Category Archives: Agriculture

Map of the day: Farmland soil compaction


From the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization:

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

Obama demands Europe ease the way for GMOs


The Obama administration maintains the servility expected of both political parties when it comes to running the affairs of state in the singular interests of the corporate bottom line.

In the latest instance of servility, the administration is demanding that the European Union abandon its stricter rules governing GMOs if European car makers want easier access to the American market to be included in the pending Transatlantic trade agreement.

From the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

The United States government is putting more intense and significantly more far-reaching pressure on the European Union than previously thought during the ongoing negotiations to reach an accord on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This has become evident from copies of confidential negotiation documents that have been made available to Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR. The material, consisting of 240 pages, was provided by Greenpeace and will be published this coming Monday. Several people familiar with the negotiations confirm that the documents provided are current.

According to the documents, Washington is threatening to prevent the easing of exports for the European car industry in order to force Europe to buy more U.S. agricultural products. The U.S. government concurrently has criticized the fundamental prevention principal of the EU Consumer Centre which protects 500 million Europeans from consuming genetically modified food and hormone-treated meat. The documents further reveal the fact that the U.S. has blocked the urgent European call to replace the controversial private arbitration tribunals, responsible for corporative lawsuits, with a public State model; instead, Washington has made a suggestion on the matter that had hitherto not been disclosed to the public.

The publication of these TTIP documents provides citizens with an unfiltered insight into the negotiations between the U.S. and Europe. Ever since the start of negotiations three years ago, the public could only try to guess what both sides were discussing, which has prompted millions of people to take to the streets in protest of TTIP. While the EU is making its suggestions publicly available, the U.S. insists on keeping their stances on issues secret. Washington utilizes this tactic to ensure a larger scope for negotiations. The disclosure of these 16 TTIP negotiation papers finally offers a fuller transparency for the 800 million people spread over two continents whose lives will be affected by the biggest bilateral trade agreement in history.

The papers allow for a deep insight into U.S. tactics, such as Washington’s active push to prevent the easing of export regulations of the European car industry, as this sector plays a central role in Europe’s economy. One of the confidential documents demonstrates that the U.S. government “hastened to point out that it would need to consult with its industry regarding some of the products and that progress on motor vehicle-related parts would only be possible if the EU showed progress in the discussion on agricultural tariffs.”

More from a second Süddeutsche Zeitung report, focusing on Washington’s thuggery in demanding Europe abandon the precautionary principle, under which GMOs and other products must be proven safe before they can be approved for human consumption.

Instead, Washington demands Europe apply a fair looser standard:

The confidential papers obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and the German radio and television stations WDR and NDR, which reveal details of the TTIP negotiations, demonstrate that risk evaluation is a central point of contention in these ongoing talks; two very different approaches to this topic being at the heart of the debate. In the U.S., the scientific principle reigns supreme, meaning that a product is considered safe until the opposite can be proven to be true. Europe on the other hand follows the prevention principle which can prompt bans to be passed even if only the slightest hint of possibly detrimental consequences exists.

The documents demonstrate, for the first time, how invested the U.S. is in annulling the prevention principle. The scientific principle is stressed in several places, such as where hygiene regulations are concerned. The U.S. demands that when “undertaking a risk assessment appropriate to the circumstances, each party shall ensure that it takes into account…the relevant available scientific evidence.” The EU does not exactly reject this proposal but insists on “preserving each Party’s right to protect human, animal or plant life and health in its territory and respecting each Party’s regulatory systems, risk assessment, risk management and policy development processes.”

But what exactly is the scientific principle? “It does, initially, sound very sensible but it hides a perfidious concept which is supposed to enable companies to halt any regulatory legislation processes,” says Bärbel Höhn of the Green Party. The impending ban of a product could therefore be prevented, based on the fact that not enough scientific evidence that relates to its potential dangers has yet come to light. In fact, the U.S. feels that there is a need for both “parties…[to] strengthen their cooperation in the field of standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures to reduce and eliminate unnecessary technical barriers to trade.” Translated into plain English this means that bans that are not based on the scientific principle are “unnecessary technical barriers to trade,” and that these need to be reduced and eliminated.

In addition to the demands to grease the skids for GMO exports, Washington is also decreeing that Europe must withdraw its demands that tribunals to decide on corporate litigation alleging damages for restrictions should open to the public.

Instead, Washington wants the tribunal sessions to convene in secret with only the barest results to be made public, a process already implemented in the North American Free trade Agreement, where corporations may allege damages before a secret tribunal.

From Deustche Welle:

The German outlets said the documents disclosed by Greenpeace also showed that the US was blocking an EU demand that arbitration panels to handle corporate lawsuits be public not private as sought by Washington.

Greenpeace trade expert Jürgen Knirsch said what had so far trickled out of the talks had “sounded like a nightmare.”

“Now we know that this could very much become reality,” said Knirsch.

The head of Germany’s consumer advisory bureaus Klaus Müller told the SZ that the texts confirmed “pretty much all of our fears in terms of what the US-Americans want to achieve on the food produce market through TTIP.”

What else to expect from a President who began his political career as the Senator from Monsanto?

Map of the day: Drought, a Syrian conflict driver


The Syrian civil war, while driven in part by the policies of the Obama White House, was made possible by a combination of economic sanctions driven to new heights coupled with an ongoing Middle Eastern drought with its heaviest impacts in Syria itself.

Just how bad has that drought been?

Consider this map from Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria, a July 2014 report from Peter H. Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland and published in Weather, Climate, and Society, a journal of the American Meteorological Society:

Millimeters of rain in the winter period from 1902 to 2010, showing a drop in rainfall in the 1971–2010 period (Hoerling et al. 2012). (b) Reds and oranges highlight the areas around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971–2010 than the comparison period of 1902–2010 (Hoerling et al. 2012).

Millimeters of rain in the winter period from 1902 to 2010, showing a drop in rainfall in the 1971–2010 period. (b) Reds and oranges highlight the areas around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971–2010 than the comparison period of 1902–2010.

Headline of the day II: Corporate predator alert


From The Hill:

Clean water crisis threatens US

  • Hundreds of cities and towns are at risk of sudden and severe shortages, either because available water is not safe to drink or because there simply isn’t enough of it.
  • The situation has grown so dire the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence now ranks water scarcity as a major threat to national security alongside terrorism.
  • The problem is being felt most acutely in the West, where drought conditions and increased water use have helped turn lush agricultural areas to dust.

UPDATE: With a new headline from Truthout:

“Nestlé Is Trying to Break Us”: A Pennsylvania Town Fights Predatory Water Extraction

Donna Diehl, a 55-year-old school bus driver from Kunkeltown, Pennsylvania, a small historic town located on the edge of the Poconos, wanted to do three things this year: drive the bus, paint her bathroom and learn to crochet. Instead, Diehl, along with dozens of her neighbors, is spending her time trying to stop the largest food and beverage corporation in the world from taking her community’s water, putting it in bottles and selling it for a massive profit.

Monsanto presses Argentina for GMO royalties


Monsanto, the most ruthless troglodyte with the biggest club in the Big Agra tribe, is waging a legal war on Argentine farmers they claim are using the company’s patented GMO soybeans without paying the piper.

Their targets are farmers they charge have held onto seeds from previous harvests, as well as those farmers whose own crops have been contaminated by pollen from nearby fields planted with Monsanto crops.

Until the determination of just which crops contained Monsanto DNA was determined by Monsanto’s own labs, though the Argentine government has passed legislation requiring determinations to be made by stare-run labs.

From MercoPress:

Monsanto has rejected a request by Argentina for more time to collect monies owed by small farmers for royalties on genetically modified soybean seeds. Argentine agricultural minister Ricardo Buryaile and members of his staff have met with Monsanto representatives, including chief operating officer Brett Begemann to request a waiver on the monies owed.

The seed company rejected that request, two unnamed Monsanto staff told press agency Bloomberg. The firm also rejected a request for more time to collect the royalties from small farmers.

Monsanto is set to challenge Argentina’s attempts to retain control over lab analysis to verify the origin of its grain exports.

On April 15, the Argentine government of President Mauricio Macri passed a resolution that gives the Agriculture Ministry control of the analysis of seeds in the country, a move that would render obsolete a Monsanto-funded network of labs set up to detect its seeds at Argentine ports and help enforce payment.

Climate change threatens mountain streams


Not because of any decrease in precipitation — though that may happen — but because warmer temperatures mean more evaporation.

And that, in turn, threatens water supplies downstream as well as electricity generated by stream flows and reservoir releases, along wwith water for agriculture and for human consumption.

First a video from the University of Utah:

How do phase and energy changes impact water supply?

Program notes:

Hydrologists discuss the results of their study to separately consider the effects of increased temperature and rain-to-snow transition on streamflow in snowmelt-fed mountain streams. Video by Lauren Foster/Colorado School of Mines/Environmental Research Letters.

Then the story, also from the University of Utah:

The western United States relies on mountain snow for its water supply. Water stored as snow in the mountains during winter replenishes groundwater and drives river runoff in spring, filling reservoirs for use later in summer. But how could a warming globe and a changing climate interrupt this process?

In a new study published today in Environmental Research Letters, a team of hydrologists that includes University of Utah professor Paul Brooks answers that question by simulating isolated climate change effects on Rocky Mountain stream systems, varying the type of precipitation (rain vs. snow) and the amount of energy (temperature) in the system. The answer, they found, depends less on how water enters the stream watershed, and more on how it leaves.

Balancing the water budget

Hydrologists often construct water budgets to account for all the ways water enters and leaves a system. In the case of a mountain stream, water enters as precipitation but only a portion of this water leaves as streamflow. Much of this melt water enters soils. Here it can be used by plants or evaporate directly, with water loss from both processes combined called evapotranspiration. The water can also recharge groundwater and enter the stream later in the year. And it matters whether the precipitation falls as snow or as rain.

Climate change can affect mountain streams in two major ways: By raising the overall temperature, increasing evapotranspiration, and by shifting the precipitation from snow to rain. Both impacts could significantly alter the amount of water in a stream watershed and the amount that reaches cities downstream.

So why try to separate the influence of the two factors? “As the climate becomes increasingly more variable, we need to provide water resource managers with specific guidance on how individual warm or wet years, which may not coincide, will influence water supply,” said Brooks.

 Simulated streams

The team, led by doctoral student Lauren Foster at Colorado School of Mines, constructed models of two Colorado stream watersheds on both sides of the continental divide. The researchers simulated the atmospheric conditions of a typical water year, but then applied 11 simulations of various temperature alterations to see how the watersheds responded.

In baseline scenarios, without any temperature alteration, the streams behaved as expected, with a swell in streamflow during snowmelt. During snowmelt and into summer, meltwater recharged the underlying aquifer, which then sustained streamflow through the fall and winter.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Headline of the day II: Good news/bad news


From the New York Times:

Acreage for Genetically Modified Crops Declined in 2015

Only three countries — the United States, Brazil and Argentina — account for more than three-quarters of the total global acreage. And only four crops — corn, soybeans, cotton and canola — account for the majority of biotechnology use in agriculture. In many cases, more than 90 percent of those four crops grown in those three countries, and in other large growers like Canada, India and China, is already genetically modified, leaving little room for expansion.