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Bug Burgers Becoming More Popular

Consumers in Switzerland will soon get the chance to buy burger patties and meatballs made out of beetle larvae. From what I understand, supermarket chain Coop tested consumers’ appetite for less-common alternatives to beef and pork, and “The Mealworm Burger Patties,” which also contain rice, carrots and spices such as oregano and chili scored extremely well. Interestingly, people are willing to pay up for the bug patties, which will cost about $4.50 per patty, or twice as much as the stores organic beef burgers and about three to four times more than their cheapest beef burgers. It all seems strange to me, but United Nations food experts have argued fro a long time that they can satisfy meat cravings without all the damage to rain forests and depletion of water by using insects. In fact, edible insects have a long culinary tradition in African and Asian cultures, though their high grade animal protein is only available in a few locations in Europe, one such being the U.K. restaurant called “Grub Kitchen”. According to food writers who have tried it, mealworms, which are basically beetle larvae, have a mild flavor that becomes slightly nutty when roasted. Proponents of eating insects believe it’s only a matter of time before others come around to their thinking, helped in part by a 2013 UN report that raised the profile of bug protein by extolling its benefits to the masses. They claim around 2 billion people already eat insects worldwide. In addition to packing loads of protein into small frames, insects are said to be very efficient at converting the food they eat: crickets need less than 10% of the feed of a cow per edible gram (pdf) to produce the same amount of protein. Though people in places from Africa to Latin America and Asia are happy to munch on insects, and often consider them a treat, Westerners — and particularly Americans, including myself — tend to find the idea hard to digest. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. Sorry, I’m still eating Beef, Chicken and Pork! (Source: Bloomberg)

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Make Certain You Are Paying Close Attention To “Amazon” And Other Possible Ag Disrupters

Since Amazon jumped head first into the grocery business by purchasing Whole Foods Market there’s been a ton of talk about the future. For consumers, analysts believe the entry of Amazon into the food space will mean more choices, faster home deliveries of groceries and lower prices. While Amazon is making its presence felt in the food industry, some are worried it could shift the direction of agriculture in various sectors. From what I understand, even before the Whole Foods deal, Amazon Technologies had filed at least 110 trademarks related to food. Interestingly, ten of those trademarks were related to the phrase “single cow burger.” Amazon already sells Wagyu beef burgers made from grass-fed cattle raised in California. The company promotes the product as made from a “single cow” unlike most burgers which are made from the trimmings of multiple animals. “How many cows does it take to make one burger? Thanks to Amazon, just one,” the company touts in it’s promotions for AmazonFresh. It’s obvious that Amazon is planting seeds among consumers that burgers made from multiple sources are somehow less healthy or better for you, in turn trying to creat​e a new market. In other words, they are playing the game like great politicians, identifying or making up a possible problem that they know they can provide a solution for. Pardon my ignorance, but before now I’ve never heard or read research that burgers from a single source are safer, tastier or greener for the planet, but it certainly seems this is the new conclusion being considered and potentially pushing consumers in a new direction. Amazon’s foray into the food business is another giant step by an extremely smart and savvy company, one that also has the technology and ability to alter the consumers mindset. With this being said, I have no ill regard or negative tilt towards Amazon, in fact I’ve purchased even more of their stock. I just think we need to make certain we are paying very close attention to their advertisements, promotions and ways they are tur​n​ing their turrets, as it could ultimately shift or swing portions of our industry. I’m told that Amazon will soon be selling enough beef and other proteins that it will likely hold great leverage, the kind of leverage that could force changes to many production and distribution models. Ready or not, Amazon is in the space and other disrupters may soon follow. As producers, we have to be aware of the possible shifts and changes that may come our direction. Don’t try to fight it, try to better understand it…

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BHP Is Measuring Truckers’ Brain Waves To Improve Safety

The world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, has launched a new monitoring program in an effort to improve safety. Truck drivers working for the company are being outfitted with baseball caps and hard helmets that have sensors mounted inside to track their brain waves. The device is monitoring for signs of fatigue. The sensor is able to communicate any signs of danger to a unit installed within the cab of the truck, which then notifies the driver. It also sends a notification to the driver’s supervisor who can then intervene if necessary. The mine in Chile where the new system is being tested has some 1,500 employees driving 150 trucks. Each truck can carry up to 400 metric tons of copper. The mining industry has been increasingly looking at technology to improve mine safety and bring down costs. The mining industry has been increasingly looking at technology to improve mine safety and bring down costs. BHP has also been experimenting with driverless trucks that are driven via artificial intelligence. Rio Tinto just completed the first test run of Auto Haul, its driverless freight train. It expects Auto Haul will be pulling iron ore from all of its mines in Australia to port by the end of next year. The adoption of advanced technology doesn’t stop at transportation, though. Artificial intelligence is being used to design autonomous drills and sensors that can help improve the quality and grade of ores and other raw materials being mined. Algorithms are able to use real-time data to automatically warn operators and maintenance crews of downtime hours in advance. Others can predict pressure spikes or mill overloads hours before they happen. Engineers are currently working to create algorithms that could carry out geotechnical inspections using 3-D mapping. Consulting firm McKinsey estimates that data analytic and robotic technology improvements could produce US$290 billion to US$390 billion in annual productivity savings for oil, natural gas, thermal coal, iron ore and copper producers across the globe by 2035. And the companies employing that technology are expected to be the ones that survive in the long-run as the bottom line becomes more sensitive to overall efficiency rather than simple supply and demand dynamics. (Sources: Bloomberg, Telegraph)

Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Bitcoin Sits In A Secret Vault In Switzerland

Somewhere in the mountains of Switzerland is a secret “bunker” that stores billions of dollars worth of bitcoin. The owner of the vault, Xapo, won’t reveal exactly how much is actually stashed there, but they claim they regularly serve customers that have “millions” of dollars worth of the digital currency. Considering that bitcoin is “virtual”, it’s kind of hard to wrap one’s head around the idea of how it is stored in a physical vault. What they actually store are the digital “keys” that allow clients to access their digital currency funds. On the bitcoin network, these cryptographic keys form a pair with other particular public keys and provide access to coins stored there. It is not unheard of that these keys can be stolen, though. Successful cryptocurrency hacks happen on a pretty consistent basis, though it seems only the most costly hacks make global headlines. Mt. Gox is one such legendary theft. The bitcoin exchange collapsed in 2014 after hackers made off with around $500 million worth of the digital currency. Individual investors are just as much at risk, though. One of the things that make cryptocurrencies so attractive to many investors is the fact that transactions are instantaneous and irreversible. Transactions can not be censored by any government or bank, and they can not be stopped. That also means it’s mostly impossible to recover them if they are stolen. If a hacker gets an investor’s private key, there is no way to get the stolen funds back, not even from a company that was supposed to be storing them. Obviously, the more bitcoin an individual or firm has, the higher the stakes are for them. And as you can imagine, they also become prime targets for hackers. In 2016, $28 million in losses from crimes involving virtual currency were reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, more than triple the 2015 total. And that figure is based only on voluntary reports by individual victims. It also doesn’t include large-scale thefts like Mt. Gox and others. Enter Xapo, which offers cold-storing of digital assets in a 10,000-square-foot data-center deep inside a decommissioned Swiss military bunker. The facility was built in 1947 and served as the military’s secret headquarters during the Cold War. A foot of concrete marks the entrance to the granite facility. The data center itself is behind four-ton steel doors that are designed to withstand a nuclear attack. All who enter must pass multiple biometric scans and pass through a “man trap” – a phone booth-sized cylinder made of bullet-proof glass that is not opened on the other side until the operator has approval. The data center is lined with rows of data storage systems that are protected by steel slabs that form a Faraday cage, which is a barrier that protects against electromagnetic pulses (EMP). An EMP could be used by hackers, terrorists or any other kind of bad actor to completely wipe out all the data, meaning the bitcoin keys would be lost. This so-called “cold room” is never entered by any humans. The door is actually sealed with tape to make sure it has not been breached. The storage units are never connected to the internet and can only be accessed using “special cabling” that Xapo won’t reveal details about. Transactions are conducted via that cabling system. Before they are approved though, two sign-offs are required in two other vaults that are on separate continents. The man who designed the vault, Xapo head of security Carlos Rienzi, explains that none of these measures is extreme and in the end they might not be enough. “We are under attack 24/7,” he said in a recent interview. “This is not a race. It is a chess game. You have to think about the opponent’s next movement. You can never relax.” (Sources: Quartz, Forbes)

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Farmers Are Using Lasers To Keep Birds Out Of Their Crops

Scarecrows were once the go-to bird repellent for most farmers, but advances in technology have given way to a new tool to prevent the pests from eating their crops. Netherlands-based Bird Control Group has developed a system that uses lasers to frighten birds. The Agrilaser Autonomic uses a three-inch laser beam which imitates the movements of a would-be predator, effectively causing birds to take off. Birds cost U.S. farmers tens of millions of dollars every year, and are particularly devastating to fruit crops. In Oregon alone, birds cost the state’s blueberry farmers $11 million last year. This past summer, one of those farms was desperate to solve their bird problem after losing nearly a quarter of their crop the previous growing season. They installed six of the solar-powered Agrilaser Autonomics along the periphery of their farm. According to Bird Control Group, the number of birds invading the farm was reduced by 99%, from an average of 1,500 to just a handful. The farm estimates the laser systems saved over 578,000 pounds of blueberries, worth nearly $100,000. Bird Control Group CEO Steinar Henskes says it took them about four years to develop the lasers. They applied filters to their beams to reduce harmful infrared radiation and added a projection safety system that shuts the laser down if it strays outside a predetermined field – into a roadway, for instance, which could be hazardous to drivers. An autonomous base keeps the lasers moving in a variety of patterns. The fluctuations prevent the birds from getting accustomed to the green rays, meaning they don’t lose their effectiveness. Lasers do not work on every bird. There are more than 12,000 bird species in the world, and Bird Control Group has not tested its technology on all of them. But the company has found that it tends to work best on birds that have natural predators. Birds that are predators, such as hawks and falcons, aren’t really bothered by it. As effective as the system may be, skeptics warn that there is not enough research to guarantee that the lasers aren’t causing any unintended harm to animals or the environment. Bradley Blackwell, a research wildlife biologist for the USDA, explains that very little is known about how the power, beam characteristics, and wavelengths affect the visual system of birds, across bird species, or other species. Blackwell and Esteban Fernandez-Juricic of Purdue University are currently studying these systems and hope to be able to have answers to these questions soon. (Sources: IEEE, Bloomberg)

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