AuthorJohn Rogers

REPOST: Farmland bird decline prompts renewed calls for agriculture overhaul

How big a role do birds play in agriculture? Based on modern scientific understanding and indigenous knowledge, it’s huge. Read more from The Guardian:

Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

Birds living and breeding on the UK’s farmland have seen numbers decline by almost a tenth in five years, official figures show.

Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows.

While the majority of the decline happened in between the late 1970s and 1980s as farming practices changed rapidly, there was a 9% decline between 2010 and 2015, the statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show.

The latest figures have prompted renewed calls for an overhaul of farming as the UK leaves the EU and its system of agricultural subsidies, to support wildlife and farming.

The data showed some “specialist” species, those restricted to or highly dependent on farmland habitats, have seen precipitous falls.

Corn buntings, grey partridge, turtle doves and tree sparrows have all suffered declines of more than 90% since 1970, though others such as stock doves and goldfinches saw populations double.

For turtle doves in particular, dramatic falls continue, with numbers down 71% between 2010 and 2015.

Elsewhere in the countryside, woodland birds have seen numbers remain relatively stable over the last five years, although they are down almost a quarter (23%) since 1970.

Across all species, including farmland, woodland, wetland and waterbirds and seabirds, numbers are down around 8% on 1970, the figures show.

Continue reading HERE.

Ecological and economic importance of mangrove forests

Image source: ikerbasque.net

Mangrove forests in tropical and subtropical regions have been sanctuaries to a wide variety of species like fish, shrimp, crab, and mollusks and their ecological role that contributed to the growth of their neighboring human communities have proven their importance for many years.

However, not everyone knows that aside from their ecological importance, mangrove forests also promote an economic boost to their nearby population centers. In fact, a recent report has summarized the estimated worth of goods and services brought by this ecosystem to reach US$186 million each year.

Let’s take a look at the important contributions of these sanctuaries to the ecology and the economy.

Timber and other plant products.

Mangrove woods have been extremely valuable sources of timber and other plant products because of their natural resistance to rotting and insect infestation. That’s why many coastal communities depend on the material that they produce for goods like fuel and construction supplies.

Aside from wood, medicinal products, animal fodder, to name a few, have been harvested from this rich ecosystem.

Strengthens and protects coastal structures.

Because of mangroves’ dense root systems, they can easily trap sediments that often flow down rivers heading off the land. The same roots can help stabilize the structures of coastlines as well as effectively prevent erosion caused by storms and heavy rains.

The presence of mangroves in areas often hit by dangerous typhoons can lessen the economic and ecological damages caused by continuous rains and flooding.

Encourages and boosts tourism in the community.

The rich and diverse species present in mangrove systems can attract tourists as well as enthusiasts, in turn contributing to a strong economic activity to its nearby communities.

Sandy beaches and vibrant and rich coral reefs surrounding mangrove systems are popular destinations for snorkeling and diving expeditions.

In addition, tigers, monkeys, birds, crocodiles, to name a few, have found mangrove systems to be a practical and safe haven from the dangers of both human and natural threats.

REPOST: Here’s why technology could be a double-edged sword for agriculture

The mechanization of farming has given us high yields that were once impossible to achieve. However, does making agriculture increasingly high-tech always mean better profits for growers? This article from Tech Wire Asia has some interesting thoughts to share:

Singapore’s government wants more innovation in farming, but is it ready? Source: Shutterstock

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the impact of technology and its capability to drive high growth and amazing results in short periods of time, but there’s a big question mark as to whether or not everyone should be jumping in to incorporate the latest and greatest technologies promising the sun and the moon for their bottom lines.

This was especially true when you think about some pretty expensive systems, such as machine learning and automation programs meant to take off the slack on human employees. These are great systems that can have a real monetary cost to them that might not necessarily be beneficial to the company if it results in driving up costs.

Executives and decision makers in companies need to really focus on what tech will work positively for their companies, especially if there isn’t any significant ROI to speak of.

A farm in Singapore drew particular focus on the issue, as the owners battle with whether or not to bring in technologies that could potentially benefit their business. The Jurong Frog Farm, the only place in Singapore that breeds American bullfrogs, is weighing the wisdom of integrating a new recirculating aquaculture system that could help them continue their business should they be moved off their current land when their lease ends.

The problem at the heart of it is that the Singaporean government is implementing a new policy that would weight farmers’ adoption of sustainable and productivity-boosting technologies as a factor in the land-lease bidding process.

Some farms in Norway and overseas are experimenting with indoor farming. Source: Shutterstock

A tender released in August will evaluate bids partly on the basis of these farmers’ ability to harness innovation and sustain production, a challenge for many small, independent farms that may not be able to afford such investments.

According to the farm directors, the aquaculture system – which relies on a single stock of water that is repeatedly treated and recycled – could cost hundreds of thousands of Singaporean dollars as it’ll need to be refitted to suit the needs of a frog farm. Estimates and initial sums indicate that the small farm would not be able to afford such an investment, and it could actually set them back, according to Chelsea Wan who is the director of Jurong Frog Farm.

“Even with government subsidies at implementation, the running cost of such a system might force us to eventually pass on costs to customers, who may simply turn to other farms in the region, which have plenty of land and water,” she said to the Straits Times.

Continue reading HERE.

Do you know where biofuels actually come from?

For many centuries, petroleum has been the world’s most popular source of fuel, whether for heating or for energy generation. However, its unrenewable nature and the undeniable harm that it inflicts to the environment have proven that we needed a better and more sustainable alternative—and this is where biofuel comes in.

Image source: electrochem.org

Many researchers have spent years exploring viable sources as a response to the alarming signs of global climate change. When science and technology came together to answer this demand, a list of unexpected and surprising organic materials stepped up and dominated the scene.

Image source: earthpowernews.com

Corn, for instance, currently produces the biggest supply of biofuel in the United States because of its product, ethanol. However, its category as an agricultural product does not make it a top choice for fuel and many debates have pointed out that taking food and putting it into fuel can be problematic.

Image source: theguardian.com.au

Another viable source of biofuel comes from a very popular water-grown plant, algae. Its nature and where it can be found have made it more practical than its land-based counterparts—especially because it grows amazingly fast. Pond scum and seaweed are not scientifically categorized as plants but 50 percent of their weight is composed of fat and can be rendered into oil to finally produce ethanol.

Image source: hulagirlfoods.com

In the industry of biofuel production, sugar cane has been widely used (second to corn). Usually, it grows in warm countries and its abundance in places like Brazil has made it an essential source of energy, thanks to sugar cane ethanol. Unlike corn and other seed-based fuels, sugar cane utilizes more of the plant.

Image source: extremebiodiesel.com

There are many other developments happening within the biofuel industry and some of them are showing optimistic signs of success. With the planet’s condition worsening, it is about time for mankind to step up and look for viable solutions to prevent our only home in entire galaxy from deteriorating further.

REPOST: Millennials now biggest produce consumers

Young shoppers are on the rise, and it seems like they are making a significant impact on the fresh produce industry. Millennial consumers, according to an article from The Packer, now eat more fruits and vegetables than any other generation. Read more:

Garland Perkins, U.S. retail solutions specialist at The Oppenheimer Group, spoke to the Midwest Produce Expo as an “In the flesh” millennial about how her generation of millennial consumers respond to marketing and what that means for fresh produce sellers. | Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider

Millennial consumers are driving growth in alternative retail formats and fresh produce marketers must be ready to respond with authentic and relevant marketing messages.

That’s the advice of Garland Perkins, U.S. retail solutions specialist at The Oppenheimer Group, speaking Aug. 15 at The Packer’s Midwest Produce Expo.

Perkins said millennial consumers support online shopping more than any other generation, and that will increase the influence of online grocery retail in the years ahead. Growth of grocery e-commerce increased 24% in 2016, and studies reveal between 30% and 60% of millennial shoppers purchase groceries online.

Only 4% of fresh produce is purchased online now, she said, but millennial support for online grocery should raise that number considerably in the next five to 10 years.

In terms of shopping habits, millennial consumers tend to have fewer trips to the store but larger average purchases, Perkins said. While produce is often in the shopping basket of millennial consumers, they are slightly less like to plan produce purchases.

“It is key to connect to consumers outside the store,” she said, noting options such as social media and e-mail marketing.

Millennial consumers are more inclined to purchase produce items on impulse and are more engaged with mobile technology, she said.

At 2.7 servings per day, millennial consumers now eat more fruits and vegetables than any other generation, she said.

While 71% of baby boomers use weekly advertising circulars to help them shop, only 38% of millennial shoppers do, Perkins said.

Perkins said that millennial consumers tend to trust recommendations from friends and family. Suppliers should consider setting up a website for shoppers to review their products, she said. While risky, such user reviews are authentic and resonate with millennial shoppers.

Creating appealing websites also is key when trying to connect with millennial consumers, she said.

Commodities like berries kale, Brussels sprouts, avocados and premium apple varieties are a few of the produce items favored by millennial shoppers, influenced by restaurant trends, food bloggers and other influences. Studying the rise of kale among younger shoppers may yield clues on how to increase consumption of all fruits and vegetables, she said.

The most important part of marketing to millennial consumers is telling a story, Perkins said.

Perkins said she working on a grassroots effort to use the hashtag #thisisfreshproduce on all fresh produce related social media posts to introduce more millennial consumers to fresh produce. Perkins also is working on a website and social media accounts related to the hashtag, she said.

 

How farming practices have changed over the decades

Image source: starlanevineyard.com

Agriculture, considered a primary industry, has changed throughout the course of history and it continues to evolve not only to adapt to our way of life but also to respond to the changes of the natural environment through several innovations. From traditional methods that only allow for a few harvest seasons in a year to technologically enhanced practices that made farming a year-round activity, agriculture has gone a long way.

Just like how technology changed the way people do and experience everyday reality, it has also brought many significant milestones to the farming industry. During the 1940s in the rural America, farmers were only able to feed 19 people in a day. With technology and the advancement of agricultural tools and machines, a single farmer can now produce enough food for 155 people.

Image source: farmingmagazine.com

This number is crucial to some regions plagued with drought and famine like Africa. Several factors have contributed to this food shortage problem like climate change, low farm productivity, and overpopulation. However, African social entrepreneurs are starting to look at technology, more specifically digital technology to solve recent issues and predict future challenges, deploying cloud computing, connectivity and open source software to increase yields.

Changes in agricultural education has also risen to the challenge of responding to the signs of time and actively addressing the current problems faced by farmers and the industry as a whole. Unlike the limited courses offered ten years ago, new and better degrees that can benefit agricultural practices are being incorporated to other related studies.

Image source: inhabitat.com

These changes are expected to improve knowledge and awareness on identification of solutions to several farming problems faced by big and small farmers around the world.

REPOST: How renewable farming can solve problems of climate change and conflicts

Environmental sustainability goes far beyond addressing climate change and putting higher emphasis on renewable power. Conventional agricultural activities, which can significantly degrade soil quality and jeopardize water resources, also require serious modifications. Here’s an article on YOURSTORY for more insights:

 

Around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. Credit: Shutterstock

 

Climate change talks are often centred on renewable energy. Nobody talks about making farming renewable. Around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. It emits carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuel required to make chemicals.

Their origin goes back to World War II, when those manufacturing explosives using nitrogen realised that the same could be used to make fertilisers. After the world war, the factories could have shut down but those who had gotten used to profiteering did not want to quit. A whole new science of farming was raised and farmers were told that nitrogen fertilisers are good.

If we give it a thought, our pulses fix nitrogen as well. Their roots have rhizobium bacteria which fix nitrogen and give us good nutrition. But the green revolution did not have pulses. It focused on rice and wheat and the result is for everyone to see. Not only it cheated the earth of its natural nitrogen fixators, shortage of pulses also led to a rise in their prices.

Another means of the emission of greenhouse gases is the industrialised meat industry. In western countries, there are more animals than humans in prison. Cow loves grass, but it is fed soybean. In India, that is how we treat chicken. Estimates suggest that for the production of every single unit of animal protein, we spend 10 times the grain, which is also grown with 10 times more input. In the West, 50 percent food produced is wasted which contributes to methane. So, when you consider all this, half of climate change is due to the type of food system which is dependent on chemical farming and industrial food production.

 

Continue reading HERE.

Restorative gardens: The backyard as a healing sanctuary

Image source: wilko.com

Who would have thought that the humble activity of pruning roses, digging trenches, or planting bulbs can help you live a happier and longer life? The good news is, this activity is accessible to everyone, young and old – and it doesn’t matter if you have that rare ‘green thumb’ or not.

A 2016 research gathered substantial evidence to support the claim that gardening can have long term effects on the overall physical, psychological, and social health of an individual. In addition, the study have concluded that this type of activity can reduce or even prevent several health issues that are common today.

Image source: dohafamily.com

So what are the specific benefits of gardening to our overall well-being?

First, as a physical activity, gardening is estimated to burn 200-500 calories in every hour you spend with your plants. Children and even the elderly can enjoy such benefits that can help maintain a healthy weight and fight the causes of obesity.

Taking care of your plants and home-grown herbs can also contribute to the increase of your bone density – second to weight training. In fact, a recent study has indicated that women who do weekly activities from doing yard work and gardening have higher bone density measurements than those who are inactive.

Aside from its physical benefits, gardening is also one of the best and cost-effective ways to improve one’s mental health especially for mothers with depression. This is because of how gardening immerses them natural and healthy environment while promoting an active engagement in such creative and positive routine.

Image source: motherearthnews.com

In fact, further studies have claimed that sufferers of dementia can rely on horticultural therapy, a non-pharmacological option that helps improve the patient’s attention, reduce stress and help improve their sleep patterns.

Outside health, gardening can also be a potential source of additional income. Hobbyists can channel their passion into business by serving as suppliers to organic restaurants and other local food businesses. Especially with the emergence of the farm-to-table concept, small and independent farmers play a key role in building sustainable businesses. Many of today’s most successful restaurants source their ingredients from local farmers, cutting carbon emissions from long-distance delivery and empowering the lives of small-scale growers.

REPOST: 4 ways AI helps business protect the environment

Once only confined to realms of science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly gaining ground in almost every aspect of everyday life. But of all the industries and applications it is a part of, it is the environment that actually reaps the biggest rewards. Here are more insights from GreenBiz:

 

The environment is a hot topic, literally. As global temperatures have warmed since 1850, the discussion on what to do about it has heated up as well. Humanity is having an undeniable impact on the natural world. Our growing demand for resources is leading to land-use changes, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Climate change continues to disrupt weather patterns, temperatures and water availability, leading to impacts on human and natural ecosystems — even the forests are on the move.

The good news is that there is more information than ever before about the environment. Growing global attention is leading to increasing regulations, deeper research and deployment of advanced sensing and mapping technologies. However, connecting the dots for better insights and solutions is difficult because the relevant information is often siloed, and decision makers are reluctant to act without a high degree of certainty.

Today’s complex supply chains make this an even tougher puzzle to unravel. Cognitive technology, enabled by artificial intelligence, or AI, is uniquely adapted to helping with these challenges, from finding patterns and interconnections within macro datasets to providing local, personalized diagnosis and predictions that learn and improve over time.

With its ability to understand, reason and learn, cognitive technology is proving a great ally in protecting our planet in four key ways:

1. Better conservation of natural resources. By combining satellite imagery, sensors and machine learning, companies and governments are reducing water usage in their operations as well as pinpointing the variables that lead to better soil health. One winery created a cognitive irrigation system that can deliver water in a way that’s situational, hyper-local, automated and self-tuning, helping it cut water use by 25 percent over three years.

2. Earlier pollution detection. Advanced machine learning and self-organizing mesh networks are helping organizations pinpoint the sources of pollution faster and more accurately, whether air pollution or methane leaks. This enables more targeted mitigation actions that are better for business and the environment, such as improved natural gas operations with reduced emissions.

3. Accelerating sustainable options. Cognitive technology is accelerating more sustainable energy and product choices for consumers. One of the biggest barriers to widespread use of renewable energy has been forecast accuracy. Not only is it tough to predict how much renewable energy will be available at a given time on a given day but solar and wind farms are adding to the supply (while decreasing their own demand), making forecasting more difficult. By combining advanced weather forecasting models with cognitive self-learning capabilities, a Vermont-based power company is developing a more precise, automated renewable energy forecast for solar and wind power.

Cognitive technology also can assist with environmental regulation compliance — an important first step toward greater transparency and greener product choices for consumers. Cognitive platforms equipped with natural language capabilities can read large blocks of regulatory text and extract essential obligations, such as a local requirement for a specific label on a product.

4. Learning from nature’s ecosystems. Policy makers and companies that manage natural resources face an increasingly tough challenge to develop those resources sustainably as they change over time. It’s not always clear how a single stressor, such as salt runoff from roads, affects a natural ecosystem, let alone multiple stressors. Environmental assessments are often manually collected over time, making it more difficult to pinpoint and monitor cause and effect.

One research project in upstate New York is working to advance knowledge in this area. Scientists are analyzing data from environmental sensors around Lake George to build and refine computer models of the lake’s ecosystem. As more data is collected, machine learning will provide a better understanding of what the norms and anomalies are, enabling decision makers to run what-if scenarios and tradeoff analyses for better insights. This can lead to important applications for real-time environmental monitoring and more targeted remediation — a critical need for the $7 trillion natural resource industry.

While dire predictions remain about the future of our natural world, indicators are strong that the green economy is here to stay. With the help of cognitive technology, business leaders are more empowered than ever before to build a brighter — and greener — future for their business and the world. By detecting and acting on environmental harm faster and providing more sustainable choices for consumers, they will grow their competitive advantage. It’s a win-win proposition.

Three greenest websites that are saving the planet

“Achieving high standard of living must not be done at the expense of the environment. After all, every aspect of life–from food and housing to technology and economics–is entirely dependent on the health of Mother Nature. Saving the planet could be one’s biggest life investment.”

 

Image source: surepayroll.com

 

We have always been reminded of how important nature is to humanity and while some of us ignore the signs that the environment might give up on us soon, there are still others who try to make a difference. Through their sincere and innovative efforts to save our planet, we are given another chance to change our ways and start doing our part.

 

In fact, these are what some of the greenest websites wish to achieve with their creative and inspiring content through a proven formula: by embracing technology and at the same time, incorporating eco-friendly values in everything they share to the online community. If you want to be a part of this global movement, here are some the greenest websites that you should know and use:

 

Inhabitat was founded by the New York City designer Jill Fehrenbacher in 2005. The website’s writers and editors believe in the philosophy that a good design is a green design. The page offers informative articles covering green architecture, energy and technology.

 

 

Grist was founded in 1999 and it offers expert solutions to the most serious environmental problems in the world. Their writers are composed of experts who are not afraid to present the raw reality of the deteriorating environment with their snarky headlines and a witty splash of comedy.

 

 

TreeHugger is one of the top eco websites in the world. Their contents focus on the combination of green technology and cool designs. Their writers cover a wide variety of topics related to design, building and fashion, science, cars, and more.

 

 

Indeed, these websites have greatly encouraged and inspired people from every part of the globe to go green and live green, saving the planet and changing the world one click at a time.

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