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Before You Supplement, Review The Science

Strategic Planning Column: War On Cost

When I talk or write about my "five essentials for successful ranch management,” I often get questions, and sometimes challenges, about my point of “war on cost.” The question usually is something like, “We’ve been cutting cost for a long time, and it gets more difficult. Why can’t we figure out how to get more income? Why do we have to keep cutting costs?”

We can increase income, but doing so usually depends on our selling price or the use of additional inputs to increase production; we’ll get to that in subsequent articles. However, for now, the best answer for why we must wage war on cost is “competition.”

Consumers don’t have to eat meat; and, if they do eat meat, it doesn’t have to be beef. (Actually, some of us really do feel we “have” to eat beef, and I hope it stays that way.) But, besides competing on price and value in the protein market, beef producers also compete against each other. All other things being equal, those who can produce a quality product at a lower cost, generally get to stay in business longer than those who can’t.

Because of the large number of producers in our industry, we’re an example of the classic economic definition of “pure competition.” This means that the average producer in the average year is just breaking even. As an industry, I don’t think we want to count on the market and weather giving us a continual string of good years. Using management abilities and ingenuity is a much better way to ensure our long-term sustainability.

In future articles, I will frequently return to “war on cost.” And, I’ll emphasize reducing overheads per unit of production and improving gross margin.

By the way, my definition of gross margin is different than that which I often see in other articles. I define gross margin as total revenue (that is, total cash livestock sales, minus livestock purchases, plus inventory increases, or minus inventory decreases) minus all direct costs. Therefore, the gross margin pays for the overheads with the residual being net income. This approach allows us to focus on overheads and direct costs per unit of production.

Overheads include labor, equipment, facilities and tools. Direct costs are those that go directly to the animals and vary in proportion to the number of animals we have in production.

Some might want to call these “fixed” and “variable” costs, but I don’t like the implication that “fixed” can’t be changed. All overheads can be changed – perhaps not immediately, but they can be changed.

Through my years of watching good ranchers in an effort to better myself, I’ve observed that the highly profitable ranches cut overheads to the bone. Their cows-to-man ratio is high. And, in relation to the number of animals they operate, they have few pickups, tractors, implements, buildings, horses, etc. What they do have is functional and dependable, but they want as little as possible to fix, paint, fuel, operate or store.
It amazes me how ingenuity and inventiveness have reduced the need for overheads in these well-managed operations. Some have eliminated hay making, opting to hire a custom operator to cut and bale hay, or simply purchase the hay needed. If the needed hay is purchased, the land previously hayed can be grazed, which typically allows an increase in carrying capacity. Thus, the remaining overheads are spread over more units of production.

Many of these operations have greatly reduced feeding harvested forage by allowing cows to do more of the work through grazing. Some changed the calving season to more closely match their animals’ nutritional needs to the quality and availability of their range and pasture, significantly reducing their need for labor and equipment.

Making big changes in feeding practices and calving season can result in short-term reductions in pregnancy rate. Because of this, some people choose to make the changes in incremental steps and allow the cows that can’t adapt to fall out over time rather than in one year.

When you reduce overheads by reducing hay feeding, you need to be careful not to spend the savings on feed supplements. If your calving season matches your forage resource, your need for supplementation will be minimized.

Resist the temptation to feed or supplement because the neighbor does it, because you always have, or because the feed salesman promised you more production. Do your own review of the science. Get good information from technical experts before you try to get more profit from more inputs. The marginal revenue could easily be less than the marginal cost.

Find ranchers in similar locations who have learned to take “fed feed” out of their operations, except for minimal supplementation. Learn from them. See if their ideas and methods can be adapted to fit your unique situation.

In my work with ranches in Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, northern Utah and southern Alberta, we greatly reduced hay feeding. In some years, we fed no hay to mature cows, except perhaps some alfalfa as a protein supplement.

I’ve addressed only feed in this column because it’s an operator’s biggest direct cost. In future articles, we’ll discuss how cow size, milk production and heifer-development methods can affect your feed cost.
http://beefmagazine.com/cowcalfweekly/1014-before-supplement-review-science/index1.html

Rotación y comercialización van de la mano

En distintas zonas y cultivos del territorio tucumano se ejercita esta práctica de manejo sustentable, recomendado por las entidades de investigación para la preservación de los suelos y el control de plagas y enfermedades. Entre ellas, las producciones de soja, de caña de azúcar y de citrus, con rotaciones con maíz, gramíneas y cereales.
En reiteradas oportunidades, en LA GACETA Rural publicamos artículos y columnas de opinión sobre la necesidad que existe en nuestra provincia, y en toda la región del NOA, de realizar rotaciones técnicamente recomendables, que permitan en el tiempo lograr una sustentabilidad amigable con el medio circundante.

En forma permanente, desde esta columna venimos diciendo, afirmando y tratando de generar conciencia sobre los efectos nocivos que provoca el monocultivo de cualquier especie, modalidad que termina siendo perjudicial en diferentes aspectos. Es que los monocultivos favorecen la proliferación y el asentamiento permanente de plagas y de enfermedades, que terminan siendo muy complicadas de manejar en el cultivo que se está realizando.

Las rotaciones favorecen el manejo permanente de cualquier especie. Con este manejo, las plagas y las enfermedades de cierto cultivo no prosperan, ya que en un determinado año la plaga o enfermedad específica no tiene a su alcance su alimento y medio necesario para crecer y reproducirse.

Rotaciones como la soja con maíz, caña de azúcar con soja, cítricos con gramíneas, papa con cereales, etc, siempre fueron recomendados. En nuestra provincia se las hace a medida que el productor va conociendo los beneficios que traen aparejados.

Recorriendo las zonas productivas locales podemos observar plantaciones y cultivos que se rotan de manera sistemática y técnicamente recomendadas por los organismos de investigación.

Ejemplos
Los productores tucumanos de citrus cuando hacen reemplazo de sus plantaciones, ya sea porque las plantas cumplieron muchos años produciendo y necesitan renovarse, o por el recambio de variedades, después de proceder a sacar esas plantas viejas siembran gramíneas -como el sorgo-, y dejan que el cultivo que fue rotado se exprese completamente y luego es incorporado al suelo antes de plantar nuevamente.

Los productores cañeros están trabajando en sus rotaciones con soja con muy buenos resultados al tener un cultivo anual sembrado en un lote donde luego se renovará el cañaveral.

Pero lo que genera satisfacción es que los productores de soja en la provincia incorporaron el maíz o el sorgo como una rotación válida para tener un sistema productivo sustentable en el tiempo.

En los lotes tucumanos ya se acerca la trilla de trigo y se está a pocos días de que comiencen las labores de presiembra de gruesa, después de una campaña pasada en la cual la superficie sembrada con maíz y sorgo superó las 60.000 hectáreas en la provincia.

Durante la campaña anterior la producción de soja se vendió sin problemas, pero en lo referente a maíz, todavía hay en los campos de la región gran cantidad de toneladas en silos bolsas sin que se haya vendido, debido a las políticas de comercialización de granos, específicamente de maíz, que desde la Casa Rosada se está aplicando.

Los técnicos especializados en el tema afirman que lo ideal es que se rote en la zona sojera un porcentaje cercano al 30% del total del área sembrada, que es un valor ideal. Pero hace poco tiempo se terminaron de trillar las 60.000 hectáreas actuales que fueron sembradas y todavía no se terminó de comercializar el maíz de la provincia, de la región, ni del país.

Sin cambios
El Gobierno nacional mantiene un sistema de prohibición de exportaciones, de ROE y de distribución de cantidades a exportar por empresas. El problema es que autorizaciones de venta que otorgan las autoridades no son para todos por igual.

Esta situación no solo generó más ineficiencia a la hora de vender el producto que sale de los campos, sino también una cierta incertidumbre entre los productores que sembraron lo técnicamente recomendado, y no lo económicamente conveniente, animados únicamente por mirar el futuro un poco más lejos.

Como ya se dijo, el productor está cerca de una nueva campaña de gruesa. Los técnicos y organismos de investigación como el INTA y la Estación Experimental Agroindustrial Obispo Colombres recomiendan las rotaciones, pero no hay información ni voluntad para una comercialización el maíz adecuada y aceitada.

Todavía existe una gran cantidad de maíz para exportar y esta operatoria se encuentra todavía restringida.

Si se quiere de una vez por todas trabajar en serio y hacer lo que técnicamente corresponde, hay que tener las puertas abiertas a los mercados internacionales para lograr el objetivo buscado de producir sustentablemente.


http://www.lagaceta.com.ar/nota/459962/Rural/Rotacion-comercializacion-van-mano.html

How to Grow Cool-season Pastures

How to Grow Cool-season Pastures

By John Howle

A cool-season pasture can dramatically reduce your need for stored feed and extend your grazing season through the winter months. The key to having winter grazing is stockpiling or saving forage for winter, picking hearty cool-season forage to plant, and practicing rotational grazing. With adequate rainfall, you’ll be set for success this winter.
David Wright has 65 cows in his dairy operation in Alexandria, Ala., and his cattle graze throughout the winter, eliminating his need for stored hay.
“I can have high-quality winter forage through my ryegrass from November until May,” Wright says. “The only time I’ve had to feed hay is during drought years.”
In the 1990s, dairy farming across the U.S. changed, with large commercial dairies replacing small family-owned-and-operated dairies. Wright realized that competing with commercial operations was possible by downsizing his herd and feeding only grass to his cows.
“Our cows were healthier and happier, the milk was higher quality, the tractors were in the fields less, and my wife, Leianne, and I had more time to spend with our children,” he says.
Wright’s operation centers on dairy cows, but the principles he’s learned can be applied to winter grazing for any type of livestock. His search for the best forage-management practices has led him overseas to places like New Zealand, Africa and Ireland.
“When you look closely and walk through the fields in other countries where rotational grazing is truly effective and stored-feed expenses are high, you see the importance of making grazing available through the winter,” Wright says.
He adds that by establishing winter pastures, rotating grazing and stockpiling forage, winter hay can be virtually eliminated from livestock diets, as long as fertilizer and rainfall amounts are adequate.
Stock Up on Forage
Stockpiling fescue can extend the grazing season up to 60 days, according to Gary Bates, PhD, forage specialist with the University of Tennessee.
“Fescue stockpiling is simple,” Bates says. “About the first of September, either graze or clip the pastures to remove all the mature forage. Then apply 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre after the fall rains begin. Then allow the fescue to grow as long as possible without grazing, even up to a killing frost.”
Bates recommends rotationally grazing fescue when possible so that less of the forage is trampled and wasted by the cattle.
“Tall fescue that is stockpiled for winter forage can be grazed down to 2 inches since the plant is dormant and not trying to grow,” Bates says. “It will lose some quality over the winter, but research has shown that the protein content will remain at 10 percent, even into February.”
The only time stockpiling fescue doesn’t work is during periods of limited rainfall.
“Stockpiled fescue makes substantial growth during autumn, and the waxy layer on its leaves makes it resistant to frost damage and weathering,” says Auburn University professor emeritus and retired extension agronomist Don Ball. “In addition, tall-fescue forage accumulates a high concentration of soluble carbohydrates in the fall and maintains its quality through the winter.”
Ball says that producers should closely examine the relationship between stockpiled fescue and other cool-season forages versus hay-production costs.
“Many cattle producers in the South, for instance, are feeding hay for 120 days or more,” he says. “However, some producers have developed approaches, such as stockpiling and planting additional cool-season forages, that allow them to feed little or no hay in some years.”
Some fescue carry endophyte fungus, which can affect the health of your livestock. Look for endophyte-free fescue to avoid fescue toxicosis in cattle as well as birth defects and premature labor in pregnant mares.
Seed Your Pastures
Once warm-season forage goes dormant, seeding cool-season, annual forage in the pastures can extend the grazing season.
“Ryegrass is normally broadcast or drilled into dormant sods of warm-season species,” Ball says. “Small grains and ryegrass, often with an annual clover, are planted on a prepared seedbed.”
Cool-season clovers provide winter forage and reduce your fertilizer bill. Red clover—nicknamed cow clover—is a hearty variety that germinates well and is adapted for growth in the eastern half of the U.S. White clover varieties also provide hearty growth and produce nitrogen in the nodules of the root system, delivering nutrients back to the soil.
Clover can be planted on a prepared seedbed, drilled or even frost-seeded. Frost-seeding, the least labor-intensive method, requires no equipment other than a hand sower. Simply sow the clover on top of the grazed forage or seedbed, and the frosting and heaving of the soil in cold weather will create the seed-to-soil contact necessary for germination. Some producers frost-seed and allow the livestock to trample the seed into the ground via hoof traffic.
Cool-season grasses, such as ryegrass, wheat and oats, germinate well and provide plenty of winter grazing. Before purchasing seeds, check with your local extension office or university agronomist to find out which cool-season grasses and clovers grow best in your area. Also, check with fellow hobby farmers in your area to see what species have performed well for them in seasons past.
Fertilize the Pastures
As with any planted forage, fertilizer is a major component of success. With the proper amount of rainfall (i.e., average for your area), the nitrogen—whether in commercial or organic form—will help the grass grow fast and green. A soil test is the only way to accurately determine how much fertilizer to apply. Once the soil report comes back, the soil analysis will show your soil’s pH, so you can determine if the pasture needs lime and fertilizer and in what amounts.
On a typical bag of commercial fertilizer, you’ll see three numbers indicating the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. For instance, ammonium nitrate will have the numbers 34-0-0 on the bag, which means there are 34 pounds of nitrogen for every 100 pounds of fertilizer. A bag of 13-13-13 has 13 percent each of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
For Wright’s winter pastures, consisting mostly of Marshall ryegrass, he applies cow manure from his dairy barn at a rate of approximately 60 pounds per acre. In August, he lightly disks his fields, then broadcasts ryegrass seeds in mid-September. As the seeds are broadcast, he uses a cultipacker, an implement that packs the seed into the soil on a prepared seedbed as it’s pulled behind a tractor. The cultipacker also helps firm the soil and prevent erosion in the event of large amounts of rainfall.
If you plan to use an organic fertilizer, such as cattle, poultry or rabbit manure, it’s important to get an analysis of its content to know just how much fertilizer you’re actually getting. Most land-grant universities will analyze manure for its nutrient levels. Although typically lower in nutrient quality than commercial fertilizer, due to its high organic content, organic fertilizer builds the soil while commercial fertilizer does not.
“Fertilizer will be the biggest expense in creating plentiful winter forage for livestock,” Bates says. “However, it’s cheaper to grow the forage than it is to produce the hay and feed it.”
Cutting, raking and baling hay is a big expense, not to mention the issue of storage. Although you may not be able to entirely eliminate feeding hay, the amount fed can be greatly reduced when the forage is growing live.
Implement Rotational Grazing
Wright rotationally grazes 5-acre paddocks. He says the only feed he supplements with the ryegrass pasture is grain with added minerals.
“The grain I use has magnesium and calcium,” he explains. “The magnesium guards against grass tetany, and the calcium prevents milk fever.”
According to Wright, his rotational grazing is keeping nutrients on the farm.
“When you cut hay, you are removing nutrients from the field in the hay,” he says. “When the cows graze the grass, they are getting the nutrients they need as well as returning many of those nutrients back to the soil in their droppings.”
It’s important not to graze the forage to less than 2 inches when using rotational grazing. If livestock are allowed to graze too long, weeds will be given a greater opportunity to sprout, the forage will become excessively trampled, and the plants’ root systems and overall quality will be stressed.
Spring into Action
Bates recommends evaluating the forage quality in spring to determine the forage needed in the winter.
“When the forage is about 8 inches tall, walk over the stand to estimate what percent of the ground is covered with leaves, and if there is 70 percent or better coverage, just add clover,” he says. “If there’s 40 to 70 percent, you can drill more tall fescue in the fall once it has been grazed low and the ground moisture is higher.”
If the stand is less than 40 percent, Bates recommends killing it and replanting.
The onset of cold weather doesn’t mean you have to stop grazing livestock and put them on hay. There are plenty of cool-season forage options for extending your grazing season well into the cold months of the year. Your livestock and your wallet will reap the benefits.
About the Author: John Howle is a freelance writer, hobby farmer, English teacher, and singer/songwriter from Heflin, Ala. He and his wife and three children share the rich farming heritage handed down to them by their ancestors.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of Hobby Farms.

http://www.hobbyfarms.com/crops-and-gardening/how-to-grow-cool-season-pastures.aspx


Precision agriculture threatened by GPS interference

NAWG and a dozen other major agricultural groups wrote the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week urging continued testing of new broadband technology to ensure it does not interfere with existing GPS systems used by farmers.
The FCC is considering a waiver requested by LightSquared, a company with technology that could dramatically expand rural broadband access, but that studies show could emit signal interference effectively disabling GPS systems.
Ag groups writing this week said additional testing of the system and proposed fixes is “imperative” because they and their members need to know for certain that LightSquared’s technology will work for new and existing precision agriculture tools.
The groups called for testing of proposed fixes in the field as well as in a laboratory environment, and said the investigations must look at a full range of scenarios to ensure GPS signals aren’t degraded. The groups also said that costs associated with retrofitting or replacing GPS devices made unusable by LightSquared’s technology should be borne by the company.
The letter reiterated signatories’ support for LightSquared’s goal of increasing broadband access, especially in rural areas. But, they said, this goal must not be achieved at the cost of disabling GPS devices that offer agricultural producers critical safety and environmental benefits, saving billions of dollars in the process.
“At the end of the appropriate testing process, it is our hope that the results are favorable, making it possible to realize a longstanding agricultural industry goal of expanded rural broadband,” they wrote. “That said, this laudable goal must not be accomplished at the expense of precision agriculture.”
Groups signing on to the letter represent growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, cotton, rice, barley, potatoes, sunflowers and dry beans and lentils, which collectively account for the vast majority of commodity production in the U.S.
NAWG and coalition partners have been engaged on this issue for a number of months and continue to work with the Obama administration and members of Congress to protect agricultural GPS applications as the LightSquared proposal is reviewed.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on the issue last month. NAWG staff participated in a follow-up briefing with congressional staff on Thursday.
The full letter sent this week is available at www.wheatworld.org/othercorrespondence

http://westernfarmpress.com/equipment/precision-agriculture-threatened-gps-interference

Managing feed costs

Introduction—the new economics
Feed costs have been in an increasing pattern since 2007. The cattle industry has been slowly adapting to these new economics. Recent developments, however, have moved feed costs into uncharted territory. The chart below shows the national average corn price since 1967. Basically, the chart illustrates 40 years of $2 corn. Experienced livestock producers likely became quite comfortable with these costs and with the relationship between year to year feed cost fluctuations and the cost of production. As the chart shows, 2007 brought a new plateau in feed (corn) costs which have continued to increase. Also note the increased variation and volatility. These appear to be the new rules of feed cost economics.

Corn no longer the low cost feedstuff
Perhaps the most dramatic change that has occurred during this time period is that corn is no longer the lowest cost source of feed energy. This is a drastic change in Iowa, where “corn-fed” is often considered to be the middle name of Iowa Beef. For much of the past 100 years, the best cattle feeding ration has included corn, home-grown forage and a complete protein-based supplement. Today the best options are more local and may change from year to year. To be the low cost producer today takes a new approach to management of feed, ration and cattle. Here are a few suggestions for cattlemen to consider as they develop their feeding programs for the upcoming year.

1.  Identify feedstuffs. Look out of the box. Today the first step in beef ration development is to identify the feedstuffs that should be considered. Surprisingly, often the best bargains are the feeds that are most local, especially those only you and a few neighbors know about or have access to.
  • Check out these very local opportunities first. Some examples of these types of feeds that may be available are corn screenings from the local elevator, slightly damaged or off-grade corn from your cash corn neighbor, husklage from the local seed corn processing plant, or byproducts from local food and feed processors. Give your cattle the opportunity to be “locavores” if there is an economic opportunity.
  • The next feeds to consider are those that are limited in their market by moisture levels and transportation costs. In Iowa, these include modified distillers grains, wet distillers’ grains, wet corn gluten feed and condensed distillers solubles (syrup.) Finally, consider dry commodities that may be available. These feeds can be great bargains, but those bargains can disappear quickly because they are global commodities. Examples include dry distillers’ grains, soy hulls, corn gluten pellets, wheat midds and whole cottonseed.
  • The chart below is generated by the feedstuff energy cost index program, a free download from the Iowa Beef Center (see references for link). The example here was from average prices published on September 12, 2011. The prices were taken from the Iowa Ethanol Report, the Missouri byproduct feed price listing and the Iowa Hay Report. Of course, you should use your own delivered prices, but this example shows modified distillers grains as a feed that should be strongly considered for any ration formulation. Corn stalks and medium quality hay are lower in cost that corn silage (at $71/ton). At $7.10 per bushel, corn grain is one of the most expensive available feedstuffs.

click image to zoom
2.  Harvest corn stover. While forage production in Iowa was nearly normal for the year, the national forage production is well below average. This is due to the historic drought conditions in the Southwestern U.S. Also it appears that winter wheat grazing will be limited as well due to dry conditions in Oklahoma and Kansas. Corn stover is a practically unlimited resource that is widely available. While this feed alone will not meet the nutrient requirements for most classes of cattle, it can serve as a base for a properly supplemented feeding program.

3.  Balance rations. One of the major challenges of the new reality for feedstuff selection is that the most economical feeds will likely be quite variable in nutrient composition and/or need significant supplementation to meet the requirements of many classes of cattle. This requires producers to have a good relationship with suppliers. Routine feed testing and monitoring, along with complete ration balancing, is more important as feed costs increase. If you are want to tackle the ration balancing on your own, consider a computer program such as the BRaNDS program from IBC. Many of you will look to professional assistance from a nutritionist for help.

4.  Lock in feed supplies and prices. Many ethanol producers offer forward contracts for MDG and WDG supplies and prices. If these feeds work out to be the most economical of the available feeds, this may be an option to consider. Also, with the volatility in feed, feeder and fed cattle prices, some protection of margins may be prudent when the opportunity arises. The crush margin calculations published by Shane Ellis can be helpful in identifying these pricing opportunities.

5.  Reduce feed waste and shrink. When feed costs are high, reducing feed storage and feeding waste can pay big dividends. For cow operations, utilization of waste reducing bale feeders or making the switch to a total mixed ration (TMR) is worthy of consideration. Also investment in feed storage systems that reduce waste such as a commodity shed can reduce waste and shrink significantly. For all producers, it is very important to inventory and weigh feed in and out of storage. The first step in improving feed shrink and waste is knowing what the baseline level is by feedstuff and storage unit.

6.  Be efficient. Feed efficiency becomes increasingly important as feed costs escalate. Technologies that improve feed efficiency should be fine tuned. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian, nutrition consultant or extension beef specialist about your implant program options that optimize efficiency. Also, if you are not currently using a beta agonist (Optaflexx or Zilmax), learn more about these newer technologies. For beef cow operations, are you feeding an ionophore to your cows? Don’t forget to review your health management and parasite control programs to make sure they are state of the art.

In today’s economic environment, successful cattle producers are the ones who are flexible and adaptable in feed procurement. Once the feeds are sourced, however, efficiency and consistent management continue to be of utmost importance.

Resources
Iowa Ethanol Report— http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/nw_gr111.txt 
Missouri Byproduct Feed Price Listing— http://agebb.missouri.edu/dairy/byprod/bplist.asp
Monthly Hay Price Updates-- http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/hayreport.html
Feedstuff Energy Index Program (free download)-- http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/Software/FeedEnergyIndexNE.xls
Crush Margin-- http://www.econ.iastate.edu/margins/cattlecrush.htm
Source: Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center

Study Suggests How to Produce Food for 2050’s Population of 9 Billion

Can we feed the 9-billion-plus people anticipated to live on this planet in 2050 without destroying Earth’s life support systems? Writing in the October 12 online issue of Nature (and slated to appear as the cover story in the October 20 print issue), a team of researchers from the U.S., Canada, Sweden and Germany concluded we can – if we successfully pursue sustainable food production on five key fronts: halting farmland expansion in the tropics, closing yield gaps on underperforming lands, using agricultural inputs more strategically, shifting diets and reducing food waste.

“For the first time, we have shown that it is possible to both feed a hungry world and protect a threatened planet,” said lead author Jonathan Foley, head of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. “It will take serious work. But we can do it.”

Scientists from the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, McGill University, UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State University, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Stockholm Environment Institute and the University of Bonn have been working together for two years to find an answer to what could be the most compelling question facing humanity today. Combining new data gathered from satellite imagery and crop records around the world with new computer models of global agricultural systems and their environmental impacts, the team developed a plan for doubling the world’s food production while reducing environmental impacts of agriculture.

The research was a response to what Foley calls “a daunting triple threat.”

“First, a billion people currently lack adequate access to food, not only creating hunger but also setting the stage for worldwide instability. Second, agriculture, the single-most important thing we do to benefit humanity, is also is the single biggest threat to the global environment – including the land, water and climate that make Earth habitable. Third, with 2 to 3 billion more people expected in coming decades, and increasing consumption of meat and biofuels, food demand will be far greater in 2050 than it is today,” Foley said. “Given that we’re not even able to meet current needs sustainably, how will we feed the anticipated 9-billion-plus of us without destroying the planet?”

The international team of researchers began by characterizing agriculture today. Using new satellite and ground-based observations, the team documented changes in agricultural lands and their yields over the past 40 years. Currently, farm and ranch lands cover nearly 40 percent of Earth’s land area – the largest use of land on the planet. Though modern agriculture has boosted crops yields, increases between 1985 and 2005 were less than half what is commonly reported and are slowing. And because one-third of crops are used for livestock feed, biofuels and other nonfood products, the number of hunger-abating calories produced per cultivated acre is far lower than it could be – even (perhaps particularly) in fields with high-yielding, but animal-feeding, crops.

All that comes with a hefty environmental price tag. Humans have already cleared 70 percent of all grasslands, half of all savannas, 45 percent of temperate deciduous forests and 27 percent of tropical forests. In addition, intensification of agriculture – changes in irrigation, fertilizer use and other practices aimed at boosting per-acre yield – has increased water pollution, local water shortages and energy use. Strikingly, agricultural activities such as clearing land, growing rice, raising cattle and overusing fertilizers make up the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, accounting for roughly 35 percent of the total.

Based on data they gathered about crop production and environmental impacts using satellite maps and on-the-ground records, the researchers proposed a five-point plan for feeding the world while protecting the planet:

Halt farmland expansion: Reduced land clearing for agriculture, particularly in the tropical rainforests, achieved using incentives such as payment for ecosystem services, certification and ecotourism, can yield huge environmental benefits without dramatically cutting into agricultural production or economic well-being.

Close yield gaps: Many parts of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe have substantial “yield gaps”– places where farmland is not living up to its potential for producing crops. Closing these gaps through improved use of existing crop varieties, better management and improved genetics could increase current food production nearly 60 percent.

Use inputs more strategically: Current use of water, nutrients and ag chemicals suffers from what the research team calls “Goldilocks’ Problem:” too much in some places, too little in others, rarely just right. Strategic reallocation could substantially boost the benefit we get from precious inputs.

Shift diets: Growing animal feed or biofuels on top croplands, no matter how efficiently, is a drain on human food supply. Dedicating croplands to direct human food production could boost calories produced per person by nearly 50 percent. Even shifting nonfood uses such as animal feed or biofuel production away from prime cropland could make a big difference.

Reduce waste: One-third of the food farms produce ends up discarded, spoiled or eaten by pests. Eliminating waste in the path food takes from farm to mouth could boost food available for consumption another 50 percent.

“Lots of other scholars and thinkers have proposed solutions to global food and environmental problems. But they were often fragmented, only looking at one aspect of the problem at one time. And they often lacked the specifics and numbers to back them up; one always wondered whether these proposed solutions were enough to solve the problem,” said Navin Ramankutty, associate professor of geography at McGill University and one of the team’s leaders.

“What’s new and exciting here is that we considered solutions to both feeding our growing world and solving the global environmental crisis of agriculture at the same time,” Foley said. “We focused the world’s best scientific data and models this problem, to demonstrate that these solutions could actually work – showing where, when and how they could be most effective. No one has done this before.”

To move from today’s insufficient food system to one that can and does feed us all, without compromising the environment, the research team also recommends:
  • Focus on improving agricultural systems where major improvements in food production or environmental protection come with the least expense and effort.
  • Pursue approaches that are resilient – that can adapt to the unexpected circumstances that undoubtedly will arise along the way.
  • Develop better tools for evaluating costs and benefits of alternatives, so the choices we make clearly move us toward better food security and environmental sustainability.
  • Favor the outcome, not the approach. Take the best of conventional agriculture, organic agriculture, industrial farming, small local production, biotechnology and more to create a sustainably intensified global food system.
Foley says, “Providing food and nutrition for 9 billion people without compromising the global environment will be one of the greatest challenges our civilization has ever faced. It will require the imagination, determination and hard work of countless people from all over the world, embarked on one of the most important causes in history. So let’s work together to make it happen. There is no time to lose.”


http://www.sustainableplant.com/2011/10/study-suggests-how-to-produce-food-for-2050-s-population-of-9-billion/

M.Diseñan un proceso para convertir los residuos agrícolas en abono para suelos degradados

La empresa de Base Tecnológica de la Universidad de Almería (UAL) Gestora de Residuos del Sur (Geresur) ha diseñado un proceso para convertir los residuos agrícolas en abono propicio para suelos degradados que se distingue de los habituales sistemas de recogida por varios factores.

   De esta manera, se hace frente a uno de los principales retos a los que se enfrenta el campo almeriense, la reducción de la acumulación de restos orgánicos e inorgánicos procedentes de los invernaderos. Según informa la Fundación Descubre en una nota, hasta que son recogidos para su tratamiento, estos residuos suponen un problema para el medio ambiente, por lo que es "necesario" una gestión adecuada e integral que, además, favorezca un desarrollo sostenible.
   Así, la empresa de Base Tecnológica de la Universidad de Almería (UAL) Gestora de Residuos del Sur (Geresur) ha diseñado un proceso que se distingue de los habituales sistemas de recogida por varios factores. Tradicionalmente, la retirada de residuos agrícolas tiene carácter lineal, es decir, se recogen sin ser previamente separados y se transportan a un depósito controlado donde se eliminan o son tratados para ser utilizados como fuente de energía.
   El sistema de Geresur se basa en un procedimiento cíclico que permite alargar la vida de estos residuos de forma indefinida ya que, tras ser sometidos a un tratamiento determinado, son recuperados para su utilización en zonas o suelos degradados.
   En una primera fase, la segregación de los desechos se hace en origen, en el mismo momento de su recolección, lo que permite el tratamiento diferenciado de cada residuo en función del tipo de cultivo al que se destinará el nuevo abono. El gerente de la empresa, Luis Miguel Góngora, explica que los distintos elementos de los residuos son separados de manera que se asegure una recogida limpia.
   Además, ha indicado que su traslado se realiza de manera inmediata para evitar que fermenten y creen un caldo de cultivo propicio para roedores e infestaciones no deseadas. La materia vegetal segregada o biomasa pasa a un reactor de fermentación, diferente en función del tipo de producción del que proceda. Mezclado con otros subproductos y gracias a la acción enzimática de las bacterias, se consigue un detritus, un humus bioactivo "cien por cien ecológico específico para cada cultivo debido a esa segregación en origen", comenta el responsable de Geresur.
   Para el desarrollo de este método, se ha firmado un convenio con la empresa biotecnológica de la Universidad de Sevilla, Resbioagro, para inocular bacterias específicas y elementos no agresivos que actúen frente a otros patógenos. "Estos microorganismos provocan un aumento de temperatura que, a su vez, acaba con la vida de bacterias y hongos perjudiciales", indica Luis Miguel Góngora. De esta forma es el propio sustrato el que se protege de futuras plagas, reduciendo al mismo tiempo la necesidad de utilizar productos fitosanitarios, con el consiguiente ahorro económico para el agricultor.
   Según las experiencias pilotos desarrolladas por el equipo de investigadores de Geresur, el producto obtenido se caracteriza por una estructura granulada y esponjosa capaz de retener hasta un 20 por ciento de humedad. "Esta propiedad física lo convierte no sólo en un abono orgánico de alta eficiencia sino también en una herramienta esencial en la recuperación de suelos degradados debido a su aporte natural de microfauna", asevera el experto.
   El producto final se comercializa de diversas formas. A granel, idóneo para la recuperación de suelos; en paquetes o sacos de diez kilos; o en forma líquida, un té o licor de humus, útil para el riego por goteo o sistemas hidropónicos.
   El objetivo de Geresur, en palabras de su responsable, es cambiar el actual sistema de gestión de residuos por uno cíclico basado en el análisis del ciclo de vida del producto obtenido.

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