Drug resistant bacteria is showing its face around the world and causing worry that the golden age of antibiotics is coming to a close. At the University of Melbourne in Australia researchers have been working on something called structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers (SNAPPs), tiny microscopic devices that are able to damage bacterial walls without using any drugs. Shaped like tiny stars, it is their shape that seems to be the mechanism that helps destroy cell walls and let ions move across the membrane without any regulation, eventually leading to cell death. Remarkably, the SNAPPs work equally well on all the Gram-negative bacteria trialed, including ESKAPE and colistin-resistant and MDR (CMDR). The investigators showed that the engineered polymers have low toxicity and that bacteria doesn’t seem to develop a resistance to them.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently awarded the National Corn Growers Association and its Soil Health Partnership a $1 million Conservation Innovation Grant to help farmers better understand and adopt farming practices that help reduce climate change impacts. As a result, Monsanto announced it also intends to make an additional investment of $1.6 million in this collaborative effort to help provide expertise, tools and needed resources to further develop a system that will help verify and quantify greenhouse gas reductions from carbon smart farming practices.
The upper echelons of America’s modern agricultural prowess are betting that massive mergers will allow it to seize powerful new gene editing technologies to fuel much needed growth. All but one of the “Big Six” seed and agrotechnology companies, including number one ranked Monsanto Co., saw revenue declines in 2015. Farmers are buying less seed and fewer chemicals as U.S. farm income has plummeted 30 percent from a 2013 high. Mounting pest and weed resistance to genetically engineered (GE) seeds has also begun to worry farmers, as crop yields have begun to flatline in the last few years. For the first time since biotech seeds were introduced, in 2015 the area of acreage planted globally declined by 1 percent, according to a nonprofit that tracks the data.
A private member’s bill entitled the “Modernizing Animal Protections Act” will receive second reading on September 28, 2016. While the off-the-hop goals of avoiding shark harvesting in Canadian waters and shutting down puppy mills seem in line with the title, the bill, put forward by Liberal MP for Beaches-East York Nathaniel Erksine-Smith, goes much further than that. Bill C-246 leaves enough to translation that it could, potentially, criminalize not just livestock agriculture, but hunting and fishing as well. Section 182.1 (1) states: Everyone commits an offence who, willfully or recklessly, (b) kills an animal or, being the owner, permits an animal to be killed, brutally or viciously, regardless of whether the animal dies immediately. That’s just one area of the bill the Ontario Federation of Agriculture takes issue with. There’s no clarification on what “brutally or viciously” means, and, like similar bills that have gone before this one, animal activists have stated they plan to use the bill in costly court cases to test the legal applications.
The U.S. pork industry wants Congress to fully fund a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank in the next farm bill. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Senate Ag Committee last week it would take more than the $150 million livestock groups want for the bank. National Pork Producers Council President John Weber agrees with that assessment and says while they projected $150 million over five years, the U.S. livestock industry is not prepared for any possible FMD outbreak. He says the two foreign laboratories the U.S. could source vaccine from are getting high demand from other countries. Weber says the vaccine problem is being felt by more than the U.S., and in fact, it’s a North American problem.
David Thomas is looking over his life's work at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station in northern Wisconsin. After 26 years with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the professor of sheep genetics and management is retiring and the research station's dairy sheep program is going along with him. The university's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences decided to end the program after being dealt a nearly $3 million cut as part of reductions in state funding to UW System.The Spooner Ag Station has been home to the only land-grant university in the nation researching dairy sheep. Thomas helped start the dairy sheep program in 1993 when the first European dairy sheep breed was imported to the United States.
Eleven years ago, voters were at the center of a food fight over whether genetically engineered crops should be banned in Sonoma County. Proponents sought to scare voters with claims that GMO foods jeopardized the health of children while opponents argued that, given how the ballot measure, Measure M, was worded, it put children at risk by preventing common vaccinations. As we noted at the time, both arguments pandered more to fears than facts. In the end, voters rejected the measure by some 17,000 votes — 55 percent to 45 percent. But the GMO ban is back, and it is once again on the ballot as Measure M. Adopting such a tactic for marketing purposes would appear to have merit, if not for three fatal flaws. First, there’s no evidence that GMO crops are actually being used in Sonoma County. Second, while a GMO ban may not have much of an impact on current operations, it could tie the hands of local farmers or grape-growers in being able to take advantage of future technologies such as the development of a rootstock that protects vineyards from Pierce’s disease. Finally, a GMO ban simply isn’t supported by the science. Earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences & Engineering & Medicine released a report that found, based on a two-year study involving 20 experts in academia, there is no evidence of people or animals being harmed by genetically engineered crops.
Puerto Ricans are buying rice produced on the island for the first time in nearly 30 years. They are also eating locally grown mushrooms, kale and even arugula, along with more traditional crops such as plantains and pineapples. The U.S. territory is seeing something of an agricultural renaissance as new farms spring up across the island, supplying an increasing number of farmers’ markets and restaurants to meet consumer demand for fresher produce. Farming has become one of the few areas of growth on an island struggling to emerge from a 10-year-old recession and a still-unfolding debt crisis. The most recent statistics from the governor’s office show farm income grew 25 percent to more than $900 million in 2012-2014. The amount of acreage under cultivation rose 50 percent over the past four years, generating at least 7,000 jobs.
Up to $1 million in micro-loans will now be available to Massachusetts farmers struggling under the impacts of a widespread and historic drought. The launch of the Drought Emergency Loan Fund, announced Wednesday, is one of a series of steps Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration are taking in response to five months of abnormally dry weather. Comparing it to a similar effort that made loans available to assist businesses after record snowfall in 2015, Baker said in a statement that the fund "will provide affordable working capital to small businesses grappling with the aftermath of extreme weather." Massachusetts has been under its own official drought declaration since July 1 and the arid conditions have been blamed for contributing to wild fires, an outbreak of gypsy moths, higher rates of ant infestation, smaller than usual apples, loss of crops, and an elevated population of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. Loan amounts range from $5,000 to $10,000 and are available to Massachusetts-based family farms and "farm related businesses," according to the application. Businesses "involved in real estate investment, multi-level marketing, adult entertainment or firearms" are ineligible.
To find solutions to protect bees and pollinators and also food supplies and human health, the U of M has built a new state-of-the-art Bee and Pollinator Research Lab on the St. Paul campus that opens in October. Two-thirds of the nearly $5 million cost was covered by state-funded bonding, with the balance coming from private gifts and donations. Mann Lake Ltd. is one of several major private funders of the Bee Lab. Jack and Betty Thomas, who founded Mann Lake over 30 years ago, took part in September 2015 in the groundbreaking ceremony and will attend the Lab’s Grand Opening next month.