Tag: agriculture

Global warming will devastate marginal farming areas

Southwest will be hit especially hard

Climate scientists have a pretty good understanding of how global warming will affect agriculture in different parts of the world. Is anybody listening? @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Most agriculture in the southwestern U.S. is already marginal, possible only because U.S. taxpayers support cheap water for questionable crops. And because of global warming, the outlook is grim as the region continues to warm and dry.

By 2050, Arizona cotton production will drop to less than 10 percent of the crop yield under optimal irrigation conditions, a new MIT study projects. Similarly, maize grown in Utah, now only yielding 40 percent of the optimal expected yield, will decrease to 10 percent with further climate-driven water deficits. Continue reading “Global warming will devastate marginal farming areas”

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Climate extremes have big effect on wheat yields

New index helps project changes

Grain crops are very vulnerable to climate change impacts. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Farmers have known it for generations that heatwaves, drought and extreme rain are a bad recipe for growing wheat, and now scientists have quantified those impacts. Heat stress, combined with drought or excessive rain is responsible for about 40 percent of the changes in wheat yields from one year to another.

That’s bad news in a world that’s expecting extreme weather to intensify in the coming decades, but at least the stress index developed scientists with the European Joint Research Centre will help communities plan ahead and ameliorate at least some climate change impacts. Continue reading “Climate extremes have big effect on wheat yields”

Trump wants to make America fat again

Salt and fat are back in, whole grains are out.

Ag secretary says no grits with bits

By Bob Berwyn

A five-year effort trying to help America’s schoolchildren eat healthier meals will come to an abrupt end, as the Trump administration seeks to make America fat again by rolling back parts of healthy school lunch programs championed by Michelle Obama under the guise of local control.

The previous standards were adopted as part of the Obama administration’s campaign against childhood obesity. It was  supported by public-health and environmental organizations.

Nominally, the announcement by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue gives schools more flexibility in addressing guidelines on whole grains, salt and flavored milk-based drinks, but what most of the mainstream media missed in its coverage of the story is that it’s really about favoring the large corporations that provide food service operations at school cafeterias. Continue reading “Trump wants to make America fat again”

Global warming is bad news for coffee lovers

It may get harder to find that perfect espresso in our globally warmer future. @bberwyn photo.

Study shows how coffee plants suffer even during short heatwaves

Staff report

Heatwaves are becoming more common in a world warmed by heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, that could spell bad news for your morning cup of wake-me-up.

Scientists with Oregon State University’s College of Forestry have showed that, when Coffea arabica plants were subjected to short-duration heat waves, they became unable to produce flowers and fruit. That means no coffee beans, and no coffee to drink.

C. arabica is the globe’s dominant coffee-plant species, accounting for 65 percent of the commercial production of the nearly 20 billion pounds of coffee consumed globally each year. The plants grow in 80 countries in four continents in the tropics. Continue reading “Global warming is bad news for coffee lovers”

Sunday set: Austria’s mountain farms

Alm journeys


This past summer, we spent several weeks exploring the world of Austrian Alms, high mountain pastures that are only grazed for a few months each summer. While we in the U.S. generally tend to prefer undisturbed mountain landscapes for their aesthetic and environmental values, these Austrian pastures have been grazed for centuries and even millennia. In the earliest days, as humans colonized the Alps after the last ice age, they had to use the higher slopes as forage areas because the valleys were still choked with glacial debris, wetlands and thick vegetation. That means the open meadows higher up were actually available for animal husbandry earlier than the lower elevations. In any case, the Alms now form an important part of the Alps’ ecological fabric, providing habitat for many wildflowers, including rare orchids, that wouldn’t thrive in a dark forest environment. Alms are also important to culture and recreation, as gathering points for hikers, and help ensure local food supplies. The first three in a series of grant-funded stories on this topic have been published at Pacific Standard, links below. Help support independent environmental journalism by visiting the stories and sharing them on your social media networks.

 

Study IDs new parasite threat to honeybees

Detection could enable early intervention

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Pollinators are facing a broad range of threats, from pesticides and disease, to a new species of harmful parasites. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

There could be more trouble ahead for pollinators, as a new species of Varroa mite is developing the ability to parasitize European honeybees. That’s a new threat for insects already under pressure from pesticides, nutritional deficiencies and disease, according to a Purdue University study.

The scienists found some populations of Varroa jacobsoni mites are shifting from feeding and reproducing on Asian honeybees, their preferred host, to European honeybees, the primary species used for crop pollination and honey production worldwide. To bee researchers, it’s a grimly familiar story: V. destructor made the same host leap at least 60 years ago, spreading rapidly to become the most important global health threat to European honeybees. Continue reading “Study IDs new parasite threat to honeybees”

Study shows how soils could become source of CO2

A classic "Vierkant" farmhouse in the Mühlviertel.
When do agricultural lands become net sources of carbon, rather than carbon sinks? @bberwyn photo.

More conversion to forests and grasslands needed …

Staff Report

Aggressive land disturbance could turn Earth’s soils into sources of CO2 by the end of the century, researchers warned in a new study combining models of soil carbon and land use change with climate change predictions, using France as a case study.

Currently, soil is considered to be a net carbon sink, partially counteracting the impacts of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, but study projects that up to 25 percent of the carbon in found in soil in France could be lost to the atmosphere during the next 100 years.

Business-as-usual land use change has limited capacity to counteract this trend, experts from the University of Exeter, INRA and CERFACS in France and University of Leuven in Belgium say in the journal Scientific Reports. If soils lose a significant amount of carbon it will endanger their ability to produce food and store water, potentially leading to increased soil erosion and flood damage. Continue reading “Study shows how soils could become source of CO2”