Agricultural land use: unvegetated fields result in both erosion and carbon dioxide liberation

Sunnuntai 20.10.2019 klo 19:34 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The usual way of producing agricultural products: crops, potatoes, vegetables etc., is to plough and harrow the land and use artificial fertilizers. This leaves the land uncovered by plants for a long period of time, which leaves the soil vulnerable: rain and wind can remove organic material, and the fertility of soil decreases. The major reason for soil fertility is the organic material of soil, which recovers after cultivation, if the land remains covered with plants for a long period of time. However, the present agricultural practises do not allow adequate time for soil recovery, even though in principle the land fertility is a renewable resource. The land erosion results in decreased food production to increasing human population, and the need to clear forest to food production.

The decreased land fertility is not the only problem. The plant/grass-covered soil contains  huge amount of organic carbon, which is liberated as carbon dioxide when the soil is ploughed and harrowed, and the soil is without vegetation. The most pronounced carbo dioxide liberation occurs, when bog/marsh soil is dried. This increases respiration, i.e. carbon dioxide production, of soil (micro)organisms. This is particularly worrisome in Finland, as marshes have been dried to farmland, and as peat is extracted for energy production. Both cause disproportionate liberation of greenhouse gases, in fact, energy production using peat is climatewise worse than using coal.

This actually brings about the fact that if cattle is reared so that the animals feed out on grassland, the climate effect of cattle-based  products is much smaller than if the animals do not feed out on grass.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, cattle, food production, peat

Aquaponics - ecological rearing of fish and cultivating plants

Torstai 7.6.2018 klo 14:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

There are several problems with food production. Classical agriculture inevitably leads to eutrophication of nearby waters. Meat production usually has a big carbon footprint. Transport of farming products causes carbon dioxide emissions. The mineral sources of the main fertilizer, phosphorous, are becoling exhausted. Transfer from meat production using homeotherms to aquaculture often causes eutrophication. As one solution to meat production growing insects for food has recently become fashionable. However, a major problem for large-scale utilization of insects as food is the mental aversion of consumers in the western world.

Similar problems are not associated with eating fish. Since similar amount of energy is needed for growing a kilogram of fish and insect flesh, utilizing fish as the source of animal protein is as sustainable as the use of insects. Thus, if one can grow fish so that the negative side effects are diminished, aquaculture can be quite sustainable. Aquaponics offers such a solution: recently one has begun cultivating plants without soil. If one combines this alternative with growing fish, the nutrients produced by fish are used to facilitate the growth of plants. In principle a fish restaurant can grow both fish and vegetables needed in the same building which houses the restaurant.  Such solution would solve all the problems with meat production, including the need for food transport. The principles of aquaponics have recently been reviewed by Palm et al. (Aquacult Int (2018) 26:813–842)

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: nutrients, aquaculture, food production

Unpredictable Weather - a Major Problem

Maanantai 2.4.2018 klo 19:29 - Mikko Nikinmaa

For the past 10000 years the world's climate has been quite stable. This has enabled the cultures to develop. The rains have normally come in time for growing crops, dry periods have enabled harvesting, predictabe winds made long-distance sailing possible. Cold spells and snow have been necessary for winter sports etc. Although we are now waiting and waiting for the spring to break out, the long cold spell in  Northern Europe  is just another indication of climate change. The polar cold doesn't come down to lower latitudes where it has always come. While Helsinki is shivering,  it has never been as warm in Greenland as this year. Also different storms have been more severe and unpredictable in the last years than earlier. The droughts and rain come and go at surprising times causing havoc: floods and wildfires occur with increasing frequency. The predictability of weather has been necessary for effective food production. If we are now losing that, can the large human population avoid starvation?

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, food production

Sustainable aquaculture

Sunnuntai 25.3.2018 klo 20:24

To be sustainable and ecological, food production should take place near the place of consumption. So, in the best possible case fish and vegetables are produced in towns next to where they are consumed. This is nowadays possible. The news have carried items showing vegetable production in city buildings using irrigated individual boxes. Similarly, it is nowadays possible to recirculate water for aquaculture so that fish production is possible in an establishment next door fish restaurant.

It is actually quite incredible how recirculation has improved water quality in several cases. In 1970's paper and pulp mill industry was polluting Finnish and Swedish waters so that even recently some persistent organic pollutants have occurred in the Baltic Sea at concentrations, which have exceeded EU norms for food. And this has been the case, even though the levels are 1/5-1/10th of values in 1970's-80's. Since then the industry has started to recirculate water (and stopped the use of the toxic compounds), so that nowadays the mills are almost closed systems, and the water quality, e.g., in Saimaa and near Äänekoski has improved immensely. Also, traditional aquaculture causes significant eutrophication. It can be completely avoided in the recirculating aquaculture systems, where bacteria in biofilters use up all the eutrophying material - in fact acting as small water cleaning units.

So, future aquaculture can be sustainable and ecological, if it is based on recirculation. 

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: aquatic pollution, ecological food production, recirculation

Genetic modification - overwhelmingly positive way for rapid breeding

Perjantai 2.3.2018 klo 15:40 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Analysis of climate sceptics work has indicated that the studies claiming to show that climate change is not occurring have serious fallacies - as a meta-analysis on them shows: Rasmus E. Benestad, Dana Nuccitelli, Stephan Lewandowsky, Katharine Hayhoe, Hans Olav Hygen, Rob van Dorland & John Cook Theor Appl Climatol (2016) 126:699–703 "Learning from mistakes in climate research".

Now there is a similar analysis of work carried out about the problems caused by genetically modified organisms (GMO; plants) with virtually the same conclusion. The work indicating strong negative effects of GMOs on human health stem from a small number of groups, and include various errors in experimental design. The analysis is reported by Miguel A. Sanchez and Wayne A. Parrott  in Plant Biotechnology Journal (2017) 15, pp. 1227–1234: "Characterization of scientific studies usually cited as evidence of adverse effects of GM food/feed".

It is not surprising that genetic modification as such does not cause any negative effects. One can consider it as a rapid form of breeding - what has earlier required up to thousands of generations can now be achieved in one. However, although the methodology as such is highly beneficial, the hard-line GMO supporters forget several things that need to be considered, whenever large-scale genetic modification is planned. One must make certain that one does not inadverently influence the behaviour of another property of an organism, that one does not influence outside ecosystem etc. These things could (and should) be studied without strong preconcieved attitudes. With the help of good quality work on the questions related to the use of GMOs, the overwhelmingly positive effect of the rapid breeding can be without reservations used to help humankind.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: GMO, plant breeding, food production