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Messages - queenie

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Consequences / Re: Climate change, the ocean, agriculture, and FOOD
« on: September 05, 2018, 05:22:36 PM »
This may be the wrong thread for this but because I'm a farmer, thinking about climate change, this is where I lurk. If this should be moved, maybe to some thread for stupid questions or rants about the press, please feel free.

This is your friendly PNW apple orchardist needing help with a response to the New York Times. They recently published a cool calculator that lets you see how many 90 degree and above days there were in your town on “the year you were born,” "in 2017" and “by the time you’re 80”.

 As an apple farmer I’m acutely aware of these hot days as the temperatures in the mid-90s put apples into sunburn territory (unless smoke from fires limits the suns intensity, but that’s another story).  I used Portland because it’s a close big city with good data. This year we had thirty 90-plus days so far, a record. There are likely more to come as last year we had six in September.

The calculator told me that in the year of my birth there were 4 days above 90 degrees, by 2017 I could expect 5 days and by 2044 I could expect 6 to 14 days above 90.  Really?! I don’t know what a year with only five 90-degree-plus days would be like. It sounds like bliss. Thinking this was wildly lowballing it, I went to and added up the 90-degree days for each of the last 10 years. This is what I got for Portland. 2009:24, 2010:11, 2011:7 (I remember this cold year, because we got almost no tomatoes) 2012:11, 2013:10, 2014:21, 2015:26; 2016:14, 2017:24, 2018:30 (so far). This means the average for the last 10 years is 17.7 days of 90 degrees or higher and for the last five years it has averaged 23 such days. Again, the New York Times says we should be expecting 5. 

So, here are my questions. Why are they so wildly off? What time frames are they using to construct their baselines and projections? Are they looking at the last 10 years or the last several thousand? Should I believe them and figure the last decade is some kind of blip in the graph? I’m expecting it to continue to be hot like this, and even hotter. Am I wrong?

I want to write to them and tell them to take a harder look at the actual temperatures in the region. I want to see them defend their numbers. Do their numbers make sense to those paying daily attention to this sort of data and these trends?

Personally, I’m expecting 20 or more of these days most years and planning my perennial plantings accordingly. As a farmer of perennial fruits, we plant things we’re not going to harvest for several years, sometimes a decade. We have to get this stuff right or we go broke. I’ve got heirloom apple varieties, historically grown in this region, that in the last five years have dropped a significant amount of their fruit green. I’m moving them out and others that are more heat tolerant in. Am I planning wrong? Should I keep these trees going under the assumption that the days of bliss return?

I might be hoping for the return of years with just a week of 90 degree days but I'm not counting on it. 

Consequences / Re: Decline in insect populations
« on: June 19, 2018, 01:42:37 AM »
All of my fruit trees blossomed in mid february and then a cold snap ensued no fruit, no flies, barely any bees. 

That is one of the big dangers of climate change and fruit production. We grow over 100 varieties of apples and our bloom stretches out over a couple of months since some bloom early and some late. Thus, biodiversity means we'll likely get some apples even when spring is highly unpredictable. A few heirloom varieties have long blooms even within them. Gravensteins and Bramley's Seedling will have late blooms while they have ping pong ball size fruits. I suspect with them if the first round froze out you'd still have a fair number of fine dormant buds yet to bloom.

Of course, varieties that bloom over a long span are a nightmare for orchards as they ripen over a long period and thus are terribly inefficient to harvest. In other words, the fruit will cost more to grow. Better costlier apples than none at all though.

Consequences / Re: Decline in insect populations
« on: June 19, 2018, 01:34:54 AM »
So what about apple tree pollinators? Do these stupid apple chemico-farmers haul in stupid bees (Apis mellifera) in stupid boxes with stupid Varroa mite problems? And what about those fucking vitamins that compel heedful City Homo Sapiens to eat those immaculate apples?

Yes, most farms that grow anything requiring insect pollination rent bees. Beekeepers vary widely in how healthy their bees are, how much medication they use and the type of farms they will willingly rent their bees to. This year we got lucky. We got a bunch of mason bees and we found a local beekeeper who is small scale and focused on bee health not honey production for our honeybees. His hives have, thus far, been free of mites. He only puts his bees on organic farms. I think they went to an organic clover crop after us. We hope to have enough food for pollinators throughout the year and so not need rented bees soon. We're down to using about 1/4th of what is recommended and got good pollination but it still felt like we needed them.

The crop the beekeepers I know really complain about is California almonds. They need almost every hive in the country but only for a month. Many of the almond farmers spray while the bees are there and it's such a dense monoculture of almonds that it's not a great food source for the bees. Of course, the pay is good and many beekeepers depend on it.

Consequences / Re: Decline in insect populations
« on: June 18, 2018, 10:06:03 PM »
As a farmer, when I first read the article on insect decline last fall, it rocked me to the core. Scared me even more than the scariest climate change scenarios. It also rang true. We work to attract beneficial insects and it seems to get harder each year even as we have more host plants. We are, like most organic farms, surrounded by conventional farms. We farm apples and the standard budget for apple orchards, prepared by the very good ag program at the university nearby, calls for 14 rounds of spray each year. 10 of those are insecticide or fungicide. We're organic but even we have to deal with the coddling moths, which lay eggs that hatch into worms in apples. We use a virus that only kills the coddling moth but even that I ask myself - how am I contributing to this terrible problem? Achieving a balance where birds and predatory insects eat enough of the moths to have the worms stay at an acceptable level is kind of a fantasy. In our world there is no acceptable level of worms in apples. We sell mostly direct so there is a little forgiveness but if we were bigger and shipped apple there would be none.

We're a big berry growing area and those ship internationally. A certain fruit fly has become a problem here and there is zero tolerance for them. What does this mean? Blueberries, especially late season ones, are often insecticide sprayed every three days. I know conventional growers that won't eat their own berries because of the level of poisons on them.

I've no doubt that agriculture is largely responsible for insect decline. That said, consumers play a significant role here too. If you expect perfect produce know that the environmental cost of that is huge. I've had people tell me they won't buy organic produce because only chemically treated produce can leave them assured they won't encounter a bug. I doubt that much of the public would say they prefer chemicals to insects if you asked them. That said, almost all of them will chose the most perfect apple in the bin.

Consequences / Re: Climate change, the ocean, agriculture, and FOOD
« on: June 13, 2018, 06:36:08 PM »

Indeed. Regenerative agriculturalists (see Gabe Brown, Ray Archuleta videos on youtube) seem to be able to increase organic matte in their soil by 0,1-0,3% /yr. That is a lot, it could be 1-5 tons of carbon per hectare. As there are cca 1 billion hectares of cropland globally, it means that we could potentially sequester 1-5 Gt Carbon per year. That is a lot, considering annual emissions of cca 10 Gt C. Plus we could use pastures and forests better. There is HUGE potential in this

I couldn't agree more. I think every day about how we accomplish this on our farm and it's an ongoing challenge. This is an area where public support could really make a difference. Many things we do cost money, obviously, or are really inefficient, and we compete against industrial ag on price. We've had to be very creative about direct marketing to get by.

Prior to becoming a farmer I worked in an area where I built relationships with many larger conventional farmers. I suspect that lots more of them than we might think are open to making dramatic changes to how they farm if that's what it takes to change the course of climate change. Many of them are even aware of this and making the changes they can. To really go for it they'd just have to be able to do it without going bankrupt in the short term. Many things in our system work against transitioning to regenerative farming but I've seen farms do it successfully and that gives me a little hope to hang on to.

Consequences / Re: Climate change, the ocean, agriculture, and FOOD
« on: June 10, 2018, 08:24:17 PM »
I am an organic farmer and, while some tech innovations in farming excite me, others terrify me. I think it's the total disconnect between much of the tech community and the natural systems that lead to innovations that make no sense to farmers.
Plenty and the various container/indoor farm companies attracting huge investments right are the latest case in point. Here's why: 1. growing the few things they can reasonably grow in artificial environments has a huge carbon footprint. Professor Bruce Bugbee of Utah has this video on the carbon footprint of indoor farming here . 2. These indoor grows save much less land than they would have you believe especially when compared with some of the more innovative small organic farmers but also when compared with just conventional farm averages. Here are some real numbers on land use and yield.  3. The few things they've been able to grow with any level of efficiency are marginal to the food system and have limited ability to sustain life and health. The last point I'll make is the most important to me and many of the organic farmers I've discussed this with over the last several months and that's this.
Indoor farms divorce us from the planet, from the natural systems that feed and sustain us. They teach all the wrong lessons about growing food and feeding ourselves. They let us continue under the delusion that we can kill the planet and still eat. We can’t, not now, not ever. We should be putting all the investment dollars, and know how, that these companies have attracted – and they’ve attracted 10s of millions, into the kind of farming that heals the planet we have instead of one that kills it quicker while growing expensive salad for the rich.
Yes. our systems of agriculture are all screwed up but these indoor grows are not a solution that leads to a healthy, resilient planet.

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