Growing Returns

A cattleman’s quest to save a bird and help ranchers thrive

Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattelmen's Association

Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattelmen's Association

Terry Fankhauser is a rancher and executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. He is also a board member and executive director of Partners for Western Conservation, which seeks to implement market-based conservation services that benefit wildlife and the economy.

Terry joined me and other conservation colleagues last week in Washington, D.C., to discuss habitat exchanges at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation. I asked him to give us a recap of the discussion and to tell us why he got involved in the development of exchanges.

Why were you in D.C. last week?

I took the opportunity to travel to Washington to convey the message that agriculture producers are investing time and resources into developing conservation markets like the Colorado Habitat Exchange.  We are just as interested as other parties in addressing conservation concerns, regulatory challenges and the ongoing need for viable businesses that drive our economies.

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Cover crops nourish the soil through winter

Bees enjoy the buckwheat cover crop in the author’s kitchen garden.

Bees enjoy the buckwheat cover crop in the author’s kitchen garden.

The harvest season is ending, but for many growers concerned about the health of their soil, it is time to plant cover crops. I am not a farmer, but I wondered: if cover crops work for farmers, would they improve the soil in my North Carolina kitchen garden?

So late this summer I planted a buckwheat cover crop on half of my garden. I'll be honest. My record as a gardener is spotty. This year we had a bounty of tomatoes and volunteer pumpkins, while nothing else thrived. A cover crop could improve my soil and my harvest next summer.

Cover crops offer big benefits

On farms, cover crops include grasses and grains such as cereal rye, legumes such as crimson clover, and broadleaf plants like radishes. They are not harvested like corn or soybeans. Instead, they are left in the field or incorporated into the soil.

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Spreading compost on the range can earn ranchers new revenue

Improving the soil helps ranchers and the climate. © rui vale sousa / Shutterstock Images.

Improving the soil helps ranchers and the climate. © rui vale sousa / Shutterstock Images.

Rangeland ecosystems cover approximately one third of the land area in the United States and half the land area of California. What if that vast domain could be utilized to combat climate change, and ranchers could get paid for land management practices that keep more carbon in the soil and enhance production?

That’s the direction we’re going, thanks to a new carbon accounting standard approved today by the American Carbon Registry. The new protocol allows ranchers who reduce their greenhouse gas footprint by applying compost to their fields to earn credits that can be traded on the voluntary carbon market.

Climate benefits

The standard is supported by research conducted by the Silver Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, which shows that applying a half inch of compost to rangeland soils removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at the rate of half a ton per acre each year.

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How one business is reducing nutrient losses on 10 million acres

Logo_United_Suppliers_Lincoln_Nebraska-620x192The people over at United Suppliers are savvy. When they caught wind of Walmart’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by, in part, asking its top suppliers to reduce fertilizer losses from cropping systems, they jumped at the chance to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

“For us, it was a no brainer,” says Matt Carstens, United Suppliers vice president. “If Walmart and major food companies have identified fertilizer pollution as a business risk, it makes sense for us to help them address that risk. We want to be at the forefront of helping farmers meet these demands. It’s a great business opportunity, not to mention the right thing to do.

"After all, farmers want the same thing. Reduced losses translate to increased profits and greater sustainability.”

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Wyoming ranchers steward land, cattle and the greater sage-grouse

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only co-exist, but thrive. Or, as some would say, "What's good for the herd is good for the bird."

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only coexist, but thrive. 

Ranchers and other private landowners have a critical role to play in conserving wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, which could face listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.

Home to nearly half of the greater sage-grouse’s remaining habitat, Wyoming is a landscape critical to the recovery of the species. A full 40 percent of the bird’s habitat in the state is privately held. Therefore, common sense solutions are needed to reward ranchers and other private landowners for conservation actions that protect vital habitat.

A rural, working landscape

Private lands in the West are often found near water, as ranches and other homesteaders put down stakes where they had ready access to water. For similar reasons, these areas are also critically important to wildlife.

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A business-smart approach to ending fertilizer pollution

Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA

Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA

The toxic algae scare in Toledo this past summer really drove home the problem of fertilizer pollution in this country, right through the faucets of half a million unsuspecting residents. Don’t drink the water, officials warned. Don’t even touch it.

We need and rely on farmers every day for our well-being. But when producing food for a growing population threatens to deprive us of water, another life essential, it’s time to rethink the way we feed America.

That’s why I’m so excited about EDF’s new Sustainable Sourcing Initiative. Our goal in this collaborative effort is to engage every player in the U.S. grain supply chain to solve what has been an intractable problem for decades.

The challenge

Fertilizer, of course, is necessary for achieving high crop yields. But its inefficient use contributes to climate instability and causes dead zones that contaminate water supplies and kill millions of fish each year.

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