Tag Archives: earth and stewardship

Plant Consumption Rising Significantly Worldwide

ScienceDaily (Dec. 16, 2010) — Humans are consuming an increasing amount of Earth’s total annual land plant production, new NASA research has found.

As the human population continues to grow and more societies develop modern economies, this rate of consumption is increasing both as a whole and on a per capita basis globally. In addition to as food, plants are consumed for paper, clothing, livestock feed, firewood, biofuels, building and packaging materials, among other uses.

A NASA research group led by Marc Imhoff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., first quantified this global consumption in 2004, when the group found that in 1995 humans consumed 20 percent of all the land plant material produced that year.

Now the same line of research has produced a multi-decadal record of plant production (from 1982 to 2007) that establishes a baseline of the Earth’s productivity, and a 10-year trend of human consumption. These new findings are being presented at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Calif.  read more

Defining ‘Sustainable Agriculture’

The New York Times.  27 July 2010.  [by Jared Flesher].  Conventional farmers, organic farmers, giant agribusiness companies, environmentalists — all have varying views on what “sustainable agriculture” really means.  Perhaps not for long.

The Leonardo Academy, an environmental think tank in Madison, Wis., is busy refereeing a debate over a new “National Sustainable Agriculture Standard,” under the guidelines of the American National Standards Institute.

One outcome of this effort could be a new “sustainable agriculture” label stamped on food — similar to the way some food is now marketed as organic. It could also create a system that rewards farmers for doing things like reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they use.

In late May, members of the 58-member standards committee met in St. Charles, Ill., to make the first decisions about the scope of the voluntary standards they hope to create. The committee includes a variety of stakeholders like the National Corn Growers Association, General Mills, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Farmland Trust.

One early point of contention has been genetically modified crops.

A preliminary “draft standard” from 2007 used organic agriculture as a starting point for sustainability, and it prohibited crops that had been genetically modified.

But groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the United States Department of Agriculture balked at the draft, which was ultimately scrapped. The new goal is to find a standard that makes room for “any technology that increases agricultural sustainability,” according to a statement from the Leonardo Academy earlier this month.

“Organic is basically four percent of the domestic market,” said Russell Williams, director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau, in an interview. “So if you’re going to talk about ’sustainable organic agriculture,’ that’s fine. But if you’re going for ’sustainable agriculture,’ then the standard needs to be much more broad.”

Many organic advocates don’t agree — though they believe developing sustainability standards for use by all farmers could be valuable to their cause.  read more

Mulches Tested for No-Till Organic Crops

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2010) — Conservation tillage encompasses a range of techniques for establishing crops in the previous crop’s residues, which are purposely left on the soil surface. The principal benefits of conservation tillage are improved water conservation and the reduction of soil erosion; additional benefits can include reduced fuel consumption, planting and harvesting flexibility, and reduced labor requirements. A new study published in HortScience finds promise in a common legume used as an effective crop cover for organically produced onions.

Beans grown in corn residue with conservation tillage

Conservation tillage promotes soil quality and fertility in accordance with organic principles, but the practice can be challenging. Success of conservation tillage in organic systems is highly influenced by factors such as crop rotation for weed and disease control and nitrogen availability.  Surface residues in these systems are usually made up of unharvested crop remains or cover crops that were killed with herbicides (or, in the case of organics, by mechanical methods). Researchers at North Carolina State University recently released the results of a 2-year experiment designed to assess the efficacy of summer annual grass (foxtail millet) and legume (cowpea) cover crops in different mixture ratios or monocultures. The researchers also analyzed rates of soybean meal as nitrogen amendment on overwintered, no-till, organically managed onion production. Foxtail millet and cowpea were compared with a bare-ground control for weed suppression and nitrogen contribution when followed by organically managed no-till bulb onion production Cover crop treatments were grown during the summer (July through October) followed by no-till transplanted onions in the fall for overwinter production (November to May).

The field experiment was managed according to the U.S. National Organic Program production standards. Cover crop treatments of cowpea and bare ground had the greatest total marketable onion yield both years of the experiments. When supplemental baled millet was applied, however, onion mortality was more than 50%, a result the researchers attributed to the mulch thickness. The researchers stated that “cowpea shows promise as a summer cover crop used as a residue-mulch for fall planted crops such as overwintered onion. Cowpea produced comparable onion yields to bare ground in both years of the experiment.” They noted that, although cowpea had high weed interference, hand-weeding twice was sufficient to maintain onion yields. Foxtail millet did not function as well as cowpea as a mulch for overwintered onions. According to Emily Vollmer, who led the study; “It appeared that ground coverage and thickness of the grass residue negatively affected onion plant stand and overall yield. Millet in a mixture with cowpea either reduced onion yield or had comparable yield to cowpea as a monocrop.”

While foxtail millet can perform well as a cover crop when planted in early summer, it was stunted by foliar disease when planted after mid-July, making it a poor choice for a midsummer-seeded cover crop in eastern North Carolina. Soybean meal showed potential as an effective source of nitrogen even when surface-applied in cool weather months. The study showed that nitrogen would be available for plant uptake in less than 2 weeks after surface-applying soybean meal, which facilitates the use of soybean meal in multiple applications tailored to timing of crop plant demand. The scientists added that split applications of soybean meal could be an important improvement in nitrogen management to better meet increased demand for nitrogen uptake during bulb initiation and growth in the spring.

Fountains of Life

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. — John Muir