Growing Returns

My hope for the global water crisis: Farmers

farmer Agriculture accounts for more than 80 percent of all water consumed in the U.S.

Some people might read that figure and think, “farmers are using all of our water!” But I see it differently. I see potential.

That’s because farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists, water conservationists and land stewards. They have been, and continue to be, among the first to develop innovative water efficiency solutions, and they are already implementing a variety of practices to optimize their water use and adapt to drought and climate change.

On World Water Day, it’s important to remember that farmers are our best hope for solving the global water crisis. Read More »

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Let’s focus on a farm’s performance, not its size


Credit: Flickr user Dwight Sipler

What comes to mind when you think of a “family farm?” You’re probably picturing a bucolic spread of less than 100 acres, with a red barn, farmer in overalls, and cows grazing a big pasture. What about the phrase “corporate farm” or “big ag?” Do you see a giant, impersonal and industrial-looking operation?

Unfortunately, these common (mis)perceptions are regularly promoted in everything from TV ads to online chats. But the reality is that “big” does not equate to “bad,” and “small” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” when it comes to sustainable farming. In fact, it’s the wrong debate altogether.

What really matters is performance, not size.

Today is National Agriculture Day, celebrated annually on March 18, and this year’s theme is sustaining future generations. If we’re going to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, we’re going to need large and small farms alike. And no matter their size, they’ll need to minimize their impacts on the natural systems that sustain us all. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Food, Habitat, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Responses

Meet Christine Hamilton, fourth-generation farmer forging a sustainable path

Picture of CCH IMG_5889Christine Hamilton and her family have been farming and ranching in central South Dakota for more than 120 years – and they hope to still be farming there 120 years from now.

But to be able to ensure the long-term viability of her family’s farm, Christine and her colleagues at Christiansen Land and Cattle (CLC) knew that they would need to take a step back, look closely at their operations, and set a vision for the future.

Tools and certification programs can help farmers like Christine to measure and understand the sustainability of their farm and ranch operations, and to set specific goals. But none of these platforms was a good fit for CLC, which raises crops such as corn, soybeans, and winter wheat, as well as cattle. So Christine led the development of a customized sustainability management plan for CLC that articulates what is important to them now and what they want to improve in the future.

Here, in honor of USDA’s new focus on women in agriculture, I ask Christine about her farm’s visionary plan. Read More »

Posted in Ecosystems, Food, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

How the private sector can help stem emissions from agriculture


Credit: Flickr user Rory MacLeod

Here’s the challenge: we need to feed 9 billion people by 2050, yet if we continue with current farming practices agriculture could be responsible for 70 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions by that same year, according to an official at the World Bank.

So what do we do?

We can’t just point the finger at growers and tell them to solve the problem. This is a tall order – and it will require all hands on deck: food companies, suppliers, consumers, and producers. We all need to implement climate-smart agricultural approaches on a global scale to reduce emissions, increase resilience, and protect farmers’ livelihoods.

But climate-smart agriculture absolutely cannot become mainstream without more help from the private sector. We need corporations to invest in research and to make tangible changes to their supply chains. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Fertilizer, Food, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

California governor reappoints EDF working lands director to state food and agriculture board

Eric Holst

Eric Holst, director of EDF's working lands program

Eric Holst, senior director of Environmental Defense Fund’s working lands program, has been reappointed to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture by Governor Jerry Brown.

Holst has served on the board – a fifteen-member state board appointed by the governor to represent a range of agricultural commodities, geographic regions and academic systems – since 2012. The board encourages public participation and input in all matters concerning agriculture and food policy within the state, from hunger and malnutrition to climate change and environmental markets. But the dominant focus over the last year has been drought and how to mitigate impacts on California agriculture.

A natural choice

Holst has been a leader in developing innovative partnerships with farmers, ranchers and foresters to improve environmental and economic performance on working lands for more than a decade, both in California and elsewhere across the country. Read More »

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No illusion here. Optical sensors can save farmers money.

19159_Husking CornPrecision agriculture is on its way to becoming mainstream. First, farmers need tools and technologies that make this kind of smart farming dramatically easier.

Optical sensors are one of the most promising technologies available now. This technology is very exciting because it helps farmers save money on fertilizer – and improve crop yields.

Optical sensors are devices attached to a farmer’s fertilizer applicator. As the farmer travels across the field applying fertilizer, the technology reads how green or healthy the crop is, and it applies the right amount of fertilizer in accordance with each plant’s needs. Read More »

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