Image Source: Rory Doyle
The average American's consumption of both chicken and cheese has doubled since the 1980s. To produce these foods, several states are now using more water than they receive each year, according to data from the World Resources Institute. For example, the roughly 1 billion chickens raised in Arkansas at any given time now account for more than half the state’s water use, resulting in aquifer decreases that are among the country's most severe. Idaho produces more than 1 billion pounds of cheese a year, requiring 6 million acres of irrigated land to grow alfalfa to feed the cows that supply the milk. As a result, 79% of Idaho's aquifer-monitoring wells have hit record lows. Around the country, water aquifers are not refilling fast enough to meet demand for chicken and cheese, and experts have yet to find workable solution. I suppose a rain dance is out of the question.
Image Source: US Department of Agriculture
Researchers behind the USDA's plant hardiness zone map have measured the coldest night of the year, every year, for the past 30 years. The map gives gardeners and farmers a reasonable barometer of which plants will survive in their region. The last time it was updated was 2012. It seems the new 2023 map is about 2.5ºF warmer across the contiguous US, meaning that half the country has shifted into a warmer zone over the past 10 years. In central Arkansas, which moved from zone 7b to zone 8a, gardeners can now try growing kumquats, mandarin oranges, and shampoo ginger, a tropical plant. Welcome, gardeners, to a warmer world.
Image Source: Jeffrey Collins/Associated Press
Hotheads rejoice! You can now enjoy/endure the pain/pleasure of 2.69 million Scoville units in a single bite of the world's new hottest chile pepper, Pepper X. The new pepper relegates the Carolina Reaper, clocking in at 1.64 million units, to second banana, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Both peppers were bred by South Carolina pepper expert (and sado-masochist) Ed Currie. “I was feeling the heat for three-and-a-half hours. Then the cramps came,” said Currie, after sampling his creation. “Those cramps are horrible. I was laid out flat on a marble wall for approximately an hour in the rain, groaning in pain.” Go ahead and try one. I double-dare you!
Image Source: Robert F Bukaty / AP Photo
Blue Water Fisheries group wants to be the first to bring fish farming to the open ocean off New England. Most aquaculture takes places in coastal waters or on land, but the group's proposed farm would consist of 40 submersible fish pens on two sites about 7 1/2 miles off the coast of Newburyport, Massachusetts. It would raise millions of pounds of Atlantic salmon and steelhead trout. Critics say the open ocean pens increase the likelihood of storm damage, fish escapes, diseases, parasites, and threats to wild salmon due to hybridizing and competition for food. The group's environmental impact statement is yet to be released.
Image Source: Mike Blake/Reuters
The largest avian flu outbreak in US history began early in 2022 and has since affected more than 58 million farmed birds in 47 states, driven up egg and poultry prices, and raised concerns about another human pandemic. The H5N1 virus that causes bird flu has already spread to mammals such as mink, foxes, raccoons and bears, yet experts at the Centers for Disease Control say the risk of a human pandemic low. Nonetheless, the Agriculture Department has begun testing poultry vaccines for a potential large-scale bird flu vaccination program, a first for the country. Test results are due in May. Meanwhile, officials encourage poultry farms to prevent transmission of bird flu through biosecurity measures like enhanced disinfection procedures for farm workers.
Image Source: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Quick-growing, drought-resistant millets have become the darling of rural grain farmers around the globe. While the pandemic and the Ukraine war upended grain prices and supplies, farmers in Africa, India, and China pivoted from wheat and corn to planting hardy millets like fonio, sorghum, teff, and finger millet. Millets make up only 3% of the global grain trade but have helped reduce food insecurity enough in places like Zimbabwe that the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization is supporting millet farmers with various initiatives, naming 2023 "The Year of Millets."