agriculture * food * energy * environment
“So long, it’s been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin’ my home,
And I got to be driftin’ along.”
According to a new study, a dramatic increase of dust in the atmosphere is influencing climate and ecology around the world.
The study used available data and computer modeling to estimate the amount of desert dust, or soil particles in the atmosphere, throughout the 20th century. It’s the first study to trace the fluctuation of a natural (not human-caused) aerosol around the globe over the course of a century.
According to the study, desert dust and climate influence each other directly and indirectly through a host of intertwined systems. Dust limits the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth, for example, a factor that could mask the warming effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It also can influence clouds and precipitation, leading to droughts; which, in turn, leads to desertification and more dust.
This has huge implications for agriculture and the ability to feed 7 billion people, which will be the Earth’s population sometime in 2011.
Retail food prices at the supermarket increased slightly during the fourth quarter of 2010, according to the latest American Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey.
The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals was $46.97, up 80 cents or about 2 percent compared to the third quarter of 2010. Of the 16 items surveyed, nine increased, six decreased and one remained the same in average price compared to the prior quarter. The total average price for the 16 items was up $4.07 (about 10 percent) compared to one year ago.
Bacon, eggs, whole milk, sliced deli ham and bread increased the most in dollar value compared to the third quarter, according to the survey.
Bacon increased 68 cents to $4.32 per pound; eggs and whole milk increased 19 cents to $1.60 per dozen and $3.35 per gallon, respectively; sliced deli ham increased 18 cents to $4.84 per pound; and bread increased 14 cents to $1.75 for a 20-ounce loaf.
“Hearty breakfast lovers felt the pinch in the fourth quarter of 2010,” said AFBF Economist John Anderson. “Increased consumer demand for meats and dairy products that began in 2009 continued through the fourth quarter of 2010. Wholesale meat supplies remained tight in the fourth quarter of the year, due to smaller livestock herds and poultry flocks, which also contributed to the retail price increases our volunteer shoppers reported.”
Here in Nebraska, another report, released by the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, said that the cost of providing for basic needs such as housing, food, and clothing, has increased for families over the last two years in Nebraska. The new report “The Self Sufficiency Standard for Nebraska 2010″ was released this week by the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest.
“The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Nebraska 2010″ measures how much money a family of a certain composition in a given county in Nebraska must earn to meet their basic needs, without public or private assistance. Basic needs include: housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, miscellaneous expenses (clothing, telephone, household items), and taxes (minus federal and state tax credits). Most cost estimates are based on current market rates.
The study reveals that there is not one county in Nebraska where a single parent earning minimum wage can meet their family’s basic needs, according to Rebecca Gould, Executive Director at Nebraska Appleseed.
The findings coincide with the latest U.S. Census report that found the number of poor people in the U.S. is millions higher than previously known, with 1 in 6 Americans — many of them 65 and older — struggling in poverty due to rising medical care and other costs.
According to the Associated Press, government aid programs such as tax credits and food stamps kept many people out of poverty, helping to ensure the poverty rate did not balloon even higher during the recession in 2009.
Under a new revised census formula, the Associated Press reported that overall poverty in 2009 stood at 15.7 percent, or 47.8 million people. That’s compared to the official 2009 rate of 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million, that was reported by the Census Bureau last September.
Across all demographic groups, Americans 65 and older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised formula — nearly doubling to 16.1 percent. As a whole, working-age adults 18-64 also saw increases in poverty, as well as whites and Hispanics. Children, blacks and unmarried couples were less likely to be considered poor under the new measure.
Due to new adjustments for geographical variations in costs of living, people residing in the suburbs, the Northeast and West were the regions mostly likely to have poor people — nearly 1 in 5 in the West, the Associated Press reported.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Nebraska 2010 was produced for Nebraska Appleseed and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. The Standard was calculated and written by Dr. Diana Pearce at the University of Washington Center for Women’s Welfare. The Self Sufficiency Standard and supporting documents can be accessed on-line at NeAppleseed.org/lowincome.
Other items in the American Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey that increased in price since the third quarter were sirloin tip roast, up 9 cents to $3.95 per pound; shredded cheddar cheese, up 7 cents to $4.16 per pound; toasted oat cereal and vegetable oil, up 4 cents each to $2.88 for a 9-ounce box and 32-ounce bottle, respectively.
Most items showing an increase in retail price from quarter-to-quarter also showed year-to-year increases. Compared to one year ago, bacon was up 44 percent, eggs were up 4 percent, whole milk was up 10 percent and sliced deli ham was up 11 percent.
“Increasing our nation’s livestock herd to meet the growing demand for meat and dairy products takes time, so we are likely to see retail prices continue to increase for some foods throughout 2011,” Anderson said.
Six foods decreased slightly in price compared to the prior quarter: boneless chicken breasts, down 34 cents to $3.10 per pound; flour, down 16 cents to $1.99 for a 5-pound bag; Russet potatoes, down 13 cents to $2.50 for a 5-pound bag; ground chuck, down 10 cents to $2.83 per pound; and bagged salad, down 6 cents to $2.69 per pound.
Orange juice remained the same in price at $2.97 for a half-gallon.
As retail grocery prices have increased gradually over time, the share of the average food dollar that America’s farm and ranch families receive has dropped, according to Anderson of the Farm Bureau.
“In the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. Since then, that figure has decreased steadily and is now just over 20 percent, according to Agriculture Department statistics,” Anderson said.
Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the farmer’s share of this quarter’s $46.97 marketbasket would be $9.39.
According to USDA, Americans spend just under 10 percent of their disposable annual income on food, the lowest average of any country in the world. A total of 92 shoppers in 29 states participated in the latest survey, conducted in late October/early November.
Is America serious about weaning itself off of its dependency on foreign energy?
A recent Purdue University study found that the “United States doesn’t have the infrastructure to meet the federal mandate for renewable fuel use with ethanol but could meet the standard with significant increases in cellulosic and next-generation biofuels.”
The study found that the United States is at the “blending wall,” the saturation point for ethanol use.
“Without new technology or a significant increase in infrastructure, the country will not be able to consume more ethanol than is being currently produced,” according to the authors of the study.
The federal Renewable Fuel Standard requires an increase of renewable fuel production to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. About 13 billion gallons of renewable fuel was required for 2010, the same amount the study predicts is the threshold for U.S. infrastructure and consumption ability. And the study also found, that the country will not be able to achieve the 36 billion gallon per year goal by ethanol from corn alone.
According to the study, “…there simply aren’t enough flex-fuel vehicles, which use an 85 percent ethanol blend, or E85 stations to distribute more biofuels.”
According to EPA estimates, flex-fuel vehicles make up 7.3 million of the 240 million vehicles on the nation’s roads. Of those, about 3 million of flex-fuel vehicle owners aren’t even aware they can use E85 fuel.
There are only about 2,000 E85 fuel pumps in the United States, and it took more than 20 years to install them.
But according to the study’s author, “Even if you could produce a whole bunch of E85, there is no way to distribute it.”
The study found that the U.S. would need to install about 2,000 pumps per year through 2022 to do it.
What may need to happen to spur more investment and research into reaching the nation’s renewable energy goals is for the cost of oil to continue to skyrocket forcing the average American to pay more for their gasoline.
And that is exactly what is happening.
Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency, recently told the Financial Times that rapidly rising energy prices are a threat to the economic recovery.
“Oil prices are entering a dangerous zone for the global economy,” he told the newspaper. “The oil import bills are becoming a threat to the economic recovery. This is a wake up call to the oil consuming countries and to oil producers.”
And with easy oil not easy to get to and harder oil more expensive to get to and the dominance of the international marketplace shifting to big labor markets in Asia, demand and the cost of production are guaranteed to keep oil prices rising, especially as the global marketplace emerges from the worldwide recession and demand become keener.
For the U.S. to be competitive, that means either importing more foreign oil or government investment into alternative fuels, which so far have paid big dividends to the U.S. and states like Nebraska, who is the nation’s second leading ethanol producer.
According to AccuWeather.com, January may turn out to be another cold month in the U.S.
Based on this forecast, AccuWeather.com Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi said this month could turn out to be the coldest January for the nation as a whole since 1985.
While there has been outstanding regionalized cold in January in recent years, Bastardi said that the U.S. has not experienced this type of coast-to-coast cold since the 1980s.
He said bitter arctic air has also made a return to the northern Plains, while the East and South experienced a dramatic cool down since the weekend.
More waves of arctic air will invade the country, starting late this week and continuing through next week and beyond. The period from Jan. 10-20 is when Bastardi expects the core of the cold to be in place, with the northern Plains in the heart of it.
He says Chicago and Omaha could have one or two days with high temperatures below zero during this time. People in New York City may be looking at one day with highs in the teens, while temperatures potentially fail to rise out of the 20s in Dallas, Texas, and Jackson, Miss., for one or two days.
Bastardi also highlights the potential for rare snow in Seattle and Portland with the upcoming weather pattern.
The cold air coming to Texas starting early next week could affect the state’s citrus industry, according to Bastardi. He thinks Florida citrus, however, should be safe.
In Grand Island, in December, the daily average temperature was 26.1 degrees, which is average for the month, through, despite the end-of-the-year snow storm, precipitation was again below normal for the month. The forecast for the rest of the week calls for no new precipitation with daytime temperatures in the upper 20s or l0w 30s with nighttime lows in the lower teens. There is a slight chance of snow come Sunday.