Growing Returns

How USDA can leverage a carbon bank for farmers, foresters and the climate

As the U.S. works to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030, the agriculture and forestry sectors have important contributions to make to reducing emissions and sequestering carbon, as well as building resilience to climate impacts that are already here.

A carbon bank run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one policy option to help increase and reward agriculture’s climate contributions. Although a carbon bank — broadly defined as a set of policy tools to direct funding to incentivize voluntary climate mitigation — has been the subject of heightened interest for the past several months, the concept remains amorphous because it’s new. USDA, Congress and impacted stakeholders are still figuring it out.

While the need to address climate change is urgent, it’s also essential to get a carbon bank right so that farmers, policymakers, carbon credit buyers and everyone who depends on a stable climate don’t lose faith in agricultural and forestry climate solutions.

Here are four ways that USDA can move forward on a carbon bank, even in the face of uncertainty, to leverage the power of farms and forests to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Read More »

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3 ways this accounting platform will help California groundwater agencies transition to sustainable supplies

This blog is co-authored by Tara Moran, president and CEO of the California Water Data Consortium.

As California grapples with another drought, farmers and water agencies will again lean on groundwater to offset declines in surface water supplies stemming from paltry snowmelt and corresponding low reservoirs and river flows.

However, there is at least one major difference from the last drought: Since then, more than 250 groundwater agencies have been created and have spent the last several years compiling data on their region’s groundwater supply and demand. To comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) many groundwater agencies are now considering new tools to use this data to support groundwater management decisions.

Today, Environmental Defense Fund, the California Department of Water Resources, the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Water Data Consortium announced a partnership to scale one of these tools: an open-source water accounting platform. Here are three reasons why this announcement is so important. Read More »

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New York and New Jersey face serious flood risks. Here’s how the Army Corps can address them.

The densely populated coastal regions of New York and New Jersey face serious flood threats as climate change, increased storm frequency and rising sea levels exacerbate vulnerability.

Without action, 2.9 million people and $2.1 trillion in assets in New York City and Newark, NJ, alone are at risk of flooding by 2070.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plays a major role in assessing flood risk and identifying solutions to reduce it. However, to date, the Corps’ approach has not matched the scale and scope of flood threats to communities and vital infrastructure.

In light of last year’s Water Resources Development Act, the Corps must include implementation guidance to pursue a holistic approach in their upcoming New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study (NYNJHATS).

Here are four ways the Corps can adequately address the region’s flood risk:

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Top 5 priorities for USDA to support climate-smart farms and forests

“America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

— President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis

President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to seek public input on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s strategy for supporting climate-smart agriculture and forestry.

Here are the top five priorities that USDA should be focused on. Read More »

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3 ways the Growing Climate Solutions Act will help farmers and rural communities thrive

More than forty senators have co-sponsored the reintroduced Growing Climate Solutions Act — the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to help ensure that farmers, ranchers and foresters benefit from being part of the climate solution.

The bill has a real chance of becoming law this year — a sign of hope for collaboration on climate on Capitol Hill. It advanced unanimously out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and has growing bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

Here are three ways this bill advances agricultural climate solutions, with benefits that extend far beyond the farm. Read More »

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As Texas drought worsens, two bills can advance sustainable, equitable groundwater management

Drought conditions are now confronting 75% of Texas, putting more pressure on critical water supplies.

Thirty-two cities or water supply entities in Texas are under voluntary or mandatory water restrictions. Flows in a majority of river basins across South Central Texas have dropped below or far below normal. And the Edwards Aquifer, which stretches across thousands of acres in South Central Texas and serves San Antonio, has dropped nearly 10 feet below average levels for March.

Amid this grim news, state lawmakers have the opportunity to take two important steps toward more sustainable and equitable management of vital water resources.

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Cargill and Soil Health Institute find farmer experience with soil health pays off. Here’s how.

Findings from a recent Soil Health Institute study add to growing evidence that soil health practices can provide financial benefits to farmers.

The Soil Health Institute, with support from Cargill, interviewed 100 farmers across nine states to measure the farm budget impacts of soil health practices.

“I believe this work is a critical area and critical question that we need to better address as we look at scaling up of soil health principles,” said Ryan Sirolli, Global Row Crop Sustainability Director at Cargill, during a webinar hosted by the Soil Health Institute. Read More »

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Largest ecosystem restoration project in U.S. history provides model for climate adaptation

In the wake of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, President Biden’s administration has turned its sights from rescue to resilience in the newly announced American Jobs Plan that would invest $650 billion in rebuilding infrastructure nationwide. 

This proposed legislation is intended not only to mitigate significant and structural economic challenges, but also to repair and strengthen the systems on which we depend. This includes natural infrastructure to make our communities and ecosystems more climate resilient. 

On our coasts, revitalizing our economy must include building long-term resilience to climate change, sea level rise and hurricanes. In Louisiana, we already know exactly the kind of projects that the American Jobs Plan should support.       Read More »

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3 ingredients for success in soil health

This blog was originally posted on Soil Health Partnership’s blog.

Profitable conservation systems don’t look the same on every farm. Growers must implement different strategies to address their specific needs, thanks to a wide range of variables including soil type, moisture availability, equipment and labor. However, just because every farmer takes a slightly different approach to soil health doesn’t mean there aren’t some consistent success factors.

In our recent report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line (developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund and the agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom), we discovered that farmers who felt their soil health practices were making a difference — both in the data and anecdotally — took some similar approaches. These three “ingredients for success” increased their chances for achieving profitable conservation systems. Read More »

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Farmers’ bottom lines at risk as growing conditions change

Iowa currently finds itself in a “Goldilocks climate,” with just the right measure and timing of humidity, rainfall and heat that help make the state a national leader in corn and soybean production. However, new research shows that climate change threatens to upset this balance.

Small shifts in rainfall and temperature can have considerable impacts on crops and farmer livelihoods. To better understand how these shifts could impact farmers, Environmental Defense Fund partnered with K·Coe Isom, an agricultural accounting and business advisory firm, to produce an in-depth report that quantifies the potential localized economic impacts from these shifts that Iowa corn and soy farmers could face as soon as the next 10 to 20 years.

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