Feb 5, 2008
Letters To The Editor

Our carbon footprint and other energy issues

I just read your column in the January issue of The Fruit Growers News (“Editor has energetic resolution for the coming year,” page 35). I laud you in being concerned about your carbon footprint. And, while I agree with your disdain for George Bush, I would suggest that you research your position more fully regarding the use of nuclear energy as the solution to our energy problem. There are plenty of places where you can learn about the dangers of this approach. See, for example, the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site, www.ucsusa.org, and/or EarthHealing at www.earthhealing.info.

The primary problem with nuclear energy sources is the long-term storage and “disposal” issues of radioactive wastes. No one has found a good solution for this problem, as all the accumulated wastes in this country are being held in “temporary” storage facilities. (The French ship their wastes off to China.) Hence, use of nuclear energy is not a viable solution to satisfying our energy needs, at least on this space ship Earth.

Concerning Einstein and his discoveries, it is significant that he received the Nobel Prize in physics not for relativity or E=mc2 work but rather for his description of the photoelectric effect, which has a lot to do with solar energy. And, if our house roofs (2 percent of the U.S. surface area) were all covered with solar cells, we would produce enough energy to supply all of this country’s needs (electric, gasoline, etc.) with just solar energy alone. So, our appreciation of Einstein is appropriate, but not necessarily for his contribution to nuclear energy.

By the way, I spent 10 years of my professional career as an engineer at Bell Labs researching the thermal effects of nuclear weapons. And nuclear reactors are nuclear bombs in slow motion. The dangers of controlled reactions have been well demonstrated by Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. There are better solutions to our energy needs than the use of nuclear reactors, despite what George Bush says.

Charles A. Fritsch
Charlie’s Apples
Newark, Ohio

Editor’s reply: The issue of nuclear power plant wastes is not insignificant, but not as large as it is often portrayed. A nuclear power plant (non-breeder type) generates about 3 cubic meters of radioactive heavy metals a year. They are very dense – heavier than lead – so the weight is some 30 tons. In 40 years, the radioactivity depletes by 99.9 percent.

Countries that use breeder reactors produce less radioactive waste, and waste can be further reduced by reprocessing. The 156 operating nuclear power plants in Europe have produced, over the years, some 3,300 metric tons of waste that must be stored.

Consider, however, the consequences of combusting oil. A barrel of oil weighs about 280 pounds and takes nearly 1,000 pounds of oxygen from the atmosphere to burn it. That releases 550 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the same amount of water vapor.

That’s to burn one barrel. The world uses 84 million barrels of oil every day. So each day, the world kicks 25 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The atmosphere is showing the adverse effects of this “storage” system, which goes way beyond healthy levels of carbon dioxide fertilization.

These numbers are all huge. It’s hard to believe the entire corn crop of the United States, converted to liquid fuel, would replace oil for less than one month. Hence, my concern about total reliance on renewable sources – although I agree there’s a wonderful future for solar cells. Europe is well ahead of us in this, as well as in nuclear power production. – Dick Lehnert

Buying locally in Ireland

Normally, we watch the U.S. setting a trend and then we follow it 10 or more years later in Ireland. It was like that with supermarkets, outside-of-town shopping and farmers’ markets. However, recently we have seen something else arising, and I have not seen too much comment on how it may affect large apple-growing areas, nor am I aware if it has already occurred in the United States.

A supermarket chain in the United Kingdom (with stores in Ireland) called Marks & Spencer has announced Plan A. It is so-called because there is no plan B, and Plan A is to become carbon neutral in five years.

Part of that will involve reducing long-distance freight (especially air freight, which will be signaled by placing an airplane symbol on foods), and working with suppliers to make them carbon neutral.

Because of this plan, which other retailers like Tesco are mimicking, and because of consumer demand and political pressure, the issue of local sourcing is getting very prominent, with retailers very keen to be seen as the ones who stock local foods. As a result, chains like Tesco, who up to now only allowed central purchasing, are now using regional purchasing, so suppliers in a locality can sell through their local shops.

As a farm retailer, I am not too keen on seeing Tesco (and other similar stores) sell local apples, as it erodes my unique selling point, inasmuch as customers can get local apples without coming to me. This leaves me with the challenge of communicating other stories of how I am different.

However, for a country like Ireland, where 90 percent of apples and 50 percent of vegetables are imported, changes like this represent an opportunity, all the more so since the underlying reasons for the change (fuel scarcity and global warming) are getting more urgent rather than less. However, if producers here are going to expand, then someone somewhere else will lose market share.

Not that it has happened yet. Due to increases in consumption and population, sales of apples have increased by 20 percent over the past five years, while production has been static – so up to now, Irish growers have been losing market share. However, the dynamic is most certainly in the opposite direction, and I suspect growers will increase domestic production. For one thing, as fuel gets more expensive, the cost of imported fruit and vegetables gets higher, leaving more room for domestic producers to realize a profit.

Is the era of cheap food coming to an end?

Con Traas
The Apple Farm
Moorstown, Cahir

Editor’s note: Con Traas frequently comments on the Web blog apple-crop@virtualorchard.net. This is printed with his permission.

The marketing of tired Honeycrisp

Virtually all Honeycrisp apples appearing on our store shelves in Connecticut are overmature now. Ground color is yellow; texture, acids and flavor are waning; yet prices are astronomical. I can’t quite understand the disconnect here with this apple, tying price to eating quality.

As trees mature and size decreases on fruit, there’s a chance fruit quality will increase somewhat. I never quite understood the hubbub with this apple, especially past harvest time when its post-harvest capabilities proved to be sub-hype.

Startling prices make for sluggish overall movement in our stores, with resultant quality that is less than optimum. The apples don’t move well; they are simply overpriced relative to their quality.

Michael L. Janket
Willington, Conn.

Pigs and apples and other organic subjects

I appreciate that your publication, The Fruit Growers News, has an organic section and hope to see it grow.

I just wanted to point out something on the article on Jim Koan’s hog project with Michigan State University. It is, and will be, fun to track. I did note the statement that feral hogs were likely “the source” of the E.coli O157:H7 (in the California spinach contamination last year). Actually, the feral hogs are believed to have been the transfer agent of this dangerous E.coli from a dairy operation. My understanding is that the strain of E.coli was traced back to a nearby dairy farm. While the runoff from the farm did not reach the spinach plot, the farm did have a breach of its fencing by feral hogs during the growing season.

I also appreciated the article on the research funds available from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Such press is needed to help put these funds into use. One minor point of clarification for any future publicizing of this, which I hope can happen, is that proposals for fruit research and education projects can request up to $20,000 per year, for a maximum of three years. Most people will be further pleased to see this distinction when they visit the Web site or call OFRF. The regular grant program for OFRF is $15,000 per year, as you stated, and an application must be made annually. We (I serve on the board of directors) are trying $20,000 per year for a maximum of three years with these fruit funds. Some of those projects should provide good content for future issues.

While I’m at it, I also appreciated your reporting and critique of the Perishables Group report on the profitability of organic apple production for Michigan growers. Another flaw some growers noted was the lack of real data on costs of production (let alone retail and wholesale figures) from actual Michigan growers. Some of those cited as sources of information did not feel they provided much input at all, merely a short conversation at best.

Deirdre Birmingham, Coordinator
Upper Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Growers Network
Mineral Point, Wis.

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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