mfioretti: farming*

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  1. They conclude that “If Americans reduced their mean beef consumption from the current ~460g per person per week to ~200g per person per week, the US beef industry could become environmentally sustainable by the narrow definition of this paper.” Easy. Just have one weekly burger instead of two.
    https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/...e-sustainable-cut-beef-eating-in-half
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  2. what happened to cause such a profound shift in the human psyche away from egalitarianism? The balance of archaeological, anthropological and genomic data suggests the answer lies in the agricultural revolution, which began roughly 10,000 years ago.

    The extraordinary productivity of modern farming techniques belies just how precarious life was for most farmers from the earliest days of the Neolithic revolution right up until this century (in the case of subsistence farmers in the world’s poorer countries). Both hunter-gatherers and early farmers were susceptible to short-term food shortages and occasional famines – but it was the farming communities who were much more likely to suffer severe, recurrent and catastrophic famines.

    Hunting and gathering was a low-risk way of making a living. Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherers in Namibia traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species, each of which had a slightly different seasonal cycle, varied in its response to different weather conditions, and occupied a specific environmental niche. When the weather proved unsuitable for one set of species it was likely to benefit another, vastly reducing the risk of famine.

    As a result, hunter-gatherers considered their environments to be eternally provident, and only ever worked to meet their immediate needs. They never sought to create surpluses nor over-exploited any key resources. Confidence in the sustainability of their environments was unyielding.
    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.
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    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. Photograph: James Suzman

    In contrast, Neolithic farmers assumed full responsibility for “making” their environments provident. They depended on a handful of highly sensitive crops or livestock species, which meant any seasonal anomaly such as drought or livestock disease could cause chaos.
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    And indeed, the expansion of agriculture across the globe was punctuated by catastrophic societal collapses. Genomic research on the history of European populations points to a series of sharp declines that coincided first with the Neolithic expansion through central Europe around 7,500 years ago, then with their spread into north-western Europe about 6,000 years ago.

    However, when the stars were in alignment – weather favourable, pests subdued, soils still packed with nutrients – agriculture was very much more productive than hunting and gathering. This enabled farming populations to grow far more rapidly than hunter-gatherers, and sustain these growing populations over much less land.

    But successful Neolithic farmers were still tormented by fears of drought, blight, pests, frost and famine. In time, this profound shift in the way societies regarded scarcity also induced fears about raids, wars, strangers – and eventually, taxes and tyrants.
    Fruits and tubers gathered by the Ju/’hoansi.
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    The Ju/’hoansi traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species. Photograph: James Suzman

    Not that early farmers considered themselves helpless. If they did things right, they could minimise the risks that fed their fears. This meant pleasing capricious gods in the conduct of their day-to-day lives – but above all, it placed a premium on working hard and creating surpluses.

    Where hunter-gatherers saw themselves simply as part of an inherently productive environment, farmers regarded their environment as something to manipulate, tame and control. But as any farmer will tell you, bending an environment to your will requires a lot of work. The productivity of a patch of land is directly proportional to the amount of energy you put into it.

    This principle that hard work is a virtue, and its corollary that individual wealth is a reflection of merit, is perhaps the most obvious of the agricultural revolution’s many social, economic and cultural legacies.
    From farming to war

    The acceptance of the link between hard work and prosperity played a profound role in reshaping human destiny. In particular, the ability to both generate and control the distribution of surpluses became a path to power and influence. This laid the foundations for all the key elements of our contemporary economies, and cemented our preoccupation with growth, productivity and trade.

    Regular surpluses enabled a much greater degree of role differentiation within farming societies, creating space for less immediately productive roles. Initially these would have been agriculture-related (toolmakers, builders and butchers), but over time new roles emerged: priests to pray for good rains; fighters to protect farmers from wild animals and rivals; politicians to transform economic power into social capital.
    https://www.theguardian.com/inequalit...lity-10000-years-ago?CMP=share_btn_tw
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  3. Average land use area needed to produce one unit of protein by food type, measured in metres squared (m²) per gram of protein over a crop's annual cycle or theaverage animal's lifetime. Average values are based on a meta-analysis of studies across 742 agricultural systems and over 90 unique foods.
    https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/la...-use-per-gram-of-protein-by-food-type
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  4. Garcia and the other workers here didn’t lose their jobs to a robot—they work in tandem with one. And just as well, because California farms are facing a serious labor shortage of perhaps 20 percent. Increasingly sophisticated robots have to pick up the slack, here and around the world. Because if humanity expects to feed its booming population off a static amount of land, it’s going to need help.

    Here in the Salinas Valley, farmers and tech types are teaming up to turn this into a kind of Silicon Valley for agriculture. And they’re not stopping at water-knife-wielding robots. Because it’s data that will truly drive this agricultural revolution. It’s not just about robots doing jobs humans don’t want to do, but AI doing jobs humans can’t do. And AI can’t go anywhere without data.

    For sure, the robots will definitely support the dwindling farming workforce. Fewer immigrant workers are coming to the fields, and their demographics are shifting. “Just with a changing population here in California, we’ve got an aging workforce,” says Mark Borman, president of Taylor Farms California, which operates the robot. “So people who are coming out to do agricultural, we’re not getting that younger population into the job.”

    That means not only using robots to help fill those jobs, but modifying the product they grow to make things easier for the machine.
    https://www.wired.com/2017/05/robots-agriculture
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  5. The successes in Saxapahaw and Kinston are as undeniable as they are laudable, but that does not mean they meet farm-to-table’s more ambitious claims of investing in the entire community. Perhaps there is some model—like the nonprofit Benevolence Farm, near Saxapahaw, which employs women recently released from prison—that provides viability while ensuring more equitable investment. But the lesson of Saxapahaw and Kinston seems to be that farm-to-table, no matter how idealistic, is not yet able to create the community change it promises—not for the entire community, anyway.
    http://www.citylab.com/politics/2016/...ource=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
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  6. As our soils degrade, they are losing their ability to hold carbon, releasing enormous plumes of CO2 pdf » into the atmosphere.

    There is, however, a solution. Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic fertiliser, but also no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere.

    The science on this is quite exciting. A study published recently by the US National Academy of Sciences claims that regenerative farming can sequester 3% of our global carbon emissions. An article in Science suggests it could be up to 15%. And new research from the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, although not yet peer-reviewed, says sequestration rates could be as high as 40%. The same report argues that if we apply regenerative techniques to the world’s pastureland as well, we could capture more than 100% of global emissions. In other words, regenerative farming may be our best shot at actually cooling the planet.
    https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/best-s...3A+P2pFoundation+%28P2P+Foundation%29
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  7. Doug Hall had a busy afternoon planned tilling a field on his 4,000-acre farm in Brunswick, Nebraska, so he could plant soybeans.

    But when he tried to fire up his new Case IH tractor, the engine wouldn't turn over. Instead it silently "threw code" — projecting an error message onto an operator display screen that simply read "Engine Fault."

    Unfortunately, Hall's regional dealer was out of town at a NASCAR race, so his land went untilled, the planting of the soybeans was delayed and Hall soon had another bill to pay for a service call the next day.

    Second of three parts

    "(Manufacturers) can charge whatever they want because you're down," he said. "Your hands are tied. All you can do is call a dealer."

    Hall, 55, had years of experience working on older tractors and was fully capable of diving under their hoods to get them up and running.

    But this time he was up against several new impediments: His unfamiliarity with the software powering the 550 Quadtrac tractor and the manufacturer's warranty requiring that only authorized service technicians perform work on it.
    http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/h...ed-run-roughshod-over-repairs-n628606
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  8. An Index-Based Livestock Insurance program in Northern Kenya uses satellite images to predict "greenness" of pasture and farmers who take insurance policies can actually get financial compensation if the satellite shows there is little pasture left for the cattle.This money can be used to protect livestock against drought by taking necessary initiatives.

    Another case in point is the use of big data and the Internet of Things to empower farmers by giving them immediate and timely access to marketing data, which allows them to take necessary decisions and harness more benefits from their yields. An example is the M-Farm which leverages on internet and text messaging to help Kenyan farmers access market prices for produce, aggregate orders of farm supplies and thus lower the purchase costs, and sell their produce in bulk thereby reducing related marketing costs. Farmers could still link up with mobile-based financial services.
    http://cleanleap.com/internet-things-making-smart-farms-africa
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  9. in strong contrast to the Scottish ‘Yes’ movement – Brexit was not fuelled by hope for a different future. On the contrary, many Leavers believed that withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t really change things one way or the other, but they still wanted to do it. I’ve long suspected that, on some unconscious level, things could be even stranger than this: the self-harm inflicted by Brexit could potentially be part of its appeal. It is now being reported that many Leave voters are aghast at what they’ve done, as if they never really intended for their actions to yield results.

    This taps into a much broader cultural and political malaise, that also appears to be driving the rise of Donald Trump in the US. Amongst people who have utterly given up on the future, political movements don’t need to promise any desirable and realistic change. If anything, they are more comforting and trustworthy if predicated on the notion that the future is beyond rescue, for that chimes more closely with people’s private experiences. The discovery of the ‘Case Deaton effect’ in the US (unexpected rising mortality rates amongst white working classes) is linked to rising alcohol and opiate abuse and to rising suicide rates. It has also been shown to correlate closely to geographic areas with the greatest support for Trump. I don’t know of any direct equivalent to this in the UK, but it seems clear that – beyond the rhetoric of ‘Great Britain’ and ‘democracy’ – Brexit was never really articulated as a viable policy, and only ever as a destructive urge, which some no doubt now feel guilty for giving way to.

    Thatcher and Reagan rode to power by promising a brighter future, which never quite materialised other than for a minority with access to elite education and capital assets. The contemporary populist promise to make Britain or American ‘great again’ is not made in the same way. It is not a pledge or a policy platform; it’s not to be measured in terms of results. When made by the likes of Boris Johnson, it’s not even clear if it’s meant seriously or not. It’s more an offer of a collective real-time halucination, that can be indulged in like a video game.

    The Remain campaign continued to rely on forecasts, warnings and predictions, in the hope that eventually people would be dissuaded from ‘risking it’. But to those that have given up on the future already, this is all just more political rhetoric. In any case, the entire practice of modelling the future in terms of ‘risk’ has lost credibility, as evidenced by the now terminal decline of opinion polling as a tool for political control.

    One of the complaints made most frequently by liberal commentators, economists and media pundits was that the referendum campaign was being conducted without regard to ‘truth’. This isn’t quite right. It was conducted without adequate regard to facts. To the great frustration of the Remain campaign, their ‘facts’ never cut through, whereas Leave’s ‘facts’ (most famously the £350m/week price tag of EU membership) were widely accepted.

    What is a ‘fact’ exactly? In her book A History of the Modern Fact, Mary Poovey argues that a new way of organising and perceiving the world came into existence at the end of the 15th century with the invention of double-entry book-keeping. This new style of knowledge is that of facts, representations that seem both context-independent, but also magically slot seamlessly into multiple contexts as and when they are needed. The basis for this magic is that measures and methodologies (such as accounting techniques) become standardised, but then treated as apolitical, thereby allowing numbers to move around freely in public discourse without difficulty or challenge. In order for this to work, the infrastructure that produces ‘facts’ needs careful policing, ideally through centralisation in the hands of statistics agencies or elite universities (the rise of commercial polling in the 1930s was already a challenge to the authority of ‘facts’ in this respect).

    This game has probably been up for some time. As soon as media outlets start making a big deal about the FACTS of a situation, for instance with ‘Fact check’ bulletins, it is clear that numbers have already become politicised. ‘Facts’ (such as statistics) survived as an authoritative basis for public and democratic deliberation for most of the 200 years following the French Revolution. But the politicisation of social sciences, metrics and policy administration mean that the ‘facts’ produced by official statistical agencies must now compete with other conflicting ‘facts’. The deconstruction of ‘facts’ has been partly pushed by varieties of postmodern theory since the 1960s, but it is also an inevitable effect of the attempt (beloved by New Labour) to turn policy into a purely scientific exercise.

    The attempt to reduce politics to a utilitarian science (most often, to neo-classical economics) eventually backfires, once the science in question then starts to become politicised.
    http://www.perc.org.uk/project_posts/thoughts-on-the-sociology-of-brexit
    Tags: , , , , , by M. Fioretti (2016-06-27)
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  10. The modern glass greenhouse, often located in temperate climates where winters can be cold, requires massive inputs of energy, mainly for heating but also for artificial lighting and humidity control.

    According to the FAO, crops grown in heated greenhouses have energy intensity demands around 10 to 20 times those of the same crops grown in open fields. A heated greenhouse requires around 40 megajoule of energy to grow one kilogram of fresh produce, such as tomatoes and peppers. source - page 15 » This makes greenhouse-grown crops as energy-intensive as pork meat (40-45 MJ/kg in the USA). source »

    Dutch style all glass greenhouse

    Dutch-style all-glass greenhouses. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.

    In the Netherlands, which is the world's largest producer of glasshouse grown crops, some 10,500 hectares of greenhouses used 120 petajoules (PJ) of natural gas in 2013 -- that's about half the amount of fossil fuels used by all Dutch passenger cars. source: 1/2 »

    The high energy use is hardly surprising. Heating a building that's entirely made of glass is very energy-intensive, because glass has a very limited insulation value. Each metre square of glass, even if it's triple glazed, loses ten times as much heat as a wall.

    Fruit Walls

    The design of the modern greenhouse is strikingly different from its origins in the middle ages * » . Initially, the quest to produce warm-loving crops in temperate regions (and to extend the growing season of local crops) didn't involve any glass at all. In 1561, Swiss botanist Conrad Gessner described the effect of sun-heated walls on the ripening of figs and currants, which mature faster than when they are planted further from the wall.

    Gessner's observation led to the emergence of the "fruit wall" in Northwestern Europe. By planting fruit trees close to a specially built wall with high thermal mass and southern exposure, a microclimate is created that allows the cultivation of Mediterranean fruits in temperate climates, such as those of Northern France, England, Belgium and the Netherlands.

    Fruit wall in the UKAn English fruit wall. Wikipedia Commons.

    The fruit wall reflects sunlight during the day, improving growing conditions. It also absorbs solar heat, which is slowly released during the night, preventing frost damage. Consequently, a warmer microclimate is created on the southern side of the wall for 24 hours per day.

    Fruit walls also protect crops from cold, northern winds. Protruding roof tiles or wooden canopies often shielded the fruit trees from rain, hail and bird droppings. Sometimes, mats could be suspended from the walls in case of bad weather.

    Fruit walls pruning

    The fruit wall appears around the start of the so-called Little Ice Age, a period of exceptional cold in Europe that lasted from about 1550 to 1850. The French quickly started to refine the technology by pruning the branches of fruit trees in such ways that they could be attached to a wooden frame on the wall.

    This practice, which is known as "espalier", allowed them to optimize the use of available space and to further improve upon the growth conditions. The fruit trees were placed some distance from the wall to give sufficient space for the roots underground and to provide for good air ciculation and pest control above ground.
    http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/12/fruit-walls-urban-farming.html
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