1970 witnessed one of the most serious agricultural disasters ever to hit the U.S. There was, indeed, a CURSE on the land. It could have been avoided, but it threatens to happen again. IT APPEARED suddenly last May in the panhandle of Florida. From there it rode the wind spreading like a wild prairie fire over the American South.
No sooner had it struck the South than it went north, leapfrogging across the eastern two thirds of the Corn Belt. It attacked the leaves, ate away at the stalk, ear, and every part of the plant above ground. At times, it wiped out entire cornfields in ten short days.
It was the most serious corn blight ever to hit the U.S.
Secondary diseases have followed in the blight's wake.
EFFECTS Now Being Felt The blight considerably reduced the amount of available corn. It is estimated that by October 1971 the corn supply will be about half that of the "famine scare" years of 1965 and 1966. Perhaps even more alarming is the resultant poor quality of the harvested crop. A substantial quantity of corn may spoil in the bin or crib before it can be used. The blighted remnant is lightweight with a high moisture content, making it very susceptible to rots and molds.
Even the nutritional value is involved. Some estimate the decrease in nutritional value to be as high as 40 percent.
The sharp decline in volume, storage ability and food value means an undeniable nutritional drop in the corn products for your table and at higher costs.
The price of this prominent commodity by far America's most important feed grain has increased dramatically. It has already doubled on some markets, forcing production costs above income levels for some cattle, hog and poultry producers. An ensuing rise in the production cost of meat, milk and eggs has occurred. An additional rise is also reflected in the cost of many staple foods in your supermarket.
Agriculture forecasters predict that within a few months a feed shortage, largely due to the corn blight, will force livestock sales and temporarily flood the markets. Prices will be reduced for a short time. But after that, an abrupt rise in meat prices can be expected. The consumer probably will not benefit from the "price-drop." The resulting profit will likely be absorbed by the middle men of the meat industry. But when the market prices of livestock again increase, the consumer will inescapably feel it.
What about the NEXT Crop? Experts are saying the blight will probably be big news again in 1971.
Dr. G. Wendell Home, Extension Plant Pathologist at Texas A & M University says, "There is a good chance of having more serious infestations during 1971" (Texas A & M News Release, Nov. 27, 1970).
Iowa and Illinois extension service advisers report the fungus spores of the blight can survive through the winter in field and fence rows. They can tolerate temperatures of 20 degrees below zero and still germinate when the weather warms up. Farmers are attempting to destroy the spores by the use of poisons, but an effective fungicide has not yet been found. Already, a new infestation of the blight is developing in winter plantings in Florida.
The disease affects only certain hybrid strains of corn. It has been reported that it does not affect open-pollinated varieties grown on soil properly fertilized with organic fertilizers. (Hybrids are offspring produced by crossing interbreeding of animals or plants of different subraces, varieties or species)
Some hybrid lines are tolerant to the blight. But an alarming 90 percent of hybrid seed corn used in the United States is apparently susceptible.
"Hybrids susceptible to the blight will have to be grown again in 1971," according to Dr. Home, "because sufficient quantities of resistant seed lots aren't yet available. Corn breeders are doing everything they can to insure a sufficient quantity of resistant seed stock for 1972, but there is no way for sufficient quantities to be made available for the 1971 crop." The resistant seed will cost an additional $100-$200 per acre to produce.
The seed industry is making an all-out effort to grow a winter seed crop in Hawaii, South America and Mexico. The prediction is, if these crops turn out well, that about 30 percent of the available 1971 seed corn will be of the resistant hybrid type. The question no one dares ask is what if a new strain of blight develops in the meantime?
The Green Revolution The production of hybrid crops reached its peak about the middle 1960's. In many instances early yields showed promising increases. With the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, the hybrids prospered. Some believed the use of hybrids in the developing countries would arm them with a way to quickly augment their food supply. Fostered by U.S. agricultural technology, "the new hope" went abroad into every country where receptibility, finance and education allowed. The experts believed it was a revolution. "Let's call it 'The Green Revolution,' " they said, and the name stuck.
But this "revolution" is not producing good alone. Repercussions and side effects are beginning to be felt.
Heavy applications of expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides are essential for the hybrids to perform. A thorough pesticide program is necessary. But to get the right spray, the right equipment, the right information to the right farmers at the right time, remains an insurmountable problem.
In many countries the extra financial burden to import fertilizers and other crucial chemicals and machinery is beginning to break the camel's back. We are beginning to hear the expression, the "so-called Green Revolution."
Everywhere the Green Revolution has gone it is accompanied by a burgeoning increase of insect pests, weeds and plant diseases. Scientists are now beginning to fear that the Green Revolution, largely fostered by hybrid crops, is in fact a myth. They fear continued and extensive use of hybrid seeds may open a Pandora's Box to pestilence, famine and social disruption.
In developing countries, the Green Revolution is causing a further polarization of income between the rich and poor. Most countries can ill afford any growth of social unrest.
The long-dreamed-of ability of modern agriculture to produce food for more and more people in the world is now open to serious question. Diseases such as corn and rice blight are one of the hazards of hybrid varieties. World food production is now at a standstill for the first time in twelve years. But world population continues to explode.
What can be done to prevent a disaster?
Correct the Cause To combat disease that threatens the food supply, it is a common practice in modern agriculture to use fungicides and pesticides poisons. Another major way is to develop high-yielding plants that grow well in soils which have not been properly maintained. By altering its genes through hybridization, a plant may grow and look good even though it is nutritionally inferior and unable to utilize some of the minerals that are available to a pure variety.
The Armour Institute of Research in Chicago conducted tests on 16 farms and found that hybrid corn failed to absorb adequate amounts of the necessary trace minerals through its roots. No cobalt was absorbed by the hybrid corn tested. The open-pollinated corn did absorb the necessary amount of trace minerals, including cobalt. The lack of cobalt is instrumental in the cause of Brikellosis and Undulant Fever. The experiment also proved that just as the hybrid corn was lacking in minerals, so it was lacking in adequate Protein. No hybrid showed more than seven or eight percent protein, whereas the open-pollinated corn tested 13 percent protein.
The real basis of health and resistance to disease is proper maintenance of soil fertility. But when plants are bred to disallow the intake of balanced plant food from fertile soil, the result is an inferior product. The crop becomes diseased and is effectively labeled so by such diseases as rust, smut, mildew, root-rot or insects which attack it.
Insects and fungi are not the real cause of plant diseases. Rather, they attack only unsuitable hybrids, or crops imperfectly grown. Their true role and purpose is that of censors, pointing out improperly nourished crops that would otherwise pass on malnutrition to animals and humans.
Both fertile soil and pure seed are necessary for a plant to resist disease and to produce truly quality seed for the next generation. Hybridization is an attempt to pass off the abnormal the sterile, the "odd-ball," the reject of nature as normal and acceptable, even desirable!
The corn blight pestilence was caused it did not just happen. It is the warning of nature that we are perverting our food crops and undermining our health.
The Wrong Kind of Scientific Experimentation It was scientific experimentation which produced the hybrid corn the very kind which is affected by the blight.
The blame for the blight therefore must be laid at the doorstep of agricultural technology. And yet, agricultural experts and farmers are looking even more to scientific experimentation and technology for answers. They want scientists to FURTHER manipulate natural stocks to produce new "blight resistant" types for increased yield and profit.
But how far can we go? Must we depend on a treadmill of scientific manipulation that has no proven promise of arriving at ultimate solutions?
There are two ways of dealing with our agricultural environment. One way involves altering genetic structure, manipulating naturalforms. Experimenters have chosen, as a whole, to follow this course.
The other is to get in step with the laws in nature regulating growth and reproduction, to dress the garden and the farm as an effective husbandman.
Man has not contented himself with being a husbandman, looking after his land dressing it and keeping it. He has not generally been concerned with seeking out the physical laws which guarantee abundant and healthy crops.
Rather, scientific experimenters have manipulated and destroyed the life of the soil. They have tampered with the natural genetic structure in such a way as to produce weak crops, and increase the threat of disease.
Must the prophecy "Cursed shalt thou be in the field" apply to us? Will we continue to break sound agricultural principles so that our crops must be smitten "with blasting and with mildew [a disease or-plants consumed by fungi] until [we] perish"? (Deuteronomy 28:16, 22)
We are already cursed in the field, our crops are, already smitten with diseases. There is yet time to avoid the final catastrophe. But the solution will come only if agricultural experts become willing to totally revise their concepts concerning the use of the land and methods of crop growth and if they open their minds to a new source of understanding.
Every seed producer religiously provides the farmer a catalogue offering detailed guidelines and planting instructions. Yet, the very most important and fundamental Guidebook to agriculture is shamelessly ignored. Even the answers and solution to the corn blight problems are there right on the first page. Notice what this Guidebook says.
"Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself..." (Gen. 1:11). Did you catch it? Seed that reseeds itself, reproduces its own kind not a hybrid, but one of the same genetic background. To stress its importance, this instruction was reiterated ten different times. It is all in the first chapter of that forgotten Guidebook to living the Bible.
If seeds are properly selected and reproduced they will maintain quality and productivity. Hybrid plants do not yield seed that reproduces after its own kind. Instead, they produce deceptive freaks that look good but can be devastated by one season's disease. This cardinal point is reiterated:
"Ye shall keep my statutes... thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed..." (Leviticus 19:19). The 1970 corn blight disaster was a direct result of overlooking this warning. It is partial fulfillment of that warning. We ought to learn and heed.