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The Myth of Climate Smart Agriculture – Why Less Bad Isn’t Good

The Myth of Climate Smart Agriculture – Why Less Bad Isn’t Good

The “modern” intensive agricultural system does the climate more harm than good. That’s a fact, no matter how much Big Data or precision farming you throw at it. We need to look outside that system for solutions. In this excerpt from an evidence-based study commissioned by Martin Häusling MEP, Dr Andrea Beste and Dr Anita Idel question the climate potential of precision agriculture and the demonization of cattle, and make the case for grazing animals, organic farming, agroforestry and permaculture.

Below is an excerpt from the study’s introduction, followed by an excerpt from Chapter 2: “Climate Smart Agriculture and Precision Farming – Why Less Bad Isn’t Good”.

Introduction

The authors would like to state clearly: Agriculture’s purpose is to maintain its ability to produce enough food on planet earth and continue to do so in the future. This will only be possible if the basic resources – soil, watercourses, biodiversity – can be maintained. It is not the purpose of agriculture to “sequester” or compensate for greenhouse gasses released through industrial production. The latter would equate to an irresponsible climate “sale of indulgences”.

Soil management can be climate-damaging if soils emit N2O due to excessive N fertilization or, it can be climate-friendly if humus is built up and thus C is stored. At present the world’s soils store 1,460 billion tons of organic carbon, that is more than twice the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Whether emissions or storage of carbon dominate on agricultural land depends on the type of land use as well as on how and with what dynamic vegetative cover and vegetation are being changed.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Agricultural Catastrophe” – France Forecasts 30% Plunge In Wine Production Amid Cold Spells, Heavy Rains

“Agricultural Catastrophe” – France Forecasts 30% Plunge In Wine Production Amid Cold Spells, Heavy Rains

Oenophiles will be heartbroken to learn that the world’s second-largest wine-producing country is expected to slash production by as much as 30% this year due to spring frosts and summer downpours caused disease in grapes.

“Wine production in 2021 is forecast to be historically weak, below levels in 1991 and 2017 that were also affected by severe frost in spring,” the French farm ministry said in a report

“Yields are expected to be close to those of 1977, a year when the harvest was cut by damaging frost and summer rainfall.”

The 2021 wine outlook produced by the ministry said output would be between 32.6 million and 35.6 million hectolitres, 24-30% less than last year.

For some context, a hectolitre is around 100 liters or about 133 wine bottles.

Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie described the weather anomalies that impact crops this year as the “greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.”

The weather catastrophe in France is widespread and has affected all wine-producing regions. In Champagne, cold weather destroyed 30% of buds.

French wine prices aren’t expected to surge because of producers’ tradition of balancing supply with stocks from previous seasons.

However, if impacts continue into the next growing season – supply woes may develop, which would then be reflected in higher prices.

Leveraging collaboration to tap into the potential of local foods

 

salad in a take out box with heart shaped produce cutout

Photo Credit: North Coast Opportunities’ Caring Kitchen Project

With farming being the root of the nation’s food supply, former President Barack Obama’s administration launched a federal Local Foods, Local Places (LFLP) program in 2014. This initiative was designed to help communities develop creative approaches to tap into their own food producers and bolster their region’s economy.

Spearheaded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program has since provided direct, technical support and expertise on how best to integrate entrepreneurship, environmental management, public health, and other considerations, to more than 125 communities nationwide, to develop specific regional projects targeting access to local food. That includes farmers marketscommunity gardenscooperative grocery stores, and food hubs that improve environmental, economic and health outcomes.

“The program was a real boost for our community,” said Sherene Hess, Indiana County, Pennsylvania commissioner. Indiana County, located in west-central Pennsylvania, was one of 16 communities selected in 2018.

LFLP was born out of the former Livable Communities in Appalachia program, which was established to promote economic development, preserve rural lands, and increase access to locally grown food in Appalachian towns and rural communities. That program halted in 2014 and was replaced by LFLP, which continues the focus to support small towns and rural areas nationwide. Outside of the EPA and USDA, LFLP is supported by the Department of Transportation (DoT), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA).

There are three phases within the LFLP program: plan, convene and act. In the planning phase, the community and federal agencies develop a steering committee to outline goals for the project and identify other community stakeholders for community-based workshops…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Catch my Drift? Herbicide Drift, Curling Tomato Leaves, and Food Safety

Catch my Drift? Herbicide Drift, Curling Tomato Leaves, and Food Safety

There’s all kinds of maladies that can strike your garden plants throughout the season- diseases, insects, negligence, and more.  But one common issue we are seeing more and more here in the corn belt and other places with lots of crop production is herbicide drift.  Of course, you don’t have to have a corn or soy field nearby to have issues with drift – it can happen anywhere and anytime an herbicide is applied and proper precautions aren’t taken, even when you or a neighbor are just treating a small area in the yard.  There are other avenues of herbicide damage on plants as well, such as using herbicide-treated grass clippings as mulch in the garden.

A wide variety of plants can be damaged by herbicide drift from a variety of different products – trees, shrubs, roses, vegetables, and more.  The damage can be slight to severe, and unless the dose is large most plants will grow out of the damage.  Vegetables and fruits, though, are of particular concern due to the potential food safety risk from residues of unknown herbicides on the plants.  Therefore, it is especially important to be able to identify signs of herbicide drift and take the appropriate course of action which is usually and unfortunately removal of the plant from the garden.

I have to remove the plants!?!?

Yes, you read correctly, I said removal of the plant!  I, along with many of my extension colleagues, encourage gardeners who have drift or herbicide damage on their plants to remove them from their gardens. Why take such a drastic measure, especially if the plant may actually recover and “grow out” of the damage?  The answer is mainly one of safety…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Agriculture In A Post-Oil Economy

Agriculture In A Post-Oil Economy

The decline in the world’s oil supply offers no sudden dramatic event that would appeal to the writer of “apocalyptic” science fiction: no mushroom clouds, no flying saucers, no giant meteorites. The future will be just like today, only tougher. Oil depletion is basically just a matter of overpopulation — too many people and not enough resources. The most serious consequence will be a lack of food. The problem of oil therefore leads, in an apparently mundane fashion, to the problem of farming.

To what extent could food be produced in a world without fossil fuels? In the year 2000, humanity consumed about 30 billion barrels of oil, but the supply is starting to run out; without oil and natural gas, there will be no fuel, no asphalt, no plastics, no chemical fertilizer. Most people in modern industrial civilization live on food that was bought from a local supermarket, but such food will not always be available. Agriculture in the future will be largely a “family affair”: without motorized vehicles, food will have to be produced not far from where it was consumed. But what crops should be grown? How much land would be needed? Where could people be supported by such methods of agriculture?

WHAT TO GROW

The most practical diet would be largely vegetarian, for several reasons. In the first place, vegetable production requires far less land than animal production. Even the pasture land for a cow is about one hectare, and more land is needed to produce hay, grain, and other foods for that animal. One could supply the same amount of useable protein from vegetable sources on a fraction of a hectare, as Frances Moore Lappé pointed out in 1971 in Diet for a Small Planet [12]. Secondly, vegetable production is less complicated…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Big Ag’s Wedding to Big Data

Big Ag’s Wedding to Big Data

Jomo Kwame Sundara warns about how the Davos World Economic Forum’s  much touted “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (IR4.0) is transforming food systems. For instance, agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use. 

(DJI-Agras from Pixabay)

Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.

The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.

A Long Food Movement,” principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that hi-tech data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Davos’ IR4.0 Not Benign

The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (IR4.0), promoting digitization, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while “precision farming” now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

“Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution” session at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Jan. 25, 2018. (World Economic Forum, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling “cloud computing” infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

La Nina Turbocharges Drought In Brazil Putting World’s Coffee, Sugar, & Oranges At Risk

La Nina Turbocharges Drought In Brazil Putting World’s Coffee, Sugar, & Oranges At Risk

Global crop and food prices are skyrocketing to multi-year highs, and the culprit could be due to La Nina, a weather pattern characterized by the cooling of the equatorial Pacific and triggers atmospheric shifts that cause droughts in some regions of the world and wetter conditions in others. The prospect of a severe drought in the US has already be outlined in previous notes. Now it appears the worst drought in 20 years has struck agricultural rich Brazil.

Over the last month, Brazil has been faced with drought during its traditional rainy season.

“Soils are parched, and river levels are low in the nation’s Center-South region, a powerhouse of agricultural output. The drought is so severe that farmers are worried they’ll run out of the water reserves that help keep crops alive over the next several months, the country’s dry season,” said Bloomberg.

The cost of this year’s drought could severely impact coffee, sugar, and orange crop yields.

Coffee farmer Mauricio Pinheiro, 59, began irrigating his arabica-coffee crops in March, more than two months earlier than usual after his 131-acre farm received only half the rain it needed. He’s using so much water that his wells are running dry.

“My irrigation reservoir is drying up now — that usually happens in August,” said Pinheiro, who resides in Pedregulho in the Alta Mogiana region, in Sao Paulo state. “I’m concerned about running out of water in the coming months.”

One of the worst droughts to hit the country in decades is coming at a time when agricultural prices have rallied to multi-year highs, fanning fears of food inflation.

As much as the Federal Reserve is hoping for “transitory” inflation – La Nina altering weather patterns could exacerbate food inflation and make the problem global and last for years.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Agroforestry: An ancient practice with a promising future?

How are we going to tackle agriculture’s enormous contribution to the climate and biodiversity crises? One of the few things everyone agrees on is that it won’t be easy, and part of the reason for this is the huge amount of disagreement around the viability and sustainability of many of the proposed solutions. Moving to faster-growing breeds of livestock, for example, could risk delivering carbon gains at the expense of biodiversity and animal welfare. There are, however, some measures with more universal support, and one of the most potentially significant of these is agroforestry.

Traditionally defined as the growing of commercially productive trees and agricultural crops on the same piece of land, agroforestry is, despite its new-found fame, a very old practice –  though one which has sadly been almost entirely lost from our landscape. In contrast to the prevailing mindset around trees and food production, which largely sees these two land uses as mutually exclusive, agroforestry systems are designed in a way that provides benefits to both enterprises, while also generating a range of environmental gains such as improved soil health, reduced runoff, increased biodiversity – and of course, carbon sequestration.

It’s no wonder, then, that agroforestry has received widespread support from many different quarters over recent years. But with a range of different possible approaches and few on-the-ground practitioners, what might its implementation at scale actually look like? Thanks to the pioneering work of the likes of Stephen Briggs and his alley cropping system of apples and cereals, we have proven models that show how agroforestry can work on cropland. But with the exception of some research trials carried out in the 1980s, there has, as far as I’m aware, been very little research done into how agroforestry might be best implemented in grassland areas…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know

The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know

It is widely agreed that today’s global agriculture system is a social and environmental failure. Business as usual is no longer an option: biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are exceeding planetary limits, and catastrophic risks of climate change demand immediate action.

Most concede that there is an urgent need to radically transform our food systems. But the proposed innovations for more sustainable food systems are drastically different. Which we choose will have long-lasting effects on human society and the planet.

Suggested innovations in food systems can be broadly understood as either seeking to conform with – or to transform – the status quo.

The future of farming is ours to decide. Raggedstone/Shutterstock.com

A technological future

Some want to keep the agriculture industry as close to existing practices as possible. This is true of the increasing number of corporate and financial actors who seek to solve the food crisis by developing new technologies. These technologies are envisaged as being part of what is being called the “fourth industrial revolution” (4IR). The “answer” here is thought to lie in a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between physical, digital and biological domains.

For example, the World Economic Forum is currently supporting agricultural transitions in 21 countries through its “New Vision for Agriculture” initiative. This initiative supports “innovation ecosystems” to re-engineer food systems based on “12 transforming technologies”. In this imagined future, next generation biotechnologies will re-engineer plants and animals. Precision farming will optimise use of water and pesticides. Global food systems will rely on smart robots, blockchain and the internet of things to manufacture synthetic foods for personalised nutrition.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Millions of Tiny Cows to Regenerate the Soil

Millions of Tiny Cows to Regenerate the Soil

Earth Day comes and goes every year but nothing seems to ever really change. We are still headed for climate catastrophe, we are still in the midst of a mass extinction, we are still losing our topsoil at an alarming rate. It is time to center food systems, and especially agriculture, in our efforts to address our ecological emergencies and to live more sanely on this Earth. Food systems are central to each of these emergencies for a number of reasons: the direct amount of energy used in the production, processing and transportation of food; the disproportionate emission of greenhouse gases; the toxic chemicals that end up in our waterways; the loss of autonomy that results from the globalization and corporatization of food systems drives human labor into other unsustainable industries, etc. Of particular importance is the land: how much of it is used by agriculture, who uses it and how it is used. The practices of our dominant agricultural paradigms are rapidly degrading and eroding our soils, and we need topsoil to grow food and sustain life. If we continue on our current trajectory, it’s not a stretch to say that we’re doomed.

Any strategy that truly seeks to heal our environment will have to have degrowth as its cornerstone; in terms of land use, degrowth will allow for rewilding and veritable ecosystem restoration. Since human poverty and exploitation and general misery are largely the result of capitalism’s ethos of growth at all costs, degrowth would also result in a more humane and equal society. Changing how we do agriculture is not only about halting the damage we are doing but also reversing course and undoing the damage. We can use agriculture as a tool to restore our soils and the biodiversity they support…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Agricultural Disaster” – Frost Blast Decimates French Vineyards, May Slash Total Wine Output By Third 

“Agricultural Disaster” – Frost Blast Decimates French Vineyards, May Slash Total Wine Output By Third 

Earlier this month, French farmers fought mother nature in their attempt to prevent frost from wiping out their crops. It appears their attempts have failed as the damage is extensive and could wipe out nearly a third of French wine output for the year.

In early April, French farmers scrambled to light-controlled fires across their vineyards to stave off frost. Euronews document these efforts in a series of stunning photographs.

A farmer burns a bale of straw in his vineyard to protect grapevines from frost. This picture was taken on April 7 at the heart of the Vouvray vineyard in Touraine, France.

Winegrowers from the Domaine Daniel Etienne Defaix vineyard in Chablis lit fires across their fields.

Smoke rises across multiple vineyards in Touraine, France.

As reported by The Guardian, the French government declared the frost an “agricultural disaster” and planned to provide financial support to farmers.

Several thousand hectares of farming land, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Rhône Valley, were heavily impacted by the frost.

Jérôme Despey, the secretary-general of the FNSEA farming union, said this year’s frost could be one of the worst in decades. He said it might be more damaging than the ones experienced in 1991, 1997, and 2003.

Agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said the frost blast was a “completely exceptional situation,” resulting in “substantial losses.”

Exact losses are unknown at this time. But fresh estimates this week by the farm office FranceAgriMer warns at least a third of the country’s 2021 wine production could be affected, reported Reuters.

Ygor Gibelind of FranceAgriMer said frost damages would be more apparent by the end of the month. He estimates wine output could decrease by 28% to 32% below average volumes of recent years.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A third of global farmland at ‘high’ pesticide pollution risk

A third of global farmland at ‘high’ pesticide pollution risk

Nearly two-thirds  of global agricultural land is at risk of pesticide pollution, a study says
Nearly two-thirds of global agricultural land is at risk of pesticide pollution, a study says

A third of the planet’s agricultural land is at “high risk” of pesticide pollution from the lingering residue of chemical ingredients that can leach into water supplies and threaten biodiversity, according to research published Monday.

The  has soared globally as  has expanded, prompting growing fears over  and calls to cut hazardous chemical use.

Researchers in Australia modelled pollution risk across 168 countries with data on the usage of 92 active pesticide ingredients and found “widespread global  risk”.

They highlighted several acutely vulnerable ecosystems in South Africa, China, India, Australia and Argentina, at the nexus of high pollution risk, high water scarcity and high biodiversity.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, found that overall 64 percent of global  —approximately 24.5 million square kilometres (9.4 million sq miles)—was at risk of pesticide pollution from more than one active ingredient, and 31 percent is at high risk.

“It is significant because the potential pollution is widespread and some regions at risk also bear high biodiversity and suffer from water scarcity,” said lead author Fiona Tang, of the University of Sydney’s School of Civil Engineering.

Tang said there were a number of factors that would contribute to a region becoming a potential contamination hotspot, including using excessive amounts of pesticides or those containing highly toxic substances.

Some environmental factors may also slow the breakdown of the pesticides into non-toxic substances, like cold temperatures or low soil carbon, while heavy rainfall might also cause high levels of run-off.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Kelly MacNamara, phys.org, pesticides, agriculture, industrial agriculture, modern agriculture, food production, food, pollution

Permaculture

Permaculture

A design system that offers a radical reimagination of the possible

Permaculture is a design system that mimics the patterns of flourishing ecosystems to create ecologically regenerative human societies.  First developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture takes inspiration from Indigenous and ‘traditional’ agrarian practices. Mollison and Holmgren created a philosophy and a set of principles for producing diverse and dynamic ecosystems in which humans play a positive role.

Permaculture is strongly associated with specific practices, such as planting perennial polycultures. However, its most distinctive aspect is a focus on ecological design that is based on careful observation and deep interconnection. Through this design process, permaculturalists co-create, with non-human nature, spaces and lives that restore soil, build biodiversity, and allow for the flourishing of multiple species, including humans.

Permaculture emphasises that the Earth is full of abundance, not in commodities, but in energy from the sun, wind, water, food, and life itself. According to permaculture ethics, this abundance should be shared with other people, non-human animals, and the Earth. Permaculturalists do not view humans as inherently destructive or greedy. Within healthy ecosystems, animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria form cooperative, rather than competitive relationships, and humans can be an integral part of these ecosystems. As a system based on cooperation and solidarity among humans and non-human nature, permaculture offers a radical reimagination of the possible.

As a system based on cooperation and solidarity among humans and non-human nature, permaculture offers a radical reimagination of the possible

Permaculture has spread from Australia throughout the world and been interpreted in a variety of ways. This has led to some important debates within the international permaculture movement. Some proponents of permaculture aim to keep it de-politicized and professionalized as a system of ecological design only, while others seek to align with other social justice movements…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

permaculture, uneven earth, food production, agriculture, food, rebecca ellis

Is Farming the Problem?

Is Farming the Problem?

Here is a story that we tell ourselves. From The Good Ancestor: “Consider the immense legacy left by our ancestors: those who sowed the first seeds in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago, who cleared the land, built the waterways and founded the cities where we now live, who made the scientific discoveries, won the political struggles and created the great works of art that have been passed down to us.”

We don’t question this narrative. We simply accept it as “the way things happened”. But read it again with your critical brain engaged. To begin with, this ancestral narrative begins in Mesopotamia. This is not accurate. A few people in the Mesopotamian river basins started writing down what they were doing (mostly with regard to how much grain and gold were passing through their hands), but our cultural story begins long before Mesopotamia and in many different parts of the world, and ultimately, the human story begins in Africa, not the Middle East.

Farming did not begin with sowing seeds. This is a classic chicken egg of an assertion. What seeds? Where did they come from? How did humans even know to put them in the ground and expect to harvest something humans could eat? We’ll come back to this because this is the focus of this essay.

Let’s consider the assertion that humans built waterways. Yes, there are some canals, some irrigation projects, a few long-distance pipes and aqueducts. These are not generally waterways in terms of transport, which is I believe what is being referenced. Humans have not, in any case, built most of the bodies of water we use. Waterways are part of this planet, a priori; humans have done more to break rivers, lakes and oceans than to build them…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Are glyphosate-based herbicides poisoning us and the environment?

A new study, published on 27th January in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, conducted by an international team of scientists led by Dr Michael Antoniou of Kings College London, found that exposure to glyphosate and its commercial Roundup formulation, can disrupt the function of gut microbiome (bacteria and fungi) and internal body systems with potentially serious effects on human health.

In controlled laboratory animal experiments, glyphosate was found to alter the composition and more importantly the biochemical function of the gut microbiome by the same mechanism through which the chemical acts to kill weeds (inhibition of the shikimate biochemical pathway), even at doses claimed to be safe by the regulators. Roundup was also shown to be more toxic than glyphosate alone, underpinning existing evidence that the additional substances present in commercial products, collectively known as “adjuvants”, are not “inert” as claimed by its manufacturers and regulators but highly toxic in their own right.

In-depth biochemical analysis of both the gut and the blood of the test animals showed that they were put under “oxidative stress”, a highly damaging process, by glyphosate and to a greater degree by Roundup.

From my reading, this research appears to go a long way towards vindicating the conclusions of the many organisations and individuals throughout the world who were convinced from the very beginning that it would be unlikely in the extreme that this herbicide, an agricultural poison which has the capacity to kill all green plant material except that which has been genetically modified to be tolerant to it, would not have adverse effects on the human health.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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