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Food & agriculture - Jan 21

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How Google Earth Revealed Chicago's Hidden Farms

Sarah Zielinski, the salt, npr
Cities have plenty of reasons to care about how much food is being produced within their limits — especially now that community and guerrilla gardeners are taking over vacant urban lots across the country. But most cities can only guess at where exactly crops are growing.

And in Chicago, researchers have found that looks — from ground level, anyway — can be very deceiving when it comes to food production.

For years, various local groups in Chicago made lists of community gardens, where they assumed most of the food grown within city limits was coming from. But when researchers from crop scientist Sarah Taylor Lovell's lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign started looking closely at those lists, they found they were surprisingly inaccurate...
(9 January 2013)


Cash for Hay Driving Thieves to Move Bundles

Jack Healy, New York Times
Across the West, ranchers, farmers and county sheriffs are grappling with a new scourge: hay rustling.

Months of punishing drought and grass fires have pushed the price of hay, grain and other animal feed to near records, making the golden bales an increasingly irresistible target for thieves. Some steal them for profit. Others are fellow farmers acting out of desperation, their fields too brown to graze animals and their finances too wrecked to afford enough feed for their cattle.

“It’s the economics of the times,” said Jack McGrath, the undersheriff in Colorado’s Weld County, where hay thefts rose to 15 last year from 7 in 2011....
(9 January 2013)


A people's buy-out of Britain's farmland

Colin Tudge, The Soil Association
Why don't we – the British people – buy all Britain's agricultural land so that it can truly be farmed for our benefit?

Is it silly to contemplate a complete 'people’s buy-out' of Britain's farmland? To envisage that all Britain’s farmland should be held in trust, dedicated in perpetuity to Enlightened Agriculture – farming that is expressly designed to provide everyone with food of the highest quality without wrecking the rest of the world?

Even if we conclude (as we could well conclude) that a 100% buy-out would not be sensible (for a whole host of reasons) would it at least be worthwhile to keep the idea in focus?....
(8 January 2013)


Enviro Crusader Turns Pro-GMO, Anti-Organic—And Anti-Logic

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones
Earlier this month, Mark Lynas, a prominent UK environmentalist and author, delivered a blunt attack on critics of agricultural biotechnology at a farming conference at Oxford University. Reviewing the development of his opinions on GMOs, Lynas reports that back in the '90s, he had an instant emotional reaction against them. He saw the situation like this: "Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us." And so he "helped to start the anti-GM movement," and "spent several years ripping up GM crops." Then, in the process of researching climate change, he "discovered science"; and soon after, he reports, he "discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths," which he goes on to list.

Lynas is quite correct that the backlash against GMOs is often clouded by emotion. He points out that even today, certain GMO critics murmur darkly about Monsanto's "terminator" seeds, designed to produce sterile offspring so farmers can't replant saved seeds. Actually, Monsanto itself swore off ever using the terminator trait back in 1999, declaring it shared "many of the concerns of small landholder farmers" who opposed it. The GMO seed industry protects its traits through patents and contracts, not genetics.

But he veers off course by portraying such fringe critics of GMOs as the driving force of an "anti-science movement" to block the novel technology. He dismisses the idea that reasonable people might disagree about the merits of GMOs. "[M]y conclusion here today is very clear," he declares. "The GM debate is over. It is finished."....

(16 January 2013)


The U.S. Will Again Produce More of the Nitrogen Fertilizer it Uses for Agriculture

K. McDonald, Big Picture Agriculture
Since fracking technology in this nation advanced beginning in about 2006, the U.S. energy situation has changed so rapidly that markets have yet to adapt. So far, the larger supply of natural gas is increasingly being used to replace coal for electricity generation and it has reduced energy costs for industrial and residential consumers.

Current levels of natural gas production help promote industrial manufacturing because of the competitive edge given to U.S. industry as compared to regions of the world which have much higher energy prices. The recent glut in natural gas, demonstrated by its average 2012 price (below) is expected to even out going forward as its supply and demand balance equilibrates with the cost of production.

Consequently, coal use for electricity generation is expected to gain back a few percentage points over the next few years, according to the EIA...
(11 January 2013)

Editorial Notes: Photo credit: Flickr/Sue Elias

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