Letter from the Editor: paddy fields, snails and organic matter spread on land

At the time of year when thoughts are turning to shepherds, lowly stables, donkeys, mangers etc. – as well as turkeys, crackers and new pairs of socks from favourite aunts – edie’s news has gone agricultural; from the rice paddies of China to the intensive feedlots of the US. There are also some interesting innovations which will fill you with a spirit of optimism for the New Year.

Rice fields in China have cut their methane emissions by 40% in 20 years, without any need for new technology or GMOs. Farmers merely have to drain their fields in the middle of the season.

Another greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is sequestered at a greater rate by trees when the soil is warmed, say scientists in the US. The key is faster nitrogen fixation, and the fact that there is a limit to how far bacteria can break down carbon-based molecules.

Also in the US, the notorious confined feedlots that can contain more than a million fattening animals are facing tighter legislation, though some say that it is not enough.

In the UK, farmers are also facing tighter controls, with the rules covering England’s new nitrate vulnerable zones coming into effect. NVZs now cover 55% of the country, and farmers within these zones will have to limit their use of manure on arable land. At the same time, Scottish farmers will also have to control the practice of spreading organic waste on land – blood and guts in this case.

The French should be considering what they do with organic waste – should they spread it or burn it? At the same time, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is calling for phosphorus from wastewater to be recycled.

And what do snails do to the soil? New research has found that they could be liberating toxic metals from contaminated soil and releasing them into the food chain.

Still on an agricultural note, I have received a Christmas card made from recycled paper containing ‘Love in a Mist’ seeds. The instructions are that instead of throwing the card away once the festive season is over I can plant it in my garden and grow colourful flowers.

Here are two more good ideas – not agricultural this time. In Russia scientists have found a new use for old tyres. When ground into powder and mixed with polyethylene, rubber tyres form a strong and durable material that can be used for covering roofs. Secondly, how about using latex for packaging? Latex-coated wrapping can preserve food, be recovered easily and is compostable.

Happy Christmas one and all.

Kind regards

Helen André


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