Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): water use

Why a “Godzilla” El Niño won’t end California’s drought

rain on farm

The original version of this post appeared on EDF’s Voices blog.

An El Niño advisory is now official, and scientists suggest there is a greater than a 90-percent chance that it will arrive this winter.

They also believe the developing El Niño could become one of the most powerful on record – rivaling its 1997-98 predecessor, which sent California twice as much rain and the Sierra Nevada double the snowpack it usually gets.

So news of another El Niño may sound like a blessing for California farmers, who help make the state the world’s eighth-largest economy, as they suffer through the worst drought in more than a millennium. Read More »

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Buy me some peanuts and … sustainable produce?

hotdogLet the games begin! America’s sports teams are moving into the sustainable food arena.

A new report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Green Sports Alliance highlights 20 venues that have played their part to reduce their impact on the environment. Of the 20 locations, 18 purchase produce from local farms, 17 provide organic food options, 14 compost their food, and seven use biodegradable eating utensils and plates. In order to provide the freshest food available, five venues even have their own on-site gardens.

These venues are going the distance – from the Portland Trail Blazers’ Moda Center to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ PNC Park – and providing fans with sustainable food options while simultaneously combating issues such as greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.

Which team’s efforts are best? We asked some of EDF’s sports fans (myself included!) to talk about what their favorite team’s venues have done:

Read More »

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How cover crops can help growers beat droughts and floods

Cover crops can include grasses like cereal rye.

Cover crops can include grasses like cereal rye.

Corn is trying to fight this summer’s extreme weather, and unfortunately, the weather is winning.

There are serious floods in the Midwest, devastating droughts in California, and brutal heat waves along the eastern seaboard. Ohio for example had a record June rainfall of 11 inches, which stunted corn roots and prevented many growers from planting any corn crops. In Northwest Ohio alone, 100,000 acres were left unplanted. At the same time, places in my home state of North Carolina experienced a June heat wave during the critical corn pollination period, significantly damaging corn yields.

These extreme weather events leave many farmers searching for ways to make the best of a challenging growing season. Although June’s weather was the opposite in Ohio and North Carolina, cover crops offer a proven solution to deal with both conditions. Read More »

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Note to Congress: Pitting fish against farms won’t solve California’s drought

Drought(Updated July 16, 2015)

A bill to supposedly address California’s devastating drought, authored by Rep. David Valadao, cleared the House of Representatives today.

Unfortunately, this proposal – dubiously named the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 – is yet another attempt to move more water through California’s vast Central Valley Project at a time when we can least afford it and at the expense of many water users.

Among other problems, the bill would permanently undermine science-based protections and regulatory assurances for at-risk species and ecosystems that are essential in providing reliable food, safe drinking water, and jobs to millions of Americans.

The proposed tradeoffs here are nothing new. Similar bills – H.R. 3964 and 5781 in 2014, both opposed by the White House and the State of California – also pitted fish against farms.

It’s time we move away from finger pointing and start finding collaborative solutions to the drought that increase the resiliency of our freshwater ecosystems while supporting agricultural communities in California’s Central Valley. Read More »

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What a visit with a California citrus grower taught me about agricultural sustainability

EDF’s Sara Kroopf smells the soil at a citrus nursery in Arvin, California.

Putting yourself in the boots of a California farmer will give you a whole new perspective.

That’s why I recently spent a few days alongside Matt Fisher, a citrus grower in Kern County, California – to better understand growers’ challenges and concerns, and to rethink how environmental groups and farmers can achieve shared goals.

The experience was part of a farm exchange program offered through the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, which facilitates learning opportunities on California farms.

With a record-breaking drought in California, tensions between environmentalists and farmers run high, and finger pointing is everywhere. But that isn’t getting us anywhere. The time I spent on Matt’s farm gave me new inspiration to break down barriers, put aside stereotypes, and work together. Read More »

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3 investment ideas to sustain water in the American West

The Arizona Canal brings water to sprawling desert communities near Phoenix.

The Arizona Canal brings water to sprawling desert communities near Phoenix.

The crippling drought in the American West is now making headlines daily and the stories are raising a collective awareness of the unfolding crisis – as The New Yorker did recently when it chronicled the plight of the Colorado in Where the River Runs Dry.

If there’s a silver lining to the Western water crisis, it’s that governors, state legislators and federal policymakers are finally taking action to ensure a reliable water supply.

These are welcome actions – except, top-down government mandates, while sometimes necessary, won’t result in the durable change we need to move from scarcity to sustainability.

Top-down mandates only work as long as there is political will to enforce them. In order to crack open the ossified structure that has dictated unsustainable water policy for more than a century, we need to build ground-level support for flexible solutions that benefit everyone – including cities, agriculture and, of course, the environment. Read More »

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It’s official! Rice farmers now eligible for carbon offset payments

Credit: Brian Baer Photography

The door is officially open for crop-based farmers to participate in carbon markets and earn new sources of revenue. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) just approved a new protocol for rice growers, representing the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop-base agriculture in a compliance market.

This means rice growers who implement conservation practices to reduce methane emissions can create and sell a greenhouse gas credit, commonly referred to as a “carbon credit.” Regulated California companies needing to reduce their emissions under California’s cap-and-trade program can now buy rice growers’ carbon credits.

The rice protocol milestone marks a new chapter for sustainable farming and shows the central role agriculture can play in solving the climate challenge.

ARB can now move forward in developing other agricultural offset protocols. The most interesting is a nutrient management protocol that would reward farmers who reduce nitrogen fertilizer losses to the air.

This “fertilizer protocol” has enormous potential for farmers and the environment – more than 400 million acres of cropland could be eligible for participation, and growers could contribute millions of tons of greenhouse gas reductions.

Here’s how the rice protocol works. Read More »

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Water risk: Which food companies are managing it and how can they do better?

A Splash of Water

Credit: Flickr user phphoto2010

Unreliable water supply and quality is a source of enormous risk to the agricultural sector. That was the key takeaway of a new report from Ceres that evaluated 37 of the world’s leading agriculture, beverage, meat and packaged food companies to see how they are managing risks from diminishing water supplies and water quality.

In a nutshell, companies need to improve their performance.

Companies use huge amounts of water in the production of crops, which also affects water quality when nitrogen fertilizer not absorbed by plants runs off into waterways. Read More »

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California’s drought is real, but it’s dusted up a lot of hot air

shutterstock_191075504

Credit: Shutterstock

Finger-pointing tends to sharpen during times of crisis.

Exhibit A: California, now entering its fourth year of drought.

If you’ve followed media coverage of the drought lately – which has spiraled to new heights since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state’s first mandatory cuts in urban water use last week – you’ve probably heard that agriculture was “spared” the knife.

An interview with Gov. Brown on PBS Newshour perfectly encapsulates the debate of the past week:

“Well, Governor, encouraging people to decrease watering their lawns seems like literally a drop in the bucket, when 80 percent of the water … is from the agriculture sector,” the reporter starts out. “We know that it costs an enormous amount of water to have a single almond to eat … Is it time for us to start zeroing in on the largest customers or users of water?”

While it’s true that agriculture is California’s biggest water user, and that some crops require more water than others, it’s unfair and inaccurate to suggest, first, that agriculture was passed over, and second, that a small nut is primarily to blame for sucking the state dry. It’s more complicated than that. Read More »

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Colorado farmers have a lot to say about the state’s first-ever water plan

colorado landscapeThis post was co-written by Mark Harris, general manager for the Grand Valley Water Users’ Association.

In a recent op-ed, the Colorado Forum – a nonpartisan organization of CEOs and civic leaders – delivered a powerful message to Governor Hickenlooper, who is drafting a first-ever Colorado Water Plan to confront the state’s growing water demands.

The forum’s message: we must all work together to secure a water future that keeps Colorado a world class place to live, visit, work and play.

The forum made a handful of recommendations in the article, but one stood out to us as particularly relevant as we attempt to balance many competing interests in a single water plan: agriculture must be given the freedom and opportunity to thrive in Colorado’s water future. Read More »

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