Agroterrorism Prevention


Rattlesnake pole beans. Probably developed by ancient Hopi Indian tribes – good survival genetics.

I was recently reviewing a document created in 2006 on the subject of agroterrorism. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, it details the potential for terrorists to introduce diseases into plants or animals “with the goal of generating fear, causing economic losses, and/or undermining social stability,” not to mention “loss of confidence in government.” (I suspect that last is already a fact of life.)

It seems to me that the current systems lend themselves quite readily to agroterrorism, not because of the terrorists. We concentrate animals in feedlots or CAFOs. They are not bred or fed for disease resistance. We ship them all over the place, with the potential for quickly spreading disease (just as air travelers quickly spread flu from one country to another). Crops are grown on large “farms” and monocropped, so that a disease which gains a foothold in something like corn can travel merrily down rows that stretch for miles.
One of the interesting things about this document is the charts that show where most foods are produced. Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and California produce the bulk of our beef (Texas leads the list at 14 percent). Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota have cornered 53 percent of the hog production. Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama have done the same with chickens (41 percent) and Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota for corn (54 percent).

Lamp chops in my future.

What the article doesn’t mention is that most of those areas also plant virtually identical hybrid seeds or raise genetically similar animals – in other words, they are likely to be susceptible to a particular disease. In 1970 such a situation occurred with the Southern Corn Blight. This fungus attacked hybrid corn that contained a gene called Texas cytoplasm and could wipe out a field of corn within 10 days. The fact that 46 million acres of corn contained T-cytoplasm allowed the newly mutated fungus to spread like wildfire. Experts estimated that 25 percent of the corn crop was lost in that epidemic. T-cytoplasm, by the way, was one of the early genetic engineering marvels, – similar to the current rage for GMOs.

Baby pigs are just plain cute.

Since it’s highly unlikely that the system is going to change, it seems to me that the best way to protect yourself against agroterrorism is to go the opposite direction to the current system. Raise your own food when possible or buy locally from small producers. Plant open-pollinated seeds and plant more than one kind of a particular plant. Plant diversified gardens rather than monocrops. Raise animals from heritage breeds (I think that’s particularly important with chickens; the commercial chickens out there have really deteriorated in terms of disease resistance, thriftiness and growth, from what I’m seeing). Butcher and process your own meat and produce. Stockpile food so if an attack comes or the system goes down the tubes, you can feed your family.
Be a Boy Scout/Girl Scout and be prepared.

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IANS – Crop Rotation


All of these came from potatoes that overwintered.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

You must rotate vegetable crops every year.
Like a lot of “thou shalts,” this one comes mostly from research on big farms. Big farms tend to be monocropped, which means the bugs and diseases that get a foothold can just trundle right down the rows, eating and infesting everything in their path. Your garden, on the other hand, is a patchwork of different plants. Take potatoes – the experts are adamant the one must rotate potatoes to prevent blight. Blight is a fungal airborne disease, however, so moving your potatoes 30 or even 100 feet away isn’t likely to protect them – blight spores can travel for miles. By the same token, an infestation of squash bugs or cucumber beetles isn’t going to go away just because you move the plants; better to skip growing them for a season or two and let the bugs die of starvation.
Because I grow open-pollinated plants, I always have volunteers, usually growing merrily in the same spot where I grew whatever-it-was the year before. I’ve let some of those grow just out of curiosity; can’t see that they were any more likely to die of disease or get eaten by insects. The German Butterball potatoes in particular will continue to pop up for several years in a row. That’s how I discovered that this potato variety will winter over. Planting these potatoes in the fall, when life is a lot less busy than during spring rush, is a great boon to the busy ranch wife. It also doesn’t matter if it’s a deluge year like last year (when we got twice our normal rainfall) because I’m not messing with sopping wet soil in early spring.
Now, there’s a caveat here – if you want to skip a rotation or three, you must be sure you’re adding the necessary nutrients back to the soil. I know of a few gardeners who grow carrots in the same bed year after year, just adding compost to supply the necessary replenishment nutrients. Onions actually do better if grown in the same soil year after year. Ruth Stout, who popularized the deep mulch method of gardening, said she found that after a few years, she could get away with growing the same thing in the same place for several years because her soil was so rich. If you do get an infestation of something, it’s probably a good idea to rotate with disease-free seeds or stock. But you don’t need to be paranoid about rotation as long as you feed your soil well and pay attention to the health of your plants.

Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum was the one who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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Kids and Chores


The stud horse likes two-footed minions – they scratch all the itchy spots.

I’ve mentioned, a time or two, the value of having the kids involved in the ranch work. I was holding onto my appreciation of that value this morning by the skin of my teeth. We had a number of bare spots in the middle pasture and some old grass hay. Combining the two means no more bare spots and better graze for the critters come spring. Since there’s supposed to be a fair-sized rainstorm headed our way next weekend, this was obviously the weekend to get that hay spread.

Driving the four-wheeler is a rite of passage for a ranch kid (the big one has now graduated to the backhoe).

When doing ranch work with smaller children, you really have to watch out for them for safety reasons. When doing ranch work with pre-teens and older teens, you really have to watch out for your temper. The younger kids may drive you to distraction trying to get involved, but the older ones will drive you to distraction with whining, bitching, fighting, eye rolling and arguing. Said whining, bitching, fighting, eye rolling and arguing was exacerbated because the two younger ones are learning how to drive the quad – saints forbid one should have a single second more driving time than the other. Or that one might actually have to open a gate while the other sits in the pickup.

Small fry on bottle detail.

I know this is a stage they all go through. I know they’re actually very good kids. I know I love them dearly. On the other hand, sometimes I must admit I fantasize about knocking their heads together. We did manage to get all but 10 bales hauled and more than half the hay spread. I’m debating whether it’s worth the effort to get them back out there tomorrow to do the rest or if I should just go do it myself. However, tomorrow is another potential quad-riding day; I also have pumpkins for carving and Halloween is Tuesday.
Nope, I’m not above bribery.

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