneous abortions, and infertility.
“I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high-risk status,” Huber wrote. “In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.” Vilsack set Huber’s letter aside for later consideration, and on January 27 he authorized the unrestricted commercial cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa. Immediately thereafter, the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the USDA, charging that the agency’s approval of genetically engineered alfalfa was unlawful.
While Huber’s letter of warning was not intended for public consumption, it was leaked and immediately went viral on the Internet. In a matter of days Huber became a lightning rod, attracting intense attention from both the scientific community, and the general public, which is understandably concerned about the genetically engineered food it has never wanted and — since GM food is unlabeled — never been able to identify. The prospect of a new and virulent pathogen sweeping through the food chain was profoundly unsettling
Meanwhile, researchers were deeply upset that they were not first notified by Huber of the new pathogen — as is customary — before the matter became public knowledge. They felt they had been blindsided. Huber says that his letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack was leaked, and thus its publication was not his doing.
Huber became the focus of tremendous pushback. His message of urgent concern and the need for delay until more research was completed was unwelcome in many corporate and university citadels, and was deemed heresy by some vested in the multi-billion dollar industry of GMO crops.
The biggest beef researchers have with Huber — who is well known in his field as a member of the American Phytopathological Society and as part of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System — is that he has not yet made data available for scientific scrutiny. Many researchers, including some at Purdue, say Huber’s data and hypotheses, when studied, are not likely to hold up to peer review, and that in general his allegations are exaggerated.
When contacted for comment on Huber’s concerns, Monsanto, maker of Roundup ® (glyphosate) and producer of Roundup Ready® seeds, had their press office send me a link to a web page with a compilation of criticisms of Huber’s work. Monsanto also sent along a copy of their official corporate statement: “Independent field studies and lab tests by multiple U.S. universities and by Monsanto prior to, and in response to, these allegations,” the statement reads in part, “do not corroborate his claims.”
Glyphosate is a particularly strong broad-spectrum toxin with the power to kill many kinds of plants that have been designated as weeds. As a chelator, or binder, glyphosate changes the physiology and thereby makes plants susceptible to plant pathogens. Roundup Ready® plants are tolerant of glyphosate because technology inserts a new gene. While the RR plants do not die after the toxic herbicide is sprayed over farm fields, the plants do suffer a reduced efficiency in some crucial regards, according to some researchers, changing the nutrient balance in plants. When that change occurs, all subsequent relationships — including the diet of livestock and humans — is changed.
The extensive use of glyphosate and the rapid, widespread use of GM crops resistant to it, have intensified the deficiencies of essential micronutrients, and some macronutrients. This is leading, Huber argues, to weaker and more disease-prone plants, animals, and people. In his presentation, he offered a list of about 40 diseases that, he says, tend to increase in farm fields where glyphosate is used. Those plant diseases include Sun Scald, Leaf Chlorosis, Tomato Wilt, Apple Canker, Barley Root Rot, Bean Root Rot, Wheat Take All, Wheat Head Scab, Wheat Glume, and Grape Black Goo.
Subsequently, he hypothesized, the decrease in nutrients and the increase in the new pathogen in food lead to empty calories, which likely explains increases in allergies, and chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The list of diseases that Huber suspects may be affected by glyphosate and the new pathogen is, he said, increasing as growers and pathologists recognize the cause-effect relationship:
- Increase in cancers of the liver, thyroid, kidneys, tests, and skin melanomas.
- Increase in allergic reactions in general, and an increase of up to 50% in soybean allergies in the USA in the last three years.
- Increase on an epidemic-scale in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps as much as 9,000% over the last 30 years. Specialists say they expect the incidence of Alzhiemer’s to spike far higher over the next four years.
- Increase in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease, which researchers say, is being provoked in part by the factor of chemical pesticides.
What Has Changed?
As if it were a mantra, during his three-hour talk Dr. Huber often raised a rhetorical question: What has changed? If all of these troubling conditions are on the rise for plants, animals and humans in recent years, then what has changed to bring it about?
The most apparent change, he answered, is that glyphosate and genetically engineered plants are out widely in the world. According to Huber, farm animals, including cattle, pigs, horses and chickens that are fed GM crops grown on glyphosate-treated fields have shown an alarming increase in sterility, spontaneous abortions, and stillbirths. By way of anecdotal evidence, he said he gets two to three communications a week from farmers and veterinarians about this troubling phenomenon. “We can no longer ignore the increase in livestock infertility, stillbirths, and spontaneous abortions over the last three to four years,” he said.
GMO feed grown on glyphosate treated fields tends to irritate the stomach of livestock, such that many farm animals are fed daily rations of bicarbonate of soda in an attempt to sooth their stomach lining. Huber showed a slide bearing images of dissected hog stomachs; one from a hog fed GMO feed and the other conventional feed. The GMO hog had a rudely inflamed mass of stomach and intestinal tissue.
A handout from Dr. Huber that was made available at the Nebraska seminar cited 117 peer-reviewed scientific studies that raise serious questions about the impact of glyphosate. These studies have reached critical mass, Huber said, and they could no longer be discounted or ignored. Yet, there are also a substantial number of studies stating that glyphosate and GMO crops are safe and ought to be the cause of no concern.
What Is this Stuff?
Glyphosate is the most used herbicide in the USA. Every year, 5 to 8 million pounds are used on lawns and yards, and another 85 to 90 million pounds are used in agriculture. It is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially weeds known to compete with crops grown widely across the Midwest. Initially sold by Monsanto in the 1970s under the trade name Roundup®, its U.S. patent expired in 2000, and thus glyphosate is now marketed in the U.S. and worldwide in different solution strengths under various trade names. Because these products may contain other ingredients, they may have different effects.
Glyphosate inhibits a key enzyme that is involved in the synthesis of amino acids in the plant. Many fungi and bacteria also have this same pathway. Aromatic amino acids in plants are the building blocks for many of their defense compounds.
Some crops have been genetically engineered to be resistant to it (i.e., Roundup Ready®). Such crops allow farmers to use glyphosate as a post-emergence herbicide against both broadleaf and cereal weeds, but the development of similar resistance in some weed species is emerging as a costly problem.
Glyphosate kills plants by interfering with the synthesis of the amino acids which are used by the plant as building blocks in for growth and for defense against disease and insects. Plants that are genetically engineered to tolerate the glyphosate contain a gene that provides an alternative pathway for nutrients that is not blocked by the glyphosate herbicide. But this duplicate pathway requires energy from the plant that could be used for yield, thus many GMO crops experience Yield Drag – a reduction in yield.
Huber had several recommendations for growers, especially a much more judicious use of glyphosate, as small a dose as possible. He said farmers also need to provide supplementary nutrients to counteract its effects and thereby to restore plant resistance to toxins and diseases.
He mentioned that there are other herbicide products on the market, but they are more specific to particular weeds and degrade more swiftly, whereas glyphosate is broad spectrum and thus kills many types of weeds, and also endures for a longer span of time in the soil and plants.
“Slow down,” Huber said. “It takes time to restore soil biota if a field has been treated with glyphosate. We have 30 years of accumulated damage, so it may take some time to remediate all of this.”
“There are a lot of serious questions about the impacts of glyphosate that we need answers for in order to continue using this technology,” he continued. “I don’t believe we can ignore these questions any more if we want to ensure a safe, sustainable food supply and abundant crop production.”
In his presentation at the Black Horse Inn Huber was convincing in his demeanor, encyclopedic in his knowledge, precise and eloquent in his delivery. Late in the morning as he spoke of the fertility and yield issues, the complications for farmers, and the increased prevalence of disease, his eyes momentarily welled up with tears. Then as he concluded his talk he received a standing ovation from the assembly of about 80 Nebraska farmers and Extension staff.
Still, Huber’s personal integrity and his positive reception, at least at the Black Horse Inn, may be of small consequence in the face of a tsunami of criticism arising from the citadels of corporations and universities. None of that will be resolved until the data he and others have gathered passes peer review.
The primary realities in the GM and glyphosate debates are corporate avidity, scientific uncertainty, and overwhelming public disapproval. Many peer-reviewed articles suggest that biotech crops and foods are harmless; many suggest otherwise. The jury is still out. However, as Huber was arguing, the number of published articles showing that glyphosate and the biotech crops grown in its chemical soup cause harm to livestock is rising rapidly.
Studies showing the public has little taste for genetically engineered foods, and especially not for unlabeled and thus unidentifiable genetically engineered foods, remain convincing. According to reports from Food & Water Watch, 90% of Americans want GM foods labeled, and 91% say the FDA should not allow genetically modified pigs, chicken and cattle into the food supply. To date, the main parties keen about promoting unlabeled GM foods, and their herbicidal aides, are multinational corporations and their investors.
“Before we jump off the cliff,” Huber said, “we need to have more research done. It takes a lot to reverse the problems.” Many observers would argue, convincingly, that we have already jumped off the cliff.
Huber sought just $25,000 to do sequencing to establish the phenotype of the newly identified pathogen, and then to name it. But no government, university, or corporation would provide that relatively paltry amount of money. Finally, a private individual came forward and made the money available. Then the lab that was originally keen to do the phenotyping backed out. The issue had become a hot potato and they did not want the controversy. Still, Huber persevered, and he said they should have the phenotype established, and then be able to name the pathogen, in a matter of weeks.
“Let me emphasize that all of this is not a calamity,” Huber said, surprisingly, near the end of his talk. “Agriculture is the most critical infrastructure for any society. American agriculture has undergone a revolution and it will continue to progress.
“Still, I saw no reason to rush into the critical alfalfa decision and to thereby cause so many more acres to be treated with glyphosate,” he said. “Why take a chance until we get the answers? Research needs to be done…There is lots of new data that needs to be considered, lots of new studies that cannot be ignored.”
(Addendum – May 6, 2011 – Don Huber has written a second letter to the USDA with even further detail.
Thanks for your report, Steve. I’m very sad to hear of Terry Gompert’s passing. One question that has never been answered–or asked, as far as I can tell–is who leaked Huber’s letter to Vilsack. As in organic farming, it’s very true in journalism that “source matters.”
I’m an organic farmer in Boulder County, CO, where our county open space board is considering whether to ban GMOs on leased open space land–or not. I’ll be following Huber’s work in the hope it can help convince the county to keep public lands GMO and glyphosate free. Thanks!
I was at this event. After listening to Dr. Huber I felt that I should never use roundup again. I would hope that more solid research would be done. Much of Dr. Huber’s presentation seemed to be anticdotal but even at that was disturbing. It seems to me that the bottom line is Monsantos bottom line. Now I have been informed that Monsanto is looking at GMO trees. More research need to be done. My condolences to the Gompert family.
Read your post on Food Freedom and was curious as to where i could access the 117 peer reviewed research papers as I am striving to build a case for organic agriculture over here in the UK. Any guidance would be welcome.
Hi Kevin – You can find the list of 117 at the end of a Huber document titled “Ag chemical and crop nutrient interactions – current update” Just search for that term, and you will find several places to download a PDF. The list is at the end of the full paper. Here’s one link — the PDF for the full paper is near the bottom – http://www.greenpasture.org/utility/showArticle/index.cfm?objectID=7213
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NOW I KNOW WHY PEOPLE SNAP!! What a Travisty to animal and human survival….
The “117 peer-reviewed scientific studies” are not all listed in the article you cite. Only 44 “selected” references are listed therein.
Thanks to all who are working to counteract the total disregard to the environment of humans and animals by the bought-and-paid for public officials, perjuring themselves to the oaths they took, for the sake of the bottom line. If they had half a brain, they would be shaking in their boots from that sure thing called Karma. Yes, you reap what you sow, and I’m not even religious, just practical.
It’s amazing, deeply disturbing and just plain sad that the people of this country have been sold to and bought and paid for by companies like Monsanto. We’ve been sold out to industrialized food, pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies, banks….basically any part of Corporate America that profits off our physical, financial or emotional distress. This used to be a country of the People, by the People and for the People. Now the People are just fodder for the corporate machines and the country is of the Corporations, by the Corporations and for the Corporations….compliments of those you elected to protect you from such horrors.
When I try to tell people about these things, they routinely tell me my tin foil hat has slipped, that I’m a conspiracy theorist, that I’m just whack. Or I get comments like this….*well, according to Pamela, there’s NOTHING safe to eat*….like I’m making this all up instead of reporting the facts.
I greatly fear that unless there is an outright revolution in this country (and a few others where this insanity is rampant) with demands to put muzzles and leashes on them, the corporations will win the day and the planet will subsequently be doomed. Our science has advanced with blinding speed while our enlightenment has slowed to a crawl.
Congratulations to Dr. Don Huber. Monsanto, in 2001, vectored agrobacterium (which causes crown gall disease in plants) to humans. Agrobacterium is used in the reproduction of cotton, corn,and other foods to increase volume. Agrobacterium has been found in every single individual suffering from Morgellons. (www.morgellons.org and http://www.morgellons.org.uk) There is no current scientific proof -only the proof of thousands in 18 countries that are suffering from a horrendous condition. Monsanto, and our government, need to be held accountable. This destruction of our land, food sources, and everything that was once “natural” needs to be stopped at all costs. It is foolhardy for anyone in political or economic power to believe that this will not affect them.
I have no doubt this is also the cause of the massive bee die off……..
Did you mean http://www.morgellonsuk.org.uk ?
Since the year 1970 allowed by politcians in the USA the pesticide Roundup (et al) with Glyphosate where we find over 5.000 years their Metabolite AMPA in the air, the water, the soil, the ground- and drinkwater and in our food…………Allowed by politcians.
We find in Glyphosate anyway: Glycine, Seatmeel, Clair-Albumen and Sugars and we know all our Pollinators as example the Birds, Bats, Insects and special the Bees-Honeybees ‘Apis Mellifera’ did pollinate longer as 130.000.000 years flowers on plants, bush and trees in Europe with a great success.
Why must we poisoning ourselves? The FAO and the WHO under the United Nations they know that all Glyphosate-Glufosinate and the Neonicotionoids is to bad for all life on this planet the Earth. This know also the USA Bio-Ethical-Issues Commission in Washington where the US President Mr. Barack Obama give order to the Commission Chair Mrs. Amy Gutmann in Washington-USA. When politcians allow the pesticide Roundup et al with Glyphosate must they forbidden immediate all beeproducts as Pollen-Honey-Propolis, Royal Jelly, Bee Wax and Bee Venom and must they warn all more as 10.000.000 Beekeepers around
the World. Why must we change the DNA? Why must we breathe by nose, mouth, skin Toxic Chemicals, eat GMO food with their Toxic Chemicals and why must we drink wine, water, milk with Toxic Chemicals…..Anyway allowed by a lot politicans in the 194 Countries.
Best regards and STOP this Crime.
Hans van den Broek
In some places where the weeds have adapted to glyphosate, it has been replaced with 2,4-D. You may remember 2,4-D as an active ingredient in Agent Orange. Monsanto says that 2,4-D is ‘safe’. Yet, hospitals in Viet-Nam have seen many deformed children. I think herbicides & pesticides are a major cause of cancer.
As so many problems with the FDA and USDA and their
bad decisions is …. follow the money trail.
Those folks know which side their bread is buttered on.
Or, how do spell CORRUPTION …..
Check out the work of Tyrone Hayes, a professor at UC Berkeley. He illustrates the many hazards of Atrazine, the successor to glyphosphate.
And just try to find a lab to test your water for atrazine or glyphosate residue! I have not been able to find one yet..I am searching since I found some new info on the EPA website. I live in northern NY, and have farmers around my land using atrazine, while my spring is lower than the fields being sprayed. This whole issue should be blasted from the roof tops so all people can know. Thank you to Dr Huber!!
Monsanto is evil – destroying health; destroying lives and they are allowed to do this! Why do we have no rights as Americans? Why is Monsanto given the right to destroy our health? And to destroy the health of people all over the world?
This is no longer a government of the people!
It is a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.
The USA no longer exists. It is now the U.C.A., United Corporations of America, and has been for some time.
ISIS, Institute for Science in Society has issued many warnings about GM-ag hazards for the past couple of decades. They deserve a Nobel Prize.
Marc Neumann, at Morgellons-Research.org also does. Ditto for Jane Burgermeister, who warned us about the hazards and potentially sinister plans associated with some modern flu vaccines, and their manufacturers and sponsors.
Warnings, if unheeded, will change nothing. The other side wins by just getting the GMO seed out there. It’s a one-way irreversible vector with horrendous consequences. The biotech interests have the organic interests outfunded, outmanned, outgunned, and outstrategized. It will take a miracle of enormous proportions to STOP these forces. In the case of alfalfa, cross-pollination can & will contaminate most alfalfa within a period of just 3 years, which leaves precious little time for public discussion.
Our government, in league with some of our corporations, has committed the crime of ramrodding through, without citizen consent or awareness, designs that will change the ecology of the entire globe, and not for the better.
Thank you so much for shedding some light on these urgent concerns! I’ve been following & advocating on this issue for some time now, and continue to pray that it’s addressed before its damaging, irreversible consequences are no longer undoable.
P.S. Please consider voting for a 3rd party that is a combination of the Green & Constitutionalist agendas next election. We need to protect both our freedoms and the land we savior our freedom on!
Join the fight against Monsatan before it becomes even harder to win against corporate America.
Sign the petition for Truth in Labeling for GMO.
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It seems to me that any of the politicians, if they cared one iota, would note the opinions of all these people about the crap in our food and water… Since they don’t, it shows the buck is more important to them… It’s their soul, they can loose it any way they want to…. enjoy your Karma….
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With a targeted approach, using aerobically brewed compost teas to inoculate the soil with beneficial microorganisms, loads of organic material that can be turned into humus by these organisms and then broad spectrum minerals and trace elements in the form of volcanic rock dusts and sea mineral rich fish emulsions and kelp based fertilisers, the soils can be rapidly healed. If you just leave the land to lie fallow it will take decades for nature to fix this mess that conventional agriculture is creating. The solutions are there, but overcoming the conventional way of thinking and farming (with the huge budgets backing them…) is a huge challenge.