Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): GHG mitigation

California’s new nitrogen assessment highlights promising solutions for reducing fertilizer losses

Sara KroopfA team of researchers spent seven years dissecting, analyzing and reporting on California’s nitrogen cycle, and the results are eye-opening.

Nearly 2 million tons of nitrogen are imported into the state each year. Almost a quarter of it is lost through leaching into groundwater – with runoff from cropland accounting for nearly 90 percent of this leaching. Excess nitrates in drinking water can cause health problems when consumed by at risk populations. Four percent of the state’s nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

But the California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA), released by UC Davis’ Agriculture Sustainability Institute, also provides a never before seen level of detail on nitrogen movement in the state. There’s no silver bullet for reducing environmental impacts while keeping growers profitable. Yet information is power and the more we know, the more we can tailor and prioritize solutions.

The UC Davis team investigated various political, social and economic ideas for reestablishing our state’s nitrogen balance. Two of the most promising solutions for California agriculture to address what the CNA calls “critical control points” include enhancing fertilizer efficiency and expanding carbon markets for agriculture. Read More »

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Carbon markets in agriculture are the next big thing

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

I knew I wanted to focus my career on protecting the world’s great places, says Robert Parkhurst, pictured snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2006 California passed AB 32, legislation requiring the state’s Air Resources Board to develop market mechanisms to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It was a watershed moment, and I was lucky enough to be at the event where Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill.

Even back then I saw the potential for environmental markets to improve climate stability by engaging, rather than penalizing, business. That’s why I’ve spent the past 10 years – seven with electric and information technology companies and the most recent three at Environmental Defense Fund – working to make agricultural GHG reduction programs a reality.

But my passion for conservation started long before passage of AB 32. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent nearly all my free time outdoors, largely through Boy Scouts where I became an Eagle Scout. The moment I earned merit badges for water and soil conservation, I knew I wanted to focus my career on solving environmental challenges and protecting the world’s great places. I’ve been extremely fortunate to spend Thanksgiving atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Christmas on the Great Barrier Reef, and New Year’s Eve soaking in the natural beauty of New Zealand.

I believe carbon markets are the best tool we have for limiting emissions from agriculture, maintaining yields, and ensuring a food secure future.

These days my camping excursions involve my son and daughter, who are lobbying me to buy a plug-in electric car. Seeing my kids share that same excitement for solving environmental challenges brings a smile to my face like nothing else can.

That’s why I’m working to build a $2 billion market for agricultural greenhouse gas reductions by the end of 2020. I believe carbon markets are the best tool we have for limiting emissions from agriculture, maintaining yields, and ensuring a food secure future. Read More »

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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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Remembering an agricultural pioneer

Credit: University of New Hampshire

Dr. Changsheng Li. Credit: University of New Hampshire

You may not know the name Dr. Changsheng Li, who passed away last week after a courageous battle with cancer, but his legacy will live on for generations.

A professor at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Dr. Changsheng developed and refined a model that has been used in more than 20 countries to calculate methane and nitrous oxide emissions from crop production.

A UNH faculty award from 2009 noted that “it is rare to meet a person who fairly radiates humility and compassion. Changsheng Li of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space is just such an individual.” He will be sorely missed by his friends at Environmental Defense Fund – and across the entire agricultural world.

His work took on new meaning and unprecedented momentum over the past few months with several big developments in the field of agricultural carbon markets – successes that would not have been possible without his pioneering work.  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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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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Ag’s big data explosion can benefit the environment too

Almost daily, I see new stories on how agribusinesses, entrepreneurs, and traditional technology companies are making big investments in precision agriculture tools and digital platforms that collect data from farms.

These data include information such as fertilizer rate, prescription accuracy, yield by square foot, seed type, and soil type. When analyzed at a large scale, the data can determine best practices for farm operations to maximize yield and minimize input costs.

This is an exciting trend, with big and small companies alike getting into the data game, and the tools used to collect this data becoming ubiquitous. And although these technologies weren’t necessarily started with sustainability in mind, they have tremendous potential to benefit the environment. Read More »

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3 reasons food companies should track emissions from their supply chains

Credit: Flickr user

Few professions require as close attention to the weather as farming. Extreme temperatures, floods, drought, and storms are the quickest way for a promising crop to turn into a total loss. That’s why it is surprising that a new report from the environmental data organization CDP shows food companies largely ignore their agricultural supply chains when making climate commitments. Less than 25 percent of the companies reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) data are accounting for indirect emissions from fertilizer, manure, or deforestation.

There are various reasons why so few food companies extend climate commitments to their full supply chains – global supply chains are complex and it can be difficult to trace product components back to their origins.

But failure to account for agricultural emissions is problematic. As the CDP report noted, at least 10 percent of global GHG emissions are unaccounted for, meaning food companies are lacking important insight into climate risks in their supply chains.

Here are three reasons why food companies should invest the time and energy required to take this step: Read More »

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