2 Replies to “Nibbles: Veal, Anatomy, Taro, Schwenkler, Genebanks”

  1. RE: Veal and the Randall lineback breed. I don’t know the current thinking, but in the past that was a lot of controversy about whether it should be called a breed or whether it was just a simple color variation. There are, for instance, other non-Randall cattle that display the line down the back and – as far as I recall – indistinguishable in all ways. This, of course points up the inherent complexity of livestock conservation via breed conservation. It’s a tug of war pulling in both directions.

  2. A little more information on current conditions for taro in Hawaii and why the Hawaii Taro Security and Purity Task Force, Jeremy.

    As you know, plants are not impacted by disease in a vacuum. The wetland taro growing systems developed in Hawaii over 1,200 years were as complex as those developed for rice in Southeast Asia. Like beans, corn, rice and potatoes, taro is sacred to the indigenous people who depended on them. Lack of plentiful, cold sources of water (due to extreme stream diversion) which taro depends on for its health and which soils depend on to keep fungal growth down in the taro patch is one major factor in current disease levels. The second is 60 years of chemical fertilizers and short fallow rotations, two practices which address plant nutrient needs without attention to soil quality, something Hawaiians attended to carefully with the regular result of taro plants 2m tall and corms averaging 8-9kg (well documented in historic literature; the current average is closer to 1-2kg). The third is major infestations of the invasive apple snail, Pomacea canaliculata (see Global Advance in Ecology and Mangement of Golden Apple Snails, Joshi and Sebastian 2006). The snail consumes 18-25% of the crop, has increased farm labor by 50% and creates a major vector for further disease through corm damage. As a matter of fact, the snails just loves the warm, slow water most taro farms are left with. The fourth is a lack of cultivar diversity in the field. From what was once hundreds of varieties developed for a wide range of environmental conditions through careful selection and breeding by Hawaiians, only one or two of the 85 surviving varieties now dominate commercial production. The remainder are extremely rare. There are, of course, additional political, economic and social issues that effect taro farmers and crop success, including the need for improved agriculture inspections on incoming raw taro products.

    The task force was created at the urging of taro farmers. It’s job is to help focus local research, policy and agency support where it is reallly needed in order to revitalize taro as a crop, revive cultivar diversity in the field, and increase education and understanding of taro and farmers needs in Hawaii. The members of the task force are knowledgeable in their fields and include farmers from each island, representation from taro variety collections, state agencies, Farm Bureau, University of Hawaii and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

    As you well know, newspaper headlines often declare things to get attention rather than for accuracy. Will the task force “save” taro in Hawaii? What does that really mean? In the last few years, researchers here have frequently posed that genetically engineering taro will “save taro” (from apple snails? doubt it). Given the underlying causes of current taro conditions in Hawaii, that’s the kind of statement that does deserve the “yeah, that’ll work” comment. For local taro farmers, the task force is a long awaited step in the right direction towards a more holistic approach to reviving taro and taro diversity in Hawaii.

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