Scientific News

Jun 11, 2014. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg works on a colloid experiment aboard the International Space Station.

In January, when the United States proposed extending International Space Station (ISS) operations until 2024, the world was a very different place. That was before Russian military intervention in Ukraine, before US–Russian relations foundered and before Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin suggested that US astronauts use a trampoline to get themselves to orbit

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April 11, 2014: A plant growth chamber bound for the International Space Station inside the Dragon capsule on the SpaceX-3 resupply mission may help expand in-orbit food production capabilities in more ways than one, and offer astronauts something they don't take for granted, fresh food.

NASA's Veg-01 experiment will be used to study the in-orbit function and performance of a new expandable plant growth facility called Veggie and its plant "pillows." The investigation will focus on the growth and development of "Outredgeous" lettuce seedlings in the spaceflight environment.

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April 21, 2014: For many years, Florida citrus growers and beekeepers have enjoyed a symbiotic working relationship. But recently, that relationship has been challenged as citrus growers have been forced to spray more to control the Asian citrus psyllid — the vector of HLB.

Unfortunately, the increased sprays resulted in a few unintended bee kills. This set off a contentious debate between growers and beekeepers. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) stepped in and offered to mediate the discussions between both sides.

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March 1st 2014: WHEN bananas started to be widely exported in the 1870s, they were an exotic treat. But by the 1950s the fruit (botanically, a herb, but never mind) was a favourite of millions far from the tropics. Then Panama disease struck. The soil fungus swept through Central and South America, killing banana plants in its path. By the 1960s Gros Michel (Big Mike), the variety accounting for virtually all exports, was close to extinction. The export industry approached collapse.

But in the nick of time growers identified a resistant commercial variety, called Cavendish. Compared with Gros Michel, it was small and bland. Gros Michels could be flung into train carriages and ships’ holds; Cavendishes had to be packed in cardboard and shipped in pricey refrigerated containers. But there was no other alternative. Soon Cavendish replaced Gros Michel as the world’s top banana: the variety now accounts for 95% of all exports.

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March 8, 2014: AUSTIN, Tex. — CALIFORNIA is experiencing one of its worst droughts on record. Just two and a half years ago, Folsom Lake, a major reservoir outside Sacramento, was at 83 percent capacity. Today it’s down to 36 percent. In January, there was no measurable rain in downtown Los Angeles. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency. President Obama has pledged $183 million in emergency funding. The situation, despite last week’s deluge in Southern California, is dire.

With California producing nearly half of the fruit and vegetables grown in the United States, attention has naturally focused on the water required to grow popular foods such as walnuts, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, almonds and grapes. These crops are the ones that a recent report in the magazine Mother Jones highlighted as being unexpectedly water intensive. Who knew, for example, that it took 5.4 gallons to produce a head of broccoli, or 3.3 gallons to grow a single tomato? This information about the water footprint of food products — that is, the amount of water required to produce them — is important to understand, especially for a state that dedicates about 80 percent of its water to agriculture.

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March 8, 2014: WASHINGTON — The farm bill signed by President Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers, catfish farmers and their ilk. But closer examination reveals that the nation’s agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.

Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among American consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.

“There is nothing hotter than farm to table,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican from a district of vast cherry orchards.

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