Imagine you’re a critical worker in a vital global industry. Despite your best efforts, you can’t meet your quota because you keep losing coworkers. What’s more frustrating is that all industry parties blame each other about why you are losing numbers.
Now Yumingzui is on the verge of extinction. Pollution, overfishing and rising sea temperatures, brought on by global warming, have devastated the supply of fish. Local officials, hoping to invigorate the economy and reduce reliance on outdated industries, have imposed restrictions on fishing and ordered the village to be demolished next year to make way for a luxury resort.
The plan has prompted fear among the people of Yumingzui, many of whom trace their ancestry back hundreds of years. Some are wrestling with the loss of a place they consider sacred. Others have deep anxieties about adopting a modern lifestyle, worried about prospects for a new career and the high cost of amenities like electricity.
Around 1,300 hectares were deforested for sugarcane between 2011 and 2014 in northern Bolivia, with 600 more hectares cleared between July and September 2016. Mongabay Latam reporters flew over the area to investigate the extent of the issue.
"Call off the bee-pocalypse," read a Washington Post headline in 2015. Another Post article repeated the same argument this month: "the bees are doing just fine."
Because there are more bee colonies now than there were in 2006—when mass die-offs of bees first gained headlines—the author argues we don't need to keep worrying about honeybees. Beekeepers can keep producing more bees, replacing the bees that die each year.
While dry farming has geographic limitations, it could pave the way for more coastal agriculture and offer techniques for farmers in dryer areas to farm with less water.
“In the beginning, I searched out people who were known dry-farmers,” says Little, who started in farming in 1995. “It seemed like no one had done it for 30 years or so, and then it wasn’t done much.”
To find mentors, Little made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences. “They were very humble,” he says. “They told stories about how things were done, and I would pick up tidbits.” After years of trial and error, he now considers himself an expert.
To help people understand how dry farming works, Little often evokes the image of a wet sponge covered with cellophane. Following winter and spring rains, soil is cultivated to break it up and create a moist “sponge,” then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust (the “cellophane”). This three- to four-inch layer, sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation.
“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas,” Little says. Much of the land he farms is rolling hills and valleys, which present additional challenges because they hold and move groundwater differently than flat land.
Deprived of any surface irrigation besides the coastal fog, dry-farmed plants develop deep, robust roots to seek out and soak up soil moisture. Because they absorb less water than their conventionally irrigated counterparts, dry-farmed crops are characteristically smaller but more nutrient-dense and flavorful.
“When you water a tree, it dilutes the flavor a lot in some cases,” says Stan Devoto, who dry-farms more than 50 varieties of heirloom apples at Devoto Gardens. “Instead of having a really hard, crisp, firm texture, your apple will be two or three times the size of a dry-farmed apple, and you just don’t get the flavor.”
Devoto has been dry-farming in Sebastopol since the 1970s. “We had no choice,” he says. “There’s just not enough water in West [Sonoma] County to water orchards. Pretty much all the orchards are dry-farmed, with the exception of the orchards where trees are planted super close or use dwarf rootstock.”
Having wide orchard rows, which allow tree roots to spread out, is essential for dry-farming apples, as is thinning (removing much of the fruit early in its development) to ensure that each apple gets as much water as possible. In dryer years (like this one), Devoto must work extra hard to control weeds, which drink water needed by thirsty trees. As the summer progresses, the ground slowly dries out, stressing out the fruits as they ripen, which helps the sugars become more concentrated.
But while water conservation and intensely flavorful crops are the clear benefits of dry farming, the major tradeoff is yield. Devoto says that apple growers in West Sonoma County, which was once home to a booming apple industry, only get about 12 tons per acre, compared to 30 to 40 tons produced by large apple farms in the Central Valley.
Similarly, Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce says that his famous dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes sometimes yield only about a third of what their irrigated counterparts produce. Meanwhile, Little estimates that he gets about a quarter to a third the yield of large organic potato growers. “It it’s hard to compete with some of these big organic farms that are watering,” he says.
Without irrigation, his crops are at the mercy of seasonal rainfall and varying soil conditions from year to year. “You’re on the edge constantly, and one little thing could tip you over,” Little reflects. “We’re barely making it, really, but I believe in coastal farming. I believe we’re going to come back to it.”
While dry farming has geographic limitations, it could pave the way for more coastal agriculture and offer techniques for farmers in dryer areas to farm with less water. “The coast of California used to be our main source of food in the state, until they started developing farms in the Central Valley because of all the water,” Little continues. “Now they’re running out of water.”
Devoto’s Gravenstein apples, an early-season heirloom variety that represents Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage, return to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this week. “Apples grown in the West County may not be picture-perfect or super large,” Devoto notes. “But the flavor is just phenomenal.”
The same scientists who provided the population viability analysis to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the red wolf have sent a rebuttal to the agency, accusing it of "many alarming misinterpretations" in its justification for removing most of the remaining animals in the wild.
Hay, cow muck, flies, and pollen. The country air is full of bacteria and allergens, so you might be thinking that children who grow up around the farmyard are extra vulnerable to asthma and other allergies. You’d be wrong.
Think about our national parks. What comes to mind? Many of us think of spectacular landscapes, family adventures and, of course, incredible wildlife.
These places we love are all of those things, but they are also places created to protect and restore wildlife. Our national parks, wildlife refuges and other wild public lands provide crucial habitat for wildlife, especially endangered species.
In 2014, Doug and Dawn Reeves discovered the well supplying water to their home in rural Stoughton was contaminated with atrazine, despite the fact that they live in an area where use of the pesticide has been banned for 20 years.
To stake its claim in the strategic South China Sea, China is building airstrips, ports, and other facilities on disputed islands and reefs. Scientists say the activities are destroying key coral reef ecosystems and will heighten the risks of a fisheries collapse in the region.
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