Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

Wonders of the World

Posted by Charles II on October 4, 2013

Bell_Pepper_Brussel_Sprouts

Posted in farming, Just for fun | 3 Comments »

Compare And Contrast: Colombia And Venezuela

Posted by Phoenix Woman on September 29, 2011

First, Colombia:

We have known for years about the dangers of being a trade unionist in Colombia, of the murders of organizers and labor officials. The murders have increased in frequency in the years since the US negotiated a trade deal with Colombia. They are well documented.

Now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has put names to the tragedy. In a letter to President Obama, Trumka says that 22 union activists have been killed in Colombia this year, including 15 since a so-called “Action Plan” designed to crack down on union violence was instituted in the country. All of their names are in a fact sheet at the end of the letter.

Trumka added that six Catholic bishops have been killed in Colombia in 2011.   The Bishops Conference of Colombia believes the killings occurred because of “their courageous commitment… with the prophetic denunciation of injustice and the cause of the poorest in the country.”

Now, Venezuela:

On a hillside overlooking Caracas, Venezuela, Pedro Echavez feeds sweet potato greens to his rabbits. These animals are raised for their meat, but their droppings also fertilize Echavez’s black bean and vegetable plots. This four-acre farm produces enough food to provide 80 percent of the diet for the sixteen people living in his community.

[...]

The Venezuelan equivalent of the US Department of Agriculture is overseeing the project. Yet, unlike the USDA, which gives around $20 billion in subsidies to the largest producers in the United States annually, Venezuela is giving 4.3 billion bolívares fuertes ($1 billion) in low-interest credit solely to small and medium-sized grain producers. Another 13 billion bolívares fuertes ($3 billion) is set aside for fruit and vegetable operations, as well as growers of crops like coffee, cacao and sugar cane. A portion of what farmers grow will be used to pay off the loans, and much of this produce will be locally packaged, processed and sold at state-owned supermarkets.

President Hugo Chávez’s leftist Bolivarian Revolution has embraced the idea of food sovereignty, or the right of a people to define their own food and agriculture policy. The food sovereignty movement is a global one, and the organization at the forefront, La Via Campesina, counts 300 million members. Venezuela is one of many countries, including Ecuador, Bolivia, Mali and Nepal, that have, in response to this grassroots movement, developed a legal framework for food sovereignty.

Tell your congresscritters to oppose the trade deal with Colombia. The fact that this nation’s bloodsoaked ruling classes are feted by the US’ elite, while the far more democratic and human Chavez is demonized by corporate-owned American media and corporate-owned American politicians, shows just how amoral is our leadership.

Posted in Colombia, farming, food, global food crisis, unions, Venezuela | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

But who cares, as long as we have cheap gas, eh?

Posted by Charles II on August 21, 2011

Kit Gillet, The Guardian

Sitting amid buckets of rice in the market, Nguyen Thi Lim Lien issues a warning she desperately hopes the world will hear: climate change is turning the rivers of the Mekong Delta salty.

“The government tells us that there are three grams of salt per litre of fresh water in the rivers now,” she says.

The vast, humid expanse of the delta is home to more than 17 million people…

Vietnam is listed by the World Bank among the countries most threatened by rising waters brought about by higher global temperatures, with only the Bahamas more vulnerable to a one-metre rise in sea levels. Such a rise could leave a third of the Mekong Delta underwater and lead to mass internal migration and devastation in a region that produces nearly half of Vietnam’s rice.

“If there was a one-metre rise, we estimate 40% of the delta will be submerged,” says Tran Thuc, director general of the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment. “There is also the threat of cyclones and storms linked to climate change…..”

Posted in climate change, farming | Comments Off

The next bubble

Posted by Charles II on April 30, 2011

Via Doug at Eschaton, an article by Frederick Kaufmann on commodity inflation:

It took the brilliant minds of Goldman Sachs to realize the simple truth that nothing is more valuable than our daily bread. And where there’s value, there’s money to be made. In 1991, Goldman bankers, led by their prescient president Gary Cohn, came up with a new kind of investment product, a derivative that tracked 24 raw materials, from precious metals and energy to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, hogs, soy, and wheat. They weighted the investment value of each element, blended and commingled the parts into sums, then reduced what had been a complicated collection of real things into a mathematical formula that could be expressed as a single manifestation, to be known henceforth as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI).
….
in 1999, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission deregulated futures markets. All of a sudden, bankers could take as large a position in grains as they liked, an opportunity that had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.

The structure of the GSCI paid no heed to the centuries-old buy-sell/sell-buy patterns. This newfangled derivative product was “long only,” which meant the product was constructed to buy commodities, and only buy.

This imbalance undermined the innate structure of the commodities markets, requiring bankers to buy and keep buying — no matter what the price.

The result of Wall Street’s venture into grain and feed and livestock has been a shock to the global food production and delivery system. Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures. The result: Imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat, as speculators (traditionally one-fifth of the market) now outnumber bona-fide hedgers four-to-one.

I don’t think the article is entirely accurate. Food costs should be rising as Asian incomes rise. The rise in food prices encourages the conservation and efficient utilization of farm land and potentially gives small farmers a chance to make a living, though Kaufmann counters that attendant volatility in input (oil and fertilizer) prices means that the farmers aren’t making money. More on that in a moment.

I think the main problem of this kind of commodity speculation is the usual one: margin buying. According to Ravi Batra (on Thom Hartmann today), they’re back to putting down 5% of the purchase price. This, of course, creates incentives for traders to walk away when trades go bad. On a day to day basis, volatility is greatly increased. Over longer periods of time, the chance of booms and busts is increased, and with it, an increased chance of a disastrous farm depression.

And there’s a second key point that Kaufmann makes:

The higher the cost of corn, soy, rice, and wheat, the more the grain producing-nations of the world should cooperate in order to ensure that panicked (and generally poorer) grain-importing nations do not spark ever more dramatic contagions of food inflation and political upheaval. Instead, nervous countries have responded instead with me-first policies, from export bans to grain hoarding to neo-mercantilist land grabs in Africa.

Now, there’s an interesting point about input prices. Oil, nitrogen, and potash are one set of inputs to improve productivity. But there are other approaches, such as humic and fulvic acid, which are a significant source of potassium. Nitrogen can be fixed by microorganisms. If the price of food rises in a sustained way, farmers will find ways to work around the conventional inputs. Just as the rise in oil prices encourages green energy, it encourages green agriculture. This is the invisible hand at its best. We just have to keep the poor of the world alive long enough for that to happen. And we should tax and regulate the %$#@ out of speculators to make sure they don’t blow up the agriculture markets the same way they blew up the housing market.

Posted in farming, stock market | 1 Comment »

Good News From The Biomass Front

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 6, 2010

The Kreidermachers show how it’s done.

From the Sustainability page on their website:

Everything grown onsite – our family grows everything on the farm starting from seeds or small cuttings of plants, so there is no trucking of finished plants before you purchase them in our retail greenhouse. We have a special production greenhouse with open roof vents (below), so we don’t need to run fans to cool the greenhouse and plants get direct sun making them adapt faster when you take them home.

Water conservation – for several decades we’ve watered all the plants thru “ebb and flow” benching (below), which means we pump water into the bench, let the plants soak up the water and then drain the remainder back into a tub at the end of the bench to save for the next watering. Besides saving a lot of water, the plants stay healthier since the foliage isn’t getting wet (and susceptible to disease). For nearly the past decade, we’ve taken the next step by collecting rain water onsite and using it to water the plants. We also have rain collection barrels for customers to use at home.

Heating thru renewable energy sources – as everyone is concerned about the increasing cost of gas for their cars/trucks, we’ve been seeing even sharper increases in natural gas prices for heating the greenhouses over the past decade. Eric and Paul have changed the greenhouse heating to bio-mass boilers (above) and currently working on making our own pellets from native prairie grasses, corn stover, etc., which are better renewable energy sources. See Alternative Energy Solutions, LLC for more.

Natural liquid Daniels Fertilizer – everyone comments on how healthy our plants look. We credit some of that to the fact that for more than ten years we have used a liquid fertilizer that is much “friendlier” to plants. It’s a natural fertilizer, made from soybean extract, and thereby doesn’t burn the plant’s roots if it’s stressed. We also sell the Daniels Fertilizer in the retail for use at home.

Soil Mix made with renewable resources – we’ve been working for years to get the right mix of components to grow in, and in the past few years we’ve been primarily looking at alternatives to peat moss. Our soil mix (pictured below) is now primarily made with Coir (Coconut fiber) and Rice hulls. We also make a soil mix especially formulated for container gardening that can be purchased in our retail.

Organic pest & disease control – We don’t like having to spray chemicals anymore than our customers, so we’ve been experimenting with beneficial bugs and compost teas. We still need to do more work to understand how it all works, but so far it seems to be looking very promising. Customers are always asking for “safer” means of treating bugs and fungus on their plants at home. We have the best organic products on the market.

Bio-degradable pots & baskets – for a number of years we’ve used fiber hanging baskets and perennial pots, as well as Rice hull pots for the annuals. Both the fiber and rice hull pots will break down in a compost pile or landfill within 2-3 years, but unfortunately they don’t break down fast enough to leave the plants in them when you plant in the ground. Our goal, beyond getting rid of the use of plastics, is to find a pot that you can just put in the ground with your plant still in it and the roots will go right thru the pot. We’re getting closer this year with a new pot (pictured below) for the vegetables that has slits for the roots to grow right thru.

We’re never done searching for ways to improve the way we grow or “greener” ways to do it. We’ll be sure to keep updating on what we’re doing.

Posted in energy, environment, family values, farming, food, gardening, global food crisis, global warming, Good Causes, Good Things, Minnesota, sustainability | 3 Comments »

Winter Farming — In Vermont

Posted by Phoenix Woman on January 10, 2010

Yes, Vermont. Here’s how — by crafting giant greenhouses that move back and forth on rails skids (thanks, Slim!):

When Pete Johnson, a leader among New England’s organic farmers, set out one day last fall to pull an 18,000-pound greenhouse, in fits and starts, over a field-grown plot of lettuce, he inched forward an idea that could help make fresh local produce available year-round, even in Vermont.It was late October. For most of his fellow farmers, harvest time was over until spring. But Mr. Johnson was just revving up his tractor – and his dream.

He wants to extend the growing season into winter, and to start spring crops in late winter, in ground protected temporarily by movable greenhouses. Johnson had seen this done experimentally elsewhere. But he was trying it on a commercial scale, with greenhouses 200 feet long – twice the length of a basketball court and two-thirds as wide.

[...]

Johnson’s tractor was connected by steel cables to one of the front corners of one of his greenhouses. His facilities manager, Steve Perkins, sat at the wheel of a second tractor connected to the other front corner of the greenhouse. A chilly autumn wind rippled the lightweight fabric covering rows of salad greens. But even unheated, the greenhouse might protect plants enough to keep them producing through the winter: That was the idea.

[...]

As fall gave way to winter, Johnson saw his vision vindicated. Through weeks of snow and some single-digit temperatures, Johnson supplied his community-supported agriculture (CSA) customers with fresh lettuce and other greens grown inside the unheated greenhouse. (In CSA consumers buy food directly from local farmers.)

Those plants stopped growing during Vermont’s deep January freeze (minus 30 degrees one week), but Johnson expects to start harvesting new growth in mid-February. “And that’s pretty cool to get fresh greens from unheated greenhouses all but one month of the winter,” he says.

This is amazing. If Pete’s Greens can do it in Vermont, it can be done just about anywhere.

Posted in farming, food, gardening, Good Things | 5 Comments »

Good News From Colombia, Of All Places

Posted by Phoenix Woman on January 4, 2010

Proof that good things can flourish even in one of the world’s most notorious narcostates:

Indigenous and rural women from southern Tolima, a province located in the heart of Colombia, are lending a hand to the bleak land around them, with the aim of simultaneously recovering the ecosystem and regaining their own dignity, in a community effort that is changing their environment and their lives.

Manos de Mujer (Women’s Hands) is the name of the non-governmental organisation working since 2001 in Natagaima, a town some 100 kilometres south of the provincial capital, Ibagué. Nine hundred women of the Pijao native community plant ecosystem-friendly seeds to grow natural crops without the use of agrochemicals.

“Nine years ago, the land all around my plot was a yellowish colour. There were only one or two lonely trees,” Claudina Loaiza, who has been part of the projects since its onset, told IPS.

[...]

“When I left the father of my children, because of his drinking and cheating, I began planting my own fruit and vegetable garden in my yard; this was something I really wanted,” Loaiza said, her eyes shining as she introduced her daughter and niece, who work the land with her.

“I’m the kind of woman who’d rather be alone than have a bad man by her side,” she said, before going on to describe how she fenced off her one-hectare garden with 144 metres of wire netting.

“I felt, and I still feel, so proud, because we were planting beans, watermelon, plantain, cassava, corn, green vegetables and all sorts of things, without using any weed killers or chemicals, just what we prepared for fertilising and replenishing the soil,” she explained.

Posted in Colombia, environment, family values, farming, food, gardening, Good Things | 1 Comment »

“More complicated than rocket science”: global warming and famine

Posted by Charles II on October 3, 2009

Stephen Leahy, IPS (via t/o):

Rocketing food prices and hundreds of millions more starving people will be part of humanity’s grim future without concerted action on climate change and new investments in agriculture, experts reported this week.

The current devastating drought in East Africa, where millions of people are on the brink of starvation, is a window on our future, suggests a new study looking at the impacts of climate change.

“Twenty-five million more children will be malnourished in 2050 due to effects of climate change,” such as decreased crop yields, crop failures and higher food prices, concluded the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) study.

We need to develop means to desalinate water in non-destructive, energy efficient ways. Fast.

Posted in Africa, farming, global food crisis, global warming | 1 Comment »

Some Good News

Posted by Phoenix Woman on June 1, 2009

Because good news is good!

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via BooRadley):

Three abandoned, century-old greenhouses that years ago produced flowers to beautify the graves and grounds of the historic south side [Forest Home] cemetery are being brought back to life, this time with vegetables.

Empty for nearly a decade because they became too expensive to heat through winter, the A-frame glass greenhouses will be used year-round by the organization Growing Power to grow thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables for city residents and others served by the nonprofit group, based on the north side.

[...]

Growing Power can produce a high volume of affordable food because [Growing Power CEO and founder Will] Allen has developed cost-efficient renewable energy systems to nurture fast-growing plants in tight, urban spaces.

The nonprofit also is tied into a network of farmers to help provide produce year-round.

The cemetery greenhouses will be heated in winter through aquaponics – a closed system that replicates a clean river with fish and plants. It works like this: Large tanks of water stocked with fish such as tilapia are heated. The water releases heat into the air, so no other energy source is required. (Heating water also is much less expensive than heating air.) Plants keep the water clean for the fish, which also are sold as food.

Allen, a former pro basketball player, grew up on a farm in the Washington, DC area. When he finished with his pro career, he went to work for Procter & Gamble and then got back into farming — this time, urban farming. If there is such a thing as the Lord’s work, he’s doing it.

Posted in farming, food, gardening, global food crisis, Good Things, heroes | 12 Comments »

Vertical Farming

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 21, 2009

Terrapass’ Adam Stein, who is normally skeptical of vertical farming, links approvingly to this LA Times piece on two high-tech greenhouses that grow large amounts of high-value crops like tomatoes with far less of a water input than needed in conventional farming — a big deal in desert places like Southern California:

Rising out of verdant acres of strawberries and artichokes between Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County are two mammoth, high-tech greenhouses.

[...]

The facility generates its own renewable power. It hoards rainwater. It hosts its own bumblebees for pollination. And it requires a fraction of the chemicals used in neighboring fields to coax plants to produce like champions.

[...]

The son of a Dutch immigrant farmer, the 51-year-old Houweling has helped build his family’s agricultural business into one of the largest greenhouse-based growers in North America. But the California facility is no ordinary hothouse.

On a recent afternoon, he was eager to show visitors clusters of plump, sweet tomatoes hanging overhead from vines that reach high into the rafters. This arrangement allows the farm’s 450 permanent employees to climb ladders to pick the fruit instead of stooping. The plants, which are fed individually through tubing that looks like intravenous hospital equipment, produce 20 times more fruit per acre than in conventional field production.

Virtually nothing is wasted in this ecosystem. Workers have dug a four-acre pond to store rainwater and runoff. This water, along with condensation, is collected, filtered and recirculated back to each of the 20-acre greenhouses. That has cut water use to less than one-fifth of that required in conventional field cultivation. Fertilizer use has been reduced by half. There are no herbicides and almost no pesticides, and there is no dust.

Five-acres of photovoltaic solar cells supply much of the electricity to run pumps and climate controls. Thermal systems collect solar heat and warehouse refrigeration exhaust to warm the greenhouses on cool evenings. Together, the two systems generate 2.1 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,500 homes.

“We believe this is the first greenhouse in the world that is energy neutral,” Houweling said.

Until recently, it wouldn’t have been possible to do this and make any money at it — and it certainly won’t work everywhere, or for every crop. But in places like California, where the prices for land are high and access to water is by no means guaranteed, this is likely going to be the wave of the future for various types of produce.

Posted in climate change, energy, environment, farming, food, gardening, global food crisis, global warming, Good Things | 2 Comments »