Growing Returns

Pill holds promise for reducing fertilizer’s unwanted side effects

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Future fertilizer pill would detect signals from plant roots to reduce nutrient losses. Photo credit: Liz Bokt

Can a little pill solve the problem of fertilizer waste? It sounds futuristic, but it could become a reality in the next 10 years, according to recent article on AgWeb.com.

The article highlighted new developments in nanotechnology aimed at creating a “fertilizer pill” that could detect chemical signals from plant roots and release nitrogen according to those signals. The pill would allow for nitrogen to be released on an as needed basis, thereby reducing fertilizer waste byproducts that are harmful to the environment.

Although fertilizer has undeniable benefits for crop yields, excess fertilizer that runs off into our waterways is damaging to rivers, oceans and the climate.

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Farmers know: You can't manage what you don't measure

Adapt-NIt is no surprise that information has value in the technology age. A recent article in the New York Times spotlights an Indiana farming family to show how information is shaping 21st century agriculture.

Kip Tom, a seventh-generation farmer, is riding the wave of agricultural consolidation that, since the 1980s, has led to bigger farms, bigger technology, and now, bigger data.

Bigger revenues have come along with this transition. Tom says better data analysis has raised his return on investment over seven percent – from 14 percent to 21.2 percent.

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Why an Arkansas rice farmer is betting on California's carbon market (and you should too)

Mark Isbell on his farm. Photo credit: Farm Flavor.

Mark Isbell is a rice farmer in Arkansas. He is participating in a pilot project to generate carbon credits by modifying growing practices to reduce the generation of methane and save water.

These practices are being considered by the California Air Resources Board at their meeting on December 18. I asked Mark to tell me why he got involved in this pilot and what it means to growers in his region.

What things did you consider as a part of participating in the agricultural carbon market?

Zero Grade (fields precisely leveled to have no slope) and Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) are the primary practices we have implemented. These are the best candidates for creating carbon offsets while also increasing efficiencies in other areas. Careful nitrogen management is another practice. Extra nitrogen not only leads to unnecessary nitrous oxide emissions, but also provides no benefit to the crop. It can actually be detrimental. The key is finding just the right amount of nitrogen. We are open to trying other practices as we move forward, and have some new ideas in development that we believe may add another layer to this. Read More »

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The key ingredient in a resilient food supply: healthy soil

Dec. 5 is World Soil Day.

Dec. 5 is World Soil Day.

Last year, the United Nations General Assembly declared December 5th as World Soil Day. This annual event aims to “connect people with soils and raise awareness of their critical importance in our lives.”

As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. notes, we often ignore soil’s key role in our food systems, climate, and in sustaining biodiversity. Today, 33 percent of the planet’s soils are considered degraded – and this has vast implications for meeting the world’s growing demand for food.

In honor of World Soil Day, I asked Nick Goeser, Ph.D., soil health and sustainability manager for the National Corn Growers Association, to elaborate on why soil really matters.

How is soil health tied to food production? Read More »

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Will Ohio’s proposed fertilizer legislation solve the runoff problem?

Proposed legislation in Ohio would regulate when farmers can apply fertilizer to their fields

Proposed legislation in Ohio would regulate when farmers can apply fertilizer to their fields.

The Ohio General Assembly will vote next week on legislation that aims to address the problem of nutrient pollution, which was responsible for a massive algae bloom in Lake Erie that contaminated the drinking water of more than 400,000 Ohio residents this past August.

In short, the bill would ban application of fertilizer on land that is frozen, covered by snow, saturated with rain, or when the weather predicts a certain amount of rainfall. Those who violate the ban could face penalties of up to $10,000.

Policies that set rational ground rules for when farmers can apply fertilizer to their fields and that create real incentives to reduce nutrient pollution are important, but it’s going to take more than legislation to solve the runoff problem. Read More »

Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are we giving farmers enough credit for stewardship?

Photo credit: EDF/Mathew Grimm

Photo credit: EDF/Mathew Grimm

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe in the power of incentives to drive agricultural sustainability. That’s why we support emerging markets like California’s Central Valley Habitat Exchange and the state’s fledgling cap and trade market, which will soon allow rice growers to earn extra revenue.

Both markets reward farmers for improving the environment in specific ways.

The Central Valley Habitat Exchange, when it becomes operational, will allow farmers who create enhanced habitat for at-risk species to sell credits to businesses and agencies that need to meet conservation goals.

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