Growing Returns

Feds call for cooperative conservation on sage grouse, states deliver

"An unprecedented, collaborative effort" was a blog published last week by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller

"An unprecedented, collaborative effort" was a blog published last week in The Hill by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller.

Last week, leaders of the four federal agencies dealing most closely with issues surrounding the greater sage-grouse delivered a strong public message: As long as stakeholders continue to work together, we can save this bird and preclude the need for listing.

The message was powerful – not just because it was endorsed by four of our nation’s top thinkers on conservation, but because it was optimistic.

“We have seen what’s possible when we all pull our oars in the same direction,” they wrote.

This is a fundamental turning of the tides in the conversation around sage grouse. Previously, the dialogue has been pointed, with industry interests, agriculture interests and wildlife interests caught in crosshairs. But the discourse has changed, and it’s because the situation on the ground has changed. Read More »

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New research helps farmers set targets for reducing emissions

Credit: photos.com

Credit: photos.com

The easiest way to tackle fertilizer pollution is to lower the amount of nitrogen applied to crops, thereby reducing nutrient losses into the air and water. The problem is, reducing fertilizer rates can also shrink crop yields, which means less income for farmers and less food on our plates.

So here’s the question: how can we slash nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture without sacrificing productivity?

To meet this challenge, scientists need to understand the relationship between “nitrogen surplus” (the amount of applied nitrogen fertilizer not taken up by the plant), “nutrient use efficiency” (the ratio of how much yield you get from each pound of fertilizer applied) and nitrous oxide emissions that contribute to climate change. The more nitrogen a plant absorbs, the less it releases into the air in the form of nitrous oxide and into the water where it can contribute to harmful algal blooms. Read More »

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How agriculture’s resilience to climate change benefits us all

NYCity_shutterstock_12345841_RF (1)

81 percent of Americans live in cities, but rely on rural areas for everyday needs.

Traditionally, governments haven’t factored farms and ranches into their climate mitigation and adaptation planning. Instead, the focus has mostly been on protecting urban communities. But that is all changing. At the National Adaptation Forum earlier this month in St. Louis, agriculture was top-of-mind in discussions about reducing emissions and building resilience to climate change.

That’s because in order to protect people, 81 percent of whom live in urban areas, we’ll need to protect what’s around where they live, too. It’s largely rural areas, like the farming town of 1,100 people where I grew up, whose working lands and farms provide valuable services to urban areas. These services include food security, flood and drought protection, recreation and water storage. Agriculture can also play (and is already playing) a big role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The more resilient we can make agriculture, the better off we’ll all be. Read More »

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Meet Brent Bible, state trooper turned farmer and mentor

BrentBibleA new Purdue University study released this week found that agriculture will create nearly 60,000 jobs each year for the next five years. But to meet this growing demand, more students will need to graduate with agricultural degrees. And as the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a recent interview, the farming sector must do more to work with students and the educational system as a whole.

That’s where growers like Brent Bible come into play.  Brent is inspiring the next generation of farmers, scientists, researchers, and agronomists through his work with Purdue students who help him operate his 3,000-acre grain farm in Indiana. He’s also promoting soil health, nutrient efficiency, and sustainable agriculture through changes in on-farm practices.

I asked Brent, a former Indiana state police officer, about his transition to the agricultural world, his work with the Soil Health Partnership, and what gets him out of bed every morning. Read More »

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Why the food movement is alive and well

silverware 2 up closeMark Bittman’s recent New York Times op-ed, “Let’s Make Food Issues Real,” is a grim assessment of the current state of the food movement – in fact, he questions whether a food movement exists at all.

Bittman states that the lack of major change to government food policies means the food movement is not winning. “I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues,” Bittman writes.

I’ll take that bet. With the drought in California threatening the nation’s produce and the other impacts climate change pose to our food supply, I think it’s likely that the next group of presidential candidates will discuss food issues on the campaign trail. Read More »

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Water risk: Which food companies are managing it and how can they do better?

A Splash of Water

Credit: Flickr user phphoto2010

Unreliable water supply and quality is a source of enormous risk to the agricultural sector. That was the key takeaway of a new report from Ceres that evaluated 37 of the world’s leading agriculture, beverage, meat and packaged food companies to see how they are managing risks from diminishing water supplies and water quality.

In a nutshell, companies need to improve their performance.

Companies use huge amounts of water in the production of crops, which also affects water quality when nitrogen fertilizer not absorbed by plants runs off into waterways. Read More »

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