Key crops face major shifts in response to global warming

The BBC has reported the results of a new study which finds the parts of the world suitable for growing coffee, cashews and avocados will change dramatically as the world heats up.

On the other hand, New Zealand is among the countries where growing areas will become more suitable for coffee.

The research has been published in the journal Plos One.

Key coffee regions in Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and Colombia will all “drastically decrease” by around 50 per cent by 2050.

Suitable areas for cashews and avocados will increase but most will be far from current sites of production.

The authors say that greater efforts must be made to help farmers adapt. Continue reading

Soil slow to respond to native revegetation efforts

Restoration of degraded landscapes takes time and patience, but residual soil deficiencies surprised researchers who compared the results of a six-year native planting project in South Australia.

Revegetation is connected to improved soil health, but Flinders University researchers said their experiment showed a shortfall in soil bacterial recovery after the replantings, highlighting the need for more research into ecosystem restoration.

“We are in the midst of the global biodiversity and land degradation crisis and the UN has just declared a Decade on Ecosystem Restoration,” says senior author Dr Martin Breed, a member of the Frontiers of Restoration Ecology research group and the Health Urban Microbiome Initiative.

“Clearly there is an urgent need and rising demand for effective restoration actions.”

An estimated 75% of the Earth’s land surface is impacted by land degradation and this is projected to rise to almost 90% by 2050, according to the IPBES Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration.

Australia has lost nearly 40% of its forests, with the remaining native forest highly fragmented, with under 4% of Adelaide Plains forest cover and less than 10% of Mount Lofty’s original forest cover remaining since European settlement (Corey Bradshaw, 2012). Continue reading

Air pollution significantly reduces pollination by confusing butterflies and bees

A new study finds pollination reduced by almost a third when diesel fumes and ozone were present – the negative impact of these common air pollutants on pollination were observed in the natural environment.

Common air pollutants from both urban and rural environments may be reducing the pollinating abilities of insects by preventing them from sniffing out the crops and wildflowers that depend on them, new research has shown.

Scientists from the University of Reading, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the University of Birmingham found that there were up to 70% fewer pollinators, up to 90% fewer flower visits and an overall pollination reduction of up to 31% in test plants when common ground-level air pollutants, including diesel exhaust pollutants and ozone, were present.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, is the first to observe a negative impact of common air pollutants on pollination in the natural environment. The theory is that the pollutants react with and change the scents of flowers, making them harder to find. Continue reading

Understanding climate science and emissions pricing

Why does agriculture need to take action on warming? How do targets, metrics and pricing work? What would going into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) mean?

As Beef + Lamb NZ gears up for the agriculture emissions pricing consultation in February, those questions and the application to policy of the issues surrounding them have been put to climate change scientists Dave Frame and Adrian Macey for discussion in a one-hour podcast.

The podcast addresses the fundamentals of climate science as they relate to the farm sector and key considerations such as applying GWP*, the metric that’s getting a lot of attention because its champioons contend it better accounts for the different warming behaviours of short-lived gases such as methane – unlike the GWP100 metric used in international agreements which uses carbon equivalence.

More about the GWP* metric was contained in an earlier story. Continue reading

Ozone pollution responsible for billions in crop losses

International researchers have estimated almost NZ$92 billion worth of annual losses from crop production have been caused by pollution from ozone – a greenhouse gas – across East Asia.

The researchers set up 3,000 monitoring sites across the region to try to accurately quantify the damage resulting from the exposure of wheat, rice and corn crops to ozone.

The study, published in Nature Food, includes relative yield losses of those three major staple crops in Japan, China, and South Korea.

The surface concentration of the greenhouse gas in Asia is increasing and is expected to continue to do so as the demand for food rises.

Exposure to ozone pollution hinders crop growth and agricultural production, posing a risk to food security. Previous attempts to quantify these effects, however, have likely been biased by a lack of observational or experimental data.

Zhaozhong Feng and colleagues developed ozone exposure–response relationships for the three major crops, wheat, rice and maize, using experimental data from key production regions in Asia.

The authors supplemented this information with measurements of ozone in the air from over 3,000 monitoring sites in China, Japan and South Korea.

The highest relative yield losses were found in China — 33%, 23% and 9% for wheat, rice and maize, respectively.

Overall, total annual losses in crop production as a result of ozone pollution were estimated to be US$63 billion.

The authors conclude that the impact of ozone pollution on crop production underscores the need for stricter ozone emission controls and adaptive measures at the regional level.

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s43016-021-00422-6

Source  Scimex

Genetic strategy reverses insecticide resistance

Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, scientists have genetically engineered a method to reverse insecticide resistance. The gene replacement method offers a new way to fight deadly malaria spread and reduce the use of pesticides that protect valuable food crops.

Insecticides play a central role in efforts to counter global impacts of mosquito-spread malaria and other diseases, which cause an estimated 750,000 deaths each year. These insect-specific chemicals, which cost more than $100 million to develop and bring to market, also are critical to controlling insect-driven crop damage that poses a challenge to food security.

But in recent decades many insects have genetically adapted to become less sensitive to the potency of insecticides. In Africa, where long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying are major weapons in the fight against malaria, many species of mosquitoes across the continent have developed insecticide resistance that reduces the efficacy of these key interventions. In certain areas climate change is expected to exacerbate these problems. Continue reading

Researchers gauge nutritional properties of protein in cricket, locust and silkworm pupae insect powders

Brace yourself to dine on bugs – or to take a powder to provide yourself with protein.

As the human population grows to a predicted 10 billion by 2050 and overall land mass remains constant, traditional animal farming may become a less viable method for food production.

Animal farming has traditionally fulfilled human nutritional requirements for protein, but insects may serve as an alternative for direct human consumption in the future.

American researchers have determined the nutritional and functional properties of protein for cricket, locust and silk worm pupae powders, laying a foundation to develop efficient protein isolation techniques.

The findings by Jacek Jaczynski, professor food science and muscle food safety at West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Yong-Lak Park, professor of entomology, and Kristen Matak, professor of animal and nutritional sciences, are published in LWT.

“We have a patent on a protein isolation procedure,” Jaczynski said.

We use our patented technique to isolate protein and then we also learn about properties of isolated protein and how it can be potentially used in food for human consumption.” Continue reading

Rain, rain go away, researchers find you are bad for the economy

Increases in the number of wet days which a region experiences may lead to a reduction in economic growth, a new global study suggests.

Leonie Wenz and colleagues combined data on daily rainfall with subnational economic output for 1,544 regions across 77 countries over the past 40 years to model the impact of rainfall change on economic growth.

They found that an increase in the number of wet days or extreme daily rainfall — the annual total of rain on days that exceed the 99.9th percentile of the distribution of daily rainfall between 1979–2019 — leads to a reduction in economic growth.

In Australia, the study showed the Northern Territory and the whole of the east coast had historically shown the greatest drop in economic growth rates when the number of wet days was higher.

Rich countries appeared more sensitive to daily rainfall which the authors say may be due to their smaller dependence on agriculture and greater dependence on services.

The findings highlight the potential negative impact that human-induced climate change could have on the global economy.

Changes in the Earth’s hydrological cycle are anticipated as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

Water availability affects agricultural productivity, labour outcomes and conflict, and flash flooding can cause damage and impact economic output.

But rainfall changes are difficult to model or are assessed on a single country basis, making it difficult to estimate the global economic cost of rainfall induced by climate change.

The researchers suggest that higher-income nations and the service and manufacturing sectors are most strongly hindered by increases in daily rainfall.

Their analysis also indicates that droughts that differ from historical monthly means may lead to economic losses.

They argue that their findings demonstrate that our previous understanding of the economic effects of rainfall changes was incomplete. They conclude that further research is needed to quantify the impacts of future changes in rainfall on economic growth.

Source:  Scimex

High-tech investment extends drought forecasting for farmers and growers

The Government is investing in the development of a new forecasting tool that makes full use of innovative climate modelling to help farmers and growers prepare for dry conditions.

The new approach will cost $200,000, jointly funded through the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

It will provide daily drought forecasts out to 35 days. Later, the project will also explore drought predictions up to six months ahead. NIWA currently provides seasonal climate outlooks each month that look three months ahead, but are not drought specific.

“We are harnessing the latest in climate and data science to put information into the hands of the people who can make the best use of it,” Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said.

“Knowing well in advance when dry conditions are heading your way means you can cut your cloth accordingly at critical times on-farm. Having early warning can help determine stocking levels, water storage and feed management options.” Continue reading

Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University part of game-changing gene discovery

Scientists from Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University have contributed knowledge integral to the discovery of a new gene described as a game-changer for global agriculture.

The gene allows natural reproduction by cloning in plants, allowing highly desirable traits to be carried through to the next generation rather than lost when the plants reproduce through pollination.

The New Zealand scientists have been working with scientists in the Netherlands (at research company KeyGene and Wageningen University & Research or WUR) and Japan (at breeding company Takii) to identify ways to produce plant seeds that are genetically identical to the parent plant.

The research was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.

The newly discovered gene, named PAR, controls parthenogenesis, a process whereby plant egg cells spontaneously grow into embryos without fertilisation. Normally, the PAR gene is triggered by fertilisation, but in plants that reproduce by apomixis – a type of reproduction which does not require fertilisation – the PAR gene switches on spontaneously, so the egg cells are triggered to start dividing into a new embryo. Continue reading