Growing Returns

Three ways to address increasing flood risk in the Midwest

Historic flooding across the Great Plains and Midwest has been devastating. While waters may be receding, farmers and communities aren’t out of the woods yet. Recovery will be costly and lengthy, and additional floods could be around the corner.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that more than 200 million Americans living in 25 states face elevated flood risk through May, and the risks go far beyond this year. The fourth National Climate Assessment predicts precipitation across the Midwest will increase in severity and frequency in the years ahead.

The region needs a comprehensive strategy to mitigate the dangers of excess water and increase the ability of working lands to withstand and recover from extreme precipitation. Contingency planning will be complex and constantly evolving, but it must do these three things to be successful. Read More »

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What food companies can learn from Smithfield Foods exceeding its grain sustainability goal

“Can you help us achieve this?”

That was the question that Smithfield Foods’ chief sustainability officer asked Environmental Defense Fund more than five years ago, after Walmart challenged the world’s largest hog producer and pork processor to improve sustainability in its feed grain supply.

At the time, very few food companies considered grain sustainability to be their responsibility, and even fewer were taking steps to improve that segment of their supply chain. But Smithfield responded to Walmart’s challenge.

In 2013, the company committed to work with grain farmers in its supply chain to adopt farming practices that would optimize fertilizer and build soil health on 75 percent of the area from which Smithfield directly sources grain — about 450,000 acres. EDF partnered with Smithfield to figure out how to reach this goal.

Smithfield announced today that it exceeded that goal, improving practices on 560,000 acres in 2018. Read More »

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New resources help farmers and advisers maximize sustainability and profitability

Winter is a critical planning period for farmers and their advisers. As they gear up for the 2019 growing season, a new set of resources can help build operational resilience in the near- and long-term.

Sustainability Programming for Ag Retailers and CCAs (SPARC) was recently launched by the Agricultural Retailers Association, the American Society of Agronomy, Environmental Defense Fund and Field to Market to provide farmer advisers with resources and training modules to help producers continuously improve agronomic and environmental outcomes.

Here’s why advisers should take advantage of SPARC resources as they help farmers plan for the year ahead. Read More »

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The solution to agriculture’s water quality impacts is bigger than WOTUS

The Clean Water Act continues to provide critical protections for America’s drinking water, lakes and streams. While this bedrock, bipartisan law put the worst industrial water pollution largely behind us, the hard work of addressing nonpoint source pollution remains.

Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulations were created to help mitigate nonpoint source pollution and protect isolated wetlands, but the long-running controversy over the scope of WOTUS illustrates the limitations to using broad and blunt regulations to solve complex problems.

Nutrient runoff from farms is one of the causes of dead zones and contaminated groundwater – the drinking water source for nearly half of all Americans. In addition, 43 million Americans, mostly in rural communities, drink water from private wells – 16 percent of which contain groundwater that exceeds federal nitrate limits.

As WOTUS revisions make their way through a public comment period and face likely legal challenges, water quality improvements can’t wait. Here’s why, and what we can do in the meantime. Read More »

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How Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, is becoming a leader in water conservation

Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company.

In late 2018, I traveled to the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening view into how this family-owned company has become an agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and why they are so committed to water conservation.

Our tour was part of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, a conference limited to 50 water scholars and senior water managers from around the world. We saw how Driscoll’s sustainability priorities translate into on-the-ground action for the company and its hundreds of independent growers.

Inspired by a presentation by James duBois, Driscoll’s senior manager of global environmental impact, I followed up with him to ask a few questions and dig a bit deeper into the company’s water management efforts. Here is what James shared with me. Read More »

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Three ways the farm bill will help western states adapt to drought

The bipartisan farm bill that President Trump signed into law today contains far-reaching provisions to conserve water and build drought resilience in the American West.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and other western lawmakers recognized the importance of providing more funding to support the region’s crucial and increasingly stressed water systems.

Western legislators secured planning and cost-share funding for groundwater recharge work in California, a critical improvement in the law as producers begin the challenging task of bringing groundwater basins back into balance under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The new provisions in the farm bill also could help farmers and water agencies develop and fund projects that improve drought resilience and planning in the Colorado River basin, where the river supplies water for 40 million people and 6 million acres of farmland each year.

Here are three key provisions that stand out for helping to enable farmers and water managers in the western U.S. adapt to a world with less water: Read More »

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The farm bill: A preview for how America can make progress on climate

When most Americans think about our nation’s notable environmental policies, they probably think about the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act. They probably aren’t thinking about the farm bill.

But they should be.

President Trump just signed into law the 2018 farm bill – an $867-billion piece of legislation upon which millions of Americans depend for global trade, food production, nutrition assistance and conservation funding.

Most people don’t know that the farm bill is in fact the single largest federal source of funding for conservation on private working lands.

Importantly, Republicans and Democrats worked together to make sure those funds didn’t take a cut, and the 2018 farm bill went even further to recognize the role that America’s vast farms and ranches can play in building resilient land and water systems that will allow people and nature to thrive on a changing planet.

Here are two key reasons why I believe the 2018 farm bill could be a watershed moment for conservation in America. Read More »

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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.

Read More »

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New resource to help dairy industry clean up the Chesapeake Bay

It’s a tough time to be a dairy farmer. Nationwide milk prices are at record lows due to an oversupply of milk and changing consumer preferences, and the industry faces increasing public and regulatory pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality. These challenges hit home for the dairy industry in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia cannot meet U.S. EPA-mandated water quality goals without an all-hands-on-deck effort that includes dairy cooperatives, processors and farmers. This increases the pressure on the dairy industry, but it also creates an opportunity for the sector, with support from partners and other stakeholders, to show leadership.

A new open-source sustainability guide [PDF] provides a roadmap for the dairy industry to improve water quality and foster economic and environmental resilience at a critical moment. Read More »

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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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