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Life Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Harvest: A Year in the Life of an Organic Farm by Nicola Smith, Geoff Hansen (The Lyons Press) From Publishers Weekly: Freelance writer Smith and her husband, photographer Hansen (My Life as a Dog), dispel the "dreamy, nostalgic haze" surrounding urbanites' notions of smallholder agriculture with this detailed look at life on a working farm. For a year, they follow their Vermont neighbors, Jennifer Megeysi and Kyle Jones, through the snow, mud and manure as they work Fat Rooster Farm. Numerous vignettes, illustrated by Hansen's appealing pictures, pile up a wealth of detail about this small organic establishment, which raises both livestock and produce. It's a gritty life: Megeysi and Jones, who also hold jobs off the farm, must deal with murderous raccoons, hypothermic piglets, ducks overdue for slaughter, byzantine food regulations (and the legislators behind them) and their own difficult marriage. More than most writers on farming, Smith is attuned to the people who do it: Megeysi may be one of the most vividly drawn farm women since Letters of a Woman Homesteader. Readers who garden seriously, however, may notice a few inaccuracies, as when Smith calls minuscule garlic shoots "scapes" (the term refers to flowering stalks). And occasionally unruly sentences and a not quite chronological, not quite thematic structure can obscure the larger patterns by which Megeysi and Jones manage their farm. Farming is an intricate, sometimes brutal dance with the land; this book demonstrates most of the moves, but never quite the full performance.  Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Sugarcane, 2nd Edition by Glyn James (Blackwell Publishers) From enhancing the flavor of food to providing a substrate for fermentation, sugar is renowned worldwide for its importance as a commodity. For many centuries sugarcane has been cultivated and developed, and we now have a huge range of crop varieties.

Based on Blackburn's highly successful Sugarcane, originally published in 1984, this new edition has been fully revised and expanded by an international team of widely respected sugarcane specialists. Focusing on the agricultural aspects of the crop, this book follows a logical progression from the botany and breeding through to planning cultivation, control of weeds, pests and diseases, harvest management and payment for cane. 

An invaluable asset to those involved in planning or running sugar estates as well as small producers. An easy-to-follow reference for students and agriculturalists alike Comprehensive reference sections and further reading

The Oil Palm, 4th Edition by R. H. V. Corley, P. B. Tinker (World Agriculture Series: Blackwell Publishers) The oil palm is the world's most valuable oil crop. With palm oil production increasing by more than 50 per cent in the last decade of the twentieth century and set to double in the next twenty years, it has never before been so important to understand the history, use and cultivation of this fascinating crop. There have been many new developments since the third edition of The Oil Palm in 1988, particularly in the fields of clonal propagation, agronomy, breeding and molecular genetics. This new edition has been completely rewritten, and is the first book to record and explore these and many other developments.

This is the fourth edition of Hartley's The Oil Palm, and the first one not prepared by the late C. W. S Hartley himself. It may be useful for readers who do not have access to the third edition to read the Prefaces that Hartley wrote, so they are reprinted here. They, and the books themselves, give an excellent view of how the oil palm industry has grown and thrived in the last half century. It is no easy task to write a new edition of a book that has already become a classic, and we have done our best to measure up to it.

The first purpose of this new edition is of course to bring the book factually up to date. The total value of the annual output of the industry at present prices is some US $7 billion, so it is by any standard now a major crop. Change has been rapid and pervasive, both in the commercial and scientific spheres. This alters the purpose of this book to some extent. The earlier editions aimed to be all-encompassing, and they contained a mine of detailed information gathered by Hartley in half a century of work with the oil palm in all parts of the world. This is no longer so appropriate, if indeed it were still possible. We have therefore aimed to condense parts that deal with site-specific and local information, and to pay more attention to emphasizing the underlying principles. We have also tried to start many sections with a brief synopsis of the general scientific background to particular issues, with the intention of presenting the oil palm industry in relation to agricultural science in general.

In some ways the oil palm research community is still rather insular. It is surprising how much of the oil palm scientific literature only appears in more or less local scientific conferences, or in the `grey literature'. This may not be abstracted by the major literature abstracting services, or not appear on the on-line scientific information services. The last are now becoming the standard way in which scientists access the literature, and we believe strongly that the oil palm industry must take account of this. Much of the oil palm literature is well up to inter-national standards, and should appear in international journals, to get proper exposure.

A further difficulty with the oil palm literature is that there are quite often inconsistencies in the way Malay and Chinese authors' names are written, with the same author sometimes giving his or her name in different ways on different papers. This does happen with Western authors also, but much more rarely. Where possible, we have tried to standardise the format for each author, but a result is that we have sometimes quoted a name in a differ­ent form to that on the actual paper.

We have consciously tried to stand back from the industry a little, and to relate it more to what is happening in other crops, particularly the other oil crops. With globalisation becoming a reality, competition is steadily increas­ing, and it is necessary to know and understand the competing industries. This interaction has already occurred strongly in human nutrition, but much less so in the other subjects. A further external pressure is that the industry is often targeted by environmental activists (see Chapter 15). Much of their criticism might more easily be shown to be baseless if the research literature on the crop was easily and generally accessible, so that the industry was more transparent to outsiders. This is particularly true for research aimed at environmental issues.

The shift in coverage in the book means that a number of references that appeared in earlier editions have now been omitted. Where more extensive information is available in these, we give a reference to the third edition, as Hartley (1988). A particular problem was presented by the numerous observations based on Hartley's own exten­sive international experience, and unsupported by references. Where necessary, we have cited Hartley (1988) in support of such observations, and his reputation is a guarantee of their accuracy.

Conserving Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes: Model-Based Planning Tools edited by Robert K. Swihart & Jeffrey E. Moore (Purdue University Press) Habitat loss and fragmentation arguably pose the greatest threats to biological diversity. Agriculture is a dominant land use that, along with urban sprawl and residential development, can reduce the amount and connectedness of natural areas required by many native species. Unfortunately, progress has been slow in integrating nature and biodiversity protection into community planning in intensively farmed regions, especially in America's heartland. Conserving Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes seeks to bridge the gap between land-users and the scientists who study their effects by providing a blueprint for advancing conceptual understanding of conservation in agricultural regions. It accomplishes this with a two-pronged approach: first, by developing spatially structured models that acknowledge the link between socio-economic drivers of land-use change and the dynamics of species occupying agricultural landscapes with abrupt changes in land cover; and second, by providing guidelines and examples to enable scientists to effectively engage stakeholders in participatory learning and planning activities that integrate biodiversity with other, more traditional considerations. The structure of Conserving Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes is truly interdisciplinary, linking the efforts of ecologists, economists, statisticians, mathematicians, and land-use specialists.

In this book, Robert K. Swihart, professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University and coordinator of the Upper Wabash Ecosystem Project, and Jeffrey E. Moore, Ph.D. student in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, provide a road map for advancing our conceptual under­standing of conservation in agricultural regions. This map is sketched by developing spatially structured models that acknowledge the link between socioeconomic drivers of land-use change and the dynamics of species occupying fragmented landscapes. Swihart and Moore also provide guidelines and examples to enable scientists to effectively engage stakeholders in participatory learn­ing and planning activities that integrate biodiversity with other, more tradi­tional considerations. The goal of Conserving Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes is to stimulate progress in the area of interdisciplinary, conservation-based landscape planning. Eventually, the authors hope that development of model-based tools for assessing consequences of land-use change on species persistence will promote the prioritization of conservation as a goal within the planning community and provide a vehicle for the integration of nature and biodiversity into the landscape-planning process.

This book is divided into three sections: I, Modeling Framework; II, Model Infrastructure; and III, Practical Considerations. Section I addresses the general themes and objectives to which subsequent chapters refer. Rob Swihart and Norm Slade describe a general architecture for integrated modeling within an idealized planning process. They discuss the role of models in assessing alternative land-use scenarios in terms of likely impacts on biodi­versity. They also highlight obstacles and opportunities associated with the integration of conservation-based models into the planning process.

Section II focuses on the development of spatially structured models. In Chapter 2, Kathleen Bell and Norm Slade address the parallels between spa­tial models in economics and ecology. They note that parallels in the two fields are derived from a mutual concern with the allocation of limited resources, and they review economic and ecological models related to land­scape change and its consequences. In Chapter 3, Kathleen Bell, Shorna Broussard, and Weidong Gu review spatial models of land-use change that incorporate human drivers. They note that although numerous modeling efforts claim to integrate socioeconomic drivers of land-use change with eco­logical consequences, few actually do. Because the focus of the volume was conservation of biodiversity, special attention was given to models that assess organism responses to habitat loss and fragmentation. In Chapter 4, Julie Feng and Yssa DeWoody derive a spatially realistic model for popula­tions occupying a dynamic landscape. Their analytical approach permits explicit consideration of critical thresholds required for a species' persis­tence. In Chapter 5, Weidong Gu and Jana Verboom emphasize a different approach to assessing the risk of extinction caused by habitat loss. They review spatially explicit patch-occupancy models and focus on the utility of the incidence function model. They also demonstrate with simulations how the conditions for persistence depend not just on the magnitude of habitat loss, but also on the manner in which habitat is lost and the ecological characteristics of affected species. In Chapter 6, Rob Swihart and Jana Verboom further explore how the ecological attributes of species interact with the physical landscape to determine the scale at which habitat patchiness occurs. Using data on plants and animals from the Netherlands and the midwestern United States, they demonstrate the utility of ecologically scaled landscape indices as tools for assessment of risk and suggest ways in which these indi­ces can be used to rate land-use planning scenarios in terms of their conse­ quences for native species. In Chapter 7, Mike Miller and Rob Swihart extend the notion of ecological scaling by discussing how to translate a land­scape map composed of multiple elements (patch, corridor, matrix) into a habitat map that considers a species' habitat breadth, mobility, and home­ range size. The method can provide input to models that require a spatially explicit habitat map. Mike Miller teams with Robin Russell in Chapter 8 to develop one such model. The model integrates species-specific responses to habitat heterogeneity with graph theory to estimate connectivity and popu­lation flux in complex landscapes. In the final chapter of the section, Bruce Craig, Weidong Gu, and Julie Feng synthesize several of the ideas discussed in previous chapters. They develop an integrated model of land-use/land­cover change using a hierarchical approach that considers dynamics operat­ing at two spatio-temporal scales. They also demonstrate how the model, after linking human drivers of land-use change with corresponding changes in land cover, can be used to assess the effects of these changes using ecolog­ically scaled landscape indices.

Section III is devoted to logistical, organizational, and sociological factors that can influence the ease with which model-based tools can be used to address biodiversity concerns in landscape planning. The first three chapters of the section address issues related to data acquisition. In Chapter 10, Shorna Broussard, Kathleen Bell, and Bill Hoover review the availability of social and economic data for use in spatial modeling and discuss limitations inherent in the scale at which data of different types are collected. In Chap­ter 11, Jeff Moore and Robin Russell discuss the methods and types of data needed for spatial ecological models, including those discussed in Section II. In Chapter 12, Robin Russell, Jeff Moore, Mike Miller, Trent Sutton, and Shannon Knapp review methods by which species traditionally have been chosen for conservation assessments. They then propose a hierarchical method that relies on ecological attributes of species, assessments of each species' "value", and practical issues associated with sampling and detection. They illustrate the method by developing a list of candidate species of verte­brates for the upper Wabash River basin in Indiana, United States. The last three chapters in Section III deal with human dimensions that can affect the inclusion of nature and biodiversity in landscape planning. In Chapter 13, Brian Miller, Kenli Schaaf, Rob Swihart, and Chet Arnold review the com­mitment level and sophistication of planning in the midwestern United States, New England, and Europe. They propose a heuristic model of plan­ning evolution and demonstrate that older areas are more likely to engage in multi-objective, multijurisdictional planning that considers nature and biodiversity protection. This trend appears to be explained in part by resource scarcity, which is in turn linked to human density. The authors con­clude by noting that younger communities can sneak a glimpse of their future by studying older communities, and that adoption of model-based planning can accelerate the rate at which planning sophistication evolves. In Chapter 14, Brian Miller, Kenli Schaaf, Natalie Carroll, and Chet Arnold discuss social and technical obstacles to the adoption of model-based plan­ning and offer suggestions for turning these obstacles into opportunities for advancing the role of nature in decision making. Participation of stakehold­ers is a key to progressive planning, and in Chapter 15, Madeleine van Mansfeld provides a case study of multi-objective, multijurisdictional plan­ning in Europe. Her example illustrates the use of models as a key compo­nent of the decision-support infrastructure, highlights the importance of professional involvement in the planning process, and offers hope for similar advances in other regions.

Conserving Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes targets upper-level undergraduate students, graduate students, and practicing professionals with an interest in creating a larger role for nature and wild species when decisions on land use are made. This book's quantitative focus, especially in Section II, is designed for persons with inter­est or expertise in spatial modeling. Its interdisciplinary nature brings together material that could be useful to landscape planners, social scientists, environmental economists, landscape ecologists, and conservation biolo­gists. The emphasis on agricultural landscapes may provide new perspec­tives for scientists working in human-dominated landscapes in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. The book can be used as a sup­plemental text for dual-level or graduate-level courses on ecosystem man­agement, natural-resource-based planning, or applied conservation biology. It also could serve as a source for stimulating discussion in graduate seminar classes.

Conserving Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes provides scientists the beginnings of a conceptual basis for incorporating ecological considerations into the planning process. The book, with its true interdisciplinary focus, with chapters co-authored by people from different fields, should accomplish the authors’ goal of stimulating interdisciplinary, conservation-based landscape planning.  

The Changing Scale of American Agriculture by John Fraser Hart ( University of Virginia Press ) Few Americans know much about contemporary farming, which has evolved dramatically over the past few decades. In The Changing Scale of American Agriculture, the award-winning geographer and landscape historian John Fraser Hart, professor of geography at the University of Minnesota, describes the transformation of farming from the mid-twentieth century, when small family farms were still viable, to the present, when a farm must sell at least $250,000 of farm products each year to provide an acceptable level of living for a family.

The increased scale of agriculture has outmoded the Jeffersonian ideal of small, self-sufficient farms. In the past, farmers kept a variety of livestock and grew several crops, but modern family farms have become highly specialized in producing a single type of livestock or one or two crops. As farms have become larger and more specialized, their number has declined.

Hart contends that modern family farms need to become integrated into tightly orchestrated food-supply chains in order to thrive, and these complex new organizations of large-scale production require managerial skills of the highest order. According to Hart, this trend is not only inevitable, but it is beneficial, because it produces the food American consumers want to buy at prices they can afford.

Although Hart provides the statistics and clear analysis such a study requires, his book focuses on interviews with farmers: those who have shifted from mixed crop-and-livestock farming to cash-grain farming in the Midwest agricultural heartland; beef, dairy, chicken, egg, turkey, and hog producers around the periphery of the heartland; and specialty crop producers on the East and West Coasts . These invaluable case studies bring the reader into direct personal contact with the entrepreneurs who are changing American agriculture. Hart believes that modern large-scale farmers have been criticized unfairly, and The Changing Scale of American Agriculture, the result of decades of research, is his attempt to tell their side of the story.

Marketing Grain and Livestock (Second Edition) by Gary F. Stasko (Iowa State Press, Blackwell) Marketing is an essential part of any business and the business of agriculture is no exception. Written by an experienced educator with expertise in futures markets, hedging, and technical price analysis, Marketing Grain and Livestock teaches the basics of commodities marketing by farmers, ranchers, grain elevators, packers, and processors.

Building upon what made the first edition so appealing – user-friendly, understandable writing – Gary Stasko, registered commodity-trading advisor and instructor of economics and finance at Des Moines Area Community College , Boone , Iowa , writes for his audience in clear-cut concise vernacular. In his revamped second edition, he has included updated figures, charts, and diagrams to illustrate major points. Stasko’s book emphasizes through explanations and applications while providing practical examples in every chapter.

Contents include: 1) Introduction, 2) The Mindset for Marketing, 3) The Futures Market, 4) Hedging, 5) Options, 6) Selecting a Brokerage Firm, 7) Advanced Pricing Strategies, 8) Cash Contracting, 9) Electronic Marketing, 10) Fundamental Price Analysis, and 11) Technical Price Analysis.

All new features of the second edition include:

  • A chapter devoted to electronic trading
  • Detailed explanation of the most common used cash contracts
  • Seasonal fluctuations of commodity prices
  • New statistics, charts, graphs, and tables illustrating main points
  • New “questions and problems” segments at the end of each chapter to help readers retain information
  • Information about revolutionary electronic marketing technologies

Marketing Grain and Livestock is aimed at agri-business and farm production students and their instructors, but experienced farmers, ranchers, and agri-business professionals will find the book valuable as an introduction or refresher.

Tobacco: Production, Chemistry, and Technology by D. Layten Davis, Mark T. Nielsen (Iowa State Press: Blackwell Professional) Including all the processes from seed to smoke, this text explains the science of tobacco - the cultivation of the plant, the leaves, curing, processing, manufacture and the physical and chemical properties of the final product. Breeding and genetics of the tobacco plant are discussed in relation to advances in biotechnology. General management practices are outlined for each major tobacco type. The chapter dealing with tobacco diseases also explains management control strategies, the economic losses that can ensue and the effects of diseases on the chemical composition of tobacco. Tobacco insect management from field production to stored product is discussed. Chemical and physical properties and cigarette manufacturing are the focus of three chapters. Tobacco's marketing systems, threshing and processing, ageing, fermentation and storage procedures are included. The book offers a broad view of tobacco knowledge and practices, and discusses the development of tobacco.


Excerpt: During the twentieth century tobacco has become one of the most economically important agricultural crops in the international marketplace. Not only do farmers in over 100 countries depend upon tobacco as a major source of cash income, but an entire industry, from a diverse manufacturing sector to distribution and retail outlets, has grown to be a major economic force in many industrial and developing countries. Along with the growth in the tobacco industry, local and national governments in many countries have reaped added benefits through the collection of tax revenues. The growth in the tobacco industry has been supported by numerous scientific and technical advances in the last century. Indeed, one could speculate that without these achievements the tobacco industry would not have reached the level of global importance it has today.

Despite the rather remarkable advances for tobacco as an agricultural industry, it would seem that few other industries have faced as many challenges and changes in recent years. The globalization of the tobacco industry, new legislation and efforts by external forces have greatly altered the environment in which the tobacco industry operates. While many in the tobacco industry have continued to strive to produce a high quality tobacco leaf for superior consumer products, the new, dynamic environment has made it difficult to keep that focus. Indeed, many individuals throughout the tobacco industry are focusing on new issues to more effectively meet the needs of this ever-changing environment. These challenges should be considered positive, as it will be through effectively meeting these challenges that the tobacco industry will provide for the next hundred years.

The industry has experienced cyclic supplies of quality leaf for a long time — some years have a high volume of leaf, others a rather low volume. Naturally, as supply cycles world prices fluctuate significantly. The tobacco farmer is at the mercy of these production cycles and the industry has responded with attempts to minimize this cyclic production to a more constant supply flow. The impact of external issues such as the anti-smoking efforts makes it difficult to predict future demand, but nevertheless, the production of a stablesupply of high quality leaf tobacco will remain important to growers and others throughout the industry.

Many factors have contributed to fluctuations in the global supply of tobacco leaf. The common trend seems to be a short supply, followed by price increases, followed by over-production. This trend can be exacerbated by a number of factors. In some countries, policies designed to support production will contribute to excess production and an over-supply of tobacco leaf. For example, regulations in the USA that limit quota reductions may actually enhance the magnitude of the over-supply part of the cycle on a worldwide basis. Also, the supply side of the equation is affected by changes in government regulations that affect tobacco and by differences among countries in regulations that affect the movement of tobacco through-out the world markets. On the other hand, tobacco diseases and insects, unfavorable weather, increased production expenses, the need to conserve soils and low prices will drive down tobacco production.

On a worldwide basis, the demand for tobacco continues to increase, although not at the pace set a few years ago. Cigarette consumption in many developed countries, the USA in particular, has tended to decline over the past decade, but this downward trend appears to be leveling out. Further government regulations, including restrictions on advertising, could have a further negative effect on the demand for tobacco products. To achieve some stability in the global supply of tobacco and to ensure that growers will continue to produce a high quality leaf, scientific advancements must continue, and growers and others in the industry must adapt and plan to meet the needs of the consumer.

In recent years, this is perhaps best exemplified by the price-conscious consumer driving up the demand for `value brand' products in some countries. Such `house' brands require careful monitoring and taste test screening of less expensive tobaccos. The industry found that although consumers request a lower-priced product, they are not and should not be willing to accept a taste trade-off.

Shifts in global demands for new or existing products, primarily blended cigarettes and cigars, are changing tobacco production requirements. These changes may necessitate that the tobacco industry place special emphasis on scientific advancements in variety development, agronomic practices, pest control and leaf curing to meet the needs of consumers in many different countries. This would make tobacco product manufacture a more segmented industry, but it would permit the industry to be more responsive to each market.

While consumer preferences drive raw product requirements, it is the purchaser of the leaf that must implement many of these changes. Leaf quality and price are often deciding factors in the implementation effort. As we move to the future of tobacco products, as well as other consumer products, we will see an increasing use of biotechnology to enhance a product's usability and value. Because of certain unique characteristics of the tobacco plant, it has been widely used in genetic studies for over 75 years. Rapid advancements in knowledge of genetics and technological creativity have provided remarkable tools to genetically improve the tobacco plant. These improvements could be targeted towards fine-tuning the plant to achieve certain characteristics including improved agronomic performance and pest resistance.

Many of the advancements in tobacco science have arisen from research conducted at public institutions including universities and government agencies. A reduction in public support for future tobacco research has already occurred in some countries. This will undoubtedly make it more difficult to address the research needs of growers and manufacturers, as well as hamper the development of the next generation of tobacco scientists. Broad-based support for research will have to come from within the industry, and consequently, research programs must be carefully evaluated for their cost effectiveness, value to the industry and the ease of supplying the research results at the farm level.

This CORESTA monograph will discuss the inter-relationships among the growth of the tobacco plant, the harvested leaves, their curing, processing and manufacturing, and the properties of the final product. Through each step of the process – from tobacco seed germination to smoke yield – the goal of the entire process is consumer satisfaction. A discussion of the breeding and genetics of the tobacco plant flows into a chapter about the new frontier of biotechnology. Tobacco is an ideal recipient for the introduction and expression of foreign genes for use in plant enhance-ment or disease resistance. Biotechnology will inevitably have an impact on future tobacco production and utilization. The combined study of the tobacco plant's physiology and the improvement of agronomic practices has enabled and will continue to enable us to enhance the leaf yield. This monograph will outline the general management practices for each of the major tobacco types – flue-cured, light air-cured, Oriental, cigar and fire-cured. The economic losses, management, control, effects on tobacco's chemical composition and leaf usability will be studied in a chapter outlining major tobacco diseases. The minimization of pesticide residues is a worldwide issue and is featured in a discussion of tobacco insect management from production to storage of tobacco products. The basic chemical constituents of the tobacco leaf and the differences among tobacco types are presented in a chapter on leaf chemistry, followed by a discussion of tobacco's physical properties in relationship to manufacturing needs and properties. Tobacco's marketing systems, threshing and redrying, aging, fermentation and storage procedures blend into a monograph section on cigarette design. This monograph will closely examine current practices and new developments in the area of cigarette manufacture and the study of smoke chemistry. Lastly, the topics related to cigars, cigarillos and smokeless tobacco products will be explored. This monograph is intended to offer a broad view of current tobacco knowledge/practices and features sections relating to the future of tobacco.

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