Growing Returns

How agriculture’s resilience to climate change benefits us all

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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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Action by California farmers necessary to reach state's new emissions target

Robert Parkhurst was in Los Angeles yesterday speaking at a conference on Navigating the American Carbon World. His panel is discussing the “Future Offset Supply.”

Robert Parkhurst was in Los Angeles yesterday speaking at a conference on Navigating the American Carbon World. His panel discussed the “Future Offset Supply.”

California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order this week ramping up the state’s already ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goal, setting a new target to reduce emissions by 40 percent over 1990 levels by 2030.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached — for this generation and generations to come.” – California Governor Jerry Brown

This new target is a timely and significant step in securing a more resilient future for California, which is currently experiencing one of the most severe droughts in the state’s history. But it’s a tall order – and one that will require an array of aggressive strategies across all sectors.

Fortunately, crop-based farmers are well-positioned to help. Read More »

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Why you won’t see an eco-label on your corn flakes anytime soon

Corn cereal

Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Corn affects every person in the United States.

It is grown on about 90 million acres, an area roughly the size of Montana. Corn is ubiquitous in the products we buy, from shampoo and sodas to ethanol and animal feed.

The crop also uses the majority of nitrogen fertilizer in agriculture, requiring more nitrogen than soybeans, cotton and wheat combined. Nitrogen is necessary to produce corn. But when nitrogen is over-applied, crops cannot absorb it all – and this can lead to air and water pollution.

Fortunately, figuring out ways to use nutrients more efficiently to reduce loss improves a farmer’s bottom line. It also gives them a competitive advantage, as more and more food companies are embracing sustainability and fertilizer efficiency as a way to reduce risk in their supply chains. Read More »

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