Tag: agriculture

Potty Trained Piggies Help Keep Taiwanese Rivers Clean

By Jennifer Welsh | January 6, 2011 11:38 am

Toddlers can learn, cats can be taught–so why not take the next step and potty-train our livestock? Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration is encouraging its pig farmers to do just that with the countries’ six million pigs. The move will clean up the farms and help prevent water pollution, they say.

To keep the pig waste from flowing into the rivers (and to save water on cleaning up farms), the pigs are trained to relieve themselves in a trough. The “toilets” are smeared with feces and urine to attract the pigs–kinda like that spot on the carpet where the dog keeps relieving itself. All it took to start the porcine potty-training revolution was one genius farmer in 2009 trying to avoid the Taiwanese government’s “water pollution fee.” He noticed the difference immediately, he told the Mail and Guardian Online:

“The pig toilets on my farm help me collect about 95% of all pig waste, making cleaning much, much easier,” Chang Chung-tou, a pig farmer in Yunlin county, said.

After a trial of 10,000 pigs by Chung-tou and others in 2009, the Taiwanese EPA recently released a report detailing their findings, and recommending all pig farmers jump on the potty-training bandwagon. TreeHugger sums up their findings:

The Taiwanese EPA in their most recent announcement suggest that aside from [reducing] the amount of waste water by up to 80% pig farms were also cleaner and less smelly, and additionally the trotter toilets helped reduce illness among the pigs and boosted their fertility by 20%.

Agricultural waste is a major environmental concern–the most notorious pig farm accident occurred in North Carolina in 1995, when the dike around a lagoon of pig waste collapsed, spilling 25 million gallons of waste across the landscape. And while we applaud the potty-training initiative, we wonder if it could be taken further: If the farmers were really green they could use this poop to power their farming operations, their cars, or even satellites!

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Image: Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

Is This the Peak of Peak Panic? Peak Chocolate, Peak Maple Syrup, & More

By Jennifer Welsh | November 19, 2010 11:26 am

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Using Urine to Make the Garden Grow

By Eliza Strickland | July 23, 2010 10:03 am

beetsBy Mara Grunbaum

They were perfectly lovely, the beets Surendra Pradhan and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski grew: round and hefty, a rich burgundy, their flavor sweet and faintly earthy like the dirt from which they came. Unless someone told you, you’d never know the beets were grown with human urine.

Pradhan and Heinonen-Tanski, environmental scientists at the University of Kuopio in Finland, grew the beets as an experiment in sustainable fertilization. They nourished them with a combination of urine and wood ash, which they found worked as well as traditional mineral fertilizer.

“It is totally possible to use human urine as a fertilizer instead of industrial fertilizer,” said Heinonen-Tanski, whose research group has also used urine to cultivate cucumbers, cabbage and tomatoes. Recycling urine as fertilizer could not only make agriculture and wastewater treatment more sustainable in industrialized countries, the researchers say, but also bolster food production and improve sanitation in developing countries.

Urine is chock full of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which are the nutrients plants need to thrive—and the main ingredients in common mineral fertilizers. There is, of course, a steady supply of this man-made plant food: An adult on a typical Western diet urinates about 130 gallons a year, enough to fill three standard bathtubs. And despite the gross-out potential, urine is practically sterile when it leaves the body, Heinonen-Tanski pointed out.
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A New Strategy for Cheap Solar Power in Africa: Pokeberries

By Darlene Cavalier | April 26, 2010 3:46 pm

pokeberryPokeberries, whose red dye was famously used by Civil War soldiers to write letters home, may enable the distribution of worldwide solar power. Researchers at Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials are using the red dye from this weedy plant’s berries to coat their high-efficient, fiber-based solar cells, licensed by FiberCell, Inc.

These fiber cells are composed of millions of tiny fibers that maximize the cell’s surface area and trap light at almost any angle–so the slanting sun rays of morning and evening aren’t wasted. The dye’s absorbent qualities enhance the fibers’ ability to trap sunlight, allowing the fiber cells to produce nearly twice the power that flat-cell technology produces.

Because pokeberries can grow in almost any climate, they can be raised by residents in developing countries “who can make the dye absorber for the extremely efficient fiber cells and provide energy where power lines don’t run,” said David Carroll, the center’s director.

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Will Watching Videos of the Great Outdoors Make Cows "Happy and Productive"?

By Smriti Rao | March 24, 2010 12:28 pm

russian_cowsSome people play Mozart to unborn babies in hopes of increasing their brain power, or talk to their plants in hopes of making them grow faster, so will subjecting cows to hours of video footage of the verdant Swiss Alps make them more productive?

Well, we don’t know yet. But a Russian farmer has invested the time and the LCD TV’s to find out.

News reports indicate that the farmer has rigged one side of his shed with 40-inch LCD TVs so that one row of cows can watch footage of the Swiss Alps, where the grass is green and the skies are blue. The cows on the other side are afforded no such diversion.

The farmer is monitoring his cattle to see if the TV-watching cows are more “happy and productive.”

TV is great, but you know what might be even greater? Letting the cows out of the shed once in a while to let them get a taste of the real green stuff.

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Image: Gizmodo/Ecorazzi

For Honey Bee Awareness Day, Music Video Asks, “Where My Bees At?”

By Allison Bond | August 28, 2009 3:06 pm

beesIt’s no secret that something mysterious is going on with the honey bees around the globe. Still, who would’ve thought to rap about it?

From the Huffington Post:

In preparation for the first-ever National Honey Bee Awareness Day that took place on Aug. 22, big bee backer Häagen-Dazs used the creative efforts of five brothers from Los Altos, Calif. to make a short video raising awareness.

Max Lanman, a 21-year-old senior at Yale majoring in film studies (and the third-oldest Lanman brother), directed, edited and photographed the result of the request, a viral video entitled “Do the Honey Bee.”

In the video, people dressed as bees shimmy and shake, mimicking the ways bees “dance” to communicate with each other. The lyrics extol bees’ agricultural importance, and the beat’s pretty catchy, too.

But don’t take our word for it—check out the video. You just may want to “shake your stinger, bend your knees / Get down real low, and do the honey bee.”

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Image: flickr / david.nikonvscanon

The Possible Solution to Disappearing Bees: Foot Baths

By Andrew Moseman | July 28, 2008 2:58 pm

Bees, fungi, and mitesHoping to fight off “colony collapse disorder,” the mysterious affliction that has devastated honeybee colonies, some British scientists want to get bees to start washing their feet—but with the intention of getting them dirty, not clean.

A team of University of Warwick researchers led by Dave Chandler believes that parasitic Varroa mites might be behind the honeybee’s decline; the mites can feed on young or old bees, and their presence usually spells doom for the entire colony. Varroas develop resistance to chemical pesticides, too, so the scientists turned to a more natural threat—fungi.

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Who Needs Soil? Colossal Hydroponic Complex Set to Open in England

By Andrew Moseman | June 13, 2008 4:26 pm

Hydroponic tomatoes will soon be growing in KentHydroponic farming is coming to the U.K.—70 soccer fields worth of it.

Outside of Birchington in far southeastern England, workers are finishing the first of what will be seven giant greenhouses for growing tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Thanet Earth, as the complex is cleverly called, will cover around 220 acres of Kent County by its 2010 completion, according to the Daily Mail. In the greenhouses, plants will hang from a 26-foot-high ceiling. A drip will supply them with water, and also the nutrients they need and would normally take from soil, like potassium, magnesium, phosphate, and nitrogen. Greenhouse operators will deploy bees to pollinate the plants, and wasps to keep pests like aphids from wrecking their rows and rows of produce.

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MORE ABOUT: agriculture

Antibiotic-Free Pigs Carry More Pathogens, But is That a Bad Thing?

By Andrew Moseman | June 12, 2008 4:11 pm

Should pigs recieve antibiotics?Advocates of “organic” or “natural” foods get up in arms about some of the practices at big commercial hog farms—especially putting antibiotics into the livestock feed to make the animals grow faster. The idea simply makes some people uncomfortable, but more importantly, the overuse of antibiotics in animals, just like in hospitals, can worsen the problem of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. According to a study out of Ohio State University, however, pigs that went without antibiotics were more likely to carry human pathogens like salmonella and trichinella.

The team of scientists led by Wondwossen Gebreyes studied around 600 pigs. About half lived in indoor commercial hog farms and received antibiotics; the other half lived the old-fashioned way, outdoors and antibiotic-free. The non-treated swine showed more salmonella infections, 54 percent compared to 39 percent of the treated pigs, and more infections of toxoplasma and trichinella.

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“Tick Riders” Watch for Blood-Sucking Invaders at the Mexican Border

By Karen Rowan | April 22, 2008 10:15 am

fever tickIn a remote region in southern Texas, a horde of eight-legged creatures feasts on a flock of helpless prey. These tiny parasites are called fever ticks, and they’re threatening to invade the U.S. and decimate our cattle population. But not if the Tick Riders can stop them.

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