Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday Hope Blogging

In honor of Julie Powell, I've dug up a few heartening agricultural stories this week. First, there's word of a new system that uses polarized light pulses to measure the nitrogen levels of crops, which may allow farmers to reduce their use of fertilizers.

The researchers hope their tractor-mountable N-Checker (for "nitrogen-checker") apparatus will help farmers determine in real time how much fertilizer to apply. By preventing waste, the system could decrease the cost of crop production and dramatically cut the nitrogen-laden runoff responsible for algal blooms and other damage to wetlands and waterways....The N-Checker can take 1000 measurements per second--at least every 10th of an inch--while moving at roughly 5 miles an hour. At that speed, a farmer could survey and fertilize tens of acres in a day, or hundreds of acres per day with a multi-sensor system.
Technological advances are all well and good, but there's a lot to be said for simply exercising common sense. In Africa, crop-destroying elephants are often maimed or killed by farmers. Here's an appealing low-tech solution to the problem:
Supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups, the Elephant Pepper Development Trust (EPDT) has not only promoted the use of chili peppers as a means of keeping elephants, buffalo, and other species away from important sources of human food, but has also introduced a viable cash crop to the economy of African nations.

"Chili peppers are unpalatable to crop-raiding mammals, so they give farmers an economically feasible means of minimizing damage to their investments," said Loki Osborn, project director for the EPDT. "They can be grown as buffer crops to prevent crop-raiding and then be harvested and sold on the world market through the trust."
Much as I enjoy hearing about innovative ideas like these, I'm usually far more thrilled when people stop doing unbelievably stupid things:
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it was banning the use of the antibiotic Baytril in poultry because of concerns that it could lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in people.

The agency's commissioner, Lester M. Crawford, ordered that approval for use of the drug, known generically as enrofloxacin, be withdrawn effective Sept. 12. Baytril, manufactured by Bayer of Leverkusen, Germany, is in the same family as the popular drug Cipro, which is used in humans.
My view of fluoroquinolones is implacably negative, so I'm particularly happy to see this drug getting pulled.

All in all, it's been a terrible week for Bayer, which means that the human prospect has brightened by about one-tenth of a candela. This firm - which was formerly a member of the chemical cartel I.G. Farben, whom you may remember from the sixth Nuremberg Trial - was also forced to withdraw its application to plant genetically engineered canola:
The German biotech giant Bayer has withdrawn its applications to grow genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape in the European Union, Friends of the Earth revealed today. The move comes as public calls for GM-free zones spreads across Europe and follows a series of research findings which have uncovered environmental damage resulting from the GM crop being grown.
Amazing what public outcry can achieve in some parts of the world, eh?


Sir Oolius said...

The Baytril news is truly hopeful.

As to the GM crop debate: yeah a little public outcry and a lot of education. We barely got to hear anything about the environmental impacts of GM crops in the US while that was a huge story in Europe in the '90s.

GrrlScientist said...

I am glad to see that baytril use has been banned in poultry, but I do hope that we can continue to use in in our captive exotic birds. I have saved the lives of several baby parrots (and even individuals of several native bird species) using this drug. As some veterinarians say, "Baytril is a [sick] bird's best friend."


Engineer-Poet said...

I doubt that anyone has serious objections to the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals at doses which will actually kill the infectious bacteria.  The problem is when low doses are used to aid growth; you could not ask for a better way to create resistant pathogens.