Growing Returns

What does the executive order on climate-related risk mean for agricultural finance?

The recent federal executive order on climate-related financial risk institutes a whole-of-government approach to assessing and mitigating climate-related financial risk, with the goal of bolstering the resilience of financial institutions and the communities they serve.

As a sector dependent on natural resources and predictable weather conditions, agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Maintaining U.S. agriculture’s position as a global leader long into the future will require the sector to address climate risk head-on, and soon, with innovative financial solutions that move beyond managing risk and move toward financing resilience.

Here are some of the implications of the executive order for agricultural finance institutions, and opportunities for these institutions for support a more resilient and prosperous food system. Read More »

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Farm Credit CEOs discuss emerging opportunities to finance resilient agriculture

Climate change is already impacting farmers, both through extreme weather events and more variability in temperature, rainfall and pests. At the same time, farmers and the broader agricultural system can provide climate solutions and build resilience to reduce climate-related risk.

This dual opportunity has implications for the entire agricultural system, including the agricultural lenders who finance farms. Read More »

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3 takeaways from my testimony to Congress on climate-related financial risks to U.S. agriculture

Highlight: EDF’s Maggie Monast testified at a hearing of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, “Creating a Climate Resilient America: Strengthening the U.S. Financial System and Expanding Economic Opportunity.” Watch here.

It’s becoming impossible to ignore the risks that climate change poses to financial markets, including those that support U.S. agriculture.

Increased temperatures and more frequent droughts and extreme precipitation events threaten crop productivity across the nation. In 2020 alone, we have seen ample evidence of these impacts, including destructive storms in the Midwest, hurricanes along our coasts, and wildfires and smoke in the West.

These physical risks of climate change create risks to the U.S. financial system, which was the topic of last week’s hearing held by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, entitled “Creating a Climate Resilient America: Strengthening the U.S. Financial System and Expanding Economic Opportunity.”

I testified to the committee on climate risks to the agriculture finance system — and opportunities to build resilience. Read More »

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Financial leaders release climate risk report calling for agricultural resilience

A report released today by a subcommittee of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, examines the threat that increasingly extreme and volatile weather poses to the stability of financial markets, including U.S. agricultural markets. Representatives from EDF served on the 35-member panel.

The report found climate risks pose a wide range of threats to U.S. agriculture — including heat stress on farmworkers, livestock and crops, soil and water quality degradation, more frequent supply chain disruptions and productivity declines. Read More »

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3 steps for agricultural lenders to mitigate climate risk and finance resilience

Farmers in the U.S. are facing severe challenges including poor economic conditions, extreme weather and disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. These risks also impact farmers’ financial partners, including agricultural lenders.

While some of these risks are difficult to anticipate and plan for, there are growing opportunities and resources available for farmers and their lenders to better understand their vulnerabilities related to climate change — and take steps to build resilience.

A new report, Financing Resilient Agriculture: How Agricultural Lenders Can Reduce Climate Risk and Help Farmers Build Resilience, finds that lenders can reduce risk by supporting farmer investments in conservation practices like no-till and cover crops that are known to build climate resilience.

This report provides a path forward for lenders to support a more productive, profitable and resilient agricultural system.

Read More »

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3 ways agricultural lenders can help farmers reap millions in savings from conservation

The U.S. farm economy is in its worst condition in decades due to several years of low crop prices, ongoing trade disputes, natural disasters and other variable weather. But many farmers are adapting and innovating – implementing conservation practices that build soil health and resilience, such as nutrient optimization, cover crops and no-till.

Still, there is a growing need for farmers to understand the full financial benefits of these practices and prove their value to ag lenders and other financial partners.

Read More »

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A new guide for farmers to boost profits through conservation

As the struggling U.S. farm economy continues to make the news, agricultural organizations, government agencies and conservation groups are rightly focusing their attention on the affordability of conservation adoption.

A 2018 report from EDF and agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom, Farm Finance and Conservation, found that farmers who adopt conservation practices such as no-till, nutrient optimization, cover crops and diverse rotations improved their profitability and were more resilient.

Despite these benefits, the costs of transitioning to conservation management practices can be a barrier to adoption. In addition, any change carries some risk, and farmers are likely to be reluctant to take on additional risk in the current economic climate.

For these reasons, it is more important than ever to provide farmers with practical guidance on how to minimize the costs and risks of conservation adoption. Fortunately, a new technical bulletin from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture does just that.

Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops [PDF] describes seven different management scenarios in which farmers can speed their transition to cover crops and achieve profitability more quickly — in some cases within the first year of adoption. Read More »

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How conservation can enhance a farm’s financial health — even in challenging times

With the U.S.-China trade war and flooding in the Midwest continuing to make headlines, national attention is focused on the increasing economic challenges facing farmers and their families.

After years of weak commodity prices, these financial stresses are adding up. In the Corn Belt, farm bankruptcies are at the highest level in over a decade.

Given this challenging economic outlook, some might assume that farmers will abandon conservation efforts and focus exclusively on their finances. However, many of the financial best practices cited by farmers and encouraged by farm financial advisers are the very same principles that can help farmers continue to improve environmental outcomes. Here are four examples. Read More »

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What food companies can learn from Smithfield Foods exceeding its grain sustainability goal

“Can you help us achieve this?”

That was the question that Smithfield Foods’ chief sustainability officer asked Environmental Defense Fund more than five years ago, after Walmart challenged the world’s largest hog producer and pork processor to improve sustainability in its feed grain supply.

At the time, very few food companies considered grain sustainability to be their responsibility, and even fewer were taking steps to improve that segment of their supply chain. But Smithfield responded to Walmart’s challenge.

In 2013, the company committed to work with grain farmers in its supply chain to adopt farming practices that would optimize fertilizer and build soil health on 75 percent of the area from which Smithfield directly sources grain — about 450,000 acres. EDF partnered with Smithfield to figure out how to reach this goal.

Smithfield announced today that it exceeded that goal, improving practices on 560,000 acres in 2018. Read More »

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How farmers’ business partners benefit from conservation

Most efforts to advance agricultural conservation focus on the farmer – with good reason, since conservation practice adoption is the direct result of farmers’ decisions, time and resources. They also focus, of course, on the environment, as the need to improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture grows.

But conservation efforts must also recognize the relationships between farmers and their business partners. Agricultural lenders, crop insurers and landowners are critical to achieving widespread conservation adoption, and it’s in their financial interest to do so. Here’s why. Read More »

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