Aug 30, 2013

Climate Change - Hope and fellowship | Grist

By David Roberts

Over the last 10 years, I’ve been asked one question more than any other: Is there any hope? Or are we just f*cked?

Regular readers could be forgiven for concluding that we are, indeed, f*cked. On one side, we have thebrutal logic of climate change, about which I wrote:

If there is to be any hope of avoiding civilization-threatening climate disruption, the U.S. and other nations must act immediately and aggressively on an unprecedented scale.

On the other side, we have the many forces that retard or prevent change. Cognitively, we suffer from status quo bias and loss aversion. Psychologically and physiologically, we are designed to heed immediate threats with teeth and eyes, not long-term, incremental, invisible dangers. Socioeconomically, power is concentrated in the hands of wealthy incumbents who benefit from the carbon-intensive status quo: fossil fuel companies, the sprawl industry (roads, real estate), Big Ag, airlines, heavy manufacturers, and so on. Politically, we are gripped by polarization, dysfunction, and paralysis. Individually and collectively, we are extremely poor judges of risk, particularly the sort of risk posed by climate change. That makes social change, what Weber called the “slow boring of hard boards,” halting and painful at best.

And so we are stuck, as I said at the end of my TEDx talk, “between the impossible and the unthinkable.”

It’s difficult to see a way out of this dilemma that doesn’t involve considerable suffering. Limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the widely agreed-upon threshold beyond which climate impacts are expected to become severe and irreversible, is likely off the table. Widespread adaptive measures are slow in coming, far more expensive than mitigation would have been, and subject to enormous inequality of impact based on wealth and class.

So, in this grim situation, do I have hope? It’s complicated.

What does it mean, exactly, to have hope? It’s not a prediction. If we’re being coldly rational, we look to the climate and economic models that show current trends in fossil fuel use and carbon emissions extending out as far as the eye can see. A Vegas bookie making odds would probably say that the good money’s on us being f*cked.

And hope is surely not just about possibility. Sure, it’s possible we could stop rising temperatures at 2 degrees. There are scenarios floating around that demonstrate how it could happen, if we decided to make it happen. If all hope required was possibility, people wouldn’t be asking the question.

So, if not a prediction and not mere possibility, what are we asking about when we ask about hope?

I don’t think it’s about the future as much as it’s about the present. It’s about whether it’s worth it to learn about this stuff, carry the weight of it, talk about it with other people when they don’t want to hear it, fight against overwhelmingly steep odds, suffer daily disappointments and setbacks. If tomorrow we die, would it not be better just to eat, drink, and be merry? What good is all this anxiety, pain, and yearning?

We fear heartbreak. That’s why we reach out for hope.

The sad truth is that there’s no guarantee against heartbreak, in this or anything else. It looks like things are going to get bad, possibly really bad, even within my children’s lifetimes. The decisions we’re making today will reverberate for centuries, and so far we’re blowing it.

With no obvious path to victory (where victory = minimizing suffering and maximizing flourishing in the face of climate change), the question is how to proceed. How do we maintain our equilibrium, our happiness and fighting spirit, with disappointments so common, victories so rare, and unthinkable loss looming?

Though it may seem odd, I find comfort in chaos theory. For all our sophistication, we remain terribly inept at the simple task of predicting what will happen more than a few years out. All our models fail. That means those who predict a steady extension of the status quo will be wrong, too.

The outcome of the climate crisis depends not just on physical forces but on human beings, complex economic, social, and technological systems, and complex systems are nonlinear. We forget this; our instinct is to think the future will look like the recent past, only more so. We don’t anticipate the lateral moves, the lurches, the phase shifts. Because of this, the Very Serious thing to do is always to predict that things will not substantially change. If you say, “There will be a series of brilliant innovations that make clean energy cheap,” or, “There will be a sea change in public opinion on climate,” or, “Young people will take over and revive politics,” you sound like a hippie dreamer. Those aspirations are a matter of faith, a triumph of hope over experience.

And yet: things change! History unfolds along the lines of what Stephen Jay Gould called “punctuated equilibrium.” Things can appear stable for years and years while tensions gather beneath the surface, hairline fractures develop, and the whole system becomes highly sensitive to small perturbations. (The butterfly flaps its wings and causes a hurricane, etc.)

We do not know what those perturbations will be or when they will emerge, but we know from history that Don Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” are inevitable. The North American natural gas boom, the precipitous decline in solar PV prices, the financial crisis — none were widely predicted. And there will be more like them.

Will unexpected, rapid changes in coming decades be good or bad, positive or negative? That depends on millions of individual choices made in the interim. Some of those choices, if they happen at just the right moment, could be just the perturbations that spark cascading changes in social, economic, or technological systems. Some of those choices, in other words, will be incredibly significant.

Which ones? That we cannot know. It could be any of them, any time. Precisely because we cannot know — because any one of our choices might be the proverbial butterfly’s wings — we must act. We must take advantage of every affordance, grasp every opportunity. We don’t know when history might unlock the door, so we have no choice but to keep pushing on it.

And really, what else are we going to do?

Remember, there is no “too late” here, no “game over” — it will be a tragedy to shoot past 2 degrees to 3, but 4 is worse than 3, and 5 is worse than 4. Being unprepared for any of those will be much worse than being prepared. The future always forks; there are always better and worse paths ahead. There’s always a difference to be made.

When we ask for hope, then, I think we’re just asking for fellowship. The weight of climate change, like any weight, is easier to bear with others. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last 10 years, it’s that there are many, many others. They are out there, men and women of extraordinary imagination, courage, and perseverance, pouring themselves into this fight for a better future.

You are not alone. And as long as you are not alone, there is always hope.

Hope and fellowship | Grist

Corn’s Worst-Case Scenario: $2.89 | Farm Journal Magazine

AUGUST 30, 2013
By: Ben Potter, Farm Journal Technology Editor

Will planters keep rolling for $3 corn?

Road to Recovery Plan now for next downturn
The Evolution of Corn, Soybean Price Expectations

Scientist Louis Pasteur coined the phrase "chance favors the prepared mind," and corn and soybean farmers should take that advice to heart, especially in the modern era of volatile grain prices. Iowa State University economists are telling farmers to prepare for a potential market downturn in the next five years. The economists have developed a series of papers on the Ag Decision Maker website, which can be found under the Ag Cycles heading.

The economists offer different ways crop and livestock producers can ready themselves for the possibility for economic upheaval after multiple consecutive years of increasing grain prices and land values. For example, Chad Hart, associate professor of economics and Extension economist, says farmers should consider the following strategies:

• Create and follow a marketing plan based on production costs

• Buy inputs when making crop sales

• Move to a fixed-rate loan to protect against higher interest rates

• Continue to use risk management programs such as crop insurance

Michael Duffy, professor of economics and Extension economist, has reviewed the history of Iowa farmland values. He predicts a "likely decline" as corn and soybean prices fall, but also predicts that decline won’t be as steep as the Farm Crisis of the 1980s.

Dermot Hayes, professor of economics and Pioneer Chair in Agribusiness, took a deeper look into potential prices for the next five years, using an Iowa State modeling method. He predicts the worst-case scenario prices as follows:

Year Corn Soybeans

2013 $4.27 $9.69

2014 $3.85 $8.89

2015 $3.41 $7.85

2016 $3.12 $7.09

2017 $2.89 $6.55

"This analysis is not intended to be a forecast of annual prices in the coming months or years," cautions John Lawrence, director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach. "Nor is it predicting doom and gloom for agriculture. Rather, it is intended to help put current economic conditions inot a historic context, better understand the factors that will influence prices and margins in the future, and help farmers prepare for whatever direction the market turns."

Corn’s Worst-Case Scenario: $2.89 | Farm Journal Magazine

Our Daily Bread

Strong filmmaking, masterfully shot, universal, shocking, eerie, profound, no narration, just stark reality. It strips away of the layers of just how we as a race have distorted just about everything in the natural world and commodified it at our own peril, while losing our soul and any natural connection it used to have.

To the rhythm of conveyor belts and immense machines, the film looks without commenting into the places where food is produced in Europe: monumental spaces, surreal landscapes and bizarre sounds – a cool, industrial environment which leaves little space for individualism. People, animals, crops and machines play a supporting role in the logistics of this system which provides our society’s standard of living.

The documentary depicts how modern food production companies employ technology to maximize efficiency, consumer safety and profit. It consists mainly of actual working situations without voice-over narration or interviews as the director tries to let viewers form their own opinion on the subject. The names of the companies where the footage was filmed are purposely not shown. The director’s goal is to provide a realistic view on the internal workings of multiple food production companies in our modern society.
Our Daily Bread | Watch Free Documentary Online

Aug 29, 2013

DES MOINES, Iowa: EPA sued for scrapping livestock data collection - Business Breaking News -


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Environmental and animal welfare groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, alleging the federal agency unlawfully scrapped a rule that would have authorized it to collect information from large-scale livestock confinement farms.

The Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said the rule, which was dropped by the EPA in July 2012, would have provided details on the number of animals on each farm, the waste management practices used and the location of facilities.

The groups said gathering such information is critical to the EPA's enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

"While power plants, waste treatment facilities and manufacturers have had to comply with the protective standards of the Clean Water Act, the factory farming industry has managed to evade any meaningful regulation," Hugh Espey, executive director of the Iowa citizen action group, said in a statement.

The EPA did not immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press.

The federal agency has said it plans to get the information from other state and federal agencies, but the groups that sued said that approach contradicts recent government reports showing state data on large confinement operations is inconsistent and inaccurate. No federal agency collects accurate data, the suit said.

About 20,000 concentrated animal feeding operations — or CAFOs — operated in the United States in 2003, according to an EPA document. These facilities house chickens, hogs, or cattle inside buildings, often thousands at a time, with pits beneath them to catch animal waste, which is often used for crop fertilizer. CAFOs are found in major livestock-producing states, including Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, claims that the EPA lacks the rational basis required by law to withdraw the rule, which was initially published in October 2011. But on July 20, 2012, the agency published a federal notice that it was withdrawing the rule.

"EPA failed to provide a reasonable explanation for its decision to withdraw the rule," the lawsuit said. The groups also want the courts to declare the EPA withdrawal of the rule unlawful.

A spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council said the pork industry complies with federal regulations. Farms that don't discharge into rivers or streams aren't required to have a Clean Water Act permit, and those who discharge without a permit can be fined tens of thousands of dollars a day, said NPPC spokesman Dave Warner.

He said claiming that farms discharge like wastewater plants or manufacturers "is a blatant lie."

"We are a zero-discharge industry and we comply with those federal regulations," he said.

Chase Adams, a spokesman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the EPA used its discretion appropriately when it decided against finalizing the rule, which he said "would have severely compromised the safety and security of this nation's food system."

"The majority of the CAFOs these groups are referring to are multi-generational family operations. Publishing their names and addresses only serves to submit these families to harassment and threatens our food security," he said.

The groups say they filed the lawsuit because their members are being injured by farms discharging pollutants into rivers and streams that are now impaired by nutrients, bacteria, and other pollution discharged by CAFOs.

"These injuries are actual, concrete, ongoing, and particularized, and money damages cannot redress them," the lawsuit said.
Read more here:

DES MOINES, Iowa: EPA sued for scrapping livestock data collection - Business Breaking News -

Loebsack calls on private support to help river revival |

August 28, 2013, by John David

Extreme weather is prompting a call for improvements along the Mississippi River. That’s as businesses depending on barge traffic face delays.

The Mississippi River is full of highs and lows this year. That includes everything from frequent flooding to seasonal sediment.

The latest incident on Wednesday involves a 10- barge backup in Clinton. That’s where river traffic faces delays.

Crews from the Army Corps of Engineers are clearing seasonal sediment after flooding that prevented passage. They were working 24-7 to reopen the route. Barges were expected to be on their way later Wednesday.

“Part of the river bottom rolled around here and there,” said Mike Cox, Army Corps of Engineers. “The river dropped unusually fast.”

Dry conditions tell quite a story. This cracked riverbank is some contrast to earlier this year. That’s when the Mississippi flooded three times. Each delay adds up to millions of dollars for companies that depend on the river.

“The main reason is the age of our infrastructure is way past the design life of 50 years,” Cox continued. “It has significantly deteriorated.”

That’s one reason why Rep. Dave Loebsack, (D) Iowa, led a discussion on the river in Davenport on Wednesday. He thinks that government and industry should team up to help fix the outdated lock and dam system.

“A lot of the private stakeholders have an interest in this,” Rep. Loebsack said. “They’re willing to put some skin in the game, I think, as well.”

While the highs and lows of the Mississippi are part of life along the river, they also reinforce the call to improve navigation sites.

This winding river is important to the global economy. But its crumbling navigation system needs a revival. That’s if it will keep competing in a changing world.

“We haven’t had the funds to do proper maintenance and rehabilitation,” Cox concluded. “That just compounds the degradation.”

Wednesday’s backlog of barges says it all: time is money on the Mississippi.
Loebsack calls on private support to help river revival |

Cool Planet to invest $168M in Louisiana – stealthy biotechnology heads for scale : Biofuels Digest

Tim Lane
August 25, 2013

The complete Cool Planet story. What is it? Why transformational? What are the next steps?
New venture will convert wood waste to gasoline

In Louisiana, Cool Planet Energy Systems CEO Howard Janzen, flanked by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, announced the company will build three bio-refineries in Louisiana with a capital investment of $168 million. The project will consist of modular biomass-to-gasoline refineries in Alexandria, Natchitoches and a site to be determined. Cool Planet will create 72 new direct jobs, averaging $59,600 per year, plus benefits. Additionally, LED estimates the project will result in 422 new indirect jobs, for a total of 494 new jobs. The company estimates 750 construction jobs will also be created by the project.

Its not hard to see why everyone has been excited — sometimes laced with skepticism — about Cool Planet. With claimed operating costs of $1.00 to $1.15 per gallon, and adding another 13 cents or so for the capital costs (amortized over 15 years) – well, you get the picture. It’s drop-in, renewable gasoline, in prospect, for about half the price of the incumbent fossil fuels.

Now those claims were built around – to some extent, an emerging feedstock, miscanthus. That was the secret sauce in reports of 4,000 gallons per acre yields for production of renewable gasoline,

Ahem, there’s been a change.

Now, Cool Planet will harvest wood waste and forest byproducts to make gasoline at its initial commercial-scale facilities in Louisiana. Each bio-refinery will be capable of producing 10 million gallons of high-octane, low-vapor pressure gasoline for strategic distribution through existing market channels and for blending at Louisiana refineries.

What we don’t know at the moment is how the change in feedstock will impact the economics. Those 4000 per acre yields were based on the 25 ton per acre yields that Repreve cites in its website. From a processing company’s point of view — as long as the process yields are the same, and the acquisition cost is the same, the economics will be the same. We’ll be standing by on that.
The Cool Planet system

The technology is based on the principles of pyrolysis but is not your Dad’s pyro system – not by a long shot.

For those less familiar with pyrolysis, think of cooking dinner on a stove. When you heat up food biomass in a skillet, you are driving off the water and beginning to dehydrolize the biomass – in short, taking off some hydrogen and a lot of oxygen – and it browns and blackens as the carbon ratio comes up and the chemistry begins to change.

At higher temperatures and lower pressures, biomass is converted to a soup of volatile gases which, if cooled, would have thousands of different molecules that, when cooled down to liquid form, continue to react with each other – hence, why pyro oils have struggled with stability. You start with one soup, then you get another as all the reactions take place. The larger the chamber, the more unpredictable reactions – hence why pyrolysis systems have had tough issues scaling results from bench to commercial scale.

The Cool Planet idea is essentially one of sequestration. Instead of running the biomass over one magic catalyst in a fluidized bed reactor, and then trying to do something with the resulting pyro oil, Cool Planet’s systems is based on a series of reactions.

Heat biomass into a gas, pass over a catalyst, cool into a soup of liquid molecules, pull off the ones you need (e.g. the gasoline-range molecules); then repeat the process numerous times, with different temperatures and pressures at each reactor “station” and unique catalysts, until you have converted all the volatile gases into gasoline-range molecules. You are left with a residual bio-char, which can be used as a soil enhancement material to boost biomass yields.

“The biomass fractioner is fundamentally different than flash pyrolysis, Cool Planet CEO Mike Cheiky told the Digest, “because we fundamentally deconstruct biomass in an orderly fashion, to preserve as much bond energy as possible. By decomposing in orderly process, we dig deeper into the fragments, and this gives us the freedom to prices the carbon in any way we want.But I don’t want to fixate on one process. What we are discussing today is just one of many process pathways, and we are not wed to any specific way; we have the flexibility to do that. In your normal VC set up, if your technology doesn’t work, you’re done and they sell off the parts – think of Range Fuels as an example. We are on a mission, not about a process.”

The company says it will have a very low CAPEX system, commencing with its fourth-gen design available in 2013, which it projects will have a CAPEX of $2 per installed gallon of capacity, and will move down in future releases. The company says that, based on the yields it is achieving – and depending on local labor costs – it expects its 40 million gallon reference industrial-scale plant to produce renewable gasoline at $1.00-$1.15 per gallon, and based on biomass market prices in the 60 cents per gallon range.

As of June, Cool Planet Energy Systems had closed on $29.9 million of its anticipated $100 million D-series financing to build its first commercial biofuel production facility. Its patented thermo-mechanical process uses small, modular facilities to take “the plants to the biomass instead of bringing the biomass to the plants.” The company currently operates a pilot facility in Camarillo.
Timeline to scale

Cool Planet will begin construction in January 2014, with the first site at the Port of Alexandria beginning operations in late 2014. Construction will begin on the second bio-refinery at the Port of Natchitoches by the summer of 2015, with a completion date in the summer of 2016. The third site is scheduled to come online in late 2016 at a Louisiana site to be determined. Cool Planet also will establish a regional office at the Port of Alexandria, where the City of Alexandria plans to make more than $500,000 in infrastructure improvements.
Business model and deployment

The company’s business model calls for developing 400 of the micro-refineries across the U.S. in the next decade. Major Cool Planet investors include BP, Google Ventures, Energy Technology Ventures (GE, ConocoPhillips and NRG Energy), North Bridge Venture Partners, Shea Ventures and the Constellation division of Exelon.

So, what’s the scale up plan? Cool Planet says that it intends to mass produce refining equipment, are built in modules on moveable skids, a flexible modular open architecture system, which makes the roll-out faster and field-upgradable.
Cool Planet is on its third generation design now, and expects to have its first mass producible plant open in the September period, producing what it calls 400,000 gallon per year sub-scale systems, and is expecting a fourth generation design by Spring 2013.
Processing technology

Using a proprietary process, Denver-based Cool Planet also will market biochar, a byproduct of the refining process that will be used as an agricultural supplement to boost water retention and reduce carbon released from crops. This process makes Cool Planet’s overall production cycle a carbon-negative process – meaning the project will achieve a net reduction of greenhouse gases.

The process also generates value through biochar production, which can be returned to the soil, enabling fertilizer and water retention for increased crop productivity and more robust plant health. The process can be carbon-negative, removing up to 150 percent of the carbon footprint for every gallon used, reversing the consequences of fossil fuels.

Cool Planet’s production plants will be 100 times smaller than a typical oil refinery, but the company’s largely prefabricated systems can be moved near concentrated biomass sources, reducing transportation costs and increasing efficiency. Those savings will enable the company to produce gasoline that’s competitive with oil refineries at prices as low as $50 per barrel while eliminating the need for government fuel credits or subsidies.
Reaction from Louisiana

Gov. Jindal said, “These bio-refineries are great news for Alexandria, Natchitoches and our entire state. For decades, Louisiana’s oil and gas leaders have teamed up with our remarkable workforce to pave the way in energy production for our nation and the world. Because of our constantly improving business climate, abundance of resources and dedicated workforce, we are now setting the pace for innovative new technologies that harness Louisiana’s renewable energy resources and supply advanced fuels to meet our nation’s energy demands.

LED began working with Cool Planet on potential Louisiana locations in September 2012. To secure the project, Louisiana offered the company a competitive incentive package that includes a $750,000 Economic Development Award Program grant to offset infrastructure costs, along with the services of LED FastStart® – the nation’s No. 1-ranked state workforce training program. Cool Planet also is expected to utilize the state’s Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption programs.

“Cool Planet’s decision to invest in Central Louisiana reinforces two important messages,” said President Jim Clinton of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “First, Central Louisiana is a great location for making things. And second, Central Louisiana is emerging as a national leader in high-tech biomass and renewable energy applications. We are very pleased to welcome Cool Planet to Alexandria and Natchitoches, and we look forward to their continued growth in the region.”
Reaction from Cool Planet

“Cool Planet chose Louisiana for multiple reasons, including abundant renewable feedstock supply and a business-friendly attitude toward innovative companies like ours,” Cool Planet Energy Systems CEO Howard Janzen said. “The support we have seen here enhances our unique distributed production model, which envisions locating small bio-refineries near biomass sources to keep both operating and capital costs low. Our goal is to have operating and capital costs that are competitive with conventional oil industry gasoline production costs.”

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Cool Planet to invest $168M in Louisiana – stealthy biotechnology heads for scale : Biofuels Digest

Aug 28, 2013

Your Steak Is Addicted to Drugs | Mother Jones

By Tom Philpott
Wed Aug. 28, 2013
A cattle feedlot near Rocky Ford, Colo. Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons

Meatpacking giant Tyson recently grabbed headlines when it announced it would no longer buy and slaughter cows treated with a growth-enhancing drug called Zilmax, made by pharma behemoth Merck. Tyson made the move based on "animal well-being" concerns, it told its cattle suppliers in a letter, adding that "there have been recent instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move." According to The Wall Street journal, Zilmax (active ingredient: zilpaterol hydrochloride) and similar growth promotors are banned in the European Union, China, and Russia.

The news sent shock waves through the beef industry. Merck denied any problems with its drug, but announced it would temporarily suspend sales of Zilmax in the United States and Canada pending a "scientific audit" of the product, which generated $159 million in US and Canadian sales in 2012, Merck added.. Soon after, Tyson's rivals, JBS, Cargill, and National Beefpacking, announced that they, too, would stop accepting Zilmax-treated cattle for slaughter, pending Merck's review.

Together, Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and National slaughter and pack more than 80 percent of the beef cows raised in the US, according to University of Missouri researcher Mary Hendrickson (PDF). If they stick to their refusal to buy cows treated with the drug, it's hard to see how Zilmax has a future on America's teeming cattle feedlots. Is the US beef industry turning away from the practice of turning to drugs to fatten its cattle?

Not so fast. Rather than wean themselves from growth promoters, the companies that produce cows to supply the likes of Tyson and JBS are instead shifting rapidly to a rival beta-agonist, this one from pharma giant Eli Lilly, called Optaflexx. The suspension of Zilmax sales has caused such a "surge in demand" for rival Optaflexx that "Lilly is telling some new customers it cannot immediately supply them," Reuters reports.

Close readers of this blog will recognize the active ingredient in Optaflexx: It's ractopamine, a drug wildly popular on factory-scale hog farms, and also highly controversial, as the excellent food-safety reporter Helena Bottemiller showed in a 2012 article. Ractopamine "mimics stress hormones, making the heart beat faster and relaxing blood vessels," Bottemiller reported. She added:

Since the drug was introduced [in 1999], more than 160,000 pigs taking ractopamine were reported to have suffered adverse effects, as of March 2011, according to a review of FDA records. The drug has triggered more adverse reports in pigs than any other animal drug on the market. Pigs suffered from hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death, according to FDA reports released under a Freedom of Information Act request. The FDA, however, says such data do not establish that the drug caused these effects.

So why are the companies that fatten cattle for the big beef processors—known as "cattle feeders"—so intent on using controversial drugs like Zilmax and Optaflexx? The answer lies in meat industry's brutal economics. Cattle feeders are stuck between high recent prices for corn and soy feed—pushed up by last year's severe drought and also by high demand for corn from the ethanol industry—and the low prices offered to them for beef cows by the likes of Tyson and JBS.

According to a recent report in Reuters, citing figures from the Denver-based Livestock Marketing Information Center, cattle feedlots lost on average about $82 per head of cattle sold to the meatpacking industry, "the 27th straight month of losses." Using growth promoters like Zilmax and Optaflexx, which cause cattle to put on muscle rapidly without increasing their feed needs, "mitigated those losses an estimated $30 or $40 per head."

Apparently, Zilmax works a bit better than Optaflexx—both in terms of fattening cattle and helping feedlot operators trim losses. Quoting a feedlot operator, Reuters reports that Zilmax costs roughly $20 per head while generating between $15 to $30 worth additional meat for market ,while Optaflexx costs $8 to $10 but brings in just $10 to $12 in extra revenue.

So why are the big meatpackers banning Zilmax when it hurts the bottom lines of their already-struggling suppliers?
Americans now eat an average of about 80 pounds per person annually, vs. about 130 pounds in the mid-1970s.

Frankly, Tyson's claim that it's all about "animal well-being" strains credibility. Tyson is also a massive pork producer, and it has shaken off years of pressure to abandon the practice of housing pregnant pigs in tiny crates, even as rivals Smithfield, Cargill, and Hormel have taken steps to do just that. In terms of stress-causing feed additives, Smithfield recently declared it would soon ensure that half of its pork comes from pigs not treated with ractopamine, explicitly with an eye toward exporting pork to China, which bans ractomapine-treated pork. (Not long after, a Chinese meat company returned the favor bybuying Smithfield, in a deal pending approval by US trade authorities.) Tyson, too, has started producing some pork without ractopamine, also with an eye toward foreign markets.

Might a similar desire be motivating Tyson's move on Zilmax? NPR has speculated as much. Americans's appetite for beef has been waning for decades—we now eat an average of about 80 pounds per person annually, vs. about 130 pounds in the mid-1970s. That means that the big meat packers have had to look to exports to eke out profit growth. And the China market looms as an attractive prize—according to a recent joint FAO/OECD report (see page 95), China's beef imports will likely nearly double over the next decade. With US beef banned there, other countries—Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil—have that lucrative market sewn up.

Is Tyson angling for a piece of the China pie? Of course, in order to produce the kind of additive-free beef desired by big importers like China and Russia, Tyson would have to ban not just Zilmax but also ractopamine-laced Optaflexx, too. I can't help but wonder if the Zilmax ban isn't phase one of an export strategy that would entail banning Optaflexx next. That would mean even more relentless pressure on its suppliers. Until Tyson and its peers agree to pay feedlots more for beef cows, the industry will remain effectively addicted to growth-promoting drugs—or in financially difficlut withdrawal from them.

Your Steak Is Addicted to Drugs | Mother Jones

Aug 27, 2013

Huge aquifer that runs through 8 states quickly being tapped out - NBC

Denise Chow

Kansas State University Photo Services
An irrigation system sprays water on a cornfield.

Nearly 70 percent of the groundwater stored in parts of the United States' High Plains Aquifer — a vast underground reservoir that stretches through eight states, from South Dakota to Texas, and supplies 30 percent of the nation's irrigated groundwater — could be used up within 50 years unless current water use is reduced, a new study finds.

Researchers from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., conducted a four-year study of a portion of the High Plains Aquifer, called the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides the most agriculturally important irrigation in the state of Kansas, and is a key source of drinking water for the region.

If current irrigation trends continue unabated, 69 percent of the available groundwater will be drained in the next five decades, the researchers said in a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"I think it's generally understood that the groundwater levels are going down and that at some point in the future groundwater pumping rates are going to have to decrease," study lead author David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University, said in a statement. "However, there are lots of questions about how long the water will last, how long the aquifer will take to refill and what society can do." [Earth Checkup: 10 Health Status Signs]

Taking water measurements
Steward and his colleagues collected data on past and present groundwater levels in the Ogallala Aquifer, and developed statistical models to project various scenarios of water depletion over the next 100 years.

Kansas State University Photo Services
Water from the High Plains Aquifer irrigates a field of corn.

Using current trends in water usage as a guide, the researchers estimate that 3 percent of the aquifer's water was used up by 1960; 30 percent of the aquifer's water was drained by 2010; and a whopping 69 percent of the reservoir will likely be tapped by 2060. It would take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill the High Plains Aquifer, Steward added.

But, if reducing water use becomes an immediate priority, it may be possible to make use of the aquifer's resources and increase net agricultural production through the year 2110, the researchers said.

"The main idea is that if we're able to save water today, it will result in a substantial increase in the number of years that we will have irrigated agriculture in Kansas," Steward said.

A lot of variables
Yet, making projections about water security is challenging, because there are a number of factors to consider, and even though the High Plains Aquifer touches eight different states, the effects can be highly localized, said Bridget Scanlon, a senior research scientist and leader of the Sustainable Water Resources Program at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with the new study.

"We know the aquifer is being depleted, but trying to project long-term is very difficult, because there are climate issues and social aspects that have to be included," Scanlon told LiveScience. "Projections are so difficult because I think we're clueless about a lot of things, like extreme weather events."

Scanlon pointed out that the new study does not consider the impact of extreme weather, such as droughts or floods. In 2011, Texas experienced a devastating drought that cost the state some $8 billion in economic losses, according to a report by Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. NASA satellites that studied the parched land determined that the drought depleted the region's aquifers to low levels that had rarely been seen since this type of mapping began more than 60 years ago. [Dried Up: Photos Reveal Devastating Texas Drought]

Finding a solution to the groundwater depletion problem is also tricky without unfairly targeting the farmers, Scanlon said.

"Farmers are trying to make a living, and they're responding to economics," she explained. "Asking them to drastically reduce water might be like asking me to retire now because there are so many unemployed people."

Too many unknowns?
Steward and his colleagues anticipate future technologies will help farmers irrigate their land more efficiently. "Water use efficiencieshave increased by about 2 percent a year in Kansas, which means that every year we're growing about 2 percent more crop for each unit of water," Steward said. "That's happening because of increased irrigation technology, crop genetics and management strategies."

But in some areas of the country's plains, the properties of the groundwater and soil largely dictate the irrigation techniques, Scanlon said. In parts of Texas and Kansas, the groundwater is brinier, which means if some farmers employ more efficient irrigation techniques, they will also be pumping up salty deposits that are not adequately washed away by rainfall.

"This is a very nice study, but we really need to address droughts and socioeconomic issues, and other approaches to figure out the problem, beyond the technical," Scanlon said. "If we don't know what we're doing, are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?"
Huge aquifer that runs through 8 states quickly being tapped out - NBC

Aug 26, 2013

These aerial shots of factory farming look like bloody zombie wounds | Grist

By Holly Richmond

America’s heartland! Place of milk and honey! Where cows frolic happily in fields full of corn, butterflies, and maple syrup (just go with it). Or not? You’re telling me the flatlands are actually covered in festering scabs, thanks to factory farming? OK, maybe YOU aren’t telling me that, but British photographer Mishka Henner is:
Mishka HennerA waste lagoon at Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas. Yuck.

Henner didn’t set out to make an artsy statement about the environmental destruction of feedlots. He was initially looking for aerial shots of oil fields when he found the gruesome photography.Fast Company explains:

Massive waste lagoons, which waft up dangerous hydrogen sulfide fumes and can contaminate groundwater with nitrates and antibiotics, first resemble open, infected wounds …

“I came across these really strange-looking structures, like a big lagoon, or all these dots that look like microbes,” Henner says. “We have factory farming in England, but we don’t have it on that scale. I was just absolutely blown away.”
Mishka HennerTacosa Feedyard’s waste lagoon in Texas or nuclear waste site?

Thankfully, Henner is safe from increasingly popular ag-gag laws preventing feedlot photography, since the photos are open-source imagery from satellites. (He previously showcased open-source aerial shots of military outposts for a 2010 book.)