The team, headed by Loma Linda University (LLU) researcher Helen Harwatt, PhD, suggests that one simple change in American eating habits would have a large impact on the environment: if Americans would eat beans instead of beef, the United States would immediately realize approximately 50 to 75 percent of its GHG reduction targets for the year 2020.
The researchers explained that beef cattle are the most GHG-intensive food to produce and that the production of legumes (beans, peas, etc.) results in one-fortieth the amount of GHGs as beef.
“Given the novelty, we would expect that the study will be useful in demonstrating just how much of an impact changes in food production can make and increase the utility of such options in climate-change policy,” Harwatt said.
In a 10-page paper released May 12, Harwatt and her colleagues noted that dietary alteration for climate change mitigation is currently a hot topic among policymakers, academics and members of society at large. The paper, titled “Substituting beans for beef as a contribution towards U.S. climate change targets,” can be found online.
In addition to reducing GHG, Harwatt and her team – which included Joan Sabate, MD, DrPH; Gidon Eshel, PhD; the late Sam Soret, PhD; and William Ripple, PhD – concluded that shifting from animal-sourced to plant-sourced foods could help avert global temperature rise.
Sabate, who serves as executive director of the Center for Nutrition, Healthy Lifestyle and Disease Prevention at LLU School of Public Health, said the findings are substantial.
“The nation could achieve more than half of its GHG reduction goals without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing,” Sabate said.
The study, which was conducted while Harwatt was an environmental nutrition research fellow at Loma Linda University, also found that beef production is an inefficient use of agricultural land. Substituting beans for beef would free up 42 percent of U.S. cropland currently under cultivation — a total of 1.65 million square kilometers or more than 400 million square acres, which is approximately 1.6 times the size of the state of California.
Harwatt applauds the fact that more than a third of American consumers are currently purchasing meat analogs: plant-based products that resemble animal foods in taste and texture. She says the trend suggests that animal-sourced meat is no longer a necessity.
“Given the scale of greenhouse gas reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, are we prepared to eat beef analogs that look and taste like beef, but have a much lower climate impact?” she asks. “It looks like we’ll need to do this. The scale of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed doesn’t allow us the luxury of ‘business as usual’ eating patterns.”
In recent decades, Prairie producers have taken steps – such as using minimum tillage, improving water supplies for livestock, and storing extra feed – that enable them to survive short droughts. But the Prairie climate in the coming decades could include droughts that last five, 10 or more years, as well as extreme swings between really wet and really dry conditions. So Prairie people are starting to come together to plan and prepare for whatever the future might hold.
Many people on the Prairies have experienced dramatic shifts between extremely dry and extremely wet periods in the last few years. “For instance, from April to June in 2015, Regina had 43 millimetres of rain. Normally it would see about 147. Looking at the records that go back to the 1880s, it turns out to be the third driest such period in 120 years. But the previous April to June was the wettest on record for Regina. That is the kind of weather whiplash that farmers are dealing with. The weather has a Jekyll and Hyde personality,” David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says.
He adds, “Farmers build into their strategies dealing with things like too wet to seed and too dry to grow – those things happen when you’re in farming. But when you get back-to-back weather conditions you would expect to see only once in a career of 40 or 50 years of farming, how can you deal with that?”
Looking at the period from 2009 to 2011, University of Manitoba atmospheric scientist John Hanesiak and his colleagues found that precipitation ranged “between record drought and unprecedented flooding.” In some instances, drought and very heavy rains occurred at the same time in different parts of the Prairies. And some locations experienced both weather extremes within those three years; for example, some southern Manitoba farmers had insurance claims for both flooding and drought in the 2009 growing season.
This type of wild variability is predicted to be part of the future climate. “We are expecting to see greater variability from year to year, going from droughts to really wet periods. Even the older climate models were telling us 10 or 15 years ago to expect that kind of a pattern,” Hanesiak says.
The current variability in the Prairie weather may be one indication that the predicted patterns in the atmosphere are starting to become a reality. “Recently some articles have suggested that we’re on the verge of seeing these things happening now, where the wave in the jet stream tends to meander a little more. That potentially could create a more stagnant pattern, where you get longer periods of drought and longer periods of wet, depending on where you are on that wave,” Hanesiak explains.
Studies of past climate patterns show that such weather extremes are not new to the Prairies. Research by Dave Sauchyn of the University of Regina has found that multi-year and multi-decade Prairie droughts have occurred during the past 1,000 years.
“We tend to get caught off-guard [by extreme weather] and we use the excuse that ‘we couldn’t have anticipated it because it has never happened before.’ We’re implying that it has never happened in our lifetime because we all think in terms of our own situation,” Sauchyn says. “But if you get outside your own local experience and look at the longer records, you find that it has happened over and over again.”
Adapting as individuals and groups
Sauchyn has been sharing the results of his climate research with Prairie people who need the information, and he has been learning from them about their drought adaptation strategies. For example, in October 2015, Sauchyn and his research group met in southwestern Saskatchewan with local people including farmers, ranchers and government officials.
“They told us that much of what they have already done over the decades, and especially the last few decades, is putting them in good shape because, in general, agricultural practices are more sustainable than they were in the past. That is reflected in less soil erosion and more resilient agricultural ecosystems. In general, if you maintain a healthy and resilient agro-ecosystem and take proper care of pastures, crops, soil and water, then agriculture will be less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” he says.
“But they also told us that individual farmers and ranchers can only do so much, especially if drought exceeds more than one or two years. They can store water for a couple of years. There is an extensive water storage and diversion infrastructure on the Prairies, especially in the drier parts, and it has been very effective in withstanding one- or two-year droughts. Beyond that, there is only so much water that can be stored. Similarly, feed can be stored for one or two years. But they tell us that after a couple of years of drought, the local options are pretty much exhausted.”
At that stage, people turn to their social capital. Sauchyn explains, “We’re all familiar with concepts like ‘fiscal capital,’ money, and ‘natural capital,’ ecosystem goods; there is also ‘social capital,’ maintaining good relations among neighbours. Especially when people are faced with climate extremes like flooding and drought, they rely very much on that social capital.”
He notes, “One of the most effective ways to adapt to a changing climate is to work collectively, with your neighbours within your watershed. Local organizations such as watershed stewardship groups are especially effective.”
Preparing for extreme
One example of a Prairie watershed agency working to prepare for climate variability is the Battle River Watershed Alliance (BRWA). The Battle River has its origins in east-central Alberta and flows into Saskatchewan where it joins the North Saskatchewan River. The BRWA is an Alberta group created in 2006 and it operates in the Alberta portion of the Battle River and Sounding Creek watersheds. The BRWA describes itself as “an inclusive, collaborative and consensus-based community partnership that is working to guide, support and deliver actions to sustain or improve the health of the Battle River watershed.”
BRWA research and stewardship coordinator Susanna Bruneau outlines how the Alliance is approaching climate variability. “At conferences, they talk about preparing for extremes, where you could get really wet events, like the flood in Calgary a couple of years ago, or a multi-year drought. We’ve been trying to work on things that can help in managing both those extremes, especially natural infrastructure like wetlands and riparian areas and even shelterbelts.” Those types of features can have benefits like reducing flood peaks, capturing water in case of drought, and protecting water quality.
She notes, “Another part of how we approach things is trying to have our systems – whether it’s our social support systems, agriculture systems or water infrastructure systems – made in a way that can be adaptive to whatever comes our way.” She explains that the BRWA recognizes the complexity and uncertainty in these systems so it works to continually learn from experience and adjust its plans and actions to more effectively deal with emerging realities. If the BRWA finds that an approach is not working, then it evaluates the approach, asks stakeholders what should be done differently, and modifies the approach to make it work better.
Drought planning a priority
In a watershed-wide consultation process, local people identified drought planning as a top priority for the BRWA. So it developed drought guidelines and policies, which were released in 2012. These documents provide a framework to help agencies in the watershed when developing drought plans for their own area of responsibility. The guidelines relate to agriculture, social issues, natural areas, and water quantity and quality, and consider the social, economic and ecological impacts of drought.
The BRWA’s drought guidelines cover both “drought adaptation,” preparation for future droughts, and “drought management,” responses during a drought. A few examples of the drought adaptation options for agriculture include: actions that research agencies could take, such as developing drought-tolerant crop varieties; actions that governments could take, such as monitoring water supplies, developing drought plans and policies and modifying crop insurance programs; and actions that producers could take, such as choosing crops adapted to drier conditions, developing drought farm plans, managing grazing rates, conserving wetlands and riparian areas and diversifying farm income. The drought management guidelines for agriculture include actions like implementing drought plans, and sharing drought monitoring information.
Although people in the Battle River watershed are aware of the need for drought planning and preparedness, it is a challenge for local agencies to direct their limited human and financial resources towards this task. Bruneau doesn’t know of any agencies in the watershed that are currently using the BRWA’s guidelines to develop their own drought plans, but she’s hoping that will change.
“Drought is part of the climate cycles here on the Prairies. Drought is going to happen, no matter what happens with climate change. There is a lot we can do to mitigate the impacts of drought if we plan and adapt before a drought happens,” Bruneau says.
“Drought is not like a flood or an earthquake; it’s not a sudden crisis where you have to deal with things in the heat of the moment. Drought is sly and it sneaks up on you. Unless you are paying attention you’ll get caught. But we have opportunities to prepare for drought, and when we see drought coming or just less than normal precipitation, there are things we can do.”
The study, “Agricultural Landscape and Pesticide Effects on Honey Bee Biological Traits,” which was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, evaluated the impacts of row-crop agriculture, including the traditional use of pesticides, on honeybee health. Results indicated that hive health was positively correlated to the presence of agriculture. According to the study, colonies in a non-agricultural area struggled to find adequate food resources and produced fewer offspring.
“We’re not saying that pesticides are not a factor in honeybee health. There were a few events during the season where insecticide applications caused the death of some foraging bees,” says Mohamed Alburaki, lead author and post-doctoral fellow with the University of Tennessee Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology (EPP). “However, our study suggests that the benefits of better nutrition sources and nectar yields found in agricultural areas outweigh the risks of exposure to agricultural pesticides.”
According to the study, hives located in areas with high to moderate agricultural vegetation grew faster and larger than those in low or non-agricultural areas. Researchers suggest the greater population sizes enabled better colony thermoregulation in these hives, as well.
Meanwhile, bees located in a non-agricultural environment were challenged to find food. Although fewer pesticide contaminants were reported in these areas, the landscape did not provide sustainable forage. In fact, during the observations, two colonies in the non-agricultural areas collapsed due to starvation.
Disruptions and fluctuations in brood rearing were also more notable in a non-agricultural environment. Interestingly, brood production was highest in the location that exhibited a more evenly distributed mix of agricultural production, forests and urban activity.
“One possible explanation for this finding could be the elevated urban activity in this location,” says Alburaki. “Ornamental plantings around homes or businesses, or backyard gardens are examples of urban activity that increase the diversity of pollen in an area. Greater pollen diversity has been credited with enhancing colony development.”
Researchers also evaluated trapped pollen from each colony for pesticide residues. Low concentrations of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides were identified, but at levels well below the lethal dose for honey bees. Imidacloprid was the only neonicotinoid detected, also at sub-lethal levels.
Agricultural pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, are considered by some to be a key factor in declining honeybee populations. The UTIA study found that higher exposure to pesticides in agricultural environments did not result in measurable impacts on colony productivity.
This study was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Pest Management Program.
Based on this re-evaluation, Health Canada will continue the registration of products that contain glyphosate, but will require updates to product labels. By April 2019, manufacturers will be required to ensure that all commercial labels on pesticides containing glyphosate include the following:
· A statement indicating that re-entry into the sprayed areas should be restricted to 12 hours after application in agricultural areas where glyphosate products were used.
· A statement indicating that the product is to be applied only when the potential to spread to areas of human activity, such as houses, cottages, schools and recreational areas, is minimal.
· Instructions for spray buffer zones to protect non-targeted areas and aquatic habitats from unintended exposure.
· Precautionary statements to reduce the potential for runoff of glyphosate into aquatic areas.
Health Canada will continue monitoring research on potential impacts of glyphosate products to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and the environment. The department also says they are committed to working closely with its international counterparts on evidence-based approaches to pesticide regulations.
Don't forget, the Pesticide Label Search App can help you find the latest detailed instructions, first aid statements and warnings on the label.
According to North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, when mixed into the lake, the bacterial properties of barley consumes the phosphorus that blue-green algae thrive on. | READ MORE
Wheat and other edible grasses have developed pores that make them more drought tolerant. Stanford scientists have studied these pores with an eye toward future climate change.
These plants, which make up about 60 percent of the calories people consume worldwide, have a modified stoma that experts believe makes them better able to withstand drought or high temperatures. Stanford University scientists have now confirmed the increased efficiency of grass stomata and gained insight into how they develop. Their findings, reported in the March 17 issue of Science, could help us cultivate crops that can thrive in a changing climate.
“Ultimately, we have to feed people,” said Dominique Bergmann, professor of biology and senior author of the paper. “The climate is changing and, regardless of the cause, we’re still relying on plants to be able to survive whatever climate we do have.”
Adjusting an ancient system
Grasses – which include wheat, corn and rice – developed different stomata, which may have helped them spread during a prehistoric period of increased global dryness. Stomata usually have two so-called “guard cells” with a hole in the middle that opens and closes depending on how a plant needs to balance its gas exchange. If a plant needs more CO2 or wants to cool by releasing water vapour, the stomata open. If it needs to conserve water, they stay closed.
The protein in yellow moves out of the guard cells into cells on both sides. By recruiting these cells, grass stomata become better suited to hot and dry environments.
Grasses improved on the original structure by recruiting two extra cells on either side of the guard cells, allowing for a little extra give when the stoma opens. They also respond more rapidly and sensitively to changes in light, temperature or humidity that happen during the day. Scientists hope that by knowing more about how grass developed this system, they may be able to create or select for edible plants that can withstand dry and hot environments, which are likely to become more prevalent as our climate changes.
“We take our food and agriculture for granted. It’s not something the ‘first world’ has to deal with, but there are still large areas of the world that suffer from famine and this will increase,” said Michael Raissig, a postdoctoral researcher in the Bergmann lab and lead author of the paper. “The human population is going to explode in the next 20 to 30 years and most of that is in the developing world. That’s also where climate change will have the biggest effect.”
Growing a better mouth
Scientists have assumed grasses’ unusual stomata make these plants more efficient “breathers.” But, spurred by curiosity and a passion for developmental biology, these researchers decided to test that theory.
Thanks to a bit of luck, they found a mutant of the wheat relative Brachypodium distachyon that had two-celled stomata. Partnering with the Berry lab at the Carnegie Institution for Science, the group compared the stomata from the mutant to the normal four-celled stomata. They not only confirmed that the four-celled version opens wider and faster but also identified which gene creates the four-celled stomata – but it wasn’t a gene they expected.
“Because it was a grass-specific cell-type, we thought it would be a grass-specific factor as well,” said Raissig, “but it’s not.”
Instead of relying on a completely new mechanism, the recruitment of the extra cells seems to be controlled by a well-studied factor which is known to switch other genes on and off. In other plants, that factor is present in guard cells, where it is involved in their development. In grasses, the team found that the factor migrated out of guard cells and directly into two surrounding cells, recruiting them to form the four-celled stomata.
Feeding the world
Over evolutionary time, humans have bred and propagated plants that produce the kinds of foods we like and that can survive extreme weather.
“We’re not consciously breeding for stomata but we’re unconsciously selecting for them,” said Bergmann, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “When we want something that’s more drought resistant, or something that can work better in higher temperatures, or something that is just able to take in carbon better, often what we are actually doing is selecting for various properties of stomata.”
The adaptability and productivity of grass makes understanding this plant family critical for human survival, the scientists said. Someday, whether through genetic modification or selective breeding, scientists might be able to use these findings to produce other plants with four-celled stomata. This could also be one of many changes – to chloroplasts or enzymes, for example – that help plants photosynthesize more efficiently to feed a growing population.
Researchers tested the effects of increased CO2 and warmer temperatures on plant water use. Although increased carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures generally improve photosynthesis, in these experiments the researchers found that pores on plant leaves, known as the stomata, were predicted to narrow in these conditions, reducing the amount of moisture plants release into the air.
Although this change may mean some plants are more efficient in their water use in some arid regions, overall this change in plant physiology will have its own climate effects, resulting in less rainfall in some regions, damaging plants and crop yields, says Qianlai Zhuang, professor of earth and atmospheric science at Purdue University.
“This study reveals that while increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide can directly strengthen plant uptake of CO2, it can also reduce plant transpiration, influence global precipitation patterns, and increase warming locally,” he says.
In many terrestrial ecosystems, precipitation is from water recycled to the atmosphere by plants upwind, affecting both precipitation and temperatures, says coauthor Lisa Welp, assistant professor of biogeochemistry in the department of earth, atmospheric, and planetary Sciences.
“The role that terrestrial vegetation plays in rainfall recycling on land is often simplified or overlooked, but it’s a key player in determining regional precipitation patterns and, therefore, productivity in water-limited ecosystems,” Welp says.
“If some plants reduce their transfer of water to the atmosphere by reducing transpiration rates, this results in regional declines in precipitation. It also results in local heating because evaporating water from plant leaves acts like an air conditioner, keeping surface temperatures cooler.”
Overall, the effect is strong enough that there is no net increase in global agricultural production, Zhuang says. In fact, as carbon dioxide increases globally, the modeling showed that plant life in most regions of the world suffers considerably due to rising temperatures and decreased precipitation.
“You cannot look at just one effect in isolation, such as photosynthesis, and make a determination of how it will affect global crop production,” Zhuang says. “There are both direct and indirect effects, and both should be considered.”
Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 280 parts per million before the Industrial Age, which began in the late 1700s, to the current level above 400 parts per million.
Zhuang and graduate student Peng Zhu devised six model experiments using historic climate data from 1850 to 2011. They found that although a few areas would see improved plant growth – including parts of Canada, most of Madagascar, and the southern tip of India – other regions on the planet would suffer.
“This study indicates that the net CO2 fertilization effect will be overestimated unless vegetation-climate feedback effects are taken into account,” Zhu says.
By using a clever combination of two inexpensive additives to the spray, the researchers found they can drastically cut down on the amount of liquid that bounces off. The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, graduate student Maher Damak, research scientist Seyed Reza Mahmoudi, and former postdoc Md Nasim Hyder.
Previous attempts to reduce this droplet bounce rate have relied on additives such as surfactants, soaplike chemicals that reduce the surface tension of the droplets and cause them to spread more. But tests have shown that this provides only a small improvement; the speedy droplets bounce off while the surface tension is still changing, and the surfactants cause the spray to form smaller droplets that are more easily blown away. | READ MORE
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Food and Beverage Ontario Annual ConferenceWed May 31, 2017
Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame Induction CeremonySun Jun 11, 2017
Canolapalooza SaskatchewanTue Jun 20, 2017
Canada's Farm Progress ShowWed Jun 21, 2017
Canolapalooza ManitobaThu Jun 22, 2017