Growing Returns

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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5 challenges to sustainable groundwater management in Texas and how to tackle them

In 50 years, Texas’ population is expected to grow by 70%. That’s 20 million more Texans who will need water in a state that has repeatedly faced drought-induced water shortages and will likely suffer more intense droughts in the future.

As the population grows, groundwater will continue to play a critical role in supporting Texas’ ecology and economy. Today groundwater provides approximately 60% of the 16.1 million acre-feet of water used in the state annually and an estimated 30% of the flows in rivers, streams and springs across the state. Read More »

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Biden’s USDA will need to hit the ground running. Here are 3 top priorities.

No one is more accustomed to walking a tightrope of variable weather and economic fluctuations than the American farmer. However, 2020 has been especially harsh on the farm economy.

From floods and fires to trade wars and a global pandemic, the incoming administration will need to provide a swift lifeline to farmers, ranchers and forestland managers, and to Americans who depend on vital food and nutrition programs. In addition to addressing these immediate challenges, there is also an urgent need to invest in longer-term solutions that build resilience to future risks. 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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Measuring irrigated water use has been a challenge for decades. This new tool will change that.

Over my nearly 30 years of working on water issues in the West, I have repeatedly thought there has got to be a better way to measure how much water is used to grow the food we eat. This data is surprisingly complex, and up until now, it has been expensive to calculate.

That’s why it’s difficult to contain my excitement as this “better way” comes to fruition in the form of a new web platform called OpenET that EDF is developing with NASA, Google, the Desert Research Institute, the U.S. Geological Survey and dozens of other partners.

Using publicly available data and satellite imagery, OpenET will for the first time make data on how much water crops use widely accessible at no to low cost to farmers and water managers large and small in 17 western states. OpenET will go live next year. Read More »

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Corn farmers endorsed climate policies. Here’s what you need to know.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), which represents the interests of 300,000 U.S. corn farmers, recently approved more than a dozen climate policies as part of the policy positions its members vote on twice a year. In doing so, NCGA affirmed that climate change is real, and farmers are part of the solution. Read More »

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Change in weather shifts Iowa farmer’s approach, saving money and time

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. It originally posted on the Iowa Soybean Association Newsroom

Wayne Fredericks and his wife Ruth began farming in northern Iowa in the early 1970s. For the first 19 years of their farming careers, their farm was managed conventionally: corn stalks were plowed and soybean stubble was tilled before planting.

wayne

Iowa farmer Wayne Fredericks says his integrated cropping system saves time and money and protects natural resources. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

It was a change in the weather that altered their conventional farming practices — for the better. Read More »

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3 strategies to create a resilient water supply for Texas

The world is a different place now than it was when I grew up in Houston in the 1980s. I have vivid memories of steamy summer thunderstorms consistently interrupting my afternoons at the neighborhood pool. My sister and I would head home and swap our swimsuits for raincoats, then stomp around muddy ditches and dig up crawdads while thick warm raindrops drenched our faces.

My sons will have very different memories growing up in Texas. Their memories will be marked by extremes — football games either played in dust bowls or canceled because the field had become a lake.

As my children grow up in this era defined by persistent drought, periodic floods, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m concerned about their future as nature will continue to test the state’s best-laid plans.

Read More »

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Why recordkeeping is “one of the most essential pieces of farming today”

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. It originally posted on the Iowa Soybean Association Newsroom.

Devoting adequate time and attention to maintaining records that blend agronomic and financial data is key to farm business success, especially in tight or low margin environments.

“I think recordkeeping is one of those overlooked parts of farm businesses,” says Dave Walton, an Iowa farmer and Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) District 6 director. “It takes a little extra time to do it, but you learn so much more by taking that extra time. It helps you make really, really comfortable, solid decisions.” Read More »

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Cover crops reduce cropping input costs, with other benefits farmers “can’t put a price on”

This blog is authored by Bethany Baratta, senior writer at Iowa Soybean Association. It originally posted on the Iowa Soybean Association Newsroom.

Cover crops have proven benefits for soil health. A recent Iowa Soybean Association study shows that cover crops can also reduce the input costs associated with growing crops.

“Cover crops are an added cost to the operation. However, this study shows a subset of participants in a corn-soybean rotation are able to offset those costs by finding a yield advantage, reducing inputs or both to improve overall profitability,” said Heath Ellison, ISA senior conservation agronomist who led the study in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund and Iowa-based Regional Strategic, Ltd. Read More »

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