Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): conservation

3 ways agricultural lenders can help farmers reap millions in savings from conservation

The U.S. farm economy is in its worst condition in decades due to several years of low crop prices, ongoing trade disputes, natural disasters and other variable weather. But many farmers are adapting and innovating – implementing conservation practices that build soil health and resilience, such as nutrient optimization, cover crops and no-till.

Still, there is a growing need for farmers to understand the full financial benefits of these practices and prove their value to ag lenders and other financial partners.

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Four ways conservation pays for dairy farmers, even in a weak agricultural economy

The dairy industry is a critical part of the landscape, economy and social fabric of Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay. But it’s under stress.

Dairy is in the fourth year of an economic downturn in which many farmers have struggled to break even. Dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. are highly motivated to increase their resilience to unfavorable economic and environmental conditions, including highly variable milk and feed prices, unpredictable farm policies and extreme weather – most notably increased heavy rain events and flooding.

While dairy prices have recently trended upward and PennState Extension’s dairy outlook  predicts milk price could approach $20/cwt by the end of 2019, another PennState Extension analysis  found that the gross milk price breakeven point for most farmers in the state is $21.20/cwt.

Most of these factors are out of farmers’ control, but conservation is something farmers can be sure of.

That’s what my colleagues and I concluded after digging into the budgets of four Pennsylvania dairy farmers in our new report: How conservation makes dairy farms more resilient, especially in a lean agricultural economy. The report shows how a variety of conservation practices can deliver multiple returns on investment that simultaneously benefit the farm budget and the local environment.

Here are our four key findings: Read More »

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“60 Minutes” interview with Land O’Lakes CEO underscores urgency of climate resilience

Sunday’s edition of “60 Minutes” featuring an interview with Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford put an urgent spotlight on the struggles that farmers are feeling from weather, tariffs and low prices.

From massive rainfall in the Midwest to flash droughts across the South, extreme weather is becoming a top concern among farmers, many of whom are acknowledging that climate change is impacting their operations, and they’re committing to resilience strategies. EDF’s farmer partners are telling us firsthand how climate change is altering their livelihoods, and they are thirsty for climate-smart tools and practices.

Ford rightly hones in on the role that technology plays in helping farmers hedge against the unpredictable in today’s tough environment and economy. Precision ag tools and technologies optimize inputs to achieve a more robust crop yield, in addition to healthier soils, improved water quality and other environmental benefits.

Technology is essential to advancing sustainability, but not without the corresponding informational, financial and policy drivers that will ultimately help us reach the goal of a resilient agricultural system. Read More »

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A new guide for farmers to boost profits through conservation

As the struggling U.S. farm economy continues to make the news, agricultural organizations, government agencies and conservation groups are rightly focusing their attention on the affordability of conservation adoption.

A 2018 report from EDF and agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom, Farm Finance and Conservation, found that farmers who adopt conservation practices such as no-till, nutrient optimization, cover crops and diverse rotations improved their profitability and were more resilient.

Despite these benefits, the costs of transitioning to conservation management practices can be a barrier to adoption. In addition, any change carries some risk, and farmers are likely to be reluctant to take on additional risk in the current economic climate.

For these reasons, it is more important than ever to provide farmers with practical guidance on how to minimize the costs and risks of conservation adoption. Fortunately, a new technical bulletin from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture does just that.

Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops [PDF] describes seven different management scenarios in which farmers can speed their transition to cover crops and achieve profitability more quickly — in some cases within the first year of adoption. Read More »

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The monarch ESA listing is delayed 18 months. Here’s what you need to know.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delayed its decision about whether to list the monarch butterfly as endangered or threatened until December 2020 — 18 months later than the original deadline of June 2019.

Because the original deadline resulted from a litigation settlement, this extension had to be approved by federal courts and the other parties to the litigation. While certainty about a regulatory decision of this scope is always beneficial, this mutually agreed upon delay creates an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Here’s what farmers, ranchers and their partners need to know about how the delay will impact monarch conservation efforts. Read More »

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How conservation can enhance a farm’s financial health — even in challenging times

With the U.S.-China trade war and flooding in the Midwest continuing to make headlines, national attention is focused on the increasing economic challenges facing farmers and their families.

After years of weak commodity prices, these financial stresses are adding up. In the Corn Belt, farm bankruptcies are at the highest level in over a decade.

Given this challenging economic outlook, some might assume that farmers will abandon conservation efforts and focus exclusively on their finances. However, many of the financial best practices cited by farmers and encouraged by farm financial advisers are the very same principles that can help farmers continue to improve environmental outcomes. Here are four examples. Read More »

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Bipartisanship for conservation lives. Can it flourish in the 116th Congress?

Congress just sent a public lands package – appropriately called the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act – to the president. Importantly, the legislation includes a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a popular federal program that protects our public lands and waters including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and recreation areas.

LWCF also provides critical grants for state and local parks and recreational facilities, and promotes voluntary conservation on private land.

Congressional action on LWCF demonstrates that bipartisanship is still achievable and works well to support conservation today, and with an eye toward the future. (Photo Credit: Mark Fischer)

Reauthorization of LWCF – adopted in the Senate by a vote of 92-8 and in the House of Representatives by a vote of 363-62 – can be attributed to the bipartisan and collaborative efforts of Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rob Bishop (R-UT) of the House Natural Resources Committee, and so many other champions in both chambers. 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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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 farmers’ business partners benefit from conservation

Most efforts to advance agricultural conservation focus on the farmer – with good reason, since conservation practice adoption is the direct result of farmers’ decisions, time and resources. They also focus, of course, on the environment, as the need to improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture grows.

But conservation efforts must also recognize the relationships between farmers and their business partners. Agricultural lenders, crop insurers and landowners are critical to achieving widespread conservation adoption, and it’s in their financial interest to do so. Here’s why. Read More »

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