Growing Returns

Measuring irrigated water use has been a challenge for decades. This new tool will change that.

Over my nearly 30 years of working on water issues in the West, I have repeatedly thought there has got to be a better way to measure how much water is used to grow the food we eat. This data is surprisingly complex, and up until now, it has been expensive to calculate.

That’s why it’s difficult to contain my excitement as this “better way” comes to fruition in the form of a new web platform called OpenET that EDF is developing with NASA, Google, the Desert Research Institute, the U.S. Geological Society and dozens of other partners.

Using publicly available data and satellite imagery, OpenET will for the first time make data on how much water crops use widely accessible at no to low cost to farmers and water managers large and small in 17 western states. OpenET will go live next year. Read More »

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Corn farmers endorsed climate policies. Here’s what you need to know.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), which represents the interests of 300,000 U.S. corn farmers, recently approved more than a dozen climate policies as part of the policy positions its members vote on twice a year. In doing so, NCGA affirmed that climate change is real, and farmers are part of the solution. Read More »

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Change in weather shifts Iowa farmer’s approach, saving money and time

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. It originally posted on the Iowa Soybean Association Newsroom

Wayne Fredericks and his wife Ruth began farming in northern Iowa in the early 1970s. For the first 19 years of their farming careers, their farm was managed conventionally: corn stalks were plowed and soybean stubble was tilled before planting.

wayne

Iowa farmer Wayne Fredericks says his integrated cropping system saves time and money and protects natural resources. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

It was a change in the weather that altered their conventional farming practices — for the better. Read More »

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3 strategies to create a resilient water supply for Texas

The world is a different place now than it was when I grew up in Houston in the 1980s. I have vivid memories of steamy summer thunderstorms consistently interrupting my afternoons at the neighborhood pool. My sister and I would head home and swap our swimsuits for raincoats, then stomp around muddy ditches and dig up crawdads while thick warm raindrops drenched our faces.

My sons will have very different memories growing up in Texas. Their memories will be marked by extremes — football games either played in dust bowls or canceled because the field had become a lake.

As my children grow up in this era defined by persistent drought, periodic floods, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m concerned about their future as nature will continue to test the state’s best-laid plans.

Read More »

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Why recordkeeping is “one of the most essential pieces of farming today”

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. It originally posted on the Iowa Soybean Association Newsroom.

Devoting adequate time and attention to maintaining records that blend agronomic and financial data is key to farm business success, especially in tight or low margin environments.

“I think recordkeeping is one of those overlooked parts of farm businesses,” says Dave Walton, an Iowa farmer and Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) District 6 director. “It takes a little extra time to do it, but you learn so much more by taking that extra time. It helps you make really, really comfortable, solid decisions.” Read More »

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Cover crops reduce cropping input costs, with other benefits farmers “can’t put a price on”

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. It originally posted on the Iowa Soybean Association Newsroom.

Cover crops have proven benefits for soil health. A recent Iowa Soybean Association study shows that cover crops can also reduce the input costs associated with growing crops.

“Cover crops are an added cost to the operation. However, this study shows a subset of participants in a corn-soybean rotation are able to offset those costs by finding a yield advantage, reducing inputs or both to improve overall profitability,” said Heath Ellison, ISA senior conservation agronomist who led the study in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund and Iowa-based Regional Strategic, Ltd. Read More »

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An infrastructure stimulus will make America more resilient, if we get it right

Congress is currently focused on passing a series of stimulus relief bills to support medical professionals, hospitals, individuals and small businesses in an attempt to mitigate the worst effects of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Policymakers must prioritize human health and safety. But the hope is that, sooner than later, the spread of the virus will slow and Congress will be able to turn its attention to kickstarting the economy.

An infrastructure bill represents a significant bipartisan opportunity to spur job growth and economic activity, while also building resilience for communities at risk from flooding and extreme weather. Read More »

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To preserve its coast, Louisiana must plan for the future

By Dr. Denise Reed, Professor Gratis, University of New Orleans

Coastal Louisiana has changed a lot in the last century. By comparing aerial photographs from the 1930s to today, we can see that change across the coast from an ecosystem once dominated by extensive marshes and lush swamps to one increasingly covered with open water and “ghost forests.”

Each year, our coast creeps farther inland as marshy shorelines erode due to boat wakes, wind and waves. This is called marsh edge erosion, and it’s one of the primary causes of Louisiana’s current land loss crisis.

Future land loss, however, will be driven by different causes. To better understand and prepare for future scenarios, EDF convened a team of scientists from its own organization, the University of New Orleans, Tulane University, The Water Institute of the Gulf and the National Wildlife Federation. Together, we used computer models and data from Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan to look ahead 50 years and explore the effects of varying sea-level rise and subsidence rates, known as relative sea-level rise.

The recently published results were illuminating and sobering. Here is the main takeaway for Louisiana:

Climate change accelerates land loss.
Read More »

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Scientists urge action to increase soil carbon

Soil is one of the most precious and finite natural resources, and maintaining healthy soil is mandatory to provide enough food for the planet in the face of a changing climate.

There is strong scientific consensus on the urgent need to rebuild agricultural soil carbon. That’s the topline message of a comment published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Scientists and farmers know that increasing soil carbon can improve soil fertility, stabilize yields, reduce the need for inputs like fertilizer, and boost resilience to droughts and floods. That’s why so many soil health initiatives focus on building soil carbon.

While the importance of building soil carbon is widely endorsed, there is scientific debate about exactly how much carbon can be sequestered in soils. That is important data to know, but it should not distract us from doing all we can to continue to build carbon in the soil.

Read More »

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Four ways North Carolina can build resilience year round

Earlier this week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a proclamation recognizing the imperative to think anew about how the state lives with climate change. The governor emphasized the importance of building resilience as North Carolina communities continue to recover from an onslaught of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Flooding has been the biggest problem this year, from headline-grabbing events like Hurricane Dorian, to intense, fast-forming thunderstorms like those we experienced in June, when 3 inches of rain fell per hour. In fact, June was the eighth wettest month on record since 1895.

September, however, was among the driest months in a decade, contributing to what experts call a “flash drought.” For farmers, flash droughts are problematic because they can cause crop loss, especially when crops have shallow roots after being planted during a wet month. While farmers were able to harvest some crops this fall, other harvests are at risk from the dry weather.

This pattern of extreme rain combined with flash drought is straining already beleaguered farmers and residents. Read More »

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