Growing Returns

A new decision-making tool for farmers: more climate data

Rebecca Shaw is participating in the First Working Meeting of the Global Alliance for climate-smart agriculture on December 17 and 18, taking place in Rome

Rebecca Shaw participated in the first working meeting of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture on December 17 and 18 in Rome.

The President’s Climate Data Initiative launched earlier this year to bring vast amounts of government data together in one place for communities and businesses to use when making decisions in the face of climate change. Last week, the Department of Interior and other executive branch offices released more data specific to water and ecosystems, as well as new geospatial tools, that will help natural resource managers – including farmers – better prepare for the future.

The newly released data sets include critical information about stream flow, soil, land cover and biodiversity, and are complemented by tools that will enable users to visualize and overlay data sets related to ecosystems, land use, water and wildlife. Together, the new data and tools will help farmers build resilience to the impacts of changing weather. Read More »

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California takes giant step toward approving first crop-based carbon standards

CA rice farmA significant milestone was achieved today in the California cap-and-trade market. For the first time, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) considered a land-based carbon offset protocol that will allow U.S. rice growers to earn additional revenue for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cultivation.

This is a big deal. U.S. agriculture has tremendous potential to not only provide the nation with the food we eat, but also the climate solutions we need to sustain our growth.

Farmers grow carbon credits

The protocol covers rice cultivation practices in both the Sacramento Valley of California and the Mississippi River Valley, which encompasses Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Growers here can implement any combination of three practices – dry seeding, early drainage or alternate wetting and drying – and collect data to be independently verified to create a carbon credit.

Nearly two dozen farmers have already expressed interest and are starting to gear up their operations to generate offsets in the spring of 2015. Read More »

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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.

Read More »

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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.

Read More »

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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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