Is techno-farming going to replace chemical farming? Some farmers are switching from herbicides to robots for their weed problems

Image: Is techno-farming going to replace chemical farming? Some farmers are switching from herbicides to robots for their weed problems

(Natural News)
Robotic weeders are growing in popularity, an expert said, to support the growth and proliferation of specialty crops, or crops that are not mass-produced, and which include vegetables like broccoli, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes.

The necessity for the utilization of robotic weeders comes from two issues: one, a lack of herbicides that can be used for specialty crops; two, the fact that hand-weeding has become so expensive ($150 to $300 per acre). With the absence of pesticides, growers have had to employ the services of other people to hand-weed vast fields. (Related: Robots to take over jobs in human service industry, increasing the percentage of unemployed Americans.)

“I’ve been working with robotic weeders for about 10 years now, and the technology is really just starting to come into commercial use. It’s really an economic incentive to consider them,” said Steven Fennimore, an extension specialist under the Department of Vegetable Crops and Weed Science at the University of California, Davis.

The robotic weeders are calibrated in such a way that they are able to recognize a pattern and have the ability to tell the difference between a plant and the soil. Also, these robotic weeders are currently being trained to distinguish a lettuce plant from a weed.

“The problem with the machines right now is that they are version 1.0, and there’s tremendous room for improvement. The inability to be able to tell the difference between a weed and a crop requires the grower to be very exact when using them.

“The rows have to be a little straighter, cleaner, and more consistent because the machines aren’t that sophisticated yet. The robots don’t like surprises,” Fennimore said.

The robotic weeders that are sold on the market are priced between $120,000 and $175,000. For some California growers, the new technology is too expensively priced, and have indicated that they will wait until costs have gone down. Other growers however, are willing to invest in a better long-term tool than expensive hand-weeding.

Fennimore is focusing his work on the physical control of weeds. He has also progressed from conducting work on lettuce to applying the technology on other crops such as onions and tomatoes. He said that each crop will require a different robotic weeder system.

“I believe what makes the robotic weeders better than herbicide is that this electronic-based technology is very flexible and can be updated easily. We all update our phones and computers constantly, which is a sign of a robust and flexible technology,” Fennimore said.

Other machines that are arising as robotic weeders

The rise of robotic weeders as an agricultural tool is being seen today as something that would revolutionize agriculture and farming as a whole. Robotic weeders have been so in demand lately that a lot of entrepreneurs and budding start-up aficionados are looking at manufacturing, marketing, and selling their own robotic weeder machines.

One of them is Benoit Carré, developer of Anatis autonomous weeder, who offers his own outlook of weed control for modern agriculture. “Robots are creating a lot of excitement, but we did not set out to build a robot. Instead, we set out to produce a weeder that was automated.

“We have been manufacturing inter-row weeders since 1975 and the next step was a camera-mounted, tractor-guided system, which we developed 15 years ago. These guided weeders will typically work at eight to 10 kilometers per hour. However, farmers don’t want to spend hours on a weeder, as it is a boring job and they are under pressure to reduce costs,” Carré said.

For more stories regarding artificial intelligence, automation, and the way robots are making our lives more convenient, visit

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Farmers Branch Officer Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison For Killing Teen

Former Farmers Branch police officer Ken Johnson was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday in the killing of a teen in March 2016.

The judge in the case initially said Johnson was sentenced to 20 years but then clarified that half of that sentence will be probation.

Johnson, 37, was convicted of murder and aggravated assault Dec. 19 in the death of 16-year old Jose Cruz. Edgar Rodriguez, who was 16 at the time, survived but lost a finger and was shot in the ear.

Johnson shot the teens while he was off-duty, admitting he became angry when he spotted two teens stealing third-row seats from his SUV on March 13, 2016. He pursued the teens in his vehicle and spun out the Red Dodge Challenger that Cruz was driving.

Johnson then fired 16 rounds into the Challenger.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder charge and 10 years of probation for the aggravated assault. The sentences will run concurrently.

“We got [Johnson] guilty of murder, we got 10 years, and yes, we definitely wanted more because we believe a life is worth more than 10 years” Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said in a news conference after Ken Johnson’s sentencing. “However, we do respect the jury’s decision in this case.”

Faith Johnson disappointed in 10-year sentence for former officer

Jurors saw surveillance video during the trial that showed Johnson spun out the Challenger.

Johnson on the stand Monday told jurors that he didn’t intend to make contact with the vehicle but did so after Cruz slowed down.

Dallas County prosecutor Jason Hermus reminded Johnson the black box data recorder on Cruz’s car reported no deceleration.

“Is that black box wrong,” Hermus questioned. “It could be,” Johnson replied.

After crashing in a busy intersection, Johnson approached and fired into the vehicle.

Testimony from 27 witnesses during the trial indicated Johnson never identified himself as a police officer before he opened fire.

Johnson told jurors he could see into the vehicle, despite the tinted windows, before he opened fire.

“He (Cruz) took his hands off the steering wheel and reached down, that’s when my heart jumped out of my chest,” Johnson said.

On cross examination prosecutors clarified after Cruz was dead, Johnson took aim at Rodriguez firing 4-6 rounds at his head, despite no evidence he posed a threat.

“You opened the door to get a clean shot at Edgar,” Hermus said.


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Farmers Markets ‘Insidious White Spaces,’ ‘Normalize’ White Eating Habits


Farmers’ Markets “normalize” the “food consumption habits of white people” and contribute to the oppression of minorities, according to two professors at San Diego State University.

From Campus Reform:

Pascale Joassart-Marcelli and Fernando J Bosco, two geography professors at SDSU, criticized the “whiteness of farmers’ markets” in a chapter for Just Green Enough, a new anthology published by Routledge in December.

“Farmers’ markets are often white spaces where the food consumption habits of white people are normalized.”

The anthology, which features contributions from a variety of professors, aims to highlight the harms of “environmental gentrification,” a process in which “environmental improvements lead to…the displacement of long-term residents.”

Farmers’ markets are one such environmental improvement that can lead to gentrification, Bosco and Joassart-Marcelli argue, saying farmers’ markets are “exclusionary” since locals may not be able to “afford the food and/or feel excluded from these new spaces.”
When white people move out of a city it’s “white flight.”

When they move in it’s “gentrification.”

When they move to another country it’s “colonization.”

When non-whites move into a city it’s “diversification” or “cultural enrichment” and when they emigrate from another nation they’re “refugees.”

It’s almost as though there’s an agenda here…
This social exclusion is reinforced by the “whiteness of farmers’ markets” and the “white habitus” that they can reinforce, the professors elaborate, describing farmers’ markets as “white spaces where the food consumption habits of white people are normalized.”
White people casually eating food is now racist.

This is a paradoxical outcome, since farmers’ markets are often established in the interest of fighting so-called “food deserts” in lower-income and minority communities. Since grocery stores in low-income communities often lack fresh quality produce, the professors say that in some cases, farmers’ markets may be only source of quality and affordable produce for locals.

Citing research they conducted in San Diego, however, Bosco and Joassart-Marcelli claim that 44 percent of the city’s farmers’ markets are located in census tracts with a high rate of gentrification, leading them to conclude that farmers’ markets “attract households from higher socio-economic backgrounds, raising property values and displacing low-income residents and people of color.”

White people are “displacing” people of color?

Why aren’t they “diversifying” the area and bringing “cultural enrichment”?

“The most insidious part of this gentrification process is that alternative food initiatives work against the community activists and residents who first mobilized to fight environmental injustices and provide these amenities but have significantly less political and economic clout than developers and real estate professionals.

The professors stop short of offering specific remedies, but do conclude that “curbing gentrification is a vexing task” that requires the involvement of both community members and local governments.

“Strong community involvement,” they say, is necessary in order to ensure that “the needs of the poorest…residents are prioritized,” while local governments can enact “equitable zoning policies, rent-control laws, and property tax reforms in favor of long-time homeowners” to combat the trend toward gentrification.

Translation: pay up.



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Monsanto now offering CASH to farmers if they will use its toxic "dicamba" agricultural chemical

Image: Monsanto now offering CASH to farmers if they will use its toxic “dicamba” agricultural chemical

(Natural News)
The agri giant Monsanto, commonly known as the world’s most evil corporation, is now offering farmers cash in a desperate bid to distribute its XtendiMax with VaporGrip dicamba-based weed killer product. Reuters is reporting that Monsanto will be offering farmers refunds of over half the cost of the product in 2018, if they can prove that it was sprayed on soybeans known as Xtend, which have been specially engineered by the company to resist the toxic chemical.

These incentives are being offered even as the country is facing an agricultural crisis caused by dicamba-based products which evaporated and drifted away after being sprayed on crops.

Natural News reported last year that with increasing scrutiny being leveled at Monsanto’s most famous weed killer, the glyphosate-based Roundup product, Monsanto has quietly invested over $1 billion in developing dicamba-based products. As bad as Roundup is, dicamba poses even more of a threat because it is more volatile and can easily become airborne and drift from where it has been applied.

Of the 90 million acres of soybeans planted this year, about four percent sustained damage linked to dicamba spraying. (Related: Illegal spraying of Monsanto’s herbicide destroying crops nationwide.)

The crisis has led to regulators limiting how and when dicamba-based products can be used, and special training for farmers wishing to use such products is already being enforced at both state and federal levels.

These restrictions will, of course, make Monsanto’s product costlier to apply, but the company hopes that its cash-back incentive plan will be enough to motivate farmers to choose to use it anyway.

“We believe cash-back incentives for using XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology better enable growers to use a management system that represents the next level of weed control,” said Ryan Rubischko, Monsanto’s product manager.

While XtendiMax costs around $11 per acre, Monsanto is offering farmers an additional rebate of $6 per acre if they use the product in combination with the genetically modified Xtend soybeans. In addition, if farmers choose to use a combination of other chemicals offered by the company they can get about $11.50 per acre in cash rebates.

Monsanto faces stiff competition from other distributors of dicamba-based weed killers, including Bayer. The company is also facing increasing government oversight in several states, including Missouri, North Dakota and Arkansas, all of which have plans in place to prohibit the spraying of dicamba at certain times of year.

Monsanto is also dealing with an onslaught of lawsuits from plaintiffs who claim that the glyphosate in their Roundup product caused them or their loved ones to develop a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Natural News reported last year:

The law firm Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is currently representing around 140 people, all of whom are suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma caused by glyphosate exposure.

The plaintiffs include individuals from 10 to 70 years old, but most are in the 50 to 60 age group. New lawsuits are being filed each week, and the firm eventually expects to represent as many as 500 clients in the glyphosate litigation.

It looks like 2018 might be a rocky year for Monsanto, but with virtually limitless cash resources, the sad reality is that they will probably survive by simply throwing more money at the problem. (Find more news on dicamba at

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America’s Farmers Killing Themselves in Record Numbers

America’s Farmers Killing Themselves in Record Numbers

December 8th, 2017

Via: Guardian:

Last year, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The data suggested that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

After the study was released, Newsweek reported that the suicide death rate for farmers was more than double that of military veterans. This, however, could be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. Rosmann and other experts add that the farmer suicide rate might be higher, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents.

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995.




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How Lush is supporting cocoa butter farmers in the Congo

It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Lush gets luxurious fair-trade cocoa butter, while farmers earn income in a low-risk way, not threatened by violence.

For Lush Cosmetics, sourcing ingredients ethically is a top priority. Not only does the company want top-notch ingredients to make high-quality products, but it also wants those ingredients to be good for both the people who use them and the people who make them. This means that Lush’s buyers travel all around the world, meeting and talking directly with the farmers, producers, and local organizations to set up fair contracts.

The search for cocoa butter is a good example of the company’s diligence. Cocoa butter is a main ingredient for Lush, used in 77 of its products. It is a key moisturizing agent, as it melts into the skin and conditions beautifully, and blends well with other natural butters. In an effort to source cocoa butter from a place that would maximally benefit from Lush’s buying power, the company has set up a new partnership with cocoa farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (The company buys from additional fair-trade-certified suppliers in Uganda, Guatemala, and Colombia, though DRC is set to be its most significant supplier.)

Lush is working with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), a non-governmental organization founded by Ben Affleck that’s striving to create economic and educative opportunities for people living in eastern Congo. The region has been wracked by warfare and poverty for the past three decades, and violent militia groups continue to harass civilians, even though the war is supposed to be over. As a result, it can be difficult for individuals to know where and how to start rebuilding their communities, as the threat of seizure by militants is always present.

Interestingly, cocoa butter is one commodity that’s considered conflict-proof. This is because it has no value until it is fermented and dried, a process that takes time and knowledge that the armed militia groups do not have. Baraka Kasali is a Congolese man who spent years studying and living in the United States before returning to DRC to work with the ECI. He saw cocoa butter as a promising low-risk option for farmers to build a sustainable and viable future and has been doing precisely that in recent years through the ECI’s Farmer Trust program.

While cocoa is commonly grown in Africa, and the DRC’s soil is perfectly suited to the crop, it was not a well-developed industry when Kasali began working on this project. The ECI website says farmers have “limited awareness of relevant good agricultural practices, and limited connection with the rest of the value chain.” Kasali now helps farmers to improve the quality of their cocoa butter and gain better access to international buyers. The cocoa butter is also appealing for its fair-trade certification from Fair For Life, a certifying body that examines the entire chain of custody, from producer to manufacturer to trader.

cocoa butter chunks© Lush Cosmetics

Enter Lush Cosmetics and its insatiable appetite for cocoa butter. The mutually beneficial relationship began in 2016, when Lush’s head of buying, Greg Pinch, went to Congo to meet with ECI and farmers. This was the first time an international cosmetics company had engaged with cocoa producers in eastern Congo and Kasali was delighted. He said:

“There was a sustainable opportunity for rural farmers if Congolese communities could develop business relationships with clients who valued not only quality, but the people behind the quality. Companies must listen to the farmers and work with them as partners. Lush’s respect for the farmers in eastern Congo is setting a new standard for how companies should engage in the region.”

Greg Pinch© Lush Cosmetics — Greg Pinch stands next to a tray of cocoa butter in a Lush factory.

Greg Pinch was also impressed with what he found. From a Lush-written article about his visit:

“[Pinch] learned they had used their fair trade premiums to build a school for their children and infrastructure for storing and sorting cocoa beans. He saw firsthand how doing business with these farmers contributes directly to improving their communities.”

In 2017, Lush purchased 80 metric tons of Congolese cocoa butter; it went so well that the company more than doubled its order for 2018, committing to purchase 200 metric tons. This will lead the company to develop an even broader line of cocoa-based products, bringing the number to 100 next year.

What’s really interesting about cocoa butter (especially for this zero-waste-pushing, anti-plastic TreeHugger) is that it replaces water in many of Lush’s recipes. Adding cocoa butter to a product gives it a solid form and inhibits bacterial growth, allowing it to remain unpackaged, a.k.a. ‘naked‘ in Lush lingo. So it’s largely thanks to cocoa butter (and other solid oils) that you can walk into a Lush store and pluck massage bars, body lotion, and bath oils right off the shelves, package-free. And speaking of minimal packaging, more than 80 percent of Lush’s holiday-themed items qualify as naked, which is pretty impressive.

Lush tree D bath oil© Lush Cosmetics — Making a Tree D bath melt with Congolese cocoa butter

If you’re interested in trying out some of this fair-trade Congolese cocoa butter yourself, then treat yourself to a Tree-D bath melt, a Sparkle Jar body powder that leaves a shimmery sheen on the skin, a Snowman bubblebath, or ‘Sleepy’ lotion that’s meant to help you relax and sleep. See a longer list of cocoa-containing products here.

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Contaminated chicken: Government looks at farmers, rather than processing plants, for the blame

Image: Contaminated chicken: Government looks at farmers, rather than processing plants, for the blame

(Natural News)
Butchers and small-scale farm shops are currently being scrutinized by the Food Standard Agency (FSA) amidst allegations that they are selling chicken contaminated with the food poisoning bacterium Campylobacter, according to a report by The Daily Mail. The FSA has determined 54 percent of chicken sold on High Street (a primary business street market in the U.K.) were contaminated, with 6.5 percent carrying high levels on the skin.

Campylobacter jejuni is one of the key global causes of diarrhoeal illness in humans, particularly gastroenteritis, commonly known as stomach flu. Infection by this bacterium is generally mild, but small children, elderly people and individuals with immunosuppression are highly vulnerable, with infections being potentially fatal. It is found in foods derived from poultry and cattle, when their intestinal tracts had been infected before slaughter. Preventing cross-contamination and using proper cooking methods reduces the risk of infection by this bacterium. (Related: 97 percent of raw chicken is contaminated, but health officials still aggressively target raw milk.)

In the UK, infections by Campylobacter is the leading cause of food poisoning, with 280,000 people succumbing to it each year.

The FSA conducted a year-long investigation, from August 2016 to July 2017, based on 3,980 whole fresh chickens. The figures show that Marks & Spencer’s chickens had the highest overall Campylobacter contamination at 62.7 percent, followed by Asda at 57.1 percent, and Aldi with 56.7 percent. The rest of the figures based on percentage of skin contamination are as follows:

  • Lidi – 55.7 percent
  • Co-op – 53.0 percent
  • Sainsbury’s – 52.8 percent
  • Morrisons – 51.1 percent
  • Tesco – 46.7 percent
  • Waitrose – 38.6 percent
  • Others – 71.6 percent

The FSA figures show a decline in the proportion of fresh roasting chicken that carry any contamination – from 74 percent to a still high 54 percent over the past three years. The proportion of skin contamination has dropped from 22 percent to 6.5 percent over the same period.

Since 2014, the FSA has regularly monitored and reported the percentage of contaminated chicken sold by the industry giants, but it has recently announced that it will stop releasing its findings after reaching an agreement with the individual supermarkets to publish their own figures.

The FSA then focused its attention on butchers and small establishments such as farmers markets and small-scale farm shops. Some 71.6 percent carry the bug and 17.1 percent have the highest levels of skin contamination.

FSA chairwoman Heather Hancock said: “The full year’s results from our third annual survey show the significant progress the industry has made in reducing Campylobacter levels in chicken, compared with their starting point.

“The major retailers are now taking on the responsibility to publish their own results, according to a protocol we have agreed. This is a welcome step towards greater transparency.

“Whilst we will keep a close eye on the performance of bigger retailers, it means the FSA can now focus our efforts on smaller establishments, where we haven’t yet seen the same level of improvement and where more progress needs to be made.”

Chicken from farm to table

According to a report by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, these are some of the other bacteria associated with raw chicken:

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) – Commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. Most strains of E. coli are not harmful, but some can cause digestive problems.
  • Listeria monocytogenes – A cause of foodborne illness since 1981, contamination can come from poorly handled food preparation and lack of proper sanitary practices on food storage.
  • Salmonella enteritidis – Of the 2,000 kinds of Salmonella bacteria, this is often associated with poultry and egg shells. It may be found in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals such as livestock, poultry, dogs and cats.
  • Staphylococcus aureus – This bacterium can be carried on human hands or throat and nasal passages. Contamination can come from improperly refrigerated homemade food.

Read more about food safety at

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Serbia limits sale of land to foreigners to protect local farmers


Serbia has passed a law restricting EU citizens from buying arable land in the country. The government said it wants to protect local farmers and prevent foreigners from taking over natural resources.

The law requires EU citizens to live in Serbia for at least ten years before purchasing land; with plot sizes limited to two hectares. They should farm land as a lessee for at least three years before buying it, and a seller must first offer it to the state. The rules prohibit the sale of land close to military facilities and in national parks.

Foreign companies can buy farmland through local subsidiaries.

“Without the restrictions, we would be the only country to open land sales before becoming a member” of the EU; Agriculture Minister Nedimovic was cited as saying by Bloomberg. He added it was in the “national interest” to keep agricultural land locally owned, citing measures by other countries that are already members or seeking to join.

The restrictions come just days before Serbia is to open the market under the 2008 Stabilization and Association Agreement signed with the EU. The deal was inked when Serbs thought they would join the bloc within several years. President Aleksandar Vucic is looking to prepare the country for EU entry by 2020.

Serbia is the only country that has started liberalizing the agricultural land market and permitting sales to foreigners before joining the European Union.

Other countries opened up land sales after they joined the EU, while many even had a transition period of a few years. For example, Croatia managed to get a seven year grace period and Poland 12 years.

EU officials have repeatedly claimed foreign investment should not be viewed with suspicion while it did not open the door for EU citizens to buy land without any limitations but could bring new technology and know-how, helping to improve the competitiveness of Serbia’s agriculture.

However, farmers were raising concerns and calling for restrictions. In 2014, residents of the Serbian village of Kula made a formal complaint against a UAE company, Al Rawafed Agriculture, which was trying to acquire land. Kula residents wanted the contract revoked, saying they would lose their livelihoods otherwise.

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Lightning bolt kills 2 farmers in Bangladesh


Two farmers were killed and another was injured as they were hit by a lightning strike at Horihora village in Shailakupa upazila in Jhenaidah on Friday, reports UNB.

The deceased were identified as Ratan Mandal, 35, son of late Mohon Mandal, and Waz Mandal, 55, son of late Mansur Mandal, of the village while the injured was Akidul Mandal, son of slain Waz Mandal.

Officer-in-Charge of Shailkupa police station Alamgir Hossain said Ratan and Waz died on the spot and Akidul suffered injuries as a thunderbolt struck them around 8:30am while they were immersing jute plants in water bodies for rotting.

Akidul was first taken to Shailakupa Upazila Health Complex and later shifted to Jhenaidah Sadar Hospital from where he was referred to Faridpur Medical College Hospital as his condition was deteriorated.

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