Researchers are testing a way to double the use of cropland to generate renewable energy. Read more here.
Some of the leading research being done on stevia, a plant that is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, is taking place in the Treasure Valley area of Idaho and Eastern Oregon.
Once that happens, the plant could be an attractive option for the region’s farmers.
But the plant likely won’t be grown commercially here until researchers learn how to reliably produce the small shrub from seed.
Stevia is used as a natural sweetener in drinks and food.
Unlike potatoes, corn and other crops that farmers have bred for hundreds of years, stevia has only been researched for about 50 years, said Cheryl Parris, research and development manager at S&W Seed Co.
Because of that, there is currently too much genetic diversity in stevia to grow it from seed, so it’s being grown from clones, or rooted cuttings, that are produced in a greenhouse and then transplanted into the field.
The labor and expense involved in growing stevia that way at 40,000 plants an acre makes it too expensive to be an attractive alternative to commercial farmers in the U.S., Parris said.
The company’s stevia research is centered in Nampa. Parris is trying to develop a reliable seed line that farmers can plant.
She said this is an ideal region for growing stevia. The company has received a lot of inquiries from farmers interested in growing stevia seed.
“There is a lot of variability in the plants because there is so much that hasn’t been bred out yet,” she said. “It will become more ideal as we develop a seed line. It’s still really an emerging market in the United States because of the cost at this point.”
The wide genetic diversity in stevia means the progeny is usually not as good as the parents, said Clint Shock, director of Oregon State University’s research station in Ontario.
“How to efficiently propagate stevia by seed hasn’t been solved,” said Shock, who has researched the plant for more than a decade. “In order for it to be competitive in the U.S., you need to be able to cross reliably and efficiently from seed. That is the Achilles heel of growing stevia in the United States.”
Most of the world’s stevia is grown in nations with much lower labor costs, Shock said.
“The competitive advantage now is for places that have super cheap labor,” he said.
Parris and Shock are also trying to breed out the sometimes bitter aftertaste associated with stevia.
“We’re trying to develop a plant that tastes better, doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste and can be used more as an additive to food products,” Parris said.
Contrary to popular belief, moving from monoculture to smaller farms and a more diversified agricultural landscape isn’t necessarily a cure-all to the excessive use of insecticides on crops such as grapes and almonds. Read more…
Dryland wheat crops will do better than researchers originally assumed as the climate changes, according to a scientist who took part in a $20 million, six-year regional study of cereal crop production systems. Read more
OSU recently released its Future of Oregon Agricultural Land report, which shares stats about the aging farm population in Oregon, lists challenges faced by next-generation farmers, and identifies tools young and beginning farmers need.
See the summary here.
Christian Science Monitor; August 31, 2016 — Climate change could render about half of today’s coffee-growing land unsuitable for production by 2050, according to a new report. Major coffee companies including Starbucks are taking steps to help the world’s coffee farmers cope.
Unpredictable weather, including unusual heat spikes or unseasonal rain or drought, will render about half of today’s coffee-growing land unsuitable for production by 2050, according to a new report from The Climate Institute in Australia. By 2080, estimates the institute, wild coffee such as weather-sensitive Arabica and Robusta could become extinct.
As coffee production declines due to climate, consumer prices will rise. Millions of coffee farmers in developing countries that depend on their robust coffee export businesses, such Honduras, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Guatemala, could go out of business. These countries are among the world’s most threatened by climate change.
“Before the century is out . . . conditions are set to become inhospitable for Arabica coffee in the wild in East Africa – its centre of origin,” the climate institute concludes in its report. As a result, coffee production will move to other parts of the world, particularly to the highlands of East Africa, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Andes.
“In just a few decades, climate change could . . . push production upslope and away from the equator,” the institute predicts.
Coffee and other major crops already are at the mercy of unpredictable weather. Cocoa, for example, likely won’t be able to grow in West Africa, the epicenter of cocoa production, by the middle of this century.
Central America is one of the regions where coffee growers have felt the likely effects of climate change. In 2011, unusual levels of heat and rain brought a plant disease that affected more than half of the coffee crops in the region. Between 2012 and 2013, this amounted to $500 million of crop damages and 350,000 farm workers unemployed, according to the Climate Institute.
The impact of all this is not just on the anonymous farmers in a far-off land, though. It’s also showing up in your morning brew, which has been getting more expensive. Starbucks, for example, announced in July, as it does regularly, that it has raised prices on some coffees by up to 30 cents partly because of rising coffee bean costs, according to Fortune. That trend is expected to continue for coffee overall.
“. . . Tight supply, potentially detrimental weather and extremely strong global demand, especially emanating from the US, China and India . . . will continue to tighten coffee markets,” predicted Harish Sundaresh, a portfolio manager and commodities analyst in Boston for Loomis Sayles Alpha Strategies team, told Bloomberg in June.
Starbucks has said that it’s worried about the impact of climate change on its coffee supply. The company’s former sustainability director, Jim Hanna, has said Starbucks works with with local producers to try to protect them from future changes.
“What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road – if conditions continue as they are – is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain, which is the Arabica coffee bean,” he told The Guardian in 2011.
Starbucks is one of a number of global coffee purveyors, including Tim Hortons, Neumann Gruppe, and Gustav Paulig, that are part of “the initiative for coffee and climate,” a partnership with NGOs and other organizations to “provide framers with training and tools to better respond to climate change,” according to the Climate Institute.
In addition to offering coffee farmers financial incentives for reducing carbon emissions, the initiative works with growers to better adapt their crops, including “developing more resilient production systems, diversifying crops, and shifting plantations upslope,” the report reads.
There is a small bit of comfort for coffee devotees, if not for farmers: If wild coffee disappears from some regions due to climate change, it could move to others that will become more hospitable – although the transition, the institute warns, could take several years.
Another ironically reassuring finding is that coffee plants appear to thrive with higher levels of carbon dioxide (C02), a gas in the atmosphere that is largely responsible for harmful global warming. But whether the benefits of C02 on those crops will outweigh the drawbacks of its negative impact on the climate, and thus coffee, is unclear.
By Lonnie Sheckhtman, CSM staff
Pacific Northwest farmers will be able to get their hands on a Washington State University variety of quinoa in about three years, according to the university’s breeder.
Kevin Murphy, assistant professor in barley and alternative crop breeding, hopes to follow the model for releasing wheat and barley varieties. He needs one more year of solid testing and then a year of increasing breeder seed and foundation seed.
On the national level, the Federal Clean Water Act regulates pollution flowing out of pipes, known as point source pollution. But contaminants flowing off of farm fields — non-point source pollution — are exempt from regulations. With little authority to compel farmers to adopt clean water practices, state and federal agencies rely on a voluntary approach. As a result, farming practices can be dramatically different from one field to the next.