The miracle of the cerrado
IN A remote corner of Bahia state, in north-eastern Brazil, a vast new farm is springing out of the dry bush. Thirty years ago eucalyptus and pine were planted in this part of the cerrado (Brazil’s savannah). Native shrubs later reclaimed some of it. Now every field tells the story of a transformation. Some have been cut to a litter of tree stumps and scrub; on others, charcoal-makers have moved in to reduce the rootballs to fuel; next, other fields have been levelled and prepared with lime and fertiliser; and some have already been turned into white oceans of cotton. Next season this farm at Jatobá will plant and harvest cotton, soyabeans and maize on 24,000 hectares, 200 times the size of an average farm in Iowa. It will transform a poverty-stricken part of Brazil’s backlands.
Three hundred miles north, in the state of Piauí, the transformation is already complete. Three years ago the Cremaq farm was a failed experiment in growing cashews. Its barns were falling down and the scrub was reasserting its grip. Now the farm—which, like Jatobá, is owned by BrasilAgro, a company that buys and modernises neglected fields—uses radio transmitters to keep track of the weather; runs SAP software; employs 300 people under a gaúcho from southern Brazil; has 200km (124 miles) of new roads criss-crossing the fields; and, at harvest time, resounds to the thunder of lorries which, day and night, carry maize and soya to distant ports. That all this is happening in Piauí—the Timbuktu of Brazil, a remote, somewhat lawless area where the nearest health clinic is half a day’s journey away and most people live off state welfare payments—is nothing short of miraculous.
These two farms on the frontier of Brazilian farming are microcosms of a national change with global implications. In less than 30 years Brazil has turned itself from a food importer into one of the world’s great breadbaskets (see chart 1). It is the first country to have caught up with the traditional “big five” grain exporters (America, Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union). It is also the first tropical food-giant; the big five are all temperate producers.
The increase in Brazil’s farm production has been stunning. Between 1996 and 2006 the total value of the country’s crops rose from 23 billion reais ($23 billion) to 108 billion reais, or 365%. Brazil increased its beef exports tenfold in a decade, overtaking Australia as the world’s largest exporter. It has the world’s largest cattle herd after India’s. It is also the world’s largest exporter of poultry, sugar cane and ethanol (see chart 2). Since 1990 its soyabean output has risen from barely 15m tonnes to over 60m. Brazil accounts for about a third of world soyabean exports, second only to America. In 1994 Brazil’s soyabean exports were one-seventh of America’s; now they are six-sevenths. Moreover, Brazil supplies a quarter of the world’s soyabean trade on just 6% of the country’s arable land.
No less astonishingly, Brazil has done all this without much government subsidy. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), state support accounted for 5.7% of total farm income in Brazil during 2005-07. That compares with 12% in America, 26% for the OECD average and 29% in the European Union. And Brazil has done it without deforesting the Amazon (though that has happened for other reasons). The great expansion of farmland has taken place 1,000km from the jungle.
How did the country manage this astonishing transformation? The answer to that matters not only to Brazil but also to the rest of the world.
An attractive Brazilian model
Between now and 2050 the world’s population will rise from 7 billion to 9 billion. Its income is likely to rise by more than that and the total urban population will roughly double, changing diets as well as overall demand because city dwellers tend to eat more meat. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reckons grain output will have to rise by around half but meat output will have to double by 2050. This will be hard to achieve because, in the past decade, the growth in agricultural yields has stalled and water has become a greater constraint. By one estimate, only 40% of the increase in world grain output now comes from rises in yields and 60% comes from taking more land under cultivation. In the 1960s just a quarter came from more land and three-quarters came from higher yields.
So if you were asked to describe the sort of food producer that will matter most in the next 40 years, you would probably say something like this: one that has boosted output a lot and looks capable of continuing to do so; one with land and water in reserve; one able to sustain a large cattle herd (it does not necessarily have to be efficient, but capable of improvement); one that is productive without massive state subsidies; and maybe one with lots of savannah, since the biggest single agricultural failure in the world during past decades has been tropical Africa, and anything that might help Africans grow more food would be especially valuable. In other words, you would describe Brazil.
Brazil has more spare farmland than any other country (see chart 3). The FAO puts its total potential arable land at over 400m hectares; only 50m is being used. Brazilian official figures put the available land somewhat lower, at 300m hectares. Either way, it is a vast amount. On the FAO’s figures, Brazil has as much spare farmland as the next two countries together (Russia and America). It is often accused of levelling the rainforest to create its farms, but hardly any of this new land lies in Amazonia; most is cerrado.
Brazil also has more water. According to the UN’s World Water Assessment Report of 2009, Brazil has more than 8,000 billion cubic kilometres of renewable water each year, easily more than any other country. Brazil alone (population: 190m) has as much renewable water as the whole of Asia (population: 4 billion). And again, this is not mainly because of the Amazon. Piauí is one of the country’s driest areas but still gets a third more water than America’s corn belt.
Of course, having spare water and spare land is not much good if they are in different places (a problem in much of Africa). But according to BrasilAgro, Brazil has almost as much farmland with more than 975 millimetres of rain each year as the whole of Africa and more than a quarter of all such land in the world.
Since 1996 Brazilian farmers have increased the amount of land under cultivation by a third, mostly in the cerrado. That is quite different from other big farm producers, whose amount of land under the plough has either been flat or (in Europe) falling. And it has increased production by ten times that amount. But the availability of farmland is in fact only a secondary reason for the extraordinary growth in Brazilian agriculture. If you want the primary reason in three words, they are Embrapa, Embrapa, Embrapa.
More food without deforestation
Embrapa is short for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, or the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. It is a public company set up in 1973, in an unusual fit of farsightedness by the country’s then ruling generals. At the time the quadrupling of oil prices was making Brazil’s high levels of agricultural subsidy unaffordable. Mauro Lopes, who supervised the subsidy regime, says he urged the government to give $20 to Embrapa for every $50 it saved by cutting subsidies. It didn’t, but Embrapa did receive enough money to turn itself into the world’s leading tropical-research institution. It does everything from breeding new seeds and cattle, to creating ultra-thin edible wrapping paper for foodstuffs that changes colour when the food goes off, to running a nanotechnology laboratory creating biodegradable ultra-strong fabrics and wound dressings. Its main achievement, however, has been to turn the cerrado green.
When Embrapa started, the cerrado was regarded as unfit for farming. Norman Borlaug, an American plant scientist often called the father of the Green Revolution, told the New York Times that “nobody thought these soils were ever going to be productive.” They seemed too acidic and too poor in nutrients. Embrapa did four things to change that.
First, it poured industrial quantities of lime (pulverised limestone or chalk) onto the soil to reduce levels of acidity. In the late 1990s, 14m-16m tonnes of lime were being spread on Brazilian fields each year, rising to 25m tonnes in 2003 and 2004. This amounts to roughly five tonnes of lime a hectare, sometimes more. At the 20,000-hectare Cremaq farm, 5,000 hulking 30-tonne lorries have disgorged their contents on the fields in the past three years. Embrapa scientists also bred varieties of rhizobium, a bacterium that helps fix nitrogen in legumes and which works especially well in the soil of the cerrado, reducing the need for fertilisers.
So although it is true Brazil has a lot of spare farmland, it did not just have it hanging around, waiting to be ploughed. Embrapa had to create the land, in a sense, or make it fit for farming. Today the cerrado accounts for 70% of Brazil’s farm output and has become the new Midwest. “We changed the paradigm,” says Silvio Crestana, a former head of Embrapa, proudly.
Second, Embrapa went to Africa and brought back a grass called brachiaria. Patient crossbreeding created a variety, called braquiarinha in Brazil, which produced 20-25 tonnes of grass feed per hectare, many times what the native cerrado grass produces and three times the yield in Africa. That meant parts of the cerrado could be turned into pasture, making possible the enormous expansion of Brazil’s beef herd. Thirty years ago it took Brazil four years to raise a bull for slaughter. Now the average time is 18-20 months.
That is not the end of the story. Embrapa has recently begun experiments with genetically modifying brachiaria to produce a larger-leafed variety called braquiarão which promises even bigger increases in forage. This alone will not transform the livestock sector, which remains rather inefficient. Around one-third of improvement to livestock production comes from better breeding of the animals; one-third comes from improved resistance to disease; and only one-third from better feed. But it will clearly help.
Third, and most important, Embrapa turned soyabeans into a tropical crop. Soyabeans are native to north-east Asia (Japan, the Korean peninsular and north-east China). They are a temperate-climate crop, sensitive to temperature changes and requiring four distinct seasons. All other big soyabean producers (notably America and Argentina) have temperate climates. Brazil itself still grows soya in its temperate southern states. But by old-fashioned crossbreeding, Embrapa worked out how to make it also grow in a tropical climate, on the rolling plains of Mato Grosso state and in Goiás on the baking cerrado. More recently, Brazil has also been importing genetically modified soya seeds and is now the world’s second-largest user of GM after the United States. This year Embrapa won approval for its first GM seed.
Embrapa also created varieties of soya that are more tolerant than usual of acid soils (even after the vast application of lime, the cerrado is still somewhat acidic). And it speeded up the plants’ growing period, cutting between eight and 12 weeks off the usual life cycle. These “short cycle” plants have made it possible to grow two crops a year, revolutionising the operation of farms. Farmers used to plant their main crop in September and reap in May or June. Now they can harvest in February instead, leaving enough time for a full second crop before the September planting. This means the “second” crop (once small) has become as large as the first, accounting for a lot of the increases in yields.
Such improvements are continuing. The Cremaq farm could hardly have existed until recently because soya would not grow on this hottest, most acidic of Brazilian backlands. The variety of soya now being planted there did not exist five years ago. Dr Crestana calls this “the genetic transformation of soya”.
Lastly, Embrapa has pioneered and encouraged new operational farm techniques. Brazilian farmers pioneered “no-till” agriculture, in which the soil is not ploughed nor the crop harvested at ground level. Rather, it is cut high on the stalk and the remains of the plant are left to rot into a mat of organic material. Next year’s crop is then planted directly into the mat, retaining more nutrients in the soil. In 1990 Brazilian farmers used no-till farming for 2.6% of their grains; today it is over 50%.
Embrapa’s latest trick is something called forest, agriculture and livestock integration: the fields are used alternately for crops and livestock but threads of trees are also planted in between the fields, where cattle can forage. This, it turns out, is the best means yet devised for rescuing degraded pasture lands. Having spent years increasing production and acreage, Embrapa is now turning to ways of increasing the intensity of land use and of rotating crops and livestock so as to feed more people without cutting down the forest.
Farmers everywhere gripe all the time and Brazilians, needless to say, are no exception. Their biggest complaint concerns transport. The fields of Mato Grosso are 2,000km from the main soyabean port at Paranaguá, which cannot take the largest, most modern ships. So Brazil transports a relatively low-value commodity using the most expensive means, lorries, which are then forced to wait for ages because the docks are clogged.
Partly for that reason, Brazil is not the cheapest place in the world to grow soyabeans (Argentina is, followed by the American Midwest). But it is the cheapest place to plant the next acre. Expanding production in Argentina or America takes you into drier marginal lands which are much more expensive to farm. Expanding in Brazil, in contrast, takes you onto lands pretty much like the ones you just left.
Big is beautiful
Like almost every large farming country, Brazil is divided between productive giant operations and inefficient hobby farms. According to Mauro and Ignez Lopes of the Fundacão Getulio Vargas, a university in Rio de Janeiro, half the country’s 5m farms earn less than 10,000 reais a year and produce just 7% of total farm output; 1.6m are large commercial operations which produce 76% of output. Not all family farms are a drain on the economy: much of the poultry production is concentrated among them and they mop up a lot of rural underemployment. But the large farms are vastly more productive.
>From the point of view of the rest of the world, however, these faults in Brazilian agriculture do not matter much. The bigger question for them is: can the miracle of the cerrado be exported, especially to Africa, where the good intentions of outsiders have so often shrivelled and died?
There are several reasons to think it can. Brazilian land is like Africa’s: tropical and nutrient-poor. The big difference is that the cerrado gets a decent amount of rain and most of Africa’s savannah does not (the exception is the swathe of southern Africa between Angola and Mozambique).
Brazil imported some of its raw material from other tropical countries in the first place. Brachiaria grass came from Africa. The zebu that formed the basis of Brazil’s nelore cattle herd came from India. In both cases Embrapa’s know-how improved them dramatically. Could they be taken back and improved again? Embrapa has started to do that, though it is early days and so far it is unclear whether the technology retransfer will work.
A third reason for hope is that Embrapa has expertise which others in Africa simply do not have. It has research stations for cassava and sorghum, which are African staples. It also has experience not just in the cerrado but in more arid regions (called the sertão), in jungles and in the vast wetlands on the border with Paraguay and Bolivia. Africa also needs to make better use of similar lands. “Scientifically, it is not difficult to transfer the technology,” reckons Dr Crestana. And the technology transfer is happening at a time when African economies are starting to grow and massive Chinese aid is starting to improve the continent’s famously dire transport system.
Still, a word of caution is in order. Brazil’s agricultural miracle did not happen through a simple technological fix. No magic bullet accounts for it—not even the tropical soyabean, which comes closest. Rather, Embrapa’s was a “system approach”, as its scientists call it: all the interventions worked together. Improving the soil and the new tropical soyabeans were both needed for farming the cerrado; the two together also made possible the changes in farm techniques which have boosted yields further.
Systems are much harder to export than a simple fix. “We went to the US and brought back the whole package [of cutting-edge agriculture in the 1970s],” says Dr Crestana. “That didn’t work and it took us 30 years to create our own. Perhaps Africans will come to Brazil and take back the package from us. Africa is changing. Perhaps it won’t take them so long. We’ll see.” If we see anything like what happened in Brazil itself, feeding the world in 2050 will not look like the uphill struggle it appears to be now.
Monday, August 23, 2010
>From droughts in Mexico to floods in Pakistan and deadly heat in the US, extreme weather events are increasing due to global warming. Experts have stated concern that these could lead to instability in global agriculture markets and even conflicts over food, similar to those seen in 2007 and 2008.
In a recent report, the World Bank studied the impacts of climate change in-depth for the countries Mozambique, Ethiopia, Ghana, Bangladesh, Âu L?c (Vietnam), Samoa, and Bolivia, and estimated that the cost for all the most vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change will be US$70-100 billion per year until 2050.
Warren Evans – Director of Environment Department at World Bank (M): The reality is that climate change is a development issue. The poorest of the poor tend to be the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, whether it’s sea level rise, drought, flooding. They also are the least resilient because of their impoverished state.
VOICE: The World Bank’s new study was presented by Environment Department Director Warren Evans, who explained that economic development is the most cost-effective method of climate change adaptation. In particular, developing sustainable agriculture would make both adaptation and mitigation of climate change efficient, a point confirmed by a 2009 Dutch study which found that a global shift to an organic vegan diet would save world governments 80% of climate mitigation costs by 2050, or a savings of US$32 trillion.
Mr. Evans (M): Agriculture is one of the opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is a tremendous amount of carbon stored in soils and in grasses and so on. Right now, that is not a part of the equation in terms of getting financing to developing countries for reducing their emissions, but there’s a tremendous opportunity to shift agricultural practices, so that carbon is stored.
Supreme Master TV (F): And what kind of practices are you talking about?
Mr. Evans (M): Well, a simple one is no-till farming, where you reduce the amount of exposure of the soils to the air, to the atmosphere. You retain a higher level of organic composition and of vegetative growth on top of the soils, proven over and over again to be a highly effective system for production.
Other systems involve changing the way the water’s managed, and in some cases it’s a matter of changing crops.
VOICE: Our appreciation Director Evans and World Bank for indicating ways to support the most impacted countries in mitigating global warming. May all nations help to make rapid and effective changes to stop further climate change.
During a May 2009 videoconference in Togo, Supreme Master Ching Hai discussed organic vegan farming practices and their benefits for the planet at this crucial time.
16 August 2010 – The United Nations today unveiled a decade-long push to raise awareness and mobilize action to fight desertification, which threatens the livelihoods of more than 1 billion people in 100 countries.
Desertification is defined as the degradation of drylands, which comprise more than 40 per cent of the world’s land surface and are home to 2.1 billion people – one in every three people worldwide.
One third of all crops cultivated today have their origins in drylands, which also support half of all livestock.
“Continued land degradation – whether from climate change, unsustainable agriculture or poor management of water resources – is a threat to food security, leading to starvation among the most acutely affected communities and robbing the world of productive land,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to the launch of the Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification in Fortaleza, Brazil.
The General Assembly designated 2010-2020 as the Decade in 2007 to heighten public awareness of the threat posed by desertification, land degradation and drought to sustainable development.
As the 10-year scheme gets under way, Mr. Ban said, “let us pledge to intensify our efforts to nurture the land we need for achieving the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] and guaranteeing human well-being.”
Agreed upon by world leaders, the MDGs are eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline.
The Secretary-General pointed out that there are growing social costs resulting from land degradation, with increased competition for resources spurring conflict, while the forced migration of millions of people also heightens the risk of social breakdown.
“These are formidable challenges,” he said. “But they are not intractable.”
Around the world, efforts to rehabilitate drylands are bearing fruit, Mr. Ban noted. Continued help for local communities can lead to the preservation or recovery of millions of hectares of land, alleviate vulnerability to climate change and reduce hunger and poverty.
Some 12 million hectares of land – an area the size of Benin and which could produce 20 million tons of grain annually – are lost every year to degradation, resulting in an annual loss of $42 billion.
Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), stressed in Fortaleza today that “the path of business-as-usual will worsen the speed of degradation with devastating impacts on livelihoods families and communities, and will further cause more extinction of life and jeopardize the future of humanity.”
He underlined the need for an alternative route that “will embrace and undertake the formidable challenges of sustainability implying that we choose to channel our collective action towards it.”
Nearly all of the inhabitants of drylands are in developing countries, and the official issued a call for international cooperation on financial assistance, capacity building and technology transfer.
The Decade, he emphasized, must fight lingering misperceptions of drylands as being wastelands, marginal areas or liabilities, as well as the idea that desertification is only a local – not global – concern.
“Let us not be the generation that jeopardizes the heritage of future generations by degrading any land,” Mr. Gnacadja said today.
Along with the UNCCD, four other UN agencies – the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) – have been mandated by the General Assembly to spearhead activities related to the Decade.
Through its work during the last three decades, IFAD said that “it has become clear that to eliminate rural poverty we must also address the issue of how land and natural resources are managed.”
The agency pointed to the experience of Bedouin communities in the Badia rangelands, 10 million hectares in central and eastern Syria, known for its poor soils and low rainfall.
After years of severe drought and intensive grazing, the Badia has become badly degraded, but vegetation has been restored in one third of the area, with Bedouin herders working with project experts to draft and implement management plans to determine how many animals should graze in a given area at a given time.
That scheme, just one of numerous success stories, took a three-pronged approach to rehabilitation: resting, re-seeding and planting.
“When governments, UN agencies and other partners work together, we can ensure that experiences like those of the Bedouin communities in the Badia rangelands become the rule – and not the exception,” IFAD said.
Vesco Agricultural Technologies Developing Nations Initiative
PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
"By the year 2025, 83 per cent of the expected global population of 8.5 billion will be living in developing countries. Yet the capacity of available resources and technologies to satisfy the demands of this growing population for food and other agricultural commodities remains uncertain. Agriculture has to meet this challenge, mainly by increasing production on land already in use and by avoiding further encroachment on land that is only marginally suitable for cultivation."
"Major adjustments are needed in agricultural, environmental and macroeconomic policy, at both national and international levels, in developed as well as developing countries, to create the conditions for sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD). The major objective of SARD is to increase food production in a sustainable way and enhance food security. This will involve education initiatives, utilization of economic incentives and the development of appropriate and new technologies, thus ensuring stable supplies of nutritionally adequate food, access to those supplies by vulnerable groups, and production for markets; employment and income generation to alleviate poverty; and natural resource management and environmental protection."
"We at Vesco also recognize the need to combat desertification and feel confident that our developing nations technology will play a meaningful role".
Developing Nations farmers face a wide variety of agronomic and economic conditions. No single solution has been identified and made available to, useable by or affordable to farmers in all regions and circumstances.
However, the scalable range of options made possible by the Vesco Terra-Glide™ technology has allowed the development of a range of machine sizes that bridges these problems.
Within the Terra-Glide™ family of technologies there is a combination that will provide the seeding solution to the needs of most farmers in developing nations. Our goal is to work with government agencies, NGOs and the UN to establish a framework that supplies this technology to the poorest nations of the world at no cost to the farmers by establishing the Terra-Glide™ technology in a verified offset project for no-till carbon credits sold and traded under the Chicago Climate Exchange and others as Soil Carbon Management Offsets through the newly established carbon offset credit programs.
Vesco Agricultural Technologies Inc is at present in the process of being acquired by Clean Seed Capital Group a Canadian company that is predicated on identifying solution-driven, sustainable, environmentally responsible, agricultural based companies that need a strategic partner to facilitate progress. As a value added group, Clean Seed Capital Group provides strategic capital, business advisory services, and marketing strategies that yield both positive impact and significant investor returns from this rapidly growing sector.
For more information Visit www.vescocanada.com and www.cleanseedcapital.com
The idea of 'food security' is basically important, and for that cause, agriculture is important. The task of nourishing its people has been possibly the main concern of its rulers throughout history. As such, agriculture is measured to be the very basis of political and social steadiness of a nation since times immemorial.
Agriculture is also important from the viewpoint of assessing the standard of a country's development, based on the capability of its farmers. Poorly trained farmers cannot apply the higher methods and new technologies. The importance of science and technology in the development of agriculture is fairly clear.
The growth of agriculture depends primary on policy, and next on science and technology. There is neither any limit to developments in science and technology, nor to the role that they can play in the field of agricultural growth'.
So important is the role of agriculture that new concepts keep 'cropping up' to give the traditional activity a modern turn. One such new idea the world is gibbering about these days is - the importance of 'organic farming'. There is evidence that, apart from their numerous other benefits, organic farms are more sustainable and environmentally sound, giving agriculture a new measurement.
The importance of agricultural practices was further established when 'Organic food' began as a small movement decades ago, with gardeners and farmers refusing the use of conservative non-organic practices. With the growth of the Organic food market now outpacing much of the food industry, many big companies have ventured into it. With the emergence of multi-national companies, and with the creation of a legal certification structure such as the Soil Association, there is every hesitation that the very definition of natural food will change, making it more of a commercial activity than ever before!
Clean Seed Capital Group's primary initiative is predicated on identifying solution-driven, sustainable, environmentally responsible, agricultural based companies that need a strategic partner to facilitate progress. As a value added group, CleanSeed Capital Group provides strategic capital, business advisory services, and marketing strategies that yield both positive impact and significant investor returns from this rapidly growing sector.
They work in partnership exclusively with companies that share there vision of a sustainable future in agriculture and that will have a meaningful effect on the current system.
The Terra-Glide Technology
systems have evolved from concept to reality, now looking to deliver measurable financial and ecological benefits to the world of agriculture – a world that has been thrust into an era where true conservation of the world’s farmlands using sustainable agriculture methods is no longer an option, but a necessity.
Terra-Glide is a revolutionary no-tillage agriculture precision planting system comprised of individually patented technologies, including in-ground openers, opener assembly actuating systems and seed / fertilizer metering and control systems.
Some of the benefits of the Terra-Glide technology system include:
Reduced soil erosion – Crop residues on the surface reduce erosion by water and wind. One of the major reasons why no-till practice can significantly reduce soil erosion is that it prevents rill generation which ultimately contributes up to 90% of soil erosion. Depending upon the amount of residue present, erosion can be virtually eliminated;
Reduced Carbon Gases emissions – Less tillage keeps naturally occurring carbon in the soil for use as organic matter. Intensive tillage releases soil carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide where it can combine with other gases and contribute to Global Warming. The Company has initiated meetings with the Environment Canada to discuss how the Terra-Glide can contribute to carbon sequestration and thereby benefit Canada in meeting its greenhouse gas emission targets.
At current carbon-credit prices, payments to farmers can reach into the thousands of dollars per year. Proposals in Congress to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions mean farmers will get a lot more, with payments expected to start at several times what farmers receive now and then rise.
Reduced Seed and Fertilizer Costs – The moisture retention and precise planting achieved by the Terra-Glide systems results in reduction of seed and fertilizer required. The metering system allows the farmer to plant precise amounts of seed consistently placed at the optimum depth and precise amounts of fertilizer placed where it achieves the most benefit.
Fuel savings – Single pass planting saves an average of 3.5 gallons (13.2L) per acre (per CTIC 1998 study). For the average-sized Canadian farm of approximately 675 acres, this can translate into fuel savings to the farmer of $8-10,000 or more depending on the price of fuel;
Improved long-term productivity – Carbon in the soil accounts for about half of the organic matter. Latest research shows the less you till, the more carbon you keep in the soil to build organic matter and promote future productivity;
Improved water quality – Crop residues help hold soil particles and associated nutrients and pesticides on the field, cutting herbicide runoff rates in half. The microbes that live in carbon rich soils quickly degrade pesticides, better protecting groundwater quality;
Reduced labor requirements – One trip across the field for planting, as compared to two or more. According to a 1998 Conservation Tillage Information Center (“CTIC”) study, on a 500 acre farm the time saving can be as great as 225 hours per year;
Reduced machinery wear – Fewer trips across the field save an estimated $5 per acre on machinery wear and maintenance costs (per CTIC 1998 study);
Reduced air pollution – Crop residues reduce wind erosion and the amount of dust in the air. Lower horsepower requirements and fewer trips also reduce fossil fuel emissions;
Moisture Retention – Due to the narrow vertical opening in the soil created by the opener, there is minimal surface soil disturbance. Testing of the opener and the closing system has demonstrated that the technology’s simple closing system effectively and efficiently completely closes the narrow opening slit. In some surface and soil conditions, observers have noted difficulty in determining where the opener had passed through the ground. This complete closing of the surface will ensure maximum retention of soil moisture – maintaining the optimal growing environment for a longer period during dry conditions;
Enhances oxygen diffusion – Improves early plant development by enhancing oxygen diffusion through the seed zone;
Better seed emergence – Provides for superior seedling emergence in dry soils;
Improved Water Infiltration – Tests by the USDA and a number of US Universities clearly indicate water infiltration of no-tilled fields is superior to that of tilled fields. Crop residues act as tiny dams to slow water runoff from the field, allowing the water more time to soak into the soil. Infiltration is also increased by channels created by earthworms and old plant roots left intact;
Simple Design and Ease of Operation – The Terra-Glide’s simple design results in fewer moving parts ease of replacement part installation and simple manufacture and assembly. The extensive engineering undertaken and automated fabrication will result in lower production costs and lower repair costs. It is not the company’s intention to attempt to gain market share based on a low selling price strategy. The ease of operation will result in reduced training time and further time and cost savings will be realized by the farmer from a reduction in downtime for maintenance and installation of replacement parts.
For more information visit www.vescocanada.com
David Pett, Financial Post · Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010
Investors looking to shake off the ill effects of a slowing economic recovery flocked into agricultural stocks Tuesday after BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest miner, made a US$3.9-billion pitch for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc.
The rally highlighted improving prospects for fertilizer and grain companies poised to profit substantially in the coming months from a global grain shortage that is helping drive commodity prices to levels not seen since before the financial crisis.
“The last twelve to eighteen months, nobody’s given a [care] about agriculture,” Robert Winslow, an analyst at Wellington West Capital Markets said. “But for the first time in a long time, investors are interested again. If even more capital starts flowing into the sector, we could see some really aggressive moves in share prices.”
Grain prices are up about 25% on average since June, with the primary driver, wheat, doubling in price to a two-year year high of more than US$8.00 per bushel for the September futures contract earlier in August. Tuesday it closed at US$6.57 per bushel.
The dramatic rise in prices is largely due to droughts, floods and heavy rain wreaking havoc around the world.
Largely beholden to the whims of the weather, Mr. Winslow said it’s normal for the agriculture industry to encounter these types of major supply shocks, but until recent events occurred, there had been a lack of such shocks impacting the supply chain in the past couple of years.
He likes a number of stocks moving forward, including Alliance Grain Handlers Inc., MBAC Fertilizer Corp., IC Potash Corp. and Migao Corp.
“Take your pick. Higher grain prices means higher farmer income, and farmer income means more money is spent on seed, fertilizers, tractors and combines. So it runs the whole gamut,” he said.
Whether tilled or untilled, corn years always had the largest greenhouse gas losses due to large fertilizer additions. Wheat requires less fertilizer and soybeans require none. No-till management reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 50% due to soil carbon storage.
MADISON, WI, August 9th, 2010 - Greenhouse gas markets, where invisible gases are traded, must seem like black boxes to most people. Farmers can make money on these markets, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange, by installing methane capture technologies in animal-based systems, no-till farming, establishing grasslands, and planting trees.
Farmers, students, extension educators, offset aggregators, and other stakeholders need to understand how to change farming practices to maximize their potential economic returns in these new markets.
To open the black box, researchers at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, including Claire P. McSwiney, Sven Bohm, Peter R. Grace, and G. Philip Robertson, developed the Farming Systems Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculator, a simple web-based tool to help users make economically and environmentally sound decisions.
The first page of the calculator asks users to choose a county of interest from anywhere in the US. An input/output window allows them to choose which crops they will grow, yields, tillage practices, and nitrogen fertilizer rates. Default values based on localized USDA statistics are provided as a starting point.
Given the farming practices chosen, the calculator tells the user how much carbon was stored in the soil or lost to the atmosphere, nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide) lost from the soil in response to fertilizer application, carbon dioxide produced by tractors, and carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the fertilizer.
In an article in the 2010 Journal of Natural Resources and Life Science Education, published by the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America, the authors used the calculator to demonstrate how tillage compares with no-till in a three-year rotation of corn, soybean, and wheat.
Whether tilled or untilled, corn years always had the largest greenhouse gas losses due to large fertilizer additions.
(Photo Credit: Claire P. McSwiney)
In another comparison, the amount of fertilizer applied was changed from 134 to 101 kg. Such a reduction could be achieved without a yield penalty by more precisely applying fertilizers or by using new fertilizer recommendations. Excess nitrogen in soil is readily transformed to nitrous oxide. By simply reducing fertilizer applications, the cropping system reduced greenhouse gas emissions 12%.
In an Environmental Science class at Kalamazoo College, the authors used the calculator for an in-class exercise. Using the farming systems calculator allowed students to take control and make the management changes they had been discussing for weeks. By making the management decisions themselves and 'seeing' what happened to soil carbon, the connections between changes in farm practices and the potential for economic gain became much clearer.
Farmers and other agricultural professionals can use the program to participate in similar exercises. By comparing different cropping scenarios against one another, the practices with the most promise for mitigating atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations become readily apparent. Those not familiar with agriculture learn how certain farming practices can have a positive environmental impact.