Growing Returns

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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A breakthrough to measure agriculture’s environmental impact

Nitrogen (N) is essential for high crop yields to feed a growing population, but excess nitrogen contributes to climate change as nitrous oxide and to water pollution as nitrate.

Historically, measuring nitrogen losses has been expensive and time consuming. Environmental Defense Fund’s N-Visible framework remedies that.

N-Visible provides an easy-to-use, scientifically robust way for farmers and their advisers to assess nitrogen losses from individual fields. It also allows food companies and policymakers who promote on-farm sustainability to measure progress toward improved environmental outcomes at regional scales.

An open-source implementation guide is now available for download. Here’s what it contains and how to use it. Read More »

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Small grains have big outcomes for climate resilience

Small grain crops, like oats and wheat, are making a comeback in the Midwest, disrupting the traditional corn-soy rotation and delivering big benefits for farmers and the environment. And they’re about to get another big boost.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded a $1.1 million Conservation Innovation Grant to Practical Farmers of Iowa to advance the use of small grains crops and test market-based solutions for lowering emissions linked to nitrogen from manure and fertilizer. Read More »

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Nature-based climate solutions find traction on Capitol Hill. 5 things you need to know.

Forests are the nation’s largest terrestrial carbon sink, offsetting approximately 15% of carbon dioxide emitted in the U.S. each year. Grasslands, wetlands and coastal habitats also store significant amounts of carbon in soils, sediment and vegetation.  

Optimizing that carbon storage will be critical to meeting climate goals, and, with the right financial incentives, can create a new source of rural income.   Read More »

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Farmers and environmentalists team up to push Congress to act on climate

Agricultural and environmental advocates have joined forces to push Congress to act on climate change. The new Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance developed more than 40 joint policy recommendations for making farms, ranches and forests more climate resilient, harnessing the power of natural climate solutions.

Environmental Defense Fund, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and National Farmers Union co-chair the alliance, and membership has expanded to include FMI-The Food Industry Association, National Alliance of Forest Owners, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and The Nature Conservancy. Read More »

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Why does the West keep burning? Here are 3 key factors.

“Climate change sucks.” This was the text I sent to a friend last Monday as we griped about the many fires burning throughout the West — from Oregon and Washington to Idaho and my home state of California. The fires have filled the air with visible smoke and invisible fine particulate matter making it unsafe to spend any significant time outside.

My quick text exchange was not the right forum for a detailed articulation of the many causes of this year’s heavy fire season. Neither is the politicized verbal tennis match that has taken off on Twitter and in the news.

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Farmer grit created unexpected bright spots in a difficult year

It is a wild understatement to say it has been a hard year in agriculture. It has been a year of loss, heartbreak and stress. As a frontpage Washington Post article captured, “Farm bankruptcies and loan delinquencies are rising, calamitous weather events are ruining crops and profits are vanishing during Trump’s global trade disputes.”

I had to dig deep, but I was determined to find some silver linings.

As I sat with my pen, paper and thoughts, I found I had more and more to write. I was reminded that farmers have amazing grit and determination, which is why, despite the incredible challenges ahead, I remain firmly optimistic that we will find the ways to feed the world while sustaining the natural resources on which we all depend. Read More »

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2019 made climate impacts visible. Here are 4 stories of resilience that give me hope for 2020.

This year has been one of the toughest yet for communities across the country feeling the impacts of climate change.

Farmers took big hits from unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, coastal communities were pummeled with record-breaking rainfall and storms, and more than 250,000 acres in my home state of California burned from wildfires that took precious lives and left millions of people without power for days on end. As we enter a new decade, these four stories of resilience provide hope that we will take bold climate action in 2020. Click To Tweet

It’s easy to feel hopeless hearing one climate disaster story after another. But if you look around, there are also stories of resilience that can provide hope for the future. Here are four that inspire me. 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.

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Four ways North Carolina can build resilience year round

Earlier this week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a proclamation recognizing the imperative to think anew about how the state lives with climate change. The governor emphasized the importance of building resilience as North Carolina communities continue to recover from an onslaught of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Flooding has been the biggest problem this year, from headline-grabbing events like Hurricane Dorian, to intense, fast-forming thunderstorms like those we experienced in June, when 3 inches of rain fell per hour. In fact, June was the eighth wettest month on record since 1895.

September, however, was among the driest months in a decade, contributing to what experts call a “flash drought.” For farmers, flash droughts are problematic because they can cause crop loss, especially when crops have shallow roots after being planted during a wet month. While farmers were able to harvest some crops this fall, other harvests are at risk from the dry weather.

This pattern of extreme rain combined with flash drought is straining already beleaguered farmers and residents. Read More »

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