Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): Natural Resources Conservation Service

What to watch for during today’s farm bill markup in the House

The House Agriculture Committee meets today to begin markup on the 2018 draft farm bill. While markup is only the first step of a long process, it will tell us a lot about the road ahead.

The farm bill provides the largest source of federal funding for conservation on private lands – and with 70 percent of U.S. land privately managed, the farm bill is a major driver of efforts to improve water and air quality, increase wildlife habitat and build drought resilience.

While much of the focus will be on whether the Conservation Stewardship Program will be folded into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), here are six additional conservation items to keep an eye on during markup. Read More »

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3 steps to close the conservation data gap between farmers and investors

Farmer Scott Henry stands in a soybean field with a tablet computer.

Sustainable agriculture must be economically viable. Photo credit: Leslie Von Pless

In addition to benefiting the environment, on-farm conservation practices tend to create economic value for farmers and surrounding communities. Anecdotal examples of these benefits abound – fertilizer efficiency saves farmers money; no-till lowers labor and fuel expenses; and buffers and wetlands reduce downstream flood risk and drinking water treatment costs.

Quantifying them, however, remains a major challenge. The resulting data gap limits broader adoption of conservation measures.

Farmers care about stewardship, but many conservation practices require large upfront investment or take too long to produce returns. At the same time, investors want to help farmers generate financial and environmental benefits, but a lack of economic data holds them back, according to a study from Encourage Capital [PDF] and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Read More »

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These farmers sparked agricultural carbon markets across the U.S.

Rice held by Jim Whitaker of Whitaker Farms

Rice held by Jim Whitaker of Whitaker Farms. Credit: Adam Jahiel.

I want to tell you a story about a handful of growers whose commitment to sustainability and desire to innovate inspired an ag carbon credit movement.

Today, the first ever carbon credits generated from rice farmers were sold to Microsoft, all because of a handful of pioneers who tested out a radical idea – that by implementing conservation methods on their crops, farmers could reduce methane emissions and thereby generate a carbon credit that could be later be sold on the carbon market. Not to mention the fact that these farmers also reduced water use by as much as 30 percent. Read More »

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Why ag advisors should increase conservation offerings to farmers

Ag retailers help these farmers manage their farm sustainablyFarmers have a host of competing priorities clamoring for their time, energy and money. Fortunately, they often have trusted advisors to help them make good decisions for their operations – including about conservation practices on the farm.

These practices, such as improving fertilizer efficiency and planting cover crops, can provide significant benefits for farmers: increasing or stabilizing yields, reducing erosion, and ensuring more of the fertilizer applied delivers yield instead of being lost to water or air. They can also increase profitability.

But in order to get the best bang for every conservation buck, many of these practices require technical and agronomic expertise. As PrecisionAg suggested, who better to help integrate these practices into farm operations than the ag retailers and consultants who know their clients’ farms so well?

By expanding their conservation service offerings, ag retailers and crop advisors can meet growing demand from farmers – while also keeping their businesses, and that of their farmer clients, competitive. Read More »

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How Congress can help farmers stay profitable and resilient

Department of Agriculture

Credit: Flickr user jkc photos.

At the first field hearing for the 2018 Farm Bill held in Kansas last week, producers had one clear message for the Senate Agriculture Committee: the stakes for farmers have never been higher. Commodity prices are the lowest they’ve been in over a decade, and farmers’ incomes are predicted to drop nearly 10 percent this year.

Members of Congress – and the new Secretary of Agriculture – will have their hands full in helping producers navigate the innate uncertainties of farming, balancing the myriad needs of farmers in different geographies, and ensuring that growers remain profitable.

There are two bright spots offering some low hanging fruit for agricultural legislators:

  • There’s agreement on at least one big issue: producers testifying last week conveyed a desire for continued funding for conservation programs in the Farm Bill.
  • Government doesn’t have to go it alone when it comes to sustainable agriculture: the private sector’s investment in conservation is unprecedented, and companies are eager to collaborate.

Here’s how to increase the impact of these already popular conservation programs. Read More »

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New project guarantees payment for growers who implement conservation measures

Arkansas rice farmers participating in agricultural carbon markets.

Arkansas rice farmers participating in agricultural carbon markets. Credit: Adam Jahiel

Early adopters of innovative land-based conservation measures are rarely given an adequate reward for participating in agricultural carbon markets. But that’s all about to change, thanks to a nearly $1.2 million USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) that will leverage private capital investment into agricultural carbon offset practices and ensure that producers are paid for their efforts.

These efforts will guarantee the sale of at least 100,000 tons of credits over the next three years. Here’s how it will work. Read More »

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Controlled drainage is the new black

Dr. Mohamed Youssef demonstrates the benefits of controlled drainage.

Dr. Mohamed Youssef demonstrates the benefits of controlled drainage.

NC State University’s agriculture water management expert Mohamed Youssef, Ph.D, believes the time is ripe for controlled drainage to make a comeback.

Controlled drainage is one of the most effective ways to minimize nitrogen loss from croplands. It’s a management practice involving the use of a control structure installed at the outlet of a drainage ditch or subsurface drain to regulate drainage water outflow according to plant needs and field operations.

“A controlled drainage system can remove between 40 and 60 percent of the nitrogen present in runoff, if used at a large scale. These systems hold huge potential to reduce pollution from very large flows of water runoff,” Youssef explained during my recent visit to NC State’s demonstration farms in eastern North Carolina.

Despite the promise, adoption rates for this practice remain very low, in part because of functionality problems with the first controlled drainage structures. But thanks to new advances in the technology that I recently viewed in the field, adoption rates are rising.

Like any filter practice, controlled drainage is just one tool that can help solve regional water quality problems. It’s not a silver bullet, especially with some geographic limitations since they can be used only on low-sloping fields. While there is no perfect solution to stop farm runoff, after seeing drainage systems first-hand, I too believe we’re nearing a tipping point for widespread adoption of controlled drainage in agriculture – and big environmental benefits. Here’s the story. Read More »

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