Why wholesale repeal of environmental protections is a losing business strategy

© Dwight Nadig

Taking aim at government regulation is a favorite pastime in Washington, but the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress have upped the ante.

In the course of a few weeks, the House of Representatives voted down a measure to curb methane leaks from oil and gas rigs on public and tribal lands. It also voted to overturn a common-sense rule to prevent coal companies from polluting local streams. Meanwhile, the president signed an executive order requiring the arbitrary removal of two existing regulations for every new one created.

Next in their sights: gutting Environmental Protection Agency programs and possibly repealing the Endangered Species Act.

There’s no question we can improve how we go about implementing environmental laws to ensure they deliver the biggest bang for the buck for people and nature. But as an advocate for the environment and a former policy director at the U.S. Department of Commerce, I find the rhetoric-driven rush to rescind these protections short-sighted – even dangerous. Read More »

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What the Oroville Dam crisis tells us about natural infrastructure

Oroville Dam is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 80 miles north of Sacramento. At 770 feet, it's the tallest dam in the U.S.

The crisis at Oroville Dam in Northern California has abated, but problems could return with more rain in the forecast for later this week.

If you haven’t heard, the reservoir behind the dam reached capacity last weekend, sending water over an emergency spillway for the first time since its construction in 1968. Authorities ordered more than 180,000 people downstream to evacuate their homes over concerns that the spillway could fail, sending an enormous uncontrolled rush of water down the Feather and Sacramento Rivers.

While the evacuation order has since been lifted, our thoughts still go out to those affected. We continue to monitor and try to make sense of the situation, and while many lessons will eventually be pulled from this experience, there is much to reflect on today.

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Why privacy is an essential piece of agriculture’s big-data revolution

Data science in farm management is one of the biggest trends to hit both agriculture and Silicon Valley in recent years, with an explosion of technologies emerging to help farmers optimize everything from seeding to irrigation to fertilizer application.

As ag tech products grow more sophisticated, so too has the innovation trend evolved. What began as a slew of single-purpose tools has now evolved to include apps that integrate different types of information to give farmers a “dashboard” view of their land. And it includes new apps that can help multiple farmers pool their data to analyze a crop’s performance across a range of growing conditions, or to benchmark their input costs against one another.

The agriculture sector stands to gain insight from all this data. Farmers need metrics to help them figure out how to increase yields sustainably while improving soil health and protecting natural resources for future generations.

But they have valid concerns about sharing data. Read More »

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Why one wet winter won’t solve California’s water problems

Aerial_view_of_Briones_Reservoir_in_California

Aerial view of a nearly full Briones Reservoir, a large reservoir in the hills near Orinda, California.

It’s been a good winter for drought-stricken California. Record-breaking precipitation in January has raised reservoir levels and added to the essential Sierra Nevada snowpack.

According to the National Weather Service, some parts of the state received over 200 percent average precipitation for January, and current snowpack levels are at 173 percent of average. This is important, because snowpack stores vast amounts of water that is slowly released as temperatures rise in the spring and summer.

Heavy rainfall also provides the opportunity for on-farm recharge, a method of deliberately flooding farm fields to help replenish groundwater aquifers.

There is certainly cause for optimism, but it’s going to take more than a few rainy months to solve California’s water woes.

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Leasing water – a novel idea to combat “buy and dry” in Colorado

colorado-1758178_1280As populations in Colorado and the West continue to grow, water is moving from farms to cities. The current practice of “buy and dry” in Colorado – buying farmland only for its water – is bad for farmers, bad for rural communities and bad for critical ecosystems across the state.

That’s why EDF and WestWater Research have been studying alternative methods for managing water in Colorado. In a new report released this past week, we analyzed Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs) and developed recommendations that will allow for their implementation on a broader scale. Read More »

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Impact investors eye bigger allocations to sustainable agriculture

In early December, I flew out to Amsterdam to attend the Global Impact Investor Network (GIIN) Forum with 600 other delegates ranging from managers of pension funds and banks to individual investors from at least 30 countries.

Along with the growing interest in impact investing so evident at this well-attended forum, a key takeaway for me was that food and agriculture are poised to benefit. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the GIIN, more impact investors – a third of all respondents – plan to boost investment in food and agriculture than in any other sector.

As a research fellow working on market mechanisms to reward farmers who practice conservation, the survey was music to my ears. Read More »

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Farmers' voices are essential to figuring out sustainability. Let's listen up.

The corn and soybean fields that stretch for miles across the Midwest are quiet this time of year, mostly frozen surfaces waiting for the spring planting season.

Although many farmers are not in the field dawn to dusk during the winter, they are still plenty busy. Between planning for the next season, taking care of animals and attending countless meetings, farmers are seldom idle even if their crop fields are.

But lucky for us, winter does afford more time to talk.

One friend from Iowa who works hard to use fertilizer efficiently to avoid runoff and optimize plant uptake of nutrients said he worries that food companies don’t always recognize the sustainability efforts of mainstream farmers. Too often, he said, it seems food companies look for simple labels like organic.

A soybean grower I know from Ohio who has invested a lot of time learning farming practices that will help restore nearby Lake Erie told me it is a constant struggle to balance making a living with repairing decades of agricultural nutrient runoff that have imperiled the health of the lake. Read More »

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How healthy riparian forests benefit California ranchers

John Anderson overlooking his riparian forest and restoration area on Yanci Ranch.

John Anderson overlooking his riparian forest and restoration area on Yanci Ranch.

California landowners have a number of important reasons to value riparian forests. They offer shade to cattle, provide critical erosion and flood control, sequester carbon and support abundant wildlife.

Yet many landowners, especially those already stretched to manage their farms and ranches, often overlook these benefits in their day-to-day work.

Unfortunately, California’s riparian forests are dwindling, covering only 5 percent of their historic range.  That’s why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is working with leading researchers in the state to measure the wildlife and carbon benefits of riparian restoration, with the objective of bringing new funding sources to stewards of private lands.

Meet John Anderson

One landowner who is working actively to create riparian forests on his ranch is John Anderson, owner of Yanci Ranch in Yolo County. An experienced steward of his land, John has gone the extra mile restore the remnant riparian forest on his property. Read More »

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The year the private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlife

By this time next year, I believe we’ll reflect back on 2017 as the year that the private sector stepped up to protect our land, water and wildlife for future generations.

I believe this because major retailers, food companies, agricultural businesses and farmers laid the groundwork in 2016, making sizeable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), improve water quality and conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife.

President-elect Trump has made political theater by threatening to kill the regulations that protect our nation’s air and water. But in the real world, the private sector is going the other direction.

Forward-thinking businesses are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to make those regulations work better by accelerating the uptake of practices that are good for the planet and the bottom line.

These are three areas to watch in 2017.

Read More »

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Three threats to the monarch butterfly’s winter habitat and what we can do about it

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree.

Monarchs cluster on oyamel fir branches to stay warm. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster on a single tree. Photo credit: Pablo Leautaud (license)

Just as some people travel great distances to spend the holiday season with family and friends, monarch butterflies, too, make a long journey to spend the winter gathered together in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico.

The eastern population passes through Oklahoma and Texas on its annual migration south, stopping periodically to fuel up on nectar, ultimately reaching their destination in the mountains of central Mexico.

Unfortunately, the monarch’s winter home is under stress, which has contributed to a 90-percent decline in the species’ population over the last two decades. Read More »

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