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Investors abandon Fairway after Q2 loss widens

Stock in Fairway Group Holdings was down by nearly 10% Friday, after the retailer reported a wider than expected quarterly loss and suspended financial guidance as a rebuilding commences under new CEO Jack Murphy.

Murphy, who was appointed to his role in September, in his first remarks to the financial community late Thursday said it was too early on to remark on specific strategies but intended to craft “very detailed marketing and merchandising plans” focused on improving same-store sales and enhancing processes for the New York-based specialty retailer. “There’s a lot of work to do here at Fairway, but there’s also a tremendous amount of opportunity,” Murphy said. He did not take questions from analysts.

As reported previously, Fairway’s sales in the second quarter improved by 5.9%, but comps were down by 3.9% as a result of new competition — in particular a Brooklyn Whole Foods store affecting sales at Fairway’s Red Hook store — and losses mounted to $ 17.2 million as a result of price investments, inflation that was not passed along to shoppers, and increased shrink. Earnings and revenue were below analyst predictions.

Ed Arditte, co-president and CFO, said, “We’re actively reviewing all operational activities in the company and we believe that halting guidance is the appropriate action for us at this point.”

Fairway stock closed Friday at $ 2.46 per share, down by 9.56%, its lowest close since it began trading in April 2013.

Supermarket News

Chiquita sees quarterly boost in banana sales but posts loss

Chiquita sees quarterly boost in banana sales but posts loss

Chiquita Brands International Inc. sales inched up 2.2 percent for the third quarter, but the Charlotte banana company still reported a loss of $ 18 million, or 38 cents per share.

The loss equalled that of the third quarter in 2013 for Chiquita (NYSE:CQB). Sales increased to $ 739 million for the latest quarter, rising from $ 723 million a year earlier. That increase was propelled by a 4 percent rise in banana sales to $ 477 million, up from $ 458 million for the third quarter of 2013.

Ed Lonergan, Chiquita CEO, calls the results the “strongest in the last five years for this period.”

“The momentum generated by Chiquita’s ‘return to the core’ strategy resulted in higher sales in our banana segment, and improved pricing in both bananas and salads and healthy snacks,” he says.

The fact that analysts had expected a loss of only 9 cents per share didn’t seem to affect the price of Chiquita shares. Shares traded up a penny from Wednesday’s closing price to $ 14.44 as the stock market opened, then settled at $ 14.43 at midmorning.

Today’s earnings report will likely be the next-to-last quarterly disclosure for Chiquita before Cutrale Group and Safra Group take the company private.

Lonergan adds that he was proud of Chiquita employees as they stayed on task as the company agreed late last month to be sold to Cutrale-Safra. The $ 1.3 billion deal was sealed after Chiquita shareholders nixed a plan for the company to buy Irish fruit supplier Fyffes plc.

Lonergan says Chiquita and Cutrale-Safra plan to complete their deal as soon as the end of the year.

Source: bizjournals.com

Publication date: 11/7/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Farm manager plays leading role in postharvest loss

With all the effort it takes to grow a food crop from seed to sale, it may be surprising that some farms in Brazil lose 10 to 12 percent of their yield at various points along the postharvest route. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, when it comes to meeting the needs of the world’s growing population that’s a lot of food falling through the cracks. Interestingly, farm managers who are aware of the factors that contribute to postharvest grain loss actually lose less grain. This was one of the findings in a study that examined how managers of large farms in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso may be negatively affecting the efficiency of their own operations.

“Clearly there are things that you can do to reduce loss — you can put bed liners in trucks, you can adjust your combine, you can harvest more slowly — but for the farmers in Mato Grosso, it’s not a high priority,” said Peter Goldsmith. “It doesn’t seem rational. If you see soybeans bouncing off your windshield from the truck ahead of you and bands of soybeans along the berm, why wouldn’t you try to prevent it? It appears that farm managers in Brazil actually allow loss to happen because the cost of reducing loss is greater than the benefits.”

Goldsmith said that one of the basic research questions of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, which funded this study, is about why loss occurs. He said that although there are hundreds of articles about postharvest loss, no one is working with the farm managers to find out, from a managerial and organizational perspective, what drives this loss. There is a discrepancy between the reality of the postharvest loss and what the managers believe to be acceptable loss.

Goldsmith explained that in tropical systems where the farming season lasts much longer than in the United States the more intensive production results in two crops a year on the same plot of ground — soybeans followed by corn.

“Because they are in such a hurry to get the soybean crop harvested so they can get the maize crop planted before the rainy season, they may: harvest too fast, desiccate green soybean to advance harvest, or expose soybean to the weather during transport, all of which results in a 10 percent loss,” Goldsmith said. “The loss isn’t intentional but rather a level that the farm manager is willing to live with in order to get that second crop of corn.”

A lack of understanding and awareness is also part of the problem. “When a farmer doesn’t think that harvest speed is important, they have more loss. Likewise, if a farmer doesn’t think that combine adjustments are important they’ll have more loss. Those who realize that maintaining equipment is important, have less loss.

Consequently, technical training in the field with the equipment could be beneficial. But the cost of reducing loss further, using current technology, may exceed the benefits. Farmers may be unwilling to pay or invest in loss reduction.”

In addition to harvest speed, the study identified several other factors contributing to grain loss: lack of truck regular maintenance; lack of adjustment to the combine at the platform; bad weather; bad road conditions; and a lack of employee training.

“What’s interesting is that the results from the survey were so mixed,” Goldsmith said. “Why wouldn’t farmers have agreed 100 percent that harvest speed contributes to loss? Insects and rodents seemed to be unimportant. Truck conditions and bad weather were the top factors to blame for loss, but truck conditions were mentioned by only 62 percent. These causes should be common knowledge so I don’t know why 100 percent of the responses didn’t agree that, for example, poor road and truck conditions contribute to loss. The lack of definitiveness about this may indicate that loss is not a “front-of-mind” issue for managers, which, in turn, has significant implications for policy makers seeking to reduce post-harvest loss. Goldsmith believes that these tropical farmers have a variety of issues at hand that trump loss. “We may think of Brazil as sunshine and beautiful all the time, but farming is really tough in the tropics. There are pest pressures 24/7, soils are poor, there’s an extreme rainy season, distance to markets is great, and road conditions are very rough. All sorts of factors make farming tough, but this area of the world has the greatest potential to materially augment global grain supplies.”

For the study, an initial focus group of seven farmers was conducted to help frame the questions for an online survey. The survey respondents represent some of the largest farmers, not just in Mato Grosso, but in the world.

“This dominant class of medium- and large-tropical farm acreage operators who are producing most of the new grains are filling the gap between where we are now and where we need to be in 2050 to feed the world,” Goldsmith said. “Sure, we can expand our crop among the developed countries of the world, but we’re only helping at the margin. The potential for new grain producers on new land is coming from farmers in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Farm manager plays leading role in postharvest loss

With all the effort it takes to grow a food crop from seed to sale, it may be surprising that some farms in Brazil lose 10 to 12 percent of their yield at various points along the postharvest route. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, when it comes to meeting the needs of the world’s growing population that’s a lot of food falling through the cracks. Interestingly, farm managers who are aware of the factors that contribute to postharvest grain loss actually lose less grain. This was one of the findings in a study that examined how managers of large farms in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso may be negatively affecting the efficiency of their own operations.

“Clearly there are things that you can do to reduce loss — you can put bed liners in trucks, you can adjust your combine, you can harvest more slowly — but for the farmers in Mato Grosso, it’s not a high priority,” said Peter Goldsmith. “It doesn’t seem rational. If you see soybeans bouncing off your windshield from the truck ahead of you and bands of soybeans along the berm, why wouldn’t you try to prevent it? It appears that farm managers in Brazil actually allow loss to happen because the cost of reducing loss is greater than the benefits.”

Goldsmith said that one of the basic research questions of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, which funded this study, is about why loss occurs. He said that although there are hundreds of articles about postharvest loss, no one is working with the farm managers to find out, from a managerial and organizational perspective, what drives this loss. There is a discrepancy between the reality of the postharvest loss and what the managers believe to be acceptable loss.

Goldsmith explained that in tropical systems where the farming season lasts much longer than in the United States the more intensive production results in two crops a year on the same plot of ground — soybeans followed by corn.

“Because they are in such a hurry to get the soybean crop harvested so they can get the maize crop planted before the rainy season, they may: harvest too fast, desiccate green soybean to advance harvest, or expose soybean to the weather during transport, all of which results in a 10 percent loss,” Goldsmith said. “The loss isn’t intentional but rather a level that the farm manager is willing to live with in order to get that second crop of corn.”

A lack of understanding and awareness is also part of the problem. “When a farmer doesn’t think that harvest speed is important, they have more loss. Likewise, if a farmer doesn’t think that combine adjustments are important they’ll have more loss. Those who realize that maintaining equipment is important, have less loss.

Consequently, technical training in the field with the equipment could be beneficial. But the cost of reducing loss further, using current technology, may exceed the benefits. Farmers may be unwilling to pay or invest in loss reduction.”

In addition to harvest speed, the study identified several other factors contributing to grain loss: lack of truck regular maintenance; lack of adjustment to the combine at the platform; bad weather; bad road conditions; and a lack of employee training.

“What’s interesting is that the results from the survey were so mixed,” Goldsmith said. “Why wouldn’t farmers have agreed 100 percent that harvest speed contributes to loss? Insects and rodents seemed to be unimportant. Truck conditions and bad weather were the top factors to blame for loss, but truck conditions were mentioned by only 62 percent. These causes should be common knowledge so I don’t know why 100 percent of the responses didn’t agree that, for example, poor road and truck conditions contribute to loss. The lack of definitiveness about this may indicate that loss is not a “front-of-mind” issue for managers, which, in turn, has significant implications for policy makers seeking to reduce post-harvest loss. Goldsmith believes that these tropical farmers have a variety of issues at hand that trump loss. “We may think of Brazil as sunshine and beautiful all the time, but farming is really tough in the tropics. There are pest pressures 24/7, soils are poor, there’s an extreme rainy season, distance to markets is great, and road conditions are very rough. All sorts of factors make farming tough, but this area of the world has the greatest potential to materially augment global grain supplies.”

For the study, an initial focus group of seven farmers was conducted to help frame the questions for an online survey. The survey respondents represent some of the largest farmers, not just in Mato Grosso, but in the world.

“This dominant class of medium- and large-tropical farm acreage operators who are producing most of the new grains are filling the gap between where we are now and where we need to be in 2050 to feed the world,” Goldsmith said. “Sure, we can expand our crop among the developed countries of the world, but we’re only helping at the margin. The potential for new grain producers on new land is coming from farmers in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Habitat loss on breeding grounds cause of monarch decline, study finds

Habitat loss on breeding grounds in the United States — not on wintering grounds in Mexico — is the main cause of recent and projected population declines of migratory monarch butterflies in eastern North America, according to new research from the University of Guelph.

The groundbreaking study was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

“Our work provides the first evidence that monarch butterfly numbers in eastern North America are most sensitive to changes in the availability of milkweed on breeding grounds, particularly in the Corn Belt region of the United States,” said Ryan Norris, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Integrative Biology.

He conducted the study with lead author and current Guelph post-doc Tyler Flockhart, as well as scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Australia’s national science agency).

These results contradict the long-held belief that monarch butterflies are most vulnerable to disturbances on wintering grounds in Mexico. They also confirm suspicions that recent declines have actually been driven by breeding events.

During the winter months, monarch butterflies congregate in a small area at high densities in Mexico. Scientists thought factors on those wintering grounds, such as climate change or deforestation, were the greatest threat to the population.

That led to multiple Mexican presidential decrees to protect butterfly overwintering habitats and efforts to curb illegal deforestation.

“The protection of overwintering habitat has no doubt gone a long way towards conserving monarchs that breed throughout eastern North America. However, our results provide evidence that there is now another imminent threat,” said Flockhart.

Milkweed is the only group of plants that monarch caterpillars feed upon before they develop into butterflies. Industrial farming contributed to a 21-per-cent decline in milkweed plants between 1995 and 2013, and much of this loss occurred in the central breeding region, the study said.

More than 70 per cent of milkweed in this region is located in agricultural-intensive landscapes where genetically modified crops are increasing, as opposed to 16 per cent in conservation lands and 10 per cent in public areas such as roadways, the study said.

Changes in milkweed abundance can affect everything from larval competition for food to egg-laying in adults.

“The rapid loss of milkweed projected for this region, attributable to land cover changes and shifts in agricultural practices, is a very large concern,” said Flockhart. Left unchecked, milkweed loss will cause the monarch population to decline by at least another 14 per cent, the study said.

The researchers developed a model to predict effects of habitat loss on both breeding and wintering grounds and the effects of climate change. They aimed to explain the observed population decline and make predictions for the next 100 years.

Their results connect an increase in genetically modified, herbicide-resistant crops and the current population decline of monarch butterflies in eastern North America.

“Reducing the negative effects of milkweed loss in the breeding grounds should be the top conservation priority to slow or halt future population declines of the monarch in North America,” Flockhart said.

Norris added:”Planting milkweed in the south and central United States would provide the largest immediate benefit.”

Earlier pioneering studies from Norris’s research lab have tracked year-round migration patterns of this iconic species using chemical markers and have looked at how monarchs migrate to their Mexican wintering grounds.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Guelph. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Fairway posts $8.8M loss in Q4

Fairway Group Holdings reported a loss of $ 8.8 million on sales of $ 200.3 million in the fourth quarter, which ended March 30.

Sales increased by 12.1% overall, due to new stores and the incremental effect of having its Red Hook store open for the entire quarter, versus four weeks last year when it reopened following repairs from Hurricane damage.


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Adjusted for the Red Hook opening, sales grew by 4.8%, while comparable-store sales decreased by 1.9%. The company said comps declined due to severe winter weather, the shift of the Easter and Passover holidays from the fourth quarter last year to the first quarter this year, and the effect of cannibailization from new locations.

Total sales were slightly above analyst expectations, while profits as a percent of sales of 32.4% fell below expectations.

Officials in a conference call Thursday said the Red Hook store — which typically exceeds $ 1 million in sales per week — experienced a reduction of around $ 200,000 in weekly sales due to a competitive opening in Brooklyn. This referred to Whole Foods Markets’ new store in the nearby Gowanus neighborhood.

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Supermarket News

Gallery: Loss prevention tactics

Retail theft costs retailers billions of dollars each year. The target: high-value items like over-the-counter medicine, baby formula, electronics, razor blades, beauty products and batteries.

Some retailers address the problem by removing targeted items from the shelves and placing them in locked displays. Other chains opt to keep products on the shelf, but use special merchandising displays that deter a shelf “sweep.”

The captions highlight some of the tactics retailers are using to prevent theft.

Photos and captions by Carol Angrisani

Supermarket News

Bad weather conditions mean Q1 GAAP net loss for Chiquita

Confident in ‘return to the core’ strategic plan
Bad weather conditions mean Q1 GAAP net loss for Chiquita

Chiquita Brands International, Inc. has released financial and operating results for the first quarter 2014. The company reported GAAP net loss of $ 25 million in 2014 compared to GAAP net income of $ 2 million 2013.  GAAP operating income for 2014 was $ 1 million compared to income of $ 25 million in 2013. The company also reported comparable operating income[1] of $ 7 million for 2014 compared to comparable operating income of $ 23 million for 2013.

“While we are confident in our 2014 progress toward our long term financial targets and benefits from our ‘return to the core’ strategic plan, our first quarter results did not meet expectations,” said Ed Lonergan, Chiquita’s president and chief executive officer.  “Drought conditions in Central America and winter storms in North America and over the Atlantic disrupted our value chain and market demand for our products.  While we grew our North American banana volume in excess of 5 percent compared to first quarter of 2013, shortfalls in contracted and owned farm supply required purchase of expensive weekly market fruit to serve our contracted business and resulted in inefficient shipping choices and short supply to our weekly market customers across countries.  In salads and healthy snacks, winter weather resulted in mismatched demand versus supply in both our retail and foodservice businesses, impacting service and raw product requirements.  While retail salad volume grew 5 percent compared to first quarter of 2013, our foodservice and fruit ingredient businesses volumes were substantially lower year on year due to a number of factors.”

Lonergan continued, “While weather impacts are a fact in our industry, our responsibility as leaders is to mitigate these risks.  In addition to bringing together two complementary businesses, we believe that the combination with Fyffes, which we announced on March 10, 2014, will fundamentally improve our ability to deal with weather risks and event-driven supply volatility in our bananas business due to the broader growing and shipping profiles of the combined entities.  Last week, ChiquitaFyffes filed a registration statement with the SEC in connection with the proposed combination, and we have begun the regulatory review process in both North America and Europe.  We plan to close the transaction by the end of the year and remain excited about the opportunities for the combined business.  Also last week, we began implementation of efficiency and pricing actions in our salads business, supporting our long term profitability objectives for this business.”

Please click here to view the full financial report.

http://online.wsj.com/article/HUG1784031.html

Publication date: 5/12/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Carbon loss from soil accelerating climate change

Research published in Science today found that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change.

Two Northern Arizona University researchers led the study, which challenges previous understanding about how carbon accumulates in soil. Increased levels of CO2 accelerate plant growth, which causes more absorption of CO2 through photosynthesis.

Until now, the accepted belief was that carbon is then stored in wood and soil for a long time, slowing climate change. Yet this new research suggests that the extra carbon provides fuel to microorganisms in the soil whose byproducts (such as CO2) are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

“Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Kees Jan van Groenigen, research fellow at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and lead author of the study. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.”

In order to better understand how soil microbes respond to the changing atmosphere, the study’s authors utilized statistical techniques that compare data to models and test for general patterns across studies. They analyzed published results from 53 different experiments in forests, grasslands and agricultural fields around the world. These experiments all measured how extra CO2 in the atmosphere affects plant growth, microbial production of carbon dioxide, and the total amount of soil carbon at the end of the experiment.

“We’ve long thought soils to be a stable, safe place to store carbon, but our results show soil carbon is not as stable as we previously thought,” said Bruce Hungate, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and study author. “We should not be complacent about continued subsidies from nature in slowing climate change.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northern Arizona University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Carbon loss from soil accelerating climate change

Research published in Science today found that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change.

Two Northern Arizona University researchers led the study, which challenges previous understanding about how carbon accumulates in soil. Increased levels of CO2 accelerate plant growth, which causes more absorption of CO2 through photosynthesis.

Until now, the accepted belief was that carbon is then stored in wood and soil for a long time, slowing climate change. Yet this new research suggests that the extra carbon provides fuel to microorganisms in the soil whose byproducts (such as CO2) are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

“Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Kees Jan van Groenigen, research fellow at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and lead author of the study. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.”

In order to better understand how soil microbes respond to the changing atmosphere, the study’s authors utilized statistical techniques that compare data to models and test for general patterns across studies. They analyzed published results from 53 different experiments in forests, grasslands and agricultural fields around the world. These experiments all measured how extra CO2 in the atmosphere affects plant growth, microbial production of carbon dioxide, and the total amount of soil carbon at the end of the experiment.

“We’ve long thought soils to be a stable, safe place to store carbon, but our results show soil carbon is not as stable as we previously thought,” said Bruce Hungate, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and study author. “We should not be complacent about continued subsidies from nature in slowing climate change.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northern Arizona University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Chiquita reduces fourth quarter loss despite tricky year

Chiquita reduces fourth quarter loss despite tricky year

Charlotte-based Chiquita Brands International said Thursday that it had reduced its fourth quarter losses, as the produce company wrestled with harsh weather and a glut of bananas that drove down prices on the world market. The company has worked to return to profitability for years, having trimmed expenses and cut unprofitable business lines such as snacks and new kinds of fruits.

Chiquita lost $ 31 million during the fourth quarter, down from a $ 333 million loss during the same quarter a year earlier. Sales ticked up about 1 percent, to $ 748 million, even as an unexpected oversupply of bananas from Ecuador and Guatemala pushed prices down.

“Chiquita weathered the banana impact thanks to the strength of our brand,” chief executive Ed Lonergan said during a conference call with analysts. Going forward, Lonergan said the world banana market “started the current year somewhat soft” but is expected to recover as the year progresses.

Bananas remain the lion’s share of Chiquita’s business, accounting for $ 488 million in revenue during the fourth quarter. Despite an increase in the number of bananas sold, the revenue figure is flat from a year ago primarily because of lower prices in North America and weak sales in Europe and the Middle East.

Chiquita kept prices in Europe higher, executives said, to emphasize the brand’s premium. “This choice, while right for us, resulted in lower overall volume,” Lonergan said. The number of boxes of bananas sold in Europe fell 15 percent. Sales of bananas plunged 20 percent in the Middle East, which continues to be wracked by wars and political instability.

Chiquita also sells private label and Fresh Express-brand bagged salads, an area where the company has tried to increase its revenue. Sales of the company’s bagged salads rose 2 percent in the fourth quarter, to $ 228 million.

But salads were a challenge, too, for Chiquita. The company has been hit hard by persistent drought in the West, which hurt growing regions in Yuma, Ariz., California’s Salinas Valley and Mexico. Shortages of iceberg lettuce and other salad ingredients led to higher costs, Chiquita said.

Chiquita assumes the drought will continue, and is shifting production to other places such as the Southeast U.S. in order to compensate for the loss of much of its arable land.

The company is also buying or leasing more land in Central America to increase the proportion of banana production it directly controls. Currently, Chiquita grows about 38 percent of the bananas it sells, and buys the rest from third-party growers. But bananas from farms the company owns or leases have a lower cost per box. So Chiquita looks to buy or lease land again in places such as Panama, the first time the company has done so in years. Executives said Chiquita recently bought 500 hectares in Honduras, the company’s first purchase there since the 1990s.

For the full year, Chiquita reported a $ 16 million loss, down sharply from a $ 405 million loss in 2012. The company’s sales in 2013 were down less than 1 percent, to $ 3 billion.

Source: charlotteobserver.com

Publication date: 2/28/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Agricultural productivity loss a result of soil, crop damage from flooding

The Cache River Basin, which once drained more than 614,100 acres across six southern Illinois counties, has changed substantively since the ancient Ohio River receded. The basin contains a slow-moving, meandering river; fertile soils and productive farmlands; deep sand and gravel deposits; sloughs and uplands; and one of the most unique and diverse natural habitats in Illinois and the nation.

According to a recent University of Illinois study, the region’s agricultural lands dodged a bullet due to the timing of the great flood of April 2011 when the Ohio River approached the record high of 332.2 feet above sea level.

“The floodwaters eventually drained back into the Ohio River and upper Mississippi River ultimately leaving approximately 1,000 acres of agricultural land flooded from a backup in the middle and lower Cache River Valley, which flooded the adjacent forest-covered alluvial soils and the slightly higher cultivated soils,” said U of I researcher Ken Olson.

According to Olson, who has studied the effects of that particular flood extensively, these cultivated soils drained by the middle of June 2011 and were planted to soybeans. The floodwaters left a thin silt and clay deposition on the agricultural lands and crop residue when they receded. These coatings included significant amounts of soil organic carbon, microbes, and pathogens. After the coatings dried, they were incorporated into the topsoil layer of the alluvial soils using tillage equipment.

“Because the flooding occurred during the non-growing season for corn and soybeans, the mixing in of sediment into the topsoil prior to planting resulted in little significant loss of soil productivity, little soybean damage, or yield reduction on lands outside the levees along the Mississippi, Cache, and Ohio rivers,” Olson said.

As a result of the record Ohio River flood level, floodwaters passed north through the Post Creek cut-off, then west through the 2002 Karnak breach and into the middle Cache River valley to the Diversion to Mississippi River, which was already above flood stage so the floodwaters continued west. In late April, the Ohio River floodwaters then started to flood the towns of Olive Branch and Miller City, the Horseshoe Lake area, and surrounding agricultural lands. On May 2, 2011, the Len Small levee on the Mississippi River failed and resulted in the flooding of an additional 30,000 acres of Illinois public and private lands.

Illinois agricultural statistics recorded the harvest of 4,500 fewer acres of corn and 6,500 fewer acres of soybeans in Alexander County in 2011. Soybean production was 1,200,000 bushels in 2010 but dropped to 865,000 bushels in 2011 due to flooding from both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and  crop and soil damage. The floodwaters also scoured lands in some places and deposited sand in other locations.

Olson cautioned that, had winter wheat been planted outside the levees in the fall of 2010, the wheat crop would have drowned. “Illinois farmers are aware of the flooding potential, especially in the winter and early spring, so they don’t plant winter wheat on unprotected bottomlands,” he said. “Consequently, there was no crop loss outside the levees in April and May of 2011. Local floodwater in the lower Cache River Valley, south of the Mississippi River Diversion and Dike, could not flow back into the Ohio River. It was blocked by the Cache River levee on the south side and by the closed gate at the Ohio River levee. Instead, water backed up and flooded forested and agricultural lands along the lower Cache River and north of the Cache River levee,” Olson said.

Olson said that the damage to the land could have been much worse. “Land use changes, diversion ditches and levees, loss of wetlands and flood-holding capacity, internal channelization of the Cache River and tributaries, and an ever-changing climate have altered the hydrology of the valley, redistributed soil from fields and ditch banks into the river, and transported tons of sediment during flooding events into both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers,” Olson said.

As the 2011 Ohio River floodwater reclaimed its ancient floodway, Olson says that the extent of these hydrologic changes and their social, economic, and environmental impacts have become more apparent. “The Great Flood of 2011 lends urgency to the reevaluation and implementation of the Cache River Watershed Resource Plan completed in 1995,” Olson said.

He cited nine resource concerns that were identified: erosion, open dumping, private property rights, water quality, continuation of government farm conservation programs, Post Creek Cutoff stream bank erosion, open flow on the Cache River, dissemination of accurate and timely information throughout the watershed, and the impacts of wildlife on farming and vice versa.

“Most of these concerns still need to be addressed,” Olson said. “Since that plan was created, there have been additional compromises/breaches that need to be repaired.  As the repair and rebuilding of the valley infrastructure is undertaken, there will need to be a significant investment of human and financial resources to reduce the impacts of future catastrophic events.”

“The 2011 Ohio River flooding of the Cache River Valley in southern Illinois,” which was co-authored by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton, was published in a 2014 issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation and can be found online at http://www.jswconline.org/content/69/1/5A.full.pdf+html.

 “Impacts of 2011 Len Small levee breach on private and public Illinois lands,” co-authored by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton, was published in a 2013 issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation and can be accessed online at http://www.jswconline.org/content/68/4/89A.full.pdf+html.

Partial funding for this research was provided by the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. Additional funding support came from National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, Regional Research, Project No. 15-372 and in cooperation with North-Central Regional Project No. NCERA-3 Soil Survey; and published with funding support from the Director of the Illinois Office of Research, ACES, University of Illinois.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Loss of biodiversity limits toxin degradation

Jan. 16, 2014 — You might not think of microbes when you consider biodiversity, but it turns out that even a moderate loss of less than 5% of soil microbes may compromise some key ecosystem functions and could lead to lower degradation of toxins in the environment.

Research published today in the SfAM journal, Environmental Microbiology, reports that without a rich diversity of soil bacteria, specialized functions such as the removal of pesticide residues are not as effective.

Dr Brajesh Singh of the University of Western Sydney led the work, he said “If the ability of the ecosystem to remove toxins from the environment is reduced, there will be higher toxicity risks in the environment and for non-target organisms, including humans, from agricultural chemicals. It is likely that these contaminants will remain at higher levels in surface and underground water, as well. It is vital to gain a better understanding of the extent to which soil bacteria are involved in the removal of contaminants.”

The reasons for, and extent of, the decline in microbial diversity in agricultural soils is likely to be complex. The team has looked specifically at long-term heavy metal pollution where metals such as cadmium, zinc, and copper build up in the environment, usually as a result of industrial use. Another source is from digested sewage sludge, which is spread in agriculture fields to supply nutrients to crops and improve soil fertility; the sludge has historically contained some heavy metals, which can become concentrated in the soil.

Although the concentration of heavy metal used this study was higher than the current EU limit, this study has confirmed that long-term exposure to such contaminants does reduce the diversity of bacteria in the soil.

With the global population set to reach nine billion by 2050, we face a challenge to feed an extra two billion mouths using the same resources that we have at present. Crop losses to pests and disease account for a large percentage of under-production and so giving up pesticides will be difficult. Similarly, the use of sludge as a fertilizer is likely to become more prevalent. Research like this allows us to understand better how to use important agrichemicals and waste products in a sustainable way and so will contribute to future food and environmental security.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Navel loss to freeze damage could be one-third or more, as prices start to rise

One month after the week-long hard freeze in the citrus-growing areas of central California, growers were continuing to assess damage. While no figures were yet available for the industry as a whole, the effects of the widespread freeze were extremely variable, with damage ranging from negligible in some blocks to extensive in other blocks.

Unofficially, as of early January it was appearing that the total loss to the remaining on-tree crop could be 30 percent or more.

“We are hoping to have something by the end of this month,” Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, CA, told The Produce News Jan. 6. “We have questionnaires out now. We have people getting back to us with information. We are going to try to pin down a number” within the next two or three weeks.”

Even then, it will be a range, not an exact figure, “but hopefully we will have a tight range that we are comfortable with,” he said. Based on the information received so far from growers, “we are finding everything from almost no damage to complete losses in different blocks, and sometimes they are not that far apart. It has really been difficult to come up with a good number.”

The shortage resulting from the freeze was not felt prior to the holidays, as growers harvested as much fruit as they could prior to the freeze to assure being able to meet commitments for the holiday season.

Prices held fairly steady through the holidays as contracts were honored. As is normal, demand dropped immediately following the holiday pull but was starting to build again in early January, and growers say prices were beginning to rise at least partly due to the anticipation of tighter supplies through the balance of the season.

The extent of the freeze damage this year has been difficult to assess, according to Blakely. The weather has been fairly warm since the freeze, and “we keep thinking with these warm days it is going to start exacerbating the damage” on the freeze-damaged fruit, making it easier to separate out. But “we are not seeing a lot of differentiation yet. We are still working on it.”

The industry is taking great care to assure that only sound fruit is packed and shipped, so most of the fruit currently being harvested is from the least damaged blocks, and everything is inspected before shipping.

“They inspect it as it is going across the line, and they look at it again in the finished carton,” Blakely said. “So there is really a lot of effort going into keeping bad fruit off the market. The focus, certainly, is on keeping the quality standards high” and assuring that what does go into the box is good quality, because “the last thing that anybody in the industry wants is to get damaged fruit into the marketplace.”

Currently, “we are seeing good utilization on the fruit that is being packed, but that is not really indicative” of the remaining crop, Blakely said. Packinghouses are “out looking for their best fruit right now.”

In general, blocks that got colder and have more damage will not be picked and packed until the damaged fruit has differentiated itself and is easier to sort out. However, fruit from the most severely damaged blocks will not be packed fresh at all but will be stripped off and sent directly to the juice market.

Booth Ranches LLC in Orange Cove, CA, is looking at an estimated 30-40 percent loss on its Navels due to the freeze, according to Isak Du Toit, vice president of export marketing.

“That’s our early stuff we are getting in,” he said Jan. 6. “Some blocks are coming in with almost no damage at all. Some are coming with little and some with up to 40 percent. It just depends on where your block was and how cold it got in that specific area.”

Fruit from the better blocks “looks good, eats good and packs out good,” he said. In lots that have more damage, “you just have to work with it to get the damaged fruit out” and give the consumer a good box of fruit. “We want people to keep buying, so we want to be sure that we put good fruit on the market.”

Du Toit expected Booth Ranches to have “good fruit for the rest of the season.”Where there is more damage in a bin of harvested fruit, you just have to handle a little bit more to get the same amount out in the end.”

So far, “consumers seem to be happy with what we’ve put out there, so we are just going to continue to grade it hard and make sure we get all the bad ones out,” he said.

Prices on Navels were “going up slightly,” he said. “The domestic market has gone up maybe $ 2 a box,” but export prices have held steady since the start of the season.

The extent of damage “varies considerably depending on where you were in the state,” said Harley Phillips, a salesman at Johnston Farms in Edison, CA. “You had some areas that were extremely cold and with some extreme damage. You had other areas where there was virtually no damage. I imagine anyone with any amount of acreage suffered some kind of damage in the coldest spots, the lower spots. Our guess for our area is that we are probably going to wind up with about 35 percent loss of the entire crop.”

It was, Phillips said, the earliest crop-damaging freeze he can remember.

Johnston Farms has harvested fruit from some groves that “we are packing very successfully” and others that “we sent straight to the juice factory.” Then there are some lots with a fair amount of damage that “later on can be run and separated, but that ability hasn’t manifested itself yet,” he said.

Prices on smaller sizes “have jumped up pretty sharply,” Phillips said. That is due partly to the freeze but also “due to the fact that they were scarce this year to begin with. Currently “you’ve got, generally speaking, one price for Fancy fruit, all sizes,” he said Jan. 6.

Mandarins, which are more cold-sensitive than Navels, were generally more severely damaged, “but here again that depends on who you talk to,” Phillips said. “We suffered virtually no damage in any of our Mandarins in this area,” although the company also has Mandarin growers further north “who got burned pretty good.”

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