Monday, October 30, 2017

Farming in America

The “Farm Bill” is coming up for renewal. For the uninformed and that is most of us, the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill) is made up of 12 titles governing a wide range of food- and agriculture-related policy areas and impacts the food we eat, hunger in America, and the health of our lands and waterways. The Congressional Budget Office said that the total cost of the last Farm Bill would be $489 billion over its 5 year life (2014-2018). That is almost $98 billion a year.

from USDA
 Nutrition programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – which provides direct assistance to households classified as food insecure account for more than 80% of this total, with outlays for crop insurance, conservation, and food commodities representing the other 20%. For some reason, all the political noise and debate is focused on the less than $20 billion in subsidies the farm bill provides to farmers and ranchers.

That is because the Farm Bill matters. The Farm Bill impacts everything about our food system: what crops get subsidized, how much foods cost, how land is used. Though the bulk of the dollars ensures low-income Americans have enough to eat, the Farm Bill determines what is available for all of us to eat. Yet few of us understand what is in the bill and how it works. Though I deal with conservation programs, I am among the many.

According to Marion Nestle a former Professor, of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, at New York University, from which she recently retired, 80% of farm subsidies go to corn, grains and soy oil, dairy gets 3%, livestock: 2%, fruits and vegetables: get less than 1%, tobacco 2%, and cotton: 13%. Dr. Nestle is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health and Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety as well as 6 other really worthwhile books. The little know farm bill has been at the center of American politics for several generations.

The American political system is divided by urban and rural regionalism. Many of the world views that separate us have more to do with whether we live in urban or rural areas than anything else. This has been true since the 1960’s, but it seems much more stark now and our divisions are greater than ever before. The joining of SNAP (food stamps) and agricultural subsidies and programs ensures that Congress can muster enough votes to pass both farm supports and SNAP which might not pass as bills on their own. A bit of politics in the 1960’s has successfully brought us all together to hate and support the the farm bill.

The Farm Bill and its implications are a mess. The Department of Agriculture farm crop insurance, conservation, research and outreach essential to our food system and the survival of family farms; and the assistance to households classified as food insecure are both essential. According to a 2015 White House fact sheet, SNAP helps about 46 million low-income Americans put food on the table. Eliminating hunger in the United States is a moral imperative for our nation.

We were once a nation of farmers, today there are about 2,062,000 farms in the United States. Of these farms 89.7% are classified as small family farms, 6.1% are midsize family farms, 2.9% are large family farms and only  1.3% are non-family farms. Ninety percent of farms are small, and these farms accounted for 48% of the land operated by farms in 2015, but account for only 24% of food production. Large million-dollar farms accounted for half of farm production in 2015, up from a third in 1991.

Nevertheless, small family farms accounted for 57% of poultry and 52% of hay production. Family farms of various types together accounted for 98.7% of farms and 89% of production in 2015. Since 1991, agricultural production has shifted to million-dollar farms both family and non-family farms.

Despite the image carried by most people, farm households in general are not low income when compared with all U.S. households and U.S. households with a self-employed head. Median household income for farmers is higher for each size of farm category than median income for all U.S. households in 2015 ($51,700).
from USDA

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nearby Development can Impact Wells

Traditional development practices cover large areas of the ground with impervious surfaces such as roads, driveways, sidewalks and buildings. This is especially true for higher density and mixed use developments. This kind of development impacts the groundwater beneath the development and in the surrounding area. These paved and impervious surfaces prevent rainwater from infiltrating into the ground, causing it to run off site at velocities and volumes that are much higher than would naturally occur. According to data from the U.S. EPA, when development disturbs more than 10% of the natural land by covering surfaces with roads, driveways, walkways, patios, and homes the natural hydrology of the land is disturbed, irreparably disturbed. It may take months or even years before the impact to the aquifer becomes obvious as water resources are depleted. Rainfall cannot soak through these hard surfaces and recharge the groundwater; instead the rain water flows across the pavement picking up pollutants along the way. The storm water flows into ditches or storm drains, which typically dump the water, pollutants and debris carried in the stormwater into our streams and waterways and increasing the pollutants in the steams and rivers.

Groundwater is water beneath the surface of the earth. It is one of our nation's most important natural resources and is often taken for granted. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 24.7% of the domestic water supply in Virginia comes from groundwater- 195 million gallons a day. Groundwater is the sole source of drinking water for the population who are not connected to city or community water systems.

The water level in the aquifer that supplies a well does not always stay the same. Droughts, seasonal variations in rainfall, and pumping affect the level of the water table. If a well is pumped at a faster rate than the aquifer around it is recharged by precipitation or other underground flow, then water levels in the well can fall. This is what happens during times of drought and in depleted aquifers in the summer when there is little or no rain.

But there are other forces that can impact the recharge of a well. Land use changes that significantly increase impervious cover and stormwater velocity can prevent water from soaking into the earth and reduce recharge of the groundwater making existing wells more susceptible to drought and overtime reducing the amount of groundwater. Significant increases in groundwater use for irrigation of crops or playing fields, or commercial purposes can overtax and aquifer and dry out neighboring wells. Unless there is an earthquake or other geological event groundwater changes are not abrupt and problems with water supply tend to happen slowly as demand increases with construction and recharge is impacted by adding paved roads, driveways, houses and other impervious surfaces.

The water level in a groundwater wells naturally fluctuates during the year and this tends to mask a slowly decreasing aquifer or falling groundwater level. Groundwater levels tend to be highest in the early spring after winter snowmelt and spring rainfall when the groundwater is recharged. Groundwater levels begin to fall in May and typically continue to decline during summer as plants and trees use the available shallow groundwater to grow and streamflow draws water. Natural groundwater levels usually reach their lowest point in late September or October when fall rains begin to recharge the groundwater again so it is hard to see a slow and gradual loss of an aquifer even if you monitor the groundwater level. However, unless the groundwater level falls below the pump level it is typically unnoticed. It is essential for the long term sustainability of our communities that the long term impact to the aquifer be assessed before the surrounding land use is changed or developments are approved.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Massive Sewer Clog in Baltimore Removed

A dry-weather sewer overflow happened in Baltimore on September 21st . Nearly 1.2 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into Jones Falls. The cause of this overflow was a massive plug of grease, “flushable” wipes, disposable diapers and other things flushed down the toilets in the city. The Department of Public Works in Baltimore called the 20 foot clog a “fatberg” after the 130 ton clog of fat that was found clogging the London sewer system earlier in September. Last week the  Baltimore Department of Public Works managed to remove fatberg sucking it out of the sewer using their pipe cleaning equipment. The cost of removal was estimated to be $60,000.

Overflows of the sanitary sewer in that area of Baltimore had become more and more common following heavy rains. Engineers for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) decided to explore the sewer in that area to determine the cause of the recent dry-weather overflows. They sent a machine with a closed-circuit television camera into the sewer, and soon discovered the walls of the sewer pipe were caked with congealed fats, oils, and grease or FOG as its called in the waste industry.

The buildup of FOG inside the pipe was so thick that it slowed sewer water moving through that area. Engineers estimate that 85% of the pipe, which is 24 inches across and more than 100 years old, was blocked. This resulted in sanitary sewer overflows into the stormwater system to prevent backed up sewage from surfacing on the streets.

Instead, the overflow is diverted into the stormwater system and onto the Jones Falls. The city hopes to eliminate a handful of points that divert sewage to the stormwater system when an expansion of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant is completed in late 2020. This work is being done under the City’s sewer system consent decree.

FOG comes primarily from food such as cooking oil, lard, shortening, meat fats, sauces, gravy, mayonnaise, butter, ice cream and soups. Sinks, dishwashers, cleaning wastewaters and food scraps put down disposals deliver the FOG to the sewer system, it can be liquid or solid when you put it down the drain, but turns viscous or solid as it cools in the miles of underground sewer pipes. As the FOG builds up with other debris flushed down the toilets, it restricts the flow in the pipe and can cause sewage to back up into homes and businesses, premature failure of the sewer pipes, increased incidence of sinkholes, or in combined systems like Baltimore, Alexandria and Washington DC sewage released to the stormwater system.

FOG only really creates problems for the sewer lines if there is a disruption, like a tree root in a joint, or sag under a highway, a pumping station or something that might give the FOG a chance to catch on the pipe surface and cling to the walls of the sewer system. Since all pipes have some friction points, FOG is always a problem. The FOG builds up one layer at a time making a smaller, narrower path for the water and waste to travel through, ultimately causing a backup or pipe to burst. Time creates wear and tear on a pipe and without aggressive maintenance and with the addition of wipes and other debris the problem grows to unbelievable proportions.

Restaurants and commercial kitchens are required to have grease traps between the sink and floor drains and the sewer connection and capture and recycle their grease, by having it hauled away. Private residences are not subject to the same regulations as food service establishments but should still take steps to keep fats, oils and grease and non-flushable items out of the sewer system. If you want to see what fatberg looked like see the video.  Here are a few simple tips to remember whether you are on public sewer or have a septic system:
  • Do not put FOG down the drain.
  • During food preparation and cleanup, pour unused grease from the “pan to the can.” Once it solidifies in an empty can, put it in the trash.
  • Do not flush “flushable” wipes; put them in the trash instead. Wet wipes don’t break down in water and create sewer blockages.
  • The only items that should be considered flushable are poo, pee, and toilet paper.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

U.S. Water Use

from USGS
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report “Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2010,” which is the latest data available from the USGS, The United States uses 355 billion gallons of water a day. This was a 13% reduction from 2005, the last time the data was collected by the USGS though the population of the United States increased by 4% to 313.0 million people in 2010. Part of this reduction might have been due to lingering effects from the recession, but overall water use peaked in 1980. 

The 2010 total water withdrawals were at the lowest level since before 1970. Freshwater use was 306 billion gallons/day, or 86 % of the total water use- salt water used was 48.3 billion gallons/day, or 14 % of total water use. Most of the salt water used is for cooling in power generation and 38% of freshwater used is also for power generation and is non consumptive. The water is returned to the source. Total fresh water used (including the water for power generation) was 306 billion gallons/day. Thermoelectric-power water use accounted for 45% of total water withdrawals for all uses, and freshwater withdrawals for thermoelectric power accounted for 38% of the total freshwater withdrawals for all uses. Fresh surface-water use was (230 billion gallons/day) were almost 15 % less than in 2005, and fresh groundwater use (76.0 billion gallons/day) were about 4 % less than in 2005.

Irrigation water use was 115 billion gallons/day in 2010 the lowest level since before 1965. Irrigation use accounted for 38% of total freshwater for all uses, or 61% of total freshwater withdrawals for all uses except thermoelectric power. Surface-water supplied 57% of the total irrigation withdrawals, 65.9 billion gallons/day or about 12% less than in 2005. Groundwater supplied 49.5 billion gallons/day for irrigation in 2010, about 6 % less than in 2005. While water used for irrigation decreased the USGS reports that 62,400 thousand acres were irrigated in 2010, an increase of 1.5% (950 thousand acres) from 2005. We became more efficient in water used for agriculture by increasing the use sprinkler and microirrigation systems. These types of systems are now used in 58% of irrigated lands in 2010.

Domestic water use includes indoor and outdoor uses at residences. Common indoor water uses are drinking, food preparation, washing clothes and dishes, bathing , and flushing toilets. Common outdoor uses are watering lawns and gardens or maintaining pools, ponds, or other landscape features in a domestic environment. Domestic water is either self-supplied or provided by public suppliers. Self-supplied domestic water use is typically withdrawn from a well, or captured as rainwater in a cistern. Domestic deliveries are provided to homes by public suppliers through community water systems. Public-supply water use in 2010 were 42.0 billion gallons/day, 5% less than in 2005. This was the first decline in public-supply water use since the USGS began estimating national water use in 1950.

An estimated 44.5 million people in the United States, or 14 % of the population, provided their own water for domestic use in 2010 in Virginia this is higher estimated by Virginia Tech at 21% though representing only 16% of domestic water used. (People with wells use less water for outdoor uses.) These self-supplied withdrawals were estimated at 3,600 million gallons/ day, in Virginia with a population of 8 million private wells supplied 124 million gallons/day in 2010. Nearly all (98 %) of these self-supplied water were from fresh groundwater sources. Self-supplied domestic water withdrawals are rarely metered or reported; typically this use is calculated by multiplying an estimate of the population not served by public supply by a coefficient for daily per capita private well use.
from USGS

In 2010, more than 50% of the total water use in the United States was accounted for by 12 States. The largest users of water were California and Texas which are the two largest states in the nation. California accounted for about 11% of the total water use and 10% of freshwater use in the United States. California predominantly uses water for irrigation. Texas accounted for about 7% of total water use, predominantly for thermoelectric power generation (a significant portion that is exported to California a state that imports 33% of its electric supply), irrigation, and public supply.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Grass-fed Beef and Greenhouse Gases

Grazed and Confused, a report released this month by the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) led by Tara Garnett. The report essentially looks at greenhouse gas emissions and soil carbon sequestration in relation to beef and dairy production for human consumption. The report focuses exclusively on greenhouse gas emissions and attempts to determine if the grass-fed beef can sequester enough carbon to benefit the planet or if it is necessary to eliminate beef from the human diet to save the planet.

Ruminants (mostly beef cattle) are blamed by environmental literature, the popular press and media and, increasingly, public for a significant portion of global warming. Extremists of this view believe that giving up beef will reduce the carbon footprint of mankind more than eliminating cars. Others believe that the sequestered carbon from pasture raised grass-fed beef can save the planet. The scientists tried to determine how much if any carbon is sequestered by grass-fed beef on net.

I should mention here that for decades what beef we eat is grass-fed. I started buying grass fed beef back in the 1990’s when I was doing environmental evaluations of farms, dairies and concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs). I will not go into the details of that work that would shock most people; however, lets just say that my concerns for the animal welfare, mad cow disease, and environmental impact of CAFOs pushed me to buy my meat from the first sustainable farm I inspected. Today, in retirement, I continue to buy off the grid, sustainable, grass-fed beef from Polyface Farms here in Virginia.

Cattle that are grass-fed spend their entire lives grazing eating grass and forage that grows in the pasture. In addition, hay and silage which is just compacted grass are used to supplement in winter. Grass-fed beef require more land for pasturing as well as good management of the grazing to avoid over grazing the fields. This type of farm management protects our land and water resources. According to a study by Consumer Reports in 2015 found that conventional beef was twice as likely to be contaminated with these antibiotic resistant bacteria as more sustainably produced meat and three times more likely to be contaminated with the “superbug” bacteria as grass-fed organic meat.

Conventionally raised beef is where young cattle are shipped to feedlots where they are restricted in space and fed mostly corn and soybeans for several months to a year. They are also given antibiotics and other drugs to promote weight gain and prevent disease. In addition, they are sometimes feed other junk such as candy and feed that contains animal production waste. The animals in feedlots are crowded into pens; the average feedlot in the U.S. houses about 4,300 head of cattle, according to Food & Water Watch’s 2015 Factory Farm Nation Report.

Most academic studies have conclude that ruminant products, most commonly beef but also include goats, sheep, deer and others are the most emissions-intensive of all animal products, and within ruminant production systems, “conventionally raised” animals are the worst. However, that only measures greenhouse gas emission. Ruminant animals are actually rather miraculous and part of the planet’s ecology. Cattle and other ruminants can be raised on land unsuited to other food-producing purposes and on grain by-products from brewing and other food activities. In mixed a farming system the animals recycle nutrients and re-fertilize soils.

On the downside, ruminants emit large quantities of methane, use vast tracts of land, and are held responsible for a host of environmental ills, most notably deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as the pollution of soils, air and water. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but it has a shorter atmospheric life span than carbon dioxide (CO2). The effect of a given pulse of methane is temporary, unless replaced by another pulse. In contrast CO2’s warming effects are weak, but permanent. The next bit of CO2 emitted adds to the warming effects of all the CO2 emitted previously (except that absorbed by plants or other sequestered). So, because of their differing lifespans, a constant emission of methane from constantly replaced herd of cattle is therefore equivalent to one-off release of CO2.

The report , Grazed and Confused, found that the relationship between soil carbon sequestration and grazing intensity is complex. In soils that are not in equilibrium and where climate and other agro-ecological factors are right, light to moderate intensity grazing tends to promote sequestration of carbon overall. The scientists found some evidence to suggest that in some cases, grassland can store more carbon than forests. Thus, keeping ruminants on the land can achieve greater sequestration than removing them altogether and allowing woody vegetation to encroach.

However, the scientists state that on many lands, reversion to their natural wooded state would likely achieve higher levels of sequestration than would grazing although the loss of food from the grazing animals has to be compensated for elsewhere. The scientists also found that overgrazing damages soils, leads to soil carbon losses and undermines the organic matter in the soil and the soil overall health and fertility.

Overall the report found that grass-fed beef is not the magic bullet that will stop CO2 from building up in the atmosphere. However, as the scientists point out there are good reasons to build soil organic matter by pasturing livestock: soils rich in carbon foster soil fertility and health and a properly managed pasture with the livestock excluded from rivers and streams protects our waterways from contamination. The “conventional” livestock systems that operate today have caused an enormous amount environmental damage. Forests have been cleared, species driven to extinction, air and surface water polluted, and we have released vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Animal farming has also brought humanity huge benefits- It provides food that is highly nutrient dense, and very tasty. Farm animals can convert grass and silage that humans cannot eat into food that we can. When population densities were or still are sufficiently low and land abundant, livestock plays an important role in transferring nutrients from grasslands and onto cropland via their manure. The problem is there are over 7 billion people on earth none of whom want to be poorer or have less.

If you would like to watch the videos (which total more than an hour) here are the links:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

GRACE Satellite Dies

from NASA
In September scientist lost contact with the GRACE-2 satellite. Contact was restored, but another battery cell had failed. GRACE is nearly out of fuel and the ability to store the energy collected by its solar panels when it is in earth shadow. Little power beyond the active solar collectors remains. The scientists put her on standby and in the next weeks she will complete her final data collection in full sun along the terminator line between night and day.

Launched in March of 2002 as the second mission under the NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment twin satellites were designed for a five years mission life. They have operated for 15 years far more than expected, though scientists had hoped they would continue to operate and collect data until their replacements, GRACE-FO (follow on), were launched, but GRACE-FO has been delayed.

The decommissioning of the GRACE satellites will begin in November when one of the satellites is moved to eliminate any chance it could collide with the other, followed by steps to render the spacecraft inert. The spacecraft will make an uncontrolled reentry (crash) in early 2018, with the exact time dependent on solar activity and its effects on the Earth’s atmosphere.

GRACE is a joint partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States and Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Luft und Raumfahrt (DLR) in Germany. GRACE consists of two identical twin satellites that fly about 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart in a polar orbit 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth. GRACE maps Earth's gravity field by making accurate measurements of the distance between the two satellites, using GPS and a microwave ranging system. This allows scientists all over the world an efficient and accurate way to map Earth's gravity field. The replacement pair of satellites known as GRACE-FO will also be a joint German-American project, and are similar to the original GRACE spacecraft, but with the addition of a laser interferometer for more accurate measurements.

In January, NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences announced that a SpaceX Falcon 9 will carry the two GRACE-FO satellites as well as five Iridium Next communications satellites into low earth orbit. A launch date for the joint Iridium Next/GRACE-FO mission has not been set, but it is expected to occur in early 2018. NASA’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, published in May, projected a February 2018 launch of GRACE-FO.

The information gathered from the GRACE mission have allowed scientists to track the distribution and flow of mass within Earth and its surroundings- changes in water. The gravity variations studied by GRACE include: changes due to surface and deep currents in the ocean; runoff and ground water storage on land masses; exchanges between ice sheets or glaciers and the ocean; and variations of mass within Earth. Advances in hydraulic modeling with data from the satellites, make it possible to construct accurate and holistic picture of freshwater availability, across the globe as well as measure sea water.

GRACE data has provided a global picture of water storage trends for over a decade and could be an invaluable tool for understanding water resource availability. The GRACE mission is able to monitor monthly water storage changes within river basins and aquifers that are 77,000 square miles or larger. While this area may be too large for community water management, this information could someday be used to develop a unifying principal of cross border water resource allocation. The first use has been to study the trends on groundwater in various regions during this period.

Observing the groundwater buried beneath layers of soil and rock was almost impossible until, the twin satellites GRACE were launched in March 2002. At the time few believed the satellites could measure changes in groundwater, but thanks to work of Dr. Jay Famiglietti and his graduate student Matt Rodell, who were working at that time at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) the techniques for measuring groundwater using the GRACE satellites were developed and proven. Expanding on this earlier work is additional work by Alexandra S. Richey, Brian F. Thomas, Min-Hui Lo, John T. Reager, James S. Famiglietti, Katalyn Voss, Sean Swenson, and Matthew Rodell and I’m sure others that I have missed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Global CO2 Emissions Held Steady in 2016

From IEA

As we saw last week world consumption of energy has continued to increase as the world economy continues to grow. According to data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy (published annually) and the U.S. Energy Information Agency and the International Energy Agency (IEA) world consumption of fuel for energy production (as measured in millions of tonnes of oil equivalents) has increased 2.2% over the last three years, while the global economy grew 3.1% though global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016.

Global emissions of CO2 equivalents from the energy sector stood at 32.1 gigatonnes last year, the same as the previous two years. Scientists have welcomed this as a signal that energy use and CO2 emissions are decoupling from economic activity. This good news was the result of growth in renewable power generation, switches from coal to natural gas for power generation and improvements in energy efficiency.
CO2 Emissions by Country taken from Statista
Carbon dioxide emissions declined in the United States and China, and were stable in Europe, offsetting increases in CO2 emission in most of the rest of the world. The biggest drop in CO2 emissions came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3%, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6%. The decline in CO2 emission was driven by an increase in the use of natural gas from shale displacing coal to provide electricity and an increase in renewable power. CO2 emissions in the United States in 2016 were at their lowest level since 1992. This is true though the economy grew by 80% over this time frame.

In China, CO2 emissions fell by 1% last year while their economy was reported by the government to have grown by 6.7%. There were several reasons for this trend: an increasing share of renewables, nuclear and natural gas in the power sector, but also a switch from coal to gas in the industrial and buildings sector that was driven in large part by government policies combatting the horrible air pollution in their cities.

Two-thirds of China’s electricity demand growth, which was up 5.4%, was supplied by hydropower and nuclear. Five new nuclear reactors were connected to the grid in China, increasing its nuclear generation by 25%. According to IEA the growth in natural gas use in China has been significant and due mostly to air-quality measures to fight pollution. The share of natural gas in the global energy mix is approaching 25%, but in China it is 6% and in India just 5%. Changing from coal to natural gas in China and India could reduce global emissions significantly.

In the European Union, emissions were largely stable last year as gas demand rose about 8% and coal demand fell 10%. Growth in renewables continued, but provide a small impact. The United Kingdom saw a significant coal-to-gas conversion in the power sector, thanks to cheaper gas.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Monsanto's Dicamba Resistant Seeds

In 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed the sale of seeds that have been genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba, a selective herbicide. Monsanto introduced a new product called Xtend a genetically modified soybean seed that is resistant to the herbicide. Dicamba is already registered (approved by the EPA) for uses in agriculture, on corn, wheat and other crops. Dicamba is also registered for non-agricultural uses in residential areas, and other sites such as golf courses, mainly to control broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, chickweed, clover and ground ivy.

One of the main concerns about genetically engineered crops such as Roundup Ready crops and now the new genetically modified soybean and cotton seeds that are resistant to dicamba and 2,4 D is the development of weeds and other plants that are also resistant to the pesticides. Glyphosate (N-phosphonomethylglycine), the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup is also manufactured by Monsanto and is the most popular herbicide in use today in the United States, and throughout the World. Americans spray an estimated 180-185 million pounds of the weed killer, on their yards and farms every year.

The massive adoption of genetically engineered resistant crops in soybean-, maize and cotton-growing regions of the United States has resulted in evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds. The first reported resistant weed was in 2001, Conyza canadensis L. This occurred after more than 25 years of glyphosate use. However, the development of resistant species of weeds has speeded up. There are now several known glyphosate-resistant populations of the very vigorous, highly competitive and economically damaging ragweeds Ambrosia artemissifolia L. and Ambrosia trifida L.

Researching this scientists found that If there is a sufficiently diverse system of weed management, herbicide resistance may evolve only very slowly or not at all. However, the reality is that most farmers using Roundup resistant seeds rely on glyphosate alone, with markedly reduced diversity in other weed management tools historically used like burndown, glyphosate use before crop seeding, or physical tillage were found to minimize glyphosate-resistant weeds, but they increased runoff of pesticides and soil. These methods were abandoned to the easier and no till method of spraying once the crop emerges. The result is that Roundup is not working so well anymore. So, Monsanto has come out with their new product With the new dicamba and 2,4 D resistant seeds.

The New York Times reports that the expanded use of dicamba is damaging nearby traditional crops through vaporization and  pesticide that is carried on the wind. That is the first problem to be seen. The development of weeds and other plants that are also resistant to the pesticides will happen. Right now dicamba kills weeds that can no longer be controlled by Roundup. In the long run it is likely that weed resistance to dicamba will increase. There are more sustainable methods of weed control.

Monday, October 2, 2017

World Energy Use 2016

Energy is the basis of the world economy and the use of fossil fuels to produce energy releases greenhouse gases. So lets take a look at energy consumed world wide. According to data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy (published annually) and the U.S. Energy Information Agency world consumption of fuel for energy production (as measured in millions of tonnes of oil equivalents) has increased by about 50% over the last 20 years. The good news is that over that time renewables have increased from less than 1% to 3.2% of the energy produced. In 2016 hydro-electricity, nuclear power and renewable sources accounted for 14.5% of the energy consumed and these sources produce no greenhouse gases. Take a look at the world and then a more granular look at the energy used in some countries.
from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2016

As you can see above the use of all types of energy with the exception of nuclear has continued to grow year after year. 
Energy use in the United States, the Russian Federation and Europe appears to have leveled off and even decreased a bit over the past decade. Take a look at the relative size of the nations in terms of energy consumed. 

China has the largest absolute amount of renewables and hydro-electric sources of energy, but they are so much larger an energy user than any other country, representing 23.3% of the energy used globally that  taking a look at the percentages tells another story.

As you can see above Germany has the largest percentage of energy consumed in the country coming from renewables followed by the United Kingdom and Brazil. France has the highest percentage of energy consumed produced by nuclear power; and Canada and Brazil get more than a quarter of their energy from hydro-electricity. China gets more than 60% of the energy from coal and India gets more than 56% of their energy from coal. The oil producing nations and the car centric western nations all get huge amounts of energy from oil.