Growing Returns

Five ways U.S. agriculture can adapt to climate change

Farmers have a long history of steadily increasing crop yields through technological innovation and improvements in management practices. However, as climate change makes weather more extreme and variable than ever before, productivity progress will likely stall by 2030 — even if the U.S. maintains past rates of R&D investment and innovation. Adaptation efforts must begin now to protect food supplies and farmer livelihoods.

Adaptation options can be deployed at various scales to combat the unknown challenges ahead.

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How will climate change affect U.S. crop yields?

As the UN climate conference kicks off in Egypt, food and agriculture are central to negotiations for the first time. More severe droughts, warmer temperatures and heavier rainfall fueled by climate change are making it harder than ever for the world’s one billion farmers to grow food and fiber. While some farms and regions are more vulnerable than others, climate change will affect farmers everywhere.

Here in the U.S., where farmers have a long history of steadily increasing yields, climate change will likely cause crop productivity gains to stall — or even reverse — as soon as 2030.

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World Food Day has come and gone, with food security still out of reach for people and planet

Every October, the global community comes together to celebrate the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as World Food Day. Taking stock, it is plain to see just how far we still have to go to achieve the FAO’s founding mission to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security for the planet.

The obstacles to achieving this goal are many and complex: the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the ongoing challenges of conflict, water shortages, flooding, and rising food costs are just a few. However, they all share one thing in common: they are exacerbated by the existential threat of climate change.

With less than a month to go before the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Egypt, world leaders must consider the importance of addressing food insecurity as a part of solving the climate crisis.

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To address climate change, U.S. makes historic investment in rural America

The U.S. is on the brink of making a historic investment in farmers, ranchers and rural communities, helping them cut emissions, prepare for climate impacts that are already here, and create good jobs along the way. The Inflation Reduction Act — which passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and which President Biden is expected to sign into law in the coming days — will direct about $20 billion toward agricultural conservation programs and nearly $14 billion toward clean energy for rural America.

To stabilize the climate and maintain a safe, vibrant planet, we need to transition to climate-smart agriculture and clean energy. This bill will expedite efforts already underway and jumpstart new ones.  

Here are the most impactful climate investments in rural America.  Read More »

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Scientists agree: Soil health matters but climate mitigation potential still uncertain

To keep global temperature increases below 1.5o Celsius — the threshold for avoiding the worst consequences of climate change — the world needs both rapid reductions of new climate pollution and removal of existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Increasing the amount of carbon stored in cropland soils is one pathway for carbon dioxide removal, and it has gained traction over the past several years in voluntary agricultural carbon markets and U.S. climate policy discussions. The idea is that farming practices, such as using cover crops, will add carbon to agricultural soils, and thus help slow climate change.

Scientists agree that agricultural soils can be part of the climate solution, but their estimates about when and how much carbon agricultural soils can store — and thus the magnitude of climate mitigation that soils could deliver — vary widely. Read More »

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Taking a big leap to solve California water problems: How uncommon partners are finding common ground on the water

This blog is co-authored by Joshua Viers, Professor and Program Director, Secure Water Future, University of California, Merced

There we were, 19 of us on the stony shore of the Tuolumne River, feeling a bit stranded like the crew of Gilligan’s Island.

Our “Finding Common Water” rafting excursion was planned around “no water Wednesday,” when river releases are held back for water conservation and infrastructure maintenance. The trip’s goal: Get off our desk chairs and onto rafts, out of the ordinary and into an extraordinary setting — a hot, highly regulated, wild and scenic river —  to push us out of our comfort zone and get to work on addressing real water problems.

Working with All-Outdoors whitewater expeditions, EDF and UC Merced teamed up to create the trip. Our premise was that paddling a raft together — and yanking each other back into the boats by our life vests — can build camaraderie and help find areas of agreement in ways that Zoom meetings just can’t.

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A conservation win and groundwater loss: Arizona ends 2022 session with mixed water record

The Verde River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest, remains unprotected after another year of in action to address rural groundwater pumping in Arizona.

After months of negotiations, the Arizona Legislature passed a major water spending plan last month with funding for new conservation efforts to address deteriorating water supplies. However, for the fourth year in a row, state leaders failed to pass legislation to address unlimited groundwater pumping, missing an opportunity to enable a water secure future for 1.5 million rural residents and the state as a whole.

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New research shows how to improve the voluntary carbon market to accelerate investment in nature

The explosion of net-zero emissions commitments over the past few years from major companies and municipalities shows that institutions are ready to tackle climate change. While reducing industrial emissions of greenhouse gases is a clear and primary priority, achieving global net zero will hinge on investing in nature.

Natural climate solutions (NCS) have the potential to deliver at least 20% of the emissions reductions we need to reach net zero by the end of this decade. Plus, they can deliver other benefits like clean air and water, increased biodiversity, economic opportunities for local communities and enhanced protection against storms and flooding.

Despite their value, natural climate solutions receive less than 3% of public finance, and shortcomings in the voluntary carbon market have limited private investment.

New research in Science Magazine explores three pathways for improving the carbon market to help unlock private investment and nature’s ability to help us.

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Small North Carolina farms find profitability in climate resilience

Farms across North Carolina are experiencing more variable and extreme weather associated with climate change, including hotter nights and more frequent and severe rainfall. Small farms are adapting to these changes by adopting climate-resilient practices that help buffer weather extremes and improve soil health.

Measuring and communicating the financial costs and benefits of these practices is important to help more farmers adopt them profitably and find financial support for the transition. Cooperative extension agents — small farms’ closest technical advisers — will increasingly need to inform farmers about climate-resilient practices and their financial impacts.

Environmental Defense Fund and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Cooperative Extension collaborated with three small North Carolina farms to measure the financial impacts of adopting reduced tillage, high tunnels and cover crops. The results are summarized in a new report and set of case studies. Read More »

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How credit and climate change collide for Black farmers in Georgia

Earlier this week, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund hosted a listening session for its Black farmer-members in Georgia in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund. The federation is a nonprofit cooperative association of Black farmers, landowners and cooperatives based primarily in the Southern states. In the listening session, 15 farmers discussed their ongoing concerns about access to credit and climate change impacts, as well as how coalition building and advocacy can support them in continuing to farm. Read More »

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