Crop diversity declining as world’s large, industrial farms look more alike, researchers find

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VANCOUVER—Large, industrial farms around the world are starting to look more alike, and it’s putting both the environment and food security at risk, new research from the University of Toronto Scarborough has found.

Currently, just four crops — soybeans, wheat, rice and corn — are grown on almost half the world’s agricultural lands, while more than 150 other crops are grown on the rest, according to the study.

Currently, just four crops — soybeans, wheat, rice and corn — are grown on almost half the world’s agricultural lands, while more than 150 other crops are grown on the rest, according to the study.
Currently, just four crops — soybeans, wheat, rice and corn — are grown on almost half the world’s agricultural lands, while more than 150 other crops are grown on the rest, according to the study.  (Max Whittaker / Toronto Star)

This is a concerning trend, said Jane Rabinowicz, a coexecutive director of USC Canada, a non-profit focused on agricultural biodiversity.

“It’s an indicator of vulnerability,” Rabinowicz said, because “the more diversity you have the more protected you are, for example, against a certain pest.”

These four crops, however, tend to be grown as large monocultures, where a single crop covers a large swath of land, often with high levels of chemicals harmful to the environment.

Adam Martin, an ecologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the lead author behind the study recently published in the journal PLOS One, agrees declining diversity is a problem.

“If the world’s farms start to become more homogenous, the expectation is that more parts of the world are going to be susceptible to the same types of pests or disease outbreaks or other environmental fluctuations that might impact those specific crops,” he said.

While the data Martin’s study used doesn’t show how much genetic variety there is within the types of crops planted — different varieties of corn, for example — he said previous research points to issues with a lack of diversity in genetic lineages as well.

There hasn’t been a mass loss of wheat, soybeans, rice or corn yet, Martin said.

But it could have catastrophic impacts if it happens. Those crops represent a major component of the calories consumed by people.

Martin’s study is based on an analysis of more than 50 years of data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, which captured changes in the crops being grown in different regions between 1961 and 2014.

Though crop diversity is declining at a global scale, Martin found it has increased on a regional scale since the early ’60s — largely because more areas in the world started growing the same things.

In North America, for instance, 93 different crops are now grown on large industrial farms compared to 80 different crops in the ’60s, he said.

That finding is more consistent with the trend Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, has seen in Canada over the last few decades.

“If you take Western Canada, for instance, at one time it was predominantly wheat that was growing there. Now there’s a number of different crops,” Bonnett said.

Today, farmers may have a crop of wheat alongside peas, lentils or canola, he said.

"If the world's farms start to become more homogenous, the expectation is that more parts of the world are going to be susceptible to the same types of pests or disease outbreaks or other environmental fluctuations that might impact those specific crops," says Adam Martin, the lead author of a new study on crop diversity.
« If the world’s farms start to become more homogenous, the expectation is that more parts of the world are going to be susceptible to the same types of pests or disease outbreaks or other environmental fluctuations that might impact those specific crops, » says Adam Martin, the lead author of a new study on crop diversity.  (IVAN PISARENKO/AFP/Getty Images)

Bonnett added that farmers often try to switch up their crops on an annual basis because it helps improve soil quality and keep weeds under control. They’re also quick to adapt when a new crop variety comes out that may be less susceptible to problematic pests or diseases, he said.

But it’s on the smaller farms where most of the crop diversity lives, according to Rabinowicz.

That diversity has benefits for nutrition and the farm environment. Rabinowicz said diverse crops can attract different pollinators, for example.

She added that crop diversity isn’t just something to conserve; it is also created as new plant varieties are developed — work that farmers are actively doing today.

For a long time there has been a heavy focus on industrial farming, she said, but we are seeing the “cracks in that model.”

“We’ve seen impacts on human health, we’ve seen collapse of pollinator populations, we’ve seen environmental impacts,” she said.

For instance, there have been major concerns about the impact of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide commonly applied to corn and soybean crops, on pollinators such as honeybees. Agricultural runoff has been cited as a major cause behind blue-green toxic algae in Lake Erie. And a years long research project by scientists in the U.S. has linked pesticides to health problems in the children of farm works, as reported by the New York Times.

Moving forward, Rabinowicz said, she wants to see more diversity, not just in crops but in the models of farming more broadly.

“Diversity is a good thing,” she said, calling it “the foundation of resilience in agriculture.”

Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based reporter covering the environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ainscruickshank

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Huawei looms large over U.S.-China trade talks – National

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WASHINGTON — A Canadian reader of U.S. news reports about last week’s trade talks with China could be forgiven for wondering: what the heck happened to Huawei?


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After all, the week began with the U.S. Department of Justice unsealing two damning indictments against the Chinese tech giant, including one that names chief financial officer and telecom scion Meng Wanzhou, whose arrest in Vancouver two months ago dragged Canada into an escalating battle of ideologies between the two largest economies in the world.

WATCHTrump optimistic on trade deal with China






And yet two days later, as President Donald Trump and Vice Premier Liu He sat across from each other in the Oval Office after two days of high-level, high-stakes trade talks, the eyebrow-raising U.S. allegations of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice against one of the world’s fastest-growing telecommunications firms elicited barely a mention.


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“We haven’t discussed that yet,” Trump said Thursday when asked if Huawei had come up during the talks. “It will be, but it hasn’t been discussed yet.

“That, actually — as big as it might seem — is very small compared to the overall deal.”

Geopolitical observers and trade analysts alike aren’t buying it.

WATCH: U.S., China launch high level trade talks






When Trump talks trade, America’s transactional, deal-hungry president tends to be less focused on bigger-picture issues than the messages he can sell to his supporters. Thursday’s Oval Office exercise, for instance, was all about radiating mutual goodwill — like when Liu disclosed, seemingly to the surprise of Trump’s aides, that China would buy five million tons of American soybeans.


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“Wow,” said Trump, visibly impressed. “That’s a lot of soybeans.”

Not really; China used to buy six times that every year from the U.S., which produced about 138 million tons of soybeans in 2018. Tariffs changed all that. But the president is in dire need of a political win in short order on trade with China, which he won’t get by talking publicly about what’s really going on — a broader, multi-pronged, long-term American effort to blunt its economic, geopolitical and military might.

WATCH: China demands Canada ‘immediately release’ Huawei CFO






“There’s a lot of tension within the U.S. administration about China policy,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow in foreign policy, global economy and development at the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center in Washington.

READ MORE: U.S. hits Huawei and CFO Meng with 23 criminal charges. Here’s what you need to know

“One school of thought is, ‘This is a Communist dictatorship, it’s a potential threat to the U.S., we can’t get along with this country’ — ‘decouple’ is the word they use. To the extent they’re gaining ascendancy, then you don’t want a trade deal. You just want to slap on big tariffs, you want to penalize Chinese companies, Chinese citizens, and reduce the economic relationship.

WATCH: Trudeau says China trying to interfere with Canada’s judiciary by asking for release of Huawei CFO






“Then there are other members of the administration who — I think correctly — understand there’s a lot of benefit in U.S.-China economic exchange, and they would like to improve the terms of that and in some sense deal with these security issues, but ringfence them so that other economic exchange can go on.”

Canada shares that latter approach, a delicate high-wire act made all the more awkward by the swirling diplomatic updrafts of Meng’s Dec. 1 arrest and former ambassador John McCallum’s public assessments of her chances in court.

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It would be “naive in the extreme” to think that the Huawei controversy can be divorced from the U.S.-China trade discussion, said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in matters of national security and foreign relations.

“Huawei has been made exhibit No. 1 in a China-U.S. trade war and struggle for technological supremacy, and the criminal indictments are just kind of on the ground floor,” he said.

WATCH: Chinese executive at centre of multi-national legal battle makes court appearance






China is determined to diminish U.S. influence and extend its own economic, political and military reach around the world with “a distinctly Chinese fusion of strongman autocracy and a form of Western-style capitalism,” Dan Coats, the U.S. director of national intelligence, warned last week in a briefing with the Senate intelligence committee.

Trump’s trade and economic emissaries will resume talks in Beijing later this month, and the president himself will sit down with counterpart Xi Jinping before March 1, when U.S. tariffs on some $200-billion worth of Chinese goods are scheduled to jump to 25 per cent. It will be during those presidential talks where Huawei returns to the agenda, observers say.


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Trump used the all-caps word “comprehensive” in a string of tweets last week about his high hopes for a trade deal with China — a sentiment he repeated Sunday in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation.

“No two leaders of this country and China have ever been closer than I am with President Xi,” the president said. “We have a good chance to make a deal … and if there is a deal, it’s going to be a real deal. It’s not going to be a stopgap.”

That means Huawei and help with North Korea more than it does more soybeans, said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer and Canada-U.S. specialist with Dickinson Wright in Columbus, Ohio.

WATCH: Pressure mounting to exclude Huawei from 5G






“Huawei is what it’s all about at the end of the day,” Ujczo said. “That’s what comprehensive means. The meeting between the two leaders — trade will just be one of the three major components, with Huawei being probably at the top of the list and North Korea right after.”

Trade, Huawei and the world’s broader concerns about China’s at-all-costs global ambitions are closely intertwined components of the U.S. strategy, said Wark. Whether that strategy will work is another question.

“I think it’s a very aggressive American policy that has to be rooted in an assumption that it’s possible to change Chinese behaviour through force. That critical assumption — that you can force, in a relatively short time frame, a change in Chinese behaviour through these tactics — that’s the critical thing that we should be speculating about: is this a good policy?

“Many people would argue it doesn’t have a chance in hell. But lots of voices need to weigh in on that one.”

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Surrey fire crews battle large house fire – BC

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Surrey firefighters battled a large house fire on the morning of New Year’s Eve Day.

Crews were called to the house near 133A Street and 112 Avenue around 9 a.m.


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Flames and black smoke could be seen pouring out of a second-storey balcony of the abandoned house, which had also been boarded up.

No one was hurt in the blaze, but neighbours say this is the second time the house has gone up in flames in only a few months. However, there is no known connection at this time.

The fire is being considered suspicious.


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Fire crews put down 2-alarm blaze at empty Surrey home

An investigation is underway.

Fire crews on scene at a house fire near 133A Street and 112 Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Credit: Tony Clark / Global News

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Queen’s University homecoming marred by large, unsanctioned street party – Kingston

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Queen’s University homecoming is an opportunity for past graduates of the school to catch up and reminisce.

Heather Kellington-Dudley, a 1968 arts graduate, says that’s what she was doing when she arrived in Kingston on Friday and toured the university campus.

“I just walked around the old campus and thought, ‘I don’t remember those trees being so tall. I don’t remember the buildings being misplaced. How come I can’t find my way around?’” she said.

There are dozens of events taking place at the university over the weekend.

Saturday’s big draw was the Queen’s Golden Gaels football game against the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Sarah Indewey, head of Alumni Relations at Queen’s, says the events are set to continue through the evening.

“We have the reunion street festival coming back for its fourth year, (a) very exciting headliner — the Sam Roberts Band — and in addition to Sam Roberts, there’s also some students and alumni bands that will be playing beforehand,” she said.

Indewey says 3,700 alumni registered in advance for homecoming celebrations, with many more registering once they arrived at the university.

However, the unsanctioned street party that has been taking place along Aberdeen and Johnson streets, spilling onto University Avenue, is not part of the official celebrations.

Hundreds of revelers were on the streets before 10 a.m., drinking and partying.


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Shortly after 11 a.m., Kingston police closed Aberdeen Street to traffic, Staff Sgt. Brian Pete told Global Kingston.

“We were unable to keep Johnson Street from University sort of eastbound — we had to close that down because someone was definitely going to be hit by a car,” he said.

Pete says police are disappointed with the volume of people partying on the streets just north of the university campus.

“There was a significant amount of work done pre-homecoming with lots of different partners, including ourselves, the city, Queen’s, alumni relations and many more,” he added.


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Kingston Fire and Rescue and Frontenac County Paramedic Services were kept busy throughout Saturday responding to numerous calls.

According to Pete, there have been several injuries reported.

“I’m unaware right now of the significance of (the injuries), but some of them were from flying projectiles — I believe glass bottles,” he said.

Pete says there was also a report of an individual falling.

“We had an issue of a shed today on Aberdeen Street; I don’t think it collapsed but I think someone fell off it,” he said.

A five-year downward trend on alcohol-related arrests during the unsanctioned street parties may be coming to an end.

Police will have an even greater presence overnight, as the street party is usually larger at night than during the day.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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