Growing Returns

How financial data can bridge the investment gap to scale soil health

This blog post was co-authored by Camille Morse Nicholson of the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative.

The increasing attention being directed at agriculture and the environment by policymakers and the private sector is a welcome shift — one on which the future of our agricultural system depends.

However, there remain a host of uncertainties to be resolved as we shift the system to one that not only produces food, fuel and fiber, but also delivers soil health, biodiversity and climate resilience benefits.

The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC), a coalition of companies and NGOs, is working to break down barriers to scaling climate-smart practices, including closing the information gap on the financial benefits of conservation practices like cover crops and nutrient management, and helping farmers invest in these practices, confidently. 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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How USDA can leverage a carbon bank for farmers, foresters and the climate

As the U.S. works to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030, the agriculture and forestry sectors have important contributions to make to reducing emissions and sequestering carbon, as well as building resilience to climate impacts that are already here.

A carbon bank run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one policy option to help increase and reward agriculture’s climate contributions. Although a carbon bank — broadly defined as a set of policy tools to direct funding to incentivize voluntary climate mitigation — has been the subject of heightened interest for the past several months, the concept remains amorphous because it’s new. USDA, Congress and impacted stakeholders are still figuring it out.

While the need to address climate change is urgent, it’s also essential to get a carbon bank right so that farmers, policymakers, carbon credit buyers and everyone who depends on a stable climate don’t lose faith in agricultural and forestry climate solutions.

Here are four ways that USDA can move forward on a carbon bank, even in the face of uncertainty, to leverage the power of farms and forests to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Read More »

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Top 5 priorities for USDA to support climate-smart farms and forests

“America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

— President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis

President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to seek public input on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s strategy for supporting climate-smart agriculture and forestry.

Here are the top five priorities that USDA should be focused on. Read More »

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Cargill and Soil Health Institute find farmer experience with soil health pays off. Here’s how.

Findings from a recent Soil Health Institute study add to growing evidence that soil health practices can provide financial benefits to farmers.

The Soil Health Institute, with support from Cargill, interviewed 100 farmers across nine states to measure the farm budget impacts of soil health practices.

“I believe this work is a critical area and critical question that we need to better address as we look at scaling up of soil health principles,” said Ryan Sirolli, Global Row Crop Sustainability Director at Cargill, during a webinar hosted by the Soil Health Institute. Read More »

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3 ingredients for success in soil health

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

Profitable conservation systems don’t look the same on every farm. Growers must implement different strategies to address their specific needs, thanks to a wide range of variables including soil type, moisture availability, equipment and labor. However, just because every farmer takes a slightly different approach to soil health doesn’t mean there aren’t some consistent success factors.

In our recent report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line (developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund and the agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom), we discovered that farmers who felt their soil health practices were making a difference — both in the data and anecdotally — took some similar approaches. These three “ingredients for success” increased their chances for achieving profitable conservation systems. Read More »

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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.

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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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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