Growing Returns

USDA’s new climate strategy is a huge step in the right direction

Credit: Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

Credit: Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced a new national climate strategy aimed at reducing emissions from the agriculture and forestry sectors. USDA will partner with farmers and ranchers on voluntary and incentive-based approaches to implement climate-smart agriculture techniques and programs. This approach will also ensure that crops are resilient to increasing fluctuations in weather and climates, and that farmers' livelihoods are protected.

The new focus on 'cooperative conservation' is a huge step in the right direction.

America's farmers face a challenge: increase productivity to feed a growing population, but do so in an era where climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable, with warmer growing seasons, droughts, and floods. Farmers are also called upon to increase production in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This is a tall order, given that if we continue with current farming practices agriculture could be responsible for 70 percent of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, Carbon Offsets, Climate, Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Food, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to end the fertilizer guessing game

TractorLanceCheungUSDAviaFlickrAs spring planting season gets underway, many farmers are starting to wonder how much nitrogen they should apply to their crops this year to maximize yields.

The traditional approach is to apply a bit of extra fertilizer as an insurance policy to protect yields in case some of it washes away. The problem is, this is costly – nitrogen fertilizer accounts for at least half of farmers’ input costs, even though on average, 50 percent of the nitrogen applied is lost – and harmful to air and water quality.

What we need is to get to a sweet spot of fertilizer application – meaning the right amount that both protects natural resources and maximizes yields.

I asked Thomas Morris, professor of soil fertility at the University of Connecticut, about ways that research, precision agriculture tools, and data analysis can help farmers determine the right amount of fertilizer to apply to their crops. Read More »

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

What a trip to rural Thailand taught this Idaho farmer

chicken house-Thailand

Dick Wittman and his family in the Chiang Mai region of Thailand.

Last time you went to the grocery store, did you notice that your pineapple was from Costa Rica, your pears from Argentina, your edamame from China, your salmon from Scotland, and your rice from Thailand?

To address the true environmental impacts of agriculture, we’ll need to think beyond our borders. And to alleviate environmental impacts in countries around the globe, we need to first understand the context of farming in these places.

I asked Dick Wittman, who manages a 19,000-acre dry land crop, range cattle and timber operation in northern Idaho and runs a farm consulting business, to tell me what he and his wife learned about farming and environmental challenges on their recent trip to Thailand. Read More »

Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Food, Sustainable Agriculture| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

California’s drought is real, but it’s dusted up a lot of hot air

shutterstock_191075504

Credit: Shutterstock

Finger-pointing tends to sharpen during times of crisis.

Exhibit A: California, now entering its fourth year of drought.

If you’ve followed media coverage of the drought lately – which has spiraled to new heights since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state’s first mandatory cuts in urban water use last week – you’ve probably heard that agriculture was “spared” the knife.

An interview with Gov. Brown on PBS Newshour perfectly encapsulates the debate of the past week:

“Well, Governor, encouraging people to decrease watering their lawns seems like literally a drop in the bucket, when 80 percent of the water … is from the agriculture sector,” the reporter starts out. “We know that it costs an enormous amount of water to have a single almond to eat … Is it time for us to start zeroing in on the largest customers or users of water?”

While it’s true that agriculture is California’s biggest water user, and that some crops require more water than others, it’s unfair and inaccurate to suggest, first, that agriculture was passed over, and second, that a small nut is primarily to blame for sucking the state dry. It’s more complicated than that. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Ecosystems, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Dietary guidelines are one ingredient in the recipe for sustainable food production

myplate_yellow_livetype copySome people don’t like the idea of the federal government telling them what they should and shouldn’t eat. Others feel the science of nutrition is still evolving—are eggs good or bad for us this week?—and don’t know whether to trust the recommendations.

But there’s no denying that USDA dietary guidelines have a profound influence on the public discussion over our food choices.

So it is a good thing that the commission that suggests updates to these guidelines every five years has come forward with a proposal that for the first time recognizes an inarguable fact: dietary choices have an impact not only on our health, but also on the health of our environment. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, Fertilizer, Food, Habitat, Partnerships, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Colorado farmers have a lot to say about the state’s first-ever water plan

colorado landscapeThis post was co-written by Mark Harris, general manager for the Grand Valley Water Users' Association.

In a recent op-ed, the Colorado Forum – a nonpartisan organization of CEOs and civic leaders – delivered a powerful message to Governor Hickenlooper, who is drafting a first-ever Colorado Water Plan to confront the state’s growing water demands.

The forum’s message: we must all work together to secure a water future that keeps Colorado a world class place to live, visit, work and play.

The forum made a handful of recommendations in the article, but one stood out to us as particularly relevant as we attempt to balance many competing interests in a single water plan: agriculture must be given the freedom and opportunity to thrive in Colorado’s water future. Read More »

Posted in Ecosystems, Food, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed
  • About this blog

    Meeting growing demands for food in ways that improve the environment.

    Follow @growingreturns

  • Categories

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS