Selected category: Partnerships

Why Sonny Perdue should prioritize these 3 farm programs

The U.S. Senate will confirm the Secretary of Agriculture today, empowering former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to lead an agency with a $155 billion budget, some 100,000 employees and ultimate responsibility for our nation’s food security.

Over 80 percent of this budget goes toward farm programs, food stamps, school meals and other mandatory spending programs. The remainder goes to protect farmers’ livelihoods, rural economies and the environment – but according to the Administration’s budget proposals, this pot of funding could be cut by over 21 percent.

Retaining current funding levels for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – and conservation programs in particular – ensures that farmers can remain productive during periods of extreme weather, protects habitat for wildlife without sacrificing profitability and improves on-farm efficiencies.

Secretary Perdue will need to advocate on behalf of farmers to protect these programs – and he’ll need help from the private sector, since the federal government alone cannot maintain farming as a core industry in America, make sustainable agriculture the norm or feed a growing population.

Here are three programs that provide widespread benefits – and that should be a top priority for the new Secretary. Read More »

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Farmers and environmentalists want the same thing

I’m spending time on this year’s National Ag Day thinking back gratefully to a recent meeting I had with farmers.

I was attending the annual farm exchange program offered through the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, which facilitates learning opportunities on California farms. This year’s program brought together state environmental policy professionals and growers from the Central Coast, an epicenter for growing the nation’s specialty crops, such as lettuce, broccoli, and strawberries. My aim was “to see sustainability through the eyes of farmers.” We toured various agricultural operations, had thoughtful discussions, and stayed with host families in the local farm community.

My host was Erin Amaral, who manages 1,170 acres of vineyards near San Luis Obispo. Erin and I got along immediately – and our conversations kept coming back to one central tenet: farmers and environmentalists want the same things. Read More »

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There’s good reason to end the agriculture versus the environment fight

On paper, I appear to be the picture perfect stereotype of an east coast liberal: I’ve been working at environmental nonprofits for over 20 years, I’m an Ivy League grad, and I live in the “bluest” county in Virginia. When it comes to first impressions in the world of agriculture, I’ve been met countless times with skepticism and even contempt.

The reality is that I spend nearly every waking hour of my career collaborating with farmers – exploring ways to implement on-the-ground practices that help producers save money and protect yields while also reducing impacts to water and air. After years of building relationships, I’m proud of the diverse and unlikely partnerships I’ve formed. Many of my closest friends and allies would be labeled as “big ag.”

But I’m worried that today’s political divisions will roll back the decades of progress reducing nutrient runoff across the Corn Belt and beyond. I don’t want to see doors closed because of assumptions on either side of the political divide that now dominate the country. Read More »

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How Congress can help farmers stay profitable and resilient

Credit: Flickr user jkc photos.

At the first field hearing for the 2018 Farm Bill held in Kansas last week, producers had one clear message for the Senate Agriculture Committee: the stakes for farmers have never been higher. Commodity prices are the lowest they’ve been in over a decade, and farmers’ incomes are predicted to drop nearly 10 percent this year.

Members of Congress – and the new Secretary of Agriculture – will have their hands full in helping producers navigate the innate uncertainties of farming, balancing the myriad needs of farmers in different geographies, and ensuring that growers remain profitable.

There are two bright spots offering some low hanging fruit for agricultural legislators:

  • There’s agreement on at least one big issue: producers testifying last week conveyed a desire for continued funding for conservation programs in the Farm Bill.
  • Government doesn’t have to go it alone when it comes to sustainable agriculture: the private sector’s investment in conservation is unprecedented, and companies are eager to collaborate.

Here’s how to increase the impact of these already popular conservation programs. Read More »

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Why privacy is an essential piece of agriculture’s big-data revolution

Data science in farm management is one of the biggest trends to hit both agriculture and Silicon Valley in recent years, with an explosion of technologies emerging to help farmers optimize everything from seeding to irrigation to fertilizer application.

As ag tech products grow more sophisticated, so too has the innovation trend evolved. What began as a slew of single-purpose tools has now evolved to include apps that integrate different types of information to give farmers a “dashboard” view of their land. And it includes new apps that can help multiple farmers pool their data to analyze a crop’s performance across a range of growing conditions, or to benchmark their input costs against one another.

The agriculture sector stands to gain insight from all this data. Farmers need metrics to help them figure out how to increase yields sustainably while improving soil health and protecting natural resources for future generations.

But they have valid concerns about sharing data. Read More »

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Farmers' voices are essential to figuring out sustainability. Let's listen up.

The corn and soybean fields that stretch for miles across the Midwest are quiet this time of year, mostly frozen surfaces waiting for the spring planting season.

Although many farmers are not in the field dawn to dusk during the winter, they are still plenty busy. Between planning for the next season, taking care of animals and attending countless meetings, farmers are seldom idle even if their crop fields are.

But lucky for us, winter does afford more time to talk.

One friend from Iowa who works hard to use fertilizer efficiently to avoid runoff and optimize plant uptake of nutrients said he worries that food companies don’t always recognize the sustainability efforts of mainstream farmers. Too often, he said, it seems food companies look for simple labels like organic.

A soybean grower I know from Ohio who has invested a lot of time learning farming practices that will help restore nearby Lake Erie told me it is a constant struggle to balance making a living with repairing decades of agricultural nutrient runoff that have imperiled the health of the lake. Read More »

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The year the private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlife

By this time next year, I believe we’ll reflect back on 2017 as the year that the private sector stepped up to protect our land, water and wildlife for future generations.

I believe this because major retailers, food companies, agricultural businesses and farmers laid the groundwork in 2016, making sizeable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), improve water quality and conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife.

President-elect Trump has made political theater by threatening to kill the regulations that protect our nation’s air and water. But in the real world, the private sector is going the other direction.

Forward-thinking businesses are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to make those regulations work better by accelerating the uptake of practices that are good for the planet and the bottom line.

These are three areas to watch in 2017.

Read More »

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Water heroes emerge in California’s Central Valley

Water board leaders from 13 communities throughout California's Central Valley attended the Leadership Academy to build engagement capacity and share lessons about small water system management. (Credit: Kike Arnal)

California’s Central Valley, which stretches 450 miles from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south, is the nation’s richest agricultural region, producing 40 percent of our fruit, vegetables and nuts on nearly 9 million acres of irrigated farmland. The Valley is also ground zero for California’s water problems.

As California endures its fifth year of drought, cities, farms, and communities across the state are experiencing severe water stress. Rivers, lakes and reservoirs are drying up, so residents are turning to groundwater pumping to quench their thirst. As a result, many of the state’s groundwater aquifers are being depleted, causing wells to run dry or become contaminated.

The most critically overdrawn aquifers are in and around small, rural communities in the Central Valley. Here, thousands of people—many of them low-income farm workers—live without safe drinking water.

Read More »

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How Interior pick can make good on Trump's promise to honor Theodore Roosevelt

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On Tuesday, President-elect Trump vowed to honor "the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt … one of our great environmentalists." How will he make good on this promise with his Interior pick? (Credit: Harvard College Library)

Let’s face it. Over the last 30 years, when a democrat is elected president, the environmental community tends to let out a sigh of relief and cheer the appointment of a conservation-minded Secretary of the Interior. Aggies and industry, meanwhile, prepare to hunker down and fight against more endangered species listings and greater restrictions on public lands.

When a republican is elected president, enviros dust off their armor and prepare for battle against the likes of James Watt and Manuel Lujan – two former Interior secretaries known for their anti-environmental, anti-ESA agendas – while farmers and energy industry staff anxiously await the promised freedom of relaxed regulatory burdens.

Appointees on both sides take office prepared to undo the so-called “overreach” of the previous administration. But the new appointees often overreach themselves, resulting in years of lawsuits and delays in achieving their ideological master plan.

Lawyers prosper, but it’s not clear that anyone else does. Meanwhile, the environment continues to suffer. Read More »

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How Smithfield’s landmark climate goal benefits farmers and the planet

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork company, is known as a leader in animal agriculture. Now Smithfield is showing its sustainability leadership by becoming the first major livestock company to make an absolute, supply chain commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change.

The company will reduce emissions in its U.S. supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon, 25 percent by 2025. To meet the goal, Smithfield will improve fertilizer use on feed grain, install advanced manure management technologies, and increase energy efficiency in transportation.

When a company as big as Smithfield makes a new sustainability commitment, it’s natural for farmers and neighboring communities to wonder how it will affect them. The good news is that all the actions Smithfield plans will generate benefits both for farmers and our environment.

Here are three: Read More »

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