Growing Returns

General Mills selects United Suppliers to increase fertilizer efficiency in the field  

SUSTAIN logo_circle_4cIsn’t it nice when somebody steps forward boldly to do the right thing and is rewarded for doing so? General Mills did just that for United Suppliers and the SUSTAIN platform, which will help farmers improve nitrogen use efficiency and productivity.

In July, General Mills put out a call for proposals to help the company meet increased production needs in ways that contribute to cleaner air and water.

It was almost like a future posting in sustainability want ads: “General Mills, a 17+ billion dollar food company, has the following need: Seeking best practices in nitrogen fertilization (nitrogen optimization) technologies for sustainable agriculture.”

The company recognized the pressing need to limit nutrient losses while also helping farmers produce more of the wheat, corn, soybeans and other crops it needs to make the products we buy.

And the winners are….
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Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A national food policy? What the Bittman-Pollan op-ed missed

EDF's David Festa (left) met with farmers in two Yuma area irrigation districts this fall to learn more about irrigation efficiency.

EDF's David Festa (left) met with farmers in two Yuma area irrigation districts this fall to learn more about irrigation efficiency.

Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan have done a huge service with their writing by shining the spotlight on the way we produce and consume what’s on our plate. Together, the two have elevated the national dialogue on food. As they correctly point out in their recent Washington Post op-ed, the food industry touches everything from our health to the environment.

Agriculture sustains us. But agriculture also emits more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, airplanes and trains combined. It consumes more than 80 percent of the world’s fresh water supply and pollutes rivers with fertilizer runoff that creates dead zones downstream. When we clear grasslands and forests to produce more food, we accelerate the loss of biodiversity. And yes, our diets have contributed to a rise in obesity.

The challenge is clear. We need to feed a growing population, but how do we do it without killing the planet in the process?

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Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Habitat| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five things to like about California’s proposed rice protocol

EDF's work on the rice protocol was featured in an article from The Fresno Bee: California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit. Photo credit: California Ag Today.

EDF's work on the rice protocol was featured in The Fresno Bee: California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit. Photo credit: California Ag Today.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has been developing the first crop-based protocol that will allow U.S. rice growers to participate in California’s cap-and-trade program. The final draft of the standards – a product of meticulous research and stakeholder input – is now out for review.

There’s a lot to like in the draft, which demonstrates the ARB’s diligence in developing a greenhouse gas reduction program that is good for both farmers and the wildlife that depend on rice fields for habitat. Here are my five highlights:

1) It creates a new revenue stream for farmers:  Rice farmers across the U.S. can volunteer to implement one of three methods included in the protocol – dry seeding, early drainage, or alternate wetting and drying – to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint. In doing so, they will be able to generate offsets to sell in California’s carbon market, providing revenue for growers while contributing to the state’s clean air goals.

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Posted in Carbon Market, Carbon Offsets, Climate, Ecosystems, Habitat, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

A new perspective on the risks to western lands and water

Photo credit: David Owen with support from Lighthawk.

EDF's Jennifer Pitt prepares for her flight. EDF partnered with LightHawk to increase understanding of the impacts of water imports to population centers in Colorado's Front Range. Photo credit: David Owen with support from LightHawk.

I've been a student of water use, storage and transportation for decades, but never before have I seen the collection and diversion systems from the air, other than a glimpse of a big reservoir from a commercial jet. That is, not until a few weeks ago, when I had the extraordinary opportunity to fly with a LightHawk volunteer pilot to see Colorado’s waterworks from the air.

Seeing the landscape from above gave me a completely new perspective.

The point of my trip was to see the effects that Colorado’s urban growth – with its increasing urban water demands – is having on the state’s working lands and rivers. One view painted a very clear picture: a footprint of idled farmland in Rocky Ford, Colorado.

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Posted in Ecosystems, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

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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Posted in Ecosystems, Habitat, Habitat Exchange, Sustainable Agriculture| Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

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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