Duxton’s Agri Bits and Pieces Vol. 239
Posted on: June 18th, 2015


This week’s quote comes from The Journal of Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment and explores the use of chemical fertilizers on the Chinese environment.

“Increased use of chemical fertilizers and other inputs has contributed to increased grain productivity since 1978 but much evidence now indicates that fertilizer use could be reduced in many cropping situations with minimal or zero impact on crop yields. The use of chemical fertilizer in China increased fourfold from 1978 to 2012. Other countries, for comparison, largely reduced fertilizer use over the same period, whilst also demonstrating increased cereal yields.”

Read the article here: http://goo.gl/eoWkMu



Our world is about to change dramatically, and if we don’t respond it could throw “societies into free fall”.

This is the alarming prediction from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, which has published a book identifying seven megatrends they believe will change the world and have devastating impacts if people are not prepared to change with them.

Stefan Hajkowicz, the principal scientist working on strategy and foresight at the CSIRO, has written a book Global Megatrends: Seven Patterns of Change Shaping Our Future identifying trends that have the potential to disrupt society as we know it.

It defines a megatrend as a “profound trajectory of social, economic, environmental or technological change” that will occur over the coming decades. At first the change is gradual but it will eventually express itself with “explosive impact”.

More from less

As the population increases and more countries experience economic growth, this will put more pressure on humans to reduce waste and share limited resources including food, water, energy and minerals.

By the year 2050, food production will need to increase by 70 per cent in order to meet demand, according to forecasts from the Food and Agricultural Organization, based on assumptions about population growth, changing diets and agricultural systems.

In addition to rising food demand, diets are changing. People in developing countries are, on average, increasing meat consumption at the rate of 5 per cent per year with expectations of future growth.

High and volatile food prices can lead to riots, social unrest and geopolitical instability. When food is scarce, people panic and a fear factor sets in. This can permeate society and subsequently lead to instability.

Mr Hajkowicz said that the world was already experiencing higher and more volatile food prices.

“In 2008 and 2011 global food prices surged to levels higher than those experienced for the past 30 years,” the book notes. It is unclear why food prices shot up so dramatically.

But income growth, biofuel production, climate variability, trade distortions, rising oil prices and urbanisation are factors considered likely to push up food prices into the future.

Oil prices are of particular concern because the liquid is an essential requirement for farming, it’s an essential ingredient for fertilisers, it powers tractors and machinery, is used to transport food from farms to customers, and there are few known substitutes for it.

Analysis of commodity price data over the past 40 years found that a 10 per cent rise in the oil price translated to 1.8 per cent increase in food prices, the book notes.

The world also loses 12 million hectares of productive agricultural land each year to land degradation resulting from human activities such as overcultivation and deforestation.

But the world does not have a problem with food scarcity, Mr Hajkowicz argues, with one-third of the food created today wasted and never eaten.

“As a general rule the world has enough, food, water, energy and minerals to meet the needs of current and future forecast populations,” the book says.

But billions of people are going hungry around the world because the human race has not done a very good job of managing natural resources sustainably or of distributing the wealth they create.

“The world doesn’t have a problem of food scarcity. But it does have problem about food distribution.”

Innovation could be the game changer. When innovation is combined with wise management of natural resources humanity can prevail, Mr Hajkowicz notes.

“Conversely, if managed poorly, food, water, energy and mineral insecurity could trigger armed conflict, famine, economic collapse, social unrest and poverty.”

To continue reading the remaining trends: http://goo.gl/YugPNU



Greenhouse gases from cars and planes could one day be drastically reduced. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of scientists from the University of California at Berkeley outlined a new method for creating jet fuel and diesel that doesn’t require burning any fossil fuels. Instead, it uses only sugar factory waste.

The research team, led by Alexis Bell, figured out how to create fuels that produce only a fifth of the greenhouse gases that burning standard fossil fuels or ethanol-based biofuels would produce. “All of the carbon and any hydrogen required for the fuel are derived from biomass, rather than fossil fuels,” Bell tells Quartz.

Some of the most expensive ingredients in creating ethanol out of sugar, Bell says, are the enzymes required to break down sugarcane’s cell walls. While effective, these enzymes are needed in large quantities and manufacturing them is costly.

Bell’s team instead used hot water along with a cheaper, renewable catalyst. A catalyst is a substance that gets a reaction going without directly participating in it. For this reason, only tiny quantities of a catalyst are necessary. (For the nerds, the catalysts are magnesium oxide and niobium pentoxide.)

Hot-water treatment is usually used to separate sugar from sugarcane anyway. Bell’s method takes one extra step, employing renewable catalysts to convert the leftover sugarcane biomass into fuel.

The process is simple. First, fermentation breaks down the biomass into chemicals containing only a handful of carbon atoms, such as in ethanol, acetone, or butanol. Next, Bell’s catalyst kicks off a chemical reaction that joins up smaller molecules to make chemicals that are comprised of longer chains of carbon atoms that can be used as diesel, jet fuel, or a lubricant.

Bell says burning this fuel puts no additional burden on to the environment, because the carbon comes from plants, rather than fossils that were dug up, burned, and added to the atmosphere. “It’s a closed loop,” he says.

Read more: http://goo.gl/ZOnYG0



With an aging population, the fastest growing household product business is now the adult diaper market. This week’s chart shows the growth of the adult diaper market in the US between 2009 and 2013, compared to the growth of the baby diaper market. Between 2009 and 2013, US adult incontinence sales increased by over 20%. US baby diaper sales over the same time period declined by 8%. Adult diaper sales in Japan and China already exceed baby diaper sales and as the global population continues to age, this trend is expected to continue.

Read more: http://goo.gl/auKrfF





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