Growing Returns

Report provides guidance on repurposing California farmland to benefit water, landowners, communities and wildlife

Over the coming decades, California’s San Joaquin Valley will transition to sustainable groundwater management under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), ensuring reliable groundwater supplies for generations to come. Sustainable groundwater management and a changing climate will inevitably affect how land is used on a sweeping scale.

By some estimates, the amount of farmland that will have to be taken out of production to balance groundwater demand and supply is equivalent to the size of Yosemite National Park — a transition that could serve a huge blow to the agricultural economy, rural communities and the environment.  At the same time, farmers are also facing steep declines in surface water supplies from rivers and melted snowpack, largely driven by climate change, as they learned just this week.

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Is California making progress on the Human Right to Water? Some answers on World Water Day.

World Water Day is a time to come together as a global community to reflect on the importance of water and its value to people and ecosystems — to celebrate collective victories advancing water stewardship and to draw attention to the change still needed.

Nearly 1 million people lack access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water in my home state of California — and more than 2 billion worldwide. Each number represents a person: a mother, a father, a child, a loved one. These numbers must change. Read More »

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Experience plays a role in cover crop profitability

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

When it comes to cover crops, patience combined with realistic expectations is often the name of the game. Unlike the immediate cost savings that often come with conservation tillage, cover crops have annual costs as well as efficiencies and soil health benefits that can take time to achieve.

These are some of the reasons why in our report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line, we found experienced cover crop users were more profitable when compared to new adopters. Read More »

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4 lessons learned from nitrogen balance pilot projects

Environmental Defense Fund led several pilot projects in the 2019-2020 growing season to better understand how different farm management practices impact nitrogen balance, or N balance, a robust and practical proxy to measure agriculture’s climate and water quality impacts.

EDF scientists assessed real-world, in-field data for 16 management practices and N balance scores from more than 500,000 acres of corn across nine Midwestern states. Here are four actionable insights. Read More »

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Understanding the impact of conservation tillage on operating expenses

This blog was originally published by Dr. Maria Bowman on Soil Health Partnership’s blog.

When farmers consider implementing a soil health or conservation practice on their farm, one question they inevitably ask is: what will the financial impacts be?

In an effort to answer this question, we recently released Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line — a report developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund and the agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom — to better understand the benefits, opportunities and limiting factors associated with common conservation practices. Read More »

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Study shows healthy soils protect corn yields and lower crop insurance payouts

Managing risks presented by extreme weather conditions such as heat and drought is a top priority of farmers and policymakers, as researchers predict that higher temperatures and reduced precipitation could reduce yields by up to 30% over the next 50 years.

Farmers are already experiencing these impacts and becoming increasingly dependent on the Federal Crop Insurance Program to manage the resulting yield risks. As of this February, 2020 crop insurance indemnities totaled $7.7 billion, with just over 60% of the average crop insurance premiums covered by the taxpayer. Read More »

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3 lessons from a Texas groundwater district on managing during drought

The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District in central Texas urges residents to “please protect your aquifer by limiting water use.” The district manages groundwater in Hays County, Texas, one of the top five fastest-growing counties in the U.S.

Due to drought, the district has imposed a 20% curtailment on groundwater pumping districtwide and a 30% curtailment in a 39 square-mile region within the district that includes the iconic Jacob’s Well spring, the second-largest underwater cave in Texas and a popular tourist destination. Read More »

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3 actions Congress can take now to build more resilient coasts

Earlier this year, NOAA released findings indicating that the rate of sea level rise has doubled over the last century and, even if global emissions reduction targets are met, sea level could increase 12 inches by 2100.

Coastal states are already feeling the effects of sea level rise with high-tide flooding increasing from 300% to 900% in some places compared to 50 years ago. Hurricanes are also getting stronger and dumping more rain, and last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the most active ever. Read More »

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Report shows how nuts and managed vegetation are a winning combination for California growers

California is an agricultural powerhouse, producing billions of pounds of nuts in 2020 and tree nut acreage continuing to increase year after year.

The bountiful Central Valley provides fruit and nuts to the majority of the U.S., but these orchards offer additional potential that growers have yet to reap.

A new report, Managing Vegetation for Agronomic and Ecological Benefits in California Nut Orchards [PDF], details opportunities for growers to build a more resilient agricultural system in California — with both sustainability and profitability in mind. 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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