Growing Returns

No-till farming can reduce input costs and improve soil health


No-till expert Barry Fisher. Credit: NRCS

Everyone agrees that no-till farming should be used in conjunction with other practices to maximize soil health – but in reality, “no-till” means different things to different people across the agricultural world.

To clarify what exactly is involved in no-till farming, a key topic of discussion at this week’s Soil Health Partnership (SHP) summit in St. Louis, I asked one of Indiana's leading tillage experts, Barry Fisher, an agronomist and soil health specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

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Four incentives that will push fertilizer efficiency to scale

fertilizerWe need fertilizers to maintain and increase farm productivity and feed a rapidly growing population, yet 50 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops is lost to our waterways or into the air.

That’s not good – not for the grower, nor  for the environment.

I’m optimistic that nutrient losses will soon be trending downward while productivity climbs. Here are four reasons why:

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Full Belly Farm: The model for innovation during drought

Full Belly Farm owners in the pepper field

Credit: Paulo Vescia

It’s not always easy to incentivize private landowners to voluntarily implement water efficiency and conservation measures, particularly when there’s a drought. When drought hits, farmers desperately need water to grow thirsty crops and remain profitable. In the near term, it’s a lot easier, as “60 Minutes” recently reported, to keep drilling deeper and deeper to access quickly dwindling groundwater – at any cost.

As the "60 Minutes" story notes, groundwater is like a savings account that should primarily be used in times of need to supplement surface water supplies. With the most severe drought ever on record and surface water supplies at an all-time low, farmers all across California are pumping groundwater in record amounts – putting the state in serious risk of widespread groundwater overdraft.

That’s why the case of Full Belly Farm, a 400-acre, 30-year old certified organic farm located in Northern California – and recent winner of the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award – is especially impressive.

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An agricultural marriage made in heaven: state programs & private sector initiatives

field-sun-350At last week’s State Ag and Rural Leaders’ summit in Florida, legislators from across the U.S. discussed sustainability initiatives in the food supply chain. The conversations and presentations were informative for all – but what was missing from the conference was discussion about the role the private sector can play in supporting public sustainability initiatives.

State programs to support farmers

State programs can go a long way towards supporting farmers’ conservation efforts without economic downsides (and potentially increased revenues).  Read More »

Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture| Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

A sixth-generation farmer with a fresh and optimistic perspective on conservation

O'Toole Family

Pat O'Toole (second from left) and his family at Ladder Ranch.

Pat O’Toole is a rancher and farmer at Ladder Livestock, a sixth-generation family operation on the Little Snake River along the Wyoming-Colorado border. A leader in collaborative conservation, Pat is engaged in a number of innovative land and water conservation efforts in his capacity as president of the Family Farm Alliance and a member of the AGree advisory board.

This past September, Pat co-authored an AGree paper with Dan Keppen, Executive Director of Family Farm Alliance. The paper – Securing the Future of Western Agriculture: A Perspective of Western Producers – addresses some broad challenges facing the global food and agriculture system. Namely, the need to meet future demands for food while simultaneously enhancing water, soil and other natural resources.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Pat’s ranch to get a sense of these challenges that he and other Western producers face, and to learn more about what Pat is doing to overcome these challenges on his ranch. I asked him to give us a recap of our discussion and to tell us more about his vision for the future.
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Beyond regulation: making the business case for sustainable farming

BarnStream_shutterstock_1539474_RFRegulations and lawsuits generate more tension, disagreement, division, and, too often, failure to communicate, than just about anything else in the agricultural world. Regulations are on my mind of late because of several developments:

    • Ohio recently considered legislation to increase regulations on fertilizer applications after a toxic algae bloom last August shut down water supplies to nearly half a million people.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the final stages of a proposal to resolve ongoing confusion about the extent of federal jurisdiction over isolated wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act (CWA), clarifying which are protected and which are not, based on science. Sixty percent of our nation’s streams lack clear protection from pollution under the CWA, yet one of every three Americans gets their drinking water from streams that are vulnerable to pollution.  Just this week, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that Congress will address this proposal in the current legislative session.

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    Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed
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      Meeting growing demands for food in ways that improve the environment.

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