Growing Returns

New resources help farmers and advisers maximize sustainability and profitability

Winter is a critical planning period for farmers and their advisers. As they gear up for the 2019 growing season, a new set of resources can help build operational resilience in the near- and long-term.

Sustainability Programming for Ag Retailers and CCAs (SPARC) was recently launched by the Agricultural Retailers Association, the American Society of Agronomy, Environmental Defense Fund and Field to Market to provide farmer advisers with resources and training modules to help producers continuously improve agronomic and environmental outcomes.

Here’s why advisers should take advantage of SPARC resources as they help farmers plan for the year ahead. Read More »

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Immediate steps for North Carolina policymakers to reduce flood risks and build resilience

As the moment of crisis recedes in memory, it would be easy to shift our collective focus away from last year’s hurricanes. But we must remember that the work of rebuilding homes and livelihoods along the coast and across the coastal plain is really just beginning.

With two 500-year storms in a 23-month period, North Carolina policymakers and communities need to be better prepared for storms and flooding in the future.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, with rainfall totaling in the trillions of gallons, numerous recommendations were put forward to address the risks posed by flooding and extreme weather in North Carolina.

Those recommendations included targeted solutions such as clearing debris from rivers and streams that may address flooding in one community, but exacerbate it elsewhere. Others offered engineered approaches such as dams that can take decades to build, require state acquisition of private lands, and, once built, are fixed in place eliminating flexibility.

While some stream dredging or construction of levees in key locations may need to be part of a solution set, there are other immediate steps that we can take to reduce flood risks. Read More »

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Are monarch populations up or down? Scientist explains conflicting reports

It’s hard to know what to make of the recent monarch butterfly news. On one hand, the western population of monarchs native to California is down 86 percent this year compared to last – reaching a dangerously low threshold that puts them on the brink of extinction. On the other hand, the eastern population that migrates east of the Rockies and overwinters in Mexico is up 144 percent – the highest count since 2006.

With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently weighing the need to list monarch butterflies as threatened or endangered, the stakes are incredibly high to understand what these population trends mean for the iconic species.

So how do scientists explain these apparently conflicting population numbers?

Read More »

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Louisiana kids make a play for coastal comeback in Super Bowl ad

As millions of Americans prepare to watch the NFL’s season finale this weekend (despite most Saints fans boycotting it after an egregious “no call” in the Rams playoff game), a group of Louisiana children have been preparing an important message for state policymakers and election candidates – one that will air on local TV stations during Sunday’s big game.

The kids are using the ad to draw attention to a land loss crisis. Coastal Louisiana loses a football field of land to the Gulf of Mexico every 100 minutes because of the way the land and the Mississippi River have been managed, and now because of sea level rise.

Watch now, share with friends, and if you are from Louisiana, pledge your support for restoring the Louisiana coast at
RestoreTheCoast.org.
Read More »

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The clock is ticking for groundwater managers in California’s most over-drafted basins

By this time next year, 21 critically over-drafted groundwater basins in California must submit plans to the state’s Department of Water Resources for how to bring their basins back into balance.

With this major deadline looming, it’s crunch time for water managers and their consultants – some of whom will begin releasing draft plans in the next six to eight months seeking required public comments.

The Jan. 31, 2020, deadline was set by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which the California Legislature approved in 2014.

Successful implementation of SGMA would protect water quality and supplies for agricultural, municipal and wildlife usage. It would also maintain and improve the health and long-term viability of the ecosystems that sustain these various uses.

San Joaquin Valley groundwater pump (Photo Credit: Chris Austin)

Achieving these sometimes competing goals will not be easy. That’s why implementing SGMA will be a major balancing act. Read More »

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The decline of the monarch butterfly is a natural disaster that requires attention now

Three reasons why this wildlife problem is a human problem – one that we can and must solve, fast.

The monarch butterfly is making national headlines as reporters and commentators are using the dooming western population count to sound the alarm about the loss of the orange and black icon.

But the species’ decline has not been a sudden one. Scientists have been predicting this for years as the monarch has been on a collision course with agricultural productivity and climate change for at least two decades.

(Photo Credit: Lamoustique)

Really, the dangerously low monarch count isn’t unlike a natural disaster in that it is a scary marker of a much larger and more dangerous transformational change.

The biggest difference between the monarch’s decline and natural disasters is that the monarch’s decline is ultimately seen as a wildlife problem, not a human problem – but they are one in the same. Here are three reasons why. Read More »

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The solution to agriculture’s water quality impacts is bigger than WOTUS

The Clean Water Act continues to provide critical protections for America’s drinking water, lakes and streams. While this bedrock, bipartisan law put the worst industrial water pollution largely behind us, the hard work of addressing nonpoint source pollution remains.

Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulations were created to help mitigate nonpoint source pollution and protect isolated wetlands, but the long-running controversy over the scope of WOTUS illustrates the limitations to using broad and blunt regulations to solve complex problems.

Nutrient runoff from farms is one of the causes of dead zones and contaminated groundwater – the drinking water source for nearly half of all Americans. In addition, 43 million Americans, mostly in rural communities, drink water from private wells – 16 percent of which contain groundwater that exceeds federal nitrate limits.

As WOTUS revisions make their way through a public comment period and face likely legal challenges, water quality improvements can’t wait. Here’s why, and what we can do in the meantime. Read More »

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How Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, is becoming a leader in water conservation

Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company.

In late 2018, I traveled to the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening view into how this family-owned company has become an agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and why they are so committed to water conservation.

Our tour was part of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, a conference limited to 50 water scholars and senior water managers from around the world. We saw how Driscoll’s sustainability priorities translate into on-the-ground action for the company and its hundreds of independent growers.

Inspired by a presentation by James duBois, Driscoll’s senior manager of global environmental impact, I followed up with him to ask a few questions and dig a bit deeper into the company’s water management efforts. Here is what James shared with me. Read More »

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Army Corps releases crucial guide for reducing flood risk and increasing resilience

This week, the Army Corps of Engineers formally released an important resource guide, “Engineering with Nature: An Atlas.” This isn’t your typical government issued atlas of maps and figures. It’s an important first step toward broadening understanding, consideration and acceptance of natural infrastructure as a flood risk reduction and resilience strategy.

The glossy compendium of 56 Corps projects illustrates that restoring nature and using nature-based features and processes – such as dunes, wetlands, reefs, functioning floodplains and rivers – can efficiently yield real economic, environmental and social benefits.

Here are four ways the atlas helps to advance natural infrastructure solutions. Read More »

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Four recommendations for new governors on preparing for disasters and building resilience

Most politicians know that reelection can rest on successfully navigating a disaster response.

A bitter truth is that, as climate change continues to make weather events more intense and frequent, it is increasingly likely that governors will be grappling with critical tests of resilience brought on by more extreme weather events, natural disasters, crumbling infrastructure and cyber threats.

But the paradigm is shifting from disaster response to disaster preparedness, as it is becoming clear that the human and economic toll of not being prepared for disaster may be just as consequential as the immediate response.

The good news is that new leaders taking office this month now have a New Governors’ Resilience Playbook, thanks to a bipartisan committee of 18 governors known as the U.S. Climate Alliance. These experienced leaders advise incoming governors on how to build long-term resilience during their first year in office and recommend a 10-step program based on best practices. The best practices gathered in the New Governors’ Resilience Playbook will help any new governor tailor resilience efforts to meet their state’s needs. Click To Tweet

Aimed at busy executives, the playbook is a quick read with lots of good advice about leadership, timeliness and governance. At its core, the message is that new governors need to focus on accelerating actions that build resilience to better prepare for disasters before they strike.

The resilience playbook includes four overarching takeaways for new leaders. Read More »

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