Living on Earth: Maple Syrup and Climate Change
Federal climate models predict that the Northeast U.S. will lose most of its maples by next century. But Julie Grant of the Allegheny Front reports that many maple sugar producers aren’t worried; they say times are as sweet as their syrup.
Which land should governments protect from floods: urban and coastal cities, or agricultural farmlands?
GRANT: Jason Blocher’s livelihood each year largely depends on the weather in February and March. He’s the third generation in his family to run Milroy Maple Farms in Somerset County, on Pennsylvania’s southern border, just a few miles from Maryland.
BLOCHER: You can’t outguess Mother Nature, and she controls everything in this business.
GRANT: It takes warm days and cold nights to get sap flowing through a sugar maple.
GRANT: They start drilling tap holes in the trees when daytime temperatures get in the 40s, and nights are still below freezing. When Blocher was a kid, they would tap in late February and early March. But he says that’s changed in the past ten years. Now, they usually tap earlier as much as month earlier. And the timing is more erratic.
Like most producers, Blocher remembers the winter of 2012 there was a thick layer of snow in his maple forest. And then, right as syruping was starting, temperatures shot up into the 80s it was the warmest March on record.
BLOCHER: So we went from fighting our way through three or four feet of snow, and anticipation of a very good season, because of that heavy snow pack, to one of our poorest seasons we have on record because we had such a drastic change in the weather from cold, deep snow to too warm and in a matter of two weeks to three weeks, it ruined our season.
GRANT: Milroy Farms wasn’t alone. Syrup production around the northeast U.S. was down 40 percent in 2012.
Erratic years like that aren’t a surprise to Dave Cleaves. He’s the climate change advisor at the U.S. Forest Service, which means he’s often the bearer of bad news.
CLEAVES: God, in this job I’m in, people hate to see me coming. They run like hell.
GRANT: About fifteen years ago, the Forest Service published what’s called the Climate Change Tree Atlas. And what it found didn’t look good for sugar maples in the Northeast.
CLEAVES: We will see it gradually disappear. Or become less prominent.
Interesting argument against governments protecting urban zones over food-production zones. Coastal communities and inland cities are protected from floods and erosion by highly complex infrastructure mechanisms, such as dams, levees, and piping. Agricultural lands do not enjoy the same levels of infrastructural capacity. But, should they? Should farms have an equal amount of protection as cities do?
Government accused of failing to address effects of climate change on coastal and rural areas
Report: Obama's ethanol policy has ravaged the environment | Al Jazeera America
Severe flooding threatens to undermine the country’s food security, according to farmers and environmental groups, who today accuse the government of failing to address the effects of climate change on coastal and rural areas.
As gales swept southern and western parts of the UK, with already drenched counties bearing the brunt of the storms, it has emerged that parliament’s select committee on the environment warned in a report last year that “the current model for allocating flood defence funding is biased towards protecting property, which means that funding is largely allocated to urban areas. Defra’s [the Department of the Environment’s] failure to protect rural areas poses a long-term risk to the security of UK food production, as a high proportion of the most valuable agricultural land is at risk of flooding.”
"We need a response from government that recognises the importance for our long-term food security of safeguarding high-quality farmland," said Neil Sinden of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. "We need to view the countryside as more than a place for building, and value it for the food it provides." Via The Guardian
Bump in corn grown for ethanol has polluted water and wiped out 5 million acres of conserved land, AP finds
Five million acres of land — more than in Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite national parks combined — have been pulled from conservation on Obama’s watch, according to Agriculture Department figures.
What’s more, from 2005 to 2010, corn farmers increased their use of nitrogen fertilizer by more than 1 billion pounds. More recent data isn’t available from the Agriculture Department, but because of the huge increase in corn planting, even conservative projections by the AP suggest another billion-pound fertilizer increase on corn farms since then.
Some of that fertilizer has seeped into drinking water, contaminating rivers and boosting the growth of enormous algae fields in the Gulf of Mexico; the algae eventually decompose, sucking oxygen from the water and leaving behind a huge dead zone, currently covering 5,800 square miles of sea floor where marine life can’t survive.
That dead zone is just one example of a peculiar ethanol side effect: As one government program encourages farmers to plant more corn, other programs pay millions to clean up the mess.
Obama is no environmentalist. He’s helped increase fracking, expanded off-shore oil drilling, continues to stealthily approve parts the Keystone XL Pipeline, weakened endangered species protection, and will sign off on Alaska’s horrifying Pebble Mine gold mine.
Monsanto winner of prestigious World Food Prize
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.
What are your thoughts on vegetarianism/veganism? Especially taking into consideration the possibility of a (worsening) global food crisis.
A question by Anonymous
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.
India's law to feed poor threatens to gobble up climate funding
The best case against funding climate change policy?
India’s National Action Plan for Climate Change, a hugely ambitious programme requiring billions of dollars, is being starved of funds, officials say, as a new law aimed at giving food to the needy threatens to eat up a large chunk of government spending.
In 2009, the government set up eight national missions to tackle climate change: the Solar Mission, Energy Mission, Sustainable Habitat Mission, Water Mission, Himalayan Mission, Sustainable Agriculture Mission, Green India Mission and Strategic Knowledge Mission.
The funding allocated for these missions during the 12th Five Year Plan, which ends in 2017, was just over $40 billion. The largest amount was earmarked for the agriculture mission at $17.6 billion, followed by $8.36 billion for the Green India Mission, which aims to expand forests.
But officials and experts warn that these spending plans are now at risk due to the arrival of the National Food Security Act, which was passed last month.
The controversial new law commits the government to providing heavily subsidised food to around 819 million poor people in urban and rural areas. The legislation mandates the state public distribution system to provide 5 kg of rice per person per month at not more than 3 rupees (Rs) per kg, wheat at not more than Rs 2 per kg, and coarse grain at not more than Rs 1 per kg.
According to the act, the cheap food will be extended to 75 percent of rural dwellers and 50 percent of those living in urban areas, which amounts to roughly two thirds of the South Asian nation’s population of over 1.2 billion people.