Growing Returns

Full Belly Farm: The model for innovation during drought

Full Belly Farm owners in the pepper field

Credit: Paulo Vescia

It’s not always easy to incentivize private landowners to voluntarily implement water efficiency and conservation measures, particularly when there’s a drought. When drought hits, farmers desperately need water to grow thirsty crops and remain profitable. In the near term, it’s a lot easier, as “60 Minutes” recently reported, to keep drilling deeper and deeper to access quickly dwindling groundwater – at any cost.

As the "60 Minutes" story notes, groundwater is like a savings account that should primarily be used in times of need to supplement surface water supplies. With the most severe drought ever on record and surface water supplies at an all-time low, farmers all across California are pumping groundwater in record amounts – putting the state in serious risk of widespread groundwater overdraft.

That’s why the case of Full Belly Farm, a 400-acre, 30-year old certified organic farm located in Northern California – and recent winner of the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award – is especially impressive.

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An agricultural marriage made in heaven: state programs & private sector initiatives

field-sun-350At last week’s State Ag and Rural Leaders’ summit in Florida, legislators from across the U.S. discussed sustainability initiatives in the food supply chain. The conversations and presentations were informative for all – but what was missing from the conference was discussion about the role the private sector can play in supporting public sustainability initiatives.

State programs to support farmers

State programs can go a long way towards supporting farmers’ conservation efforts without economic downsides (and potentially increased revenues).  Read More »

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A sixth-generation farmer with a fresh and optimistic perspective on conservation

O'Toole Family

Pat O'Toole (second from left) and his family at Ladder Ranch.

Pat O’Toole is a rancher and farmer at Ladder Livestock, a sixth-generation family operation on the Little Snake River along the Wyoming-Colorado border. A leader in collaborative conservation, Pat is engaged in a number of innovative land and water conservation efforts in his capacity as president of the Family Farm Alliance and a member of the AGree advisory board.

This past September, Pat co-authored an AGree paper with Dan Keppen, Executive Director of Family Farm Alliance. The paper – Securing the Future of Western Agriculture: A Perspective of Western Producers – addresses some broad challenges facing the global food and agriculture system. Namely, the need to meet future demands for food while simultaneously enhancing water, soil and other natural resources.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Pat’s ranch to get a sense of these challenges that he and other Western producers face, and to learn more about what Pat is doing to overcome these challenges on his ranch. I asked him to give us a recap of our discussion and to tell us more about his vision for the future.
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Beyond regulation: making the business case for sustainable farming

BarnStream_shutterstock_1539474_RFRegulations and lawsuits generate more tension, disagreement, division, and, too often, failure to communicate, than just about anything else in the agricultural world. Regulations are on my mind of late because of several developments:

    • Ohio recently considered legislation to increase regulations on fertilizer applications after a toxic algae bloom last August shut down water supplies to nearly half a million people.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the final stages of a proposal to resolve ongoing confusion about the extent of federal jurisdiction over isolated wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act (CWA), clarifying which are protected and which are not, based on science. Sixty percent of our nation’s streams lack clear protection from pollution under the CWA, yet one of every three Americans gets their drinking water from streams that are vulnerable to pollution.  Just this week, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that Congress will address this proposal in the current legislative session.

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    No time to wait: sage grouse delay gives urgency to conservation

    The greater sage-grouse

    The greater sage-grouse

    You may have seen a strange looking bird causing quite a stir in the news recently. That’s because there’s a lot at stake with the greater sage-grouse, especially now that a rider in the federal spending bill prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the species under the Endangered Species Act in 2015 (a decision was originally expected in September). But this delay isn’t stopping ranchers, conservationists and other key stakeholder from moving full speed ahead to find a solution.

    You might not get this sense from the political dialog and the media, but out on the ground, there is a real spirit of cooperation when it comes to the greater sage-grouse. That’s because everyone realizes that – rider or no rider, listing or no listing – this bird needs help.

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    Setting the table for more sustainable food in 2015

    Reducing GHG2014 was a milestone year for sustainable agriculture across the United States and around the world. In the U.S., we saw food companies and agribusiness like United Suppliers step up to the plate to meet Walmart’s new demand for sustainable grains, and EDF’s launch of the new Sustainable Sourcing Initiative. We also saw the launch of the United Nations’ Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, which aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice sustainable farming.

    On the Colorado River, countless stakeholders including U.S. and Mexican policymakers, conservation organizations and farmers came together to orchestrate and witness the Colorado River Delta pulse flow – the temporary release of water across the United States-Mexico border that brought relief and restoration to the dry, empty river delta ecosystem – an historic accomplishment for people and the environment.

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    Posted in Carbon Market, Carbon Offsets, Climate, Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Habitat, Habitat Exchange, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed
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      Meeting growing demands for food in ways that improve the environment.

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