A farmer won the very first million-dollar lottery and he was asked by reporters what he was going to do with all the money. He replied, “I’m going to keep on farming until it is all gone!”
Farming is expensive and one of the major costs is that of pesticides (pest control). These chemical fertilizers help increase the global food supply, but farmers use a lot of them. The National Institute for Health estimates that for each year: 6 billion pounds worldwide (1 billion in North America) all costing $100 billion dollars annually. But the problem is that very little (2%) of these applied protections stay on the plants – instead most (98%) run off and leach into the ground (contaminating drinking water) or are blown away by the wind and pollute the environment (settling on nearby homes, schools and parks).
However, a 27-year old graduate student from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has found a solution; he’s invented a way of making pesticides stickier, so farmers can use far less. “A lot of plants are what we call super-hydrophobic, or very water-repelling,” states Maher Damak, a Ph.D. candidate at MIT, “and pesticides are mostly water-based, so when they’re sprayed onto plants, droplets either bounce off or roll off the surface.” Instead, Drake’s new organic and biodegradable technology uses electrically-charged polymers to make the water droplets containing the chemicals much move adhesive. And after a simple retrofit of a tractor-mounted or handheld-applicator, a farmer can significantly reduce the amount of pesticide they use while both retaining and increasing crop yields (yearly pests destroy 40% of all crops grown on the globe). “Farmers use many pesticides, depending on what kind of pest or disease they have in a particular year, but it’s usually in the order of 50 – 100 gallons per acre. This solution will take it down to 5-10 gallons per acre.” And with pesticides accounting for almost half of crop production costs, the young scientist believes that this will give farmers both an environmental and financial incentive to adopt the new technology. Damak’s invention has made him one of the winners of the prestigious 2018 Lemelson-MIT Student Award and the $15,000 prize that goes to each recipient. It took him five years to perfect it and with a forecasted 2 billion more people on earth to be feed by 2050, it’s very timely. Growers around the wold have expressed interest in the new natural pesticide additive and it is now being tested on a citrus grove in Florida and a grape vineyard in Italy.
THE BOTTOM LINE?
No matter where you are, growing food is frustrating and hard work. You would think that (especially in a technologically advanced society like here in Canada) with all the new inventions of robotic machinery, genetic seeds, fertilizers-pesticides, etc., things would be getting easier. However, just as each spring bursts forth with new growth, each growing season delivers new challenges. God not only humbles us with the miracle of plant growth, but also with how we really are at his mercy in producing food.
Each year has its weather challenges and plethora of pests. Farmers may forget birthdays and anniversaries, but accurately reminisce about past growing seasons. The spring rains, summer droughts, early frosts and hail storms come to mind like it was yesterday. Insects, weeds, and diseases are a continual battle. And like any struggle, by the end of growing season the farmers are just worn out from protecting the crop. It’s no wonder that growers get excited about new technologies, but the problems do not cease.
We often refer to the land as the “good earth” and in Genesis 1:31 God did call all of his creation not just good, but “very good”. But if God’s creation is very good then why is crop production such hard work and filled with so many challenges and frustrations? The answer is sin. As a result of the Edenic fall, God said in Genesis 3:17, 18, 19 – cursed is the ground … thorns and thistles shall it bring forth … in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat. Yes, man is to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28) and the “sticky solution” to the pesticide problem is a good example of that. But more crops simply mean (more work, more sweat, more thorns and thistles) not less. And so it will be until Jesus returns and removes the curse with a new heaven and a new earth. In the meantime, it’s “back” (like in “oh my aching back”) to nature.