Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): wetlands

How coastal restoration in Louisiana is helping rural communities in the Midwest

Hunkering down in a duck blind with my dad on the Cuivre River, which feeds into the Mississippi.

Hunkering down in a duck blind with my dad on the Cuivre River, which feeds into the Mississippi.

Clang. A knot of rusted chains pulls shut the driveway gate, bringing it closed with a final smack against a worn fence post. Just like that, my Sunday afternoon visit to our family farm in Clarksville, Missouri ends. After a quick trip home to Saint Louis, it’s time to catch a flight to Washington, D.C. for my internship.

But not before my dad asks, “Do you want to see downtown?”. I laugh, but agree to check it out. “Downtown” is a relative term in Clarksville – a quiet river community with fewer than 500 residents.

The streets slope down to the shoreline, where historic buildings meet the Mighty Mississippi. A few barges float nearby, unperturbed by the currents that pull toward the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a calm day on the river. I spot a sign emblazoned with a familiar red and white Army Corps castle. Just ahead, a concrete arm extends across the channel. Read More »

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USDA invests $350 million to protect farmlands, grasslands and wetlands

ACEPAmerica’s agricultural lands are getting another significant boost from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $350 million to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation.

The funding, provided through the 2014 Farm Bill’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), rewards farmers and ranchers for voluntary efforts to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat from future development.

ACEP is a program that consolidates three former programs – the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program – into one voluntary program that provides technical and financial assistance to help landowners protect our nation’s vital farmlands, grasslands and wetlands.

The program is a shining example of USDA’s steadfast commitment to preserving the long-term viability and health of our agricultural landscapes.

How does it work? Read More »

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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 »

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How agriculture’s resilience to climate change benefits us all

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81 percent of Americans live in cities, but rely on rural areas for everyday needs.

Traditionally, governments haven’t factored farms and ranches into their climate mitigation and adaptation planning. Instead, the focus has mostly been on protecting urban communities. But that is all changing. At the National Adaptation Forum earlier this month in St. Louis, agriculture was top-of-mind in discussions about reducing emissions and building resilience to climate change.

That’s because in order to protect people, 81 percent of whom live in urban areas, we’ll need to protect what’s around where they live, too. It’s largely rural areas, like the farming town of 1,100 people where I grew up, whose working lands and farms provide valuable services to urban areas. These services include food security, flood and drought protection, recreation and water storage. Agriculture can also play (and is already playing) a big role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The more resilient we can make agriculture, the better off we’ll all be. Read More »

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