Pesticide predicament plagues Texas produce

AUSTIN (Nexstar) - Sustainability is the name of the game. Reaching sustainability takes some work.

At a South by Southwest panel about how food is grown and what role pesticides play, agriculture experts talked about their experiences in their various fields, with a common goal of eliminating as many foreign chemicals to food as possible.

The panelists said two products Americans consume the most are from two of the most pesticide-ridden crops: coffee and wine. vice president and general manager Jess Barron said coffee is the number one thing people consume.

"Fifty-four percent of people drink coffee, and everyone that drinks it, drinks about 3 cups a day on average," Barron said.

The panel was comprised of Barron, Ampelos Vineyard & Cellars co-founder Peter Work, sweetriot CEO Sarah Endline and Jeff Chean, co-founder of Groundworks Coffee.

The panelists presented a simple theory; buy organic so there will be a demand for healthier products, which benefit the consumer and the producers. But, that's easier said than done.

"Just being organic isn’t enough," Chean said. "If it tastes like crap, who wants to buy it, organic or certified otherwise?"

Andy Timmons, who runs a vineyard in Meadow, Texas called Lost Draw Vineyard, said winemakers and ag growers have to be careful with chemicals.

"Consumers today have more info at their fingertips than ever before," Timmons said. "We’re trying to do the best we can to give a great product with the least amount of intervention we can possibly have."

Work said one way growers can deliver healthier products is to "learn how to work together with Mother Nature" instead of spraying insecticides. For example, he built a birdhouse to attract owls to his property, which helped keep rats away, rather than using poison to control the pesky vermin.

However, Work admitted most growers do spray some sort of chemical on many of their crops.

"Fungicide is something that we all spray," Work explained. "When you hear people say ‘we’re organic, we don’t spray pesticides,’ it’s usually not true because we do spray against powdery mildew. We spray with organic-certified materials."

In Terry County, the "Grape Capital of Texas," where Timmons makes his livelihood, he said he uses trace amounts of synthesized nicotine to prevent sucking insects from destroying his crops. Other farmers have been known to use sulfur (in the parts per million) to keep bacteria out and stop the wine from turning to vinegar.

While there are worries from some consumers that organic and pesticide-free goods are more expensive, the panelists said that is the cost of doing business. It costs more to produce the freshest, healthiest, quality products, they argued, not only for the health of the consumer, but for the health of the growers too.

"We didn’t inherit the planet from our parents, it’s on loan from our children," Work added.

Back to sustainability. Timmons said it is a crucial ingredient of sorts, in order to protect the consumer, while also allowing him to turn a profit.

"We don't want to do anything that would jeopardize that in the short term to try to make more profit," he said. "We want to do something that has longevity."

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