Growing Returns

How the farm bill changes the future of climate and water conservation

The Senate and House passed the 2018 farm bill in overwhelmingly bipartisan votes of 87-13 and 369-47, respectively. The bill is now headed to the White House to be signed into law before the end of the year.

In many ways, this farm bill conference report maintains the tradition of incremental improvement that has always defined farm bills. Big-ticket programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program will continue to garner headlines.

But the bill also takes important steps to begin to shape the future of conservation in this country. Many smaller provisions in the fully funded conservation title open the door to new approaches that address water quality and climate change challenges that aren’t bound by a single farm’s borders.

Here’s what farmers and environmentalists need to know about new focus areas and approaches in the farm bill’s conservation title.

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Climate news got you down? Here are 3 bright spots that show promise in building resilience.

The federal government’s National Climate Assessment lays bare the grim future we face if we don’t reign in greenhouse gas emissions and scale up adaptation strategies in a hurry. Lost in most of the media coverage, however, is the fact that industry, government and communities are already coming together to build resilience so that people and wildlife can adapt to a changing climate.

Here are three shining examples. It may surprise you that some of these places are decidedly unblue.  Read More »

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Four near-term market and policy opportunities for increasing agricultural resilience

Every day farmers across the U.S. face unprecedented pressures from a variety of factors, including policy and regulations, markets and trade, and variability in input costs. With extreme weather becoming a new normal and the global population climbing toward 11 billion people by 2100, it is imperative that we build a food and agriculture system that can absorb and recover from these stresses.

This summer, Environmental Defense Fund, National Corn Growers Association and Farm Journal Foundation convened a stakeholder dialogue about the challenges facing the agriculture industry and recommended paths forward.

A new white paper [PDF] summarizes key findings from the discussion, which also included ideas for better equipping farmers with the tools and incentives they need to identify and adopt climate-smart solutions.

Here are four policy and market opportunities that can help boost agricultural resilience. Read More »

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How one company’s sustainability goal is poised to change an entire industry

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has committed to a major increase in manure-to-energy projects. The company will invest in infrastructure and provide farmer incentives to install manure lagoon covers and digesters on 90 percent of its total hog finishing capacity, a standardized measurement that excludes sow and nursery farms, in North Carolina, Missouri and Utah over the next ten years.

This is a major step forward for the hog industry. Open lagoon and sprayfield systems of manure management are predominant in North Carolina and raise concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, odor and resilience to extreme rainfall.

There are currently only a few manure-to-energy projects in North Carolina. This commitment from Smithfield means they will become the new status quo.

The company’s largest source of greenhouse gases is methane emitted from open manure lagoons. Here’s how this commitment will turn that liability into an asset – and how we can ensure that it delivers the full potential benefits of the change. Read More »

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Following Florence, lessons from Harvey in recovery and resilience

With the impacts of Hurricane Florence continuing to unfold, coastal communities in the Southeast will soon be looking to other coastal areas, like Houston, as models for rebuilding resiliently. By doing so, they can speed their recovery and build back in smart ways – because that’s what resilience is all about.

For Houston, it wasn’t a single event that triggered discussions of resilience. Houston residents have faced a decade of intense storms and floods, with Hurricane Ike in 2008, the Memorial Day Flood of 2015, the Tax Day Flood of 2016 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Together, these repeat catastrophic events sounded the alarm that past approaches to managing flood waters are not sufficient.

Last week, I went to Houston to help decision-makers explore how the city can realize its aim to become more resilient. One year after Harvey, Houston is still learning from its experiences and building upon lessons learned from mega-disasters like Katrina and Sandy to move more rapidly into resilience-building phases. That’s good news, because with more frequent, intense weather events, communities across the nation are going to have to rebuild smarter.

Once communities and officials in the Southeast begin thinking about recovery from Florence and preparing to rebuild, there are four key lessons they can learn from Houston after Harvey that will ultimately help them strengthen the social, economic and environmental fabric of the region. Read More »

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California’s budget is not about resistance. It’s about resilience.

The California legislature has passed a budget bill that gives me great hope for the state and for the nation. That’s because the budget was not only passed with bipartisan support – it also proves that conservation has broad political appeal.

California has rebuked the Trump administration on a number of issues including healthcare, immigration and the environment, leading many Americans to see California as the ultimate resistance state. But when I take a closer look at this budget, I think it has less to do with resistance, and everything to do with resilience.

Resilient people, communities, institutions and, yes, environment. Read More »

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Farmers join international climate talks prepared to take action

Nearly one year ago, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. In the absence of federal government leadership, the agriculture sector is making its voice heard in the international climate change discussions taking place this week at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Farmers are on the front lines of a changing climate and increasingly extreme weather. They know that climate-smart agriculture is critical to ensuring their operations continue for generations to come. That’s why they’re pulling up a chair to take a seat at the global climate table. Read More »

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In a race against time, officials collaborate to speed up coastal restoration. Here’s how.

Louisiana is in the midst of a catastrophic land loss crisis. The state has already lost over 2,000 square miles of land, and it could lose as much as 4,000 square miles more if nothing is done to restore the coast.

As these wetlands disappear into the Gulf of Mexico, so do the natural protections that shield New Orleans and other coastal communities from rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.

It’s a dilemma that’s playing out in coastal communities across the United States and around the world.

So it came as welcome news when state and federal regulators this month agreed to shave nearly two years off the five-year permitting process for a diversion project that will allow the mighty Mississippi River to do its natural business of building much-needed land.

It’s an acknowledgment that we’ve no time to lose in preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Read More »

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Federal rollbacks + huge new oil and gas project = trouble for Wyoming

This blog was co-authored by Jon Goldstein and Sara Brodnax.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management collected comments from citizens and groups concerned about the impacts of a proposed 5,000-well oil and gas project in eastern Wyoming.

The situation has a troubling irony, because as BLM reviews the project’s environmental risks, it is simultaneously working to roll back its own commonsense standards to stop oil and gas companies from venting, flaring, and leaking away pollution and valuable natural gas.

Oil and gas development in Wyoming

Rapid oil and gas development at times put Pinedale, Wyoming on par with smoggy Los Angeles in terms of ozone levels.

It’s the same story for the greater sage-grouse, which without strong mitigation measures will likely abandon critical breeding sites in the area set to be impacted by the planned oil and gas project. Here, too, BLM has signaled several attempts to unravel the collaborative, decades-forged plans to protect the imperiled bird.

The combination of weakening policies while expanding development could have disastrous consequences for Wyoming and other western states if methane pollution goes unchecked and the greater sage-grouse continues to decline.

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Climate-resilient agriculture requires both global and local action. Here’s how.

2017 saw 16 weather and climate disasters that cost a billion dollars or more, from freezes and hail, to fires and flooding. Agricultural losses from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria and California wildfires alone totaled more than $5.7 billion – and counting.

With extreme weather becoming more common, we all have a stake in building a food system that can absorb and recover from such stress. A resilient food supply equips farmers with the tools and incentives to find climate-smart solutions, and that requires action globally and locally. Read More »

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