Archive for June, 2008

Fortified Cassava Could Provide a Day’s Nutrition in a Single Meal

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Scientists have determined how to fortify the cassava plant, a staple root crop in many developing countries, with enough vitamins, minerals and protein to provide the poor and malnourished with a day’s worth of nutrition in a single meal.

The researchers have further engineered the cassava plant so it can resist the crop’s most damaging viral threats and are refining methods to reduce cyanogens, substances that yield poisonous cyanide if they are not properly removed from the food before consumption. The reduction of cyanogens also can shorten the time it takes to process the plant into food, which typically requires three to six days to complete.

Studies also are under way to extend the plant’s shelf life.

Read the rest of the report at Ohio State University Research News.

Interesting. Hope it works out in field trials.

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Tree-Killing Fungus Officially Named by Scientists

Asheville,NC —
The USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) today announced that an SRS scientist and other researchers have officially named the fungus responsible for killing redbay and other trees in the coastal plains of northeastern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Lead author and Iowa State University Plant Pathologist Tom Harrington, co-author and SRS Plant Pathologist Stephen Fraedrich, and Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences Researcher D.N. Aghayeva unveiled the name, Raffaelea lauricola, in an article published in the April-June 2008 issue of Mycotaxon, the international journal of fungal taxonomy and nomenclature.

“Until now, the fungus was known as ‘the laurel wilt pathogen’ because of the devastating disease it causes in redbay trees and other laurel species like sassafras and avocado trees in the Southeast,” said Fraedrich, based in Athens, GA. “Now arborists, foresters, researchers, and regulatory officials have a formal, scientific name and description of the fungus, as well as a detailed explanation of how the pathogen compares to similar fungi.”

Raffaelea lauricola is one of many species of fungi carried by ambrosia beetles, a group of highly specialized wood-boring insects that feed on symbiotic fungi, which they carry from tree to tree in specialized sacs. The beetles feed on their own special ambrosia fungi, much as the Greek gods were believed to exist on their “ambrosia.” R. lauricola is the principle ambrosia fungus of an invasive species from Asia, the redbay ambrosia beetle. R. lauricola is the only known tree pathogen among the ambrosia fungi and differs from other Raffaelea species in its DNA sequence and spore sizes. The fungus also grows faster than similar fungi.

Ambrosia beetles introduce the fungus into redbay or other laurel tree species by burrowing into the trees and laying eggs. The fungus serves as a food source for beetle larvae. The pathogen moves through a tree’s vessels causing a vascular wilt disease similar to Dutch elm disease.

In an April 3 press release, SRS announced the first description of the fungus and its association with the redbay ambrosia beetle and laurel wilt. The press release, posted online at http://www.srs.fs.fed.us/news/153, provides more information about the fungus and the threat it poses to the laurel family.

Source: USDA Forestry Service

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Florida Power and Light “Convinced” by Florida Government to Put up Wind Power Project

In Florida, where everybody but the government knows that wind power is not a viable source of energy, FPL has been “convinced” to sink lots of dollars into a wind power project that everybody knows will fail.

From the Miami Herald:

FPL Energy is ”one of the most efficient wind operators in the country,” says Jay Apt, executive director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center. “They’re very good at it.”

FPL Energy has 55 wind farms in 16 states including the nation’s largest, the 735-megawatt Horse Hollow field in Texas. Last week, it announced a new $2 billion wind farm to be spread over 250 square miles in North Dakota.

The company has mounds of data about the costs of producing wind power in different places, but it refuses to reveal any of it. When The Miami Herald asked FPL about costs, it replied crisply: “Wind is proportionally less expensive where the resource is more abundant.”

Wind was not FPL’s first choice for diversifying its power sources in Florida. Last year, the utility tried hard to get approval to build a new coal plant. Gov. Crist didn’t like the idea. On June 5, 2007, regulators flatly rejected the 1,960-megawatt coal plant.

BOWING TO PRESSURE

Two days later, the utility announced it understood which way the political winds were blowing and said it planned to construct the first wind farm in Florida. ”This is a great first step in seeking more renewable generation resources in Florida,” said FPL President Armando Olivera.

”I am very pleased,” Crist responded.

”I’m thrilled,” said a representative of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Buried in the press release was a statement reiterating FPL’s longtime position: “While wind in Florida is not consistently strong and reliable enough to produce a large amount of electricity, FPL will explore ways to best use this resource.”

FPL’S CONCERNS

Several months later, in a little-noticed filing with the Public Service Commission, the utility was unusually blunt about how poorly it viewed Florida’s winds when the PSC staff asked why FPL wasn’t doing more with wind, when wind power was so much cheaper than solar. That seems particularly true in Florida because experts say solar here produces considerably less energy than in the American Southwest, where solar is thriving.

FPL responded that the noted cost difference between wind and solar in Florida ”may not necessarily be the case.” The utility said it could be expensive to buy wind turbines designed to withstand hurricanes. It noted that even offshore, wind often does not have the strength for a viable wind project “and is reduced on the coast and further reduced inland.”

SEASONAL VARIATIONS

What’s more, the utility had a study showing “wind resource limited to winter seasons (October through March) whereas FPL load peak is in the summer.”

FPL answered Miami Herald questions by e-mail: “Wind power is a vital part of any serious effort to address global climate change. . . . The St. Lucie site has wind speeds high enough to generate ample electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions.”

FPL and experts agree that to generate wind power in Florida, the turbines have to be on the coast, and that’s what the utility proposed at St. Lucie.

At first, some of the nine turbines in the $60 million, 20-megawatt project were planned for FPL-owned oceanfront land on Hutchinson Island, where it has nuclear reactors. Others would be on nearby oceanfront public park land. The plan drew howls of protest from environmentalists and other local residents.

In February, even though the project still lacked zoning approval, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced it would help fund the wind project by giving $2.5 million to FPL, which had a profit of $836 million last year.

As opposition continued over use of public land, FPL scaled back the project in March to six turbines, all on FPL’s own property. Environmental and neighborhood groups remain adamantly opposed. ”This is like building a solar farm in a rain forest,” said Zahniser of the Save St. Lucie Alliance. “And there are 36 endangered species at that site. . . . We see this as ruining precious resources in Florida for absolutely no benefit.”

NO PROGRESS

Three months have gone by. The county commission has yet to approve the project. ”We hope the St. Lucie wind project gets a fair hearing,” FPL said in an e-mail.

The utility has kept up the pressure. It conducted a survey showing that four out of five St. Lucie residents favor the project. Critics said the phrasing of the questions misled people.

The utility notes that this is a small project. “The roughly $45 million total cost of the project works out to about 33 cents a year for the average FPL customer, or less than the price of a postage stamp.”

”It’s political,” insists Zahniser. “Do you know how many light bulbs you can swap out with new energy-efficient light bulbs for $45 million? This is a false green scam that diverts valuable time and resources away from true solutions.”

In April, FPL released a study conducted by a sister company, WindLogics, that said FPL’s St. Lucie project had a ”capacity factor” to power turbines at about 20 percent of their rated power. Apt at Carnegie Melon contrasts that with North Dakota, where turbines work at almost 50 percent capacity.

Based on those numbers, Apt calculates North Dakota wind power has an unsubsidized cost of 6.5 cents/kwh, compared to about 15 cents/kwh in St. Lucie.

Thresher of the National Wind Technology Center describes the state’s challenges this way: ”Florida’s flat and low. . . . And it’s at a latitude that rarely gets strong winds.” He thinks the St. Lucie location might be “marginally cost effective . . . but Florida is not a good regime for wind. It’s a little better offshore.”

Offshore power is widespread in Europe, but it needs good winds to justify the extra expense of building and anchoring turbines in the water, which raises the cost by ”50 percent or more,” said Thresher. In Europe, that expense means builders are developing turbines with blades 200 feet long — “That’s a beast, and they’re working on ones that are a lot bigger.”

FPL dodged several questions about the feasibility, cost and strength of offshore turbines. ”We are not proposing any offshore wind projects in Florida at the moment,” the company said.

FPL knows it won’t work. The people that live here know it won’t work. Apparently the Florida government believes it can make the wind blow. Perhaps the wind turbines need to be placed in Tallahassee.

If you want to read the scary part of the article, though, read this:

But Thresher and many others know what will really elevate wind projects is action by Congress, expected to come after the November elections, when power plants belching greenhouse gases will be forced to pay stiff penalties

Under that scenario, a study by Black & Veatch consultants shows that the cost of wind power will remain steady while the cost of coal and natural gas could climb steadily until they are almost twice as expensive.

Isn’t that cute? It sounds as though the evil power plants are going to be penalized, leaving the consumers to pay their normal rates. Not so. The consumers are the ones that are going to see their electric bills more than double, particularly since there isn’t a quick fix on the horizon. Power plants have been denied permission to build new plants using nuclear energy for years, and are being forced to provide power using inefficient power sources. Your power costs are going to go WAY up. So are manufacturers’ power costs and to be cost competitive, the ones that haven’t already relocated will.

Look into how your congressional representatives votes. Do not elect them if they vote for things that will negatively effect your standard of living.

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Pablo Escobar’s Ranch Now a Theme Park

In a land that has served as the setting for the surrealistic novels of Gabriel García Márquez, it doesn’t get much weirder in Colombia today than the Hacienda Napoles. What was once the weekend hangout of the world’s most notorious outlaw has become a strange, fledgling tourist attraction in central Colombia.

A private company now manages Hacienda Napoles and in December opened it as a rustic theme park.

”It was a symbol of Escobar’s limitless wealth and power — of the opulence that his position as capo de capos entitled him to enjoy and display ostentatiously,” said University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley. “Exotic animals, lavish parties, beautiful women, and politicians in his pocket were all part of the trappings of drug riches. They gave him a special aura of uniqueness and invincibility. The current state of dilapidation is a symbol of his final ignominious fall.”

In his heyday, flush with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from trafficking cocaine to the United States, Escobar stocked the Hacienda Napoles with animals from Africa — hippos, zebras, buffaloes, camels, elephants and others. He built six life-size dinosaurs and proudly showed off the single-engine Piper Cub that had flown his first cocaine shipments — by mounting it atop the archway entrance to his lush country estate.

The government confiscated what is now a 3,700-acre ranch in 1989 after Escobar ordered the killing of a popular presidential candidate — only one of hundreds of murders ordered by the feared drug lord.

The iconic Piper Cub has disappeared but the private company that runs the place now, Ayuda Tecnica y de Servicios, is planning to remount a replica.

Of the live animals, only the hippos remain. No one dared move them. They have multiplied to 16 or 17. Officials can’t get close enough to the ornery animals to properly count them. They roam the ranch at night in search of food.

Read more in the Miami Herald.

I like to think that if he had only turned his considerable organizational talents to legitimate business that he would be alive today. It makes a good moral tale for the children: “He would still be alive today if he had not chosen a criminal way of life. Remember that criminals are always killed in the end.”

Unfortunately, the worse the bad guy is, the less likely it is that he will face being called to account for his crimes. At least this is one that we can point to as having received the death penalty.

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Biodiesel Market Searches for Alternatives to Soybeans

By Tim Hoskins, Iowa Farmer Today

AMES — Even with challenges facing the biodiesel industry, leaders remain optimistic about the long-term potential of the fuel.

The main challenge for the industry now is the cost of feedstock, says Gary Haer, vice president of sales and marketing for Renewable Energy Group (REG) and vice chairman of the National Biodiesel Board.

Soybean oil was the traditional feedstock that started biodiesel production. However, soybean oil currently is above 60 cents per pound.

Haer sees the feedstock issue as a short-term problem. The higher feedstock cost is forcing plants to find different oils to make biodiesel.

Animal fats are one alternative feedstock being used in newer plants that were designed to use it.

Biodiesel companies are working with seed companies to improve the genetics in the plants to produce more oil and they are looking at different feedstocks including algae and corn oil.

Many ethanol plants are using or investigating ways to pull the corn oil out of the kernel before making ethanol. The corn oil could be used to make biodiesel or used in applications that use other oils.

Therefore, it could add supply to the vegetable oil market, he says.

However, diesel prices also have increased and allowed some biodiesel producers to continue to operate, says Randy Olson, executive director of Iowa Biodiesel Board.

Olson says some biodiesel plants have reduced production due to high feedstock costs, but other plants continue to run at full capacity.

The tightening of credit also has hampered some plants due the added capital needed to purchase feedstock, he says. That is the short-term challenge.

Haer says the long-term outlook still looks good because there is “huge opportunity for biodiesel.”

He notes the industry’s 5×15 goal, which is to have biodiesel comprise 5 percent of the diesel market by 2015. Currently, the U.S. diesel market is 60 billion gallons, so 5 percent would be 3 billion gal.

The Renewable Fuels Standard includes a requirement to use biodiesel, Haer says. It starts at 500 million gal. in 2009 and increases to 1 billion gal. by 2012.

“That would be huge,” he adds.

In addition, Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington are working on state mandates or incentives for biodiesel use, Haer says.

As of the beginning of the year, 171 companies had invested to build a biodiesel capacity of 2.24 billion gal., according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Biodiesel production from Oct. 1, 2006, to Sept. 30, 2007, was 450 million gal.

In the next 12-18 months, a production capacity of 1.23 billion gal. is being constructed

As of August 2007, the Iowa Biodiesel Board reported there are 14 biodiesel plants with a production capacity of 318.5 million gal. It noted two plants with production capacity of 35 million gal. were under construction.

Other sectors also may add demand for biodiesel.

Haer says bioheat, which adds biodiesel to heating oil mostly in the Northeast, is one area of growth potential.

Adding biodiesel to heating oil helps reduce the amount of soot in the house during the wintertime, he says.

“It (bioheat) helps enhance their (the heating oil) image.”

Another growth sector is using biodiesel in confined spaces. The federal government is changing the rules for particulate matter and exhaust in confined spaces, such as mines.

Haer thinks that would boost demand boost for the industry.

“I am very optimistic about the future of biodiesel,” says Olson.

I am also very optimistic about the future of biodiesel, although I am not sure where that future lies. Indeed, it can be made from such a variety of substances that it may be made from something entirely different in different regions of the country and the world.

The future does not, I believe, lie in governmental mandates of its use which could stifle competition from competing fuel sources which would ultimately be bad for the consumer.

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Immigrants Fuel Alternative Weed Control

An interesting article from Southern Farmer:

Gail Keck gkeck@farmprogress.com
June 5, 2008

Goats have begun to look like weed-eaters to most American beef producers but they don’t look much like dinner.

Yet that’s exactly what goats look like in other parts of the globe. Goat meat is the most commonly eaten meat in the world and immigrants don’t want to give it up when they move here. In turn, that is the very thing which has made goats viable weed-control tools on American ranches.

“I was surprised that in America they didn’t know about goat,” says Wilson Muinamia, who moved to central Ohio from Kenya. Goat meat is not only a food staple to him, it is culturally important, he explains. Buying a goat for someone else is a sign of respect for a friend or guest.

Like Muinamia, other immigrants are seeking out goat meat. It is in demand among immigrants from Africa and the Middle East as well as South and Central America. As farmers recognize the market opportunities, American goat production is increasing. The number of goats slaughtered in the U.S. at federally inspected facilities went up from 595,000 in 2002 to 638,000 in 2007, according to Scott Hollis, the statistician with the National Agricultural Statistics Service who compiles data on goats. Those numbers don’t include goats that were slaughtered on farms and not reported, he adds.

At the same time, imports of goat meat rose from 503.9 metric tons in 2002 to 1,241.5 metric tons in 2007. “I think the demand is there and I don’t think the U.S. supply can fill it,” says Hollis.

Competing imports

Imported goat meat provides significant competition for American producers, says Larry Smith, vice president of North Carolina Meat Goat Producers, Inc. “They can raise it cheaper and process it and bring it in cheaper.” Most imports come from Australia and the meat is generally frozen. American producers can get a competitive advantage by focusing on quality and marketing their meat fresh, Smith says.

The North Carolina Meat Goat Producer’s Association is a marketing cooperative that was started in 2001. The co-op is now handling 500 to 600 goats per year, serving members in North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s one example of the many regional efforts to assemble larger groups of graded goats for shipment to processors.

Nearly half of the meat goats produced in the U.S. are raised in Texas, and the state has several well-established markets for goats. Markets are also being developed in other areas of the country. For instance, Union Stockyards in Hillsboro, Ohio started having graded goat sales last year to assemble shipments of goats for processors on the East Coast.

One of the obstacles delaying further expansion of the goat market is a lack of slaughter facilities, says David Mangione, an associate professor with Ohio State University Extension. Consumers generally prefer fresh goat meat, but if there are no processors nearby it can be difficult to get. Also, many Muslim consumers want meat processed according to their religious specifications. Some small, local processing facilities won’t qualify. If they slaughter pork that becomes an issue because of the religious beliefs of the consumer, says Mangione.

Another factor that may limit sales of American-raised goat is price. Consumers generally prefer fresh goat meat, but imported, frozen goat is less expensive, Mangione says. Much of the increased demand comes from immigrants who have low disposable incomes at first. But, he adds, as their incomes rise, they may switch to the higher-priced fresh meat.

Filling local markets

If immigrant or refugee communities settle near your farm, the demand for goat meat may come directly to your door. That’s what happened to the Blystone family in central Ohio. In the 1990s, Joe Blystone started selling live sheep to immigrants who saw his animals in his fields. He recognized the demand and set up an on-farm custom slaughter facility in 2000. His daughter, Katherine Harrison, now manages the business. On an average week, they slaughter about 40 goats and another 40 sheep, but around holidays they sometimes process 100 animals in one day, says Harrison. She buys the animals from other farmers in the area.

About 50 percent of Blystone Farm’s customers are Muslim, 40 percent are Orthodox Christian, and the rest are a variety, including a few Hispanic Catholics. “The customers want to make sure the slaughter is done by someone of their religion,” Harrison explains. To accommodate them, the farm has both Christian and Muslim butchers on staff.

Customers typically come to the farm, pick out a live animal, then wait for it to be slaughtered. Being able to see the animal before slaughter is important, says Wilson Muinamia, who was one of Blystone Farm’s first customers.

“You look at an animal and you know if it’s healthy,” he explains. Muinamia also prefers to have meat he knows is fresh. “In Kenya, we’re not used to eating refrigerated meat,” he explains. “When you go to the grocery, you don’t know how long it’s been there.”

Another benefit Blystone Farm offers customers is processing of cuts not available elsewhere, adds Harrison. When they custom butcher an animal after the customer buys it, they can cut it to the customer’s specifications. For instance, she estimates that 98 percent of her customers want the stomach and about 90 percent want at least part of the head. “We’re glad to do anything we can to get them set,” Harrison says.

Homegrowing interest

Ohio law was updated recently to allow for on-farm processing, but not all states allow it. In North Carolina, for instance, on-farm slaughter isn’t legal and the state doesn’t have enough USDA inspected facilities to meet the demand, says Martha Mobley, agricultural extension agent in Franklin County.

Local processing fees are so high they push fresh goat meat prices out of range for many consumers. For instance, she recently paid $70 to process a 35-pound kid. Some low-income Hispanic consumers in the area might be interested in goat meat, but Mobley says they can’t really afford such prices.

Mobley and her husband raise beef cattle and goats, then sell the meat at an upscale farmers’ market near Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Interest in goat meat is growing among their customers, most of whom are native-born Americans, she says. Some are looking for something different or are interested in goat because it is leaner than other red meats. Others are world travelers who have eaten goat in other countries and want to eat it at home as well.

“We’re seeing more and more Americans wanting to try it,” she says.

When you have an item that the market wants, the market will show up at your door if they know that you have it. Unfortunately, the article is absolutely correct about the lack of slaughter facilities. Often, the only way the customers have of processing the animal is either for you or them to kill it and dress it out right on your farm, something that you may wish to check your local statutes for as to the legality.

I have raised goats and sheep. They will both exploit any opening to get out of a fence, but goats have a tendency to be better climbers. Both will keep the fields free of weeds and brush; indeed, I have sat in an extension agent meeting on weed control before and, when he was telling the cattlemen which (expensive) herbicides to spray for control of various weeds, I was murmuring to my neighbors that my sheep eat those, and I wished that I could keep them in the pasture.

The cattle ranchers were mildly interested but coyotes and stray dogs were such a problem that they didn’t think their new flocks would survive for very long which was probable without excellent fences and guardian dogs or donkeys. Also, they had a guaranteed market for cattle and were not sure about the profitability of sheep and/or goats.

With a shorter period to sexual maturity, a tendency to have multiple births, and only a few months to market weight, I believe that sheep and/or goats can be more profitable than cattle if managed correctly.

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Disappearing into the Spam Net

I had a long, thoughtful comment re container transport that was caught in the spam net. I indicated that it was not spam because it had several pertinent points that I agree with. Unfortunately, when I indicated that it was not spam, it disappeared into some internet void, along with several other comments that were similarly caught in limbo.

I can’t turn the comment moderating feature off because if I did, I’d be overwhelmed with gambling, insurance, and sex aid spam. Unfortunately, this means that I sometimes miss actual comments that are mixed in amongst the spam that for whatever reason do not post when I check them as “not spam”. If your comment got lost, I am very sorry.

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