Friday, October 21, 2016

Nature Porn

Ten years ago,
the BBC gave us "Planet Earth". Now they're about to giving us the amazing sequel. It's six 50-minutes episodes, narrated by David Attenborough, to come on BBC1 in the UK in November.

Fish On Friday

Flying Fish caught between two predators on the deep blue sea.

Maybe It's Not About People

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning. 

We Are So Often Confused

Jake Gyllenhaal and I are SO much alike.

Rigged Against Him

From CBS Radio:
A man who owns large chunks of New York City, inherited millions of dollars in his youth from his father, and is married to a Slovenian supermodel who eagerly agrees with his every word and deed pouted today that the system is set up for him to fail.

"It's so unfair," the straight white man explained to the thousands of reporters around the world who hang on his every word on a daily basis.

"All I ask is that America give people a fair shot at succeeding," added the man, who exists in a society that's given him multiple television shows where he is free to boost his public profile and exercise tremendous power over young businessmen and women, in many cases publicly humiliating them and singlehandedly dictating the direction of their careers.

"It's completely unacceptable that I'd be the target of such a deeply entrenched conspiracy to oppress me and prevent me from flourishing," he shouted before asking one of his five healthy, successful children that other people raised to hop in the family's private jet and just quickly check on the 18 different golf courses he owns around the globe. source

Donald Trump Votes with Billy Bush in 2004

It's a complete disaster
, and yes the infamous Billy Bush is in tow.

Donald does not know where to vote, and he is not on the roles anywhere. It seems that when his idiot son, Donald junior, changed his address, Donald was wiped off the voter roles. Perfect.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Made For You and Me

This land is your land. You own it. Never forget it. Always protect it. Public lands are a public good. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Joe Exotic for President

Were you once a Trump voter, and now need a new name to write into that slot?

Vote Joe Exotic!

Joe Exotic is an animal park owner in Oklahoma who says that while he may not have millions of dollars like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, he has people in every state committed to running campaign offices.

Three-String Shovel Guitar

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Purple Peppers

How many purple peppers did Peter Piper pick?  Peter Piper picked a peck of purple peppers.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Two Realities in Opposition

If you think things have never been worse
, you need to watch this video.

And if you wonder why so many people are voting for the bleeding hemorrhoid of a man called Donald Trump, I suggest reading this.

This Is a Real Thing

Order yours now.
Operators are standing by.

Jolene at 33 RPM

This is a 45 of Dolly Parton's 1973 hit song "Jolene"
slowed down to 33 revolutions per minute. Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2016

For Sale: Shark Cage. Used Once.

Terrifying video
captures Great White Shark breaking open a diver's cage, with the diver still inside, off the coast of Mexico.

Fishing with Black Walnuts

Black walnuts ripen in the fall and contain Juglone, a chemical that is so anathema to earthworms that if you soak Black Walnuts in water, and pour the water on dirt, the earth worms will pop out on the surface as quick as they can move.

Fish on Friday

Trout skins.  Thanks to Chad Love who posted this image!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Tribe of the Dog

Lakota woman with dog travois, Rosebud reservation.

This piece is from the July 2009 issue of Dogs Today.

From a great distance the indigenous people of the U.S. appear be "American Indian," but as you travel west, you discover it's not one people, but many tribes, and by the time you get to North Datoka, the question is not whether you are Sioux, but what type of Sioux -- Lakota, Yankton, or Santee?

Much the same goes on in the world of angling where we also find tribalism at work. From a distance, it's all "fishing," but in fact the 12-year old bait-baller with a cane pole on the bank has a different world view than the 60-year old man with a deep sea rod trolling for shark off-shore.

In the world of dogs, it is much the same. People obsessed with dogs may fall into any one of dozens of over-lapping categories, and move from one tribe to another over the years.

To an outsider, it is all rather confusing, and the cacophony of bitter voices and conflicting perspectives is a bit overwhelming.

Pit Bull rescuers damn the lunatics at PETA who say the only good Pit Bull is a dead one.

Vegan cucumber crunchers curse dog show matrons and their pedigree pooches, arguing that with so many dogs in shelters, “Every dog bred is another one dead.”

The small hobby breeder, only 10 years in dogs, parrots a potted history made up whole cloth 100 years ago by a dog dealer. The problem is the “backyard breeder” he says, never defining the term, but speaking in the confident tone of one who is certain he is not one. He points to a classified ad for retriever pups, $250 apiece, and a phone number.

On the telephone the woman describes her dogs as “fur babies,” and says she is not one of “those horrible commercial breeders.” Does she have hip scores for the sire and dam? No, but she has papers, she says hopefully.

The commercial breeder has hip scores – at least for some dogs. He is rather vague. What breed do you want? He has 200 dogs and raises 15 breeds, most of them lap dogs raised in battery cages similar to those used for chickens. He points out that the floors of his cages are made of plastic mesh, not chicken wire, and he says his waste management system is “state of the art.” All 200 of the dogs are taken care of by his wife and himself alone. And are there papers? Oh sure! Kennel Club papers for one price, another registry for a bit less – whichever you prefer.

In a telephone conversation, the breed club President waves off the commercial breeder. Only a fool would look there for a dog he says, oblivious to the fact that the head of the American Kennel Club says he started in dogs this way, and that he thinks the financial future of the AKC lies in more puppy mill registrations.

And so it goes, in a round-robin of blame and questions, challenged ethics, and sniffing aesthetics.

The people roar, but is anyone listening to the dog?

And what is it that we should be listening for? How do we read signs that are not written in pen? How do we translate language that is not written in words? How can we tell if we are doing good or doing bad?

One small idea is to look to original design. It is not hard to see what God intended. Left to their own devices, dogs devolve quickly to “pye-dogs” or pariah dogs weighing 30-45 pounds with short yellow coats and pointed faces.

This animal is not a Wolf, but it can breed with wolves and produce fertile young, same as it can breed with a Coyote, Golden Jackal, or Dingo and produce a fertile cross.

What can we say about these natural dogs? Well, for one thing, none have the kind of crooked or “benched” legs common to anchondroplastic breeds such as Bassets, Dachshunds, Bulldogs, and the like.

None have the smashed-in faces common to brachycelphalic breeds, such as Pugs, Toy Spaniels, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and the like.

None have long coats with wild hair cascading down their sides. All have erect ears.

Most of the wild canids are sized between 10 pounds (a small red fox) and 150 pounds (a massive wolf).

In all cases, inbreeding is sharply discouraged. The “lone wolf,” after all, not a myth – it is a very young or old male driven out of the pack to find a harem of its own or die trying. The same occurs with coyote, fox, dingo, and jackal. Mother Nature prefers an out-cross.

What do we hear if we listen to pedigree dogs?

The data here is not deeply hidden. Canine pet insurance companies keep vast data sets on breeds and cross-breeds alike, and they will tell you that mutts are healthier than Kennel Club dogs, and they price their premiums accordingly.

Not only is there less inbreeding among cross-bred dogs than among their Kennel Club analogs, there is also less morphological exaggeration.

With mixed breeds you are less likely to get teacup dogs with serious teeth and neurological issues, and you are less likely to get giant dogs with torsion, cancer, and heart issues.

A mixed breed is less likely to have the skin problems found in deeply wrinkled dogs, and more likely to have the kind of muzzle that prevents eye damage and predictable respiratory and palette problems.

With Kennel Club dogs, there is not only a tendency to select for morphologies unseen in nature, but there is also the requirement that these exaggeration be maintained in a closed registry system in which coefficients of inbreeding tend to drift upward due to popular sire selection.

Of course, what I have said here is not new. Biologists, canine genetic experts, and working dog people have been making these points for decades. But their quiet message has been drowned out by the foot-stomping of those with economic and political interests.

Much the same has occurred with indigenous people the world over.

Their concerns too have been blotted out by issues of money, power, and prestige.

"The native tribes? Who cares about them? The natives don't vote and they don't pay taxes."

And of course neither do the dogs.

But does that mean we should not be listening to them?

Does the welfare of dogs not matter at the top?

Who will speak for the tribe called Dog?

One Man and His Dog, 2016

Footage from the One Man and His Dog 2016 competition, as shown on the BBC1 programme "Countryfile".

Always Put the Perfect Over the Good

Leash Pressure


Moxie will jump up on most anything I tell her with the words "bench." It's a simple trick and seems slightly impressive when it's an actual bench!  

Just Marrried

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land.
You own it. Never forget it. Always protect it.

Public lands are a public good.

Congrats Bob!

Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for literature!  Terrierman approved.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

We Can't Grow on Like This!

Mark Zuckerberg the Hunter?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
says people who eat meat should hunt at least a few times for their own food, so they become more connected to their food chain and the circle of life.

Digging on the Dogs

Rags and Pepper at top, and Nate with a nice possum. No animals were harmed in the making of this movie -- the possum was released unharmed.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Story of Nipper, the RCA Dog

The story of Nipper began in 1884 when a small stray terrier was found on the streets of Bristol, England. Adopted by Mark Barraud and named "Nipper" for his habit of biting at people's ankles, he became a devoted pet and companion to the theatre and stage set designer.

Mark Barraud died in 1887 and his little dog went to live with his brother, Francis Barraud. Francis Barraud inherited a cylinder phonograph from brother Mark, and he noticed that when it was played Nipper cocked his head and seemed to listen to it -- as some dogs are wont to do with any strange sound.

Nipper died in September of 1895.

In 1899, four years after Nipper's death, Barraud was casting about for a subject to paint and remembered the little dog listening to the cylinder player. He decided it would make a good subject for a painting, and used the photograph, at right, as inspiration.

Barraud hoped to sell his painting of Nipper as a magazine illustration, but could find no buyers. He then decided it might find a market as an advertising vehicle.

Barraud first went to the Edison Bell Company, the maker of the cylinder player, but they turned him down. He then painted over the Edison cylinder machine and put in its place a Gramophone machine which played a disk record and had a brass, rather than black, horn. William Barry Owen of the Gramaphone Company offered to buy the picture, and "His Master's Voice" was born.

The Gramophone company was owned by Berliner, which patented Barraud's image of Nipper (patent papers pictured at right). Berliner was sued by the Victor Talking Machine Company shortly thereafter and, as a consequence of the lawsuit, Berliner was forced out of business in the U.S. and Victor acquired the painting of Nipper as part of its settlement. In the late 1920s, Victor was purchased by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and they adopted the Nipper painting as their own trademark.

Somewhere along the line "the coffin story" was added to spice up the true story of how this painting came into being. The coffin story in entirely fiction, but a good tale nonetheless. According to the story, the dog was painted sitting on the coffin of Barraud's brother as the dog was listening to his deceased "master's voice" on the phonograph. A great tale, but pure marketing malarkey.

In 1949 the Gramophone Company decided to honour Nipper and erected a plaque above his grave under a mulberry tree in Eden Street, Kingston-on-Thames, England.

Francis Barraud died in 1924 at the age of sixty-eight, having made a good living painting copies of his now-famous painting. At least 24 "Barraud originals" still exist.

Quo Vadis?

GOP strategist Steve Schmidt left the Meet the Press panel speechless when he said that the Trump campaign reveals the intellectual rot within the Republican party.

An Old Dog Still Young

She's 15, but no one is telling her.

She Sells Sea Shells by the Seashore

Conch shells
tossed up on the beach in Nassau, Bahamas after last week's Hurricane Mathew.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Coffee and Provocation

Crooked Pet Insurance
Petsecure, a pet insurance company in Canada, has a clause in their "pet insurance" policy denying coverage if a dog is injured while "jumping, running, slipping, tripping or playing."

A Merger of Field & Stream
Bass Pro Shops, which is mostly owned by Johnny Morris who started the company 45 years ago in his father’s liquor store near Springfield, Missouri, plans to purchase Cabela’s for $4.5 billion.

Electricity from God and Science
In the U.K. over the last six months, solar panels just surpassed coal-fired plants in generating electricity -- a previously ‘unthinkable’ feat.

Bike Lanes as Health Care Investment
A "QALY" is a “quality-adjusted life year”, or “the equivalent of on additional year of life at full health.” A new study on The cost-effectiveness of bike lanes in New York City, has determined that New York City’s bike lanes deliver a QALY for just $1,300. While that’s much more expensive than vaccines (at just $100 per QALY) it's a  lot less than direct health treatments like dialysis, at $129,000 per QALY.

Garbage Island
The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' now spans 3.5 million square kilometers. The garbage patch consists of mainly plastic waste, including big ones and broken down micro-plastics that can be consumed by marine animals. A company called Ocean Cleanups plans is to use a massive V-shaped boom to scoop up plastic and recycle it into fuel to drive the boom. A prototype is expected to be tested in 2017 and full deployment is set for 2020.

Cloned Mammals are As Healthy as Non-Clones
The first rigorous study of aging cloned animals reveals they are perfectly normal as far as health is concerned.

An Increase in US Meat Consumption
According to a recent Rabobank’s analysis, American meat consumption increased by 5 percent in 2015 – the biggest increase in 40 years.

Velcro Dogs and Burdock

After taking his dog for a walk one day in 1948, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the seeds of the burdock plant that had attached themselves to his clothes and to his dog's fur. Under a microscope, he looked closely at the hook system that the seeds used to attache to passing animals, and he realized the same approach could be used to join other things. The result was Velcro.

Today a "velcro dog" is  a term often used by dog owners to describe a dog that follows them everywhere and is never more than a few feet from their side.

Ten Seconds to Joy

A Stampede of Fools

The Animal Collective

a herd of antelope
an army of ants
a shrewdness of apes
a congress of baboons
a culture of bacteria
a cete of badgers
a sleuth of bears
a lodge of beavers
a flight of bees
a flock of birds

a sedge of bitterns
a sounder of boar
a chain of bobolinks
a clash of bucks
a herd of buffalo
a rabble of butterflies
a wake of buzzards
a flock of camels
an army of caterpillars
a clutter of cats
a herd of cattle
a flock of chickens

a cartload of chimpanzees
a herd of chinchillas
a bed of clams
a quiver of cobras
a rag of colts
a bury of conies
a cover of coots
a flight of cormorants
a band of coyotes
a siege of cranes
a float of crocodiles
a murder of crows

a herd of deer
a pack of dogs
a pod of dolphins
a drove of donkeys
a bevy of doves
a paddling of ducks
an aerie of eagles
a swarm of eels
a herd of elephants
a gang of elk

a mob of emus
a business of ferrets
a charm of finches
a school of fish
a swarm of flies
a skulk of foxes
a colony of frogs
a gaggle of geese
a horde of gerbils
a corps of giraffes
a cloud of gnats
a herd of gnus

a drove of goats
a charm of goldfinches
a band of gorillas
a skein of goslings
a leash of greyhounds
a covey of grouse
a colony of gulls
a group of guinea pigs
a husk of hares
a kettle of hawks
a prickle of hedgehogs
a brood of hens

a shoal of herrings
a crash of hippopotami
a drift of hogs
a nest of hornets
a herd of horses
a cry of hounds
a charm of hummingbirds
a clan of hyenas
a band of jays

a smack of jellyfish
a mob of kangaroos
a deceit of lapwings
an exaltation of larks
a leap of leopards
a pride of lions
a lounge of lizards
a herd of llamas
a plague of locusts
a tiding of magpies
a sord of mallards

a richness of martens
a nest of mice
a labor of moles
a troop of monkeys
a herd of moose
a pack of mules
a watch of nightingales
a family of otter

a parliament of owls
a drove of oxen
a bed of oysters
a company of parrots
a covey of partridges
a muster of peacocks
a colony of penguins

a bouquet of pheasants
a flock of pigeons
a farrow of piglets
a wing of plovers
a chine of polecats
a pod of porpoises
a passel of possum
a coterie of prairie dogs
a covey of quail
a bury of rabbits
a gaze of raccoons

a colony of rats
a rhumba of rattlesnakes
an unkindness of ravens
a crash of rhinocerouses
a clamor of rooks
a run of salmon
a pod of seals
a school of shark
a flock of sheep
a den of snakes
a walk of snipes
a host of sparrows
a dray of squirrels
a murmuration of starlings

a muster of storks
a flight of swallows
a bevy of swans
a flock of swifts
a drift of swine
a spring of teals
an ambush of tigers

a knot of toads
a hover of trout
a flock of turkeys
a nest of vipers
a colony of vultures
a mob of wallabees
a herd of walruses
a pack of weasels
a pod of whales
a pack of wolves
a warren of wombats
a fall of woodcocks
a descent of woodpeckers
a herd of yaks, and
a zeal of zebras

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Trump and Dogs

10 Quick Notes for the E-Collar Curious

I took a few minutes yesterday to switch out the batteries in the Invisible Fence collars (the three red collars at left, top to bottom) and the Petsafe bark collars (the black collars in the middle, top to bottom).  On the far right is a round E-Collar Technologies remote control, with two E-Collar Technologies collars below.

Ten quick points about modern electronic collars:

  1. Invisible fence collars are a kind of "buster" collar, and they work very well to contain most dogs using a radio-frequency-sending wire running around a perimeter. Invisible fence systems can contain multiple dogs inside a very large area for an affordable cost. After an initial period of training with a flagged perimeter, and the owner working the dog on a leash, most dogs respect the line and rarely challenge it. Invisible Fence collars are nothing more than an electric fence for dogs, mechanically different from what we use for cows, but operationally about the same. Just as you rarely see an electric fence correcting a cow, so you rarely see an Invisible Fence correct a dog after the first few weeks.  My working terriers have been behind an Invisible Fence for over 17 years.  To be clear, my dogs are on a perimeter wire. I have no experience with the wireless "base transmitter" models, distrust them, and would not install one.

  2. Bark collars operate only when a dog barks, and only when the dog wearing the collar is barking, as the collar needs both noise and vibration to correct. I have three dogs, and one dog cannot set off the collar of the other dogs.  Bark collars save a lot of canine lives, as more dogs are sent to death at the pound for barking than any other reason. These things work like new money. The three collars, above, are small Petsafe Elite bark collars. Do not be stupid and get a collar with citronella spray.

  3. E-collars are not Invisible Fence collars or bark collars or "trash buster" collars (not shown), but something entirely different -- a true dog training aid that is capable of sending small "taps" a great distance with perfect timing. These taps can break through a dog's natural attention deficit disorder, remind a dog of what it knows, and mildly "correct" a dog starting a bad, or unwanted, behavior.  E-collars do not train a dog; they are simply a powerful and near-perfect signaling tool which, if used at low-stimulation, can dramatically speed up and help "proof" a recall,  a long down-stay, and dozens of other common commands.  As always, you have to use the tool to train the dog.  But does an e-collar, when coupled with a treat bag, make this training quicker, easier, and more assured?  Yes!

  4. A modern e-collar is going to cost you over $180, and should have 100 stimulation levels. Do not get a collar that has 5-10 levels of stimulation, or one that is being sold as a "trash buster" collar at a local pet or hunting store. If you have, in the past, used an e-collar with 5-10 levels of stimulation, be advised that these collars are NOT the same as a modern e-collar. Do not get a collar and transmitter being sold for the remarkably price of $50-$60 on Ebay or Amazon. These are Chinese-made collars based on a 30-year old off-patent design, and they are too course and too inconsistent for real dog training. I would recommend looking at an E-Collar Technologies or Dogtra collar, both of which will cost you about $200, and which are worth it.

  5. Do not expect one collar to do it all.  E-collars are a bit like dogs themselves; anyone who is selling you one that can "do it all," is selling you one that can do it all poorly. Spend money to get the right equipment for the job, and learn how to use the equipment.

  6. Collars should be tight with the contact points on the sensors placed on the side, or on top of the dog's neck. Electronic collars only work when the stimulus prongs are consistently in contact with the dog's neck. This means that the collar should be tight, and if the sensors are places on top or on the side, they are less likely to lose contact than if they are on the bottom.

  7. Different contacts are needed for different coats and dogs. Some very long-coated dogs may need some fur trimming, but long and short contacts are sold that work well on most coats. Some dogs may need a contact point made of a hypoallergenic metal -- these are available.

  8. Modern collars come with vibration, as well as electronic stimulation, and many come with a tone feature as well. It is a common mistake to think vibration is less intrusive to the dog than a low-level stim (it's not), or to think a tone feature is absolutely necessary (you will mostly be working your dog within sound of your voice). In fact, a low-level stim given to a dog that knows what it means is so effective and gentle that a change in direction or activity is all the notice a dog may give that it has received any signal at all.

  9. It's a TAP, not a Zap. While an Invisible Fence collar gives a powerful and very aversive ZAP, and a bark collar will send a much less-strong static correction, a training e-collar set at the correct level is giving no more than a one-finger tap. Though there is a "boost" feature, which can send a stronger corrective signal, actual dog training is done with the collar set so low it merely taps the dog -- it's no more aversive than a single finger lightly touching the dog on the neck or on top of the head.

  10. Any tool can be abused, and too often are.  When it comes to dogs, leashes are probably abused more than any other device, as dogs spend a lifetime getting "yanked and cranked" by owners who never embrace a training regime based on good timing and consistency.  Can e-collars be abused?  Absolutely.  In fact, if you insist on not reading directions, not going to YouTube to watch competent professionals instruct on modern e-collar use, do not take a dog training class, do not spend a few hours with someone who has trained a dog with an e-collar, and refuse to read a book or get on an e-collar training list-serv or Facebook group, you are probably going to do more harm than good with your e-collar, at least initially.  But, of course, the same can be said about a leash. The good news is that most humans who spend $200 on a modern training collar actually want to train a dog. Step One in that training is to understand that not all collars are the same, and that getting good tools for the right job is essential.

I am told that Karen Pryor, the great maven of pure treats-based clicker training, keeps her own Border Terrier behind an Invisible Fence.  It seems she has figured out that they are quite humane. And yet Ms. Pryor looks down her nose on modern e-collars, even though she herself admits she cannot take her own terrier off-lead in the woods for fear of it running away! Indeed, her earlier Border Terrier ran away from her in the woods and was killed by a coyote. All I can say is that she should have used an e-collar, and she should have asked a real dog trainer how to use it. 

Related Links:

Ever Gotten a Text From a Cow?

Moocall is and Irish company that produces calving sensors that warns farmers when a cow is one hour from birthing. The sensors help ensure that the cow and calf are cared for in the event of a difficult birth.

Moocall came about a few years back when farmer Niall Austin lost a cow and calf due to a difficult birth. The sensor, works by monitoring the movement of a cow’s tail in order to predict when labor is imminent. When that magic time arrives, the device send a text message from the cow going into labor.


Leash Pressure

A Locally Great Thing to Visit

Collecting the World: Inside the Smithsonian from Great Big Story on Vimeo.

Just a few miles from here
is one of the great museums of the world.

Monday, October 03, 2016

It's Poly-Tick Season

Large Farms: Beating Plowshares into Sensors

From The New York Times:
Large farmers — who are responsible for 80 percent of the food sales in the United States, though they make up fewer than 8 percent of all farms, according to 2012 data from the Department of Agriculture — are among the most progressive, technologically savvy growers on the planet. Their technology has helped make them far gentler on the environment than at any time in history. And a new wave of innovation makes them more sustainable still.

A vast majority of the farms are family-owned. Very few, about 3 percent, are run by nonfamily corporations. Large farm owners (about 159,000) number fewer than the residents of a medium-size city like Springfield, Mo. Their wares, from milk, lettuce and beef to soy, are unlikely to be highlighted on the menus of farm-to-table restaurants, but they fill the shelves at your local grocery store.

There are legitimate fears about soil erosion, manure lagoons, animal welfare and nitrogen runoff at large farms — but it’s not just environmental groups that worry. Farmers are also concerned about fertilizer use and soil runoff.

That’s one reason they’re turning to high-tech solutions like precision agriculture. Using location-specific information about soil nutrients, moisture and productivity of the previous year, new tools, known as “variable rate applicators,” can put fertilizer only on those areas of the field that need it (which may reduce nitrogen runoff into waterways).

GPS signals drive many of today’s tractors, and new planters are allowing farmers to distribute seed varieties to diverse spots of a field to produce more food from each unit of land. They also modulate the amount and type of seed on each part of a field — in some places, leaving none at all.

The modern farm is highly efficient and more environmentally friendly, in part because farmers have been beating plowshares into sensors.

Today... technology is a regular part of operations at large farms. Farmers watch the evolution of crop prices and track thunderstorms on their smartphones. They use livestock waste to create electricity using anaerobic digesters, which convert manure to methane. Drones monitor crop yields, insect infestations and the location and health of cattle. Innovators are moving high-value crops indoors to better control water use and pests...

[T]echnologies reduce the use of water and fertilizer and harm to the environment. Modern seed varieties, some of which were brought about by biotechnology, have allowed farmers to convert to low- and no-till cropping systems, and can encourage the adoption of nitrogen-fixing cover crops such as clover or alfalfa to promote soil health.

Herbicide-resistant crops let farmers control weeds without plowing, and the same technology allows growers to kill off cover crops if they interfere with the planting of cash crops. The herbicide-resistant crops have some downsides: They can lead to farmers’ using more herbicide (though the type of herbicide is important, and the new crops have often led to the use of safer, less toxic ones).

But in most cases, it’s a trade-off worth making, because they enable no-till farming methods, which help prevent soil erosion.

These practices are one reason soil erosion has declined more than 40 percent since the 1980s.

Improvements in agricultural technologies and production practices have significantly lowered the use of energy and water, and greenhouse-gas emissions of food production per unit of output over time. United States crop production now is twice what it was in 1970.

That would not be a good change if more land, water, pesticides and labor were being used. But that is not what happened: Agriculture is using nearly half the labor and 16 percent less land than it did in 1970.