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Food & agriculture - Apr 5

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An interesting post from Riverford’s Guy Watson about climate change and crops

Guy Watson, Transition Town Totnes
We have cabbage plants ready and waiting for a break in the weather, with lettuce due next week. The groA-farmer-and-his-tractor-001und is too wet and with the outlook unsettled we must be patient and be sure to take our chances when they come. Purple sprouting broccoli is finally getting going in volume, but we are still suffering from last summer when the deluge leached out nutrients and stopped the plants growing the large frame that is needed to support a good crop. Even the rye, which we sow as a green manure in the autumn, is half the expected size.

Most of our agricultural crops are highly bred annuals, bred to grow, flower and seed quickly; in a ‘normal’ year they can be extraordinarily productive. However, yield is not everything. As our climate becomes less predictable and energy scarcer, perhaps we should be looking to more resilient crops, reducing the need to plough and create new seed beds each year. When my father took on Riverford in 1951, a good part of the farm was cider orchard, with sheep grazing the pasture underneath; an integrated system of two perennial crops. Each farm had its own press and it was reckoned that cider would pay the rent...

Walking around the farm, I am struck by how resilient perennial plants are in this dreadful year, especially the natives that are happy in our cool and damp climate. Temperate agriculture is 99% dependent on annual crops (sown and harvested in the same year and not regenerating from roots). In nature, annuals are relatively rare, thriving on disturbed ground where they grow and bear seed quickly before being forced out by perennials, which take their time and prefer more stable conditions. An oak tree may take 20 years to produce acorns but is still producing them 200 years later. The result is that as farmers, we are constantly creating the instability that favours our annual crops; ploughing is costly in energy, CO2 emissions from oxidation of soil organic matter, erosion and loss of biodiversity. I would dearly love to ditch the plough, grow perennials and create stability but we would all have to live on hazelnuts, lamb and rhubarb washed down with cider; it could be worse.
(25 March 2012)


Hobby gardeners boost backyard biodiversity

Michele Andina, swissinfo.ch
Traditional garden plants contribute to biodiversity by offering food and shelter for many insects. Private gardens are essential for keeping many plant and vegetable varieties alive – a cultural heritage that otherwise would get lost.


(29 March 2012)


Huge scale of California pollination event

Adam Hart, BBC news
Whether ground, flaked or toasted, almonds play an important part in our cuisine and a staggering 85% of the world's almonds are grown in the Central Valley; the 450-mile-long, 40- to 60-mile-wide flat-bottomed valley that dominates mid-California.

To get to your kitchen, those almonds have been involved in the biggest single pollination event on Earth.

Californian almond pollination requires billions of honeybees travelling thousands of miles in a nationally coordinated migration operating on a scale that is almost unimaginable to most beekeepers in the UK.

This week, BBC Radio 4 is On the Trail of the American Honeybee - the story of migratory beekeeping, and a story that touches on some of the most controversial - and disturbing - aspects of modern agriculture.
(26 March 2012)


Proposed Law Could Deliver Major Boost to Urban Agriculture in California

Jason Mark, Civil Eats
Small-scale farming isn’t easy. The prices farmers receive for their goods are often low, the margins are tight, the days are long, and the chores never-ending. For farmers who don’t own their own property, land insecurity compounds financial instability. It’s tough to really dig in if you don’t know how long you can stay on the piece you’re farming.

The problem of insecure land tenure is especially pressing for urban farmers in many cities, who have to contend with limited space and high real estate values. Brooke Budner and Caitlyn Galloway, the co-founders of San Francisco’s Little City Gardens, understand this better than anyone. They don’t own the three-quarter acre lot they farm and scrape by on a month-to-month lease.

A new law proposed by California Assemblyman Phil Ting (who represents San Francisco and San Mateo) might give Little City Gardens a bit more security so the small business can thrive. The idea is simple: Property owners who commit to leasing their land to agricultural enterprises for at least 10 years will be able to receive a re-valuation of their parcels that will lower their property tax bill.
(3 April 2012)

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