Study: Using data, farmers can increase their yields, decrease their waste

Read the full story at Food Dive.

  • Rapid changes in the agriculture industry point the way to new, technologically enhanced “precision farming” that could lead to major gains in food yields — possibly enhancing current capabilities to feed an additional one billion people within the next 10 years, according to a new report by AT Kearney.
  • Digital technologies applied to agriculture — ranging from camera drones to GPS-enabled combines — are opening up a new wave of automation and could generate dramatic improvements in crop yields that may spark another agricultural revolution.
  • Opportunities are there to bundle technologies to provide end-to-end services for growers, ranging from selecting crops to optimizing planting times, seeding rates, and fertilizer applications.

North America’s grasslands are slowly disappearing — and no one’s paying attention

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

The Great Plains lost more grassland to agriculture in 2014 than the Brazilian Amazon lost to deforestation, says a recent report from the World Wildlife Fund. And it argues that the continued expansion of cropland in the region may be threatening birds, pollinators and even drinking water, while releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Scientists have long feared this ‘feedback’ to the climate system. Now they say it’s happening

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

At a time when a huge pulse of uncertainty has been injected into the global project to stop the planet’s warming, scientists have just raised the stakes even further.

In a massive new study published Wednesday in the influential journal Nature, no less than 50 authors from around the world document a so-called climate system “feedback” that, they say, could make global warming considerably worse over the coming decades.

That feedback involves the planet’s soils, which are a massive repository of carbon due to the plants and roots that have grown and died in them, in many cases over vast time periods (plants pull in carbon from the air through photosynthesis and use it to fuel their growth). It has long been feared that as warming increases, the microorganisms living in these soils would respond by very naturally upping their rate of respiration, a process that in turn releases carbon dioxide or methane, leading greenhouse gases.

Testimony: Renewable Fuel Standard: Program Unlikely to Meet Production or Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets

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It is unlikely that the goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil—will be met as envisioned because there is limited production of advanced biofuels and limited potential for expanded production by 2022. Advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol and biomass-based diesel, achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions than conventional biofuels (primarily corn-starch ethanol), but the latter account for most of the biofuel blended into domestic transportation fuels under the RFS. As a result, the RFS is unlikely to achieve the targeted level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. For example, the cellulosic biofuel blended into the transportation fuel supply in 2015 was less than 5 percent of the statutory target of 3 billion gallons. Partly as a result of low production of advanced biofuels, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which administers the RFS in consultation with other agencies, has reduced the RFS targets for such fuels through waivers in each of the last 4 years (see figure). According to experts GAO interviewed, the shortfall of advanced biofuels is due to high production costs. The investments required to make these fuels more cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels, even in the longer run, are unlikely in the current investment climate, according to experts.

Social Mobilization: How to Encourage Action on Climate Change

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Four broad categories of psychological theories explain motivations for engagement or avoidance of climate action: (i) rational choice theories postulate that human behaviour is mostly driven by self-interest and reasoned choices (weighing costs and benefits); (ii) theories of altruism propose that people engage in climate action because of their personal values, and they are sometimes willing to give up personal benefits for the sake of the environment; (iii) theories of multiple motivations suggest that climate action may sometimes be driven by self-interest, and sometimes by altruism; and that (iv) people would engage in more climate action if they were not impeded by psychological or structural barriers. Psychological barriers are somewhat related to rational choice and a lack of altruism, and can prevent action through a variety of pathways, including lack of knowledge, cognitive biases, perceived risks, and social pressure, among others.
This psychological research spanning four decades provides strong empirical support for a number of strategies that encourage behaviour change. Providing tailored information, soliciting commitment (i.e., pledges), recruiting leaders from within social networks, giving feedback and using a variety of other social influence strategies can effectively increase climate-friendly behaviour.

What We Know About the Decline of Bees

Read the full story in Pacific Standard.

Honeybee populations are in decline worldwide, and, because we need them to pollinate fruits and vegetables, that spells big trouble for our food supply. But there’s a glimmer of good news: Researchers are finally starting to get a handle on the exact challenges bees face and how to deal with them, according to two recent surveys published in the journals Nature and Science.

The bee situation is nothing if not complicated. Things started to look dire around a decade ago, when unusually large numbers of bees essentially were lost to an odd phenomenon called colony collapse disorder—odd because there’s little evidence the bees actually died. Instead, they just went missing. Since that time, however, managed bee populations (as opposed to wild ones) seem to have recovered.

There’s no one explanation for bee populations’ ups and downs. It’s thought that neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides introduced in the 1990s, play a role, but their impact depends on the crops involved. Other pesticides, parasites, and maybe even climate change could be involved, but no one’s quite sure how exactly. It’s important that we get to the bottom of this decline because most of our fruits and vegetables—around 5 to 8 percent of our food supply—need bees and other insect pollinators to reproduce.

Now, Lynn Dicks, Rosemary Hill, Simon Potts, and their colleagues have managed to summarize what’s known with a paper published this week in Nature. The study builds on a recent report for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, one of the most comprehensive to date.