Growing Returns

New program sheds light on cover crop financials with big data

This post was co-authored by Katherine Wilts Johnson, extension economist at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Farm Financial Management.

Farmers’ interest in cover crops is growing rapidly along with increased focus on soil health. But one of the most important questions farmers continue to ask is how cover crops will impact their finances.

A new program launched by Environmental Defense Fund and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Farm Financial Management (CFFM) aims to answer the economic questions farmers have about cover crops by developing a new farm financial benchmarking program within the FINBIN database — the largest publicly available farm financial database in the country.

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The Grand Canyon Protection Act would advance water security and environmental justice at critical time

Climate change and drought are bringing home the urgent need to protect the Grand Canyon and secure clean water supplies for all communities in the Colorado River Basin. With the compounding threat of uranium mining, the stakes are high in the Grand Canyon — a global treasure, economic driver for Arizona, and place of great cultural and spiritual importance to at least 12 sovereign indigenous nations.

If passed, the Grand Canyon Protection Act would make permanent the 20-year temporary ban (enacted in 2012) on new uranium and other hard rock mining on about 1 million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park. The bill was introduced earlier this year by Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Tom O’Halleran and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, all Arizona Democrats. It has passed out of the House but has not yet received a vote in the Senate.

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Banks take major step to turn climate commitments into action for global agriculture sector

Today at COP26, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development announced the Banking for Impact on Climate in Agriculture (B4ICA) initiative in partnership with EDF, the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative and the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials.

Banks representing over 40% of global banking assets have already committed to aligning their portfolios with net zero emissions by 2050.

A major theme of this COP — the international climate change conference — is the urgent need to transition from commitments to action.

Action is needed to protect the agriculture sector from climate change, as farmers around the world are exposed to increasingly volatile weather that threatens global food security and rural livelihoods. At the same time, the sector must reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, particularly potent methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Fortunately, farms have the potential to reduce emissions, sequester carbon and build resilience — but farmers need support to make change at the scale and pace required to avoid major losses. Read More »

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Natural infrastructure can address growing climate impacts and save hundreds of billions of dollars annually in the process

Across the world, more communities are experiencing significant impacts from our changing climate, with severe weather events becoming “the new norm” according to the recently released State of the Climate report. Without action, these disasters could require $20 billion in annual humanitarian aid according to the International Federation of Red Cross.

As world leaders meet this week in Scotland for COP26, they must do everything in their power to reduce emissions and avoid worsening climate scenarios. It is great to see critical attention to natural climate solutions like avoided tropical forest loss front and center at the COP.

At the same time, we must also invest in solutions that can save lives and property from those climate impacts that are already unavoidable. Fortunately, there are solutions that both reduce climate pollution and protect against impacts already being felt.  A new report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) provides insight into how to do that, showing that natural infrastructure can save hundreds of billions of dollars annually in climate adaptation costs, while delivering the same or better outcomes as traditional, hardened infrastructure.

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Global leaders can’t fulfill their methane promises without agriculture

Methane pollution from energy, agriculture and other industries has emerged as a key focal point at COP26 as more than 100 countries, representing two-thirds of the global economy, pledged to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030.

This is a huge step.

Methane is one of the most potent GHGs that is expected to cause half of the projected temperature rise over the next two decades. By reducing emissions of methane — which has more than 80 times the near-term warming power of carbon dioxide — we can hit the brakes on the increasingly rapid warming responsible for stronger storms and hotter fire seasons. Read More »

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Capturing water from atmospheric rivers will help build drought resilience in California. Here’s how.

This blog was co-authored by Nicole Schmidt, a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

Several locations in California set all-time 24-hour rainfall records this past weekend when an atmospheric river delivered much needed precipitation as the majority of the state remains in extreme drought conditions.

In Sacramento, this wettest day on record followed the longest consecutive dry spell on record amid California’s second driest year.

As scientists have been predicting, climate change is causing more dramatic extremes in weather — both wet and dry — and that pendulum swung very dramatically to the wet side over the weekend.

Consequently, it’s critical we prepare now to capture and store water during these shorter, intense wet periods so that more water is available during the inevitable increasingly severe drought years ahead. Read More »

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Measuring water use in California’s Delta is a “fool’s errand.” OpenET will change that.

As the hub of California’s water system, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is one of the most hydrologically complex and hotly contested areas in the state, if not the world.

That’s according to Brett Baker, a sixth-generation pear farmer and attorney for the Central Delta Water Agency, who also studied biology and fish in the Delta at UC Davis. The agency is one of three in the Delta that provided funding to OpenET, a new online water data platform that lets farmers and water managers easily track how much water crops use.

Starting in January, the state will allow farmers to use OpenET to report their annual water use in the Delta, which supplies water to 25 million people and 3 million acres of Central Valley farmland.

I talked to Brett about why this change is so important.

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New Army Corps guidelines will expand natural infrastructure to reduce flood risk and more

This year has brought devastating flooding in the Netherlands, Germany, China, the U.S. and elsewhere. Globally, over 2.2 billion people are exposed to flooding, and that number is growing.

New research indicates the proportion of people living in floodplains since 2000 has increased by 20% to 24%, and climate change is further increasing flood risk with rising sea levels, more intense storms and extreme rainfall events. We need urgent action to protect people from these growing risks.

To this end, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) just released their “International Guidelines on the use of Natural and Nature-Based Features (NNBF) for Flood Risk Management.” Here’s why that’s a big deal.

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3 acciones críticas para la equidad del agua en las comunidades latinas de California — ¡apúrense!

Es una paradoja penosa para California, la quinta economía más grande del mundo: Algunos de los mismos trabajadores agrícolas que recogen nuestra comida no pueden beber un vaso de agua limpia, o ni siquiera tener agua, en fregadero de la cocina.

He trabajado en temas de justicia ambiental en EDF durante los últimos seis años, y he tenido la oportunidad de hablar con algunos de estos trabajadores esenciales, muchos de los cuales provienen de países de habla hispana como yo.

A medida que el Mes de la Herencia Hispana llega a su fin, la sequía en California avanza obstinadamente. Es importante reconocer cuán importantes son estos trabajadores del campo que cosechan los alimentos en todo nuestro estado y más allá.

Más allá del reconocimiento que se merecen los trabajadores del campo, los líderes estatales y locales deben tomar al menos tres pasos críticos para eliminar esta paradoja:

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3 critical actions for water equity in California’s Latino communities – ¡apúrense!

Lea en español

It is a painful paradox for California, the world’s fifth-largest economy: Some of the very same farmworkers who pick our food can’t drink a glass of clean water — or any water in some cases — from their kitchen sink.

While working on environmental justice issues at EDF for the past six years, I have had the opportunity to talk with some of these essential workers, many of whom come from Spanish-speaking countries like me.

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close while the drought in California stubbornly marches on, it’s important to recognize how instrumental these farmworkers are to providing food throughout our state and beyond.

But besides recognition, state and local leaders need to take at least three critical steps to eliminate this paradox:

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