Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): Midwest

As if things weren’t already hard enough, farmers must brace for another wet spring

Farmers have already been dealing with tough economic conditions exacerbated by a trade war, extreme weather and now the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the latest 2020 spring flood outlook shows that farmers in the Midwest could be facing yet another wet year.

Although projected to be less severe than 2019, the U.S. Spring Flood and Climate Outlook for 2020 predicts widespread flooding across 23 states with severe flooding in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. As a result of the 2019 floods, soils across the Midwest are full of moisture this spring, increasing the likelihood of flooding in 2020. Source: NOAA 

Making American farmland resilient to growing weather shocks like flooding requires greater adoption of conservation practices such as no-till and cover cropping practices that improve water infiltration and reduce erosion and field runoff. Despite the financial benefits of these practices, adoption remains low across the country. In 2017, only 3.9% of U.S. farmland adopted cover crops.

How can we scale conservation practice adoption to reduce risk and boost resilience of the agricultural sector? Read More »

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2019 made climate impacts visible. Here are 4 stories of resilience that give me hope for 2020.

This year has been one of the toughest yet for communities across the country feeling the impacts of climate change.

Farmers took big hits from unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, coastal communities were pummeled with record-breaking rainfall and storms, and more than 250,000 acres in my home state of California burned from wildfires that took precious lives and left millions of people without power for days on end. As we enter a new decade, these four stories of resilience provide hope that we will take bold climate action in 2020. Click To Tweet

It’s easy to feel hopeless hearing one climate disaster story after another. But if you look around, there are also stories of resilience that can provide hope for the future. Here are four that inspire me. Read More »

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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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As winter approaches, monarch caterpillars fuel up on a Minnesota farm

Kristin Duncanson shows me monarch caterpillar we found on her farm. “Everyone has a monarch story," she said.

Kristin Duncanson holds a monarch caterpillar we found on her farm. “Everyone has a monarch story,” she said.

Duncanson Growers is a family farm located in the heart of southern Minnesota. Owners Kristin and Pat Duncanson produce pork and grow corn, soybeans and vegetable peas on the farm, with a commitment to sustainable practices that improve the quality of their land. But it’s not just about environmental sustainability.

“We also need to maintain and increase our productivity to be economically sustainable,” Kristin said.

The Duncanson family has been committed to sustainability not only through their own farming operations, but also through outreach and education efforts. I recently paid a visit to the family’s farm, where just the night before they had hosted 30 college students for dinner, recognizing the importance of communicating their sustainability practices to others.

In addition to their current practices, which include improving data collection to increase fertilizer efficiency, reducing tillage where possible and rotating crops, the Duncansons have also maintained some very high quality habitat for monarch caterpillars and butterflies. Read More »

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Why Kansas farmer Justin Knopf strives to emulate the native prairie

Farmer in fieldI first met Justin Knopf at a meeting in DC about five years ago. At 6’3”, he definitely stood out, but not just physically. He openly conveyed how important his family and his land are – the reason he cares so much about making sure his Kansas farming operation can live on is for his children. It’s rare to meet someone so articulate, sincere and committed to sustainability.

Over the years, I have become more and more impressed by Justin, who started farming at age 14 when his father gave him the means to rent land and buy seed and fertilizer.

Fast forward to today, and Justin is one of the country’s champions of no-till farming – a practice that has boosted his yields and made his crops more resilient to the effects of extreme weather. His dedication and success caught the attention of Miriam Horn, author of the new book Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.

Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman tells the stories of five individuals in the enormous Mississippi River watershed (Justin included) who are embracing sustainability and defying stereotypes. I asked Justin about the book, his beliefs on sustainability and what’s next for no till. Read More »

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How ag retailers are helping improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay

Farmers in front of a tractor Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN® platform – a powerful tool that can make a real impact in improving regional water quality — is coming to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Mill®, a large agricultural retail company, today became the first business in the area to utilize SUSTAIN in Maryland and Pennsylvania. SUSTAIN provides ag retailers with tools and training in best practices for fertilizer efficiency and soil health – such as cover crops and precision ag technologies – while maintaining the potential for high yields. Retail staff then bring this knowledge to the farmers they serve, meaning that one retail location can reach hundreds of farmers.

That’s why the platform, co-developed by Environmental Defense Fund, is taking off. Thus far, 27 ag retailers across the country have been trained, and food companies such as Smithfield Foods, Campbell’s Soup, Unilever, and Kellogg are connecting to the SUSTAIN platform as a way to meet their corporate sustainability goals.

I asked Ben Hushon, owner of The Mill, to tell me what this means for the Bay, for his company, and for farmers. Read More »

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