Northwest Oklahoma is epicenter: : Drought is tightening its grip across a wide swath of the American Southwest as farmers, ranchers and water managers throughout the region brace for what’s expected to be more warm and dry weather through the spring. Crop conditions around the region are declining as extreme drought spans from Kansas and Oklahoma to California. A federal drought map released Thursday shows dry conditions intensifying across northern New Mexico and into southwestern Arizona, and every square mile of Nevada and Utah also is affected by at least some level of dryness. On the southern high plains, Oklahoma is ground zero for the worst drought conditions in the U.S. READ MORE

FOOD SECURITY

$1 trillion infrastructure project could put China on top: China’s $1 trillion Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) may be the most ambitious and significant infrastructure project you’ve never heard of. BRI will link China with emerging markets, providing an alternative to slow-growing, increasingly protectionist Western markets as well as outlets for the China’s excess capacity. The U.S. and some European Union countries are apprehensive that BRI signals China’s attempt to dominate the two-thirds of the world’s population, and 40 percent of global trade, accounted for by BRI countries. As can well be imagined, however, the initiative is facing a host of challenges. Read more HERE and HERE.

These ants are gobbled up like peanuts: It’s hard to ignore the proportions of these delicacies. Large as a cockroach and curvy as a pin-up, the “big-bottomed ant” (known as siqui sapa in Peru and hormiga culona in Colombia) is coveted by gourmands around the world. In South America, the bugs are soaked in salted water, roasted, and eaten like peanuts. At first the flavor is reminiscent of pork rinds, but it quickly evolves into something more earthy and bitter. They are sometimes compared to caviar, which seems an unlikely match until you realize their “butts” are so well endowed because they’re swollen with eggs. READ MORE

What if the entire world converted to organic agriculture? Over the past decade, a number of scientists have explored this utopian vision, and they all say it’s possible. Yes, even with the human population projected to rise another 2.1 billion to 9.7 billion people in 2050, we can feed them all organically. But what would a strictly organic world look like? Drilling into the details, it seems more dystopian than utopian. READ MORE

Tough times for dairy farmers: Dairy farmers are getting squeezed by higher labor costs, the loss of the use of the bovine hormone rBST (which  was adding 40¢/cwt to margins in herds using it), lower calf and cull cow prices and rising feed prices. That’s the word from Sarina Sharp, a livestock and feed market analyst speaking to a trade group recently, says the worst is behind farmers. Also on the positive side, China has announced it expects to see dairy usage increase 50 percent in the next decade. Even though the Chinese prefer milk powder from New Zealand (because of quality and a long-standing relationship), American dairy farmers should benefit. READ MORE

TERRORISM

ISIS has new way to communicate: ISIS has long taken full advantage of secure communication tools, and utilized mainstream communication platforms in unexpected ways. Extremist groups even develop their own software at times to tailor things like encrypted messaging to their specific needs. One such project is the clandestine, unfortunately named communication tool MuslimCrypt, which uses an encryption technique called steganography to spread secret messages. And while many of these homegrown tools don’t live up to their promised protections, a new evaluation of MusilmCrypt by the Middle East Media Research Institute reaches a basic, but crucial conclusion: MuslimCrypt’s steganography works. READ MORE

Getting a handle on animal methane emissions: Leading the worldwide effort to get a better handle on methane emissions from animals, an international consortium of researchers devised more accurate models to estimate the amount of the potent greenhouse gas produced by dairy cattle. In a large study that involved individual data from more than 5,200 lactating dairy cows, assembled through a collaboration of animal scientists from 15 countries, researchers discovered that methane emissions from dairy cattle can be predicted using simplified models. READ MORE

FOOD SAFETY

Cholera reported from eating herring eggs: Canada’s First Nations Health Authority and Island Health are warning the public following confirmed cases of Vibrio cholera infection associated with eating herring eggs.  Vancouver Island after One confirmed case of cholera and two suspected cases were confirmed on Vancouver Island, off Canada’s west coast. The cases were linked to herring eggs. This is a unique situation, the Health Authority said. Implications on future harvesting are unclear at this time. READ MORE

PUBLIC HEALTH

How to make your blood poison to mosquitos: High doses of ivermectin, a pill used to fight parasites, can turn human blood poisonous to mosquitoes, according to a study published Thursday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal. The medication could be used to help stem the spread of malaria. The new study, conducted in Kenya by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, revealed that the blood of patients who took three high doses of ivermectin in pill form over three days remained poisonous to mosquitoes for up to 28 days. READ MORE