Nostalgia? Returning to More Natural, Biological Technology in Farming

Farming methods may to modern eyes seem to have once been more natural but are we being romantic and nostalgic?

A great website that traces the history of the countryside and agriculture – ukagriculture.com – is an easily digested history of UK population and economic developments and their impact on farming from the days of Saxon England onwards.

One small example is the fluctuation in the country’s woodland from approximately 11% woodland cover during the Roman period (100AD) to 15% in Norman era. It was down to around 7% by 1350AD, even less than today, and then climbed to a broadly stable 10% while the total length of hedgerow continued to grow as more fields were enclosed.

Meanwhile there was from very early times an inexorable drift of population from the countryside to the towns and cities, which accelerated after c1750 and the onset of the industrial revolution.

Two more significant moments in history are the Second World War with the need to increase domestic food production and then, fuelled by a rural labour shortage, the development of the combined harvester.

Add in population growth, the search for profit and the need to increase food production and the result is so-called agribusiness, getting rid of the hedges that used to enclose our fields and the woodland that got in the way of the big machines that allegedly made farming more efficient.

It’s pretty clear, therefore, that producing food – farming – has always been driven by economics and by population changes.

So while in the past there may have been a better balance in the way farmland was used thinking nostalgically is something of a red herring. Farming is now and historically always has been a commercial activity.

Urban population growth and production costs are the twin pressures to produce more from the same amount of land, especially on an island like Britain. They led in the 1960s and 70s to using more and more chemicals to get rid of pests and diseases and to increase yield per acre.

Then came the wake-up calls: the BSE and other scares, tales of hormones in our chickens, increasing evidence of chemical-induced carcinomas from our food.

A couple of decades on and we no longer tolerate damage to people’s health from chemicals in our food, or the threatened destruction of the environmental balance on which we all depend for life.

The growth in global communications and in global travel have also opened people’s eyes to inequalities in both food production and people’s access to enough food.

It’s becoming urgent that we balance the need for more food against the imperative to preserve the quality of the land it comes from. It’s commonsense, it’s not about nostalgia.

That’s why the growing emphasis on sustained farming, organic and more natural agriculture and on biological agricultural products like biopesticides and biological yield enhancers that could arguably be as crucial to the small developing-world farmer as they are to bigger operations in the developed world.

It’s about trying all kinds of things appropriate to the local ecology – as illustrated by this story about Zambian farmer Elleman Mumba a 54-year-old peasant farmer growing maize and groundnuts on his small plot of land in Shimabala, south of Lusaka.

Feeding his family used to be a problem and the yield was very little. “We were always looking for hand-outs; we had to rely on relief food.”

With no oxen of his own to plough his field he had to wait in line to hire some, often missing planting as soon as the first rains fell. for every day of delay the potential yield is shrunk by around 1% – 2%.

In 1997, Mr Mumba, thanks to free training given to his wife, switched to conservation farming. It uses only simple technology, a special kind of hoe and Instead of ploughing entire fields, farmers till and plant in evenly spaced basins.

Only a tenth of the land area is disturbed. it reduces erosion and run-off and in the first season increased his yield to 68 bags of maize – enough to feed the family and buy four cattle! (his full story is on the BBC Africa website)

That’s what innovation, sustainable farming and thinking outside the box are all about. It’s about economics and what works, not about nostalgia.

What Are The Biological Considerations In Geotechnical Engineering?

We all know that Geotechnical Engineering is a field of civil engineering which focuses on analyzing the geotechnical behaviors of soil and rocks. Usually, this type of engineering is involved in construction projects. Engineers and geotech engineering consultants will need to collect samples of the soil where a building or a structure is to be constructed. After having collected the soil samples, they will then analyze it in order to know if it is cohesive or not and if the ground is stable or not. The ground needs to be stable in order for the structure to be built otherwise it might just collapse.

However, these aren’t just the things you need to know about Geotechnical Engineering. There are certain considerations that are involved. The understanding of the soil’s behavior for the past 300 years has been centered on the mechanical principles and geological processes. Later on, it involved mineralogy and the relevance of colloidal chemistry. And just recently, the research on earth science and biology has enabled significant advances in understanding the important involvement of microorganisms in earth’s evolution and their presence in near surface rocks and soils. It has also enabled us to understand the participation of microorganisms in mediating and facilitating geochemical reactions. And now, we have come to the understanding that in the field of Geotechnical Engineering, there is an effect of the biological activities on soil mechanical behavior.

So what are the biological considerations in Geotechnical Engineering and the different geotechnical engineering services?

As what has been stated earlier, microorganisms are involved in the evolution of earth and that’s a fact that we cannot deny. In other words, microorganisms play an important role on the formation of many fine grained soils. Aside from that, they can also alter and change the behavior of coarse grained soils. They can also accelerate geochemical reaction by orders of magnitude. They also promote both weathering and aging. And lastly, they can alter the mechanical and chemical properties of specimens after the soil sampling has been done.

These are the biological considerations that are to be made in Geotechnical Engineering. It is very important for geotechnical engineering companies and geotechnical engineering firms to know this. The condition of the ground to which any structure is to be built on depends on the microorganisms that are present in that area. Understanding this is very important before a geotech engineering project is started to prevent any problems in conducting tests and in the construction work.

Biological Factors in Weight Control

How does heredity affect our weight? Part of the answer seems to be described in set-point theory, which proposes that each person’s body has a certain or “set” weight that it strives to maintain. The body tries to maintain its weight near the set-point by means of a thermostat-like physiological mechanism. When a person’s weight departs from the set-point, the body takes corrective measures, such as by increasing or decreasing metabolism. According to the theory, people whose caloric intake is either drastically reduced or increased for a few months should show rapid corresponding weight changes initially, but the weight should then show slower changes and reach a limit. Studies have found that these predictions are correct and that people quickly return to their original weight when they can eat what they want again But set-point theory is incomplete: it doesn’t explain, for instance, why some people who lose a lot of weight manage to keep it off.

The mechanism controlling the set-point seems to involve the hypothalamus. Research with animals has shown that damage to specific parts of the hypothalamus causes weight to change and eventually level off, suggesting that a new set-point has been established. If the damage is in the lateral region of the hypothalamus, the new set-point is for a lower weight; damage to the ventromedial region leads to obesity. One way the hypothalamus might regulate body weight is by monitoring some aspect of fat cells. One study found, for instance, that after obese people lost weight, they began to produce large amounts of an enzyme that makes it easier to store fat in cells and gain weight. Moreover, the more obese the people were before losing weight, the more of this enzyme they produced. It may be that the loss of fat in cells triggers the hypothalamus to initiate enzyme production to maintain the set-point.

Another way the hypothalamus may affect the process of weight control is by regulating the level of insulin in the person’s blood. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas, speeds the conversion of sugar (glucose) to fat, and promotes the storage of fat in adipose tissue. Obese people tend to have high serum levels of insulin, which is called hyperinsulinemia. Elevations in serum insulin levels increase the person’s sensations of hunger, perceived pleasantness of sweet tastes, and food consumption. Taken together, these findings indicate that weight gain results from a biopsychosocial process in which physiological factors interact with psychological and environmental factors

It seems likely that the setting and function of the set-point in regulating a person’s weight depend on the number and size of fat cells in the body. Psychologist Kelly Brownell has suggested that people whose weights are above the set-point may be able to reduce fairly readily until the fat cells reach their lower limit in size. The body weight at which this level is reached would depend on the number of fat cells in the body. Since the number of fat cells increases mainly in childhood and adolescence, the diets of individuals during that time in the life span are likely to be very important. Obese children between 2 and 10 years of age have fat cells that are as large as those of adults. As these children gain weight, they do so mainly by adding fat cells. Fat cell size for normal-weight children does not reach adult levels until age 12, and the number of their fat cells does not increase very much between 2 and 10 years of age.