Growing Returns

How USDA can leverage a carbon bank for farmers, foresters and the climate

As the U.S. works to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030, the agriculture and forestry sectors have important contributions to make to reducing emissions and sequestering carbon, as well as building resilience to climate impacts that are already here.

A carbon bank run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one policy option to help increase and reward agriculture’s climate contributions. Although a carbon bank — broadly defined as a set of policy tools to direct funding to incentivize voluntary climate mitigation — has been the subject of heightened interest for the past several months, the concept remains amorphous because it’s new. USDA, Congress and impacted stakeholders are still figuring it out.

While the need to address climate change is urgent, it’s also essential to get a carbon bank right so that farmers, policymakers, carbon credit buyers and everyone who depends on a stable climate don’t lose faith in agricultural and forestry climate solutions.

Here are four ways that USDA can move forward on a carbon bank, even in the face of uncertainty, to leverage the power of farms and forests to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Read More »

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Top 5 priorities for USDA to support climate-smart farms and forests

“America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

— President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis

President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to seek public input on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s strategy for supporting climate-smart agriculture and forestry.

Here are the top five priorities that USDA should be focused on. Read More »

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3 ways the Growing Climate Solutions Act will help farmers and rural communities thrive

More than forty senators have co-sponsored the reintroduced Growing Climate Solutions Act — the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to help ensure that farmers, ranchers and foresters benefit from being part of the climate solution.

The bill has a real chance of becoming law this year — a sign of hope for collaboration on climate on Capitol Hill. It advanced unanimously out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and has growing bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

Here are three ways this bill advances agricultural climate solutions, with benefits that extend far beyond the farm. Read More »

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Cargill and Soil Health Institute find farmer experience with soil health pays off. Here’s how.

Findings from a recent Soil Health Institute study add to growing evidence that soil health practices can provide financial benefits to farmers.

The Soil Health Institute, with support from Cargill, interviewed 100 farmers across nine states to measure the farm budget impacts of soil health practices.

“I believe this work is a critical area and critical question that we need to better address as we look at scaling up of soil health principles,” said Ryan Sirolli, Global Row Crop Sustainability Director at Cargill, during a webinar hosted by the Soil Health Institute. Read More »

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3 ingredients for success in soil health

This blog was originally posted on Soil Health Partnership’s blog.

Profitable conservation systems don’t look the same on every farm. Growers must implement different strategies to address their specific needs, thanks to a wide range of variables including soil type, moisture availability, equipment and labor. However, just because every farmer takes a slightly different approach to soil health doesn’t mean there aren’t some consistent success factors.

In our recent report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line (developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund and the agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom), we discovered that farmers who felt their soil health practices were making a difference — both in the data and anecdotally — took some similar approaches. These three “ingredients for success” increased their chances for achieving profitable conservation systems. Read More »

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Farmers’ bottom lines at risk as growing conditions change

Iowa currently finds itself in a “Goldilocks climate,” with just the right measure and timing of humidity, rainfall and heat that help make the state a national leader in corn and soybean production. However, new research shows that climate change threatens to upset this balance.

Small shifts in rainfall and temperature can have considerable impacts on crops and farmer livelihoods. To better understand how these shifts could impact farmers, Environmental Defense Fund partnered with K·Coe Isom, an agricultural accounting and business advisory firm, to produce an in-depth report that quantifies the potential localized economic impacts from these shifts that Iowa corn and soy farmers could face as soon as the next 10 to 20 years.

Read More »

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Experience plays a role in cover crop profitability

This blog was originally posted on Soil Health Partnership’s blog.

When it comes to cover crops, patience combined with realistic expectations is often the name of the game. Unlike the immediate cost savings that often come with conservation tillage, cover crops have annual costs as well as efficiencies and soil health benefits that can take time to achieve.

These are some of the reasons why in our report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line, we found experienced cover crop users were more profitable when compared to new adopters. Read More »

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4 lessons learned from nitrogen balance pilot projects

Environmental Defense Fund led several pilot projects in the 2019-2020 growing season to better understand how different farm management practices impact nitrogen balance, or N balance, a robust and practical proxy to measure agriculture’s climate and water quality impacts.

EDF scientists assessed real-world, in-field data for 16 management practices and N balance scores from more than 500,000 acres of corn across nine Midwestern states. Here are four actionable insights. Read More »

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Understanding the impact of conservation tillage on operating expenses

This blog was originally published by Dr. Maria Bowman on Soil Health Partnership’s blog.

When farmers consider implementing a soil health or conservation practice on their farm, one question they inevitably ask is: what will the financial impacts be?

In an effort to answer this question, we recently released Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line — a report developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund and the agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom — to better understand the benefits, opportunities and limiting factors associated with common conservation practices. Read More »

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Study shows healthy soils protect corn yields and lower crop insurance payouts

Managing risks presented by extreme weather conditions such as heat and drought is a top priority of farmers and policymakers, as researchers predict that higher temperatures and reduced precipitation could reduce yields by up to 30% over the next 50 years.

Farmers are already experiencing these impacts and becoming increasingly dependent on the Federal Crop Insurance Program to manage the resulting yield risks. As of this February, 2020 crop insurance indemnities totaled $7.7 billion, with just over 60% of the average crop insurance premiums covered by the taxpayer. Read More »

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