The Scientists

The Name of the Game Is Survival

By Christina Waters

In response to Bob Cannard’s passion for rock dust as a soil enhancer, UC-Davis soil specialist Stuart Pettygrove politely points out: “The minerals in rock dust are quite low in solubility. But if you grind a material fine enough, it is possible to have enough dissolved to supply some nutrients to plants.” However, Pettygrove continues, “conventional manufactured fertilizers, crop residues/green manures and livestock manures are the usual, cost-effective methods for supplying any nutrient that is deficient in the soil. … I would be skeptical of claims that the rock dust can perform as well with the same or lower cost as the above-mentioned materials.”

Michael J. Singer, professor of soil science at UC-Davis, goes further. “There is nothing new about crushing rocks and adding the material to soil to improve fertility. Rock phosphate fertilizer is exactly that. But,” he emphasizes, “rock phosphate is very slow to dissolve, so it is typically processed with acids to create new, more soluble minerals that will provide nutrients when the plants need them.”

Offering a personal observation, Singer says, “the new wave farmers just don’t strike the right chord in me. These ‘innovative’ folks are using techniques that were abandoned long ago by the modern farmers who they disdain. Farming is not a religion or a yuppie sport. It is a necessary part of our survival. Lucky for us there are farmers whom use modern techniques so you and I don’t have to spend our days doing manual labor so we can eat. Hey, we even have the luxury of spare time to go to Chez Whatever to eat. We also spend a tiny fraction of our income for food, unlike most of the remainder of the world. Lots of forces influence the price we pay for food.

“I respect Mr. Bob Cannard’s decision to grow yuppie food for people who want to pay 30 to 50 percent more for it,” Singer continues. “Just don’t let the public think that it is a good idea to grow all food this way. Remember, there are lots of people out there who don’t have the luxury to allocate their incomes to eat at Chez Whatever. Farmers need modern tools, including petrochemicals, to produce abundant food so that everyone can afford to eat well.”

From the April 4-10, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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