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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

June 12th, 2014

"U.S. companies relying on farmers for the raw materials in their products must take a more active role in ensuring the crops are grown in a way that minimizes damage to water, soil, and environment, a report released Wednesday said.


Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit network of investors, companies and public interest groups, focused in its report on climate change's effect on corn production. It said farmers and the companies they supply must deal with drought and other weather extremes, an increase in groundwater depleting irrigation, and more fertilizer use.


"Climate change and pressures on water supplies pose financial risk to our agricultural industry but it's not just the corn belt's problem," said Brooke Barton, water program director at Ceres and co-author of the report, which argues that increased corn production has depleted land and water resources in some areas and contributed to increased water pollution from fertilizer runoff.


"Companies that depend on U.S. corn have a big role to play in sending market signals that these issues matter," she said.


Food giants working with Ceres include General Mills and Unilever, both of which have adopted sustainability programs suggested by the organization that set specific goals for suppliers and farmers.


The report calls for the establishment of corporate policies for goals to reduce the environmental impact, procurement contracts that require sustainably grown crops, and efforts to identify areas of high water stress, groundwater pollution and overuse of fertilizer.


Ceres also recommends that companies substitute other grains for corn where environmental benefits are well demonstrated, and disclose to investors the company's exposure to climate and water-related risks in its agricultural supply chain."


Read more from abc News

May 16th, 2014

"You may have noticed that the organic section of your local supermarket is growing. Advocates tout organic-food production—in everything from milk and coffee to meat and vegetables—as a "sustainable" way to feed the planet's expanding population. The Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, goes so far as to say organic farming "has the potential to contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition intake and sustaining livelihoods in rural areas, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing biodiversity." The evidence argues otherwise.


A study by the Institute for Water Research at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, published last year in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, found that "intensive organic agriculture relying on solid organic matter, such as composted manure that is implemented in the soil prior to planting as the sole fertilizer, resulted in significant down-leaching of nitrate" into groundwater. With many of the world's most fertile farming regions in the throes of drought, increased nitrate in groundwater is hardly a hallmark of sustainability.


Moreover, as agricultural scientist Steve Savage has documented on the Sustainablog website, wide-scale composting generates significant amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Compost may also deposit pathogenic bacteria on or in food crops, which has led to more frequent occurrences of food poisoning in the U.S. and elsewhere."


Read more from Wall Street Journal


 

May 5th, 2014

" It's an unavoidable dilemma: fresh water and productive soil are vital to sustain life and to grow the food we need. As the global population skyrockets during the next three decades, so will the demand for food, fresh water and healthy soil. This reality creates an urgent challenge for everyone involved in growing food: produce more while using resources more efficiently.


"Agriculture is at the intersection of many major challenges today - whether it's growing population and food demand, water availability, soil health or climate change," said Hugh Grant, chairman and chief executive officer at Monsanto. "Addressing these challenges directly is what all of us at Monsanto are focused on every day - working together with farmers and partners around the world to deliver a safe, affordable and nutritious food supply that sustains our planet."


As part of its broad commitment to sustainability, today Monsanto announced two important companywide commitments to help address critical challenges in the areas of water and nutrient efficiency.


Irrigated Water-Use Efficiency Goal


First, the company will work to increase water-use efficiency in irrigation across its own global seed production operations by 25 percent by 2020. While overall water use will always vary due to the weather, Monsanto estimates that these conservation efforts alone will result in saving between 30 billion and 80 billion gallons of water annually, the equivalent of filling 45,000 to 110,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.


Monsanto's industry-first water-use efficiency commitment includes both Monsanto's owned and leased operations as well as the contract farms that grow seeds for the company's products. As part of the commitment, Monsanto plans to provide annual public updates on its progress toward the 25 percent goal in its sustainability updates and reports.


To reach the goal, Monsanto will expand implementation of drip irrigation systems, which enable water-use efficiency of up to 95 percent, compared with other systems that range from 50 to 65 percent efficiency. The company already has deployed these systems at facilities in water-stressed areas like India, Hawaii and Mexico.


"We have a tremendous opportunity to increase efficiency with modern irrigation technology and precision farming best practices," said Bob Reiter, vice president of global supply chain at Monsanto. "We have been working to test and promote implementation of water-efficient technologies for years, and these efforts will be accelerated with our new irrigated water-use efficiency commitment."


Nutrient Efficiency Pledge


Water-use efficiency is just one area of Monsanto's overall focus on sustainability. Soil and nutrients is another critical area.


As announced today at Walmart's Sustainable Products Expo, Monsanto's Hugh Grant also pledged that the company will continue to innovate and advance smarter seeds and precision management tools that enable farmers to use nutrients more efficiently and curb greenhouse gas emissions on one million acres in the United States by 2020. "


Read more from AgriMarketing


 

April 28th, 2014

"At 59.6 percent of sites monitored by the Chinese government, the groundwater quality was “very polluted” or “relatively polluted”—that is, unfit for drinking—in 2013, according to a study released on Tuesday by China’s Ministry of Land and Resources.


The government tested 4,778 sites in 203 cities. The study showed that China’s water quality had worsened somewhat from the previous year, when 57.4 percent of test sites were classified as polluted.


Groundwater supplies about a fifth of China’s total water consumption. In the water-short north and northwest of China, groundwater accounts for 50 percent to 80 percent of water usage.



“It is imperative that the Chinese government move aggressively and assertively to combat groundwater pollution,” scientists Chunmiao Zheng and Jie Liu of Peking University’s Center for Water Research warned last spring in Science magazine. “This is urgent, as potable water is scarce in the most populated areas, and China cannot afford the destruction of its groundwater resources.”


Zheng and Liu pointed out that China could look to the U.S.’s groundwater cleanup campaigns as an example. It wasn’t all that long ago that New York State suffered a similar blight."


Read more from Bloomberg Businessweek

April 23rd, 2014

"Approximately 49 million people in the United States live in food-insecure households, with nearly 16 million of them being children, according to September Department of Agriculture data. A new analysis by hunger nonprofit Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap report seeks to quantify that at the county and congressional district level.


The map above shows the county-level results of their analysis, which found that most of the highly insecure counties are in the South. Of the 33 counties with the lowest food-insecurity rates, all but four are in oil-rich North Dakota. Food-budget shortfalls were estimated by using responses to Census questions.


Here’s a look at some of the report’s key facts, figures and charts."


Read more from Washington Post

April 9th, 2014
"One of the warnings from the new climate change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, is food insecurity: It will be harder to grow many crops in parts of the world.


That includes staple crops like corn, wheat and rice. In Kenya, this could dramatically shift societal norms, where corn is life.  


“Almost everybody is growing maize [corn], everybody is consuming maize. It’s made into a very thick porridge for the dinner time and into a less thick porridge for the breakfast time,” said Bruce Campbell, director of the climate change and agriculture program at CGIAR, a global food research organization.  


“You can get a vision of what happens with any impact on maize if you go back to 2008 when something like 1 million people in rural areas, 4 million in urban areas, were food insecure.”


Corn prices shot up 60 percent leading to food riots. The social fabric of Kenya began to fray. That corn shortage was caused by failed short-term rains combined with previous harsh seasons. Global economic factors, such as fuel prices, also contributed to the price rise.


Campbell said as the climate warms, incidents like 2008 could become more regular in Kenya.


“Undoubtedly, one does have a vision going forward of price increases both progressively as well as many more spikes in relation to extreme events.”


Extreme events range from drought on the one hand to flash flooding on the other. As to when these changes could become the new normal, Campbell can’t say when exactly for sure. No one can.  But he thinks it could be much more difficult to grow corn in Kenya by 2050."


Read more from PRI The World


April 4th, 2014

"


Battles over water and food will erupt within the next five to 10 years as a result of climate change, the president of the World Bank said as he urged those campaigning against global warming to learn the lessons of how protesters and scientists joined forces in the battle against HIV.


Jim Yong Kim said it was possible to cap the rise in global temperatures at 2C but that so far there had been a failure to replicate the "unbelievable" success of the 15-year-long coalition of activists and scientists to develop a treatment for HIV.


The bank's president – a doctor active in the campaign to develop drugs to treat HIV – said he had asked the climate change community: "Do we have a plan that's as good as the plan we had for HIV?" The answer, unfortunately, was no.


"Is there enough basic science research going into renewable energy? Not even close. Are there ways of taking discoveries made in universities and quickly moving them into industry? No. Are there ways of testing those innovations? Are there people thinking about scaling [up] those innovations?"


Interviewed ahead of next week's biannual World Bank meeting, Kim added: "They [the climate change community] kept saying, 'What do you mean a plan?' I said a plan that's equal to the challenge. A plan that will convince anyone who asks us that we're really serious about climate change, and that we have a plan that can actually keep us at less than 2C warming. We still don't have one."


Read more from The Guardian

March 31st, 2014

"WICHITA, Kan. — Farmers from across the nation gathered in Washington this month for what has become an annual trek to seek action on the most important matters in American agriculture, such as immigration reform and water regulations.


But this time, a new, more shadowy issue also emerged: growing unease about how the largest seed companies are gathering vast amount of data from sensors on tractors, combines and other farm equipment.


The increasingly common sensors measure soil conditions, seeding rates, crop yields and many other variables, allowing companies to provide farmers with customized guidance on how to get the most out of their fields.


The involvement of the American Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest and most prominent farming organization, illustrates how agriculture is cautiously entering a new era in which raw planting data holds both the promise of higher yields and the peril that the information could be hacked or exploited by corporations or government agencies.


Seed companies want to harness the data to help farmers grow more food with the same amount of land, and the industry’s biggest brands have offered assurances that all information will be closely guarded."


Read more from The Washington Post

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