Indian camels celebrate high oil prices

Rising oil prices have many Homo sapiens in a tizzy, but at least one species is celebrating high fuel costs: the camel. Finding it spendy to fuel their tractors, farmers in India are turning to ungulate power. “It’s excellent for the camel population if the price of oil continues to go up because demand for camels will also go up,” says Ilse Köhler-Rollefson of the League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development. That’s good news for Indian camels, which have seen their population drop by more than half in the last decade. Camel supporters hope that pushing the animals’ …

More than money

Other conservation tools at stake in the Farm Bill, too

Although recent reports indicate that the new farm bill will provide a $4 billion increase for voluntary farmer conservation programs, there's more to the conservation policies in the bill than just money. Recent attempts by the conference committee to dramatically weaken the new Sodsaver provision are just one example of the one-step-forward, two-steps-backward approach to conservation the farm bill conference seems to be taking. The Sodsaver provision was designed to help limit the incentive that subsidy and disaster payments create for farmers to bring new, often environmentally fragile, land into production. The House and Senate versions of the farm bill both contained this new provision, which would have prohibited crop insurance and non-insured disaster payments for production losses to producers in any state who plowed up native grasslands in order to plant crops. This would have also prevented these farmers from receiving regular disaster payments, because farmers must first have crop insurance in order to be eligible for disaster payments.

I read a letter to the editor, the other day, I opened, and read it, it said they was suckas

A trio of fine letters in The NYT today, taking Richard Cohen to task for his reflexive praise of sugar-cane ethanol.

Jolly gene giant

A review of Claire Hope Cummings’ Uncertain Peril

In October 1996, a spokesman for Monsanto told Farm Journal why his company was buying up seed companies left and right: "What you're seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain." Today, Monsanto is the world's largest seed company -- and makes more money selling seeds than chemicals. The company's biotech seeds and traits accounted for 88 percent of the worldwide area devoted to genetically modified seeds in 2006 -- and Monsanto earns royalties on every single one. No one needed to tell Monsanto: Whoever controls the first link in the food chain -- the seeds -- controls the food supply. What better way to understand the perilous state of industrial food and farming than by starting with the seed? Claire Hope Cummings' new book, Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds is a sharp and elegant analysis of the biotech seed debate.

The mirror, not Malthus

The rhetoric of population in the hunger crisis

Perhaps you saw the recent UNESCO report on the future of agriculture. It calls for a major paradigm shift in agriculture away from fossil fuels toward organic agriculture and greater equity of distribution. Wow, I wonder why no one ever thought of that before? Seriously, this is the largest single report ever to tell us what we already knew: the status quo is not an option. That is, we cannot go into the future as we are. We all know this on some level.

Nitrogen fertilizer is in short supply

Yet another phenomenon tightly tied to soaring food prices: the price and availability of fertilizer. Global consumption of cheap chemical fertilizer has leapt an estimated 31 percent from 1996 to 2008, boosting modern agriculture around the world. But now, fertilizer is pricey and in short supply, leaving farmers scrambling to sufficiently feed their crops. “Putting fertilizer on the ground on a one-acre plot can, in typical cases, raise an extra ton of output,” says economist Jeffrey Sachs. “That’s the difference between life and death.” Fertilizer companies say they’re confident that new factories, of which at least 50 are in the …

Delicious dish

Jake Gyllenhaal to open organic restaurant

Jake Gyllenhaal is planning to open an organic restaurant with a childhood friend. The 27-year-old reportedly wants to launch a high-class eatery in LA with chef Chris Fischer … The actor is said to be planning a cycling holiday in Tuscany with girlfriend Reese Witherspoon to help develop ideas for the menu. Oh, Jakey … I just want to eat you up!

Food prices are high, and so are Big Ag’s profits

Food prices hitting you hard in the pocketbook? Agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland feels for you, it really does — but gee, its profits jumped 42 percent this quarter, so it can’t really empathize. ADM’s grain-processing division is doing lively business keeping up with the bumper corn crop. And, they’ll have you know, high food prices are due to high oil prices, not to the ethanol push. Backing away from biofuels would be “foolish,” “dangerous,” and an “empty gesture,” says ADM CEO Patricia Woertz, adding, “It won’t fill anyone’s stomach. It won’t fill anyone’s gas tank.” It won’t fill ADM’s …

Independent report calls for major reforms to industrial animal farming

Photo: Industrial animal farming in the United States needs to make many major reforms in order to protect public health and the environment, an independent two-and-a-half-year study by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has concluded. The report criticized the widespread use of antibiotics to promote animal growth, saying the practice can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and may expose the public to antibiotics that would then be less effective when used to treat human diseases. The heavy concentration of pollution created by crowded factory farms, the quick spread of disease in tightly packed …