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U.S. farmers converted more than 1.3 million acres of grassland into corn and soybean fields between 2006 and 2011.

- Corn and soy wiping out America’s grasslands at fastest pace since the 1930s.

Update: This is more about America’s heritage landscapes - grasslands - and less about particular crops. Grasslands provide important habitat for countless species. President Theodore Roosevelt protected millions of acres of grasslands by including them in several National Parks. Converting them to crops destroys habitat for animals, changes and poisons the soil, pollutes rivers, devalues people’s properties, among numerous other environmental harms. Destroying nature for a quick buck is not the right direction for America’s future. The situation is worse when climate change is factored in.

And, the US Forest Service has an excellent overview of how grasslands are threatened by agriculture and climate change.

Strong reporting on how U.S. farmers cannot adapt to more big droughts like the one of 2012. Insurance companies covered billions in losses last year, but if 2013 is as bad as 2012, portfolios may shift to safer options.

US farmers are bracing for long-term challenges from climate change including blasting heat and more capricious rainfall.

About 80 percent of the farmland in the world’s biggest soybean and corn (maize) producer was scorched by extreme heat and drought last summer, savaging crops and sending global prices for the key food commodities soaring, hurting poor countries that depend on imports.

Across the heartland of the corn crop in the Midwest state of Iowa, farmers have turned a jaundiced eye on last season’s disaster to focus on this year’s weather conditions.

By early March, 53 percent of the land was still abnormally dry or suffering drought.

But as more and more accept that the climate is changing, farmers are putting their faith in technology to help them beat global warming…

Insurers compensated the losses with a record $14.7 billion in payouts — enough to allow farmers to get ready for a new season.

Via Global Post

Yet again, excellent climate-impact coverage from Bloomberg. I find that Bloomberg journalists skillfully weave economic impacts from climate change. They make their points come alive by highlighting both the economic and environmental impacts that a particular person or community is dealing with. This piece zooms in on corn farmers in Kansas adapting to a new climate reality, then zooms out to discuss the regional impacts of adapting new crops. Good stuff!

Shifts such as these reflect a view among food producers that this summer’s drought in the U.S. — the worst in half a century — isn’t a random disaster. It’s a glimpse of a future altered by climate change that will affect worldwide production.

“These changes are happening faster than plants can adapt, so we will see substantial impacts on global growing patterns,” said Axel Schmidt, a former senior scientist for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture now with Catholic Relief Services.

While there is still debate about how human activity is altering the climate, agriculture is already adapting to shifting weather patterns…

Climate change will probably push corn-growing regions north while making alternatives to the grain more important elsewhere, said John Soper, the vice president of crop genetics research and development for Pioneer, the seed division of DuPont Co. The company’s researchers anticipate more corn in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, traditional Canadian wheat-growing areas, while sorghum and sunflowers may experience a revival in Kansas as rainfall declines and irrigation becomes less practical, he said.

Better Seeds

The company is developing new varieties of corn, both in traditional hybrid and genetically modified seeds, while boosting research in sorghum and other crops that don’t need irrigation in areas where they’re expected to make a comeback, he said.

Still, fighting drought with better seeds and new trade sources only mitigates the effects of climate change, said Roger Beachy, the first head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture and now a plant biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. New crops — and new markets for those crops — will be needed to ease what will be a wrenching transition for some farmers and consumers, he said.

Read the rest at Bloomberg

GMOs are a controversial climate adaptation measure. But, drought resistant crops are necessary.

Agricultural biotechnology companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into developing plants that can withstand the effects of a prolonged dry spell. Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, has received regulatory approval for DroughtGard, a corn variety that contains the first genetically modified trait for drought resistance.

Seed makers, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. of Johnston, Iowa, and Swiss company Syngenta, are already selling drought-tolerant corn varieties, conceived through conventional breeding.

At stake: a $12-billion U.S. seed market, with corn comprising the bulk of sales. The grain is used in such things as animal feed, ethanol and food. The push is also on to develop soybean, cotton and wheat that can thrive in a world that’s getting hotter and drier.

"Drought is definitely going to be one of the biggest challenges for our growers," said Jeff Schussler, senior research manager for Pioneer, the agribusiness arm of DuPont. "We are trying to create products for farmers to be prepared for that."

Their efforts come amid concerns about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and the unforeseen consequences of this genetic tinkering. Californians in November will vote on Proposition 37, which would require foods to carry labels if they were genetically modified. The majority of corn seed sold is modified to resist pests and reap higher yields.

Opponents say the label would unnecessarily dampen further development that is intended to feed a growing global population dependent on the U.S., the largest exporter of corn and soybean.

"Trying to create drought-tolerant crops is not going to be easy to do," said Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis. “We certainly need all the tools [available] to do that, and that includes conventional breeding and adding transgenic traits. We don’t need to stigmatize these approaches.”

Great read via LATimes

Corn prices too high due to this year’s drought. So, he’s fattening his cows with chocolate. Via Kentucky local ABC57.

Gas prices expected to rise, quickly.


Today’s VOA60 USA:

Gas prices grow at steady rate and could surge in coming weeks.

President of world’s largest breast cancer charity steps down after political

An Alaska Airline flight faces electrical problems mid-air and is forced to make an emergency landing.

Massive colony of Africanized bees stings Texas worker more than 300 times after he accidentally disturbed them.

The Los Angeles City Council votes several regulations and penalties on unsafe skateboarding.

Eleven of the fastest texters in America face off hoping to be crowned the U.S. National Texting Champion.

Corn sex is complicated. As Michael Pollan observes in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” the whole affair is so freakishly difficult it’s hard to imagine how it ever evolved in the first place. Corn’s female organs are sheathed in a sort of vegetable chastity belt—surrounded by a tough, virtually impenetrable husk. The only way in is by means of a silk thread that each flower extends, Rapunzel-like, through a small opening. For fertilization to take place, a grain of pollen must land on the tip of the silk, then shimmy its way six to eight inches through a microscopic tube, a journey that requires several hours. The result of a successfully completed passage is a single kernel. When everything is going well, the process is repeated something like eight hundred times per ear, or roughly eighty thousand times per bushel.

It is now corn-sex season across the Midwest, and everything is not going well.

Opening to “The Big Heat” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. Chilling (no pun intended). Scary. Necessary. It’s short. Read it.  (via changetheratio)

This is a lede.

(via motherjones)

(via motherjones)

Levon Helm “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” Official Music Video

R.I.P., Rolling Stone

See also, Congressman’s Maurice Hinchey’s tribute to Levon on the house floor.

Climate change has created a devastating shortage of catfood ingredients. Agricultural alternatives include steamed corn, boiled rice, and grass clippings.

Interesting pushback by farmers against fertilizer makers. Farmers are delaying buying fertilizer in protest of high prices. Free markets, indeed…


Steve Georgi is playing chicken with the world’s biggest fertilizer makers.

The Indiana corn grower has postponed buying the fertilizer he needs for spring planting for only the second time in 35 years, angry that prices for key nutrients surged more than one-third in the fourth quarter.

“I haven’t bought anything yet,” said Georgi, who normally makes his purchases around the beginning of the year. Prices are so high “it’s ridiculous,” he said.

Fertilizer prices jumped last fall on global demand and expectations for a large increase in corn plantings in the United States. Although those expectations have not changed, the price spike has triggered a buying boycott by farmers across the Midwest, pushing sales volumes of key products to their lowest levels since the financial crisis crushed demand in 2008.

But farmers may lose in the face-off unless they place their orders soon.

Fertilizer distributors, many of whom were burned when demand evaporated in the 2008 price crash, no longer maintain large local stockpiles. That leaves some unable to accommodate a last-minute buying spree, meaning farmers who wait to buy may have to delay plantings or grow something besides corn.

Read more at Newsmax

"Honeybee populations have been in serious decline for years, and Purdue University scientists may have identified one of the factors that cause bee deaths around agricultural fields.

Analyses of bees found dead in and around hives from several apiaries over two years in Indiana showed the presence of neonicotinoid insecticides, which are commonly used to coat corn and soybean seeds before planting. The research showed that those insecticides were present at high concentrations in waste talc that is exhausted from farm machinery during planting.

The insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam were also consistently found at low levels in soil — up to two years after treated seed was planted — on nearby dandelion flowers and in corn pollen gathered by the bees, according to the findings released in the journal PLoS One this month.

"We know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees; we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees," said Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology and a co-author of the findings.

The United States is losing about one-third of its honeybee hives each year, according to Greg Hunt, a Purdue professor of behavioral genetics, honeybee specialist and co-author of the findings. Hunt said no one factor is to blame, though scientists believe that others such as mites and insecticides are all working against the bees, which are important for pollinating food crops and wild plants.

"It’s like death by a thousand cuts for these bees," Hunt said.Krupke and Hunt received reports that bee deaths in 2010 and 2011 were occurring at planting time in hives near agricultural fields. Toxicological screenings performed by Brian Eitzer, a co-author of the study from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, for an array of pesticides showed that the neonicotinoids used to treat corn and soybean seed were present in each sample of affected bees. Krupke said other bees at those hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning.

Seeds of most annual crops are coated in neonicotinoid insecticides for protection after planting.”

Science Daily

How on earth did I miss this one??

The United States has ended a 30-year tax subsidy for corn-based ethanol that cost taxpayers $6 billion annually, and ended a tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol.

Congress adjourned for the year on Friday, failing to extend the tax break that’s drawn a wide variety of critics on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Critics also have included environmentalists, frozen food producers, ranchers and others.

The policies have helped shift millions of tons of corn from feedlots, dinner tables and other products into gas tanks.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth praised the move.

"The end of this giant subsidy for dirty corn ethanol is a win for taxpayers, the environment and people struggling to put food on their tables," biofuels policy campaigner Michal Rosenoer said Friday.

The subsidy has provided the oil and agribusiness industries with 45 cents per gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline. By some estimates, Congress has awarded $45 billion in subsidies to the ethanol industry since 1980.

More at Detroit News

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal government will invest $60 million in three major studies examining the effects of climate change on forests and crops. The studies are designed to prepare foresters and farmers with information and strategies to aid them in combating the detrimental effects of climate change.

Under the collaborative work of climatologists, soil scientists, and plant scientists, each study will examine how climate change impacts crops and tree species. Specifically, the three studies will explore the effects of climate change on corn, wheat, and the loblolly pine, which covers 80% of planted forests in the southwestern United States

Source: ActGreen

Gulf of Mexico dead zone expected to be the largest on record. Result of chemicals from farm runoff and the recent flood. EPA’s stance is to allow farmers to self-regulate and volunteer efforts to clean up. This method is not working. 


The record flooding of the Mississippi basin is leading to record levels of farm chemicals and waste, which is going to pollute the Gulf of Mexico to a record level, and increase the size of the ‘dead zone’ at the mouth of the river.

Leslie Kaufman, Chemicals in Farm Runoff Rattle States on the Mississippi

Government studies have traced a majority of those chemicals in the runoff to nine farming states, and yet today, decades after the dead zones began forming, there is still little political common ground on how to abate this perennial problem. Scientists who study dead zones predict that the affected area will increase significantly this year, breaking records for size and damage.

For years, environmentalists and advocates for a cleaner gulf have been calling for federal action in the form of regulation. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has been encouraging all states to place hard and fast numerical limits on the amount of those chemicals allowed in local waterways. Yet of the nine key farm states that feed the dead zone, only two, Illinois and Indiana, have acted, and only to cover lakes, not the rivers or streams that merge into the Mississippi.

The lack of formal action upstream has long been maddening to the downstream states most affected by the pollution, and the extreme flooding this year has only increased the tensions.

(via underpaidgenius)