Agriculture

Drink Beer? Take Showers? Better Worry About West’s Snowpack

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 20, 2014   View Article

The wet and windy storms that have slammed California with floods, mudslides and traffic snarls are bringing at least a momentary sigh of relief from water users across the western U.S. That’s because the storms also dumped several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada — and mountain snowpack is a chief supplier of water for agricultural, industrial, and domestic uses throughout the region.

But according to a state measurement, that snowpack as of Thursday was only 50 percent of normal — and Washington and Oregon are even worse off.

The lack of snow fits with what some scientists see as a long-term slide in the amount that piles up each year, though the trend’s size and significance are debated. For some, the decline hints at a future with less water to irrigate crops, brew beer and take showers as well as keep wildfires and insect pests at bay.

Hungry Planet: Can Big Data Help Feed 9 Billion Humans?

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 17, 2014   View Article

With a population set to hit 9 billion human beings by 2050, the world needs to grow more food —without cutting down forests and jungles, which are the climate’s huge lungs.

The solution, according to one soil management scientist, is Big Data.

Kenneth Cassman, an agronomist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, recently unveiled a new interactive mapping tool that shows in fine-grain detail where higher crop yields are possible on current arable land.

“By some estimates, 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with agriculture and of that a large portion is due to conversion of natural systems like rainforests or grassland savannahs to crop production, agriculture,” Cassman told NBC News at a conference in suburban Seattle.

Toxic Algae Blooms to Persist on Lake Erie, Experts Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 4, 2014   View Article

Toledo’s drinking water is once again safe, Mayor Michael Collins announced as he took a sip from a glass at a Monday morning news conference — but scientists say the harmful algal blooms at the heart of the water crisis are likely to persist well into the future given a confluence of shifting agricultural practices, invasive mussels, and global climate change.

“Here’s to you, Toledo,” Collins said at the conference, smiling for cameras before taking a sip of water drawn, presumably, from a nearby tap.

As Californians Pump Groundwater, Land Sinks and Aquifers Shrink

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 15, 2014   View Article

So much water is being pumped from the ground in parched California that the land is sinking, according to scientists.

The more Californians rely on groundwater, the worse these problems will get, experts across industry, government, and academia say. But, they said, the pumping is likely to continue given a confluence of factors that range from urban population growth to an expanding agricultural industry.

Neonicotinoid Pesticide Linked to Decline of Birds (and Bees)

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 9, 2014   View Article

A controversial agricultural insecticide that has been implicated in the collapse of bee colonies around the world also appears to be causing bird populations to drop, according to a new study. The insecticides known as neonicotinoids are designed to attack the central nervous system of insects that devour crops, but only about 5 percent of the chemical compound stays on the plant. The rest leaches into the soil and water, where it does its magic on other bugs, the researchers said.

That’s Nuts: Almond Boom Strains California Water Supply

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 22, 2014   View Article

Asia’s love of nuts is draining California dry.

Amid one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, farmers are scrambling to find enough water to irrigate lucrative almond trees they planted after abandoning other, less thirsty crops.

Why’s there such a market for California nuts? As incomes in countries such as China, South Korea, and India have risen, so has demand for nuts that formerly were out of reach for many Asians. Added to the mix are Wall Street firms who, smelling a quick buck, are paying top dollar for vegetable farms and converting them to orchards.

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.”

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach