Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): food security

Why the sustainable agriculture glass is half full

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Suzy Friedman, Director of Agricultural Sustainability at EDF

I’ve been working to promote and implement sustainable agriculture practices for nearly 15 years. But the last two years have seen more action and momentum in this space than in all of the previous 13 years combined – and I’m more enthusiastic than ever.

Let me be clear – we still have a long way to go. As a USDA report released at the Paris climate talks noted, warming temperatures pose a significant threat to agriculture and food security across the globe. And, despite technological advancements, the multimillion-dollar question of how we’re going to measure and quantify sustainable agriculture remains.

But a new progress report from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), also released last week in Paris, reaffirms my optimism and excitement. We’re headed in the right direction, and sustainable agriculture is on its way to becoming the norm. Here’s why. Read More »

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New climate change report is an urgent call to action for agriculture

Credit: Flickr user Bruno Monginoux

Credit: Flickr user Bruno Monginoux

The USDA today released a new scientific assessment at the United Nations negotiations in Paris that found climate change will pose a significant threat to food security and to farmers.

National Public Radio’s Dan Charles said it best in his latest story:

“Chances are, you’ve picked up some chatter about the new global talks on climate change. If you can’t quite see how it matters to you, personally, you might want to take a peek inside your pantry. Or your candy jar. Because it might just affect your access to everything from cheese to chocolate.”

Today’s report represents an urgent call to action for food companies, policymakers and agribusinesses to collaborate in reducing emissions from food production and implementing farming practices that increase resilience.

We have the tools at our disposal to make sustainable agriculture a reality. But to implement these measures at scale, we need increased investment from the private sector and collaboration across the agricultural supply chain. We need to go beyond commitments and towards on-the-ground support for farmers. Read More »

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5 steps to move food production from transparency to sustainability

Credit: Flickr user Brian Talbot

Credit: Flickr user Brian Talbot

A new survey from the Center for Food Integrity suggests that transparency is no longer optional for food companies. Consumers want to know what’s in their food, where it’s from, and how its production helps or harms the planet.

“Consumers increasingly expect their favorite brands to assure more than quality and safety,” said the center’s CEO, Charlie Arnot. “They now expect those brands to assure the supply chain is also transparent.”

Transparency will bring companies’ environmental impacts to light– which can then motivate improvement. But it doesn’t guarantee sustainability – especially when it comes to agriculture. That’s because it’s up to food companies themselves to do the heavy lifting – to address the actual environmental impacts of food production.

For food companies to reach their sustainability goals, transparency is often just the first step. Here’s what follows. Read More »

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How “plant doctor” Dan Sonke is making Campbell Soups’ ingredients greener

Dan Sonke, Manager of Ag Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

Dan Sonke, Manager of Agricultural Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

The Campbell Soup Company, along with a growing number of major food companies, is taking action to implement and support sustainable agriculture measures. It’s in their best interest to decrease the risk of supply chain disruptions.

Plus, there’s increasing consumer demand for transparency. A new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 78 percent of Americans are interested in how their food is produced.

I asked Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to explain how his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, why they’re working with Environmental Defense Fund, and about the unprecedented demand he’s seeing for sustainable grain. Read More »

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Why almond lovers can breathe easy again

It’s been a tough year for the almond. Vilified and beaten down, the nut has come to symbolize the California drought. While the reasons for and solutions to the drought are complicated and nuanced, the almond’s reputation has nonetheless suffered.

Meanwhile, farmers across the board are under increasing pressure – from regulatory requirements and increasing consumer demand for transparency – to modify their fertilizer application practices and thereby reduce nitrogen losses to the air and water.

Fortunately, there’s good reason for the almond to cheer up – a new Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) from the California Department of Food & Agriculture will support the state’s almond growers in their ongoing efforts to make nut production more sustainable, without sacrificing yields. Read More »

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How to make meat production more sustainable? Start with corn.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations celebrates World Food Day each year on October 16th.

It’s World Food Day, which promotes awareness of the planet’s most challenging food issues, including eradicating global hunger. All food production depends on environmental health, but food production itself can harm the planet.

So to address hunger and increase food security, we’ll need to address the environmental impacts of food production and how the food choices we make every day affect the planet.

These choices affect the stability of the climate, the availability of clean drinking water and running rivers, and the persistence of native habitats and the wildlife they house.

No matter our political or cultural differences when it comes to food, there’s one trend that is clear: across the globe, we are making the choice to eat more meat.  Read More »

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Collaboration can save the Mississippi River watershed

By Suzy Friedman, Director, Agricultural Sustainability, Environmental Defense Fund and Max Starbuck, Director, Market Development, National Corn Growers Association

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Credit: America’s Watershed Initiative

Today, a diverse group of more than 400 businesses, associations, government agencies, science organizations, academic institutions and non-profit organizations released the first-ever report card evaluating the condition of one of our nation’s most storied and central waterways. This effort, known as America’s Watershed Initiative, was undertaken to provide information on the challenges facing the waters and lands that make up the 31-state Mississippi River Watershed and the 250 rivers that flow into it.

The overall mark was less than stellar, a D+. However, the process of grading has yielded a pathway to improvement.

Why the poor rating? The watershed continues to experience increased pressure from the demands of urbanization, agriculture, transportation and land development.

Fortunately, moving from a “D+” to an “A” grade is achievable – with new levels of understanding and collaboration. That’s why the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Corn Growers Association have a real desire to work together on this and similar initiatives. Read More »

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How to overcome big data’s barriers

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Credit: Flickr user Marcos Gasparutti

As I wrote earlier this week, data analytics technology has the potential to dramatically change the way we produce food, making it more abundant and sustainable. But a number of obstacles remain.

Here’s how we can address some of the biggest challenges and hasten ag’s big data revolution for the benefit of people and the planet.

1. Protecting privacy

Many growers have told me they are willing to share data – if they know exactly where it’s going and how it will be used, and if they can benefit from the data analysis that occurs. However, big concerns remain about data being used for regulatory compliance purposes, given to rival farmers, or shared with seed and fertilizer companies that would gain a competitive advantage. Read More »

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USDA’s new climate strategy is a huge step in the right direction

Credit: Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

Credit: Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced a new national climate strategy aimed at reducing emissions from the agriculture and forestry sectors. USDA will partner with farmers and ranchers on voluntary and incentive-based approaches to implement climate-smart agriculture techniques and programs. This approach will also ensure that crops are resilient to increasing fluctuations in weather and climates, and that farmers’ livelihoods are protected.

The new focus on ‘cooperative conservation’ is a huge step in the right direction.

America’s farmers face a challenge: increase productivity to feed a growing population, but do so in an era where climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable, with warmer growing seasons, droughts, and floods. Farmers are also called upon to increase production in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This is a tall order, given that if we continue with current farming practices agriculture could be responsible for 70 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Read More »

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California’s drought is real, but it’s dusted up a lot of hot air

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Credit: Shutterstock

Finger-pointing tends to sharpen during times of crisis.

Exhibit A: California, now entering its fourth year of drought.

If you’ve followed media coverage of the drought lately – which has spiraled to new heights since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state’s first mandatory cuts in urban water use last week – you’ve probably heard that agriculture was “spared” the knife.

An interview with Gov. Brown on PBS Newshour perfectly encapsulates the debate of the past week:

“Well, Governor, encouraging people to decrease watering their lawns seems like literally a drop in the bucket, when 80 percent of the water … is from the agriculture sector,” the reporter starts out. “We know that it costs an enormous amount of water to have a single almond to eat … Is it time for us to start zeroing in on the largest customers or users of water?”

While it’s true that agriculture is California’s biggest water user, and that some crops require more water than others, it’s unfair and inaccurate to suggest, first, that agriculture was passed over, and second, that a small nut is primarily to blame for sucking the state dry. It’s more complicated than that. Read More »

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