Pesticides & GMO’s

Shepherd's Grain R&D > Pesticides & GMO’s

Shepherd’s Grain growers see themselves as Food Producers, not simply producers of commodities. With that perspective in mind, they manage their food production systems with great care for consumer nutrition and food quality.

Food production methods have evolved ever since humans started growing food out of the soil. Technology in the last century ramped up that evolution and introduced management tools that solved some problems, but at the same time introduced new problems. Shepherd’s Grain believes that any discussion regarding controversial agricultural technology should be done with a pursuit of scientific truth.

Pesticides

A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. - National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

There are three primary sub-categories of pesticides used in agriculture:

  1. Herbicides are used to control weeds.
  2. Insecticides are used to control insect pests.
  3. Fungicides are used to control plant diseases.

Weeds, insects, and fungal diseases all present real and ever-present challenges to food producers. Whether the pest is a weed, an insect, or a disease, a lack of control can lead to devastating crop failure along with lingering damage to subsequent crops. How do pests become such a huge issue to begin with? The answer may be complex, but ultimately boils down in large part to monocultures.

We live on an incredible planet that has an amazing amount of diversity when it comes to life. All of life looks to take advantage of favorable conditions for growth and propagation. These organisms, whether weeds, insects, or fungi, look for opportunities in the environment to thrive. Environments that are changing and unpredictable in nature are more difficult for unwanted pests to figure out and flourish. On the other hand, environments that are relatively static and predictable make it easy for these organisms to figure out and take advantage of the conditions. Monocultures are when a single crop is cultivated over and over again, and are ultimately very predictable and susceptible to pests. Diverse crop rotations in agro-ecosystems are the alternative to monocultures, and the goal of that diversity is in part to keep unwanted pests from capitalizing on environmental predictability.

Reducing pesticide use in a sustainable way requires diverse and sensible crop rotation practices. This is why Shepherd’s Grain invests greatly in Crop Research.

Shepherd’s Grain growers do use some pesticides in judicious ways. All Shepherd’s Grain growers are Food Alliance certified. Food Alliance certification has a list of prohibited pesticides that are particularly harmful to the environment or to human & animal health, and Shepherd’s Grain growers do not use these pesticides. Furthermore, when allowed pesticides are used, Food Alliance requires Shepherd’s Gain growers to use them in a prudent and judicious manner. Pesticide use is documented and inspected by Food Alliance. Our growers implement Integrated Pest Management strategies to combat pests, and seek to fight biological pests with biological tools (as opposed to chemical tools).

Pesticides have allowed food producers to abandon tillage as the means to control pests. This was a step in the right direction, as tillage is not sustainable for the Earth’s soils. While pesticides have been a tool to become more sustainable by ditching the plow, our growers seek ways to reduce pesticide use. Zero pesticides would be great. But our growers have chosen as their highest priority to save and build soils. What good would it be to go pesticide free while losing soil and soil’s productivity to feed the world? Sustainability first, then work on pesticide reduction.

So how does greater cropping diversity translate to less pesticide use? By planting different crops, at different times of the year, with different pesticides (as opposed to the same old pesticides used year after year, and applied at the same time year after year), weed cycles get broken up. Pesticides are more effective. Over time, there are simply less weeds, and less pesticides applied.

The goal of using no pesticides, the goal of organic production in that regard, is a good one. Everyone agrees there. The question of how to get to that place is where we differ from organic. Organic has to rely on tillage to control weeds. Being Tillage-Free is a non-negotiable to us. Besides tillage being an unsustainable way to keep our topsoil, it destroys soil biology habitat and soil structure. We are focused on the path of using no-till to act as a mulch against weeds and to prevent soil disturbance, crop diversity to break weed cycles, and some growers are bringing livestock into the equation as well. All of this leads to really healthy and alive soils.

Glyphosate

Shepherd’s Grain growers do not use glyphosate as a desiccant on our wheat crops. There has been some misinformation on the internet that using glyphosate as a desiccant on wheat crops is a common practice. It is almost entirely unheard of in our growing region. Glyphosate use is limited and judiciously used as a tool by our farmers to control weeds prior to planting a wheat crop or after harvest. The alternative to using glyphosate in this way to control weeds is tillage, which does far more harm to the soil in the short-run and long-run, and is unsustainable and therefore unacceptable for our growers.

All of our growers desire to use less herbicides, and are able to do so as they diversify their crop rotations with multiple crops that naturally control weeds in different ways. Shepherd’s Grain assists the growers to find markets for these alternative crops, and invests in research to help our growers understand best practices to raise those crops. Shepherd’s Grain growers are among the nation’s most progressive grower groups in their effort to save the health of their soils, and at the same time pursue their goal of eliminating pesticide use.

Unfortunately, it appears that glyphosate has become somewhat ubiquitous in our nation’s food supply, with glyphosate residue being detected even in organic food products. We also have a regular plan for testing our wheat flours for glyphosate residue, and are happy to report that our flours test far below the EPA and EU tolerances.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an allowable threshold of 30,000 parts per billion (ppb) of glyphosate residue for wheat and wheat products such as flour. The European Union’s threshold is lower at 10,000 ppb.

Fortunately, wheat products are a relatively “clean” agricultural food products compared to others that retain pesticide residues more readily. We recently performed a glyphosate residue test at a certified lab, and included our flour along with other brands of flour for comparison. It should be noted that this was a one-off test, and we randomly picked bags of flour. The results were what we expected – that glyphosate residue can be found in wheat flours at minute levels, not even coming close to governmental thresholds.

 

GMO's

All Shepherd’s Grain wheat flours are verified as non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program.

There are no commercially available GMO wheat classes or varieties on the market at this time, and we don’t see that changing any time soon.

As for our stance on GMO’s in general – we don’t have a general one. We believe that specific GMO technologies should be analyzed on a case by case basis.