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Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

[LINK] “Saudi Wells Running Dry — of Water — Spell End of Desert Wheat”

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Javier Blas’ Bloomberg article reports on the end of a terribly wasteful practice, using the fossil water of Saudi Arabia to grow wheat.

For decades, only a few features punctuated the vastness of the Saudi desert: oil wells, oases — and wheat fields.

Despite torrid weather and virtually no rain, the world’s largest oil producer once grew so much of the grain that its exports could feed Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen. The circular wheat farms, half a mile across with a central sprinkler system, spread across the desert in the 1980s and 1990s, visible in spring to anyone overflying the Arabian peninsula as green spots amid a dun sea of sand.

The oilfields remain, but the last wheat farms have just disappeared to save the aquifers supplying them. For the first time, Saudi Arabia will rely almost completely on wheat imports in 2016, a reversal from its policy of self-sufficiency. It will become a full member of the club of Middle Eastern nations that, according to the commodity-trade adage, “sell hydrocarbons to buy carbohydrates.”

The shift toward imports, which started eight years ago, is reverberating beyond the kingdom, providing business opportunities for grain traders such as Cargill Inc and Glencore Plc as well as for farmers in countries such as Germany and Canada.

“The Saudis are the largest new wheat buyer to emerge,” said Swithun Still, director of grain trader Solaris Commodities SA in Morges, Switzerland.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 4, 2015 at 5:40 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Ryerson University’s rooftop farm celebrates bumper harvest”

Marco Chown Oved’s Toronto Star article reminds me that I really do need to bring my crops in.

Overcoming their hesitance to get their shoes muddy and their hands dirty, young folks bend down to plant garlic cloves in long beds of dark, rich soil and compost.

It’s a scene of bucolic tranquility until a wailing siren blasts a periodic reminder that this farm isn’t in the countryside, but in the centre of one of North America’s largest cities.

On Tuesday, Ryerson University’s rooftop farm hosted tours as part of its first annual Harvest Festival, marking the end of its first full growing season only blocks from Yonge-Dundas Square.

Groups of curious students, staff and urban agriculture enthusiasts filed down straw-covered paths, between aluminum heating vents and under the looming turquoise facade of the condo-converted warehouse across the street.

They then headed to a reception serving gourmet dishes prepared by campus chefs with produce from the roof: celeriac leek soup with blue cheese mousse, winter squash tarts with candied borage flowers, blue potato croquettes with radish cream.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 28, 2015 at 9:05 pm

[LINK] “Italy Reclaims Spot as World’s Biggest Wine Producer From France”

Bloomberg’s Rudy Ruitenberg notes this one success of Italian exports.

Italy is set to reclaim its spot as the world’s biggest wine producer after output in the home of Chianti and Prosecco rebounded from last year, when rain spoiled part of the grape crop.

Italy’s winemakers will raise volume by 10 percent to 48.9 million hectoliters this year, equivalent to about 6.5 billion bottles, to overtake France, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine estimates. French wine output will increase 1.2 percent to 47.4 million hectoliters, according to data from the group, known by its acronym OIV.

Italian wine production, which dates back to pre-Roman times, was worth 4.55 billion euros ($5 billion) to producers last year, or 9.4 percent of the country’s total agricultural output, Eurostat data show. The volume of the 2014 vintage slumped 18 percent as wet weather caused fungal disease such as mildew and botrytis in Italy’s vineyards.

“Last year wasn’t a disaster, but we were overtaken,” Carla di Paola, Italy’s representative with the OIV, said in an interview in Paris. “Wine is part of our tradition, being number one is important.”

Growth in sparkling wine, such as prosecco, is boosting Italian production, di Paola said. While Italy reclaimed the rank that it held in 2012 and 2013 by volume, France remains bigger by value, particularly because of high-priced Champagne, she said.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 28, 2015 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Economics

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[LINK] CNBC on China and California agriculture

Heesun Wee’s CNBC feature, including video, looking at how the demand of Chinese consumers is playing an increasingly critical role for California farmers.

In an increasingly export driven market, California farmers are proving quite adaptable. And more of their decisions hinge on China and the growing role it’s playing in shaping agriculture, water and food production in the American West.

“The overseas market is extremely important,” says Jesus Ramos, a farmer who owns 140 acres of mostly citrus trees in Terra Bella in Tulare County. “That dictates whether you can keep a crop going or not.”

Chinese housewives with more income covet select, imported U.S. food, but halfway around the world, back in California, some of the state’s roughly 78,000 farms and ranches are producing more agricultural products that can require a lot of water to produce, scarce California water. There’s frustration about how the U.S. is exporting water through agricultural products to China.

[. . .]

Born in Mexico, Ramos came to America as a young crew picker. During harvest, the work pace is furious. Pickers scurry up ladders with palm-sized clippers to cut oranges off stems. Nearly all oranges in the world are cut by hand this way. Snip, snip, snip. A landowner and grandfather now, Ramos fully grasps the gamble that is farming. “You can lose your life savings in just a couple of years.”

Walking around one of his six ranches in August, blocks of citrus trees behind him, Ramos’ young picking days seem simple compared to the global demands of modern farming. The water bill for one 10-acre ranch, for example, jumped to $33,000 in 2014 from $3,200 in 2013. His total water bill for all his ranches has soared to more than $200,000, compared to roughly $17,000 just a few years ago. Beyond managing water costs, an export-focused citrus crop can trigger food production changes mandated by overseas markets. China, for example, requires controlling and documenting the Fuller rose beetle as a condition of receiving imports there. While not a major threat, the beetle is common in Tulare County citrus.

Pest control? Check. Water costs? Check, check. Then Ramos worries about how his perfect round orbs of fruit will travel on shipping containers to key Asian markets, including South Korea and China. Skins that peel easily are preferred, but not so thin they’ll get bruised and crushed during the weekslong transportation journey. “I prioritize firmer fruits that can withstand the shipping time,” Ramos explained.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 28, 2015 at 9:00 pm

[LINK] “California’s drought is hitting indigenous Latino workers hard”

Sasha Khokha’s Public Radio International report documents the plight of Mexican indigenous farmworkers in California, faced with an absence of work as the drought worsens.

Farmworker Maura Lukas says this year has been the hardest to make ends meet since she came to California more than a dozen years ago. She lives in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with her husband and four children.

“Our rent is $600 and right now we only pay half,” she says. “We don’t have enough to eat. There just isn’t money for everything.”

Lukas is Mixteca, part of an indigenous group from southern Mexico that’s increasingly become part of California’s farmworker labor force — indigenous migrants who often work the lowest-paying jobs in US fields.

Now, a new survey shows they’ve been hit particularly hard by California’s drought, as farmers leave some fields fallow, or plant crops like almonds that require less labor.

[. . .]

That’s a common story among the 350 mostly indigenous farmworkers who have answered questions for a new grassroots survey about the impacts of the California drought. Those conducting surveys are often former farmworkers, like Zenaida Ventura, who speaks Mixteco, Spanish and English. She works with the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales, a binational group operating out of Oaxaca and California.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2015 at 9:07 pm

[LINK] Languages of the World on the Basques and their history

In her post “On the Basques, Their Genes, Their Language, and What They Mean for the Indo-European Debate”, Asya Perelstvaig looks at what the latest in linguistics and genetics mean about the history of the Basques and wider Europe.

With those clarifications in mind, let’s now turn to the Günther et al. article. According to the authors, they conducted the first ever “genome-wide sequence data from eight individuals associated with archaeological remains from farming cultures in the El Portalón cave (Atapuerca, Spain)”. These pre‑historic individuals “emerged from the same group of people as other Early European farmers”. The advancing agriculturalists mixed with—and eventually acculturated—local hunter-gatherers. Besides showing how agriculture must have spread through southwestern Europe, which Günther et al. argue was mostly through migration rather than cultural transmission, the genome data from the El Portalón skeletons sheds new light on the origins of the Basque people: because “the El Portalón individuals showed the greatest genetic affinity to Basques”, Günther et al. conclude “that Basques and their language may be linked with the spread of agriculture across Europe”.

In other words, three population waves can be distinguished in the pre-historic peopling of Europe: Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, Near-Eastern agriculturalists, and Steppe pastoralists. (Some scholars deny the existence/importance of the third wave, but recent genetic evidence, discussed in my earlier post, strongly supports migration from the steppes.) Each new wave mixed with, acculturated, and in some cases subsumed the pre-existing population. While this broad-strokes picture is largely agreed on, the issue of which contemporary groups show how much genetic and/or linguistic connection to which pre‑historic population is a more controversial one. Thus, Basques have been commonly assumed to be descendants of the first population wave, the hunter-gatherers. Gradually pushed into the mountainous “refuge zone” in the Pyrenees, they maintained their genetic uniqueness (for instance, earlier genetic studies found them to have “a higher-than-normal frequency of Rh‑negative blood types”, as pointed out by Balter), as well as their language. Or so the story went. If Günther et al. are correct, Basques are descendants not of the hunter-gatherers but rather of the agriculturalists who spread through southern Europe and into Iberia, ultimately from the Near East.

This conclusion has important consequences for the Indo-European debate. If the distinctiveness of the Basques is a result of them being descendants of an earlier wave, surrounded by a sea of advancing Indo-European-speaking groups (primarily, Celtic- and later Latin-speaking), and that earlier wave was the farming population, it follows that the advancing Indo-Europeans must be the third population wave, the steppe pastoralists (who eventually adopt agriculture, as more suitable to the geographical conditions of their new habitat). In other words, the finding that links Basques to agriculturalists rather than hunter-gatherers provides a strong argument in favor of the Steppe theory of Indo-European origins (as schematized on the left). According to the Anatolian alternative, the original Indo-Europeans were the Near Eastern agriculturalists, who later spread into Europe. For this to be possible, we need to assume that the Basques and the Indo-Europeans were two very different waves of agriculturalists that presumably came from different places and did not mix much. There is little evidence, as far as I am aware, to support such a scenario.

But as mentioned above, we should be careful about distinguishing “peoples” and their languages. As Balter points out, we “cannot entirely rule out the possibility that Basque still has its origins in a hunter-gatherer language that was retained and carried along as farming spread throughout Iberia”. Is this possibility, however remote, a way out for the advocates of the Anatolian theory? I remain skeptical about this scenario, however, as it would involve hunter-gatherers contributing the Basque (or more broadly Vasconic) language, the agriculturalists contributing the distinctive Basque genetic make-up and the Indo-European language, with the steppe pastoralists bringing in the characteristic “Indo-European” DNA signature but making no major impact on the language. This scenario seems quite outlandish to me.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2015 at 3:41 am

[LINK] “Washington state and Native tribe strike deal on marijuana sales”

Al Jazeera America notes the marijuana pact in Washington State with the Suquamish.

Washington state and a Native American tribe have reached an agreement on the growth and sale of marijuana, a deal that will pave the way for the tribe to run a legal cannabis store and is the first agreement of its kind in the United States, the tribe and state officials said.

Under the pact, a tribal tax equivalent to the state excise tax will be applied to pot sales to non-tribal customers on Suquamish tribal lands.

Washington voters legalized the possession of marijuana and its regulated sale when they approved Initiative 502 in 2013, and the state’s first stores opened early this year.

“This agreement is an excellent model for future compacts,” said Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board chairman Jane Rushford, according to the Seattle Times.

Board officials said in a news release that the 10-year agreement signed Monday will govern the production, processing and sale of marijuana on the tribe’s land located in Kitsap County, which is just a few miles west of Seattle.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 24, 2015 at 9:18 pm


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