For decades, scientists have witnessed shrinking populations of pollinators, which are critical to agriculture and the world’s food supply. Honeybees are the most easily tracked, and fortunately, only 22.2% of bee colonies died from October 1 to March 31, according to the Bee Informed Partnership’s annual survey. The average loss has been higher at 28.6%, and the new figure marks the second smallest winter loss in the survey’s 14-year history. To compile the survey, scientists interview 3,377 commercial and backyard beekeepers across the United States in both winter and summer. Low winter losses are considered the most important marker of colony health. In the previous winter of 2018-2019, a record 37.7% of bee colonies died. That significant loss also followed beekeepers through the summer of 2019 with a 32% death rate during that season. While the new numbers are encouraging, University of Georgia entomologist Keith Delaplane says it is possible that beekeepers are relocating their colonies indoors during the winter, improving their chances of survival.
The global dairy industry is valued at about $700 billion, and the sector accounts for about 14% of agricultural trade, according to the United Nations. But it appears that consumers around the world eat more cheese and butter when dining out than at home. As restaurants have closed, dairy farmers worldwide have been forced to dump millions of gallons of unused milk and euthanize older cows due to low demand for milk products. According to the National Milk Producers Federation, U.S. herds will likely contract to record lows this year. To help the struggling dairy industry, the U.S. is issuing $2.9 billion in aid, while the European Union has pledged 30 million euros ($34 million) to aid its dairy industry, and Australia has earmarked funds as well.
Government stimulus money has helped dairy farmers survive the pandemic thus far, yet dairy industry analysts predict a long road to economic recovery. Consumer consumption patterns have been changing for decades, and overall milk consumption is on the decline in developed nations. “How fresh fluid milk becomes a staple again remains to be seen,” said Tony Sarsam, chief executive officer of the bankrupt Borden Dairy Co. “It’s not going to be solved with a government program. Consumers want new ideas, indulgent foods, healthy choices and convenience, and the dairy industry has a lot of work to do there.”
“Carbon farmers” are reducing greenhouse gases using regenerative agriculture techniques such as plowing fields less often, covering soil with composted mulch and annual cover crops, and using drainage ditches. To help support these farming methods, Congress is considering legislation that would give farmers “carbon credits” redeemable in the international carbon-trading marketplace. The bill was introduced by senators Mike Braun (R-Indiana) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and will put the US Department of Agriculture in a position to certify independent consultants for farms that want to earn carbon credits as well as inspectors to confirm that farmers are using the approved techniques.
The bill has the support of more than 50 different farm groups, environmental groups and other corporations. Last fall, the Noble Institute in Oklahoma published a study that estimated the potential demand for carbon market trading from agriculture at 190 million metric tons at a value of around $5.2 billion.
A 4,000 square meter (43,055 square foot) farm on the rooftop of the Paris Exhibition Centre is set to become the largest urban farm in Europe. Soon after local authorities eased COVID-19 restrictions, developers began executing plans to expand the farm over the next two years to 14,000 square meters (150,695 square feet). The farm belongs to Agripolis, a French farming company with a focus on transforming unused urban areas into organic farming spaces. In the French capital, the Agripolis rooftop farm will feature rental space for citizens to grow their own produce as well as an on-site restaurant where visitors can sample various local farm-grown products and dishes made with them. Agripolis aims to produce 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) of fruit and vegetables every day at the height of the growing season. “The goal is to locally supply healthy, pesticide-free products to local businesses, company restaurants, and to farming associations in a nearby area,” Agripolis president Pascal Hardy said.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that more than a third of the fish stocks around the globe are currently overfished, particularly in developing countries. The biennial report mentions that solving the ongoing problem will require several measures, including stronger political will and better monitoring technologies among less-developed fisheries. In 2017, 34.2% of the fish stocks of the world’s marine fisheries were considered overfished, a trend that has persisted since 1974 when it began at just 10%.
In 2018, worldwide per capita fish consumption was 20.5 kilograms per year, a new record. That number has increased by an average rate of 3.1% since 1961, eclipsing consumption rates of all other animal proteins. Currently, fish account for one sixth of animal protein intake among the global population, but that number climbs to one half in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka. By 2030, the FAO expects per capita fish consumption to hit 21.5 kilograms.
In 2009, Donella C. Miller started the Yakama Nation White Sturgeon Management Project in Toppenish, Washington, 160 miles southeast of Seattle. Miller and her three person crew have since released over 91,000 white sturgeon back into the Columbia River to help maintain the dwindling sturgeon population. The population has been threatened since the 1800s by increased commercial fishing and hydroelectric dams, which now produce nearly half of the hydro-electricity in the United States but also reduce river flows during the critical spawning season from May to July. Although white sturgeon are huge fish that can grow up to 20 feet long, weigh more than 1,500 pounds, and live for decades, they spawn only every few years, making a robust spawning season critical to their survival.
Last year, after nurturing a group of adult females for a decade, Miller harvested their eggs before releasing the fish back into the river. She sent the roe to be processed into caviar, then began selling it to Crafted, a farm-to-table restaurant in nearby Yakima. Crafted chef Dan Koommoo has served the sturgeon caviar in dishes like housemade bucatini topped with caviar and cold smoked sturgeon cured in beets. Miller hopes the high price that caviar commands will help fulfill the Yakama tribe’s broader mission to protect the Columbia River ecosystem. To help make the Sturgeon Management Project even more profitable, Miller plans to process the caviar herself in the near future, expanding the operation to include a sanitizing and packaging area.
Spain’s €1.2 billion cava industry has had a rocky few years after a grape farmer’s strike, foreign buyouts of family firms, and a sales hit from the Catalonia separatist movement, all of which occurred prior to the coronavirus pandemic. When the country went into strict lockdown, restaurants closed, the tourism trade plummeted, and the market for celebratory bubbles lost its sparkle.
About 60% of Spain’s 214 cava producers have furloughed employees, according to Damia Deas, chairman of the Institut del Cava business group, which represents 70% of cellars. He believes sales could decline between 25% and 40% in 2020, a stark contrast from last year when 250 million bottles were produced, the second most on record. During the lockdown, domestic sales have fallen the most, said Deas, but there was a slight sales increase in May compared to April, thanks to increased consumption by Spaniards at home.
China has begun increasing its imports of key agricultural commodities from the U.S. as part of the trade deal signed in January that aims to end an 18-month trade war. Even though imports are up, China is nowhere near the sales targets proposed under the deal.
The target for phase-one agricultural sales is expected to hit $36.6 billion this year with overall exports increasing to as much as $200 billion over the next two years. So far, China has approved 2,085 U.S. beef, pork, poultry, seafood, dairy and infant formula facilities for exports, the most in history. Pork shipments, in particular, are up 57% since last year at this time, according to USDA data. Soybean sales are up 9% compared to last year and wheat sales have risen dramatically to 225,000 metric tons for this year and 455,000 metric tons committed for next year. China has also approved additional imports of blueberries, avocados, and various barley and hay products.
But these higher sales volumes mask the fact that commodity prices have dropped for most major agricultural products. Targets for the phase-one deal are based on dollar values, so despite increased shipments, China is still falling short of reaching goals for U.S. imports under the trade agreement.
Originating in tropical West Africa, miracle berries from the _ Synsepalum dulcificum _ plant have a peculiar sensory effect: They make sour flavors taste sweet. In 1968, scientists identified the miraculous protein in the berries that causes the effect, dubbing it miraculin. Miracle berries themselves are low in sugar, but miraculin binds to sweet receptors on our taste buds and activates them in the presence of sourness. The sweetening effect lasts until the protein is rinsed away by saliva, up to 30 minutes. Heat and refrigeration denature the miraculin protein so the berries must be eaten fresh to get the effect.
Fresh miracle berries can be found online, and gastronauts have been experimenting with them in combination with various foods at so-called “flavor-tripping” parties. Participants typically chew the fresh fruit, discarding the seed, then taste wine, beer, vinegar, hot sauce, strong cheese or other sour-tasting foods. Some say that hot sauce ends up tasting like spicy doughnut glaze, and goat cheese can taste like cheesecake.
In the 1970s, the FDA labeled miracle berries a “food additive,” permitting them to be grown on U.S. soil but not used in food commercially. Nonetheless, miraculin allows diabetics to taste sweetness without consuming sugar and allows cancer patients affected by chemotherapy to taste a wider range of flavors.
Farmers and ranchers can now start signing up for direct aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The $16 billion in financial relief was approved by President Trump last Tuesday, along with $3 billion in commodity purchases that will go to food banks. The funds come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities (Cares) Act passed by Congress in late March, and after hearing from ranchers, the USDA has increased its payment cap from $125,000 per individual to $250,000. Livestock producers who can apply for aid include those raising cattle, hogs, and sheep. Dairy farmers are also eligible as well as those growing corn, soybeans, cotton, barley, canola, sorghum, millet, sunflowers, oats, durum wheat, and hard red spring wheat. The USDA expects that payments may be issued to producers as soon as a week after signing up.