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Soil salinity and erosion

Soil salinity and erosion

Preface.  Civilizations fail when their soils are ruined or eroded.  One way conquerors made sure that those they enslaved during wars was to salt their land and burn their homes so they had nowhere to escape to. Erosion is an even larger nation killer, since not all soils are prone to salinity.  These issues are also discussed in my post “Peak Soil”.

Farm Journal Editors (2020) Conservation Practices Reduce ‘Rings Of Death’. Agweb.com

Farming requires a high tolerance for dancing with nature. That’s especially true for North Dakota producers where 15% of cropland has reduced productivity due to soil salinity and sodicity issues. This makes soil layers dense, slow down soil water movement, limit root penetration and, ultimately, hurts yield.

Why Salt Shows Up. Salts and sodium generally make their way into soil from parent material (what soil is formed from) and groundwater discharge.  When a soil has too much sodium and overall salt content, the soil’s clay particles repel each other and the ground becomes so hard it is difficult for plant roots to penetrate, and this lowers crop production. They’re hard to drive on when wet and very hard when dry.  The solution? Gypsum, which improves soil structure, pore space and water infiltration.  In this case it will come from a nonrenewable byproduct of coal-fired plants

Jonathan Watts. September 12, 2017. Third of Earth’s soil is acutely degraded due to agriculture. Fertile soil is being lost at rate of 24bn tonnes a year through intensive farming as demand for food increases, says UN-backed study. The Guardian.

The alarming decline, which is forecast to continue as demand for food and productive land increases, will add to the risks of conflicts such as those seen in Sudan and Chad.

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

Everything is chemicals: the myth and fear of “chemical-free” gardening

Everything is chemicals: the myth and fear of “chemical-free” gardening

“Chemical-free” – a term I’ve seen several times attributed to many products, especially food and produce at farmers markets and even in gardening circles these days.  This term is often misused to describe plants grown without the use of any pesticide, either conventional or organic. I have my thoughts that I’ll share later on that subject but first let’s talk about this “chemical-free” that gardeners, farmers, and others use and why its not only a myth, but a dangerous one at that.

Ain’t such a thing as “chemical-free” anything

At face value, the term “chemical-free” would literally mean that whatever the label is applied to contains no chemicals.  That the entire item, whether it be animal, vegetable, or mineral is devoid of any and all chemicals.  Factually this can never, ever be true.  Everything that exists is made of chemicals.  Oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, and any simple molecule, by definition, is a chemical.  Plants and animals are organized structures filled with complex chemicals.  Even you and I, as humans, are walking, talking bags of chemicals.  The air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink are all composed of a great mixture of chemicals.  The use of the term “chemical-free” to describe anything is uninformed at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst. But a bigger problem, as we’ll discuss later, is that using the term can cause confusion and even fear of things as simple as food and as complex as science and medicine.

Expert reveals how even natural foods contain chemicals | Daily Mail Online
The “ingredient list” of a peach.
Source

What most people intend to say when they use the term “chemical-free” in relation to plants or produce is that they are produced without use of pesticides or conventional “chemical” fertilizers.

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

Carbon Starvation – A Crisis Of Our Time?

Carbon Starvation – A Crisis Of Our Time?

Are we beginning to see carbon – the fundamental building block of all life – as a pollutant? Instead of demonising carbon as a cause of climate breakdown, we need to restore balance in the natural carbon cycle that has been disrupted by the use of artificial fertilisers. In advance of his upcoming series on farming within planetary boundaries, Stuart Meikle offers a primer on the complex role of carbon in our soils. 

Carbon is everywhere, in us humans, in all animals, birds and aquatic life, in all plant life, in the soil, be it alive or dead, and in the atmosphere. With the agenda increasingly dominated by Climate Change, we could, however, be forgiven for thinking that the only carbon that counts is in the atmosphere. We even count other greenhouse gases, which may not even contain carbon (like nitrous oxide), in terms of carbon (dioxide) equivalents.

As a consequence, are we beginning to see carbon, the fundamental building block of all life, as a pollutant?

In recent months, building upon other published articles, some of which appeared also on the ARC2020 website, I have been researching and thinking about what sustainable food systems look like. They start with the soil. And that becomes more apparent when one considers artificial fertilizers in the context of fossil fuel availability, their physical availability, and their propensity to pollute and emit. Agriculture is beginning a whole new ball game.

When it comes to understanding the vital plant-soil-plant interactions, I would highlight the work of three soils specialists: Dr Christine JonesDr Elaine Ingham and Jon Stika. And there are many others…

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

How to Design a Permaculture Neighbourhood

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…

Our household farming future

Our household farming future

Back to the blog cycle about my book A Small Farm Future with a little more about household-based farming.

A couple of posts back Greg Reynolds suggested I might write some short declarative sentences about my case for household farming, which struck me as a good idea. So here’s my best shot at it.

  • To reiterate my basic position, I think we face a future of high climate, water and land/soil stress, lower energy and capital availability, and socioeconomic/political turbulence and contraction. In these circumstances, I think farm societies will emerge that are strongly based on smallholder households devoting much or most of their attention to the intensive cultivation of small land areas for meeting their own food and fibre needs.
  • This is not my vision of an ideal society – it’s just what I think a feasible human ecology will look like in probable future circumstances. As I see it, there could be better or worse kinds of household farm society, and in future posts I’ll discuss some of the possibilities for creating better ones within the framework of what I’ve called ‘least worst politics’ – in other words, how people can try to make the best of the challenging circumstances to come. But I’m not going to get into that here. In this post, I’m just going to lay out why I think we’ll see household farm societies in the future.
  • Where there are global commodity chains supported by cheap energy and cheap capital, producers tend to concentrate on a handful of highly processable and transportable crops (mostly cereals, grain legumes and oil crops). This enables them to maintain profitability through seeking economies of large scale (large farms with few workers and a lot of energy and capital-intensive infrastructure)…

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

Two new climate reports indicate what gardeners may expect in the future

Two new climate reports indicate what gardeners may expect in the future

In the past week, two new major climate reports have been released. One is the latest (6th) report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the other is the State of the Climate 2020 report. Of the two, the IPCC report has garnered a lot more press, but both are compilations of work by hundreds of scientists looking at recent weather and climate patterns and how they are affecting us here on earth. The IPCC report also provides projections of what the future climate might be like, using a number of assumptions about how the earth behaves, which can be difficult, and how humans respond, which is arguably even tougher to determine. In this post, there is no way that I can cover both sets of reports in meaningful detail and I won’t address how we need to address the rapidly changing climate here, but I do want to try to pull out some things that you can use as gardeners now. {Note, the pictures are ones I have taken myself on recent trips to use as eye candy!}

What do the new reports tell us?

The State of the Climate 2020 report, published jointly by NOAA and the American Meteorological Society, focuses on global climate events that happened in 2020. You can read some of the notable findings from the report at my blog. The report also discusses many of the “big” climate events of 2020 and puts them into historical context, including how frequently these extreme events occur and how the changing climate is making them more likely.

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

Who Will be the Last Farmer Left?

Who Will be the Last Farmer Left?

A dwindling number of GTA growers worry that aggressive provincial development plans will make it tough to survive

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Counting the Days to Maturity: Calculating planting dates for fall vegetables

Counting the Days to Maturity: Calculating planting dates for fall vegetables

While most of the US is still seeing sweltering hot temps, the cool temps of fall and winter aren’t really all that far away for those of us unlucky (or lucky) enough to not live in a tropical climate.  The tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and other warm-season crops planted back at the beginning of summer are still puttering along, even if they might be getting a little long in the tooth and starting to look a little worse for wear ( especially if disease has ravaged them).  For those who aren’t quite done with gardening for the year or who want to reap the bounty of fall crops and get the most out of their production space, fall gardening can be a great tool to extend the garden season.  But knowing when to plant what is tricky, especially when we are talking about different weather patterns and frost dates all around the country.  So a bit of weather data, info from the seed packet or label, a touch of math, and a calendar can be great tools to figure out when you can plant no matter where you are.  Of course if you do live in one of those warmer tropical areas your planting calendar is kind of turned on its head from what us more northern gardeners face. You may prefer to time your planting to avoid high heat.

The first thing to think about is what you can plant.  Cool-season crops such as the Cole crops (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.), leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, Bok choi, etc.), root crops (radishes, beets, turnips, scallions), and some cool weather loving herbs like cilantro and parsley are all par for the course for a garden going into cooler fall and winter temps…

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

Plunging Crop Supplies Send Prices Soaring And Reignite Food Inflation Fears, WASDE Reports

Plunging Crop Supplies Send Prices Soaring And Reignite Food Inflation Fears, WASDE Reports

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report was released Thursday afternoon and pointed to declining grain supplies that sent grain futures prices higher and will keep food inflation in focus.

The closely watched supply and demand report slashed estimates for corn yields and stockpiles. World inventories for wheat were reported near a five-year low.

Grain and oilseed futures soared to a near-decade high earlier this year but have been in a holding pattern for the last month, awaiting new reports on the outlook for upcoming U.S. harvests. A megadrought and back-to-back heat waves have plagued the corn belt and the U.S. West for much of the summer. 

December corn futures were up more than 2% to $5.7150 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, soybean futures popped on the report and are now flat at the end of the U.S. cash session, wheat futures rose more than 3%, hitting a fresh eight-year high.

The Bloomberg Grains Index closed up 1% on the report.

Bloomberg outlines the key takeaways from the August WASDE report:

  • DROUGHT BITES: U.S. corn and soybean yields fell below analyst expectations and the declines were largely centered in the drought-stricken northern Plains, where severe drought has withered crops.
  • RUSSIA: So goes Russia’s harvest, so goes the wheat market. A large cut in the harvest means a lot less global wheat supplies and Russia’s wheat-export throne as the world’s top shipper is in doubt with the current forecast in line with exports out of the E.U.
  • WHEAT PEAK: Benchmark Chicago wheat prices hit the highest levels for a most-active contract since 2013. Corn and soybeans each touched multi-week highs but remain below multi-year peaks from earlier in 2021.

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

Frost Bites Brazilian Sugar Crop As Prices Zoom Higher 

Frost Bites Brazilian Sugar Crop As Prices Zoom Higher 

Brazil’s top producing regions for coffeeoranges, and sugar have been devastated by the worst weather in decades and could leave a lasting impact on prices, according to Bloomberg.

The South American country is one of the world’s leading coffee, sugar, and orange producers experienced a cold snap and drought this growing season in the Center-South area that has significantly damaged crops.

We have focused on coffee and orange markets and how prices are sloping higher after harvest output will likely come in well below average.

Now we’re setting our eyes on the sugar market, where losses in production, exacerbated by an already tight global supply, is fueling higher prices that may be sticking around for the next 18 months.

“We are getting into a boom cycle for the commodity prices,” said Pierre Santoul, chief executive officer in Brazil of France-based Tereos SCA. He said sugar prices are expected to remain elevated through early 2023. 

Tereos’s sugar-cane crushing may fall to the lowest levels since the 2009-10 season, to 16.6 million metric tons, or about a 21% reduction from 20.9 million crushed in 2020-21. The nation’s sugar-cane industry group Unica said sugar content in cane fell in the country from a year ago, while cane yield dropped 18%.

Santoul said the extent of the devastation is still unknown. He said mills had increased harvesting to avoid further cane deterioration. He added that if the weather improves in October and rains relieve droughts, the dismal scenario may slightly improve.

Weather disruptions in Brazil mean higher prices for coffee, oranges, and or sugar. Since most of these farm goods are exported, and shipping costs are at record highs, it’s only a matter of time before US wholesalers pass along the costs to consumers.

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

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…

 

Bristol Bites Back | Fruits & Roots of Radical Resilience in South-West England

Bristol Bites Back | Fruits & Roots of Radical Resilience in South-West England

Image courtesy of The Community Farm

A new e-book published by ARC2020 documents one community’s inspiring response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Download the free e-book

Every crisis has a silver lining. Last summer, as we reeled from the Covid crisis, Ursula Billington, a sustainability activist in Bristol (UK), reached out to ARC2020. Were we interested in stories about community-based food and farming projects in her corner of South-West England?

Ursula’s stories of the sustainability movement couldn’t have come at a better time.

As we faced into a second wave of Covid and another round of restrictions in the autumn, struggling to picture the new normal, Ursula regaled us with tales of agroecological transition in and around Bristol.

A balm to our beleaguered spirits, these stories are tangible, practical proof that ecosystem-based approaches to food, farming and sustainability do indeed bear fruit for their patient protagonists – in some cases after decades of going against the grain of a productivist mindset.

In the spirit of ARC2020’s Letters From The Farm series, Ursula also widens the lens beyond the farm gate. Her focus on the people behind the projects and the wider community ties into broader issues of environmental and social justice, striking parallels with our Nos Campagnes en Résilience project in France.

What really comes across in these stories is the web of community that ties them all together, as the same names crop up like old friends. It’s a reminder of the importance of sticking together in the wake of another crisis – that of Brexit. Europe is, after all, more than the institutions of the EU – it’s we the people.

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

Collective Farming, Community and Connection

Collective Farming, Community and Connection

Cédric, Mathieu and Hervé of the collective farm (GAEC) La Ferme des 7 Chemins in Brittany. Image courtesy of La Ferme des 7 Chemins via Facebook

What does a socio-ecological transition mean for farmers? Farmers from the Nos Campagnes En Résilience project share their thoughts on social issues in farming, the role of farms in the community, and how Nos Campagnes En Résilience can help to build rural resilience in France.

In France, collective farms are quite common (known as a Groupement Agricole d’Exploitation en Commun, or GAEC). Social issues on the farm are central to farming in a collective set-up. But these farmers are also keen to look beyond the farm to build community and connection.

Cédric Briand is part of a collective dairy farm in Brittany with two other partners (pictured above). They manage a a herd of Bretonne Pie Noir, a local heritage breed of dairy cow. All of their milk is processed on-farm, where they produce artisan cheeses. 

Ludovic Boulerie is an artisan baker and farmer in a collective farm in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the West of France. Together with his two farming partners (pictured below) they produce cereals and aromatic herbs and bake bread in the on-farm bakery.

Gilles and Marie Avocat are retired sheep farmers and cheesemakers who were part of a collective farm in the French Alps. They have always been very involved in the community as advocates for local organic food.

Ludovic (on the right) with farming partners Cécile and Youry of the collective farm GAEC La Billardière. Image courtesy of GAEC La Billardière

Farming can build community through food

Ludovic puts it succinctly: The end goal of farming is to feed the population. So there’s a direct link between farmers and their local communities. Farming can build community through food.

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

Backyard biocontrol – using natural enemies to wipe out invasive weeds

Backyard biocontrol – using natural enemies to wipe out invasive weeds

The agricultural-residential interface

Four years ago we moved to the family farm (where I grew up) and we’ve enjoyed restoring the 1 acre landscape around the farmhouse. Given that the residential part of this farm is surrounded by pastureland, there is a continual influx of weed seeds into our managed beds. While our thick applications of arborist wood chips have kept out many weeds, they still pop up where mulch hasn’t been applied yet or is too thin.

Photosensitized livestock will suffer severe sunburning after consuming Hypericum perforatum

One of these weeds is Hypericum perforatum (also known as Klamath weed or St. John’s wort), a species native to Eurasia. The latter common name can confuse gardeners, as there are several ornamental species of Hypericum also called St. John’s wort, but H. perforatum is easily identified by the perforations in the leaf. This invasive species is a problem for our cattle, as Klamath weed causes photosensitivity when it’s consumed and can be toxic in large amounts.

The weeds to the right of my raised beds include St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum.

In the last few years H. perforatum colonized our stockpile of native soil waiting to be used in our raised beds. It was a small enough infestation that we could pull it all up, but a closer look revealed that some shiny metallic beetles were already busy feasting on the leaves. Putting on my IPM hat, I first needed to identify these interesting beetles. It didn’t take long to find out they were a Chrysolina species.

…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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