Plant Genetic Modification Technology. Plus, More Agriculture News This Week.

“Ukrainian Milkmaids Work Hard Like Miners”
Artist: Maria Primachenko. 1970. Wikipaintings.

Below, is a selection of recent agriculture-related news.

This Minnesota article examines the state’s underground water contamination problem resulting from Nitrogen fertilizer.

The NYT’s did a hard hitting piece on U.S. ethanol and global biofuels policies affecting the world’s poor by causing high food prices, focusing on Guatemala. This nation was previously self-sufficient in maize production, and now grows African palm and sugar cane for biofuels making land for subsistance farmers scarce.

It’s slim pickins for pheasant hunters because habitat has disappeared as farmers remove brush and maximize mining their topsoil.

Over the last two decades, Iowa has lost more than 1.6 million acres of habitat suitable for pheasants and other small game, the equivalent of a nine-mile-wide strip of land stretching practically the width of the state. And these declines have been occurring nationwide. The overall amount of land enrolled in the Agriculture Department’s Conservation Reserve Program has dipped to 29.5 million acres from a peak of 36.7 million in 2007.

Subtract another 2.6 million acres of CRP land which will be taken out of production this coming year. Informa’s crop acreage projections show that millions of new acres in the U.S. will be dedicated to corn and soybeans at the expense of CRP land and cotton. Informa expects that corn acres will be 2.13 million higher than in 2012 and soybeans will increase by 1.76 million acres.

This National Geographic article explains ways in which Mother Nature swaps genes and does gene transfers. When people understand this, many become convinced that the science of genetic engineering is not much different from what Mother Nature has always done.

Project Syndicate featured an article about the benefits of GM technology for crop growing.

The Oxford Farming Conference was held last week. At this link you may watch the online presentations which included Prince Charles, and environmental writer Mark Lynas, who gave an apology for being anti-science and anti-GM technology a few years back. The UK Guardian wrote about a few of the debates over GM crops which were presented at the conference. Andrew Revkin discussed Mark Lynas’ change in opinion about GM to one of pro-science. And Farmer’s Guardian presented the talk given by the Prince of Wales supporting the smaller rural farmer.

Moving on… According to this report, rice containing human liver genes is being grown outdoors in Kansas.

The potential to improve crop yields quickly through epigenetics is optimistic.

This Guardian article includes a two-minute video about utilizing lakes for aquatic agriculture. Scientists propose that this might be more feasible than setting up irrigation in some places like Africa. Prototypes have grown lettuce, tomatoes, and cantaloupes on simple small floating rafts. Growing rice using this method is also being studied.

NYT’s Green blog summarized U.S. EPA biofuels mandate issues, upcoming decision making, and the resulting increase in competition between biofuels and food growing.

Fendt hopes to have a driverless tractor available by 2014. This UK Telegraph article discusses the role of robots in farming’s future.

MACRO: Nouriel Roubini wrote a piece for the Financial Times titled, “US has been let down by its leadership” following the fiscal cliff legislation.

China produced more than half of the world’s pork last year. They are being pressured with some related regulatory problems.

An aquaponic operation in Maplewood, Minnesota has 20,000 talapia and 10,000 trout and grows lettuce, basil, and oregano.

Colorado’s first organic farm, Grant Family Farms, has declared bankruptcy, citing hail, a spinach recall, and the drought, as reasons. Started by a CSU professor in the 1960’s, it spans 2,000 acres and had a CSA of 4,500 people. UPDATE: There is a very interesting development surrounding this story. A food activist group sponsored by Transition Boulder is now trying to retrieve $1.5 million from Grant Farms, an amount which they loaned to them in June at a rate of 16 percent. Shortly after the loan came due in December, the farm filed for bankruptcy. The group, whose purpose is to support local food production, is now trying to get assets such as corn and root vegetables to sell to recoup some of its losses.

The FDA has tightened food safety regulations.

The USDA issued a comprehensive report on Southeast Asia’s rice exports.

Genetic research on sorghum offers hope in finding varieties best suited for a changing climate.

A new international wheat initiative’s goal is to increase wheat’s genetic yield potential by 50 percent over the next 20 years. Wheat accounts for 20 percent of the world’s consumed calories, and that percentage is growing.

Here is Bloomberg’s summary of the farm bill extension, passed with the fiscal cliff legislation.

Written and compiled by K. McDonald.

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