Thursday, October 18, 2012

Francisca's Farm & Food Roundup

FranciscaVertical farming is gaining popularity all around the world. The technique grows food in greenhouses that stretch upwards. Advocates of the new method believe that vertical farming will provide easier access to food, decrease the amount of pollutants in the environment and possibly reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Critics argue that vertical greenhouses are more expensive and less effective than normal greenhouses. They also expect vertical farming systems to use a lot of energy for special equipment thereby canceling out any environmental benefits to be had by the new farming method.

The USDA announced that, beginning October 22nd, producers can enroll in the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) program, which provides aid to ranchers and farmers who have experienced crop loses due to natural disasters. SURE is available for losses occurring through September 30, 2011. SURE payments will be received only if applicants meet all requirements. For more information on the program visit the USDA website.

By the end of this year, California will lose more than 100 dairy farms to bankruptcy. While milk prices have increased in the last few months, so has the cost of feed. Dairy farmers can barely break even. Farm groups are receiving a high number of suicide calls and have reported an increase in stress-related health issues among dairy farmers. Several California farmers are beginning to protest and some even threaten to pour their milk supplies down sewers.

In India, landless farmers won a great victory when the government signed a ten-point agreement that includes plans to formulate a land reforms policy and provide agricultural and homestead land. The government is working on a draft of the land reforms policy for public debate in the next 4-6 months. The 60,000 land protesters have stated that if no change occurs after six months, their protest will begin anew.

Scientists are encouraging farmers to start using Google Earth because it offers important information, particularly on soil quality. Before farmers start planting crops, they can research a location and discover any potential problems such as lack of water in the area. Google Earth also provides a way for farmers to connect with each other and learn about how others dealt with issues on their farms. Best of all, Google Earth is free!

Speaking of soil, last weekend’s New York Times Magazine was all about food, and Mark Bittman had a piece about the Central Valley in California, the largest patch of Class 1 soil, the best there is, which yields a third of all the produce grown in the U.S. Bittman looked at the scale and kind of agriculture there, and how, “for the last century or so, we’ve been exploiting—almost without limitation—its water, mineral resources, land, air, people and animals.” He wonders, is it possible for agriculture on this scale to be sustainable? He concludes, "If we want a system of farming that's sustainable on all levels, we have to think about a national food and farming policy."

Smartphones and mobile apps are becoming more influential in the agriculture field. The use of GPS tracking features allows developers to create multiple apps for managing farms. On the market right now is ‘Connected Farm,’ which allows farmers to identify weeds and insect pests on their property. Many farmers are even using their smartphones to start and stop their irrigation systems. Developers are now working on an app that calibrates pesticide sprayers in order to regulate the amount of chemicals applied to soil.

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