University’s ‘Beefier Barley’ billboard binned

A 2017 study maps out predictions for changes to the “water footprint” of rain-fed barley grown in agricultural Alberta. (Science of the Total Environment, March 2018)

A billboard about Alberta barley’s prospects under climate change in the University of Alberta’s ‘Truth Matters’ promotion — a series of ads meant to spark discussion about its researchers’ work — has been winnowed out of the campaign.

Jacqui Tam, the Edmonton-based U of A’s vice-president for university relations, announced Sunday it would withdraw the campaign’s “Beefier Barley” billboard ad “as soon as possible.” As of Monday, the segment had also been taken down from the Truth Matters web page.

Tam, in the same statement, said she has resigned her post “effective immediately.”

In a previous statement Thursday, Tam explained that the Truth Matters campaign has appeared in various media since last fall. It showcases researchers’ discoveries in “a range of areas” so as to “highlight University of Alberta research that tackles today’s complex challenges, and to encourage discussion.”

Society’s adaptation to climate change “is a key global challenge,” Tam said of the billboard Thursday. “The research this ad highlights is important and one of many lines of inquiry being pursued at the University of Alberta.

“Seeking and understanding the potential consequences of climate change matters. The full breadth of research related to climate change conducted at our university — and other universities — matters.”

The “Beefier Barley” billboard featured the two words above the U of A logo and the statement “Climate change will boost Alberta’s barley yield with less water, feeding more cattle.”

The statement referred to research published in November 2017 by U of A assistant professor Monireh Faramarzi and post-doctoral fellow Badrul Masud, examining “agro-hydrological” models that combined “nine different climate change models and 18 future scenarios.”

The models were meant to assess the “water footprint” of barley by simulating future crop yield and consumptive water use within agricultural Alberta.

The research framework, with locally adapted regional model results, is expected to “facilitate the development of future water policies… by providing improved (water footprint) projections.”

In Alberta barley’s case, the results point to a “considerable decrease” — between 10 and 60 per cent — in water footprint in the period from 2040 to 2064, compared to a simulated baseline 1985-2009 footprint.

“Less water will also be required to produce barley in northern Alberta (rainfed barley) than southern Alberta (irrigated barley) due to reduced water consumption,” the study predicts.

Faramarzi said the study’s results were subject to the accuracy of the global climate data the team used to predict barley yield and water consumption.

Masud was quoted in a 2017 U of A report on the study as saying it “will help establish the idea that climate change is not always negative.”

But Tam, in Sunday’s statement, stressed that the research highlighted by the ad “does not promote climate change as a benefit; nor was that the meaning intended by the ad.”

All that said, she added, “public response has made clear that the advertisement’s wording fails to communicate the meaning and complexity of the research, allowing for easy misinterpretation.”

Without citing any specific criticisms levelled at the billboard, she said, its messaging “called the reputation of the University of Alberta and its extensive research on climate change into question” and in her role as vice-president “I apologize for this and take responsibility.”

Faramarzi, speaking to CBC in Edmonton on Monday, said the 2017 research focused on carbon dioxide levels, but she again emphasized that factors such as water temperature, soil moisture and nutrients present “assumptions and limitations” to the outcomes described.

“That climate change would be something positive or negative…was definitely not the ultimate message of the paper,” she said. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

Washington | Reuters -- U.S. farmers now have until Feb. 14 to apply for federal aid designed to offset the impact of retaliatory Chinese tariffs on American crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Monday, after delays caused by the month-long government shutdown. The previous deadline for the aid program, officially known as the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), was Jan. 15. But a partial 35-day government shutdown that ended last Friday had delayed the application and payment processes for the aid. "If you are a farmer or rancher whose commodities have been directly impacted by tariffs, you now have until February 14 to submit your application," USDA said in a tweet. The Trump administration last year pledged up to $12 billion in aid to help offset some of the losses for crops hit by retaliatory Chinese tariffs imposed in response to Washington's tariffs on Chinese goods (all figures US$). A USDA spokesperson on Monday said the department has as of Monday paid out a total of $5.94 billion to farmers in trade aid, with the top five commodities that received aid being soybeans, corn, wheat, dairy and sorghum. The top five states that received aid were listed as Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska. China had zeroed in on U.S. farmers with tariffs after President Donald Trump imposed duties on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods last year as part of his vow to cut the U.S. trade deficit with China. Beijing slapped a 25 per cent tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation. That effectively shut down U.S. soybean exports to China, worth around $12 billion last year. With China typically taking around 60 per cent of U.S. supplies, the loss of that export market has left farmers struggling with a supply overhang. Separately, USDA will release several key grain reports on Feb. 8 including quarterly U.S. grain stocks, winter wheat seedings and a final report on 2018 crop production, the department's chief economist told Reuters via email on Monday. The reports, which were delayed by the partial U.S. government shutdown that ended on Friday, were originally scheduled for release on Jan. 11. USDA also plans to release a monthly crop supply/demand report on Feb. 8. Traders are also awaiting data on U.S. export sales of grain, beef and pork, which USDA reports on weekly. Those weekly reports were suspended during the government shutdown. Traders are also keen to see backlogged weekly Commitments of Traders reports from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the main futures regulator. This data offers a look at whether speculators and hedgers hold net long or net short positions in various derivatives, including CBOT grain and oilseed futures. Also pending are monthly USDA updates on winter wheat condition ratings for key states in the southern Plains and Midwest. -- Reporting for Reuters by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, D.C.; additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago.

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