Deforestation is an environmental issue impacting every continent in the world. It can be linked to various causes, with various impacts. In the U.S., Russia, and China, forestry and wildfires are the top drivers (Mongabay, 2020). But these losses are minute compared to the destruction caused by industrial and small-scale agriculture. In fact, agriculture is the primary driver for deforestation. Worse, it disproportionately impacts communities in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Agriculture as a driver is usually two-fold; most cleared land is used for cattle farming, for both pasture and planting feed crops (usually soy). Second to cattle ranching, agricultural drivers include crops grown in tropical climates like soy, palm, coffee and cocoa, and logging for paper and pulp products. The production of these commodities is often tied to larger social and environmental issues, such as land tenure rights particularly among indigenous people, soil degradation, water pollution, wildlife destruction, and fertilizer and pesticide use.

Soil degradation in tropical forests is even more detrimental than that which can occur in temperate forests. Because of their dry and wet seasons (as opposed to warm and cold), tropical forests are constantly recycling nitrogen. There is actually very minimal amounts of nitrogen stored in the soil. Then, when forests are cleared, nutrients are easily removed because of increased runoff or uptake in crops.

This creates a cycle where arable land within tropical climates are constantly at risk for becoming completely fallow. This then contributes to fertilizer reliance, which similarly flows into waterways through runoff, resulting in water pollution. Clearing forests also contributes to climate change, both through releasing carbon sequestered in trees, and by reducing the capacity of carbon sequestration captured by forests.

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with me, or maybe even what can I do? Well, there are of course many things that could prevent deforestation such as stronger government-level policies restricting corporations, adopting agroforestry techniques, and protecting indigenous land rights. But even as Americans, seemingly far-removed from the problem, there are steps we can take. The majority of commodities like soy (not grown for cattle feed), palm, coffee, and cocoa, are used in supply chains by corporations that we rely on here in the U.S.

So, we can be educated on how we might be contributing to deforestation by supporting certain brands. Oxfam International tracks the supply chains of the ten largest, global corporations including PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, and Associated British Foods. “…Nestlé and Unilever are currently performing better than the other companies, having developed and published more policies aimed at tackling social and environmental risks within their supply chains” (Oxfam, 2019). Some other corporations make a point to be transparent in their supply chains, such as Starbucks and Estée Lauder. By making small changes, like reaching out to a local cattle farmer for beef, instead of purchasing from the mainstream giants, we can impact the demand for deforestation.

Whether you are a garden-enthusiast, commercial agriculturist, or somewhere in the middle, when it comes to producing any kind of healthy plant or crop you need to consider the bugs that they will attract. The relationship between “good” bugs, pests, and our plants goes beyond our control as cultivators. It is our job, however, to support this relationship and where appropriate exploit this relationship to the benefit of our produce. Bugs support healthy ecosystems, and we can attract the “good” ones to protect against the pesky ones.

Unlike chemical pesticides, using bugs to control pests protects against bioresistance and bioaccumulation. Even some environmentally-safe insecticides can harm the “good” bugs, particularly pollinators like bees, so it is always important to follow safety instructions. Some “good” bugs include ladybugs, spiders, praying mantis, aphid midges, tachinid flies, and braconid wasps.

They kill common pests such as aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, thrips, cabbage worms, and mosquitoes. Some of the plants that these “good” bugs prefer include dill, clover, amaranth, alfalfa, coriander, parsley, spearmint, yarrow, lemon balm, marigold, zinnias, statice, evening primrose, and dandelion.

Apart from these predatory “good” bugs, pollinators such as birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and small mammals also play a critical role in healthy ecosystems and productive green spaces. Between 75-95% of all plant need help from pollinators to successfully proliferate (Pollinators Partnership). And even more importantly, these bugs to it for free! Pollinators contribute $217 billion dollars to the global economy (Pollinators Partnership). Farmers in particular should note that dedicating a portion of farm fields to pollinator-preferred plants can increase overall productivity and yield in crops (Pollinators Partnership). To attract pollinators its best to plant their preferred plant in clumps rather than as individual plants. Depending on the pollinator, they can be attracted to various different flower colors, scents, and level of pollen. Some common favorites include aster, marigold, hellebore, and marigold. As a guide, provides detailed lists of pollinator-preferred plants based on climate and insect type.

When choosing which type of plant to attract the “good”, pest-eating bugs or pollinators, consider also their holistic uses. For example, marigold can attract both types of bugs and its pungent smell is a natural deterrent for certain pests and even larger mammals like rabbits and deer. Herbs like dill, coriander and spearmint work similarly, and can of course be used for culinary purposes. Perennials like yarrow, evening primrose, and asters need to be planted only once and their benefits will last throughout the years. Finally, certain flowers like statice, hellebore, and zinnias are popular cut-flowers with the potential to be used to decorate your home or sold to local florists in surplus. There are endless applications for these attractive plants, with great benefits for the environment and your garden or farm.

It’s no surprise that potatoes are one of the most widely produced and consumed crops globally. In 2018, 368 million tons of potatoes were harvested worldwide. The United States alone is the fifth largest producer, and fourth largest consumer, of potatoes. This staple crop is packed with potassium, fiber, calcium, magnesium, iron, Vitamin C and B6, antioxidants and prebiotics. Therefore, a critical aspect of potato farming is how to best store them following harvest.

Potatoes can be safely stored for 10-12 months, and are dependent on a number of factors including temperature, humidity, and light. For longer term storage, potatoes prefer temperatures near 39°F. The longer potatoes are stored, the more their starches break down. In temperatures below 39°F, starches begin to turn into sugars. For shorter term storage, between 45°F and 50°F is preferred.

Regardless, a dark and well-ventilated atmosphere is crucial. Apart from the natural decomposition and internal changes that potatoes may undergo during storage, factors like light are critical to monitor because potatoes have glycoalkaloids. Glycoalkaloids are naturally toxic compounds that potato plants produce to ward off pests in the field. These compounds develop more readily due to light exposure, physical damage, and over time. Thankfully, tuber flesh has the lowest percentage of glycoalkaloids, and these can be minimized with proper storage. In total, between 5-10% of potato crops are lost yearly during storage months.

Apart from proper storage practices, StorOx is an environmentally-safe bactericide/fungicide that increases shelf-life duration through minimizing spoilage. It can be used on potatoes post-harvest before and during storage to protect against bacterial ring rot, bacteria soft rot, early and late blight, fusarium tuber rot, and silver scurf. In order to do so, it can be applied via chemigation through a drip or sprinkler system. Based in hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid, it works within 60 seconds of contact to chemically break down bacteria, fungus, and mold. In trials it successfully reduced soft rot by 93%, late blight by 90%, Pythium leak by 93%, and pink rot by 95%. Despite its effectiveness, it is non-residual and biodegradable, with a 0-hour re-entry interval and 0-day post-harvest interval. Further, it is both EPA and OMRI approved.

Besides protecting potato crops in storage, StorOx can also be used as a sterilizer and disinfectant for numerous commercial, public, and private purposes. It is safe for use on many materials including stainless steel, glass, sealed wood, nylon, and PVC, to name a few. Further, it can be used in many contexts from sanitizing floors, tables and hardhats, to disinfecting harvest equipment, water filtration systems, dehumidifiers, and pasteurizers. In these applications, it can protect against E. coli, salmonella strands, and Lactobacillus malefermentans, among other bacteria and fungi. The StorOx specimen label contains precise instructions on how to properly manage bacteria and fungus in each of these applications. Clearly, this is an economical and environmentally-friendly option regardless of whether your needs are potato-related or not.

Mutually beneficial relationships exist all throughout nature, between birds and insects, insects and flowers, flowers and your favorite garden veggies. Many of your garden veggies are also engaged with mycorrhizal fungi, a healthy fungus that transfers nutrients. There are some companion plant celebrities, like mustard that grows in the vineyards of California, or asters and goldenrod that seem to always find each other in a wildflower field. Regardless, there are often deep-rooted causes and impacts of these relationships.

Mustard plants are rich in phosphorus, and when they are tilled under, they provide necessary phosphorus levels for wine grapes that need it. Mustard seeds are also quite hearty, and can survive in dormancy for as much as twenty years (Sonoma County Tourism, 2020). Mustard also happens to have strong root systems, which protects against soil erosion. And lastly, the glucosinolate which makes mustard spicy and odorous protects vineyards against destructive nematodes (Sonoma County Tourism, 2020).

Asters and goldenrod have a completely different relationship. Each flower attracts pollinators, but often very different pollinators, contributing to their mutual proliferation when they accompany each other in a wildflower field. They are also natural deterrents for deer, host significant pest predators like spiders, praying mantis, and assassin bugs, and fight against powdery mildew and fungal and bacterial leaf spot (Trees for the Future, 2020).

For the purpose of your garden or farm, identifying these relationships among different crops and exploiting them is a great way to both uphold a quasi-natural ecosystem and promote crop health, grade, and yield. Intercropping in general naturally protects against pests as they are more likely to be confused by the combination of plants. And, some plants are better than others at being natural pesticides such as alyssum, nasturtium, marigolds, salvia, “spider flower” or cleome, camomile, garlic and herbs (particularly chives, rosemary, and mint). Many of these contain biofumigants like mustard does, naturally occurring smells that deter pests. Others, like cleome and marigolds to some extent, also have fuzzy or spiky textured foliage that pests can’t stand. There are also countless vegetable companions including, but not limited to: lettuce and mint (mint repels lettuce-loving slugs), spinach and peas (peas provide much needed shade for spinach), cabbage and rosemary (rosemary repels the cabbage fly), tomatoes and marigolds (marigolds repel hornworms and nematodes), radishes and cucumber (radishes repel beetles and aphids), and members of the cucurbit family and flowering plants (flowers help pollinate cucurbits) (Trees for the Future, 2020).

Similarly, some plants can stunt another’s growth or even be poisonous. Some can even attract arch enemies, such as tomatoes which attract corn worms and corn which attracts tomato worms (Trees for the Future, 2020). And, on the other end of the spectrum, there are ways to negatively reverse the relationship that two plants have. A study conducted by Florida International University showed that surplus nitrogen and phosphoric fertilizers resulted in less “sharing” between plants and other plants, plants and animals, and plants and bacteria or fungus (FIU, 2015). This went on to negatively impact plant growth, disease, drought, and food security (FIU, 2015). Therefore, it is critical to keep in mind how intercropping can potentially impact crop health for the worse, and how non-organic practices can be detrimental to positive plant relationships.

If you felt this past winter had especially memorable weather, know that it wasn’t only in your town. This past winter was filled with weather irregularities, including the warmest temperatures ever recorded in parts of Puerto Rico and Hawaii, the coldest temperatures recorded in parts of Alaska since 1989, below average temperatures in the Rockies, above average snow in the Rockies, well below average snow in the Sierra Nevadas, moderate drought in a third of California, and above average flooding in the Southeast (NOAA, 2020). California noted the driest February on record (with California still experiencing drought in April), putting it at greater risk for wildfires this summer (Bloomberg, 2020). With these major weather pattern changes attributed to global climate change, it’s important to keep in mind how this impacts agriculture, and vice versa.

California leads as the primary state for agriculture production in dairy products and crops, and coming in second only to Texas in livestock. Almost all of the almonds, pistachios, walnuts, stone fruit, olives, and most of the avocadoes, grapes, lemons, lettuce, tomatoes, and melons, are grown in California. California is also plagued with wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, and floods. In California, and every arable state in the U.S., climate change can result in deforestation, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, land degradation, desertification, soil salinization, and ocean acidification. Further, agriculture and climate change are circular processes, where climate change makes weather patterns less reliable creating more difficult farming conditions resulting in greater fertilizer use, land use changes, and risks for farmers and consumers.