Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): nitrogen

From Southwestern India to Iowa: Why farming is at the heart of sustainability

Hiking in India

Studying in the Western Ghats region of India.

When I was younger, I fantasized about becoming a Jane Goodall for the millennial generation. I imagined living in the wilderness to study animals’ behavior and help conserve land. During college, I briefly lived out my dream when I spent a summer in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats region of India, living and working on a private wildlife sanctuary where I studied the local flora.

The sanctuary was an island of preserved land, surrounded by vast farms that dominated the region’s landscape. While there, I had an epiphany – one that brought me back to my own family’s agricultural history on a farm in Iowa.

I realized that if we don’t work with farmers to conserve wild places, we will never be able to create truly sustainable environments for animals and humans. If I really wanted to make an impact on the Ghats region and its biodiversity, I’d need to move beyond a private sanctuary and back toward my family’s farming roots.

India showed me first-hand the need to partner with farmers. Spending summers on my family’s farm in Iowa and steering the tractor with my grandfather taught me to appreciate the integral role farmers play in maintaining balance in the ecosystem – and that farming is incredibly hard work. Both of these experiences still influence my agricultural career, which is focused on deploying the SUSTAIN™ platform, developed by United Suppliers, Inc. in coordination with EDF, to assist growers in improving fertilizer efficiency and soil health. Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Want to bring ag sustainability to scale? Collaboration, not confrontation.

Farmers picking cornOne year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced 10 “building blocks” for climate-smart agriculture and forestry, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 120 million metric tons by 2025.

The agency’s focus on partnering with farmers and ranchers – as well as with the private sector – was a huge step in the right direction toward widespread implementation of climate-smart agriculture techniques and programs.

Tomorrow, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce another big investment in conservation stewardship and climate-smart agriculture approaches to advance the building blocks agenda. I’ll be joining Secretary Vilsack to talk about EDF’s partnerships within the agricultural supply chain and our collaborative approach to ag sustainability.

Working across public-private sector lines, through a collaborative approach, and with the entire ag supply chain is the only way to bring sustainability to scale while protecting farmers’ livelihoods.

Here’s what key sectors of the ag supply chain are doing – and can do – to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase agricultural resilience. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, Climate Resilience, ecosystems, fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Public funding for ag research has plummeted. Is that a bad thing?

Cover crop demonstration at the 2013 Soil Health Expo, hosted by NRCS and the Univ. of MO.

Cover crop demonstration at the 2013 Soil Health Expo, hosted by NRCS and the Univ. of MO. Credit: Curators of the University of Missouri

Public sector funding for agricultural research is flat lining. While public dollars used to be the primary source of support for ag research, that is no longer the case. Today, the private sector spends as much on agricultural research as the government does, according to USDA. Long-term growth in funding for ag research is also higher in the private sector.

As a recent DTN story noted, “Some skeptics say the need for public research is overblown, that private companies — seed, chemical and machinery — already provide a large pile of dollars.”

Are the skeptics right?

Public and private ag research funding don’t always have the same goals, and they play very different, but equally important roles. Here’s an overview of what each sector contributes, how they relate, and why we need to continue advocating for and supporting investments from both sectors – as well as public-private partnerships. Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

My two agricultural hats: scientist & advocate

Woman in the wild“It’s the hydrology, stupid!” a colleague once joked about the thrust of my career. I couldn’t agree more. I study what’s working and what’s not across agricultural landscapes — the Midwest corn belt is a current focus — and believe that the fundamental changes we’ve made to the land by draining it, removing native vegetation and altering the water flow have caused many of the environmental issues the region faces today.

I’m intrigued by agriculture, where people and nature intersect across vibrant landscapes to provide tangible benefits to individuals, local communities, and the surrounding ecosystem. My job, which allows me to indulge that fascination on a daily basis, requires me to simultaneously think like a scientist and an environmental advocate, a dual role that I first started to cultivate growing up in rural England. Read More »

Posted in Climate Resilience, ecosystems, fertilizer, Sustainable Agriculture, western water, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Organic or conventional. Which production system can feed the world sustainably?

suzy_friedman_277x387Organic. Conventional. Locally grown. And the list goes on. The seemingly age-old debate of what system can best feed and sustain the planet is again at the front of my mind on National Ag Day.

When I spoke at a recent Food Entrepreneurship Symposium event at Princeton University, an audience member asked me if organic is the best path forward to feed the planet sustainably. At Commodity Classic in New Orleans earlier this month, I spoke with growers about whether conventional ag is the way to feed a growing population.

My answer: there is no silver bullet when it comes to sustainable agriculture. There is no single system, no one-size-fits-all prescription that can solve our food security and environmental sustainability challenges.

That’s why we cannot afford to shut the door on any idea, or on any system of food production. Here’s how organic and conventional compare on yields and environmental impacts, and why we need both systems, local and global production, and big and small farms in order to protect food security and the planet. Read More »

Posted in Climate Resilience, ecosystems, fertilizer, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

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 »

Posted in Climate Resilience, ecosystems, fertilizer, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

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 »

Posted in Climate Resilience, ecosystems, fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Fertilizer runoff is just one piece of the dead zone puzzle

Credit: Ohio Wetlands Association

Dead zones (also called hypoxic zones) are caused by a rapid growth in algae that leads to less dissolved oxygen in the water and the death of aquatic species. Credit: Ohio Wetlands Association

It’s true that fertilizer runoff, sewage, and other pollutants from the Corn Belt have significantly boosted dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s because up to half of the fertilizer applied isn’t absorbed by crops, and in order to grow more food we’re using 20 times more fertilizer in the Corn Belt today than in the 1950s.

But even if we optimize fertilizer use on all cropland in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basins, nutrients will still be lost to rivers and streams and carried into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of this loss is inevitable given factors like unpredictable weather, but my colleagues and I set out to quantify other reasons for why the Corn Belt exports so much nitrogen.

We discovered that an increase in fertilizer inputs is only one part of the problem. Three other distinct but interconnected factors also contribute to water pollution and the Gulf dead zone: the loss of perennial cover, the construction of artificial drainage systems, and the loss of wetlands. Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, fertilizer, Sustainable Agriculture, western water, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

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

Upper-Mississippi-paddlewheel-final

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 »

Posted in ecosystems, Partnerships, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Agricultural carbon markets get yet another boost

farmIn the past three months, three new revenue opportunities have emerged for growers. In June, the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop-base agriculture in a cap-and-trade market was approved for U.S. rice growers by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). The “rice protocol” announcement was followed shortly after by approval of a voluntary grasslands protocol, which rewards farmers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to cropland.

And now, USDA has demonstrated its interest in and support of another market-based approach for growers: increasing fertilizer use efficiency. Thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), EDF and partners will be helping almond and corn farmers reduce fertilizer runoff and nitrous oxide emissions, and earn greenhouse gas credits that can generate revenue.

Here’s what this project will entail: Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, Climate Resilience, fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed