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Debate swirls as wind power grows rapidly

(Friday, Jan. 6, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --

1. China to ramp up grain production
2. Debate swirls as wind power grows rapidly
3. U.S. acreage of organic cotton gains ground

1. China sets 2006-2010 target for grain production

www.chinaview.cn 2006-01-06 19:33:33

BEIJING, Jan. 6 (Xinhuanet) -- The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has said that it aims to enhance China's overall grain production capacity to 500 billion kilograms in the next five years, the China Securities Journal reported on Friday.

During China's 11th Five-Year plan period (2006-2010), the ministry will try to increase the overall grain production capacity by 5 billion kilograms each year, the report said.

To achieve the target, the ministry will focus efforts on planting high-yield strains of rice, wheat, corn and soy beans, promoting the use of organic fertilizers, building high standard grain fields, stepping up the prevention and control of insect pests and further supporting the development of rural key enterprises and farmers' cooperative organizations.

2. Debate swirls as wind power grows rapidly

By John Christoffersen, AP Business Writer | January 1, 2006

STAMFORD, Conn. --Giant windmills are popping up on farms, scenic mountain ridges, prairie grass and now an Indian reservation, dramatically changing the nation's landscape and spinning a debate about where they belong.

Wind power grew rapidly in 2005, becoming more competitive as natural gas prices jumped and crude oil prices reached record highs. Improved technology, a federal tax credit and pressure on utilities to use clean energy sources helped fuel the growth from coast to coast.

Officials in Atlantic City, N.J., in December dedicated the nation's first coastal wind farm. And last week, Fairfield-based General Electric Co. announced a startup near San Diego of the largest wind power farm on Indian land.

Wind power still makes up less than 1 percent of the nation's electricity, but experts expect wind to generate at least 5 percent by 2020.

"The wind resource in the United States is comparable to the oil resource in Saudi Arabia," said Tom Gray, deputy executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group. "It's a major strategic national resource we should be making every effort to develop."

While windmills may evoke quaint images of yesteryear, they're sparking growing debate, particularly as the first offshore projects are proposed in popular tourist areas, such as Cape Cod, Long Island, N.Y., and the New Jersey shore. Critics, including a member of the influential Kennedy family, worry that some projects could harm national treasures.

"All of a sudden you're transferring an asset used by 5 million people into the hands of private industrial speculators," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmentalist who has objected to the Cape Cod proposal. "If you're giving away public rights, you ought to make sure the public benefits from this transfer, that the costs do not exceed the benefits."

The industry added about 2,500 megawatts of wind power this year, a record 35 percent increase, according to the association. The country's wind capacity is more than 9,200 megawatts in 30 states, enough for 2.4 million average U.S homes.

In September, a report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, found that the federal government offers minimal oversight in approving wind power plants. The report urged federal officials to take a more active role in weighing the impact of wind power farms on bird and bat deaths, saying local and state regulators sometimes lack the necessary expertise.

Wind projects have sparked complaints around the country that the windmills cause noise, obstruct scenic views and kill wildlife, including thousands of federally protected birds in California.

In Maryland, state officials have sought to limit 420-foot windmills atop the state's highest mountain ridge because of concerns about the impact to rare species.

A proposal to build offshore wind turbine towers along the New Jersey shore led to a 15-month moratorium on such projects while a special panel studies the issue.

A wind farm planned in a small town in Vermont has sparked criticism that the nearly 400-foot towers would ruin the rural landscape and hurt tourism.

In Kansas, conservation groups have asked state officials to create guidelines for wind energy developments, citing concerns that more wind farms will harm the last remnants of the nation's prairie grass and prairie chicken populations.

"We feel rather protective of that area and feel it is a real national treasure," said Alan Pollom, Kansas state director of The Nature Conservancy. "If we're really going to capture the benefit of green power, it seems ill considered to pursue it in such a manner that you create offsetting detrimental ecological impacts."

Proponents say bird kills have been minimal at most wind farms, though Gray acknowledged some bird kills. They say the visual impact is far less severe than other forms of energy such as oil drilling.

Wind power helps lower skyrocketing home heating and electric bills by reducing the demand for natural gas and brings new jobs, rural economic development, and tax revenue to cash-strapped states, proponents say.

In McCamey, Tex., Mayor Sherry Phillips said the population has dwindled over the decades from about 10,000 to 1,800 as oil dried up. But these days the area is remaking itself as the wind farm capital of Texas, collecting millions of dollars in taxes and creating 40 to 50 jobs from 860 wind turbines, she said.

"It's extremely important economically for us," Phillips said. "To me they're a pleasing site."

The wind power added this year will offset the emission of approximately 7 billion pounds of carbon dioxide, equivalent to keeping nearly 500,000 SUVs off the road, the association said.

"If we could just find a way to make them invisible," Gray said, "we'd have something everybody could get behind."

3. U.S. organic cotton production trends: U.S. acreage of organic cotton gains ground

News Release
Contact: Holly Givens
413-774-7511, Ext. 18

GREENFIELD, Mass. (Jan. 4, 2006)-- U.S. acreage planted to organic cotton in 2004 gained ground from that planted the previous year, according to a 2005 survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and funded by a grant from Cotton Incorporated.

In results released today, OTA's organic cotton survey found 12 farmers grew and harvested organic cotton in the United States during 2004. Farmers in 2004 planted 5,550 acres of organic cotton, an increase of nearly 37 percent over the 4,060 acres planted in 2003. Plantings included 5,020 acres of organic upland cotton and 530 acres of organic pima cotton. Most was grown in Texas, with limited acreage in California, New Mexico and Missouri.

Acreage planted in 2005 totaled 6,577 acres of mostly upland organic cotton, an increase of 19 percent over that planted in 2004. Harvesting figures for 2005 are not yet available.

The survey was mailed to 52 people in seven states; 17 farmers returned completed surveys, with another four answering in phone interviews or by e-mail. Nine responding farmers did not grow organic cotton in 2004, while seven respondents were found not to be farmers. Only 12 of the respondents grew and harvested organic cotton in 2004. However, survey results for acreage and the number of growers may be lower than actual figures because only eight of the 16 members of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative answered the survey.

Based on survey results and additional information from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, approximately 6,814 bales of organic cotton were harvested in 2004, compared with 4,628 bales harvested in 2003.

Respondents indicated that their biggest challenge in marketing organic cotton is competition from international organic cotton producers. The average price per pound received by farmers during 2004 ranged from 90 cents to $1.10 for organic upland cotton. Organic pima cotton prices ranged from $1.35 to $1.60 during 2004.

Respondents expressed the need for more educational resources on organic farming from local cooperative extension offices. Their chief resources for staying current with organic standards were communications with other farmers and resources provided by OTA. Asked what can be done to improve support for the long-term sustainability of organic cotton farms, they cited stable and sustainable prices, as well as more marketing efforts and further education to consumers and the supply chain concerning the value of organic cotton.

The mission of the Organic Trade Association is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy. OTA envisions organic products becoming a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people's lives and the environment. As a membership-based business association, the Organic Trade Association focuses on the organic business community in North America. OTA's more than 1,600 members include farmers, processors, importers, exporters, distributors, retails, certifiers, and more. For further information, visit OTA's web site at http://www.ota.com.