Agriculture

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.

Field of (Bad) Dreams: Increased Drought Takes Tool on Midwest Corn

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 1, 2014   View Article

Across the Midwest, a cold and wet spring has slowed the pace of corn plantings — as of Monday 19 percent was in the ground versus the usual 28 percent for this time of year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The slow start could slash yields. In the future, hotter and drier conditions due to global warming could also put a dent in corn yields, according to a new study.

The research is based on field data from more than 1 million federal crop insurance records between 1995 and 2012 and correlated with fine-scale weather data. It shows that while corn yields in the Midwest have steadily risen, the staple grain is also growing more sensitive to drought. About 80 percent of the corn grown in the Midwest is dryland. If it doesn’t rain, there is no water.

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.”

Crop yields plateau as demand for food soars, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 17, 2013   View Article

On about one-third of the world’s agricultural lands, farmers have maxed out the amount of rice, wheat and corn they can grow, according to a new study. The finding suggests a limit to the benefits of the so-called green revolution and portends hard work ahead to feed ever more, and more affluent, people.

A side effect of the plateauing — and in some instances, declining — crop yields is that more land will be required to meet food demand, as can be seen in the 8 percent expansion of agriculture area since 2002, much of it into rain forests, wetlands and grasslands, the study found.

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.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach