Agriculture

Parched California Braces for Drought Without End in Sight

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 24, 2014   View Article

As California and other western states face what some scientists fear could be a prolonged drought amplified by global warming, water experts say there’s simply no way to predict how long the dry spell will last.

The best thing to do, they said, is to prepare for the worst and hope for rain. It wouldn’t be the first time California soil went parched for a long stretch. Tree growth rings in the region show evidence of prolonged periods of aridity in the past.

“To know that we are going into another pattern like that, that we could expect this drought to persist for 10 to 15 years is really, really, really hard to say,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., told NBC News. “There is really nothing in our forecasting models that are being looked at that would suggest that we would even have the ability to do that.”

Frogs in high mountains are contaminated with farm chemicals, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 26, 2013   View Article

What gets sprayed on the farm doesn’t stay on the farm, suggests a new study that finds frogs living in mountains far away from agricultural fields are contaminated with a range of pesticides, particularly fungicides, used to protect crops from bugs, weeds and molds.

“These fungicides have not been reported in the amphibians to date,” study leader Kelly Smalling, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told NBC News.

Honey bees in trouble? Blame farm chemicals, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 24, 2013   View Article

Honey bees rented to out pollinate crops from apples to watermelons return to their hives with pollen containing an array of agricultural chemicals that make the insects more vulnerable to infection by a lethal parasite, according to a new study.

While other research has shown certain pesticides, including insecticides known as neonicotinoids and others used to fight parasitic mites, can compromise bee health, the new study shines a light on the impact of sprays used to kill fungi and molds.

Brewer to turn spent grains into energy

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: November 19, 2011   View Article

The U.S. government is giving a nearly half-million dollar grant to a beer maker in Alaska that aims to install a first-of-its-kind boiler that is fueled entirely by spent grain.

All brewers are confronted with mountains of spent grains — mostly barley. Many get rid of the waste by routing it to farmers for animal feed, a noble service that can help grow a steak to accompany your fine ale.

Insuring against extreme weather

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 13, 2011   View Article

A high-tech crop insurance company aims to make farming profitable — and itself — by writing policies that offer protection against floods, frosts, droughts and other bouts of crop-damaging weather that are on the rise.

Whether the increase in these weather events are due to human-caused climate change, the company said, is not their business, but the events are trending upwards and they have the technology to analyze the risk they pose to individual farmers and price polices accordingly.

Eternal youth: A fix for biofuels

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 11, 2011   View Article

The push to wean the biofuel industry off its heavy diet of corn may, ironically, involve transferring a corn gene to non-corn plants such as switch grass, suggests a new study.

The gene, called Corngrass 1, essentially locks the switch grass into a state of perpetual pre-adolescence, explained George Chuck, a plant molecular geneticist at the University of California at Berkeley.

“One of the consequences of staying juvenile forever is they don’t flower, they don’t become sexually mature,” he said.

How we’ll eat the same with climate change

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 7, 2011   View Article

Want a varied, abundant, and healthy diet in the decades ahead? Then be glad that researchers are beginning to pinpoint the genes that allow plants to thrive and adapt to different climates.

That’s because our agricultural system is largely adapted to perform in today’s climate, which despite some warmer and cooler swings over the past 10,000 years or so, has been relatively stable.

That’s unlikely to be the case in the future, meaning we will need to adapt our agricultural system to a changing climate if we aim to maintain our current eating and drinking habits.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach