March 30th, 2015

WHEATFIELD – State and local farm organizations are speaking out in favor of the use of biosolids as fertilizer and against the push to allow individual towns to ban their use.

The statements from the Niagara County and New York State farm bureaus come as Quasar Energy Group is suing the Town of Wheatfield to try to overturn its biosolids ban, while several towns are asking the State Legislature to allow them the power to pass such bans, too.

Although Wheatfield has passed a resolution in favor of such a “home rule” law, Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said at last week’s Town Board meeting, “We also believe the Town of Wheatfield has the authority to enact the law it did without further authority from the state.”

Quasar, whose anaerobic digester in Wheatfield produces plentiful biosolids as a byproduct, disagrees and has filed suit in State Supreme Court seeking to overturn the law on the grounds that it exceeded the town’s authority.

The original suit was filed in Erie County, but the town was successful in having the venue shifted to Niagara County. However, as of last week the case had not yet been assigned to one of the State Supreme Court justices in Niagara County, O’Toole said.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which sent the town a complaint about the law last fall, wondering whether the Wheatfield law impinged on the right to farm, has not yet made any response to the information the town sent in reply.

The position of the state and county farm bureaus is that any regulation of biosolids should come from Albany.

“The Department of Environmental Conservation and Ag and Markets are the appropriate regulators,” said Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau. “They have the skills and abilities to make that determination.”

The state Farm Bureau’s 2015 policy priorities say, “We support the education of both farmers and the public on the benefits of using biosolids as a source of fertilizer. … Municipal prohibitions restricting the use of biosolids should not be allowed.”

James J. Bittner, a Somerset fruit farmer and president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, said, “Biosolids have been safely and widely used in agriculture for decades. Farmers should have the right to choose whether or not to use it on their land.”'

Read more from The Buffalo News.

March 11th, 2015

COLUMBUS — Promising that it’s just one more step, the Ohio House today unanimously approved a bill designed to control agricultural fertilizer runoff that contributes to algal blooms on Lake Erie like those that briefly contaminated Toledo’s water supply last summer.

Critics characterized the bill as not strong enough while backers of its provisions argued that the state has to proceed carefully so as not to undermine the state’s number-one industry.

But in the end all came together to support the bill, knowing that it’s likely to have little effect, if any, on this year’s algal bloom season.

Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) told her colleagues about awakening on the morning of Aug. 2 to the warning that Toledo area residents “can’t touch the water … It was so scary.”

“We’re taking such a baby step on this…,” she said. “This is real stuff … I implore you to do much, much more and take the politics out of it.”

Rep. Brian Hill (R., Zanesville), a farmer who chaired the committee that fashioned the bill, argued that agriculture “stepped up” even though it is only part of the problem causing the nutrient load in Lake Erie.

“I’m regulating my own industry,” he said. “This is what I do … I know (House Bill 61) doesn’t go as far as some would like to see, but we all realize this is a beginning ... It really isn’t politics to me. It’s our number-one industry.”

The bill restricts application of manure and chemical fertilizers at times when the ground is frozen, snow-covered, or otherwise saturated and when the forecast calls for significant precipitation. In some cases, that means farmers will have to invest in storage facilities to keep manure until it can be spread.

Read more from The Blade

February 23rd, 2015

"In Iowa, there's a 3,000-acre farm that uses machines to accomplish most tasks, from seeding to fertilizing and chemical application. This land, owned by the Mitchell family, is known as one of the most mechanized farms in the United States, and it's far from being unique. The Mitchells and their equally high-tech neighbors are some of the top corn producers in the US, thanks to their machines. But more and more farmers in the country are also turning to agricultural robots, as laborers start dwindling in number and demands for crops and produce continue to grow. After all, they need all the help they can get to feed millions of people, since it's just not feasible to farm by hand anymore as it was a hundred years ago. Seeing as the US population has grown by 22.5 percent between 1990 (an estimated 250 million) and 2010 (310 million), and the Census Bureau expects it to balloon to more than 420 million in 2050, you can expect to see more robots doing the dirty work on more American farms.

The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, divides agricultural robots into three generations. The first gen is comprised of basic ones that can collect data, while the second-gen bots are capable of harvesting, seeding, spraying and cultivating. Finally, the third and most advanced generation is comprised of autonomous robots capable of caring for plants without (or with minimal) human intervention. As you can see below, American farms already use machines from across three generations, though most of the ones that fall under the third are still in development."

Read more from Engadget

February 20th, 2015

"The nation’s top nutritional panel is recommending for the first time that Americans consider the impact on the environment when they are choosing what to eat, a move that defied a warning from Congress and, if enacted, could discourage people from eating red meat.

Members of Congress had sought in December to keep the group from even discussing the issue, asserting that while advising the government on federal dietary guidelines, the committee should steer clear of extraneous issues and stick to nutritional advice.

But the panel’s findings, issued Thursday in the form of a 571-page report, recommended that Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more foods derived from plants and fewer foods that come from animals. Red meat is deemed particularly harmful because of, among other things, the amount of land and feed required in its production.

“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the report says.

The environmental recommendations are part of a report meant to provide the scientific basis for the next version of the Dietary Guidelines, the federal government’s publication on what to eat. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Agriculture Department will issue the guidelines later this year."

Read more from The Washington Post


February 18th, 2015

Learn More! Participate! Spread the word!

Please view ResponisbleAg's new video on Youtube.

Learn more about ResponsibleAg here.

February 18th, 2015

The AFVP launched a video calling on fertilizer experts to volunteer their time, knowledge and expertise in Africa.

Please view the video on YouTube.

February 9th, 2015

"Let’s start small. We depend on bees to pollinate plants that account for about one-third of the world’s food supply, but since 2006 bee colonies in the United States have been dying off at an unprecedented rate. More recently, the same “colony collapse disorder” has appeared in China, Egypt and Japan.

Many suspect that the main cause is a widely used type of pesticides called neonicotinoids, but the evidence is not yet conclusive. The fact remains that one-third of the American bee population has disappeared in the past decade. If the losses spread and deepen, we may face serious food shortages.

Then there’s peak fertilizer, or more precisely peak phosphate rock. Phosphorus is a critical ingredient of fertilizer, and it is the eightfold increase in the use of fertilizers that has enabled us to triple food production worldwide from about the same area of land in the past 60 years.

At the moment we are mining about 200 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year, and the global reserve that could be mined at a reasonable cost with current technology is estimated at about 16 billion tonnes. At the current level of production it won’t run out entirely for 80 years, but the increasing demand for fertilizers to feed the growing population means that phosphate production is rising fast.

As with peak oil, the really important date is not when there are no economically viable phosphate rock reserves left, but when production starts to fall. Peak phosphate is currently no more than 40 years away — or much less, if fertilizer use continues to grow. After that, it’s back to organic fertilizers, which mainly means the urine and feces of 10 billion or 12 billion human beings and their domesticated animals. Good luck with that.

Peak soil is a trickier notion, but it derives from the more concrete concept that we are “mining” the soil: degrading and exhausting it by growing single-crop “monocultures,” using too much fertilizer and irrigating too enthusiastically, all in the name of higher crop yields."

Read more from The Telegram.

February 2nd, 2015

"In 2013, I made my first trip to Ethiopia. Knowing a bit about the country’s economic circumstances, I fully expected the grim poverty that I’d later encounter. After all, like millions of Americans, I watched the devastating famine there unfold on television in the 1980s.

At the same time, Ethiopia has made great strides since then. Ethiopia halved the number of its undernourished people from 75 percent to 35 percent in two decades, according to the United Nations. Still, that 35 percent is considerable – the U.N.’s World Food Programme estimates that 3.2 million Ethiopians need food relief assistance.

So imagine my surprise when I entered a restroom in a small town outside Addis, the capital, and found sensorized urinals – the kind that self-flush. I don’t normally notice urinals, but in Ethiopia, where electricity and indoor plumbing are unreliable at best, sensorized urinals catch your attention. To find something as relatively advanced as a sensorized machine in a small Ethiopian town doesn’t necessarily say much about the country; but it says a lot about the machine.

In particular, it illustrates the potential of sensors and how they could hold the key to significantly reducing the world’s hunger problem. Sensors are everywhere and in everything, at least in developed nations such as the United States. They’ve revolutionized our mobile phones, and are now powering the next wave of wearable tech devices. Sensors are the reason the automotive industry is poised to deliver a driverless car.

The best thing about sensors, aside from their potential? They’re dirt cheap. The average smartphone holds five to seven sensors that cost about $5 combined. In 2007, an accelerometer, which comes standard in all smartphones today, cost $7 — now it costs less than 50 cents. The steep price decline, which has been in place since the early 1990s, is a function of strong competition in the smartphone arena and the growing number of applications using sensor technology. But nothing mandates that sensors are for smartphones only."

Read more from The Washington Post.

February 2nd, 2015

"It was 8 degrees in Minneapolis on a recent January day, and out on Interstate 394, snow whipped against the windshields of drivers on their morning commutes. But inside the offices of Cargill, the food conglomerate, Greg Page, the company’s executive chairman, felt compelled to talk about global warming.

“It would be irresponsible not to contemplate it,” Mr. Page said, bundled up in a wool sport coat layered over a zip-up sweater. “I’m 63 years old, and I’ve grown up in the upper latitudes. I’ve seen too much change to presume we might not get more.”

Mr. Page is not a typical environmental activist. He says he doesn’t know — or particularly care — whether human activity causes climate change. He doesn’t give much serious thought to apocalyptic predictions of unbearably hot summers and endless storms.

But over the last nine months, he has lobbied members of Congress and urged farmers to take climate change seriously. He says that over the next 50 years, if nothing is done, crop yields in many states will most likely fall, the costs of cooling chicken farms will rise and floods will more frequently swamp the railroads that transport food in the United States. He wants American agribusiness to be ready.

Mr. Page is a member of the Risky Business Project, an unusual collection of business and policy leaders determined to prepare American companies for climate change. It’s a prestigious club, counting a former senator, five former White House cabinet members, two former mayors and two billionaires in the group. The 10 men and women who serve on the governing committee don’t agree on much. Some are Democrats, some Republicans.

Even when it comes to dealing with climate change, they have very different perspectives. Some advocate a national carbon tax, some want to mandate companies to disclose their climate risks. Mr. Page suggests that the world may be able to get by without any mandatory rules at all. Some members want to push investors to divest from fossil fuel companies. Several favor construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, while one member has spent more than $1 million lobbying to stop it. But they all do agree on one issue: Shifts in weather over the next few decades will most likely cost American companies hundreds of billions of dollars, and they have no choice but to adapt."

Read more from The New York Times.

January 19th, 2015

"LAST year Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, invested $1 billion into rice production in Nigeria. This new investment is in support of the Nigerian Government’s plan to attain food sufficiency and become a net-exporter of rice by 2015. Rice is crucial to Nigeria food security - 84% of Nigerian households consume rice yet the country has a rice import bill currently exceeding $2 billion, which has the potential to deplete the country’s foreign currency reserves. 

Today the country not too far behind it’s 2015 target and Dangote’s investment will serve to bolster these efforts. Nigeria has currently achieved 80% self-sufficiency in paddy rice production and, in 2013, added seven million metric tonnes of paddy rice to the domestic food supply. 

Food production is a very real concern in Africa. The average annual growth in food demand is projected at 2.83% per year from 2000 - 2030, due to population increase which is set to increase rapidly. By 2030 the continent will need to feed 1.5 billion people and 2 billion by 2050. 

Whilst there has been significant increases in agricultural productivity globally, current productivity growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is not enough - at the rate it’s going today, only 13% of total food demand will be met in 2050. 

North Africa will however fare better with the Middle East and Northern Africa region able to satisfy 83% of total food demand, at it’s current total factor productivity rate. Sub-Saharan Africa’s huge gap will need to be closed through investments in productivity improvements, selective expansion, intensification, and trade."

Read more from Mail & Guardian Africa.