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October 6th, 2014

Despite being, arguably, the most important natural resource in the Midwest, the Great Lakes remain extremely vulnerable to natural and man-made pollution. Though algae blooms are a naturally occurring phenomenon, recent blooms in Lake Erie are so extreme that people in parts of Canada and Ohio have been instructed not to use their water for drinking or recreational purposes.


Lyman Welch, Water Quality Director of the Alliance of the Great Lakes, explains that though the blooms are naturally occurring, the extremely high levels and resulting negative implications of recent blooms are both human induced and reversible.


"We've had a history in the Great Lakes of algae, which grows naturally," Welch explains. "But when we have excessive amounts of nutrients in the water, mainly from agricultural runoff, it feeds the algae, and we'll get a large algae bloom."


In addition to affecting wildlife and water quality, the algae washes up and accumulates on shores, detracting from the natural beauty and keeping people away from certain destinations.


Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes, reaching depths no greater than 20 feet in many areas. The shallow basin allows water temperatures to fluctuate more easily and quickly. As the warmest of all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is particularly susceptible to the formation of the blooms.


"The short depths combined with the warmer waters and introductions of invasive species like zebra mussels have contributed to larger algae blooms in recent years," Welch explains. "The main element that causes algae is the nutrient input, which we have control over. Excess nutrients are coming into the lake from several states and are the largest source contributing to this problem, with phosphorous as the main culprit."


Read more from Michigan Live.

October 2nd, 2014

"The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it remains “committed to biofuels” and that its goal is to put the renewable fuels program “on a path that supports continued growth.”


Let me translate that into English: “We’re cutting back on the ethanol mandate, mainly because of pressure from the oil industry, but we’ll pretend that the program is still full speed ahead because we don’t need any backlash from ethanol investors.”


The proposed cuts to the Renewable Fuel Standard from 18.15 billion gallons of biofuels to 15.21 billion gallons in 2014 represent a win for the oil industry, which has made no secret of its intention to force repeal of the biofuel mandate. Of course, the industry’s argument that adding 10% ethanol to motor vehicle fuels places “a crippling financial burden on refiners” is a crock. But like the ethanol industry, they’re simply protecting their interests.


The American Petroleum Institute urged the Obama administration to finalize the 2014 rule as quickly as possible, warning that delays could “harm consumers” and make it “harder to produce the fuels Americans need.”


Right.


This battle began in November 2013, when EPA officials issued a draft rule significantly reducing federal requirements for use of ethanol and biodiesel in U.S. fuel supplies. Predictably, the biofuel industry warned that unless EPA reversed course, disaster would ensue."


Read more from Ag Professional

September 30th, 2014

"A truck transporting ammonium nitrate has exploded in South West Queensland, destroying bridges, sections of the road, and two firefighting trucks.


The vehicle was reportedly carrying more than 50 tonnes of AN when it rolled, just south of Charleville, late on Friday night, according to the ABC.


Ammonium nitrate is a key ingredient in creating explosives.


The truck initially caught fire, and had firefighters attempting to extinguish the blaze, when it exploded, injuring eight people.


Luckily the driver was pulled from the truck immediately after the initial roll over occurred, with no one being injured in the subsequent blast.


"As I understand the auxiliaries performed a snatch and grab (of the driver), they witnessed certain fire activities which gave the indication they needed to get out as soon as they could," chief superintendent for the south west region Lindsay Hackett explained, according to the Toowoomba Chronicle.


It is understood that the blast itself was caused after fuel leaked into the ammonium nitrate load.


“We've had a primary and a secondary explosion out there - it's quite a devastating scene," assistant fire commissioner for the south west region Tom Dawson told the ABC."


Read more from Australian Mining.

September 10th, 2014

A toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie this summer left the city of Toledo, Ohio, without drinking water for three days. Now environmentalists and farmers are working to prevent future blooms by evaluating fertilizer use in hopes of cutting excess runoff. Special correspondent Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television reports on how drones may be a tool for maximizing crops and minimizing pollution.


TRANSCRIPT


"GWEN IFILL: Now, in the aftermath of the water quality emergency that plagued Lake Erie last month, some residents who live along its shores are calling for solutions.  And they are looking outward, to the countryside.


Reporter Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television has our story.


CHRISTY MCDONALD: Farmer Jeff Sandborn thinks this drone could help solve the tainted water problem that left Toledo, Ohio without access to safe drinking water for three days earlier this summer.  That’s because experts believe the toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie that turned tap water noxious was caused by the fertilizer runoff from farms like Sandborn’s throughout the Great Lakes Basin.


JEFF SANDBORN, Owner, Sandborn Farms: We only have so much land that can grow crops, productive crops.  And this planet continues to have more people on it, so we have to do a better job on the land we have and get more out of the resources we put in, get higher yields to feed more people, is what it boils down to.  We’re here to feed an ever-growing population.


CHRISTY MCDONALD: Unfortunately, pressure to increase food production can have a negative impact on the environment, and, today, many are convinced Lake Erie’s problem starts on the farm.


Fertilizers that feed crops, like nitrogen and phosphorus, also feed the blue-green algae in the water.  Experts believe changes in farming practices have led to an increased amount of phosphorus runoff in recent years.


Kristy Meyer works for the Ohio Environmental Council, an advocacy group, where part of her time is spent sharing with other farmers best management practices for controlling runoff."


Read More From PBS News Hour

September 3rd, 2014

"African ministers and business leaders have gathered in Ethiopia to consider ways to trigger a green revolution and improve the continent's food security.


The African Green Revolution Forum, being held in Addis Ababa, will focus on delivering agriculture-led economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.


In June, the Africa Union issued a declaration to double food productivity and halve poverty by 2025.


Almost 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the four-day meeting.


"I am proud that many African nations are becoming economic powerhouses, but without a viable agricultural sector and a strong rural economy, there cannot be a viable future for Africa," warned International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) president Kanayo Nwanze.


"Scaling up productivity in African agriculture so that it contributes to the prosperity of the women and men living in rural areas is an absolute prerequisite of prosperity for our continent."


Figures show that 200 million Africans are chronically malnourished and five million people die each year as a result of hunger.


It was against this stark backdrop that heads of state and government attending the 23rd African Union Summit adopted the Malabo Declaration, which included a call for a greater effort to accelerate agricultural growth."


 


Read more from BBC News, Science, and Environment

August 27th, 2014

"The world is headed "down a dangerous path" with disruption of the food system possible within a decade as climate change undermines nations' ability to feed themselves, according to a senior World Bank official.


Rising urban populations are contributing to expanded demand for meat, adding to nutrition shortages for the world's poor. Increased greenhouse gas emissions from livestock as well as land clearing will make farming more marginal in many regions, especially in developing nations, said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and special envoy for climate change.


"The challenges from waste to warming, spurred on by a growing population with a rising middle-class hunger for meat, are leading us down a dangerous path," Professor Kyte told the Crawford Fund 2014 annual conference in Canberra on Wednesday.



"Unless we chart a new course, we will find ourselves staring volatility and disruption in the food system in the face, not in 2050, not in 2040, but potentially within the next decade," she said, according to her prepared speech.


Agriculture and land-use change account for about 30 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Feed quality can be so low in arid parts of Africa, where livestock typically graze on marginal land and crop residues, that every kilo of protein produced can contribute the equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide - or 100 times more than in developed nations, Professor Kyte said."



August 25th, 2014

With the steady drain of essential nutrients from African soils looming as a major threat to food security across the continent, a new report released today finds that over the last five years, 1.7 million African farmers in 13 countries have embraced farming practices that have rejuvenated 1.6 million hectares and helped them double or even triple crop yields.


The analysis from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) focuses on intensive efforts initiated five years ago to move aggressively to support smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, where a lack of agriculture extension services and a scarcity of basic soil supplements have contributed to severely depressed yields for crucial staples like maize, banana and cassava.


While farmers in many parts of the world regularly harvest up to five tons of maize per hectare (about 2.5 acres), African farmers typically harvest one ton. Overall, depleted soils cost African farmers US$4 billion each year in lost productivity.


“We’ve shown that it’s possible to work on a very large scale to help smallholder farmers adopt sustainable and profitable approaches to crop production, with the proof there for all to see in the form of significantly larger yields,” said Dr. Bashir Jama, director of AGRA’s Soil Health Program.


The new evidence of success in addressing what many agriculture experts view as the most significant soil health crisis in the world comes in the wake of a June summit in Equatorial Guinea during which the leaders of African Union member countries pledged to significantly step up their support for the continent’s long neglected agriculture sector.


Read More From All Africa

August 5th, 2014

"TOLEDO, Ohio — It took a serendipitous slug of toxins and the loss of drinking water for a half-million residents to bring home what scientists and government officials in this part of the country have been saying for years: Lake Erie is in trouble, and getting worse by the year.


Flooded by tides of phosphorus washed from fertilized farms, cattle feedlots and leaky septic systems, the most intensely developed of the Great Lakes is increasingly being choked each summer by thick mats of algae, much of it poisonous. What plagues Toledo and, experts say, potentially all 11 million lakeside residents, is increasingly a serious problem across the United States.


But while there is talk of action — and particularly in Ohio, real action — there also is widespread agreement that efforts to address the problem have fallen woefully short. And the troubles are not restricted to the Great Lakes. Poisonous algae are found in polluted inland lakes from Minnesota to Nebraska to California, and even in the glacial-era kettle ponds of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.


When Mayor D. Michael Collins told Toledo residents on Monday that it was again safe to use the city’s water, he was only replaying a scene from years past. Carroll Township, another lakefront Ohio community of 2,000 residents, suspended water use last September amid the second-largest algae bloom ever measured; the largest, which stretched 120 miles from Toledo to Cleveland, was in 2011. Summertime bans on swimming and other recreational activities are so routine that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency maintains a website on harmful algae bloom.


Five years ago this month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state water authorities issued a joint report on pollution of the nation’s waterways by phosphorus and other nutrients titled “An Urgent Call to Action.”


“Unfortunately, very little action has come from that,” said Jon Devine, the senior lawyer for the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.


“When we bring this subject up for conversation with the regulators, everyone sort of walks out of the room,” Donald Moline, the Toledo commissioner of public utilities, said in an interview on Monday. “The whole drinking-water community has been raising these issues, and so far we haven’t seen a viable response.”


Lake Erie’s travails — and now, Toledo’s — are but the most visible manifestation of a pollution problem that has grown as easily as it has defied solution. Once the shining success of the environmental movement — Lake Erie was mocked as dead in the 1960s, then revived by clean-water rules — it has sunk into crisis again as urbanization and industrial agriculture have spawned new and potent sources of phosphorus runoff."





Read More From The New York Times
July 14th, 2014

(AP) — In the nation's agricultural heartland, farming is more than a multibillion-dollar industry that feeds the world. It could be on track to become a right, written into law alongside the freedom of speech and religion.


Some powerful agriculture interests want to declare farming a right at the state level as part of a wider campaign to fortify the ag industry against crusades by animal-welfare activists and opponents of genetically modified crops.


The right to farm has already won approval in North Dakota and Indiana. It goes next to Missouri voters in an Aug. 5 election. Similar measures passed both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature earlier this year before dying in a conference committee.


It's not clear how much protection the right would offer because it's never been tested in court."


Read more from The Associated Press

June 23rd, 2014

"AMERICANS chuck out an enormous amount of food. In 2012, more than 36m tonnes went into the rubbish bin, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The vast majority of this ended up in landfills—just five percent was composted. But now two former Microsoft executives think they can make good use of rotting vittles. Their firm, WISErg, has started giving food retailers previously unobtainable insight into their waste by using clever composting machines called Harvesters (pictured above). At the same time, tossed items become fancy fertiliser sold to organic farms.


Understanding precisely why food is thrown out is hard. Store managers know what they order and what they sell, but not what exactly happens to the difference. For instance, did a kilogram of tomatoes go bad and need chucking, or did deli managers add them to a salad that never sold? Typically a supermarket knows how many times a week the dumpsters behind the store are emptied—but they aren't sure why workers toss food or even how full the dumpsters get.


WISErg’s Harvesters generate data on a shop’s food-disposal habits. Seven Whole Foods stores around Seattle have signed up to try one, according to Larry LeSueur, one of the firm’s founders. The company has also "presold" 50 additional Harvesters to a different grocery chain (the name of which it is keeping close to its chest).


Employees will pitch food scraps into these machines after inputting information about exactly which department they work in, what they are throwing out and why. The Harvesters, which can process as much as 1,800kg of food per day, collect additional information including the temperature, the time and the weight of the food scraps. They also take photos. Findings are then sent to a cloud-computing platform for analysis, which generates reports for store managers on rubbish levels and composition. The shops are willing to pay for the machines because they cut waste, and therefore costs, says Mr LeSueur. "


Read more from The Economist

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