Luckily, “smart sprayers” have arrived! These sprayers use machine-vision technology that enables weed recognition and the targeting of individual weeds. According to a recent survey, 20% of precision technology dealers indicated they were already offering the sprayers, and half the dealers foresaw offering the sprayers in the near future, given farmer interest and product improvements. …Precision spraying means less herbicide residue outside the target. Good for the soil, good for the water, and good for endangered species everywhere.
According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) associated with land use account for somewhere between 21-37% of all anthropogenic emissions. Agriculture is the main culprit, both as a cause of deforestation and as a major emitter of GHGs, especially carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Agriculture is also destroying biodiversity and pushing all sorts to species to the brink of extinction.
Note that most farms lose money (specifically, 54.2% of all farms have “negative income” from farming). Small farms in particular depend on off-farm income to survive. Midsize farm households do okay - but they take in a lot of nonfarm income too. Not counting the nonfarm income, midsize farm households earn about what a mid-career registered nurse makes. Large-scale farmers are doing a lot better On average, their household income is on par with what a typical plastic surgeon earns in a year.
Written in partnership with the Conservation Evidence project, What Works in Conservation is an essential reference guide that summarizes and evaluates the latest scientific evidence on over a thousand conservation interventions.
Bottom line: the terrestrial biosphere depends on insects and the insects are dying. Why is this happening? In a word: agriculture….
In Part I of this series, we established that the biosphere was in trouble because close to a fifth of all land plant species are threatened with extinction; 90% of all living land plants are flowering plants; and, most of terrestrial life depends, either directly or indirectly, on flowering plants. Houston, we have a problem…So, let’s create and manage flower and pollinator habitat! Focusing on urban spaces, home gardens, and farmland…
The USDA and National Institute of Food and Agriculture do have a bunch of suggestions on how to deal with insect resistance, many of which would also help protect vulnerable birds and non-target insects. As follows…
Up-front costs impede the adoption of sustainable practices and technologies. So we need to create incentives for farmers to make that initial investment. Want more farmers to adopt no-till cultivation? Allow farmers to deduct the entire cost of expensive no-till planters in the first year of purchase.
In the case of corn-soybean farmers in Michigan, winter cover crops can delay or complicate spring planting; land that is not tilled for years might be invaded by difficult-to-control weeds; reducing fertilizer, insecticide, and herbicide use may sacrifice crop yield and boost the risk of herbicide-resistant insects and weeds. These are real concerns in a low-margin business.
“…Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes understood that great revelations create great enemies. He once warned: “You never need think you can overturn any old falsehood without a terrible squirming and scattering of the horrid little population that dwells under it.”
More land for agriculture means less land for grasslands, wetlands, and forests. Looking at the Big Picture, "sparing" the wild things is better than "sharing" with them. Of course, there will always be exceptions, but that's the general rule.
If 80% of wild plants depend on insects for pollination, the decline of insects spells trouble for just about all birds, not just the insect-eating ones. So what can we do?
Family farms of various types together account for 99 percent of all farms, and those account for 89 percent of the production as of 2015.
If you want to save water for dry years, it’s groundwater.
- Dr. Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences
Between increasing adoption of sustainable practices (e.g., cover crops, conservation tillage), precision farming and ever more resilient crops, agricultural productivity in the US and other developed counties is likely to maintain its upward trajectory.
So, per the IPCC, there is medium confidence in a 0 to -2% median yield impact per decade this century for the major crops (wheat, rice, and corn). There is high confidence the effect on crop production will be consistently negative in the low altitudes, while "climate change may have positive or negative effects in northern latitudes".
Why are large farms increasing? Partly because families are better able to handle the logistical and financial challenges of running big operations, thanks to labor-saving innovations that favor scale economies.
One out of five plant species are threatened with extinction. Almost a quarter of mammal species are endangered. The situation is just as bad or worse for reptiles (21% endangered), amphibians (30%), fish (21%), insects (22%) and mollusks (41%). Birds are doing slightly better (“just” 12% endangered). Habitat loss is the main culprit.
In a recent post I wrote how Vietnam’s stronger land tenure rights have contributed to reforestation in the countryside by giving smallholders a greater stake in maintaining their woodlands, which have economic value. But context is all: Secure property rights is not a cure-all for environmental degradation.