Web Tool Successfully Measures Farms’ Water Footprint

A new University of Florida web-based tool worked well during its trial run to measure water consumption at farms in four Southern states, according to a study published this month.The system measures the so-called “water footprint” of a farm. In the broader sense, water footprints account for the amount of water used to grow or create almost everything we eat, drink, wear or otherwise use.Researchers at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences introduced their WaterFootprint tool in the March issue of the journal Agricultural Systems, after using it to calculate water consumption at farms in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. The WaterFootprint is part of the AgroClimate system, developed by Clyde Fraisse, a UF associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. AgroClimate is a web resource, aimed primarily at agricultural producers, that includes interactive tools and data for reducing agricultural risks.WaterFootprint, developed primarily by Daniel Dourte, a research associate in agricultural and biological engineering, estimates water use in crop production across the U.S. WaterFootprint looks at a farm in a specific year or growing season and gives you its water footprint, Dourte said. With UF’s WaterFootprint system, users provide their location by ZIP code, the crop, planting and harvesting dates, yield, soil type, tillage and water management.The tool also retrieves historical weather data and uses it to estimate the blue and green water footprints of crop production, Dourte said. Water footprints separate water use into green, which is rainfall; blue, from a freshwater resource; and gray, an accounting of water quality, after it’s been polluted.Water footprints can be viewed at the farm level or globally. For instance, if irrigation water is used to grow crops, it is essentially exported, Dourte said.Once products are shipped overseas, the water used to grow the commodity goes with it, and it may not return for a long time — if ever, Dourte said. That’s a problem if the crop is grown in a region where water is scarce, he said.But there’s often a tradeoff, he said. Global food trade saves billions of gallons of water each year, as food is exported from humid, temperate places to drier locales that would have used much more water to grow crops, Dourte said.”The U.S. …

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Concerns raised about using beta agonists in beef cattle

Use of certain animal drugs known as beta agonists in cattle production has received considerable national attention.A Texas Tech University veterinary epidemiologist has found that although there are significant societal benefits to the practice, an increase in death loss of cattle raises questions about welfare implications of its use.In a peer-reviewed article published in PLOS ONE, Guy Loneragan, professor of food safety and public health in Texas Tech’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, adds to this ongoing national dialogue.”Beta agonists improve the efficiency of beef production and this improvement provides important societal benefits,” Loneragan said.”The beta agonists approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in cattle increase muscle growth and may reduce the amount of fat the cattle accumulates,” he said. “This means the cattle converts more of the feed it eats into beef, and it does this more efficiently.”The article is co-authored by Daniel Thomson and Morgan Scott of Kansas State University and is titled “Increased mortality in groups of cattle administered the β-adrenergic agonists ractopamine hydrochloride and zilpaterol hydrochloride.”With the use of beta agonists, cattle require less feed and less water to produce the same amount of beef than if no beta agonists were used. Less land would be used to grow the crops used to feed the animals and, therefore, less fuel to produce the same amount of beef. The improvement in the efficiency of production has meaningful societal benefits.”However, through our extensive analysis, we found that the incidence of death among cattle administered beta agonists was 75 to 90 percent greater than cattle not administered the beta agonists,” Loneragan said. “This increase in death loss raises critical animal-welfare questions. We believe an inclusive dialogue is needed to explore the use of animal drugs solely to improve performance, yet have no offsetting health benefits for the animals to which they are administered. This is particularly needed for those drugs that appear to adversely impact animal welfare, such as beta agonists.”At a recent symposium held at Texas Tech, the animal behaviorist and welfare expert Temple Grandin headlined a discussion of beta agonists and animal welfare.In a recent joint NPR interview with Loneragan and Grandin about beta agonists’ affect on animal welfare, Grandin said, “These problems have got to stop. I’ve laid awake at night about it. I’ve worked all my career to improve how animals are handled and these animals are just suffering. …

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Agroforestry can ensure food security, mitigate effects of climate change in Africa

Agroforestry can help to achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation while at the same time providing livelihoods for poor smallholder farmers in Africa.Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) say agroforestry — which is an integrated land use management technique that incorporates trees and shrubs with crops and livestock on farms — could be a win-win solution to the seemingly difficult choice between reforestation and agricultural land use, because it increases the storage of carbon and may also enhance agricultural productivity.In a special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, scientists say that in most parts of Africa, climate change mitigation focuses on reforestation and forest protection however, such efforts to reduce deforestation conflict with the need to expand agricultural production in Africa to feed the continent’s growing population.Agriculture in Africa is dominated by smallholder farmers. Their priority is to produce enough food. Under such circumstances, any measures that will be put in place to mitigate the effects of climate change should also improve food production.”This mixture shows the role that agroforestry can play in addressing both climate mitigation and adaptation in primarily food-focused production systems of Africa” says Dr. Cheikh Mbow, Senior Scientist, Climate Change and Development at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and lead author of the article.”It has been demonstrated by science that if you develop agroforestry it has the potential to buffer the impact of climate change. For example, a farm with trees will suffer less to the impacts of climate change because it will absorb some of these impacts so agroforestry is a good response to develop resilience of agrosystems to the challenges brought about by climate change” he says.The report however notes that for farmers to incorporate trees in their farms there is need to revise the cultivation methods and provide them with some support to ensure swift adoption.Agroforestry is one of the most common land use systems across landscapes and agroecological zones in Africa but need much more adoption in order to increase the impact on food security. With food shortages and increased threats of climate change, interest in agroforestry is gathering for its potential to address various on-farm adaptation needs. “The failure of extension services in poor African countries limits the possibility to scale up innovations in agroforestry for improved land use systems .”The scientists conclude that agroforestry should therefore attract more attention in global agendas on climate change mitigation because of its positive social and environmental impacts.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Predators delay pest resistance to Bt crops

Crops genetically modified with the bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) produce proteins that kill pest insects. Steady exposure has prompted concern that pests will develop resistance to these proteins, making Bt plants ineffective.Cornell research shows that the combination of natural enemies, such as ladybeetles, with Bt crops delays a pest’s ability to evolve resistance to these insecticidal proteins.“This is the first demonstrated example of a predator being able to delay the evolution of resistance in an insect pest to a Bt crop,” said Anthony Shelton, a professor of entomology at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y., and a co-author of the paper. Xiaoxia Liu, a visiting scientist from China Agricultural University who worked in the Shelton lab, is the lead author on the paper published in the journal PLoS One.Bt is a soil bacterium that produces proteins that are toxic to some species of caterpillars and beetles when they are ingested, but have been proven safe to humans and many natural enemies, including predaceous ladybirds. Bt genes have been engineered into a variety of crops to control insect pests.Since farmers began planting Bt crops in 1996 with 70 million hectares planted in the United States in 2012, there have been only three clear-cut cases in agriculture of resistance in caterpillars, and one in a beetle. “Resistance to Bt crops is surprisingly uncommon,” said Shelton.To delay or prevent insect pests from evolving resistance to Bt crops, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promotes the use of multiple Bt genes in plants and the practice of growing refuges of non-Bt plants that serve as a reservoir for insects with Bt susceptible genes.“Our paper argues there is another factor involved: the conservation of natural enemies of the pest species,” said Shelton. These predators can reduce the number of potentially resistant individuals in a pest population and delay evolution of resistance to Bt.In the study, the researchers set up large cages in a greenhouse. Each cage contained Bt broccoli and refuges of non-Bt broccoli. They studied populations of diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) larvae, a pest of broccoli, and their natural enemies, ladybird beetles (Coleomegilla maculata), for six generations.Cages contained different combinations of treatments with and without predators, and with and without sprayed insecticides on the non-Bt refuge plants. Farmers commonly spray insecticides on refuge plants to prevent loss by pests, but such sprays can kill predators and prey indiscriminately.The results showed that diamondback moth populations were reduced in the treatment containing ladybird beetles and unsprayed non-Bt refuge plants. …

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Don’t throw out old, sprouting garlic — it has heart-healthy antioxidants

“Sprouted” garlic — old garlic bulbs with bright green shoots emerging from the cloves — is considered to be past its prime and usually ends up in the garbage can. But scientists are reporting in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that this type of garlic has even more heart-healthy antioxidant activity than its fresher counterparts.Jong-Sang Kim and colleagues note that people have used garlic for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Today, people still celebrate its healthful benefits. Eating garlic or taking garlic supplements is touted as a natural way to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure and heart disease risk. It even may boost the immune system and help fight cancer. But those benefits are for fresh, raw garlic. Sprouted garlic has received much less attention. When seedlings grow into green plants, they make many new compounds, including those that protect the young plant against pathogens. Kim’s group reasoned that the same thing might be happening when green shoots grow from old heads of garlic. Other studies have shown that sprouted beans and grains have increased antioxidant activity, so the team set out to see if the same is true for garlic.They found that garlic sprouted for five days had higher antioxidant activity than fresher, younger bulbs, and it had different metabolites, suggesting that it also makes different substances. …

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Drifting herbicides produce uncertain effects

Farmers should take extra precautions so drifting herbicides do not create unintended consequences on neighboring fields and farms, according to agricultural researchers.The researchers found a range of effects — positive, neutral and negative — when they sprayed the herbicide dicamba on old fields — ones that are no longer used for cultivation — and on field edges, according to J. Franklin Egan, research ecologist, USDA-Agricultural Research Service. He said the effects should be similar for a related compound, 2,4-D.”The general consensus is that the effects of the increased use of these herbicides are going to be variable,” said Egan. “But, given that there is really so much uncertainty, we think that taking precautions to prevent herbicide drift is the right way to go.”Farmers are expected to use dicamba and 2,4-D on their fields more often in the near future because biotechnology companies are introducing crops genetically modified to resist those chemicals. From past experience, 2,4-D and dicamba are the herbicides most frequently involved in herbicide-drift accidents, according to the researchers.Because the herbicides typically target broadleaf plants, such as wildflowers, they are not as harmful to grasses, Egan said. In the study, the researchers found grasses eventually dominated the field edge test site that was once a mix of broadleaf plants and grass. The old field site showed little response to the herbicide treatments.Herbicide drift was also associated with the declines of three species of herbivores, including pea aphids, spotted alfalfa aphids and potato leaf hoppers, and an increase in a pest called clover root curculio, Egan said. The researchers found more crickets, which are considered beneficial because they eat weed seeds, in the field edge site.The researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, did not see a drop in the number of pollinators, such as bees, in the fields. However, the relatively small size of the research fields limited the researchers’ ability to measure the effect on pollinators, according to Egan.”That may be because pollinators are very mobile and the spatial scale of our experiment may not be big enough to show any effects,” Egan said.Farmers can cut down on herbicide drift by taking a few precautions, according to Egan. They can spray low-volatility herbicide blends, which are less likely to turn to vapors, and use a nozzle design on the sprayer that produces larger droplets that do not easily drift in the wind.Egan also recommended that farmers follow application restrictions printed on herbicide labels and try to spray on less windy days when possible.The tests were conducted on two farms in Pennsylvania. …

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How to tell when bubbly goes bad before popping the cork

In the rare case that New Year’s revelers have a bottle of leftover bubbly, they have no way to tell if it’ll stay good until they pop the cork and taste it at the next celebration. But now scientists are reporting a precise new way for wineries — and their customers — to predict how long their sparkling wines will last. The study appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.Montserrat Riu-Aumatell and colleagues explain that the shelf life of various sparkling wines, from champagne to prosecco, depends on environmental factors such as temperature. Currently, wineries detect the so-called browning of bubbly by measuring its “absorbance,” or its absorption of light at a particular wavelength. It’s a fast and easy technique but not very sensitive. Researchers exploring the chemistry of sparkling wine are turning to the food industry for alternatives. Food manufacturers can measure a compound called 5-HMF, which builds up in food as it goes bad, to tell when to toss a product out. Riu-Aumatell’s team decided to see if they could use the compound, which is also found in bubbly, to predict the shelf life of sparkling wines.They tested levels of this browning compound in several bottles stored over two years at different temperatures: room, cellar (61 degrees Fahrenheit) and refrigerator (39 degrees Fahrenheit). Their study found that 5-HMF is a good indicator of freshness, and also that refrigerating sparkling wines almost completely prevented browning. To make their results more practical for wineries, the researchers came up with a mathematical model that predicts how long products will stay drinkable at varying storage temperatures.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. …

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Three native aromatics indicated for use in Mediterranean extensive green roofs

Green roofs are being studied as a means to increase vegetation and preserve aesthetics in old Mediterranean cities. In order to preserve ancient cities’ local character and biodiversity, researchers are looking to native plant species that can withstand the low water environments that are necessary in lightweight green roof design.Xerophytes — species of plants that have adapted to survive in environments with little water — fit well in green roof construction plans, creating lightweight roofs that don’t compromise ancient buildings’ structural concerns. A research team in Athens explored the use of three Mediterranean aromatic xerophytes, Artemisia absinthium, Helichrysumitalicum, and H. orientale, for use in an extensive green roof design. The study, published in HortScience, also investigated the practice of using of locally produced grape marc compost to promote drought resistance, and looked at the effects of different planting depths and irrigation frequencies on the three aromatics.According to the Maria Papafotiou from the Department of Crop Science at the Agricultural University of Athens, most Mediterranean cities are centered around their old nucleus, which in many cases is characterized as a historical heritage. “These cities lack areas that could be converted into conventional green spaces, and thus there is an increasing interest in green roof systems. Green roofs are still relatively uncommon in Mediterranean countries, although these areas would significantly benefit from the ecological and technical functions of this technology,” Papafotiou explained.The scientists planted rooted cuttings of the three aromatics in a green roof infrastructure they then placed on a fully exposed flat roof in Athens. Two types of substrates were used (grape marc compost:soil:perlite and peat:soil:perlite ) at two substrate depths, 7.5 cm (shallow) and 15 cm (deep). The team applied two irrigation frequencies throughout the study: sparse (5 or 7 days in shallow and deep substrate, respectively) and normal (3 or 5 days in shallow and deep substrate, respectively), and recorded plant growth from May to October.Results showed that all three of the plant species were established successfully on the green roof under all experimental treatments, although Artemisia absinthium generally showed the greatest growth as indicated by the final diameter and height of the plants. “With A. …

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Hempseed oil packed with health-promoting compounds, study finds

Long stigmatized because of its “high”-inducing cousins, hemp — derived from low-hallucinogenic varieties of cannabis — is making a comeback, not just as a source of fiber for textiles, but also as a crop packed with oils that have potential health benefits. A new study, which appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, details just how many healthful compounds hempseed oil contains.Maria Angeles Fernndez-Arche and colleagues note that for millennia, people around the world cultivated cannabis for textiles, medicine and food. Hemp has high levels of vitamins A, C and E and beta carotene, and it is rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals and fiber. In the early 20th century, many countries banned cannabis because some varieties contain large amounts of the high-inducing compound THC. And although Colorado recently legalized recreational marijuana use — and some states have passed medical marijuana laws — the drug remains illegal according to U.S. federal law. But the European Union has legalized growing low-THC versions of hemp, and it’s making its way back into fabrics and paper. With increasing interest in plant oils as a source of healthful compounds, Fernndez-Arche’s team wanted to investigate hempseed oil’s potential.They did a detailed analysis of a portion of hempseed oil. They found it has a variety of interesting substances, such as sterols, aliphatic alcohols and linolenic acids, that research suggests promote good health. For example, it contains α-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that some studies suggest helps prevent coronary heart disease. …

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Large-scale deep re-sequencing reveals cucumber’s evolutionary enigma

Oct. 20, 2013 — In a collaborative study published online today in Nature Genetics, researchers from the Genome Centre of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), BGI, and other institutes present a cucumber genomic variation map that includes about 3.6 million variants revealed by deep resequencing of 115 cucumbers worldwide. This work provides new insights for understanding the genetic basis of domestication and diversity of this important crop, and provides guidance for breeders to harness genetic variation for crop improvement.Cucumber is a major vegetable crop consumed worldwide as well as a model system for sex determination and plant vascular biology. In 2009, cucumber became the seventh plant to have its genome sequence published, following the well-studied model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the poplar tree, grapevine, papaya, and the crops rice and sorghum. More efforts have been put into cucumber genomics research since then.As a part of these efforts, researchers from CAAS and BGI re-sequenced 115 cucumber lines sampled from 3,342 accessions worldwide, and also conducted de novo sequencing on a wild cucumber. In total, they detected more than 3.3 million SNPs, over 0.33 million small insertion and deletions (indels), and 594 presence-absence variations (PAVs), and then constructed a comprehensive variation map of cucumber.Furthermore, researchers did a suite of model-based analyses of population structure and phylogenetic reconstruction. The results indicated that the three cultivated groups (Eurasian, East Asian, and Xishuangbanna) each are monophyletic and genetically quite homogeneous, but the Indian group shows clear evidence of substructure and genetic heterogeneity. Their further analysis also provide evidence on the ancestral status of the Indian group, which holds great potential for introducing new alleles into the cultivated gene pool.To understand the population bottlenecks during domestication, researchers made a comparison analysis between vegetable and grain food crops. The comparison result indicated that the three vegetable crops (cucumber, watermelon, and tomato) probably underwent narrower bottleneck events during domestication than the grain food crops (rice, maize, and soybean). In addition, they also identified 112 putative domestication sweeps in the cucumber genome. …

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New methods increases food and bioenergy production from cassava

Sep. 24, 2013 — New ways to utilize starch from cassava can provide food to an additional 30 million people without taking more arable land than today. By 2030 the figure will be 100 million. In addition, the same land can also contribute to an increased production of bioenergy. This is shown in a new study from researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and China Agricultural University (CAU).Cassava or manioc (Manihot esculenta Crantz.) is grown for its high starch content. The large tubers are very starchy and processed into flour or semolina (tapioca). This is the staple food for between 0.5-1 billion people in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The plant is grown on about 19 million hectares of land.There are also strong interests to increase the use of cassava starch for industrial use. This can reduce the amount of food or result in even more land being utilized for production. Researchers at SLU and CAU have found that discarded stems contain surprisingly large amounts of starch, up to 30% of dry mass. …

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Trade-offs between food security and climate change mitigation explored

July 16, 2013 — Improving crop yields using sustainable methods could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 12% per calorie produced according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. At the same time, these changes could provide more food to people in need.Agriculture and land use change contributed about 1/3 of total human greenhouse gas emissions in the past decade, through crop cultivation, animal production, and deforestation. By producing more food on less land, it may be possible to reduce these emissions, but this so-called intensification often involves increasing fertilizer use, which can lead to large emissions of nitrogen-containing gases that also contribute to global warming.”The most efficient way to ensure sustainable intensification on the crop side is to rely on practices and technologies that are not more fertilizer-demanding, such as new varieties, improved rotations, integrated crop-livestock practices, and precision farming,” says IIASA researcher Hugo Valin, who led the study.The study’s findings particularly apply to developing countries. In many cases farming in these countries is not as efficient as it could be, and so investing in better farming practices could lead to big benefits both in terms of food security and greenhouse gas emissions.The study found that increasing livestock yields was more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than increasing yields from crops that people eat. Overall, closing yield gaps by 50% for crops and 25% for livestock would lead to a 12% savings in greenhouse gas emission per calorie produced.However, says Valin, “Increasing livestock yield is not as beneficial to food security as can be increase crop yield, just because meat and dairy are a small share of diets, especially in developing countries.”To conduct the study, Valin and colleagues explored scenarios using IIASA’s GLOBIOM model. Scenarios are modeling tools for understanding the links between future policies, actions, costs, and outcomes — in this case, scenarios allow researchers to look at future food production both from crops and livestock, greenhouse gas emissions, and the trade-offs and co-benefits of different pathways of crop yield improvement.The new study also emphasizes the effects of increased food production on demand. All things being equal, more food availability leads to lower prices and therefore greater demand. That extra demand means that farmers will want to continue expanding, to produce even more food.

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New canary seed is ideal for gluten-free diets in celiac disease

June 19, 2013 — A new variety of canary seeds bred specifically for human consumption qualifies as a gluten-free cereal that would be ideal for people with celiac disease (CD), scientists have confirmed in a study published in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.Share This:Joyce Irene Boye and colleagues point out that at least 3 million people in the United States alone have CD. They develop gastrointestinal and other symptoms from eating wheat, barley, rye and other grains that contain gluten-related proteins. Boye’s team sought to expand dietary options for CD — which now include non-gluten-containing cereals like corn, rice, teff, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and sorghum.They describe research on a new variety of “hairless,” or glabrous, canary seed, which lacks the tiny hairs of the seed traditionally produced as food for caged birds. Those hairs made canary seed inedible for humans. It verified that canary seed is gluten-free. Boye also noted that canary seeds have more protein than other common cereals, are rich in other nutrients and are suitable for making flour that can be used in bread, cookies, cakes and other products.The authors acknowledge funding from the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. Journal Reference:Joyce Irene Boye, Allaoua Achouri, Nancy Raymond, Chantal Cleroux, Dorcas Weber, Terence B. Koerner, Pierre Hucl, Carol Ann Patterson. …

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