Sunday, March 1, 2015

Human Health and Plant Health Require Multiple MOA

We are constantly scrutinized. What should we wear, what should we eat, what we should do for our careers, how we should act and what we should think. That's a lot of pressure. One area I have seen even more pressure is to eat healthy and be fit or in shape.

Modes of Action for plant and human health by Caroline Weihl

Why are we fat

Some statistics and facts about ag.
The continuous impression we received from news anchors, celebrities, athletes, doctors, friends and family is that American's are overweight. As stated in this November article by Business Insider, a study from The Lancet by the Global Burden of Disease found the United States as the fattest country in the world for 2014, with 33 percent of the population being defined as "obese".

This is not a good thing for our country, but it is does demonstrate other positive aspects we have in our country, being modernized, technologically savvy and full of resources. With all of these resources from food to electronics, it has become easy to overeat, spend more time staring at computer, tablet, and phone screens and become less "physical" in our daily routines. More people sit in an office or in a vehicle for their jobs because our society has become smarter and made it "easier" for us to work.

In addition, we have improved production techniques in the agriculture industry to provide more food, a wider variety of options and in turn, more access to filling our bellies with whatever we choose. Did you know that according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, in 1940, one farmer would feed an average of 19 people. Today, one farmer can provide food for 155 people!

Health doesn't happen in one step

In the past 5-10 years, there has been a "health movement" of sorts. The number of gyms and personal trainers around the U.S. have skyrocketed and there are many schemes and ideas to "getting fit", "burning fat", "cutting calories", etc. What some people don't realize is you can't just try one mode of action (MOA) to be successful in your health.

I enjoy weight lifting. If you have followed any of my social pages (especially Instagram), you might notice that. I started focusing my physical fitness regiment with weight training last year, thanks to my friend Alycia at Ohio State who hosts a BarBELLES women's weight training program.

March 2014 with Alycia, the BarBELLES instructor,
me in the middle and Julia Ledewski, a professional
powerlifter, who came to speak at Ohio State.

She has taught me and many other young women the importance of introducing lifting weights into our fitness programs. However, it cannot be one-sided. It is also valuable to include cardiovascular activity, like running or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), where you train for 20-30 minutes with only 20-30 seconds of rest in between each exercise conducted for typically one minute (in rounds). But what is also needed to balance the scale with exercise is healthy eating habits. If you eat larger portions that needed or indulge in your favorite fast food restaurant and junk food every day, you might not see any progress from your sweat, blood and tears in the gym. You need many MOA to reach your health and fitness goals.

This is the same way with plant health. You can't expect a seed to grow to its full potential by just burying it in the ground. Today's agricultural practices have changed a lot. This is not only from improved technologies like machinery, genetic traits, crop protection products, irrigation, water optimization, and crop data. It has also developed from other challenges agriculturalists, farmers and ranchers face that may be social, political or environmental. The environmental challenges are the ones farmers can gain the most control, thanks to these advancements.

Overcoming plant health challenges through multiple MOA

In my current career, I have been learning a lot about the environmental obstacles our food producers face when growing crops. For the majority, there are various factors involved in sustaining and optimizing yields. Just like humans, plants have a lot of different needs and there is more than one method to protecting their health.

1. The right seed in the right spot. A common misconception for non-ag folk is that farmers just plant crops wherever there is open land and as much as they can. That does not work. Farmers, crop consultants and sales representatives are very strategic when planning fields. Some hybrids of corn are better for wet soils while others thrive in a high population, dry environment. This is why seed companies are constantly coming out with new hybrids and varieties of crops because some work well and others may need improved. Do note, this is the process for ALL crops, and not just those that have been genetically modified. If you think about it, seeds have families just like humans and have different traits or characteristics than others. Science is evolutionary--technology just accelerates the pace of change and improvement.

2. Seeds much be protected from the start. Seed treatments are the next MOA for lasting plant health. This helpful PDF presentation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shares some basic information about the history and positive effects of using them on a variety of crops. The easy way to remember why seed treatments are important is thinking about having children. When babies are born, they are susceptible to illnesses. Therefore, hospitals and doctors will vaccinate children to protect them from viruses and even the common cold. Seed treatments are the same as caring for babies. There are a lot of different illness plants can get and they need protection from the start.

Modern Seed Treatment via CropLife America
Photo courtesy of CropLife America
3. Nurture the plant the rest of the season. Fertilizer, herbicides and fungicides are additional supplements that keep your crops big and strong throughout their life. This crop protection capabilities of today's modern agriculture are beyond what we ever imagined possible in the days farmers like my grandfather and even father experienced.

Fertilizers are naturally-occurring elements that enhance the health of the plants. Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are the basic nutrients that gives these crops a great chance to grow big and strong, regardless of competitors like weeds.

Herbicides defend these crops from weed competitors attempting to rob the soil nutrients and fertilizer farmers use. Yield advantages are almost always seen from using a herbicide application and in some cases, a pre-emergence application (before the crop comes out of the ground after planting) and a post-emergence application (after the crops have come out of the ground) to target and kill different weed species. Weed resistance has become a challenge and lucky for farmers, there are more tools in the toolbox to combat this.

Fungicides are a last, but not least, MOA option for farmers seeking to preserve and optimize plant health. Not only do they help the plant gain the most from photosynthesis and enhance leaf, stalk and stem strength, but fungicides also protect against the late seasons diseases that affect leaves and hurt the plant from optimum yield potential. 
"From a study conducted by CropLife Foundation, for every $1 the Nebraskan farmer spends on fungicide, they receive $3.98 in return."

Farmers are business men and women. 

In today's society, farmers are scrutinized for every action they take to run and operate, just like you are pressured to eat health and be in shape. Having multiple MOA at their disposal not only helps them improve their business, but, in turn, they can grow more crops to feed and fuel the world. These crops are local, fresh and nutritious for you and me because of this.

What do you think of all these options? To me, it looks like an exciting journey ahead for the industry! Next time you think about your health and the methods you choose, remember that in order to grow that food you are eating, farmers have the opportunity to use multiple modes of action too.

Erin Ehnle Biotech photo
Photo property of

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