Tag: agriculture

Study eyes ‘flash drought’ forecasts

State officials hope to be well-prepared for the next inevitable drought in Colorado.
State officials hope to be well-prepared for the next inevitable drought in Colorado.

Soil moisture, snowpack data help inform new forecast modeling

Staff Report

Some droughts creep up on you, while others seem to come out of nowhere, like in 2012 when spring came early and a hot, dry summer parched fields and forests and led to a busy wildfire season, including the destructive Waldo Canyon blaze near Colorado Springs.

Seasonal forecasts issued in May 2012 did not foresee a drought forming in the country’s midsection. But by the end of August,  the drought had spread across the Midwest, parching Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. Now, after analyzing conditions leading up to the drough, researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, say similar droughts in the future could be predicted by paying close attention to key indicators like snowmelt and soil moisture.  Continue reading “Study eyes ‘flash drought’ forecasts”

Can the Hochbärneckalm survive global warming?

Climate change threatens traditional mountain agriculture in the Alps

Hochbärneck Alm Austria
The Hochbärneck Alm (900 meters) in Lower Austria’s Alpine region. @bberwyn photo.

Supported by the Earth Journalism Network and Internews

By Bob Berwyn

LOWER AUSTRIA — Austria’s high alpine pastures, called Alms, are an important part of the country’s cultural tradition. For centuries, herders have driven cattle and sheep up and down the sides of the mountains following seasonal cycles of plant growth and snow melt.

The livestock grazing is managed mindfully to promote vegetation growth and biodiversity. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but the rhythm of alpine grazing actually fosters biodiversity. Orchids, medicinal herbs and wildflowers thrive in the clearings and create lush green open patches in the landscape that are aesthetically pleasing.

In recent decades, the simple shelter huts near the pastures have also been developed as a recreational and economic resource, providing meals and lodging for tourists and serving as base camps for trekkers and cyclists.

At the Hochbärneck Alm, 900 meters elevation, there are also two ski lifts, but this past winter, they only operated for two days. Just 20 years ago, the ski season ran from late November through March. In recent years, it has barely snowed and temperatures were have been above the 20th century average nearly every day.

But climate change is taking a toll on Austria. The country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, more than twice the global average of .85 degrees Celsius, according to a 2014 climate assessment. That warming spells big changes for mountain environments, including the bucolic pastures around the Alm. For now, the cowbells still chime, but the future is uncertain.

A sustained heatwave last summer hit Austrian agriculture especially hard, and the odds of more extreme weather are good, according to many recent climate studies. The heatwave also took a big bite out of Austria’s glaciers, where decades of rapid melting is one of the clearest signs of global warming.

Austria’s government has formally recognized the cultural, economic and ecological values of traditional mountain agriculture as part of its climate policies, and an ambitious national adaptation plan seeks to address the challenges by helping communities boost ecosystem health. Keeping forests, meadows and streams healthy is one of the best ways to protect against climate change impacts.

With support from the Earth Journalism Network and Internews, we’ll be exploring this topic for the next several weeks, following herders as they move their livestock up into the Alpine zone, on through to the end of the summer, when the cows-bedecked with flowers and bells, are driven back to the valley towns for the winter in a colorful procession.

We’ll explore some of the best practices for sustaining ecosystems and mountain communities and ask whether the farmers are getting the support that’s needed, as spelled out by the adaptation plan. And we’ll here from them what changes they’ve already experienced.

Follow our Twitter feed for frequent updates and Instagram for photos from the reporting project — and don’t be afraid to ask questions or add comments about global warming in the Austrian Alps. We’ll include those questions in our interviews with environmental experts, resource managers and government officials as we report on climate change in the Austrian Alps.

climate change austrian alps
Austrian farmers increasingly are having to adapt to big shift in seasonal weather patterns as the globe warms. @bberwyn photo.




Food waste a big factor in global warming equation

A student at Summit Cove Elementary School drops an uneaten orange in the trash can. @bberwyn photo.

1.3 billion tons of food per year are discarded annually

Staff Report

By 2050, food waste could account for up to 10 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, according to scientists with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Reducing that amount of waste is one way of tackling climate change, the researchers said, explaining that about a third of global food production never gets anywhere near a plate.

That percentage could increase dramatically if emerging countries like China and India adopt Western diets. The study suggests greenhouse-gas emissions associated with food waste could increase from 0.5 gigatons to as much as 2.5 gigatons by mid-century. Continue reading “Food waste a big factor in global warming equation”

Global warming is already affecting wine production

Wine grapes at harvest time in southern France. @bberwyn photo.

NASA, Harvard scientists study wine harvest dates in cool-weather countries

Staff Report

Global warming is changing centuries-old climate patterns that are crucial for wine production in cool-weather regions, a new study from NASA and Harvard concludes. After analyzing climate records and grape harvesting dates from 1600 to 2007, the scientists found that harvests started happening much earlier during the second half of the 20th century.

These shifts were caused by changes in the connection between climate and harvest timing. Between 1600 and 1980, earlier harvests were linked to years with warmer and drier conditions during spring and summer. After that, global warming caused earliers harvests in years without droughts. Continue reading “Global warming is already affecting wine production”

Wild bees disappearing from where they’re needed most

Where have all the wild bees gone? @bberwyn photo.
Where have all the wild bees gone? @bberwyn photo. @bberwyn photo.

New study to guide conservation and restoration efforts

Staff Report

A steep decline in wild bee populations could raise costs for farmers and potentially even destabilize the nation’s crop production, according to a new study that maps regional bee population trends.

The findings suggest wild bees are disappearing from many of the country’s most important farmlands, including California’s Central Valley, the Midwest’s corn belt, and the Mississippi River valley.

The research team, led by Insu Koh at the University of Vermont, estimates that wild bee abundance between 2008 and 2013 declined in 23 percent of the contiguous U.S. The study also shows that 39 percent of US croplands that depend on pollinators — from apple orchards to pumpkin patches — face a threatening mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of wild bees. Continue reading “Wild bees disappearing from where they’re needed most”

Biodiversity: Scientists say other insects beside bees are also an important part of the pollinator picture

Bees are only part of the pollinator equation. Other insects also play an important role. @bberwyn photo.

Global reliance on honeybees for pollination is a risky strategy

Staff Report

Australian scientists say it’s important to consider other pollinators besides bees when deciding on the application of pesticides. Farmers  using pesticides that spare bees but kill other insects might be ignoring important sources of crop pollination, the new study found.

“Many crops — including mangoes, custard apples, kiwi fruit, coffee and canola — depended on non-bee insect pollinators such as flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps, ants, and thrips,” said University of Queensland plant ecologist Dr Margie Mayfield. Continue reading “Biodiversity: Scientists say other insects beside bees are also an important part of the pollinator picture”

Nitrate pollution remains high in many U.S. rivers

Agricultural runoff has left many major rivers polluted with nitrates.

‘Unfortunately, there is no widespread evidence of improving conditions …’

Staff Report

Massive efforts to improve water quality haven’t been effective in many large U.S. rivers, where nitrate levels remain at high levels after surging in the second half of the 20th century.

Between 1945 and 1980, nitrate levels in large U.S. rivers increased up to fivefold as chemical fertilizer use increased dramatically in the Midwest. In some urbanized areas along the East and West coasts during the same period, river nitrate levels doubled.

In recent decades, nitrate changes have been smaller but nitrate levels have remained high in most of the rivers examined in a new U.S. Geological Survey study. Continue reading “Nitrate pollution remains high in many U.S. rivers”