Thursday, August 23, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food Roundup

Francisca border=Sorghum, a cereal grain that originated in Africa, is slowly gaining popularity in the United States. The grain has deep roots and waxy leaves that allow it to survive harsh weather. Since the drought has ravaged most U.S. corn crops, some researchers are urging the agriculture community to shift its focus from corn to a more durable crop.

All over the world, farmers are struggling with this year’s arid weather. Climate change is expected to increase the intensity and duration of future droughts. The World Meteorological Organization has summoned ministers and other officials to a March 2013 convention in Geneva to discuss drought policies. The organization plans to establish measures to decrease the world’s water consumption and increase conservation.

In Courtland, California, state and federal officials have announced plans to build twin tunnels underneath the Sacramento River’s delta. The tunnels will take water from the delta and deliver it to huge farms and densely populated areas in Central and Southern California. Supporters of the $14 billion project argue that the pipelines will improve the environment while providing water to California’s economically vital regions. Courtland’s small farmers are opposed to the twin tunnels because they will reduce the amount of water available to locals and cause damage to fish and farmland by raising salt water levels.

When the Montgomery Board of Education attempted to evict Nick Maravell from the organic farmland he leases in order to build another soccer field, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley offered support. Governor O’Malley wrote a letter to the county executive and the board’s president admonishing the motion to destroy Nick's Organic Farm and the soil that could be “a priceless asset to the education, health, and well-being of generations of Montgomery students.” Nick Maravell filed a lawsuit and after a year of court proceedings, a county judge ruled to hold the school board’s decision. While the ruling is promising, it only provides short-term relief. Nick and his daughter, Sophia Maravell, hope to start a farmer-training program that teaches sustainable practices, but they cannot achieve this goal unless the Board of Education dismisses the idea of eviction altogether.

President Obama has directed the USDA to buy approximately $170 million worth of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish to help farmers and ranchers in drought affected areas. The Department of Agriculture plans to use the purchases for federal food nutrition programs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expects the USDA’s investment to help stabilize the global food market and deliver some relief to farmers struggling with skyrocketing feed costs.

Researchers at McGill and Utrecht University have published their findings on the depletion of aquifers. Several food-producing regions around the world depend on underground aquifers to nourish soil, crops, and animals. However, unsustainable irrigation practices and human consumption have decreased the water sources at rapid rates. It can take thousand of years for the underground waterways to refill. In the U.S., about 27 percent of irrigated farmland relies on the Ogallala, but in some counties the aquifer is dropping by two feet per year. The Upper Ganges that sustains farm irrigation in Pakistan and India is receiving less than half of the rain it needs to replenish its water supply. To reverse the depletion, farmers have been using water conservation practices like crop rotation, center pivot or drip irrigation.

California is poised to vote on Proposition 37, the first-ever state-based initiative that requires labels for genetically modified foods. Opponents of the initiative have shelled out nearly $25 million to defeat the proposal, claiming that Prop 37 will cause a rise in groceries and taxes and hurt farmers. Supporters of the food initiative, who have been able to raise only about $2.4 million, argue that Proposition 37 will inform consumers on what they are eating and build trust in the food industry.

According to weather experts, nine to 15 inches of slow and steady rain is the only cure for this year’s drought. Richard Heim, a climatologist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, explains that if the required amount of rain fell quickly and in a short span of time, it would be of no use to drought stricken farmers. Flash floods would result from rapid rainfall, leaving little time for soil to absorb moisture. Many experts are waiting for an El Nino formation, which would deliver precipitation throughout the United States. There is a more than 75 percent chance of El Nino developing this year.

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