Climate change a massive threat to food security, agriculture

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Written by: Jason Thomas 6 OCT 2015 – 4:16 PM  UPDATED 7 OCT 2015 – 9:06 AM

Australia can expect climate change to make food more scarce and expensive in the future, a new report from the Climate Council says.

Climate change will threaten Australia’s food security and drive up the prices of foods, a report out today says.

The Climate Council’s report, Feeding a hungry nation: climate change, food and farming in Australia, says the agriculture industry has suffered and will suffer in future as Australia’s climate continues to change.

Rising temperatures and lower rainfall have already affected crop yields in areas of southern Australia, and yields will continue to be affected, the report said.

Greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, like bushfires, droughts and cyclones will lead to decreased productivity across the agricultural sector, including the livestock and dairy industries.

The prospect of reduced agricultural production is a big issue for Australia, where the gross value of all agricultural commodities produced was roughly $50 billion for the calendar year ending June 30, 2014.

The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 2.8 per cent of all employed Australians in August 2014, and represented 2.4 per cent of real gross value added to Australia’s economy in 2013-14, data from Austrade reveals.

Some agricultural commodities – wheat and frozen, chilled or fresh beef – are in Australia’s top ten exports.

Australia has also enjoyed strong food security throughout history, with more agricultural exports than imports historically.

Note: food includes processed items, like bread and beverages.

But rising temperatures, more cyclones and bushfires and less available water in coming years could disrupt that security, the report says.

Australia’s exports will also need to cope with a growing population of Australians.

The report’s lead author, ecologist Professor Lesley Hughes from Macquarie University, said Australia had a lot of skin to lose as the world’s climate continues to change.

“We export about 65 per cent of our food production,” Prof Hughes said.

She said Australia had always been a nation with a high amount of food security, but Australia was the developed nation most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“We’re the driest inhabited continent,” Prof Hughes said.

“That’s getting worse and will get worse. We’ve got good data on heat waves getting longer, getting hotter and getting earlier in the year.”

Data on climate change, like this chart below, can be found on the Bureau of Meteorology’s portal on climate change data.

Prof Hughes is a councillor for the independent Climate Council, formerly the Climate Commission until the Abbott government abolished the government body in its first days of government.

Australia is projected to be one of the most adversely affected regions from future changes in climate in terms of reductions in agricultural production and export – Climate Council report

A peak farming association, Grain Growers Australia, said farmers were concerned about climate change, but farmers have already been responding to challenges like drought and seasonally variability.

“We’re just always looking at ways of managing seasonal variability,” spokesperson, Laureta Wallace said.

The Climate Council’s report says 50 per cent of Australia’s agriculture sector is irrigated, and the supply of available rainfall is set to decline.

However, Australian farmers are becoming more efficient with their water use, data from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) reveals.

“Between 1982 and 2012 more than half of Australia’s wheat-growing regions have improved their WUE [water use efficiency] by at least 50 per cent,” the GRDC report says.

“Many areas have achieved even more than this.”

Young farmer, Joshua Gilbert, works on the family cattle stud in Nabiac NSW.

He is the chair of Young Farmers, a sub group of the NSW Famers Association.

Mr Gilbert said farmers had already been dealing with the challenges of climate change without necessarily knowing what to call it.

However, many farmers are recognising that changing conditions on their land are due to climate change and some were making steps to protect their farms from the effects, Mr Gilbert said.

“I guess what we’ve seen is there is a lot more knowledge from younger farmers,” Mr Gilbert said.

Young farmers: why do young people choose to live on the land?
Why do young people choose to become farmers in this day and age?

He said seasonal variability, including the unknowns of rainfall and extreme weather events, have been affecting farmers for years.

The long term changes to the climate would worsen this variability, as farmers could expect more droughts and bushfires in future, the Climate Council’s report said.

SBS contacted the Australian Livestock Exporters Council and the National Farmers Federation, to ask if they were concerned about the effects of climate change on Australia’s agriculture sector. Both were unavailable for comment.

Key findings of the Climate Council’s report:

Climate change is making weather patterns more extreme and unpredictable, with serious consequences for Australia’s agricultural production

  • Climate change is driving an increase in the intensity and frequency of hot days and heatwaves in Australia, changing rainfall patterns, increasing the severity of droughts, and driving up the likelihood of extreme fire danger weather.
  • Average rainfall in southern Australia during the cool season is predicted to decline further, and the time spent in extreme drought conditions is projected to increase.
  • Water scarcity, heat stress and increased climatic variability in our most productive agricultural regions, such as the Murray Darling Basin, are key risks for our food security, economy, and dependent industries and communities.
  • Climatic challenges could result in imports of key agricultural commodities such as wheat increasingly outweighing exports.

More frequent and intense heatwaves and extreme weather events are already affecting food prices in Australia

  • Climate change is increasing the variability of crop yields.
  • Food prices during the 2005- 2007 drought increased at twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) with fresh fruit and vegetables the worst hit, increasing 43 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.
  • Reductions of livestock numbers during droughts can directly affect meat prices for many years.
  • Rainfall deficiencies in parts of Western Australia and central Queensland are projected to reduce total national crop production by 12 per cent in 2014-15, and the value of beef and veal exports by 4 per cent.
  • Cyclone Larry destroyed 90 per cent of the North Queensland banana crop in 2006, affecting supply for nine months and increasing prices by 500 per cent.
  • The 2009 heatwave in Victoria decimated fruit crops, with significant production losses of berry and other fruit crops.

Climate change is affecting the quality and seasonal availability of many foods in Australia

  • Up to 70% of Australia’s wine-growing regions with a Mediterranean climate (including iconic areas like the Barossa Valley and Margaret River) will be less suitable for grape growing by 2050. Higher temperatures will continue to cause earlier ripening and reduced grape quality, as well as encourage expansion to new areas, including some regions of Tasmania.
  • Many foods produced by plants growing at elevated CO2 have reduced protein and mineral concentrations, reducing their nutritional value.
  • Harsher climate conditions will increase use of more heat-tolerant breeds in beef production, some of which have lower meat quality and reproductive rates.
  • Heat stress reduces milk yield by 10-25 per cent and up to 40 per cent in extreme heatwave conditions.
  • The yields of many important crop species such as wheat, rice and maize are reduced at temperatures more than 30°C.

Australia is extremely vulnerable to disruptions in food supply through extreme weather events

  • There is typically less than 30 days supply of non-perishable food and less than five days supply of perishable food in the supply chain at any one time. Households generally hold only about a 3-5 day supply of food. Such low reserves are vulnerable to natural disasters and disruption to transport from extreme weather.
  • During the 2011 Queensland floods, several towns such as Rockhampton were cut off for up to two weeks, preventing food resupply. Brisbane came within a day of running out of bread.

Australia’s international competitiveness in many agricultural markets will be challenged by the warming climate and changing weather patterns

  • Australia is projected to be one of the most adversely affected regions from future changes in climate in terms of reductions in agricultural production and exports.
  • Climate impacts on agricultural production in other countries will affect our competitiveness, especially if warmer and wetter conditions elsewhere boost production of key products such as beef and lamb.

If the current rate of climate change is maintained, adaptation to food production challenges will be increasingly difficult and expensive

  • By 2061, Australia’s domestic demand for food could be 90 per cent above 2000 levels, with a similar increase in export demand.
  • Transitioning to a new, lowcarbon economy is critical to avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
  • The longer action on climate change is delayed, the more likely it is that progressive, small-scale adaptive steps to cope with climate change will become increasingly inadequate and larger, more expensive changes will be required.


How big data will feed the global population – however big it gets

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Agricultural drone © Getty Images
Big data and robotics will help maximise crop yields from every square foot of land

Written by:  on 13/10/2015


On the MoneyWeek cruise last week there was much talk about sustainability – about pollution, about climate change, about energy usage and waste and generally about the ability of the earth to keep giving and giving to a growing human population.

Regular readers will know that, being great believers in human ingenuity, we are generally optimistic on these things. That’s a position increasingly borne out by new technology.

Consider agriculture. The truth is that, while there are obviously iffy moments (North Korea, China’s ‘great leap forward’, etc) agricultural yields always rise over time as new techniques and technologies take farming to new levels. Some of the our major crops have seen yields rise ten-fold in the last 200 years – corn yields alone are up four-fold since the 1950s.

We’re reaching one of those new levels right now thanks to ‘precision agriculture’ – a mixture of big data and (coming soon) robotics that helps farmers to customise the cultivation of every square foot of their land.

According to IBM (which is active in the area) by “collecting real-time data on weather, soil and air quality, crop maturity and even equipment and labour costs and availability” and then using predictive analytics,  farmers can make smarter decisions, decisions that result in better productivity, less waste, fewer pesticides, less energy and water usage and, in the end, fewer people.

One of the best descriptions of how all this works comes from Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer in Foreign Affairs magazine. The key to getting this right is to use what is known as ‘variable rate technology’ to map every part of a field for things such as phosphates, acidity, potassium and the like, and then to treat each part of any field with the fertilisers that suits it and to see which fields will work best for which crops at which time of year.

Right now, this means putting sensors in the soil manually to check which bit needs what, something that means that, in the US, they are used only every 2.5 acres (in Brazil it is every 12). That’s a start, but it also means that “huge productivity gains” are missed – soil can change every few feet.

It’s also expensive – which is why only 20% of US farms are fully precision-farmed. However, new sensors are in development that can be put into the ground every few feet, take regular readings and report those readings via GPS, something that will lead to a system whereby each plant effectively reports its needs as the tractor approaches. Fertiliser drops can then be automatically adjusted as the vehicle moves down a field.

There are also sensors in development that can check on the colours of plants to judge their water and nitrogen requirements.

There’s more. GPS data can also be used to ‘auto-guide’ tractors. Manual driving is skilled and expensive, and involves a lot of overlapping (farmers worry more about missing bits of the field than they do about over fertilising), says Lowenberg-DeBoer. Auto-guidance takes away this problem (nothing is missed and nothing is done twice).

That takes us on to the next bit.

Some 60% of UK farms are thought to use some kind of precision farming techniques (sensor systems, cameras, drones, virtual field maps, GPS-guided tractors etc) but if tractors can be guided via GPS they don’t need drivers at all. And if tractors don’t need drivers (driverless tractors are being tested and introduced in the US), they don’t need to be particularly big.

The future might be about entirely automated agriculture – fields looked after by bots on the ground checking for weeds, pests and fertiliser levels, while drones check the weather above and report all information back to the farmer’s central systems.

There’s a fun piece on this in the Guardian. The key point to note is that this isn’t all futuristic imagining about how we might feed a future world, it is technology we have and we are beginning to use. As one farmer told the Guardian, “in ten years we will look back at today and think that we were dinosaurs in our methods”.

So how do we invest in all this? There are the big players – IBM and Accenture being the obvious players in digital agriculture, and John Deere being the obvious in the equipment area (they’ll be making the driverless tractors). Otherwise a lot of the interesting companies in the area are unlisted (the UK’s Precision Decisions for example).

That makes it tempting look at the robotics market. Jim Mellon listed all his favourite robotics stocks for us late last year (Kuka and Yamaha are two of the big leaders in agricultural robotics) and this week’s cover story will look at more.

Finally, we talked at length on the MoneyWeek Cruise about a French firm that has a finger in many of the relevant pies here.  I will be telling John all about it in our podcast on Friday. Look out for that!

Article Disclaimer:This article was published online at Money Week and was retrieved on 10/18/2015 and posted at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and their sources. Please cite the original source accordingly.



New study highlights environmental, economic shortcomings of federal biofuel laws

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New UT study highlights environmental, economic shortcomings of federal biofuel laws

A new study released by researchers with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture concludes that the nation’s Renewable Fuels Standard is too reliant on corn ethanol as opposed to advanced biofuels. Photo depicts a corn harvest at the UT AgResearch and Education Center in Milan, Tenn. Credit: Photo courtesy UTIA.

Provided by: University of Tennessee at KnoxvillePublished on on Oct. 15, 2015


The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and its overreliance on corn ethanol has created additional environmental problems in its 10-year history, resulting in unmet targets for cutting air pollution, water contamination and soil erosion, concludes a new study released by University of Tennessee researchers.
In fact, the authors – Drs. Daniel G. De La Torre Ugarte and Burton C. English of the UT Institute of Agriculture – find that from an environmental and energy security perspective, the subsidies and mandates for corn ethanol would have been better and more effectively directed towards advanced biofuels.
“The anniversary offers an opportunity to thoroughly review this policy’s legacy, both in terms of its impacts on the broader economy as well as the environment,” said Dr. De La Torre Ugarte. “Our analysis shows that the RFS has created more problems than solutions, particularly with regard to hampering advancements in biofuels. Corn ethanol was presented as a ‘bridge’ to advanced biofuels and a means of reducing GHG emissions. However, the reality is clear that this policy has been a bridge to nowhere.”

“Due to the RFS’s inherent and structural limitations, we remain too reliant on corn ethanol,” said Dr. English. “As our research demonstrates, corn ethanol along with decreased demand of transportation fuels has restricted the growth and maturation of the advanced biofuel industry, resulting in fewer environmental and economic benefits.”

The authors also determined that the corn ethanol industry has received almost $50 billion in cumulative taxpayer and market subsidies since 2005, providing evidence that the industry “cannot survive in any real commercial sense without mandated fuel volume requirements and RIN markets.”

Moreover, according to the researchers, the RFS – in its current form – focuses almost exclusively on a single crop from a concentrated region of the country. Conversely, advanced biofuels represent a significantly more diverse portfolio of fuel feedstocks that can be sourced from a variety of regions and environments around the country.

“The RFS’s overemphasis on corn must be revisited, and more stable solutions that encourage – rather than discourage – biofuel diversification should be pursued in order to advance the policy’s original objectives,” said Dr. De La Torre Ugarte.

The researchers provide policy recommendations for improving the RFS to help make the transition to advanced biofuels possible. As the report notes, for advanced biofuels to enter the market, an investment-based mechanism is necessary to overcome capital intensity and technology risk.

“After 10 years of missed objectives, it’s time to rethink the structure and practical implementation of the RFS and examine other policy designs aimed at promoting the production and consumption of advanced biofuels,” added Dr. English.

The report finds that because the RFS’s framework continues to limit a transition from corn ethanol to advanced biofuels, the policy’s projected benefits – including improved air quality and broader based economic gains – have not materialized to the extent promised. The report notes there is evidence in the literature that “the production and use of  may actually increase smog levels and greenhouse gas emissions.”

More information: To view the full report, visit the UT Bio-Based Energy Analysis Group website:

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the and retrieved on 10/18/2015 and posted here for educational and information purposes only. The views and thoughts expressed in the article are those of the authors only. Please cite the original source of this article accordingly.


Smoky air, temperatures expected to decline this weekend in Treasure Valley

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Smoke billows from the Walker Fire shortly before sunset Wednesday as seen from Idaho City.

Photo Credited: KATY MOELLER —

Written by: Statesman Staff October 16, 2015

For the first time in several days, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday forecast Treasure Valley Air quality as only unhealthy for sensitive groups — not good, but better than the red rating that had dominated recent statistics and declared conditions unhealthy for everyone.

The DEQ downgraded Wednesday’s initial red rating to the somewhat better orange and predicts an orange rating Thursday as smoke from the Walker fire near Idaho City continues to create haze in Boise and beyond.

Air quality could see more of a boost this weekend, when cooler temperatures and possible showers are forecast, the National Weather Service predicts. Temperatures Tuesday through Thursday have averaged about 10 degrees above normal, and the Boise area is already about a week beyond the average date for its first freeze.

It will stay warmer than normal up until Saturday, with a predicted high of 81 Friday, meteorologist Valerie Mills said Thursday.

Saturday will bring a chance of precipitation, starting in the afternoon, and a predicted high of 69 degrees. Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the low 60s and a slight chance of showers, Mills said.

“The weather pattern would be favorable for mixing some of the smoke up and transporting it away,” she said. “Of course, if we get any precipitation, that could help too.”

Temperatures are expected to return to the 70s for Monday and Tuesday, she said.

“If you’re waiting for a freeze, you’re going to have to wait longer than 7 days,” she said.

The DEQ noted that hour-by-hour, the Treasure Valley could still see air quality anywhere from “green” (good) to “red,” and that smoke from the fire could still worsen again at any time.

In addition to a likely lessening of the Treasure Valley’s smoky haze, more good news has emerged from the 4,385-acre Walker fire, officials said Thursday.

Residents were able to return to their homes in Macks Creek, Pine Creek, and Wolf Creek Wednesday night after being evacuated Sunday due to the blaze, according to fire officials.

The human-caused fire has been 50 percent contained, and crews have pushed it away from residential areas, officials report.

The Idaho Department of Lands is managing the blaze, and almost 400 people are fighting the fire, according to officials.

The late-season fire helped spark the Department of Lands’ Wednesday announcement that it will extend “closed fire season” until further notice, requiring anyone outside city limits anywhere in Idaho to obtain a fire safety burn permit before burning anything, including crop residue. An exception is granted for recreational campfires. Burn permits can be obtained online or in person at IDL offices statewide.

Article Disclaimer: This article was originally published by Idaho Statesman on Environment and was retrieved on 10/16/2015 and republished at INDESEEM for Information and educational purposes only. Please cite the original source accordingly.

The Power and Flexibility of the Response Screening Platform in SAS JMP Pro

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Response Screening in JMP Pro 12

This visual guide builds on the work of SAS JMP Pro 12 Response Screening Linear Fit Model Platform. Response screening is a vital component in statistical and predictive analytics. It is very important to conduct response screening to understand the effects of each factor or input variables on the response or predicted variables.

If you are working with huge datasets, response screening cut back the time it would require you to conduct other statistical tests, such as, Bivariate, ANOVA, MONOVA, etc to test the effects of each input variable to the response. SAS JMP Pro 12 has a very useful response screening platform. Your results are tabulated as well as presented in graphical forms along with all the essential statistics to make the right call.

For more information on how to conduct response screening analysis in JMP, please visit this link: Response Screening Platform.

Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis

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Tim Flannery’s new book Atmosphere of Hope highlights innovative solutions to the world’s climate crisis

By Tim Flannery. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 245 pp, hardcover

Runaway climate change has all the characteristics of a disaster movie.

Under the worst-case scenarios, rising sea levels will eventually swallow up coastal cities and island nations. Monstrous storms will transform parts of the North American heartland to rubble. And human beings will congregate closer to the poles to escape blistering heat waves and an onslaught of hellish wildfires farther south.

It has all the earmarks of Armageddon if humanity doesn’t take far more aggressive actions to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. Political leaders will come together to try to address the issue at the UN’s upcoming COP21 climate conference later this year in Paris.

But climate change is also a problem of arithmetic and the best efforts to educate the public about this don’t shy away from the numbers.

Such is the case with Australian scientist Tim Flannery’s remarkable new book, Atmosphere of Hope.

Much of the talk around climate change revolves around keeping the average global temperature from increasing by 2°C since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

This would alleviate the likelihood of more catastrophic climate havoc caused by melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events. (Even an increase of that amount is predicted to be destructive.)

Flannery, on the other hand, focuses much of his book on gigatonnes of carbon dioxide—a gigatonne being a billion tonnes. Last year, human beings were responsible for the release of 40 gigatonnes.

Then Flannery, winner of the SFU’s 2015/16 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue, sets about explaining in clear language what’s required to achieve substantial reductions.

“We should be focusing on reducing emissions by the gigatonne,” he writes. “Frustratingly, the objective of the political negotiations is expressed in degrees Celsius rather than gigatonnes of carbon.”

A mere 10 percent reduction, Flannery explains, would require converting all of the world’s agriculture and forestry waste—plus biomass from 100,000 square kilometres of sugar cane—into biochar. It’s a mineralized form of carbon that can be buried or placed in mines. In some instances, biochar can help agricultural production when mixed with soil.

Biochar is one of several options he puts forth in the book. Another promising approach is the cultivation of carbon-dioxide-consuming seaweed. He cites research by University of South Pacific researchers led by Antoine De Ramon N’Yeurt, who noted that seaweed farms “could be used to absorb CO2 very efficiently, and at a large scale”.

“Their analysis shows that growing seaweed could produce 12 gigatonnes of methane [a heat-trapping greenhouse gas with a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide], while storing 19 gigatonnes of CO2 that result from methane production,” Flannery writes. “A further 34 gigatonnes per year of CO2 could be captured if the methane is burned to generate electricity.”

Flannery’s two previous books, The Weather Makers and Here on Earth, put him in the top echelon of climate-change educators.

Atmosphere of Hope offers more concrete solutions than the previous two titles, in part because of all the technological advances taking place. But he doesn’t sugar-coat the magnitude of the problem. In fact, it becomes starker when reduced to the language of gigatonnes.

For instance, the book reveals how a roofing company called Derbigum has created a product with a layer of olivine, which is a mineral from deep within the Earth. It “reacts with rainwater to remove and permanently store atmospheric CO2”, Flannery reports.

Unfortunately, massive amounts of olivine are needed to sequester a gigatonne of carbon. But Flannery notes that there are many other ways to make use of olivine to help tackle the climate crisis.

“It’s even been proposed that olivine-based carbon-capture devices be installed on ships,” he writes. “Located in the exhaust of the ship’s engines, they would capture the CO2 emitted and turn it into a carbonate that, if released into the ocean, could lead to the sequestration of additional amounts of CO2 from seawater.”

Limestone can also absorb carbon, but Flannery points out that this comes at a high price: US$79-$159 per tonne. This is why he argues for government incentives for those who want to do this, not to mention the need for more research and development to lower the cost.

Atmosphere of Hope also includes some enlightening information about the storage of carbon dioxide. Enormous sums of money have been spent investigating land-based carbon-capture technology, but perhaps the greatest potential lies in the ocean crust.

Flannery emphasizes that if carbon dioxide is stored below 3,000 metres of water, it is converted into stable hydrates. This results in it being permanently locked into the rock.

But steep topography must be avoided, he cautions, because of the risk of underwater landslides, which could cause tsunamis.

“Although not all regions of the oceans deeper than 3,000 metres are suitable for the storage of CO2, the potential scale of this approach is large,” he writes.

The book also reports on the growing use of solar energy, the challenges posed by nuclear power, and how citizens concerned about climate change are putting politicians on the defensive. Even though some of the information is highly technical, Flannery conveys it in a readable form that’s hard to put down.

There are even a couple of nuggets about B.C. included within Atmosphere of Hope. One section explores how the Haida First Nation tried fertilizing the ocean with iron to stimulate the growth of plankton to revive failing salmon stocks.

Flannery acknowledges that this violated the Convention on Biological Diversity while still offering a nuanced view of the experiment.

He also reveals in his book that then B.C. premier Gordon Campbell told him that the provincial carbon tax was introduced after Campbell had read Flannery’s The Weather Makers.

It remains to be seen whether Atmosphere of Hope will have a similar impact on the current premier, Christy Clark. Judging by her government’s eagerness to promote the fracking of natural gas, we probably shouldn’t be holding our breath in anticipation of any miracles.

Tim Flannery will discuss global climate issues at the Vancouver Playhouse on Wednesday (October 14). Tickets are available through Tickets Tonight for $20 and $15 for seniors, youths, and students.

This article was published by and was retrieved on 10/14/2015 and posted here for information and educational purposes.

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