Agriculture

Australia's burping cows more climate friendly than thought
May 27, 2011 07:06 AM - Reuters, SINGAPORE

Australia's huge cattle herd in the north might be burping less planet-warming methane emissions than thought, a study released on Friday shows, suggesting the cows are more climate friendly. Cattle, sheep and other ruminant livestock produce large amounts of methane, which is about 20 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. One cow can produce about 1.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. Half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and most of that is from sheep and cattle. Most of the cattle and sheep emissions are, contrary to popular belief, from burping. Scientists at Australia's state-backed research body the CSIRO say the amount of methane from cattle fed on tropical grasses in northern Australia could be nearly a third less than thought.

Colombia shifts from drugs to food in farming expansion
May 24, 2011 06:52 AM - Mica Rosenberg, Reuters, BOGOTA

Colombia plans to nearly double agricultural land growing crops for food and biofuel, part of a new investment boom in the country as violence ebbs from a decades-long internal conflict fueled by drug profits. The idea is to transform the vast eastern plains, dotted for years with illicit coca plantations, into the country's bread basket in a push to bring down food prices and boost revenues from agricultural exports. But first Colombia will have to overcome serious infrastructure problems and concerns about land rights after millions of people have been displaced by violence. Global food prices soared to a record in February and while they have fallen since then, many experts say they will stay high as populations grow faster than farmers can feed them. Latin America could help buck that trend as the region in the world with the most land still available and suitable for agriculture after Africa.

Farm states suffer expanded drought
May 20, 2011 06:29 AM - Carey Gillam, Retuers, KANSAS CITY, Missouri

A dire drought that has plagued Texas and parts of Oklahoma expanded across the key farming state of Kansas over the last week, adding to struggles of wheat farmers already dealing with weather-ravaged fields. Harvest in Kansas, the top U.S. wheat-growing state, is set to begin within weeks. But a report issued Thursday by a consortium of climatologists said the three most severe levels of drought spread across the state over the last week, with the most dire conditions concentrated in the key wheat-growing south-central and southwest parts. "It is pretty bad," said Kansas state climatologist Mary Knapp. "For a lot of these areas... the last significant rainfall was in July of last year." Kansas now has 50 percent of the state suffering severe levels of drought or worse, up from 41 percent last week, according to the Drought Monitor report. Just three months ago, less than 4 percent of Kansas was suffering severe drought or worse. The drought is eroding production potential at a time when every bushel counts.

Louisiana flooding continues, peak nears
May 18, 2011 06:26 AM - Kristen Hays, Reuters, LIVONIA, Louisiana

Floodwater released from a key Mississippi River spillway surged through the Louisiana bayou on Tuesday, and levees protecting the state's two biggest cities held as river flows neared their peak. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway on Saturday in an effort to spare the downstream cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge from the Mississippi River's record flooding. Towns and crop lands along the Atchafalaya River basin that are in the path of the diverted floodwaters could see as much as 20 feet of water in coming days. Flooding has reached places like Butte LaRose and St. Landry Parish at the northern end of the basin, putting some houses underwater. In towns like Krotz Springs and Morgan City to the south, construction crews have erected miles of flood barriers, assisted by National Guard troops and even prison inmates, as they await the rising water. The floodwater is making its way south from the spillway more slowly than the Corps originally forecast, in part due to drought-parched soil that is soaking up some of the water, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said at a press briefing.

Ancient Hawaiian Farms
May 17, 2011 02:36 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

The original settlers of Polynesia migrated through South-East Asia and Indonesia across Melanesia, before settling the Polynesian islands beginning in 1000 BC. Hawaii was one of the last island groups to be settled. Archaeological evidence indicates the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii from the Marquesas between 500 and 700 AD. Hawaii has often been thought of as an earthly paradise. Still people must live and eat. A pattern of earthen berms, spread across a northern peninsula of the big island of Hawaii, is providing archeologists with clues to exactly how residents farmed in paradise long before Europeans arrived at the islands.

Drought crisis in France
May 17, 2011 06:46 AM - Reuters

France has imposed limits on water consumption in 28 of its 96 administrative departments, the environment ministry said Monday, amid signs that a prolonged dry spell that has hit grain crops would continue. "We are already in a situation of crisis. The situation is like what we would expect in July for groundwater levels, river flows and snow melting," Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told a press conference. The government had previously put 27 departments under water consumption limits, and Kosciusko-Morizet said Monday that similar measures could be extended to three more -- effectively affecting a third of the country. One of the hottest and driest Aprils on record in France has parched farmland and cut water reserves, stoking worries of a drought similar to that experienced in 1976 and fuelling concern harvests will suffer in the European Union's top grain producer.

The Parakeet Invasion of England
May 16, 2011 09:45 AM - David A Gabel, ENN

This green and pleasant land is quickly becoming home to a green and not so pleasant bird. The Rose-Ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri), an exotic bird from India and sub-Saharan Africa is spreading like wildfire in London and its surrounding suburbs. Their population was estimated at 1,500 in 1995. Only a few years ago, their numbers have jumped to an estimated 30,000! At first they seemed like a new attractive bird in people's backyards. Now they are a pest, hogging bird feeders and causing a nuisance. However, the greatest fear is that they will spread to agricultural areas and threaten crops.

Mongol Invasion in 1200 Altered Carbon Dioxide Levels
May 10, 2011 04:11 PM - Stephanie Pappas, Live Science

The Mongol invasion of Asia in the 1200s took enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to offset a year's worth of the world's gasoline demand today, according to a new study. But even Genghis Khan couldn't create more than a blip in atmospheric carbon compared to the overwhelming effect of agriculture.

Brazil's forest code debate may determine fate of the Amazon rainforest
May 9, 2011 03:03 PM - Rhett Butler, MONGABAY.COM

Brazil's forest code may be about to get an overhaul. The federal code, which presently requires landowners in the Amazon to keep 80 percent of their land forest (20-35% in the cerrado), is widely flouted, but has been used in recent years as a lever by the government to go after deforesters. For example, the forest code served as the basis for the "blacklists" which restricted funds for municipalities where deforestation has been particularly high. To get off the blacklist, and thereby regain access to finance and markets, a municipality must demonstrate its landowners are in compliance with environmental laws.

What makes humans special? The Power of communication. New from BBC Earth
May 6, 2011 10:10 AM - Editor, BBC Earth

A human's need to communicate, can be observed from the first moments of life. The intuitive reaction of a newborn to cry, lays the stepping-stone for a process which at its heart, will enable every human to successfully communicate their experience of being alive. It has been said that words are man's greatest achievement. With the first utterances of symbolic language emerging 2.5 million years ago, slowly evolved by the first Homo sapiens – the solid foundations of modern articulation have decidedly been set. Yet many would argue that speech and language was developed not out of want, but out of need. Therefore in what ways do humans communicate…without using words? Music has long been a way of communicating for necessity as well as pleasure. Such as the use of a lullaby to sooth, a folk song to warn and a chant to call to arms! But in what ways do we use rhythm and melody to communicate with nature itself?

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