Growing Returns

Dusty barren fields or thriving farmland and habitat? This bill creates a better vision for California’s future

As California legislators returned to Sacramento this week rightfully focused on COVID relief, I am encouraged that at least two legislators are also focused on another major and even longer-term challenge: water scarcity.

Today Assemblymembers Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and vice-chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) introduced a bill, AB 252, to help farmers and rural communities adapt to more sustainable groundwater use while simultaneously creating new benefits for people and wildlife. Read More »

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Federal Reserve warns of financial risks from climate change. Agricultural banks must act fast.

Climate change poses a multitude of financial risks and financial leaders are increasingly calling for the measurement, disclosure and mitigation of these risks.

The Federal Reserve recently highlighted climate change in its annual financial stability report, warning that climate-driven weather events could cause price instability and other significant financial system vulnerabilities. The Fed’s report adds momentum to a growing wave of attention being paid to climate-related financial risk. Read More »

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After decades of inequity, this woman is bringing long-overlooked voices to California’s land and water decisions

Vicky Espinoza is on a mission. Vicky is passionate about making sure rural, low-income communities and small-scale farmers have a say in land-use and water-management decisions in the San Joaquin Valley.

During the last drought, California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) because decades of groundwater overpumping was causing drinking wells to dry up, land to sink, and millions of dollars of damage to canals and other infrastructure. This new state mandate to sustainably manage groundwater and a warming climate will drive widespread changes in both land and water use in the valley, which in turn could affect agricultural jobs and regional economies.

Vicky, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Merced, wants to ensure that rural low-income communities — predominantly Latino and Hmong residents — are directly involved in decisions about these land-use changes, which is why she’s incorporating their opinions for the first time into a geospatial model to help guide the valley’s future and minimize negative impacts. Read More »

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Farmer interest in conservation is growing, but barriers remain high. Here’s how we can overcome them.

“Are you interested in planting hedgerows of native plants on your farm, but aren’t quite sure how to get started?”

That was the question Rex Defour, the California regional director for the National Center for Appropriate Technology, posed to farmers in a blog earlier this year.

The response? A flood of calls and emails from interested farmers. In a matter of weeks, 90 growers from across the country signed up to plant over 23 miles of hedgerows. Read More »

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Small California farmers are often overlooked in water policy. Here’s a look at their unique challenges.

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard is a small farms adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension, focusing on immigrant, refugee and other farmers with limited resources in the San Joaquin Valley.

Many of the Southeast Asian farmers she supports are first-generation immigrants who came to California starting in the late 1970s after the Secret War in Laos, or who came as recently as 2004. Some of the Latino farmers are first-generation immigrants who were previously farm laborers and are now moving into operating their own farms. Read More »

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3 simple steps to help protect Arizona’s at-risk rivers and lakes

Arizona’s rivers, creeks and lakes provide valuable drinking water, critical habitat for wildlife, and serene spaces for people to enjoy with their families and friends. However, many of these ecologically important waterways are now at risk of pollution and even destruction as a result of recent rollbacks of federal protections. Read More »

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Small grains have big outcomes for climate resilience

Small grain crops, like oats and wheat, are making a comeback in the Midwest, disrupting the traditional corn-soy rotation and delivering big benefits for farmers and the environment. And they’re about to get another big boost.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded a $1.1 million Conservation Innovation Grant to Practical Farmers of Iowa to advance the use of small grains crops and test market-based solutions for lowering emissions linked to nitrogen from manure and fertilizer. Read More »

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How can we measure the profitability of healthy soils? There’s a new guide for that

Any investment, from Wall Street to a local park, requires investors to establish expectations for the costs, benefits and timing. They dedicate significant resources to researching and identifying these expectations to optimize their investment decision.

Investing in soil health should be no different.

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Biden’s USDA will need to hit the ground running. Here are 3 top priorities.

No one is more accustomed to walking a tightrope of variable weather and economic fluctuations than the American farmer. However, 2020 has been especially harsh on the farm economy.

From floods and fires to trade wars and a global pandemic, the incoming administration will need to provide a swift lifeline to farmers, ranchers and forestland managers, and to Americans who depend on vital food and nutrition programs. In addition to addressing these immediate challenges, there is also an urgent need to invest in longer-term solutions that build resilience to future risks. Read More »

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Nature-based climate solutions find traction on Capitol Hill. 5 things you need to know.

Forests are the nation’s largest terrestrial carbon sink, offsetting approximately 15% of carbon dioxide emitted in the U.S. each year. Grasslands, wetlands and coastal habitats also store significant amounts of carbon in soils, sediment and vegetation.  

Optimizing that carbon storage will be critical to meeting climate goals, and, with the right financial incentives, can create a new source of rural income.   Read More »

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