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Food & agriculture - Aug 11

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Climate change challenging gardeners to plant smarter

AP via CNN
Don't look now, but the early signs of climate change have already landed with a thud in our backyards.

Gardeners across the country have to adapt, the sooner the better, said Todd Forrest, vice president for horticulture and living collections with the New York Botanical Garden.

"That means planting smarter and planting for the future," he said. "The first thing gardeners can do is understand they'll have to live with elevated temperatures, including higher nighttime temperatures. In winter, they'll have less snowfall. Those two changes will have a significant impact on what we can grow."

... Climate change? More like climate changed, said Page Spencer, chief of natural resources at Lake Clark National Park & Preserve in Southwest Alaska.

"This is a visible and conscious thing in my lifetime," Spencer said. "We're growing apples in Anchorage now and we've never been able to do that before."

A gradual warming -- generally attributed to greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning fossil fuels -- has been charted for several decades. But the climate's unpredictability is increasing, too.

"The weather is bouncing back and forth at a wild rate," Spencer said. "That's leading to a lot of variability and uncertainty ... Changes in the salmon runs and berry seasons, for example."

... Prepare to set aside larger chunks of leisure time for weeding. Warmer days and nights will speed the maturity of any foods we grow -- and also help along many aggressive weeds like kudzu, garlic mustard, poison ivy and purple loosestrife.

Gardeners also should bone up on pest control. New types of biting insects and plant pests, including locusts, gypsy moths, bagworms, and disease-carrying aphids and mites, may accompany any significant temperature rise.

"Those of us living in the northern part of the United States, whether gardeners or farmers, have it easy compared to those south of us with plant pests," Wolfe said. "A lot of (pests) get killed off in winter. But as we get warmer winters, we're getting a higher incidence of plant pests."
(8 August 2007)
A rather cheery take on a grim subject. -BA


Future Farming: A Return to Roots?

Jerry D. Glover, Cindy M. Cox and John P. Reganold; Scientific American
Large-scale agriculture would become more sustainable if major crop plants lived for years and built deep root systems
---
For many of us in affluent regions, our bathroom scales indicate that we get more than enough to eat, which may lead some to believe that it is easy, perhaps too easy, for farmers to grow our food. On the contrary, modern agriculture requires vast areas of land, along with regular infusions of water, energy and chemicals. Noting these resource demands, the 2005 United Nations-sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment suggested that agriculture may be the "largest threat to biodiversity and ecosystem function of any single human activity."

Today most of humanity's food comes directly or indirectly (as animal feed) from cereal grains, legumes and oilseed crops. These staples are appealing to producers and consumers because they are easy to transport and store, relatively imperishable, and fairly high in protein and calories. As a result, such crops occupy about 80 percent of global agricultural land. But they are all annual plants, meaning that they must be grown anew from seeds every year, typically using resource-intensive cultivation methods. More troubling, the environmental degradation caused by agriculture will likely worsen as the hungry human population grows to eight billion or 10 billion in the coming decades.

Brijit Abstract of article:
Many in the West take a blase approach toward thinking about their food supply. Yet our society is almost entirely dependent on a few very similar crops, making us extremely susceptible to a sudden, prolonged drought or epidemic. Scientists are trying to find ways around this, and one of the most appealing ideas is to strengthen plants' root systems and prolong their lives: Hello, perennials! A reassuring, well-thought out call to arms.
(August 2007 issue)
The rest of the article is behind a paywall.


Popcorn packaging
A new green form of packing. But is it edible?

Hilary Osborne, Guardian
In the world of cosmetics, packaging is king. Who would buy half the products available if it wasn't for the beautiful bottles and boxes they came wrapped in? Lush has long bucked this trend - selling bath bombs and soaps lose, and putting handcreams and body lotions in plain black tubs. It's not always very glamorous but it is greener.

As well as improving existing containers, so they break down quicker after use, the company has introduced a new innovation to its packaging: popcorn. The popcorn is 60% lighter than the shredded paper it uses now, which means it takes 10% less energy to transport. The energy needed to produce the popcorn is on a par with that used to shred the paper, but the popcorn is cleaner so there is not need to wrap the products being transported - a move that Lush says will save 4.6m bags a year. And once you've unpacked the box you can put the popcorn in your compost bin - if you have one - where it will completely breakdown. If you don't yet have a compost, details are included in the box.
(6 August 2007)

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