Amid soaring demand for warehouses, an effort to make them greener

Read the full story from the New York Times.

Some owners are taking steps to make their buildings more energy efficient, including upgrading building materials and turning the rooftops into solar farms.

Raising cattle on native grasses in the eastern U.S. benefits farmers, wildlife, and the soil

Native grasses, long overlooked, have been shown to benefit cattle and diverse native animals. Patrick Keyser, CC BY-ND

by Patrick Keyser, University of Tennessee

Early on a cool June morning, heavy dew lies on the grass of rolling farm country somewhere in Tennessee, or Missouri, or Pennsylvania. Small patches of fog hang in low lying pockets of these fields. In the distance, hardworking farmers are starting their day. Farm equipment clangs, tractors roar to life and voices lining out the day’s work drift on the air.

This pastoral scene is repeated thousands of times each morning across rural America. But something is missing: the exuberant “Bob bob white!” call of the bobwhite quail that for generations was the soundtrack to summer mornings. Once abundant across the eastern U.S., bobwhite populations have declined by 85%. Calculations suggest that the remaining population could be cut in half within the next decade. [Listen to a recording of a Northern Bobwhite call]

Many other grassland birds, such as grasshopper sparrows and eastern meadowlarks, also are disappearing at an alarming rate. Taken together, grassland birds have experienced the worst population declines among all North American birds.

Why is this happening? In a word, habitat. Native grasslands in the U.S., especially those east of the Great Plains, which once covered millions of acres, have almost completely disappeared. Some have been converted to croplands. Others have been allowed to grow back up into forests, where shade from the tree canopy prevents the growth of these grasses.

Still others have been planted with grasses that are native to Europe, Africa or Asia. These introduced grasses tend to be shorter than our tall, native species and grow in dense, solid mats that cover the ground. Native species, on the other hand, are bunchgrasses: They grow in clumps, with spaces between plants that benefit many of these nesting birds, especially the bobwhite.

A bobwhite quail nest nestles in a bunch of switchgrass, a native grass species also valuable for cattle forage. David Peters, CC BY-ND

Native grasses for birds, and cattle

One solution to these declines draws on the concept of working lands conservation – making agricultural lands productive not only for cattle, but also for declining species such as grassland birds. One compelling opportunity for such an approach is using some of the native grasses that have been lost from the eastern U.S. to provide pasture for cattle. Reintroducing these grasses to farms could benefit cattle farmers as well as birds. My new book, ““Native Grass Forages for the Eastern U.S.,” explains why and how these grasses can fit into working farms.

I have combined my research on native grasses over the past 15 years at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture with the work of many other scientists that has accumulated over the past 100 years. Collectively, this research suggests that native grasses can not only be brought back but can play a strategic role on our farms today.

Growing forages requires fertilizer, diesel and seed, all of which are becoming more expensive. At the same time, climate change is making some parts of the U.S. wetter and other parts drier.

In the face of these stresses, I see native grasses like big bluestem as a promising solution. These grasses, which have grown in North America for millennia, are naturally well adapted to the eastern U.S., and I believe they can once again benefit family farms.

Patrick Keyser interviews Brad Black of Color Wheel Farm in Monroe County, Tennessee, on his experience planting a native grass, switchgrass.

As I show in my book, these grasses have roots that can extend as much as 8 to 10 feet deep into the soil. They are remarkably drought tolerant and can grow and thrive in soils with low fertility and high acidity.

Their large root systems also help to increase the organic matter in soils, which makes the soil healthier and more productive. Building up organic matter, which consists mostly of carbon, stores carbon in the soil rather than the atmosphere.

But what about the cattle? Numerous studies show that forage yields are high for these species. Cattle readily consume them, and this diet produces strong gains on the growing animals. This combination of high yields, strong gains and low input requirements means that these forages can be produced profitably.

A recent study conducted here in Tennessee resulted in strong animal performance for beef steers and heifers, with the cost of feed for the animals coming in at only $0.29 per pound. This is a very good bargain: Cost ranges for many nonnative forages can be $0.80-0.90 per pound, and purchased feed can run well over $2.00 per pound of weight gain.

In that same study, we monitored the nesting success of two at-risk species associated with eastern pastures: grasshopper sparrows and field sparrows. We found that compared to pastures growing a nonnative grass species called tall fescue, the native grass pastures produced between two and six times more fledgling birds per acre. This is the outcome that working lands conservation seeks to deliver: more beef and more birds, all at a fair price.

Scientists track the movements of this male bobwhite quail, here about to be released into the wild, through a radio transmitter covered by a tuft of feathers beneath the bird’s chin. Ross Ketron, CC BY-ND

Making the switch

The biggest challenge of cultivating native grasses is getting the grasses established. Converting existing pastures to native grasses requires completely renovating the fields, and lots of patience as the native grass seedlings develop. These species are slow starters.

Once they get a good root system under them, they can grow quite rapidly, but until then they are vulnerable to weed pressure. And converting fields is not cheap, due particularly to seed costs. However, farmers can receive financial support for planting native grasses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

As the world’s population grows, it will be a struggle to produce enough nutrient-dense proteins to feed everyone. Grasslands can produce high-quality dietary protein cost-effectively, while also reducing atmospheric carbon and supporting North American grassland birds and other wild species.

As King Solomon said long ago, there is nothing new under the sun. Native grasses are not new, but today I see them as a modern solution to some of our planet’s most pressing challenges.

Patrick Keyser, Professor of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries and Director, Center for Native Grasslands Management, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New transistor could cut 5% from world’s digital energy budget

Read the full story from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

A new spin on one of the 20th century’s smallest but grandest inventions, the transistor, could help feed the world’s ever-growing appetite for digital memory while slicing up to 5% of the energy from its power-hungry diet.

Critical benefits of snowpack for winter wheat are diminishing

Read the full story from the University of Minnesota.

Scientists are studying the complex effects of climate change on winter crops. Warming winters may sound like a welcome change for some farmers because the change in temperature could reduce freezing stress on plants and create more ideal conditions for growing overwinter cash crops and winter cover crops. However, when looking at climate change from a cross-seasonal perspective and accounting for declining snowpack, researchers are finding that the whole picture isn’t so sunny.

New study reveals that exposure to a group of widely used ‘forever chemicals’ may increase diabetes risk in middle-aged women

Read the full story from Diabetologia.

A new study finds that exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – a large and diverse group of industrial chemicals found in many everyday products – is associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes in midlife women.

Measuring endocrine disruptors in wastewater

Read the full story from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique – INRS.

Treating pollutants, such as endocrine disruptors, is an effective way to protect the environment. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that alter the hormonal systems and the development of organisms that are exposed to them, even in small quantities. Scientists are working on an effluent analysis tool to predict their harmful effects.

Study links fracking, drinking water pollution, and infant health

Read the full story from the University of Rochester Medical Center.

New research documents the pollution of public water supplies caused by shale gas development, commonly known as fracking, and its negative impact of infant health.  These findings call for closer environmental regulation of the industry, as levels of chemicals found in drinking water often fall below regulatory thresholds.

Wine industry wants one single standard for sustainability

Read the full story at Beverage Daily.

Wine industry professionals would like to see a unique, strong sustainability standard that can be clearly communicated to consumers, according to a survey commissioned by Prowein.

Stormwater harvesting benefits city trees

Read the full story from Flinders University.

Reports of tree canopy coverage dwindling across city suburbs raise pressure on local government and other authorities’ efforts to improve the health of urban street trees. New research has found stormwater interception and infiltration that allows water to soak into tree root zones is proving effective for a shady tree canopy in concrete urban environments where extreme heat occurs regularly.

PFAS water filter developed through NIEHS funding

Read the full story at Environmental Factor.

A new filter cartridge that is compatible with Brita pitchers can remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from drinking water. The Purefast cartridges from CycloPure, Inc., are based on DEXSORB+ technology, which was developed with support from an NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) small business innovation research grant.