Camelina partnership considered
Yield10 Bioscience Inc. and Mitsubishi Corporation plan to jointly undertake a feasibility study for the supply and offtake of camelina oil from the plant’s grain. Camelina can be used as a low-carbon feedstock oil for biofuels. Mitsubishi Corporation plans to mass-produce sustainable aviation fuel to decarbonize commercial aviation.
Camelina would be grown under contract using Yield10’s proprietary camelina seed genetics. The companies also plan to jointly study the development and future offtake and marketing of camelina to produce bioplastic. Visit yield10bio.com for more information.
Soil-carbon certificates examined
Increasing soil organic carbon stocks in agricultural soils removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and contributes toward achieving carbon neutrality. Greater soil organic carbon levels have benefits for farmers such as increased soil fertility and resilience against drought-related yield losses.
But increasing those levels requires management changes. Private soil carbon certificates could compensate for related costs. In those schemes farmers register their fields with commercial certificate providers who certify soil organic carbon increases. Certificates are then sold as voluntary emission offsets on the carbon market.
A new study assesses the suitability of the certificates for climate change mitigation. From a soils perspective, the researchers address processes of soil organic carbon enrichment, potential and limits, and options for cost-effective measurement and monitoring.
The researchers assess farm-management options likely to increase soil organic carbon and discuss their synergies and trade-offs with economic, environmental and social targets.
While increasing soil organic carbon is a cornerstone for more sustainable cropping systems, private carbon certificates fall short of expectations for climate change mitigation. That’s because permanence of sequestration can’t be guaranteed, the researchers stated. Governance challenges include lack of long-term monitoring, problems to ensure additionality, problems to safeguard against leakage effects, and lack of long-term accountability if stored carbon is re-emitted.
Soil-based private carbon certificates are unlikely to deliver the emission offset attributed to them and their benefit for climate change mitigation is uncertain, the researchers stated. Additional research is needed to develop standards for soil organic carbon change metrics and monitoring, and to better understand the effect of short term, non-permanent carbon removals on peaks in atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations and on the probability of exceeding climatic tipping points, they said.
The research was published in Journal of Environmental Management. Visit sciencedirect.com and search for “soil carbon certificates” for more information.
Soil eroding faster than it forms
The rate of soil erosion in the Midwest is 10 times to 1,000 times greater than pre-agricultural erosion rates. The newly discovered pre-agricultural rates, which reflect the rate at which soils form, are orders of magnitude less than the greatest allowable limit of erosion set by the US Department of Agriculture.
A US National Science Foundation-supported study makes use of a rare element, beryllium-10 – or 10Be – that occurs when stars in the Milky Way explode and send high-energy particles – or cosmic rays – rocketing toward Earth. When the galactic shrapnel slams into the Earth’s crust, it splits oxygen in the soil apart. That leaves trace amounts of 10Be, which can be used to determine average erosion rates in the span of thousands to millions of years, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
They collected deep soil cores from 14 small patches of remnant native prairie that still exist in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. The cores contain material dating to the last ice age, said Isaac Larsen, a geoscientist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the paper’s senior author.
The researchers sifted soil to isolate individual sand grains. They removed everything that wasn’t quartz and then ran spoonfuls through a chemical purification process to separate the 10Be.
The basic research addresses scientific questions about landscape evolution, said Justin Lawrence, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences. The knowledge gained could lead to more sustainable agricultural practices, he said. The study recently was published in Geology. Visit pubs.geoscienceworld.org and search for “pre-agricultural soil erosion” for more information.
Native seed supply called insufficient
An insufficient supply of seeds from native plants is a major barrier to ecological restoration and other revegetation projects across the United States, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report’s authors call for action to build a more robust native-seed supply as climate change increases the possibility of extreme-weather events that often damage natural areas.
Conserving and restoring native-plant communities is urgently needed in many areas, particularly the millions of acres of lands affected by extreme wildfires, floods, drought, invasive plants and other hazards. Native plants have coevolved with native animals in distinctive environments. Native plants often are more drought tolerant than nonnatives and are a foundation for biodiversity in ecosystems.
When areas are damaged agencies such as the US Bureau of Land Management seek native seeds to restore plant populations and stabilize ecosystems. In 2020 alone the agency’s field offices purchased about 1.5 million pounds of seed to use in areas affected by wildfires, according to the National Academies report.
The current insufficient supply of native seeds means restoration efforts frequently substitute with nonnative varieties or native seeds sourced from climatically different environments than where they’ll be planted. Seeds need to be genetically adapted to the climate where they’re used. That requires regional collection and agricultural cultivation of future seed supply.
Native seeds can be obtained from natural areas, but judicious harvesting is required so native plant populations aren’t depleted. Some companies produce large volumes of native seeds, but they face challenges such as a lack of the stock seed from appropriate locations, production risks and inconsistent demand from purchasers, the report’s authors said.
At the request of Congress in 2002 the US Department of the Interior and US Department of Agriculture developed a plan for a native-seed supply. But the last two decades have shown that the plan needs to be accelerated.
The agencies should move quickly to strengthen the supply of native seeds and foster a native-seed industry that better meets the needs of producers and consumers. Efforts could focus on developing a policy for native seed collection, reviewing guidance for use of native seeds on public lands, and developing best practices for seed storage and cultivation.
Visit nap.nationalacademies.org and search for “native seed needs” for more information.
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The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research recently awarded a grant to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory which, in partnership with Crop One Holdings, is adapting protein, amino-acid rich aquatic Lemnaceae plants – also known as duckweeds – for controlled environments to improve nutritional value and increase production.
Lemnaceae have elevated protein levels that contain amino-acid compositions more similar to animal protein than other plant-protein sources. The entire plant body is edible and grows quickly.
While Lemnaceae have been cultivated outdoors, researchers haven’t yet transitioned the crop to a controlled aquatic environment. Additionally controlled-environment agriculture often isn’t economically viable compared to traditional, outdoor farming. Further research is needed to refine and adapt existing controlled-environment agriculture infrastructure to aquatic crops, enabling optimal growth and lower cost.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Crop One Holdings are working to advance year-round cultivation, harvesting and commercial production of Lemnaceae plants. The research focuses on optimizing sets of genetic and environmental inputs – germplasm selection and development, light, heat, water and carbon-dioxide concentration – that maximize outputs, including overall biomass production and amino-acid composition. Visit foundationfar.org and cshl.edu for more information.
Agave gene improves poplar biomass
A gene in agave recently was used to develop poplar trees that are about doubled in size. The gene may be used to increase biomass yield in poplars for biofuels production and carbon sequestration.
By sequencing the messenger ribonucleic acid – RNA – of Agave americana, a research team led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovered the REVEILLE1 gene that controls dormancy and budding. Poplar engineered with the gene could potentially extend the tree’s growing season by two to three months in temperate regions.
Poplar containing the gene achieved a 166 percent increase in biomass when grown in a greenhouse. It yielded taller trees with larger leaves and thicker stems compared with standard poplars. Visit ornl.gov for more information.
A new bio-based paint has been created to replace petroleum-based resins with natural plants. Called Naturalle, the paint contains 28 percent renewable raw materials, stated PT Mowilex Indonesia, the product’s maker. The paint’s water-based acrylic binder is sourced from seeds, stalks and grasses.
Building materials, cleaning products, lacquers and other items release formaldehyde. The new paint absorbs formaldehyde and turns it into water vapor, eliminating the contaminant from indoor air, the company stated.
Mowilex is applying to certify the paint through the US Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred program. The voluntary series of third-party tests confirms that products meet or exceed minimum biobased content requirements. Visit Mowilex.com for more information.
Startup companies selected
Deere and Company recently selected eight companies to participate in its 2023 Startup Collaborator program. The program helps John Deere enhance precision technology in its agriculture and construction equipment.
• Albedo is developing low-flying satellites to collect visible and thermal imagery at ultra-high resolution.
• ANELLO Photonics has developed a reduced-noise and reduced–drift optical gyroscope smart sensor for autonomous applications.
• GrAI Matter Labs has developed artificial intelligence that helps devices in turn help humans act and react in real time.
• Impossible Sensing is developing and applying space technology to help the agriculture become carbon neutral.
• IntelliCulture has developed farm equipment management software to help drive sustainable farming practices through actionable insights, efficiency improvements and risk mitigation.
• Precision AI has developed artificial intelligence-powered unmanned-aerial vehicles for plant-level herbicide applications at broad-acre scale.
• RodRadar has developed technology to provide real-time on-site automatic alerts to prevent damage to underground utility infrastructure during excavation.
• Vega supports sustainable production by providing traceability, risk analysis and monitoring of environmental, social and governance practices.
Visit JohnDeere.com for more information.
Team facilitates carbon calculation
Making it easier to calculate carbon credits for farmers is the aim of researchers at the University of Illinois-Agroecosystem Sustainability Center in Urbana, Illinois. The researchers are using supercomputing resources to run an agroecosystem model to track soil organic carbon in the Midwest.
Initial soil carbon data are important for downstream carbon budget calculation. But carbon credit measures the relative soil carbon difference between a new practice and a business-as-usual scenario. The uncertainty of the initial soil carbon data has limited effects on the final calculated soil carbon credit, according to the researchers. They’re led by Kaiyu Guan, an associate professor at the University of Illinois-Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.
The research recently was published in Geoderma. Visit sciencedirect.com and search for “soil organic carbon + Kaiyu Guan” for more information.
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