Oysters & Fortunetellers


Where the gringa lives in the gulf coast of Texas, oyster farming is big business. The gringa’s farming experience is limited to my father’s cattle ranch and my own egg farming. Is that how oyster farming works? Do you just leave the little guys alone most of the time to do what oysters do? Toss them a bit of feed, protect them from predators, stuff like that? Well, actually oyster farming has gone hi-tech. For young people who are interested in a beach bum lifestyle with the edge of technology, oyster farming or working with the technology related to the industry may be your thing if you love science as much as beach bumming.

Oysters don’t need their human overseers to bring them a bale of hay or toss out some nutrient enriched scratch. They are living filters that live on the bottom of a bay. Oyster farmers really don’t have that much to do, it would seem, unless it is harvest time. Sounds like the perfect beach bum job.

However, there is one thing that can happen that can interrupt an oyster farmer’s hiatus between harvests. If storm clouds gather, oyster farmers have to get out of their hammocks, put away the surfboard and forego the margaritas and head out for some serious relocating work in the estuaries.

You see, as bottom feeding filters, rain in this polluted day and age can be deadly for oysters. And even if contaminants in run off don’t kill the slimy, little buggers they could, in turn, kill a human if eaten. A local thunderstorm with a heavy downpour means one of two things:

  • Completely relocate their stock, or,
  • Quarantine the area and delay harvest until it is safe.

Now, even if an oyster farmer was willing to relocate their oysters, often weather conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly in coastal regions.  Usually an oyster farmer simply doesn’t have enough time to respond. So, the oysters bide the storm and everyone hopes for the best. But considering how heavily polluted most of the soil is in populated areas around the world, it’s usually not good news when it’s all over.

The gringa doesn’t have the numbers for industry loss or farm closures in the Gulf of Mexico area I call home. However, I can tell you about what’s been going on in Tasmania. Since 2013 industry research has recorded a loss of over $4.3 million (Australian currency!) for Tasmanian oyster farmers due to contamination related farm closures, caused by pollutants in rainfall water runoff that entered estuaries.  This sounds awful, right? Well, take heart, dear readers. There is good news for Tasmanians as well as oyster farmers everywhere thanks to an agriculture technology start-up company, The Yield.

The Yield has designed a system of sensors that were tested in 14 Tasmanian oyster farm estuaries. This comprised about 80% of the entire oyster industry for the state. The technology measured:

  • Water depth
  • Salinity
  • Temperature
  • Barometric pressure

Oyster farmers use their smartphone, or other device, to access the handy little app that is updated every five minutes with new data about their squishy, little, hard-shelled babies. Access is also available to food safety regulators so everybody that matters is in the loop.

But the gringa wants to know if this has made oyster farming better. I mean, it’s always fun to have new gadgets but where business is concerned, is there a point to the expense? Here are the benefits of this new technology:

  • Reduces paperwork between farmers & food service regulators.
  • Food quality and safety has improved.
  • Accurate measurements has resulted in fewer farm closures.
  • Fewer farm closures has resulted in higher production, yields and profits.

Well, it looks like this technology is worth the investment for oyster farmers. It also looks like the investment of time and effort of scientists and meteorologists for more than a century was also a worthy investment. That is the backbone of the information that went into designing this system. If you have a habit or hobby of recording weather related “stuff”, who knows, one day what you may consider a hobby or pre-occupation could change the world! More than a hundred years worth of weather and tidal related data helped developers understand weather and tidal patterns, how they changed with the seasons, and how this would affect the performance of the technology to predict weather events. So, basically, Tasmania’s oyster farmers are more successful because of digital fortunetellers.

Sources:

www.techrepublic.com

www.theyield.com

oysterstasmania.org

Image Credit: oysterstasmania.org

 

 

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NASA & The Hub


The gringa often hears folks say things like, “NASA is really doing some amazing things, but it doesn’t seem like much of their technology is really helpful to us regular folks here on Earth.” Well, actually, there are great spin-off benefits to all that amazing space technology.

Consider the new program underway in Australia. An Australian organization, National Resources Management Spatial Hub (NRM Hub, or, more commonly, the Hub), is using satellite images of Earth provided by NASA, and other space agencies, to help them better manage rangeland. As global populations continue to grow, demand rises for meat production. Now, more than ever before, do Australia’s ranchers need every edge they can get to meet this demand by using sustainable methods.

With over eighty percent of Australia classified as rangeland, more commonly known as the “Outback”, Earth observation technology is helping ranchers make better land management decisions. This will help leave a stable environment for future generations. With so much land mass available for grazing in its natural condition, Australia is in a unique position to produce meat for the global community without the need to resort to slash and burn forests to create grazing areas. This is good news for climate change by recognizing one resource to utilize responsibly and reduce deforestation.

Earth observation data also helps Australia’s land managers develop innovative ways to manage their precious water resources. The data also provides an overall, panoramic, “big picture” perspective so that ranchers can determine which grassland areas may be overgrazed. They can then reorganize their grazing plans, moving herds to other areas and promote the health of their rangelands.

The Hub is comprised of over 20 Australian agencies, federal and state, as well as research organizations and industry related organizations. They put to good use the satellite images provided by NASA. The Aqua and Terra satellites provide new images on a 16 day cycle. As images are collected over the years, more knowledge is gained in tracking and understanding climate conditions such as drought. This gives ranchers the information they need to make critical ranching decisions.

Ranchers don’t just want to make money, they also want to maintain healthy land that can pass into the hands of their children who continue the ranching tradition. Many of Australia’s ranches have remained in families for generations. They take great pride not just in producing meat and wool, but also in being environmentally conscious.

The Hub has produced results that have impressed the agricultural community in Australia. It has grown from its original 40 properties to 120 ranches presently. At least another 100 are on a waiting list to join the program. This is the agriculture of the future, farming and ranching as a hi-tech, global community effort.

Similar techniques such as what the Hub uses in Australia are being put into practice in other areas like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso where satellite data is used to measure potential agricultural output. In South Asia data monitors rice production, the grain upon which the world is most dependent.

After all this scribbling about meat production and such, the gringa is going to have to push herself away from the desk and throw a juicy T-bone on the grill. Ta!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov    www.nrmhub.com.au

 

 

 

The Ranch Of The Swallows


The featured picture above is a “shepherd’s bed”. Historically, such a thing would have been situated over a cooking area. If the dear reader looks closely at the image, an oven carved out of the adobe can be seen in the corner. The bed served to control smoke and would be a warm place to sleep. Usually the arthritic old folks, someone sick, or the babies would sleep there because of its cuddly warmth. The caveman and the gringa got to see this interesting contraption when we visited El Rancho de los Golondrinas, or, The Ranch of the Swallows. The Ranch is a living history museum with original buildings and much of the furnishings dating back to the eighteenth century. It is located on two hundred acres within a rural farming valley just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

As the original family and families of their ranch hands flourished and prospered, the original barn was eventually converted into a chapel and a larger barn constructed. The family chapel still stands and visitors can see a beautiful, intricately carved altar and many handmade icons of the patron saint of farmers, Isidoro.

The Ranch was practically self-sufficient and had its own blacksmith shop. To view it, visitors enjoy a stroll down a shady lane that passes a marsh. The marsh is dotted with colorful flowers and filled with birds that populate the thick grove of trees around this precious natural water feature.

Most of the buildings are original and date back as far as the early 1700s. Some buildings have been reconstructed but are still historically accurate and blend in so well visitors can’t tell one from another. One of these buildings is a general store where visitors can enjoy an eighteenth century shopping experience. The gringa recommends the sarsaparilla which will be served up to you by a volunteer dressed in period clothing posing as a local villager.

Throughout the year the ranch hosts a number of events and shows that realistically depict life on the frontier in early New Mexico. There are festivals, music, dance, rodeos and many other aspects of life re-enacted to share with guests the culture and influences of Spanish, Mexican and Territorial periods of the Southwest.

The gringa and the caveman came away from this experience enriched. We decided that although we enjoy our modern, technologically advanced lifestyle, we can appreciate the simplicity and beauty of life at a place like that ranch. Sure, it was full of hardship and extremely labor intensive, but what an incredible sense of community to live and work in a conclave like that. The only thing the gringa would really throw a fit about missing would be my very large and powerful hot water heater.