Why produce growers need to embrace more science

Like many of you, there are topics our family avoids when we get together for the holidays. Somehow, science has penetrated the topics to avoid. However, the scientific method is not a religion. It’s just a way of figuring out what sticks and what doesn’t.

One reason the general public doesn’t trust science? People like me. The main purpose of a journalist is to serve the public, or in my case, the vegetable industry. But we also need to prove that you are engaged with our reporting in order to attract advertisers.

So you find the science used as click. There has been a lot of news along the lines of “Scientists have discovered [insert something absurd here].” These reports are usually based on a single study that is in desperate need of further research and others testing the results with their own work. But they are catnip for broadcasters who want an increase in viewers.

The most established sciences and theories (such as plant and soil chemistry, botany, etymology, pathology, and weed science on which our industry depends) result from a series of long-term, not one-time, studies. They are done in collaboration with others, with each step likely to be published in peer-reviewed journals and other respected groups around the world that verify the results and find their evidence.

Another reason people doubt science? Politics. Experts who want to attack an established theory have a reliable weapon: casting doubt on the source. Instead of digging up dirt on a political candidate, this group lays out a series of arguments about why a scientific theory or those doing the research are unreliable.

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And finally, our egos undermine faith in the scientific method. If research produces an unpleasant finding, we instinctively reject it.

Such a thing is easier to see in history. Consider how Galileo turned his life around by reporting what he saw in a telescope. He was following in the footsteps of Copernicus, who initially had a positive reception to his theory that the Earth revolved around the sun. However, decades after Copernicus’ death, church firebrands campaigned against science, effectively disproving the theory. By the time Galileo published his work almost 100 years later, it challenged current theology that God made the Earth the center of the universe.

The future of agriculture depends on a better understanding of soil, plants, breeding and the general environment. Let us embrace the scientific method to guide us.

Oh, one more thing

Here is some of the research that catches my attention these days.

Soil health

Arizona-based Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, better known as YCEDA, has decided to tackle soil health research. One of the reasons we know so little about something that’s been around for ages stems from the way soil health defies conventional research methods. Most research relies on the study of a single component. The earth is so interconnected, it doesn’t work. But YCEDA is aiming to take an integrated approach.


Holistic approach to research

The YCEDA approach to soil health represents a new way to address ongoing problems. When citrus greening devastated Florida’s citrus industry, the USDA changed its approach to major problems. Now there are scientists embedded all over the world, where many of our future diseases will come from (as citrus greening did). It also creates teams of scientists with different areas of expertise, allowing for a broader understanding of an issue.



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