Hot 5: German Corn Biogas. Wal-Mart Sustainability. Arctic Sea Ice Melt. Washington State Agriculture. Prince Charles on Agriculture.

1. Germany, Corn, Biogas, and Displaced Shepherds


Biogas Anlagenbau Bioenergy – Photo credit: Flickr CC by GreenRon

The U.S. isn’t the only nation manipulating corn demand through policy. There were two news items about Germany this past week that are worth discussion. One, from Der Spiegel titled, “Biogas Boom in Germany Leads to Modern-Day Land Grab” and the other from BBC titled “Biofuel crops transform German farming“.

Milk cows and sheep are losing ground to the biogas industry which eats chopped up corn and turns it into methane which is transformed into electricy. The Renewable Energy Act in Germany is subsidizing the energy that is produced through these facilities for 20 years. As a result, some dairy farmers are forced to feed their cows imported soy meal from Brazil and chicken producers are importing corn.

The program started eight years ago when there was overproduction of commodities and this program was devised to set up small eco-power plants to run on corn. Each biogas facility needs 200 hectares of corn, and now the nation grows 810,000 hectares of “energy corn”. Every crop other than corn is becoming more expensive, even potatoes. Competition by investors bidding up land to grow corn is causing strife for original farm land owners. Corn farmers are abandoning crop rotation to grow corn on corn, at the cost of losing song birds and wild life habitat.

Many recognize the program as being an environmental disaster, as farming the marshes releases carbon, and fermented corn waste from the facilities applied to the fields is causing groundwater nitrate pollution. The program has taken on a political life of its own, but now has limited the amount of corn that can be used for biogas to 60 percent of the crop.

Recently a group of academic researchers called for an end to the program, as the biogas plants continue to be built. They said that the inefficiency of the land use to generate electricity through biogas is far below that of wind and solar. Wind is ten time more efficient and solar five times, as compared to biogas land use. Some who support the corn to biogas program say that through the use of natural gas and improved technology it will prove worthwhile given time. Germany’s goal is to produce all electricity through renewable means by 2050 while phasing out nuclear.

Also, according to the BBC article, one in eight acres of farmland in Germany is now used to produce energy.

Harald von Witzke, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Humboldt University in Berlin, told the BBC that only 3% of the world’s farmland was being used for biofuel. This, he estimated, was responsible for perhaps one-tenth of the doubling in food prices since 2000.

2. Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Model


The Santa Ana, California Walmart was one of the first Walmart stores equipped with solar panels. This installation produces about 30 percent of the store’s energy needs.
(Walmart Photo)


Wal-Mart has stated a goal of becoming 100 percent renewable-energy powered.

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart unveiled a 20-story wind turbine in Red Bluff, California to provide energy to its distribution center there. It has nearly two hundred other renewable energy projects already in operation, including a 90-megawatt wind farm in West Texas that powers portions of over 300 Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs; two dozen fuel cells and 100 solar installations supplying energy to stores in California; 348 stores in Mexico partially supplied by wind power and 14 more in Northern Ireland supplied entirely by wind power.

Source: CNBC: Should Wal-Mart Write America’s Energy Plan?

Wal-Mart has been on a sustainability quest since 2005, when it announced goals of reduced packaging and renewable energy.

Currently, the company is aggressively infilling cities with their “neighborhood markets” concept stores which are about half the size of the superstores. This interesting Omaha World Herald article explains what it might mean to Omaha grocers, as six of the stores are in the works there. Eighty of the Wal-Mart neighborhood market stores are opening in 2012, for a total of 230 by the end of the year.

Other points about the company:

  • Is a $405 billion company.
  • Has two million employees.
  • Is the world’s largest grocer, with one of the biggest food supply chains.
  • Grocery is more than half of Wal-Mart’s business.
  • In emerging markets, Wal-Mart has pledged to sell $1 billion of food from small and medium farmers (which it defines as farmers with fewer than 20 hectares, about 50 acres).
  • Both in the United States and globally, Wal-Mart will invest more than $1 billion to improve its supply chain for perishable food.
  • Wal-Mart said it planned to reduce food waste in emerging-market stores by 15 percent and in other stores by 10 percent.
  • In October 2010, it announced that within five years, at least 10 percent of its fresh food would be “locally sourced.” Walmart’s definition of local is within the state. They achieved that goal in 2011, just one year later.

3. Arctic Sea Ice Is Disappearing Rapidly.


Arctic Sea Ice Maximum and Minimum 2011 — These Arctic sea ice images represent real data captured by the AMSR-E instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite. The top image is from Mar. 7, 2011, when sea ice reached its maximum extent this year, near the end of winter. The bottom image is from Sept. 9, 2011, around the time sea ice reached its minimum extent this year, near the end of summer. Both extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice remains in a long-term decline, correlated with rising global surface temperatures. (Image courtesy of NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, Goddard Space Flight Center.)
_______________________________

Every day this past week has set a new record low for the amount of Arctic ice remaining. The old 2007 record may have fallen on August 26th according to satellite data collected by NSIDC in Boulder.

There are now about a million more square miles of Arctic open than during the 1979-2000 average, or an area about as large as Texas and Alaska combined. This is remarkable in that the record was broken so early in the Arctic ice melt season, and that ice will continue to melt and set new low extents every day at least till mid September. Also remarkable is that the melting is accelerating this late in the season.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge, believes Arctic ice is on the brink of collapse and that it will be gone in 3 years.

Physicist Stuart Staniford, observes that the annual change in Arctic sea ice is not linear, and fitted a quadratic equation to the rate of loss, which shows the Arctic would hit zero ice in 2017. His further extrapolations show the Arctic ice free for six months out of the year by 2025. Note Staniford’s recent words…. If you didn’t believe in abrupt climate change before: think again. Incredible that we are living through this.

NSIDC data shows that all 6 lowest ice extents in the satellite record have occurred over the past 6 years.

These newly opened areas in the Arctic Sea will absorb even more heat than iced over areas that would reflect the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere.

One of the effects of a warmer Arctic Sea on methane release is that the Arctic contains copious amounts of methane-hydrates frozen at high pressure on the seabed. As the ocean has warmed, Russian scientists have observed massive plumes of methane bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean, some as large as 1000 meters in diameter. Methane is known to be a potent greenhouse gas, considered 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years, so the release of methane enhances the warming feedback, accelerating the process.

Analysis of satellite photographs confirmed that Greenland had already broken its one season melt record on August 8th, almost a full month before the normal end of the melt season on that large island.

The snow cover in the northern hemisphere in June had melted to such an extent that it beat the 45 year record low a month early, breaking the 2010 record by 1 million square kilometers. Much of this snowpack loss is from higher elevations, where downstream cities depend on a continuous release of ice-melt for their water supply.

Recommended: 2 minute BBC video covering this story.

Thank you to rjs over at Marketwatch 666 for doing this summary.

4. Washington State is Diverse in Ag Products


Photo credit: Flickr CC via SweeTango
Washington State Apple Orchard – SweeTango Apples

Washington State ranks first for growing:
apples
hops
sweet cherries
Concord juice grapes
mint & spearmint oil
pears
processing of carrots
processing of raspberries

It is number two in the nation for producing:
onions
nectarines
potatoes
sweet corn
asparagus

It also grows or produces:
wheat
wine
chickpeas
peppers
(and much more…)

The Mid-Columbian region of the state grows most of the crops, and is highly reliant upon irrigation.

5. Prince Charles View on Agricultural Practices


In this ten minute video, HRH the Prince of Wales addresses a session of the IUCN World Conservation Congress on the urgent need of bringing agriculture and conservation back together.

The Prince doesn’t like the term sustainable intensification, he’d rather see us intensify sustainability. He likes the work of Allan Savory and says, “Allan Savory is correct in promoting that we must mimic nature and use natural cycles to improve the land and water.” He adds, “There is much to learn if we let nature be our guide.”

2 thoughts on “Hot 5: German Corn Biogas. Wal-Mart Sustainability. Arctic Sea Ice Melt. Washington State Agriculture. Prince Charles on Agriculture.

    1. K.M. Post author

      That was an interesting link.

      But, I have a book of Prince Charles that is more than 20 yrs old, now, telling about his sustainable farming philosophy and practices, and, yes, he got out there with his wellies himself. And, if you’d listened to the 10 minute video, I doubt you’d come up with a reason he’s a crock about agriculture. If you dispute any of his points, let me know.

      Reply

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