Blog

September 17th, 2013

"People living near pig farms or agricultural fields fertilized with pig manure are more likely to become infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, according to a paper published today in JAMA Internal Medicine1.


Previous research has found that livestock workers are at high risk of carrying MRSA, compared to the general population2. But it has been unclear whether the spreading of MRSA through livestock puts the public at risk of infection.


The study examined the incidence of infections in Pennsylvania, where manure from pig farms is often spread on crop fields to comply with state regulations for manure disposal. Researchers reviewed electronic health-care records from patients who sought care from the Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System (which helped to fund the study) in 2005–10."


Read more from Nature

September 4th, 2013

"Two new projects will call on the expertise of Imperial researchers, alongside other world-leading scientists in the US and the UK, to reduce the need for nitrogen-based fertilisers in agriculture.


This will make crop production cheaper and more sustainable, as well as reducing the environmental impact of arable farming.


Professors Bill Rutherford and Martin Buck together with their colleague from the Department of Life Sciences, Dr James Murray will search for a ‘lost’ nitrogen-fixing bacterium that was originally discovered in soil covering a charcoal fire in Germany. The aim is to scour the planet for the missing bug, and any related bacteria. Once found, they will test for a very special nitrogen-fixing enzyme that was originally reported to be able to work in the presence of oxygen, which is unlike all other known nitrogenase enzymes.


The second project will re-engineer the processes in bacteria that use solar energy to drive nitrogen fixation, so that it can ultimately be done inside plants and thus reduce the need for fertilisers."


Read more from Imperial College London

August 29th, 2013

"The milkman brings two-and-a-half gallons of South Mountain Creamery’s freshest to Cynthia Terrell’s Takoma Park home each Tuesday, carefully placing the glass bottles on her front porch before dawn and collecting the empty containers from last week’s delivery.


The scene is like a still life from some 1950s Pleasantville. But the Terrell family’s locally sourced lifestyle is made possible by something far more modern.


Middletown, Md.-based South Mountain Creamery delivers dairy, meat, eggs and bread to an average of 7,000 households a week, a figure that has climbed considerably since the owners ran their first delivery to 13 homes in the back of a Ford Explorer more than a decade ago.


The growth has been a logistical undertaking that requires more than just additional farmland, cattle, equipment, trucks and drivers. Underpinning the all-natural process is a gamut of man-made technologies, from robots that milk the cows to software that maps delivery routes."


Read more from The Washington Post

August 19th, 2013

By Mark Bittman


"I’VE long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?


The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.


I began by touring Bruce Rominger’s farm in Winters. With his brother Rick and as many as 40 employees, Rominger farms around 6,000 acres of tomatoes, wheat, sunflowers, safflower, onions, alfalfa, sheep, rice and more. Unlike many Midwestern farm operations, which grow corn and soy exclusively, here are diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food — not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel. That’s a good start."


Read more from New York Times

July 12th, 2013

By Luc Maene


2013 marks 25 years of existence for Fertilizers Europe. The association celebrated this milestone at its annual meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania in June. On this occasion, the concept of infinite fertilizers which continue to feed the world was introduced. The diagram concerned illustrates the commitment of the industry to maximize the use of nutrients and the sustainability of agriculture in Europe.



 For more information, please check the Fertilizers Europe’s website.


 

July 1st, 2013

By Ford West from The Hill's Congress Blog


"Two months have passed since the West, Texas fertilizer facility tragedy and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families that have been impacted. We are watching closely as the Chemical Safety Board investigation of the incident continues.  And we were eager to hear testimony yesteday in a hearing convened by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to prevent future threats.


Once a cause of the Texas tragedy is determined, the fertilizer industry will closely review the report and recommendations and work together to identify and apply any lessons learned. Our employees live and work in communities small and large across the country, and there is nothing more important than protecting our workers and their neighbors. The Chemical Safety Board’s investigation will likely take several months, but in the wake of this tragedy, we are acting now to take a number of concrete steps to strengthen our commitment to safety.  Those voluntary steps include reviewing what we are doing today and determining what can be enhanced; providing tools that explain and support compliance with federal and state regulations; and developing a Code of Practice that will include audits from independent experts.


Throughout the nation, fertilizer producers and retailers who handle ammonium nitrate are redoubling their safety efforts, reviewing the best ways to operate their facilities and making changes to make a difference.


For example, one facility decided to remove trash, grease guns and front-end loaders (which run on gasoline or diesel) from their building to minimize the presence of anything that could serve as an ignition source.


Fertilizer facilities are also meeting with local emergency responders in their communities to ensure they are aware of material stored on site and response procedures. Working hand in hand with local responders is an ongoing effort. A number of plants and fire departments already do joint training exercises.


Read more here

June 5th, 2013

From University of Washington


"Most astrobiologists believe that life in some form is likely to exist away from Earth. But new research demonstrates that life as we know it on Earth might never have come to exist at all if not for a key element delivered to the planet by meteorites billions of years ago.


Scientists at the University of Washington and the University of South Florida found that during the Hadean and Archean eons – the first two of the four principal eons of the Earth’s earliest history – the heavy bombardment by meteorites provided reactive phosphorus essential for creating the earliest life on Earth.


When released in water, that reactive phosphorus could be incorporated into prebiotic molecules, and the researchers documented its presence in early Archean limestone, showing it was abundant some 3.5 billion years ago."


Read more from here

June 4th, 2013

From USA Today


"An upside to climate change? The issue has been blamed for many problems, including more acidic oceans and rising pollen counts, but a study released Friday suggests a benefit: Arid regions are getting greener.


Satellite data since the early 1980s have shown a flourishing of foliage worldwide, and scientists have suspected this change may be due partly to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas emitted by the burning of fossil fuels..


Turns out, they were right because of CO2's "fertilization effect," according to a team of scientists led by Randall Donohue of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, Australia."


Read more from here

June 4th, 2013

From The New York Times


"The deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Tex., in April has highlighted glaring shortcomings in federal and state regulation of facilities that produce, store and use toxic chemicals.


The casualties in Texas — 14 killed and nearly 200 injured — were shocking, but the fact is that chemical disasters imperil millions of Americans who live and work close to industrial plants in dense cities and sprawling suburbs. Last November, the Congressional Research Service identified 2,560 facilities that could each put more than 10,000 people at risk in the event of an accident. Last year, 1,270 people died in more than 30,000 chemical spills and accidents. The Texas catastrophe showed that federal regulators have been far too lax in their oversight of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer at the center of this explosion. The West Fertilizer Company stored 540,000 pounds of the stuff at its plant in 2012 (it is unclear how much it had in April). In spite of the potential risks posed by the fertilizer, plants are allowed to keep it near residential areas. Plants with large quantities are required to tell the Department of Homeland Security how they keep the material secure, but the West plant did not bother to do so. "


Read more from here

May 10th, 2013

From POPSCI


"The same chemical that makes fertilizer so useful also makes it really cheap bomb fuel. Researchers at Sandia labs in Albuquerque wondered if they could render the explosive properties of fertilizer inert while still keeping the beneficial properties intact, and this week announced success in a test batch. Even better, they're sharing the innovation for free.


The problem with improvised explosives is that they're cheap, made from otherwise-harmless everyday materials, and the directions to make them aren't too hard to find. This is true of pressure cooker bombs, a terror weapon so ubiquitous that its been used by everyone from anarchists to religious radicals on at least three continents, and it's especially true of fertilizer bombs.


Ammonium nitrate is the culprit. The first recipe for ammonium nitrate is over 350 years old, and despite centuries of research into other fertilizers, ammonium nitrate remains one of the cheapest and best. As an added benefit for farmers, ammonium nitrate "improves both the quantity and quality of protein-containing crops," which is a tremendous benefit to humanity.


Except for that part where it explodes. Normally, of course, ammonium nitrate doesn't blow up; if that was a daily occurrence, the recipe would have been abandoned 349 years ago. Ammonium nitrate requires the addition of another reagent to go off. In modern fertilizer bombs, readily available fuel completes the process, turning the normally-stable fertilizer into an extremely volatile explosive."


Read more here

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