Growing Returns

Action by California farmers necessary to reach state's new emissions target

Robert Parkhurst was in Los Angeles yesterday speaking at a conference on Navigating the American Carbon World. His panel is discussing the “Future Offset Supply.”

Robert Parkhurst was in Los Angeles yesterday speaking at a conference on Navigating the American Carbon World. His panel discussed the “Future Offset Supply.”

California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order this week ramping up the state’s already ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goal, setting a new target to reduce emissions by 40 percent over 1990 levels by 2030.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached — for this generation and generations to come.” – California Governor Jerry Brown

This new target is a timely and significant step in securing a more resilient future for California, which is currently experiencing one of the most severe droughts in the state’s history. But it’s a tall order – and one that will require an array of aggressive strategies across all sectors.

Fortunately, crop-based farmers are well-positioned to help. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, Carbon Offsets, Climate, Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Sustainable Agriculture, Water| Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why you won’t see an eco-label on your corn flakes anytime soon

Corn cereal

Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Corn affects every person in the United States.

It is grown on about 90 million acres, an area roughly the size of Montana. Corn is ubiquitous in the products we buy, from shampoo and sodas to ethanol and animal feed.

The crop also uses the majority of nitrogen fertilizer in agriculture, requiring more nitrogen than soybeans, cotton and wheat combined. Nitrogen is necessary to produce corn. But when nitrogen is over-applied, crops cannot absorb it all – and this can lead to air and water pollution.

Fortunately, figuring out ways to use nutrients more efficiently to reduce loss improves a farmer’s bottom line. It also gives them a competitive advantage, as more and more food companies are embracing sustainability and fertilizer efficiency as a way to reduce risk in their supply chains. Read More »

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

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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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

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