Recently in Agriculture Category

Sheep WalesSome sheep farmers in North Wales are seeking an increase in compensation for sheep   poisoned by radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. Farmers are seeking an increased payment from £1.30 to £2 per ewe. The current compensation is outdated and not linked to inflation.

The number of farms has decreased dramatically from the original 8,900 to only 359 today. To take lambs to market, farmers have to pre-select the animals and arrange for radiation scanning. Only after the animals pass testing can they be taken to market.

Due to radioactive fallout which blanketed parts of Wales (as well as parts of Scotland and Cumbria), every animal must be test by one of four geiger scanning teams in North Wales. The European safety limit for sheep is 1,000 becquerels/kilogram, but animals typically pass only if the reading is below 645 because mud and wool can affect readings.

Farmers are also required to obtain a license every time they move their sheep, which occurs up to 14 or 15 times per year.

Isn’t it amazing that 22 years after the Chernobyl disaster farmers in North Wales are still suffering from the radioactive fallout? It’s not only people who lived in the Chernobyl-affected areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia that have suffered.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not comparing the plight of Welsh farmers to the horrors suffered by people from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia - only pointing out that the disaster has had, and continues to have, a direct effect on other people too.

Biofuel from Chernobyl Contaminated Lands

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Belarus GorodeyaGreenfield Project Management Ltd., a Dublin-based investment and project management company specializing in energy, wants to grow feed crops in the Chernobyl-contaminated lands in Belarus for use in generating ethanol fuel.

Greenfield already has a joint venture agreement in place with state-owned Belbiopharm for the construction of bio-ethanol production facilities in Belarus. The first facility is planned to be built on the Pripyat River in Mozyr and is scheduled for completion before the end of 2010. This plant would generate 550-650 million liters of bio-ethanol annually, targeted for the European market.

I had many doubts when I first heard about this plan. My first thought was, great - let’s do this and use our cars to spread Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout around the world! However, after researching this issue further, I have found some potential benefits.

Currently, scientists estimate that the contaminated lands in Belarus will not be safe for cultivation of food for 300-600 years. Greenfield feels that through repeated harvests of specific types of grain for ethanol feedstock, the land could become safe for food production in as little as 60 years. Prime crops candidates are wheat and sugar beet.

How is this possible? Vegetation has the ability to absorb radioactive isotopes from the soil and incorporates it into the plants themselves. Theoretically, repeat harvests could remove contamination from the land quicker than if the land remains fallow. If this were to work, it is great news for Belarus and the government’s plans to repopulate the contaminated lands.

The remaining question is how to prevent dangerous levels of radioactivity from remaining in the resultant fuel. The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) says radioactivity can remain in the final fuel production, but only at acceptable background levels that are present worldwide. Didier Louvat, head of the IAEA Waste and Environmental Safety Section has said, “After the oil processing, the remaining radioactivity doesn’t make a big difference.”

Apparently, Danish and Swedish technology already exists to remove radioactivity from feedstock. Greenfield plans to move slowly by first testing the process using uncontaminated feedstock.

While this is exciting news, I will remain skeptical until I can read more about the actual process of generating this ethanol product, and how the radiation will be removed and safely stored. I am also concerned that the IAEA says the “remaining radioactivity doesn’t make a difference.” What are the precise levels of “doesn’t make a difference?” I would also feel better if the IAEA wanted to see less radiation in the final product that current worldwide background levels.

This situation will need to be monitored on an on-going basis to determine if the plan truly is a good thing and a positive step forward, or an extremely dangerous mistake.

Catastrophic 2007 Drought in Moldova

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A summer 2007 drought in Moldova has been classified by the United Nations as having reached catastrophic proportions.

This situation is part of the drought that has plagued much of central and southeastern Europe throughout the summer. Extreme heat and lack of rain has created a crisis in the country's agricultural sector that may continue well into 2008 and beyond. The drought has not only effected agricultural production this year, but farmers are also having a difficult time preparing their fields for the autumn sowing due to the poor condition of the land as well as a lack of seeding material. This could ultimately lead to more financial hardship on the farmers because it will lead to a much smaller crop yield in 2008.

Efforts are being made at both the national and local levels to minimize the drought's impact. Let's hope something can be done to help this tiny country that is extremely dependent on agriculture for its food supplies and income.