Drought tests modified corn seed sooner than expected

Field trials of Syngenta drought-tolerant corn at Western Kentucky University

Illinois farmer Mike Cyrulik didn’t foresee this year’s drought when, this spring, he planted 20 bags of a new corn seed on a slice of his 5,000-acre farm. Today, weeks before the harvest, much of his and his neighbors’ crop is dead or dying. But not the portion of his land where he planted the new seed. The healthy looking plants have “wound up being the talk of the town,” says Cyrulik, who expects a significantly higher yield, by 30 to 50 bushels, from each of those 220 acres in Bloomington.

The reason is drought-resistant corn, produced by one of the world’s largest seed companies, Syngenta, which began limited sales just before the 2011 growing season. In fact, three major seed producers—Syngenta, along with DuPont and Monsanto—are hoping for successes similar to Cyrulik’s in the midst of the worst drought to strike the U.S. in half a century…

Drought tolerance is one of the most challenging areas of research in agriculture, says Monsanto drought and water utilization lead Mark Edge. In recent years, technologies that allow more rapid screening for promising raw genetic material have helped advance both traditional breeding and genetic modification programs in this area…

Part of the difficulty in engineering for drought tolerance is that researchers must find genes that have a large enough effect on a plant’s response to warrant a major commercialization investment, says Purdue University agronomist Mitch Tuinstra. The average transgenic crop can take Monsanto more than a decade and $100 million to bring to market.

“It’s going to be one of the key mechanisms moving forward, but I don’t think we’re going to find the magic bullet that solves all of our problems,” he says. Technology can’t change the fact that a plant needs water, he says…

Despite the Syngenta corn’s success on his farm, Cyrulik cannot yet answer the initial question—how the product would perform for him in an average rainfall year—that spurred him to try it out in the first place. He thinks it could be useful to pay the premium for seeds that can provide a safety net for drought, but they’d still have to produce up to his usual standards when normal rains come.

I can understand that question all right. It’s why my pickup – the last truck I bought eight years before I retired – is four-wheel-drive. 98% of driving never required the extra traction. But, those few job sites that were challenging enough to need it – or our usual late summer trips into the forest with a dead-and-down permit to cut firewood for our home for the winter justified the extra expense at purchase time.

How do you dispose of a dead whale?

According to the latest available figures, 996 whales, dolphins and porpoises foundered on Scotland’s shores between 2005 and 2010.

Most of those coming to grief were harbour porpoises, a relatively small marine mammal that can grow up to about two metres in length.

But other casualties have included sperm whales, which are leviathans of the deep, and can be as long as 20m – much longer than a double decker bus.

When these monsters come ashore they pose weighty challenges to the authorities.

In December 2006, a 13m sperm whale washed up on Roseisle beach in Moray.

It cost about £12,000 to have the carcass cut up and disposed of in an incinerator. Moray Council and the Scottish government funded the work…

The death of a whale in a stranding also marks the start of a detailed scientific investigation.

In Scotland, the work is carried out by SAC through the Scottish government-funded Scottish Marine Strandings Scheme.

The Scottish data also feeds into the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (UK CSIP).

The two organisations are concerned with the strandings of all large marine animals, and not just whales…

Tissue specimens are taken from creatures too large to be examined in a laboratory…

And the causes of death are varied.

The Scottish scheme records porpoise, seals and dolphins dying from starvation following from bacterial pneumonia, eye injuries hampering an animal’s ability to hunt and also deaths caused by attacks from other marine life.

Lots of anecdotal info in the article – including recognition of just how hard the struggles are by human volunteers trying to free these sea creatures from their inadvertent beaching, what it means to them, the sadness that results when you lose such a battle.

Stocks rally on decision to rebuild, repair, expand infrastructure to aid commerce – oh wait, that’s China not the United States!

The redesigned Hangzhou South railway station

China approved plans to build 1,254 miles of roads, spurring the biggest stock- market rally in almost eight months on signs the government is stepping up stimulus efforts to revive economic growth.

The government also backed nine sewage-treatment plants, five port and warehouse projects, and two waterway upgrades, according to statements on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission yesterday…

The Shanghai Composite Index closed 3.7 percent higher, led by construction stocks, on speculation infrastructure spending will help bolster growth that’s cooled to the slowest pace in three years. The announcements came a day after approvals for subway projects in 18 cities, an earlier rise in the railway- building budget and increases in land supplies in cities including Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai.

They are clearly stepping up the infrastructure-investment push to help boost confidence and revive growth,” said Zhang Zhiwei, Hong Kong-based chief China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. Premier Wen Jiabao’s policy stance is shifting “to a more proactive and significant easing…”

“China’s central government finally took real actions to arrest the worsening slowdown,” Bank of America Corp. economist Lu Ting said in a note. “Adding home supply and improving urban infrastructure are the two best ways to contain home prices, speed up urbanization and increase social welfare…”

The approvals on Sept. 5 for a total of 25 new subway and inter-city rail projects are worth more than $126 billion, or 1.7 percent of 2011 gross domestic product, according to HSBC. The spending will run from the second half of the year to 2018, it said…

The NDRC backing may accelerate metro-rail developments, most of which were already in local governments’ plans, Citigroup analysts Jenny Zhen and Paul Gong said in a note to clients yesterday.

“This sentiment is positive for the whole railway- construction and equipment sector,” they said…

If you’re interested in the global economy, one of the funniest things you can do is watch Asian Squawk Box on CNBC-World with Bernie Lo. Bernie’s a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and a Baptist to boot. He tries very hard to ask leading question of Asian old hands – to paint China as a failing economy envious of American accomplishments.

I watched him the other night as he tried to press one of the lifers for a typical Wall Street 2-3 month outlook on structural economic changes in China. He got the usual sigh, followed by – you have to learn that China’s economic planners, the government as a whole ignores what the stock market is doing in its various up-and-down joyride. They look to what will achieve the greatest improvement over a 2 to 5 year period. They want to ensure the fullest employment and growth in the nation’s economy – not just a bump that satisfies daytraders and short-term profiteers.

Meanwhile, we sit here in the GOUSA and get to watch alternating panic and euphoria from Biz TV talking heads and politicians who are most expert at blaming someone else – anyone will do – instead of Congressional corporate pimps who are most accomplished at sitting on their hands when they’re not busy picking our pockets.

French coppers realize after 8 hours – there is a little girl alive who was hidden under the bodies of her murdered family

French police believe a deeply traumatised four-year-old girl who hid for eight hours under the bodies of her slain relatives, and her critically injured sister may hold the key to the gruesome murder of four people in an Alpine beauty spot.

The two girls were under extremely high protection as police hunted for the gunman who shot dead her parents and grandmother as well as a passing cyclist on Wednesday afternoon in what officials described as an “act of gross savagery”.

Three of the four victims were shot in the middle of the head with a semi-automatic pistol meaning the killer pulled the trigger for each shot, leading to fears the professional nature of the attack may indicate a contract killing. Police said they were not sure how the fourth person, believed to be the children’s mother, died.

The four-year-old, named in Britain as Zeena al-Hilli, asked for her family after she was finally pulled from the scene of carnage, “terrorised, motionless, in the midst of the bodies”, said a French official. British consular officials, despatched from Paris, were trying to comfort her and her older sister Zainab.

The dead man, who was found slumped over the steering wheel, has been named as Iraqi-born engineer Saad al-Hilli, 50, from Claygate in Surrey, but there was no official confirmation of his identity or those of the two women shot while sitting in the back of the car. One of them was reported to be carrying an Iraqi passport and the other a Swedish passport.

Their bodies were found in a British-registered BMW estate car near the picturesque village of Chevaline in the French Alps near where they had been camping…

Continue reading

Is the Tooth Fairy a sign of an improving economy — up 15%

Kids found an average $3 per tooth under their pillows this year, up 15% from last year, according to a survey from Visa out Tuesday. Some received as much as $20 per tooth. “It’s a good time to be a kid with a loose tooth,” says Jason Alderman, Visa’s senior director of global financial education…

Unfortunately, teachers say, tooth inflation is all too common in elementary schools. Nobody wants to be the parent whose child is “the talk at recess,” because of a frugal Tooth Fairy, says Amy Moncarz, a second-grade teacher at Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Discrepancies in tooth price can lead to a conversation parents might want to avoid: the existence of the Tooth Fairy itself.

To help parents calculate the going rate for teeth, Visa on Tuesday is launching an app for iPhone and iPad and a calculator on its Facebook page. The app uses the survey’s data to determine the average payoff a child can expect based on a parent’s gender, education, location, age and income. The app also shows how much the recommended dollar amount was worth when the parent was 8.

Kate Wagner, whose daughter, Emily, 5, lost five teeth this summer, says a tooth-pricing app would be helpful. She and her husband settled on a buck a tooth — what they received as kids.

While the app aims to promote fiscal responsibility in kids, financial gurus say it may encourage parents to try to outdo one another. “The app would be a driver of tooth inflation, not a tracker,” says Charles Green, CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates, a management consultant. “I would predict a psychological bidding game.”

Why isn’t there a tooth fairy for us cranky old geeks?