Agriculture

Drought worsens in Midwest
August 5, 2011 07:04 AM - Michael Hirtzer, Reuters, CHICAGO

Drought worsened in the Midwest during the last week as record-high temperatures stressed the developing corn and soybean crops, while cotton and pastures eroded amid a historic drought in the southern Plains. Nearly 38 percent of the Midwest was "abnormally dry" as of August 2, the climatologists said in a weekly report, the most since December 2008. Temperatures in the past week hit record highs from the Plains to the East Coast, in some cases rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) for the first time in more than 20 years. "Exceptional drought" decreased modestly in Texas, the epicenter of the worst drought in decades, where 73.5 percent of the state was suffering from that most severe category, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by a consortium of national climate experts

Rising Carbon Dioxide Could Reverse Drying Effects of Higher Temperatures On Rangelands
August 4, 2011 07:25 AM - ScienceDaily

Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can reverse the drying effects of predicted higher temperatures on semi-arid rangelands, according to a study published in the journal Nature by a team of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists. Warmer temperatures increase water loss to the atmosphere, leading to drier soils. In contrast, higher CO2 levels cause leaf stomatal pores to partly close, lessening the amount of water vapor that escapes and the amount of water plants draw from soil. This new study finds that CO2 does more to counterbalance warming-induced water loss than previously expected. In fact, simulations of levels of warming and CO2 predicted for later this century demonstrated no net change in soil water, and actually increased levels of plant growth for warm-season grasses.

Drought continues to worsen in southern Plains
July 22, 2011 06:55 AM - Julie Ingwersen, Reuters, CHICAGO

A historic drought in the southern Plains intensified in the last week and contributed to dry conditions emerging in the heart of the Midwest crop belt, a weekly climatologists' report said Thursday. The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by a consortium of national climate experts, showed abnormally dry conditions affecting a significant area of the Midwest -- about 10 percent -- for the first time this summer. The areas included parts of Iowa and Illinois, the top two corn- and soy-growing states that annually produce about one-third of the U.S. corn crop. Also affected were southern Wisconsin, northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Texas remained the epicenter of the crisis, with "exceptional drought," the most severe drought category, gripping 75 percent of the state. Texas climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said it was the state's third-worst drought since 1895.

How will climate change impact food production?
July 20, 2011 07:02 AM - Christine Stebbins, Reuters, KANSAS CITY, Missouri

Climate and food production is a subject that needs more study in coming years but for now even the U.S. Agriculture Department finds it almost impossible to estimate the effects of one on the other. "They are very elaborate models," said USDA's chief economist Joseph Glauber, referring to climate-crop forecasting in an interview on Tuesday on the sidelines of a farm lending conference at the Kansas City Federal Reserve. "Take into account all the fundamentals on crops and yields. You also have to build in all this climate variability and predictions about climate variability. The range of potential outcomes is pretty large," Glauber said. "We just don't consider that in our 10-year baseline. We assume some trend growth, we really don't even look at variabilities. That's probably proper for a 10-year forecast horizon." The USDA's crop reports, such as the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) and its 10-year baseline crop outlooks, are key benchmarks for the world food and farming industries, given the vast domestic and world data gathering the agency employs.

Heat wave over much of central US continues
July 17, 2011 08:50 AM - Molly O'Toole, Reuters, WASHINGTON

Fiery reds and oranges nearly covered the United States on meteorologist maps as a massive heat wave hit hard in much of the country on Saturday. Temperatures averaged up to 15 degrees above normal, with most peaks in the 90s but triple digit heat expected to strike from Montana to New Mexico, according to lead meteorologists for The Weather Channel and The National Weather Service. Paired with oppressive humidity, temperatures will feel even hotter, as measured by the heat indexes. The NWS issued excessive heat warnings and watches for the Midwest from Texas to Canada, and heat index values over 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 C) are possible for portions of the central and eastern United States by the middle of next week. Locations affected are expected to see temperatures and heat indexes of up to 117 degrees (47 C), including cities like Minneapolis where that is extremely rare.

Missouri River flooding persisting
July 14, 2011 06:47 AM - Reuters

The swollen Missouri River was swamping more farmland in Missouri on Wednesday as federal officials began to prepare for a gradual reduction in water releases from a key dam starting later in July. Residents from Montana through Missouri have built flood barriers and evacuated homes for more than a thousand miles over the last two months as melting snow and heavy rains overwhelmed six reservoirs on the Upper Missouri River. Federal officials have released water from the dams at double previous record rates, straining levees through the North and South Dakota capitals down along the borders of Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas and across Missouri. Some of the latest breaches were in Carroll County, Missouri, about 60 miles east of Kansas City where some barriers have been overtopped by floodwaters, threatening roads and smaller communities.

Disaster relief seeds 'should be more diverse'
July 11, 2011 11:23 AM - George Achia, SciDevNet

[NAIROBI] African farmers who lose their seeds in floods and droughts could restore their crop biodiversity quicker by trading local seed varieties at markets and through informal social links than by receiving seeds from aid agencies, a study suggests. The genetic diversity of crops allows plant populations to adapt to changing environments and provides the raw materials for crop improvement programmes. It is crucial for ensuring food security through the traditional African cropping system.

Exxon oil spill on Yellowstone River impacts farms
July 6, 2011 06:31 AM - Emilie Ritter, Reuters, HELENA, Montana

Governor Brian Schweitzer vowed on Tuesday to cling to Exxon Mobil like "the smell on a skunk" for as long as it takes to get the company to clean up a weekend oil spill that fouled an otherwise pristine stretch of the Yellowstone River in Montana. A 12-inch Exxon pipeline ruptured on Friday night about 150 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park near the town of Laurel, Montana, southwest of Billings, dumping up to 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of crude oil into the flood-swollen river. Toxic fumes from the oil overcame a number of people who reported breathing problems and dizziness and were taken to local hospitals. But state and federal officials on Tuesday said they lacked a tally of health problems or the number of riverside homes that were evacuated after the accident. Exxon officials said shoreline oil contamination extended at least 25 miles downstream but appeared to be confined mostly to scattered pockets along the river.

Brazilian government: Amazon deforestation rising
July 1, 2011 08:49 AM - Rhett Butler, MONGABAY.COM

Satellite data released today by the Brazilian government confirmed a rise in Amazon deforestation over this time last year. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) says that deforestation during the month of May amounted to 268 square miles, a rise of 144 percent over May 2010. 35 percent of the clearing occurred in Mato Grosso, the state where agricultural expansion is fast-occurring.

Measuring Ruminant Emissions Through Biomarkers Found in Stool
June 13, 2011 10:08 AM - David A Gabel, ENN

Livestock is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases. The ruminant digestive system creates ample amounts of methane which is released into the atmosphere. It is difficult to measure the amount of methane produced by cows because unlike emission stacks, ruminant exhaust cannot be controlled or monitored. However, researchers from the University of Bristol and the Teagasc Animal and Grassland Research Centre in Ireland have made the connection between methane production and a certain chemical found in the stool of cows, sheep, and other animals. This link may be used to more accurately estimate methane emissions by animals and assess their contribution to global warming.

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