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Agriculture - June 28

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Climate Change Threatens North Africa Food Supply

Tom Pfeiffer, Reuters via Planet Ark
CASABLANCA - Increasingly frequent droughts in North Africa will force governments to import more food, placing their economies under severe strain unless global warming is checked, a senior UN climate expert said.

A dry spell in Morocco has slashed the country's 2007 grain crop to an estimated 2.0 million tonnes from 9.3 million last year and the government is expected to triple soft wheat imports to 3.0 million tonnes.

Rising world temperatures will make such droughts more common, increasing dependence on large-scale, costly food imports in the region, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Chairman Rajendra Pachauri told Reuters on Tuesday.

"Grain stocks globally are at a precarious low and if you look at the predicament of regions like this one you really don't have the kind of reserves to draw on if you want to import large quantities," said Pachauri.
(27 Jun 2007)


Rains Hit W.Europe Wheat, Drought Devastates East

Nigel Hunt, Reuters via Planet Ark
LONDON - Europe's wheat crop has rain in all the wrong places this year, with already sodden France, Germany and Britain getting a further soaking this week, while drought has devastated countries further east.

Showers have spread across much of France, including large grain growing regions, heightening worries about the quality of wheat and barley harvests.

"Every day that goes by, the risk of a lower quality harvest is rising," one trader said.

Farmers in Ukraine, by contrast, have been pleading for rain to salvage some of their wheat crop, with southern and central regions facing the worst drought in a century.

Early winter wheat yields averaged about 1.31 tonnes per hectare and barley 1.57 tonnes in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, sharply down from an average grain yield of 2.48 tonnes last year and 2.85 tonnes in 2005.
(27 Jun 2007)


Climate and energy major threats to European agriculture, conference finds

CORDIS News
What are the major challenges facing European agriculture? And how can research help farmers and the wider rural community meet these challenges? These questions were at the heart of a conference on the future of agricultural research held in Brussels on 26 and 27 June.

The starting point of the event was the outcome of a foresight process carried out by the EU's Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR). A Foresight Expert Group, set up in June 2006, developed scenarios based on the factors most likely to disrupt European agriculture over the next 20 years.

In the climate shock scenario, an acceleration of environmental impacts related to climate change seriously disrupts European agriculture. The second scenario foresees an energy crisis, where Europe's lack of investments in bioenergies leaves it facing severe energy shortages when the oil price skyrockets.

A food crisis scenario envisages a world where global agriculture is faced with the challenge of providing sufficient, safe food for the growing world population. Finally, a 'cooperation with nature' scenario offers a more optimistic vision of the future, in which society and technology work together to ensure sustainable development at all levels.

The authors of the foresight report note that by 'disruption' they mean fast change, resulting in both positive and negative changes. 'Therefore the main challenge facing agro-food actors is the speed of adaptation and proactive responses to secure a European lead in this area,' they write.

Other speakers at the workshop backed up the foresight group's findings, with most agreeing that climate change in particular would pose major problems for Europe's farmers in the coming decades.
(28 June 2007)


Farmers Sue Federal Government for Right to Grow Hemp

Chris Torres, Lancaster Farming
A lawsuit filed by North Dakota farmers this week has brought attention to the potentially lucrative but controversial crop, hemp.

Political leaders, farmers, and hemp advocates held a telephone news conference Monday in which it was announced that farmers in the state filed a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the federal agency charged with enforcing illegal drug activity in the U.S., for the right to grow hemp, which is related to the illegal drug, marijuana, but is already widely used as an ingredient in various food and industrial products. The lawsuit is being funded by the hemp action group, VoteHemp.com.

According to North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, the lawsuit comes as a result of what he said is "unfair" treatment of farmers by the hands of the federal government, after he thought the state and feds came to an agreement on the issue just a year earlier.

North Dakota is one of a handful of states that has legalized the growing of hemp for industrial use, although the growing of hemp is considered illegal at the federal level.

...While hemp comes from the same plant family that produces marijuana, supporters of the crop say the plant, in its best form, is best used as an industrial product that can be used to make food and building products.

Steve Robertson, special agent with the DEA, said the agency enforces federal law which states hemp and marijuana are one in the same because they both contain levels of the hallucinogenic drug, THC, which causes the "high" a typical person would get after they smoke the plant.

But supporters of hemp production say the levels of THC in industrial hemp plants are much lower than that of true marijuana plants and that the differentiation between the two has to be made. Most industrialized nations, including Canada, allow the controlled growing of industrialized hemp.

Dave Munson, a farmer and state legislator in North Dakota, said the plant has big profit potential for farmers, netting as much as $250 per acre.

...Among those supporters is Shawn House, the owner of Hempzels in Lancaster.
House said the crop is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamin E.
He has developed a long line of hemp products through the importing of shelled hemp seeds from first, China, and now from Canada. Products include sourdough pretzels, sausage, shakes, and mustards. But he said hemp can also be used to make clothing, fuel, and in some cases, cars.
(22 June 2007)
In the future, our ancestors will look back at the hemp ban and shake their heads. It's an extremely useful crop with a long history. A French children's book I was reading (La petite Jeanne 1884) starts out:

Il y avait dans un bourg du département du Cher une bonne veuve âgée de soixante ans, qu'on appelait la mère Nannette. Elle possédait une petite maison avec une petite chènevière et un jardin planté de pommiers, de pruniers et de groseilliers. ...Mais si l'année était mauvaise, la mère Nannette vendait la pièce de toile qu'elle avait fait faire avec le chanvre amassé et filé pendant quatre ans.

In English:

In a town in the department of Cher, there was a good widow some sixty years of age, called Mother Nannette. She had a small house with a small hemp field and a garden of apples, plums and currants. ... But if the [wheat harvest] were bad, Mother Nannette sold the bolt of fabric which she had made from the hemp gathered and spun during the last four years.

. I'm imagining a squad from the DEA breaking down the door of an old peasant woman and setting fire to her hempfield. -BA

Contributor Greg points to a special section on alternative energy also in "Lancaster Farming." He reports:
They have a small article on a solar powered tractor that someone built. Other articles mostly on biofuels.

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