Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): agriculture

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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Farmers see value in agriculture loans that reward stewardship

In January 2022, global farmer-to-farmer network and ag tech company Farmers Business Network®, launched a new rebate program for farm operating loans. The Regenerative Agriculture Finance Operating Line program includes a 0.5% interest rate rebate for farmers who achieve climate and water quality benchmarks established by Environmental Defense Fund. Both farmers who already meet the benchmarks, as well as farmers who improve practices to do so, are eligible.

The $25-million pilot fund filled up quickly, with 48 farmers enrolled and a growing waitlist to participate in an expanded fund. With the initial pilot underway, FBN plans to scale the fund to $500 million over the next three years and access public markets to securitize and sell these loans to investors seeking liquid, environmentally friendly investments.

Over the first year of the program, we are sharing what we are learning with others in the agriculture sector. EDF had the chance to sit down with two participating farmers about their experiences — Joel Uthe, operator of Uthe Farm in Chariton, Iowa, and David Iverson, operator of Iverson Farm in Astoria, South Dakota. 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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This Leadership Institute graduate sees a path to water security through an often overlooked strategy: innovation.

Joseph Gallegos’ interest in water and climate change began as a hobby after he retired as a telecom executive during the 2015 drought. Tired of watching his lawn go brown, Joseph decided to build a system to take water use by his washing machine and deliver it to his lawn, since no such product existed at the time.

His solution took off and is now available at Lowe’s under the brand Grey4Green, a company Joseph founded that aims to promote water and climate resilience through innovation and community outreach. In 2019, Joseph started working on another system to substantially reduce water use on farms, which is called the aquifer pipe.

I first learned about Joseph’s innovative and entrepreneurial drive when planning for the next cohort of the Leadership Institute, a program he participated in last year facilitated by the Environmental Defense Fund and Rural Community Assistance Corporation. The institute builds capacity and leadership skills so members of disadvantaged and underrepresented communities can more effectively engage in water decision-making and help develop equitable, long-lasting water solutions.

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Crop-switching in the megadrought: Can guayule help Arizona farmers use less water?

This year, farmers in Pinal County, Arizona, will lose two-thirds of their irrigation water from the Colorado River because of a historic shortage declaration triggered by the driest period in more than 1,000 years. And within two years, they will be completely cut off from the Colorado River.

Some farmers are responding by fallowing fields. Others are selling their land to solar companies. And then there’s Will Thelander, a farmer who partnered with EDF, Bridgestone Americas and the University of Arizona to test a new crop that uses half as much water as the alfalfa he previously grew.

Crop-switching to a desert shrub called guayule used to produce rubber is one of just many strategies that will be needed in Arizona and other regions to adapt to water scarcity and maintain agricultural economies in a new era of aridification. However, it’s not nearly as simple as just planting different seeds in the ground.

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California’s new farmland repurposing program requires community engagement. This guide describes how.

Many regions in California are embarking on a new era of water and land management strategies as local agencies implement sustainability initiatives and climate change intensifies droughts and water scarcity.

However, too often low-income rural communities have had little opportunity to influence land and water decisions that directly impact — and often harm — them, resulting in such outcomes as wells drying up and limited access to parks.

California’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program aims to ensure these communities as well as small-scale farmers are more involved in land and water use planning by making their engagement a requirement for funding recipients.

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