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From: Julius Wong7/13/2021 5:05:29 PM
2 Recommendations   of 4066
The U.S. Wheat Crop Is in Trouble

Spring wheat could see some of its lowest wheat yields in decades due to widespread drought and heat.

Photo: Chris McGrath (Getty Images)
Wheat farmers across the country are facing lower yields as 98% of the country’s wheat crop is in areas experiencing drought.

In the Northern Plains, the Department of Agriculture said Monday that farmers were projected to harvest their smallest crop of spring wheat—crops planted in the spring and harvested in the autumn—in 33 years. This week, the North Dakota Wheat Commission noted in its weekly update that some farmers saw rain and lowered temperatures following last week’s searing heat, but conditions are still worrisome.

The region is hardly alone; the USDA also said this week that 68% of the Pacific Northwest’s spring wheat was in “poor or very poor” conditions. At this time last, only 6% of the region’s wheat crop was in this state. All told, the USDA found that 98% of the U.S. wheat crop is growing in areas hit by drought.

“Producers in the driest areas continue to make choices on abandoning or haying their wheat crop depending on yield potential,” the North Dakota Wheat Commission notes. “Temperatures for this week will turn hot again, causing concerns for wheat that is in the grain filling stages.”

June is when the wheat planted in the spring flowers, and is “a critical period” for the crop, said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an associate professor of applied economics at Cornell. “It’s getting hit very hard right now, the conditions being reported are pretty bad.”

Ortiz-Bobea explained that a dry month when wheat is in this crucial stage can really damage the overall yield of the crop, regardless of what the weather looks like afterward. “Each little kernel is like a womb—you need them to be viable,” he said. “During the period of time where the harvested part of the plant is irreversibly set, if you have a stress, like heat or drought, the instinct of the plant is to cut losses and focus on fewer things. Many flowers abort, and the plant says, ‘well, I’m just going to save these guys,’ so the yield goes down, even if conditions afterward are ideal.”

Wheat in the U.S., Ortiz-Bobea said, is also mostly rainfed. Farmers don’t irrigate wheat fields, which lowers productions costs and doesn’t tap into scarce water resources.

“A lot of irrigation in the West is for very high-value crops—almonds, fruit trees, vegetables—they require a lot of water, but you can sell for a very high price,” he said. But this lack of irrigation infrastructure can be devastating for farmers when drought coupled with record-setting heat hits at such a crucial growing time. The Pacific Northwest saw ground temperatures rise to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius) during the heat wave worsened by climate change earlier this month, with the worst readings in the parts of Washington and Oregon where wheat is grown.

“When you get a heatwave like this, when the crop is vulnerable, there’s not much farmers can do,” Ortiz-Bobea said.

The entire state of Oregon and Idaho are in drought as is much of Washington, including the eastern part of the state where wheat largely grows. Farmers are scrambling to handle the one-two punch of drought and a searing heatwave.

“The general mood among farmers in my area is as dire as I’ve ever seen it,” farmer Cordell Kress, who farms wheat and canola in Idaho, told Reuters. “Something about a drought like this just wears on you. You see your blood, sweat, and tears just slowly wither away and die.”

The damage to the Northwest wheat crop isn’t just a concern to farmers, but anyone who likes cakes, pastries, biscuits, ramen noodles, and a lot of other delicate, tasty stuff. The varieties of wheat hit hard by the drought and the heat in those states are what are known as soft white, and it’s the only place in the U.S. that grows this kind of wheat. Soft white wheat is good for pastries and the like because of its low protein content, which makes it less stretchy than traditional flour. But wheat kernels in the Pacific Northwest are shriveling due to the heat and the drought, upping their protein content—and meaning that a lot of the crop that will be harvested won’t be suitable for the soft wheat market.

While Ortiz-Bobea said that bulk wheat purchasers are “scrambling” trying to figure out markets with less wheat supply, for anyone worrying about flour flying off the shelves, you can rest easy. “For the consumer, at the end of the day, they might not even notice it,” he said.

This summer’s wheat woes are a look into how crop yields may start to sputter more regularly, even as agriculture makes technological advancements. Ortiz-Bobea coauthored a study published in Nature Climate Change earlier this year that found that climate change has already made global farming productivity 21% lower than it could have been—the equivalent of making no improvements in productivity for seven years.

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“This is going to become more frequent,” he said. “Climate change is already slowing down productivity at a global scale. It’s already happening but we don’t see it because this is a bad year compared to the previous one. We’re comparing today versus yesterday because we’re not thinking about what could have been.”

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From: Julius Wong7/13/2021 9:04:04 PM
1 Recommendation   of 4066
Farm robots are the future; let's start preparing now, researcher argues

This illustration shows the utopian farm robot scenario. Credit: Natalis Lorenz

No longer science fiction, farm robots are already here—and they have created two possible extremes for the future of agriculture and its impacts on the environment, argues agricultural economist Thomas Daum in a Science & Society article published July 13 in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. One is a utopia, where fleets of small, intelligent robots farm in harmony with nature to produce diverse, organic crops. The other is a dystopia in which large, tractor-like robots subdue the landscape through heavy machinery and artificial chemicals.

He describes the utopian scenario as a mosaic of rich, green fields, streams, and wild flora and fauna, where fleets of small robots fueled by sustainable energy flit around the fields, their whirrs intermixed with insect chirps and birdsong. "It's like a Garden of Eden," says Daum, a research fellow at the University of Hohenheim in Germany studying agricultural development strategies. "Small robots could help conserve biodiversity and combat climate change in ways that were not possible before."

He suggests that the utopian scenario, which is too labor intensive for conventional farming but is possible with robots working 24/7, would likely benefit the environment in numerous ways. Plants would be more diverse and the soil would be more nutrient-rich. Thanks to micro-spraying of biopesticides and laser weed removal, nearby water, insect populations, and soil bacteria would also be healthier. Organic crops yields—which are currently often lower than conventional crop yields—would be higher, and farming's environmental footprint would be significantly reduced.

However, he says a parallel future with negative environmental ramifications is just as possible. In that scenario, he says, big but technologically-crude robots would bulldoze the natural landscape, and a few monoculture crops would dominate the terrain. Large fences would isolate people, farms, and wildlife from each other. With humans removed from the farms, agrochemicals and pesticides may be more broadly used. The ultimate objectives would be structure and control: qualities that these simpler robots thrive in but would likely have harmful effects on the environment.

While he notes it's not likely that the future will be confined to either a pure utopia or a pure dystopia, by creating these two scenarios, Daum hopes to spark conversation at what he sees as a crossroads moment in time. "The utopia and dystopia are both possible from a technological perspective. But without the right guardrails on policy, we may end up in the dystopia without wanting to if we don't discuss this now," Daum says.

This illustration shows the dystopian farm robot scenario. Credit: Natalis Lorenz

But these impacts aren't limited to just the environment—normal people are affected too. "Robot farming may also concretely affect you as a consumer," he says. "In the utopia, we aren't just producing cereal crops—we have lots of fruits and vegetables whose relative prices would fall, so a healthier diet would become more affordable."

The small robots described in Daum's utopian scenario would also be more feasible for small-scale farmers, who could more easily afford them or share them through Uber-like services. In contrast, he argues that the family farm is less likely to survive in the dystopian scenario: only major manufacturers, he says, would be able to manage the vast swaths of land and high costs of large machinery.

In parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, where there are currently many smaller farms, there are clear benefits of making a conscious effort to achieve the utopian scenario. The situation is more challenging in countries like the United States, Russia, or Brazil, which historically have been dominated by large-scale farms producing high-volume, low-value grains and oilseeds. There, small robots—which perform less efficiently on energy-intensive tasks like threshing corn—may not always be the most economically effective option.

"While it is true that the preconditions for small robots are more challenging in these areas," he says, "even with large robots—or a mix between small and large—we can take steps towards the utopia with practices such as intercropping, having hedgerows, agroforestry, and moving away from larger farms to smaller plots of land owned by large farmers. Some such practices may even pay off for farmers once robots can do the job, as previously uneconomic practices become profitable."

To do so requires action now, Daum says. While some aspects of the utopian scenario like laser weeding have already been developed and are ready to be distributed widely, funding must go toward other aspects of machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to develop robots intelligent enough to adapt to complex, unstructured farm systems. Policy changes are also a necessity and could take the form of subsidies, regulations, or taxes. "In the European Union, for example, farmers get money when they do certain landscape services like having a lot of trees or rivers on their farms," he says.

While it may seem like the dystopia scenario is more likely, it's not the only path forward. "I think the utopia is achievable," Daum says. "It won't be as easy as the dystopia, but it's very much possible."

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From: kidl7/23/2021 9:30:58 AM
3 Recommendations   of 4066
The FTC Votes Unanimously to Enforce Right to Repair

The move follows an executive order issued last week by the White House urging the agency to secure consumers' rights to fix their own gadgets.

DURING AN OPEN commission meeting Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously to enforce laws around the Right to Repair, thereby ensuring that US consumers will be able to repair their own electronic and automotive devices.

The FTC’s endorsement of the rules is not a surprise outcome; the issue of Right to Repair has been a remarkably bipartisan one, and the FTC itself issued a lengthy report in May that blasted manufacturers for restricting repairs. But the 5 to 0 vote signals the commission’s commitment to enforce both federal antitrust laws and a key law around consumer warranties—the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act—when it comes to personal device repairs.

The vote, which was led by new FTC chair and known tech critic Lina Khan, also comes 12 days after President Joe Biden signed a broad executive order aimed at promoting competition in the US economy. The order addressed a wide range of industries, from banks to airlines to tech companies. But a portion of it encouraged the FTC, which operates as an independent agency, to create new rules that would prevent companies from restricting repair options for consumers.

“When you buy an expensive product, whether it's a half-a-million-dollar tractor or a thousand-dollar phone, you are in a very real sense under the power of the manufacturer,” says Tim Wu, special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy within the National Economic Council. “And when they have repair specifications that are unreasonable, there's not a lot you can do."

Wu added that Right to Repair has become a "visceral example" of the enormous imbalance between workers, consumers, small businesses, and larger entities.

Fixed Position

The FTC vote is another win for the Right to Repair movement in the US, which has been led by advocacy groups like the US Public Interest Research Group, as well as private companies like iFixit, the California-based company that sells gadget repair kits and publishes repair manuals for DIY tinkerers. Proponents of the Right to Repair have long argued that consumers should have access to the tools, parts, documentation, and software required to fix the products they own, whether it’s a smartphone or a tractor.

These groups are also quick to call out instances in which large manufacturers block or limit options for independent product repairs, or force consumers to go directly back to a manufacturer, who then charges a premium for a fix. And it’s not just a matter of fixing a broken glass back on a smartphone, or repairing an impossibly small smartwatch: During the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, medical device engineers began speaking out on the dangers of not having access to repair tools for critical devices, such as ventilators, during times of crisis.

As more products are designed with internet connectivity—from smartphones to refrigerators to cars—the issue of repair rights has become increasingly complicated. Repair advocates say consumers should have access to all of the data that their personal devices collect, and that independent repair shops should have access to the same software diagnostic tools that “authorized” shops have.

“I urge the FTC to use its rulemaking authority to reinforce basic consumer and private property rights, and to update it for the digital age, as manufacturers seek to turn hundreds of millions of owners of technology into tenants of their own property,” said Paul Roberts, the founder of, during a public comments section of today’s FTC meeting. “A digital Right to Repair is a vital tool that will extend the life of electronic devices.”

But some large manufacturers oppose this notion, arguing that it will make products less secure and could expose consumers to safety risks. John Deere, one of the world’s leading tractor makers, has issued statements saying that it “does not support the right to modify embedded software due to risks associated with the safe operation of the equipment, emissions compliance, and engine performance.”

During the comments portion of the FTC hearing today, a representative for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute claimed that “Right to Repair legislation fails to consider consumer safety and environmental protection with respect to our industry’s products … as an example, it would allow for modification of and tampering with safety controls of powered lawn mower blades required under law by the CPSC, as well as emissions controls required under law by the EPA.”

Carl Holshouser, senior vice president at TechNet, a trade group that has represented companies like Microsoft and Apple, wrote in an emailed statement to WIRED that “the FTC’s decision to upend an effective and secure system for consumers to repair products that they rely on for their health, safety, and well-being, including phones, computers, fire alarms, medical devices, and home security systems, will have far-reaching, permanent impacts on technology and cybersecurity.”

And ahead of the vote today, the Consumer Technology Association—which hosts the annual CES tech bonanza in Las Vegas— sent a letter to the FTC commissioners urging collaboration, rather than an “extensive rulemaking process,” citing intellectual property rights as a thorny issue at the heart of Right to Repair.

It’s worth noting, however, that in the FTC’s report in May, which was the culmination of data gathered after the commission hosted a “Nixing the Fix” panel in 2019, the FTC said there was “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.” The report detailed a number of instances in which manufacturers may have overstated the risks of thermal runaway (read: batteries catching fire) or personal data breaches tied to device repairs.

For now, the FTC’s policy statement is a giant underscore for existing laws, while dozens of states consider Right to Repair bills at the state level. The commission said today it would investigate repair restrictions both as potential violations of antitrust laws and from a consumer protection angle. The FTC is also encouraging the public to report warranty abuse—as defined by the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act of 1975, which prohibits manufacturers from telling consumers that a warranty is voided if the product has been altered or tampered with by someone other than the original manufacturer.

Jessa Jones, a repair expert who runs a business in upstate New York called iPad Rehab, and who claims to have fixed over 40,000 iPhones, urged the FTC to take the enforcement of the existing regulations seriously.

“Despite the anti-tying statement within the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, there’s still rampant disregard of the FTC rules,” Jones said during the public comments portion of the meeting. “Consumers and manufacturers alike still believe that you can void a warranty simply by opening a device.”


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From: TimF7/28/2021 5:41:17 PM
1 Recommendation   of 4066
One Lost Methyl Group = Huge Amounts of Food Production
By Derek Lowe 28 July, 2021

I don’t do a lot of posts on plant biochemistry here, but this news is pretty notable, and it illustrates several points that apply across other fields as well. This new paper has as its background the role of a particular methyl group in the structure of RNA molecules: N6-methyladenosine. The presence or absence of this methyl group is a very important epigenetic marker across pretty much all eukaryotic life – there are quite a few of these, and their activities are wide-ranging. These modifications of RNA can affect the stability of a given RNA species, how mRNAs get translated into protein and under what conditions, and more. Meanwhile, similar markers on DNA residues affect winding around histones (histone proteins have their own marker systems as well), transcription into RNA, and other processes. In plants, there’s a substantial amount of work showing the m6A signaling network is involved in development from seeds, flowering, resistance to viral infection, and a long list of growth and physiology effects.

Humans have an enzyme called FTO that demethylates N6-methyladenosine (and some other substrates as well) through oxidation. It’s part of a large family of enzymes that do this sort of thing using an iron atom in their active sites (although not as a heme group), along with molecular oxygen. Plants, though, don’t have an FTO homolog – they have some other enzymes that can demethylate this substrate, but not like FTO itself. So the team behind this paper wanted to see what would happen if you engineered the FTO enzyme into plants – they reasoned that it was unlikely to fit into the existing cellular regulatory networks (as a foreign protein more or less dropped in from the sky), and its robust demethylation activity would surely have some interesting effects.

Nature Biotechnology

It sure did. In rice and potatoes, the crop yields went up by about 50% in field trials. Grain size in the rice plants didn’t change, nor did the height of the plants – they just produced a lot more rice grains in general. Shown at right are the potatoes from 20 control plants and 20 FTO-modified ones – in this case, the total number of potatoes doesn’t seem to go up, but the overall potato weight certainly does. Neither the rice nor the potatoes showed changes in their starch, protein, total carbohydrate, or vitamin C content.

How does this happen? The plants’ root systems were deeper and more extensive, and photosynthetic efficiency went up by a startling 36%. Transpiration from the leaves was up 78%, but at the same time, the plants of both species showed significantly higher drought tolerance. These are highly desirable traits, and it’s worth noting that a lot of this extra biomass is coming from increased usage of carbon dioxide from the air. As the paper notes, this both demonstrates an extremely useful effect right off the bat, and also points to many lines of investigation about how RNA demethylation affects all these plant growth pathways (indeed, the latter part of the paper shows a number of preliminary work to try to untangle all this, but there’s going to be a lot more work needed on that).

Agriculture, national and international regulations, and customer attitudes being what they are, you’re not going to see FTO-modified plants showing up in the grocery stores any time soon. But this is a really promising area to investigate: the addition to plants of a protein that we all already have in our bodies might increase agricultural productivity immensely. Increased yields are key to not plowing up more of the planet’s arable (and potentially arable) land to grow food on, so this could also be good news for preservation of wild habitats in general. It will be fascinating to see what happens when FTO is introduced into other food crops (corn, wheat, soybeans, cassava, oil seeds and more), or whether this could be used to make some chemical feedstock ideas more feasible. Would FTO-modified trees produce wood more quickly and in greater amounts? Could study of the enhanced photosynthesis pathways lead to modified species that would be useful in carbon dioxide uptake? This is quite a result, and I hope it leads to many useful consequences.

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From: Julius Wong8/2/2021 7:35:43 AM
   of 4066
AgriFORCE is Disrupting Traditional Farming with its Eco-Friendly Growing Process

Hydroponic farming used to be an answer to a problem few were aware of. Before global warming, growing food demands, care for the environment and water use became hot-button topics around the globe, most were utterly content with traditional farming methods. AgriFORCE Growing Systems Ltd. (NASDAQ: AGRI) has been ahead of the curve and continues to set the pace in nontraditional farming alternatives.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based AgriFORCE has dedicated its extensive intellectual property to transforming how the future of agriculture may look through its automated growing system and proprietary facility design. And there couldn’t be a better time than now to develop a modern growing process that answers a lot of the world’s most significant environmental concerns surrounding traditional farming.

By the year 2050, food production must increase by about 70% to meet the caloric needs of a global population of 9.8 billion people. Almost 7 out of 10 of those people live in urban areas. To meet today’s demand alone, we are already pushing the limits of environmental excess.


The amount of resources used by traditional agriculture is astronomical. Globally, 70% of water usage now goes toward agricultural production, primarily because of unsustainable irrigation practices. And if we continue on the current path, the land needed to meet the food demands would be double the size of India. That’s according to a report published by Princeton University, which claims that many essential ecosystems are at risk of being destroyed — especially those key to maintaining an already disturbed balance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

AgriFORCE has introduced a fourth way of growing which combines the benefits of the natural environment in a controlled environment. The company’s precision growth method is designed to leverage the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The company has built its work on the premise that the human race faces an unprecedented era of challenges relating to agriculture, from broken food supply chains and pollution to pesticides, soil and water contamination, extreme weather and unsustainable environmental practices. AgriFORCE has focused solely on disrupting the broken legacy agricultural system by reimagining not just what could be, but what must be with little time to waste.

Growers are now aware that crops can be cultivated indoors and hydroponically anywhere and in any season, with weather conditions playing no effect on the process. Hydroponic farming also has the ultimate potential to provide fresh, local food for areas with extreme droughts and low soil quality.

AgriFORCE has devised an intricate, scientific and high-success-oriented approach to produce larger crop yields using its precision growth method. The process is designed to use fewer resources and outperform traditional growing methods, using a specific combination of new and traditional techniques required to attain this efficiency.

It’s what hits your plate at dinner that’s the proof of the system, and AgriFORCE says it continues to leverage its IP to design an efficient process to deliver more nutritious and sustainable food.
For more information on AgriFORCE, go to

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From: Julius Wong8/11/2021 9:06:25 AM
   of 4066
Plant-Based Fish Is Rattling the Multibillion-Dollar Seafood Industry

Beyond and Impossible showed the potential for plant-based proteins. Now tomatoes are coming for tuna.

Mimic Seafood’s Tunato nigiri.

Source: Mimic Seafood

When a tuna marketing executive took a bite of the dehydrated tomato seasoned with olive oil, algae extract, spices, and soy sauce early last year, he was shook. “This is going to be a problem for us,” he said. At least that’s how Ida Speyer, co-founder and chief executive officer of Mimic Seafood, recalls it, designating it the highest praise she could’ve imagined for the delicate slice of tuna that—despite what the marketing executive’s taste buds indicated—contained no tuna at all.

The Madrid-based startup’s Tunato product, fabricated from a specialty tomato variety grown in southern Spain that resembles sliced sushi-grade tuna in shape and size, is part of a growing class of food innovations fighting for the last empty shelf in the booming plant-based protein market: seafood.

Faux fish, which Speyer concedes “maybe 5 or 10 years ago would have seemed too far out, too different, or only something for vegans,” is just a tiny fraction of the alternative protein market, dwarfed by the more mature faux meat and alt-dairy sectors. U.S. sales of plant-based seafood grew 23%, to $12 million, in 2020, compared with a traditional seafood market worth tens of billions of dollars, according to the Good Food Institute, an international nonprofit pushing for more sustainable proteins. But the sector is evolving quickly. Investment in U.S. plant-based seafood hit $70 million in the first half of 2021, as much as in the past two years combined.

Fake Fish Taste Test: Plant-Based Seafood

It’s still a minnow compared with the country’s plant-based meat market, which has ballooned to about $1.4 billion in 2020 sales as companies roll out alternative chicken nuggets and pork sausages to join the faux ground beef and burgers already in household fridges. Concerns about red-meat consumption, antibiotics in livestock, and climate change have enticed more global shoppers to go meatless, at least once a week, but fish, with its heart-healthy reputation, doesn’t have the bad rap. Still, fears of overfishing, heavy-metal consumption, and microplastics, fueled by documentaries such as Netflix’s controversial Seaspiracy, are priming the switch. The potential market could be huge: Beyond vegans and flexitarians, faux fish might also be a welcome addition to, say, a pregnant woman avoiding high-mercury swordfish or a consumer with a shellfish allergy. And big corporations have taken notice.

Meat giant Tyson Foods Inc.’s venture arm bought a minority stake in New Wave Foods, a maker of plant-based shrimp, in 2019, almost two years before Tyson released its first vegan hamburger. In Thailand in March, Thai Union Group PCL, which owns the Chicken of the Sea brand, introduced its plant-based line OMG Meat, including crab cakes and fish burgers, with plans for a vegan shrimp later this year. Nestle SA’s nonfish tuna is available in parts of Europe, while Swedish retailer Ikea sells vegan caviar, derived from kelp seaweed.

Finggerino tomatoes used to make Mimic Seafood’s meatless tuna.
Source: Mimic Seafood
Thai Union, whose familiar tinned fish brands also include John West and King Oscar, began mulling plant-based products about three years ago to get ahead of concerns around sustainability. It rolled out its first vegan product—a flaked faux tuna made of soy, wheat, and pea protein that can be used in a traditional mayonnaise-based salad—in 2020. “We have the customers in our hands,” says Tunyawat Kasemsuwan, director of the company’s global innovation center, referring to the name recognition its brands already have. Thai Union is mainly targeting flexitarians, whose share in the population has been growing, and young consumers. “Gen Z will be the first movers, but there will be a ripple effect” on traditional seafood consumers, who tend to be older primarily because seafood is a premium-priced product, he says.

Most of the companies entering the nascent sector don’t have Thai Union’s global research and development, manufacturing, and distribution might, but the cottage industry is awash with experimentation. Breaded and fried products have had some of the quickest uptake. They include the Good Catch faux fish fillets and crab cakes recently added to the menu at five Long John Silver’s locations in California and Georgia. Gathered Foods, maker of Good Catch, says it’s too soon to comment on the trial, but “if you create that availability,” says co-founder Chris Kerr, “consumers will show up.”

Breaded products are also proliferating in the faux meat market, with Impossible Foods Inc. and Beyond Meat Inc. introducing plant-based chicken products this year. It’s simpler to mimic ground and spiced meats like patties and sausages instead of whole-muscle cuts, including chicken breast and filet mignon. The faux fish industry is discovering the same. “It’s much easier to re-create a dense, juicy beef burger than a flaky, delicate fillet of fish,” says Jen Lamy, Boston-based senior manager of the Good Food Institute’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative.

Plant-Based Alternatives

*Subcategory of plant-based meat.

Data: Good Food Institute, Spins

French foodmaker Odontella SAS sells a plant-based smoked salmon made from algae and pea protein in specialty supermarkets across Europe. The product is a long way from its origins as a 2007 experiment in co-founder Alain Guillou’s kitchen. It tastes very close to the real thing, though the price is heftier.

The key to price parity will be scaling up production and tapping more markets. “When that happens, you know the mega tipping point is here,” says David Yeung, founder and CEO of OmniFoods, a Hong Kong-based foodtech known for its vegan pork that’s been expanding into seafood. “I truly believe this is a matter of two to three years.”

Because seafood is rich in vitamins and minerals, which already makes it a healthy protein alternative to meat, vegan startups have to ensure the same nutrients end up in their plant-based replicas. Algae like those in Odontella’s fake salmon also contain the omega-3 fatty acids in conventional fish. OmniFoods uses a high-quality canola oil in its new seafood line for the same reason. Faux-fish makers also risk pushback from traditional fishing trade groups who don’t want vegan products labeled as “tuna” or “salmon,” mirroring the debate about whether faux animal products can be labeled meat across the U.S.

Beef for sale alongside Impossible Burger’s plant-based meat at a Los Angeles grocery store in 2019.
Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
If plant-based seafood maintains its growth rate, it can catch up with fake meat’s share of the conventional market within the next decade, the Good Food Institute’s Lamy says. The technology is “not quite there yet,” she says, but the sector’s making progress. “If you look even at just photos of products from now vs. three years ago, it’s totally a different game.”

Spain’s Mimic is banking on that. Although it halted distribution of its tomato-based tuna when Covid-19 lockdowns hit, it plans to resume sales in several Spanish cities by the end of the year, eventually expanding into Denmark. The startup has visions of becoming “the Oatly of seafood,” giving the traditional protein market a run for its money as nut and oat milks did for cow’s milk.

“I think if the dairy industry had known 10 to 15 years ago what was coming, they would have prepared differently. The seafood industry can actually in a way benefit from what we have seen with dairy and beef, because the change will come,” Speyer says of her expectation that more consumers will move away from traditional seafood. “It’s going to be a party for the rest of us. But for some companies, this could be a real crisis.”

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From: Jon Koplik8/27/2021 2:21:15 AM
1 Recommendation   of 4066
(LONG) NYT piece -- Superweeds / herbicides are losing the war .......................................

use :

if you have trouble seeing the article.



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From: kidl9/13/2021 9:53:29 AM
1 Recommendation   of 4066
The global market for agricultural robotics will reach $6.7 billion by 2032

Disruption Innovation Message Board - Msg: 33483325 (

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From: Julius Wong9/23/2021 9:04:35 AM
   of 4066
Agroecology Is the Solution to World Hunger

Millions of farmers are growing and sharing food in ways that enhance nutrition, biodiversity and quality of life

Although it is the sharp edge of the battle to end hunger, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a reality TV cooking show. Under the low peak of Bwabwa Mountain in Malawi, in a village on a tributary of the Rukuru River, about 100 people gather around pots and stoves. Children crowd around a large mortar, snickering at their fathers’, uncles’ and neighbors’ ham-fisted attempts to pound soybeans into soy milk. At another station, a village elder is being schooled by a man half his age in the virtues of sweet potato doughnuts. At yet another, a woman teaches a neighbor how he might turn sorghum into a nutritious porridge. Supervising it all, with the skill of a chef, the energy of a children’s entertainer and the resolve of a sergeant, is community organizer Anita Chitaya. After helping one group with a millet sponge loaf, she moves to share a tip about how mashed soy and red beans can be turned into patties by the eager young hands of children who would typically never volunteer to eat beans.

There is an air of playful competition. Indeed, it is a competition. At the end of the afternoon the food is shared, and there are prizes for both the best-tasting food (the doughnuts win hands down) and the food most likely to be added to folks’ everyday diets (the porridge triumphs because although everyone likes deep-fried food, doughnuts are a pain to cook, and the oil is very expensive).

This is a Recipe Day in Bwabwa, a village of around 800 people in northern Malawi. These festivals are sociological experiments to reduce domestic inequality and are part of a multifaceted approach to ending hunger called agroecology. Academics describe it as a science, a practice and a social movement. Agroecology applies ecology and social science to the creation and management of sustainable food systems and involves 10 or more interconnected principles, ranging from the maintenance of soil health and biodiversity to the increase of gender and intergenerational equity. More than eight million farmer groups around the world are experimenting with it and finding that compared with conventional agriculture, agroecology is able to sequester more carbon in the soil, use water more frugally, reduce dependence on external inputs by recycling nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and promote, rather than ravage, biodiversity in the soil and on farms. And on every continent, research shows that farmers who adopt agroecology have greater food security, higher incomes, better health and lower levels of indebtedness.

Chitaya told me that at the turn of the millennium, when Bwabwa’s farmers were still practicing conventional agriculture, “there were times when we wouldn’t be able to eat for days. My first child was malnourished.” Now her oldest son, France, is a very healthy adolescent, helping teach other boys how to cook. The pediatric malnutrition clinic near Bwabwa has closed down for want of cases—though in Malawi as a whole, more than a third of the children younger than five years are stunted by malnutrition. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, whose devastating economic effects have deepened malnutrition across the world, agroecology continues to help Bwabwa evade hunger.

Yet when policy makers attend a United Nations Food Systems Summit in the fall of 2021, the solutions on the table for world hunger will exclude agroecology. The summit’s sponsors include the Gates Foundation, whose preferred solution is a set of technologies modeled on the Green Revolution. Despite a great deal of evidence that the Gates’ Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa has failed, one of its leading acolytes from Rwanda will chair the U.N. Summit. Advocates for agroecology, such as the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, which represents 200 million food producers and consumers, have too few resources to impact a process that increasingly silences their voices.

Ending hunger requires much more than pulling more food from the ground; it involves grappling with entrenched hierarchies of power. Over the past decade food production has generally outstripped demand—there is more food per person than there ever was. But because of global and regional inequalities, exacerbated by the recent pandemic, levels of hunger are higher now than in 2010. In other words, more food has accompanied more hunger. People are deprived of food not because it is scarce but because they lack the power to access it.

The global food system was originally established under colonialism, when the agriculture and land-ownership patterns of much of the tropical world were reconfigured, and tens of millions of enslaved and bonded laborers were shipped around the world to provide Europeans with cane sugar and other tropical crops for which they had developed a taste. Far from ending with colonialism, however, this system of food extraction has grown only stronger because of conditions attached to loans from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). To pay its debts, Africa now exports everything from roses to broth.

Agroecology frees the world’s poorest farmers from such structures of control and shifts the balance of power in the global food system to people like Chitaya, one of billions who reside at the very bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. Little wonder, then, that it is unpopular with conventional agricultural businesses, governments in the Global North and the organizers of the food systems summit. Its recognition that systemic problems require systemic solutions makes agroecology a threat.

Hunger in MalawiOver a lifetime of trying to get to the bottom of why there is hunger and what might be done about it, I have traveled from within organizations like the U.N. and the World Bank to protest lines outside and within the World Trade Organization. During the past decade, however, I have also had a scientific education at the hands of some of the world’s poorest farmers.

My first visit to Bwabwa was in 2011, at the invitation of my graduate school friend Rachel Bezner Kerr. Now a professor of development studies at Cornell University, Bezner Kerr had arrived in Malawi a decade earlier to find herself in the middle of an economic crisis. Malawi had suddenly reduced fertilizer subsidies—and that, too, while the HIV/AIDS pandemic was wreaking humanitarian and economic havoc. Farmers, most of whom practiced industrial agriculture, which requires expensive chemical inputs, were desperate. Bezner Kerr wanted to be of service as she developed a project for a master’s degree, so she sought the most disadvantaged families to support in her research. She was lucky to meet Esther Lupafya, a nurse who headed the maternal and child health program at a clinic in the small town of Ekwendi. Together they identified farmers, including Chitaya, who were ready to try a different kind of agriculture—one that would free them from dependence on global agrobusiness and its allies.

Getting to Bwabwa involves a six-hour drive north from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Lined with signs heralding the projects of several nongovernmental organizations and foreign aid institutions, the northern road from the Lilongwe airport tracks the eastern shore of Lake Malawi, the continent’s third-largest freshwater lake. After passing northern Malawi’s biggest city, Mzuzu, with its six-story Bank of Malawi Building, and the smaller town of Ekwendeni, you follow dirt roads to reach Bwabwa. Whereas the large, flat, irrigated fields off the main highway are neat monocultures of corn, the fields near the village are drier, smaller, canted at every angle and packed with twirling thickets of different crops, each tailored to the needs of the family tending it and the capacity of that particular field’s ecology.

Northern Malawi did not always look like this. The first white man to visit was Scottish Presbyterian David Livingstone in 1858. His missionary campaign led to the establishment of the British Central African Protectorate, which later became Nyasaland. Photographs from the time show scrubland. British agriculturist B. E. Lilley gazed on Malawi in the 1920s and declared: “The time has not arrived when the native can be looked to as a person who can be relied upon to raise produce to anything [like] the extent that the white man raises it.” Similar attitudes persist to this day, though they are now couched in contemporary language.

Keen to wring what they could from the colony’s resources, the British began to export ivory and forest products, moving on to the crops that would transform Malawi’s land and economy: tea, cotton, sugar and tobacco. The colonists took over the land, but they needed workers, so they imposed a hut tax, an annual household fee payable in cash. Initially families paid the colonists by selling their stores of wealth, usually livestock, until there was nothing left to liquidate. Then they sent able-bodied men to sell their labor, in Malawian plantations and the mines farther south. Debt turned self-sufficient farmers and pastoralists into manual workers, laboring for a pittance.

Debt also turned Malawi into a pawn of its creditors. Malawi became independent in 1964, only to spend the next 30 years under autocrat Hastings Banda. Western donors rewarded his iron-fisted regime with high-dollar loans to support the country’s industrial development while ignoring its worsening malnutrition. Such loans became the instruments of Malawi’s, and in fact Africa’s, hunger. In the early postcolonial period, Africa was a net food exporter, selling 1.3 million tons a year from 1966 to 1970. But the oil-price crisis of the 1970s forced African governments to borrow even more from the World Bank and the IMF. These so-called structural adjustment loans came with strict conditions that, among other measures, slashed public spending on education and health care and privatized national assets. Further, African countries were instructed to concentrate on exports of the colonial-era crops, which would earn the dollars with which they might repay their debts.

Despite paying an average of $100 million per year to its creditors throughout the 1980s, however, Malawi remains one of the most indebted countries on Earth. Worse, devoting the richest land to growing cash crops for export, instead of food crops for subsistence, meant that structural adjustments had by the 1990s turned Africa into an importer of a quarter of its food. Between 2016 and 2018 Africa imported 85 percent of its food from outside the continent—a debilitating dependence.

Trial, Review, ExchangeIn 1992 a national survey revealed that 55 percent of Malawian children had failed to reach the appropriate height for their age—a key measure of malnutrition. The government tried to defy the austerity imposed by international banks and donors by subsidizing fertilizers for farmers but eventually caved to their demands to instead prioritize paying off the loans. Lupafya and Bezner Kerr began their work soon after these supports were removed, establishing the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) initiative in Ekwendi in 2000. Starting with 30 farmers, the SFHC now works with more than 6,000 people across 200 villages to promote agroecology.

Along with Chitaya and others, the women began with a round of experiments, intercropping local groundnuts and other legumes. This double-legume system allowed the farmers to harvest nuts and beans for their children and then dig the nitrogen-rich residue back into the soil to boost maize production—without buying fertilizer. Some farmers went further, experimenting with vegetable intercropping patterns. Simultaneously, the SFHC developed a system of peer review, in which the participants met regularly to discuss measures to improve soil fertility. Women farmers had long been exchanging seeds and knowledge to grow finger millet, a drought-tolerant plant that produces highly nutritious grains that make for hearty porridge and, if you can stomach it, sour beer. The SFHC formalized this tradition of evaluating and sharing information.

By running trials of different legume cropping systems in a “mother” location in the middle of different villages, farmers could then adopt “baby” trials in their own fields based on their preferences for soil health, nutrition and the time they could spare to tend the crops. Through discussions and iterations over the years, initial trials grew from a few dozen households to reach thousands of farmers, with a pigeon-pea-and-groundnut combination proving to be the most successful in fixing nitrogen. As the soil improved, some farmers, many of them women, did well enough not only to feed their families but also to sell a respectable surplus at the local market.

Still, every farmer, every field and every season are different, so the experiments continued. Some women tried seemingly incongruous combinations such as soy and tomatoes—originating in Asia and the Americas, respectively—alongside indigenous African varieties such as finger millet. (Millet cultivation had earlier been discouraged because the grain could not be exported for dollars, but it persisted because women often brew it into beer as a means of earning extra income.) In Bwabwa, the fields are a mixture of foreign and native varieties, selected through trial and observation, with networks of farmers exchanging knowledge and ideas and reviewing one another’s work.

That openness to experimentation and adaptation explains why, around March, it is possible to see in the unpromising red soil a cultivation system that looks like it may not belong. Tall rows of corn burst from the ground. Twirling around them are pole beans, and at their feet are the fat, dark fan-shaped leaves of local pumpkin, together with their blossoms. In Mesoamerican agriculture, this kind of technique is known as the three sisters: corn, beans and squash.

In Malawi, locally adapted varieties work together in similar ways: the corn or millet provides the starchy cereal that forms the backbone of every meal. The stalks also scaffold the beans, which yield protein and fix nitrogen. Root nodules in legumes (such as beans and groundnuts) are a site of symbiosis between the plant and rhizobia bacteria. The plant provides the bacteria with energy; the bacteria take nonreactive nitrogen molecules from the air and turn them into ammonia and amino acids for the host. This works well for cereals, which need bioavailable nitrogen to do well. The pumpkin (or other squash) provides big leaves for shading out weeds, and its flowers attract beneficial insects that keep pest pressure down. Plus, at the end of the season, there are gourds.

Credit: Federica Fragapane; Source: The 10 Elements of Agroecology: Guiding the Transition to Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018 (reference)When put together, these crops produce more food per unit area than when they grow alone. Polycultures are demonstrably more abundant than monocultures. After harvest, the crop residue is reincorporated into the soil to build fertility and structure for the soil’s biome.

In the early 2000s, as soil fertility in Bwabwa improved, some of the poorest women began to harvest an abundance of cereal, beans and vegetables. Interest in the cropping techniques spread. But despite real improvements in food production, child malnutrition remained puzzlingly high. Some of the farmers in the project, excited that they were becoming agronomists, started to wonder how to tackle the problem more directly. As they would discover, they had made progress in freeing themselves from external structures of power—but had yet to tackle internal ones.

Wrestling Down PatriarchyThrough her work at the pediatric clinic, Lupafya had formed a suspicion: tradition was partly to blame for infant malnutrition. Ethnographic research across the SFHC villages confirmed her hunch. Within the patriarchal extended family, mothers-in-law have authority over their daughters-in-law. When an ill-founded parenting tip—that children cry because they are not being given solid food—is propagated through these networks, young mothers often find themselves counseled to wean their children at the age of two months. This advice runs counter to overwhelming scientific evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for six months and then a mix of breast and solid food until two years of age offer children the best start in life.

Lupafya crafted a way to walk the tightrope of respectful disagreement. The SFHC trained village women and men as facilitators to broker difficult conversations, particularly those between mothers- and daughters-in-law. Through monthly meetings and leadership from Lupafya and others, the science spread, and the misinformation was dispelled.

Lupafya learned something as well. “Change begins with denial,” she told me. “It is the one who debates the most who will change.” Having tackled the availability of food and breastfeeding practices, the grassroots social scientists moved to another determinant of infant malnutrition they had identified: domestic violence and, more broadly, patriarchy. Women’s autonomy is linked with improved child nutrition indicators. As they observed, gender inequality meant that mothers had to spend time cooking, cleaning, managing the farm and breastfeeding. To have men help in domestic labor would increase women’s autonomy. The question was: How do you get men to cook?

To find out how this transformative change happened, I worked with the SFHC team for more than a decade, documenting Chitaya’s work in a film called The Ants & the Grasshopper. Chitaya had first met Lupafya when she visited the pediatric nutrition clinic. The older woman, Mama Lupafya as she is called, had supported her in a difficult marriage, one into which Chitaya had been coerced. Through attending workshops hosted by the SFHC, then by finding work as one of its trainers, and through long and difficult work in her home, Chitaya has transformed her marriage into one characterized by equality.

There are times when her husband, Christopher Nyoni, struggles to pull his weight in the house. He is afflicted by night blindness, a possible consequence of his own malnutrition early in life. When it gets dark, he is no longer able to cook or clean and needs help finding his way around the house. But by the light of day, he can be seen hunched over a stove or doing laundry or fetching water—all of which are traditionally women’s work. It is a sign of Chitaya’s success that Nyoni is keen to break with patriarchal tradition: “I do not want my son to get married the way I did,” he told me.

The pathway to transforming this and other gender relationships in Bwabwa lay through changing the culture around food. An initial effort to achieve this shift involved door-to-door organizing. Members of the SFHC would visit households with an expert and offer to teach men how to cook novel foods, such as soy. After an enthusiastic afternoon gathered around a stove, surrounded by exhortations to do better, the men promised they would change. They did not. So the SFHC farmers brainstormed an alternative.

A constant worry for men was the social stigma of doing the effeminate work of cooking. “What if my friends see me?” asked Winston Zgambo. Having tried to cater to men’s embarrassment by offering private cooking lessons, the SFHC team tried the opposite. They held public cooking competitions for whole families. On Recipe Days, all men were involved in cooking—and it was fun. By gamifying the change in behavior through offering prizes and social recognition for success, the women cracked open the possibilities for changing not just food culture, but inequalities in power within the home.

Data from the SFHC’s work speak for themselves. Participation in the program moved children from being below the average weight for their age to surpassing the average. A recent study in which women farmers showed other mothers how to farm led to a range of benefits, from increased dietary diversity for children to lower maternal depression rates and higher rates of fathers’ participation in chores.

A Teeming FutureAgroecology means taking care not just of all humans but also of the ecosystems on which we depend. Under chemical agriculture, farmers grow a single crop. They buy fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and access to water, and if necessary, they rent pollinators to maximize the yield. They use the revenue from selling the harvest to pay their bills and debts. In agroecology, farmers find ways not to exterminate pests but to reach an ecological equilibrium. They accept a little crop loss while providing habitats for predators and introducing other forms of biological control to obtain a much more robust and resilient ecosystem. In northern Malawi, biodiversity is part of the SFHC’s success, as it is in every successful agroecological system. There are more insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals in these landscapes than in the barren green deserts of modern monoculture.

In a world of extreme weather, agroecological diversity—both social and biological—is a source of resilience. When Hurricane Ike ploughed through Cuba in September 2008, it left trees and debris littering the fields. In Sancti Spíritus province, researchers noticed that the farms that followed the principles of conventional agriculture, with vast expanses of the same kind of crop, took around six months to recover from the devastation. But the most diversified farms, with tall plantains, fruit trees, perennial crops and ground cover, were able to recover 80 percent of their prestorm capacity in just two months. With high canopy trees blown over, more light fell on other plants in the understory, which grew faster: the diversity constituted a kind of botanical insurance portfolio. Moreover, families living on diversified farms could save some trees the morning after the storm, when conventional farm workers were far from the fields where their labor was seasonally contracted.

Agroecology also enables income resilience. Small farmers typically receive very little support. Instead they need to manage the flows of cash around the farm themselves. Conventional agriculture has one big burst of cash at harvest time, which may or may not be enough to pay off farming-related debts and dwindles throughout the year. With agroecology, on the other hand, income streams can be augmented by means of crops that mature in the leanest times. In Mexico, for instance, one group of farmers supplements its corn income with countercyclical honey and coffee harvests.

In the absence of reliable banks, farmers have sometimes turned to creating their own circular economies and exchanges. Many places have local grain stores that help to manage the booms and busts in harvests and hunger. In Bwabwa a few years ago women set up a credit circle to help manage cash flow and to develop other income streams, such as the sale of “climate change stoves,” cooking stands that require much less wood than conventional wood-burning methods. A dozen women pooled their resources and took turns borrowing the cash and then repaying it. But the savings circle was wiped out in the IMF-mandated devaluation of the Malawian kwacha (currency) in 2012.

The COVID-19 crisis has made farmers’ lives harder. Rising food prices have strained finances, and with resources diverted to emergency mitigation measures so that communities could stay home and stay safe, everyone’s life has become harder. Yet agroecological practices appear to have enabled the SFHC’s villages to endure the pandemic better than communities outside the project.

Feed the WorldWhat happens in Malawi and among the hundreds of millions of farmers experimenting with new kinds of agroecology matters for the planet. Agroecology offers the ability to do what governments, corporations and aid agencies have failed to do: end hunger. For a while, it might have been easy to respond to agroecology by saying “that’s all very nice, but it won’t feed the world.” But farming families that engage in agroecology have improved indicators of income and nutrition. From Nepal to the Netherlands, when agroecology is not confined to the field but extends into the home with equality and into community networks of exchange and care, farmers are financially and physically better off.

With ideas from the World Economic Forum and with support from the food and chemicals industry, the solutions on the table at the U.N. meeting are far less imaginative. Nor do they go far enough to remedy or even acknowledge the environmental and other harms committed by industrial agriculture. This supposedly scientific method of growing food is one of the largest drivers of climate change. Algae blooms from nitrogen and phosphate pollution are devastating aquatic life. Pristine forests are falling to ranches and plantations. Aquifers are being drained for thirsty cash crops. Fertile soil is turning to sterile dust as synthetic chemicals kill essential microbes, and pesticides are decimating insects on which extended chains of life depend.

This past July the Rockefeller Foundation reported that whereas Americans spent $1.1 trillion on food in 2019, the additional external health, environmental, climate change, biodiversity and economic costs associated with the food industry were $2.1 trillion. That is quite a debt—and one that the industry will never have to pay. The rest of the world shoulders the cost. Yet the firms behind this damage are the ones offering solutions at the summit.

We know how to do better. Agroecology more than fits the bill—not only because the crops grown are more diverse but because the social arrangements that surround them are more cognizant of power. Industrial agriculture’s hidden costs are precisely the ones agroecology makes explicit. Its pathways reward the acumen of those on the front lines, support the livelihoods of the poor and protect the biodiversity of the planet. Its researchers and practitioners are already hard at work, teaching and learning from one another.

Such networks of knowledge undo the colonial savior complexes to which many development experts are still tied. Instead, under agroecology, as Chitaya puts it, “women can teach men, Black people can teach white people, the poor can teach the rich.” She reflects on the certainties of struggle ahead, particularly as the powerful seem to be doubling down on industrial agriculture. “So much has been lost. But it’s never too late to change.”

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To: Julius Wong who wrote (4005)9/23/2021 10:29:09 AM
From: Aladdin Sane
   of 4066
I have posted on this before.. Message 33209843 I started 3 years ago.. it works.. pretty tedious killing 10K+ potato beetles by hand and still losing .. I can tell you

IT REALLY WORKS.. and mustard itself is a GREAT green

Indian chap with plot near mine commented on why I had so much planted.. He said it reminded him of home... :) Maybe India should grow potatoes in the cooler months :)

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