Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): soil health

These farms planted wildflowers to attract bugs to control pests. And it’s working.

Last fall, two farms in California’s Sacramento Valley planted a wildflower cover crop mix as part of a commitment to restore habitat within 325 acres of pecan orchards. The farms, Pacific Gold Agriculture and Bypass Farms, are participating in a project called “Orchards Alive” in hopes that wildflowers will attract pollinators and naturally reduce pest pressure.

Orchards Alive came about thanks to a $3 million monarch and pollinator recovery bill (AB 2421) designed to establish habitat restoration projects for important pollinator species facing steep population losses. Read More »

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How farm transition plans can preserve conservation values and legacies

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. 

A significant number of farmland acres in Iowa will be transferred to the next generation of farmers in the coming decade, providing a great opportunity for preserving and expanding conservation practices that have proven financial and resilience benefits.

According to Iowa State University, 60% of Iowa farmland is owned by people over the age of 65, and 35% of Iowa farmland is owned by those over 75. By 2024, landlords in the U.S. expect to transfer 91.5 million acres, or 10% of all U.S. farmland.

The way in which the land is transferred from one generation to the next could have a profound impact on the future of conservation efforts, and of the land itself. Read More »

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Monetizing cover crops improves profitability for Iowa farmers, study shows

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. It originally posted on the Iowa Soybean Association Newsroom

While many farmers add cover crops with the goal to improve soil health, some participants in an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) study are turning cover crops into new business opportunities. Capturing profit opportunities could result in expanded cover crop use in the state, the study showed.

Twenty Iowa farmers were chosen for the study during the 2018 crop year to take a closer look at the relationship between conservation adoption and farm production and profitability. Study participants were chosen based on their use of conservation practices such as cover crops and conservation tillage. Combined, participants raised 27,535 acres of corn and soybeans, and were geographically dispersed throughout the state. Read More »

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How Congress can help farmers reduce loss and risk in uncertain times

By Keith Alverson, a sixth-generation grain farmer in Chester, South Dakota and an adviser to Environmental Defense Fund.

It goes without saying that 2019 was an extremely difficult year for farmers like me. Unprecedented amounts of snow and rain led to 3.9 million acres in our state that couldn’t be planted.

Lake County, South Dakota, were I live, received 32% more rainfall than in a normal year. For most farmers in the area, this record-setting wet spring meant that they could only plant about 50% of planned corn acres and 80% of planned soybean acres. Read More »

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What are cover crops doing on a pecan orchard? Hopefully attracting bugs.

You don’t typically hear farmers saying they want to attract bugs to their farm, but that’s what a unique conservation project in California’s Sacramento Valley is doing – determining whether cover crops can attract more at-risk native pollinators, like monarch butterflies, in addition to insects that serve as pest control, like ladybugs.

The project came about thanks to a $3-million monarch and pollinator recovery bill (AB 2421) designed to establish habitat restoration projects for important pollinator species facing steep population losses. Read More »

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Scientists urge action to increase soil carbon

Soil is one of the most precious and finite natural resources, and maintaining healthy soil is mandatory to provide enough food for the planet in the face of a changing climate.

There is strong scientific consensus on the urgent need to rebuild agricultural soil carbon. That’s the topline message of a comment published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Scientists and farmers know that increasing soil carbon can improve soil fertility, stabilize yields, reduce the need for inputs like fertilizer, and boost resilience to droughts and floods. That’s why so many soil health initiatives focus on building soil carbon.

While the importance of building soil carbon is widely endorsed, there is scientific debate about exactly how much carbon can be sequestered in soils. That is important data to know, but it should not distract us from doing all we can to continue to build carbon in the soil.

Read More »

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How the farm bill changes the future of climate and water conservation

The Senate and House passed the 2018 farm bill in overwhelmingly bipartisan votes of 87-13 and 369-47, respectively. The bill is now headed to the White House to be signed into law before the end of the year.

In many ways, this farm bill conference report maintains the tradition of incremental improvement that has always defined farm bills. Big-ticket programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program will continue to garner headlines.

But the bill also takes important steps to begin to shape the future of conservation in this country. Many smaller provisions in the fully funded conservation title open the door to new approaches that address water quality and climate change challenges that aren’t bound by a single farm’s borders.

Here’s what farmers and environmentalists need to know about new focus areas and approaches in the farm bill’s conservation title.

Read More »

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5 reasons why the Senate farm bill is a conservation powerhouse

The Senate votes this week on the farm bill – an $867 billion piece of legislation. Within the bill’s 1,200 pages are big advances for conservation, technology and innovation.

In addition to the bill maintaining full funding for the conservation title, here are five reasons why producers, consumers and environmentalists should celebrate the Senate farm bill and champion the inclusion of these key provisions in the House and Senate compromise bill.

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Farmers open their books to show financial impact of conservation

Farm accountants have a lot more to offer than advice on how to maximize tax returns. In fact, they play a pivotal role in scaling conservation.

Environmental Defense Fund and K·Coe Isom AgKnowledge, a managerial accounting service for farmers and ranchers, teamed up with three Midwestern grain farmers to study how the adoption of conservation practices affects farm budgets.

These farmers, based in Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio, have all adopted some combination of no-till, crop rotations, cover crops and nutrient management. They were generous enough to open up their books so that AgKnowledge could analyze the financial impact of these conservation activities.

The full report will be out later this year, but initial results show how conservation can benefit farmers’ bottom lines. Here are three lessons we learned from this analysis. Read More »

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$1 million USDA award expands public-private partnerships for ag sustainability

A collaboration between Smithfield Foods and Environmental Defense Fund has reduced fertilizer loss and improved soil health on more than 400,000 acres in the regions where Smithfield sources feed grain. That acreage is set to grow thanks to a new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) award of $1,080,000.

The RCPP project will expand Smithfield’s ongoing grain sustainability efforts in North Carolina and scale up the program in Iowa, providing additional opportunities for farmers interested in improving their operations. Participating farmers will be supported by the combined efforts of 16 partner organizations, which include producer groups, government agencies, universities and nonprofits. Read More »

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