The precipitous loss of native vegetation [to agriculture] across the United States has led to a dramatic decline of insect populations.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.
It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.
Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.
That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.
“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.
Related to Obama’s voracious support for ethanol. See my earlier post on how the president’s policies supporting ethanol fuel is devastating conservation land across the United States.
Often hailed as the Nobel Prize of food, the World Food Prize has received as much attention this week for its ties to industrial agriculture and genetically modified (GM) crops as it has for honoring those who feed the world’s poor.
The prize has been a lightning rod for international criticism since June, when it announced as one of its laureates Robert Fraley, an executive at the biotech corporation Monsanto, which has been at the center of a number of controversies over GM crops.
Fraley shared the honor
with Syngenta scientist Mary-Bell Chilton and Plant Genetic Systems co-founder Marc Van Montagu, fellow pioneers in the development of high-yield GM crops resistant to disease, pests and harsh climates.
I’m not into the tone of this article, but thought y’all would appreciate knowing about it.
Excellent reporting by Carey Gillam of Reuters. Gillam dives into how the ranchers and families will cope with the losses. The federal government shut down comes into play, as does a tax-payer subsidized bailout for their losses under the - imo - ridiculously bloated and unfairly skewed US Farm Bill.
The story of why nearly 100,000 head of cattle perished is a complicated one, one not just due to freak weather. And Gillam really nails it.
Swirling snow lodged in some of the animals’ lungs, suffocating them. Hypothermia killed more. And others were caught in gullies, or plunged off slickened rock ledges, livestock experts said.
"I’ve been in this business 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Jobgen, who estimated her family lost nearly half of its herd of 350 when the storm swept through October 3-5. “The vision of seeing all these cattle dead is something you can’t wipe out of our eyes.”
South Dakota had the sixth-largest cattle herd in the United States with some 3.85 million head in January 2013, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Most of those are in the western part of the state, where the storm struck, leaving carcasses strewn on the Plains and hitting ranchers with tens of millions of dollars in losses.
Anonymous asked: What are your thoughts on vegetarianism/veganism? Especially taking into consideration the possibility of a (worsening) global food crisis.
I generally avoid food posts, but am interested in the infrastructure that supports food systems.
One part of my current contract with USAID is a resilient wheat project in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is the 6th largest wheat producer in the world and mostly exports to east and central Europe, the Caucuses, and Asia.
Farmers there are facing three main issues: extreme temperature swings, which are increasing in frequency and causing terrible economic havocs; when to plant their crop, a problem because the planting timing and growing seasons are shifting; and shortage of storage silos for the wheat, especially in bumper seasons.
This last part - where to store the wheat - is probably the biggest issue developing countries (DCs) face with respect to dealing with climate impacted growing seasons. The farmers in Kazakhstan don’t trust the government, nor their seasonal forecastings. Nor do they (generally) reliably purchase crop insurance. So, the farmers tend to plant “when my neighbor plants,” put their finger to the wind, and hope for a good season. It’s very risky, and very unstable. They lose when there is a bad year, due to bad timing of planting, storms, droughts, etc.
But, and back to your question-ish, some years produce so much wheat that the farmers actually lose money. The reason is two fold. First, they lose on market price. The market price goes down when there is an abundance of wheat, it goes up when there is a shortage. The other problem with high-volumes is that there’s no storage system or infrastructure to support a storage system. Thus, all the silos get filled very quickly when all farmers produce record crops - when the silos are filled, the wheat is literally thrown away.
Tl;dnr, “the food crisis” is typically not due to a bad weather year, but due to inefficiencies in distribution. There’s plenty of food grown in the world. Climate change will affect the patterns of growth, but not to such an extent that the systems cannot adapt and adjust.
Getting crops from farm to table is the real issue…
Check out the UN’s Food Security program for more.
Mark Bittman visits an industrial tomato farm in California. I like that he swipes at ‘heirloom’ tomatoes. But his admiration for sustainable farming permeates the entire piece.
I’VE long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?
The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.
I began by touring Bruce Rominger’s farmin Winters. With his brother Rick and as many as 40 employees, Rominger farms around 6,000 acres of tomatoes, wheat, sunflowers, safflower, onions, alfalfa, sheep, rice and more. Unlike many Midwestern farm operations, which grow corn and soy exclusively, here are diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food — not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel. That’s a good start.
[S]everal obstacles may prove to be insurmountable for the near - future commercialization of in vitro meat. The legacy of consumer wariness for foods produced through biotechnological intervention, as encapsulated by the prolific debate over genetically modified foods, coupled with the fetishization of the process of slaughter as a component of meat quality compounds the issue of meat production. Nevertheless, as will be discussed, if in vitro meat proves to be successful it may have tremendous promise that translates to several areas of contention for animal rights activism.
In Vitro Meat: A Vehicle for the Ethical Rescaling of the Factory Farming Industry and in Vivo Testing or an Intractable Enterprise? - Via
exlegelibertas asked: I read another article this morning about hive disruption syndrome and about bee-dieoffs in general. The article framed the issue in a wider context of a 'sixth extinction.' As a layman I'm generally sold on these theories, despite their grim outlook. Assuming (as I do) that they're probably the result of anthropogenic climate change, what do you think the proper adaptation methods will be, considering the necessity of honeybees in pollinating most crops around the world?
Great question and I did a little research for you (learned a lot, so thanks!).
The so-called “sixth extinction” theory has been around for a while. I’d avoid reading about it, since it’s all doom. Still, adaptation strategies for bees and other pollinators are only now being taken seriously.
Keep in mind that environmentalism is ‘stewardship’ - it requires long-term thinking, far beyond your life-time. Solutions take time and decades of research and testing. So, managing impacts are part of a long transition…
Most adaptation strategies and responses are part of bigger plans that deal with ecosystems and agriculture, so they’re more likely to be a chapter in larger documents. Here a few resources:
Hope that helps!
Heartbreaking and absolutely infuriating. Click through for article and video.
A dog walks on cracked ground at the Las Canoas dam, some 59 km north of the capital Managua on April 26, 2013.. A large area of the dam has been dry since last February, as most of its water have been used by rice farmers for their crops, affecting around hundreds of peasants living in the area, according to local media.
[Credit : Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters]
Like basmati rice? There may be less of it soon. Climate change is altering monsoon seasons in India, meaning less rice and more corn is being planted.