December 2018


EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest edition of NACSAA News, a monthly compilation of CSA-related news. “NACSAA in Action” features the latest on the Alliance activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past month; “Other News We Are Reading” is a listing of news stories from other sources we think you will find of interest; and “Partner News and Events.” We hope this newsletter will serve to keep you, your members and other constituencies fully engaged in the growing development of climate-smart agriculture policy, programs and practices. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. To subscribe, email

NACSAA in Action

NACSAA Leaders, Member Organizations

Push Climate Smart Ag in Katowice


North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) Chairman Fred Yoder and representatives of a number of alliance member organizations are at global climate talks in Katowice, Poland this week and next, advocating for climate solutions readily available from wide agricultural landscapes.


The Canadian Federation of Ag, Fertilizer Canada, C2ES, Environmental Defense Fund, Cornell University, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development are among NACSAA member organizations represented at the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), promoting climate smart agriculture policies and programs. NACSAA members are in Katowice to contribute the perspectives of North America’s farmers and value chain partners.


COP24 delegates took up agriculture challenges and needs during an opening session on the Koronivia Joint Work Program on Agriculture, a plan adopted at COP23 last year to develop and implement new strategies for adaptation and mitigation within the agriculture sector that will both help reduce emissions from the sector and build its resilience to the effects of climate change.


The all-day workshop, which drew together the eleven UN subsidiary bodies that touch on agriculture, heard member reports on is being done to address adaptation challenges and mitigation opportunities. Participants heard of what the UN constituted bodies are doing now and comparing those actions to agriculture’s priorities.


Yoder told the delegates that climate change is negatively impacting agriculture across the globe and requires a systems solution. He called on leaders to focus not just on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but on all three pillars of Climate Smart Agriculture, which also include sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, and adapting and building resilience to climate change.


The workshop will serve as a mapping exercise to help the negotiators obtain a more complete understanding of who is doing what and what the current state of knowledge is for the global agriculture sector.


Today, the subsidiary bodies will be turning their attention to “modalities for implementation,” a phrase used in diplomatic circles to describe the ground rules for how the work plan will be constructed and who gets to participate in its development.


In his remarks Monday, Yoder, an Ohio corn, soybean and wheat producer, said farmers must be kept at the center of all discussions and decision making in the development of agricultural policy addressing climate change. He called on parties to work with and through NACSAA and the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA).


Solutions from the Land (SfL) President Ernie Shea is also on hand this week, while NACSAA steering committee member A.G. Kawamura will represent the two organizations in Katowice next week.


SfL, which promotes management practices for working lands to help meet the challenges of climate change, launched the NACSAA initiative in 2015 as a platform for engagement, dialogue, knowledge sharing and application of climate science to the agriculture and forestry sectors.


In a statement issued prior to the opening of the conference, Yoder said the UNFCCC’s decision last spring to consider the impacts to – and opportunities for – agriculture in dealing with global climate change “truly acknowledged the critically important role agricultural landscapes can play in sustaining productivity, enhancing climate resilience, and contributing to the local and global goals for sustainability.”


NACSAA recommendations that were largely incorporated into the climate strategy framework approved by negotiators in May focused on soil health, livestock production systems, crop and nutrient management, agroforesty, water resource management and integrated solutions, including bioenergy.


“We are in Katowice in support of our second round of submissions, which focus on how the work plan will be constructed and who gets to participate in its development,” Yoder said. “We aim to insure an agricultural approach to climate change plays a significant role in the UNFCCC’s development of global strategies that deal with the growing threats posed by rising emissions and the volatile weather conditions they generate.


The recommendations also call for accredited observer organizations to be allowed to participate in the workshops and other contribution platforms, so their real-world expertise and experiences can help inform decision making in the development and finalization of the Koronivia program.


That includes input from recognized technical agricultural experts drawn from farmer organizations, academia, industry, and international and regional organizations across the globe.


During the second week, Kawamura will be speaking at two events – one sponsored by the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) and the other by the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA) – that will detail the needs and contributions of farmers in adapting productive systems and mitigating the effects of climate change.


“The world is waking up to the role agricultural landscapes can play in addressing climate challenges,” Shea said. “That is why NACSAA and SfL are investing so much work in this area. We can’t afford for those who are writing the global agricultural work program not to get it right.”


White Paper Offers Four Market, Policy Opportunities

to Increase Ag Resilience


Increasing investment in agricultural research is one of four resilience-boosting steps that must be taken to deal with extreme weather impacts and other factors affecting farmer operations and communities, says a white paper issued jointly by three North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) member organizations.


Ag research investment among steps critical to crop resilience.

The paper is a summary of a multi-stakeholder dialogue jointly staged in July by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Farm Journal Foundation (FJF) and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) to address opportunities to advance agricultural resilience.


Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack provided the keynote address for the event, followed by a panel featuring, Fred Yoder, a fourth-generation Ohio farmer and NACSAA Chair; Chris Novak, former NCGA CEO; Josette Lewis, associate vice president of sustainable agriculture at EDF; and Lynn Tjeerdsma, senior policy adviser to Sen. John Thune (R-ND). Stephanie Mercier, a senior fellow at FJF and one of three authors of the summary white paper, moderated the panel.


Described as far-ranging, the July conversation was anchored around four questions:

  • How can the private sector help farms become more resilient in the face of extreme weather?
  • How can public policy at the federal and state levels improve agricultural resilience and encourage innovation?
  • What role should the federal crop insurance program and other public-private partnerships play?
  • Are there specific innovations or partnerships that could expedite resiliency?


The white paper, which was also co-authored by Suzy Friedman, senior director for agricultural sustainability at EDF, and Colleen Willard, NCGA policy director, reflects discussion from speakers and other participants at the July event about pressures caused by extreme weather, volatile marketplaces and growing global population. An outcome of the session was consensus on four resilience-boosting steps that are imperative for the public and private sectors:


  • Align state and federal policies. There is a great need, stakeholders agreed for improved coherence across state and federal policies, as well as a need to create better opportunities to share innovative technology, best practices and success stories across geographies in order to scale and replicate solutions.
  • Increase investment in agricultural research. The U.S. needs better-coordinated public policies to overcome the lack of public understanding about the realities of agriculture. Most consumers have very distant connections to how food is produced, from what it takes to grow the crops to how they are transported, processed, packaged and delivered. A coordinated policy effort could help bridge this gap.
  • Strengthen market certainty and opportunity. Policies and programs from the public and private sector can determine market access for the agriculture sector – a make or break factor for farmers and farm businesses. Trade and ecosystem marketplaces are also two key areas that affect agricultural resilience.
  • Refine crop insurance. Crop insurance is an essential safety net to reduce a farmer’s risk of financial loss resulting from weather events like hail storms, droughts and floods. Dialogue participants also agreed that crop insurance can also be the linchpin for advancing resiliency on farms.

Renewed Commitments in Manitoba, Ontario

Meet Shared Ag Sustainability Goals


Fertilizer Canada has renewed a number of partnerships to continue the promotion of 4R Nutrient Stewardship as the leading approach to sustainable nutrient beneficial management practices (BMPs) in the country.


According to an announcement from Fertilizer Canada Nov. 26, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOC) was reached with the government of Manitoba and Keystone Agricultural Producers that links Manitoba’s objectives for environmental performance with the programming developed by Canada’s fertilizer industry and ensures continued commitment to agricultural sustainability in Manitoba, officials said.


Earlier last month, the fertilizer trade group renewed another partnership agreement, joining again with Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), the Ontario Agri Business Association (OABA), the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO). The pact aims to ensure the continued advancement of sustainable agriculture in Ontario.


4R Nutrient Stewardship is an internationally-recognized best management practice (BMP) system with four key pillars for fertilizer application: Right Source @ Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place®. The science-based approach helps growers understand how efficient fertilizer application improves profitability while reducing nutrient losses to the environment.


The 4R framework recognizes that BMPs must be customized to fit each farm’s unique combination of climatic, soil, landscape, cropping and operational conditions. The principle of customized implementation is applied with input from Certified Crop Advisers, professional agrologists and government extension specialists who work with farmers, as needed, to assess their situations and develop management plans.


The MOUs represent “a significant contribution toward sustainable farming in Canada” and represent “a big step forward in our goal to capture 20 million acres under the 4Rs by 2020,” said Garth Whyte, president and CEO of Fertilizer Canada.


“Farmers in Manitoba are utilizing 4R Nutrient Stewardship through Fertilizer Canada’s 4R Designation program to improve agricultural productivity and minimize impact on the environment,” said Manitoba Minister of Agriculture Ralph Eichler. “The agriculture sector is proud to reconfirm our commitment to sustainable farming over the next three years through this partnership.”


4R Designation is a national program that allows Manitoba agri-retailers to formalize their commitment to 4R Nutrient Stewardship as a way to promote their expertise to their grower customers. Additionally, research in Manitoba concluded that applying enhanced efficiency fertilizers (Right Source) in a mid-row band (Right Place) can help growers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 55 per cent, contributing to national and provincial objectives. In addition to reducing GHG emissions, broad- scale implementation of 4R Nutrient Stewardship can improve soil health and water quality through the application of regionally-specific BMPs; helping to reduce nutrient loading to waterways across Manitoba, including Lake Winnipeg.


“Farmers want to protect the environment and protect the bottom line of their operations, and this nutrient management program can help them do both,” said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers “Application using the 4Rs maximizes fertilizer performance and minimizes its effect on the environment.”


In Ontario, a combined investment of $382,500 over three years will enable the MOC there to provide solutions for growers facing rising pressures of reducing environmental impacts while maximizing yields and economic benefit.


“We are working closely with the agriculture sector on nutrient management and I appreciate industry’s continued leadership in this area,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “This expanded agreement will see us work with key partners to further build the use of best practices in Ontario’s already strong and responsible farming sector.”


“This MOC allows for the continued advancement of the 4R Certification program in Ontario, which allows agri-retailers to align their business practices with the sustainability principles of 4R Nutrient Stewardship as verified by a third-party audit of 37 standards,” said Dave Buttenham, CEO of OABA. “4R Certification ensures agri-retailers can confidently offer their grower customers the best in nutrient management advice.”


“Agri-retailers are a grower’s best resource for nutrient management advice, and growers are looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of their farms” said Clarence Nywening, president of CFFO. “Aligning their business practices with 4R Nutrient Stewardship through 4R Certification is a good way for growers to recognize those solutions.”


Recent research by the Canadian 4R Research Network found that Ontario corn producers can reduce phosphorus losses to water by up to 60 per cent by sub-surface banding fertilizer instead of broadcasting.


Fertilizer Canada represents manufacturers, wholesale and retail distributors of nitrogen, phosphate, potash and sulphur fertilizers.


( NACSAA members are invited to submit news items, press releases and other information they may want to share with Alliance members. Send your news to )



Featured News


Latest National Climate Assessment

Says Inaction Poses Grim Outlook


The latest report on climate change issued by a collaboration of 13 federal departments and agencies – including the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, as well as EPA – forecasts extremely hard times for the U.S. agriculture and forest sectors if no action is taken immediately to stem the challenges that come with volatile weather and related conditions.


The Trump administration released the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, Volume II, which focuses on impacts, risks and adaptation in the United States. The latest report represents the work of more than 300 government scientists and was produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program under the guidance of a 60-member federal advisory committee. The first volume of the quadrennially produced assessment was released last year.


“Climate change presents numerous challenges to sustaining and enhancing crop productivity, livestock health, and the economic vitality of rural communities,” says the latest report, released the day after Thanksgiving. “While some regions (such as the Northern Great Plains) may see conditions conducive to expanded or alternative crop productivity over the next few decades, overall, yields from major U.S. crops are expected to decline as a consequence of increases in temperatures and possibly changes in water availability, soil erosion, and disease and pest outbreaks.”


The assessment says increases in temperatures during the growing season in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture, while a rise in extreme heat conditions are projected to result in growing heat stress for livestock, resulting in “large economic losses for producers.”


In an interview with The Washington Post last week, President Trump, who has long dismissed warnings about climate change – last August, he dismissed a climate change advisory committee charged with guiding policy makers on the findings of the assessments – said he was skeptical of the latest report’s projections.


“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” he said.


Others in the administration, including White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the assessments conclusions were based solely on worst-case scenarios.


Many scientists who worked on the report disputed the “worst-case” assertion, responding that the assessment’s conclusions were reached after modeling all levels of climate event severity.


SfL underscored the importance of the assessment in a blog posted last week that stated: “There is no way to sugarcoat or downplay the outlook which the report forecasts. For agriculture and forestry, it can be summed up in one word: grim.”


The report shares four key messages for the agricultural sector, with each citing the existing and future challenges, accompanied by ongoing and potential solutions:


Key Message 1- Reduced Agricultural Productivity

Food and forage production will decline in regions experiencing increased frequency and duration of drought. Shifting precipitation patterns, when associated with high temperatures, will intensify wildfires that reduce forage on rangelands, accelerate the depletion of water supplies for irrigation, and expand the distribution and incidence of pests and diseases for crops and livestock. Modern breeding approaches and the use of novel genes from crop wild relatives are being employed to develop higher-yielding, stress-tolerant crops.


Key Message 2- Degradation of Soil and Water Resources

The degradation of critical soil and water resources will expand as extreme precipitation events increase across our agricultural landscape. Sustainable crop production is threatened by excessive runoff, leaching, and flooding, which results in soil erosion, degraded water quality in lakes and streams, and damage to rural community infrastructure. Management practices to restore soil structure and the hydrologic function of landscapes are essential for improving resilience to these challenges.


Key Message 3- Health Challenges to Rural Populations and Livestock

Challenges to human and livestock health are growing due to the increased frequency and intensity of high temperature extremes. Extreme heat conditions contribute to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart attacks in humans. Heat stress in livestock results in large economic losses for producers. Expanded health services in rural areas, heat-tolerant livestock, and improved design of confined animal housing are all important advances to minimize these challenges.


Key Message 4- Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity of Rural Communities

Residents in rural communities often have limited capacity to respond to climate change impacts, due to poverty and limitations in community resources. Communication, transportation, water, and sanitary infrastructure are vulnerable to disruption from climate stressors. Achieving social resilience to these challenges would require increases in local capacity to make adaptive improvements in shared community resources.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded 16 weather and climate disasters that caused one billion dollars or more in property damage in 2017, from freezes and hail, to fires and flooding.


In the first six months of 2018, NOAA reports that the U.S. experienced six disasters resulting in damages of $1 billion or more. The agency says more recent disasters are sure to exceed that mark as well.


New Study Reveals Natural Solutions

Can Stem GHG Emissions


Restoring U.S. lands and coastal wetlands could have a much bigger role in reducing global warming than previously thought, according to the most comprehensive national assessment to date of how greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be reduced and stored in farmland, grasslands, forests and wetlands.


The peer-reviewed study in Science Advances from The Nature Conservancy, a global land conservation organization, and 21 institutional partners found that nature’s contribution could equal 21 percent of the nation’s current net annual emissions, by adjusting 21 natural management practices to increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse emissions. The study is the first to include the climate benefits of coastal wetlands and grasslands in a comprehensive mix along with forests and agriculture.


In October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report called for global action immediately to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade (approximately 3 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid the most damaging climate change impacts. The new study highlights how, and which, natural solutions in the United States offer the most promise to help limit temperatures below that 3 degrees F goal.


“One of America’s greatest assets is its land,” said Joe Fargione, director of sciency for the conservancy and the study’s lead author.”Through changes in management, along with protecting and restoring natural lands, we demonstrated we could reduce carbon pollution and filter water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and have better soil health to grow our food – all at the same time. Nature offers us a simple, cost-effective way to help fight global warming. In combination with transitioning to zero carbon energy production, natural climate solutions can help protect our climate for future generations.”


“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so we should reduce carbon pollution where we can, ” said Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy and former deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, speaking to practical elements of the study’s findings. “But we also need to put natural solutions to work as a tool to insulate ourselves from global warming. This study provides good news that making investments in nature will make a big difference, while offering the potential for new revenue to farmers, ranchers, foresters, and coastal communities at the same time.”


Existing croplands have an important role to play, the study finds. Farmers can optimize their nutrient application, saving money and avoiding emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Farmers can also plant cover crops, which suck carbon out the atmosphere and return it to the soil during times of the year when fields would normally be bare.


“Farmers are some of our best land stewards,” said Chris Adamo, vice president Federal and Industry Affairs at Danone North America, a firm that is partnering with farms across the country to find climate solutions through a soil health initiative. “Improved nutrient management, cover crops, and crop rotations are examples of practices that can help reduce GHG emissions and over time improve a farm’s bottom-line.


“Farmers and the food industry depend on a predictable climate, so it’s important to work together to reduce the risks of climate change.” He said.


Of the 21 natural solutions analyzed, increased reforestation (the planting of trees) emerged as the largest means to achieve greater carbon storage, equivalent to eliminating the emissions of 65 million passenger cars. Other high-performing forest solutions include allowing longer periods between timber harvest to increase carbon storage; increasing controlled burns and strategic thinning in forests to reduce the risk of megafire; and avoided loss of forests from urban sprawl.


The study identified a maximum of 156 million acres that could be reforested, 304 million acres where forest harvest rotations could be extended, and at least 42 million additional acres of forests that would benefit from fire risk reduction treatments. In addition, almost a million acres of forest are being converted to non-forest habitat a year, largely due to suburban and exurban expansion, which could be addressed through better land use planning. The study also finds that urban reforestation can add important carbon storage benefits.


“Planting trees and improving the health of existing forests will be a deciding factor in whether we are able to get ahead of the climate curve,” said Jad Daley, CEO of American Forests. “This breakthrough analysis clarifies the highest impact actions for keeping our forests as a growing and resilient carbon sink and the potential scale of climate benefit.”


Grasslands, which are underappreciated for their carbon storage opportunity, are being lost at a rate of over one million acres per year. When grassland is converted to cropland and other uses, about 28 percent of the carbon in the top meter of soil is released to the atmosphere. The trend could be reversed by re-enrolling 13 million acres of marginal cropland in conservation programs and restoring them to provide habitat and storage of carbon in the soil, the study says.


Natural solutions can be found under water as well. An estimated 27 percent of tidal wetlands have been disconnected from the ocean, increasing the release of methane. Reconnecting tidal wetlands to the ocean virtually eliminates those methane emissions, and also restores fish habitat important for coastal communities.


The study says that in addition to benefiting personal enjoyment, healthier water, air, wildlife, and soil, many natural climate solutions are quite affordable. As states and the federal government evaluate rules and markets for greenhouse gas emissions, the low-cost reductions from natural solutions offer the United States a powerful tool to address a warming planet.


Promoting Climate-Friendly Ag Can Benefit

Farmers, Rural U.S., Environment


The federal government can help give farmers the tools they need to make their farms more climate resilient – while turning agriculture into a net carbon sink – through an ambitious research agenda, two attorneys state in an article in the American Bar Association journal, Natural Resources and Environment.


Peter Lehner, senior attorney and director of the Sustainable Food and Farming program at Earthjustice, and Nathan Rosenberg, an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, say policy makers have given little consideration to agriculture’s growing vulnerability to climate change, nor have they reckoned with the sector’s substantial contribution to U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


The omission, they note, comes despite the fact that agriculture covers 61 percent of the contiguous United States and is responsible for 8 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. Furthermore, many rural communities depend on a thriving agriculture sector and society depends on the production of affordable nutritious food.


“Instead of boosting support for agricultural research, however, the public sector has started to retreat from it – particularly research that doesn’t match the priorities of agribusiness,” Lehner and Rosenberg write.


They note that President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 would cut into publicly funded agricultural research even further.


“While public support for agricultural research has fallen rapidly, reliance on industry funding has increased, influencing researchers’ priorities and agendas,” they say. “The funding share devoted to diversified systems, which offer the greatest societal and climate benefits, will remain meager without robust public support.”


The two attorneys note that states and nonprofit organizations have started to develop compelling models for supporting climate-friendly agricultural systems, helping to counteract the agrochemical industry’s financial leverage. Nonetheless, they say, the federal government has a critical role to play in developing and disseminating climate-friendly agricultural practices.


“In light of the risks presented by climate change (and other environmental stresses), and the potential for agriculture to reduce these risks, Congress should, at a minimum, increase the [USDA’s] research budget from $2 billion to over $5 billion,” they write. The boost would increase relative funding for research from less than 2 percent of USDA’s budget to about 4 percent, which was its average share between 1940 and 1980, a period when agricultural productivity rose quickly, in large part due to research funded by USDA.


While significant, this increase represents only a fraction of the roughly $20 billion spent annually on crop insurance and other subsidies. If focused on climate-related research, however, the additional funding would allow USDA and USDA-funded researchers to develop the tools, monitoring and measuring protocols, crops, breeds, and practices necessary for climate-friendly farming to thrive.


Relatively little of the $2 billion USDA currently spends annually on agricultural research goes to support climate- friendly practices, the authors state, asserting that the funds should be redirected to support “carbon farming,” a suite of climate-friendly practices that recognize agriculture is capable of producing a number of public goods in addition to agricultural commodities, including an astounding capacity for carbon sequestration.


They note that many agricultural production systems, especially perennial agriculture and agroforestry, not only reduce GHG emissions, but also demonstrate high levels of sequestration. They cite as an example the side-by-side planting of annual crops with trees in adjacent rows, a practice called alley cropping, which could reduce net U.S. agricultural emissions by 160 to 345 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent alone, tantamount to taking 34 to 74 million vehicles off the road.


“Considering their sector’s vulnerability to changing weather patterns, farmers also have a strong interest in mitigating climate change,” write Lehner and Rosenberg. “Climate change is already resulting in catastrophic crop losses due to drought, heat waves, heavy downpours, floods and hurricanes, among other extreme weather events, and this will only intensify as temperatures rise.”


However, many practices that reduce GHG emissions and increase soil carbon levels also reduce costs, increase soil health and fertility, and make farms and ranches more resilient to climate change. They can increase yields in the face of the emerging challenges, they write.


The attorneys say that if USDA is to be an effective force for decarbonizing agriculture, its research, education, and extension programs will need to work in tandem. They cite “step forward” taken by USDA in 2014 that facilitated interagency collaboration on climate-related projects with the creation of 10 regional “Climate Hubs.” The hubs are designed to support applied research, translate climate-related research into tools and methods for outreach and education, and coordinate USDA’s climate-related activities in each region. The hubs also work with the extension system, universities, other government agencies and the private sector to help promote agricultural practices informed by climate science. While their future is uncertain under the current administration, climate hubs provide a promising model for coordinating climate-related, the authors say.


Research Shows Farmer Adjustments

Offset Climate Change Impacts in Corn Production


Recent research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on historical yields across the U.S. Corn Belt suggests that a continuation of the historical yield trend will depend on a stable climate and continued farmer adjustments.


The research was done in response to the widespread concern that climate change will have a strong negative effect on crop yields.


Ethan Butler, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Forest Resources in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Butler and colleagues from Harvard University and the University of California, Irvine, analyzed how both climate and management have influenced the increase in yields.


Overall, the research shows farmers have adapted to historical climate change. The combination of changes in climate, primarily cooling of the hottest temperatures, and farmer adjustments, including earlier planting and planting longer maturing varieties, increased maize yield trends 28 percent since 1981.


“We wanted to add the farmer into the picture of how climate change will affect crops,” said Butler. “Sometimes, it feels like climate change is a juggernaut that is going to trample our way of life. In this research we’ve shown that farmers have already made adjustments to better align their planting practices with historical climate changes, and we hope this can be a guide to changes in the future.”


Butler and the research team used a statistical model to study how rainfed maize yields reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are affected by temperature using three crop development phases: vegetative, early grain filling and late grain filling. They found that planting is occurring earlier and that the late grain filling phase lasts longer. At the same time, the hottest temperatures have cooled. The earlier planting and longer grain filling are primarily associated with management decisions, while the cooling of hot temperatures appears to be an unintended benefit of widespread planting of high-yielding modern cultivars.


“Among farmers’ biggest decisions are what they plant and when they plant it,” said Butler. “We are seeing that farmers are planting earlier – not only because they have hardier seeds and better planting equipment – but also because it’s getting warmer sooner.”


The research also suggests the adjustments farmers have made have increased yields more than they would have in the absence of the historical changes in climate.


However, in the Corn Belt, this means accentuating a surprisingly beneficial climate trend rather than reducing damages from a harmful change. This implies farmers have proven adept at adjusting to environmental changes, but that these benefits may evaporate in a warming climate.


It is unclear whether these historical patterns of adaptation will be maintained in a hotter environment. But farmer decisions must be considered in future analyses of how crop yields will be affected by a changed climate.


The team hopes that by studying farmer adaptations, which have received relatively little attention, they will help to improve concrete actions that can be taken to reduce damages from a hotter world in the future.


The research was funded by the Packard Foundation, USDA and the National Science Foundation.



Other News We Are Reading…

Nations Must Triple Efforts to Reach 2°C: Annual Review of Emissions, Climate Action (Science Daily)


Global emissions are on the rise as national commitments to combat climate change come up short. But surging momentum from the private sector and untapped potential from innovation and green-financing offer pathways to bridge the emissions gap. Those findings along with a sweeping review of climate action and the latest measurements of global emissions were presented by authors of the 2018 Emissions Gap Report. Read more…


Global Food Systems Are Failing Humanity and Speeding Up Climate Change (The InterAcademy Partnership)


The current approach to food, nutrition, agriculture, and the environment is unsustainable and must change. There is no time to waste, say the 130 national academies of science and medicine across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe that compose the InterAcademy Partnership. With COP24 underway this next week – alongside meetings last week on food security at the European Commission and FAO/IFPRI in Bangkok – there is now a vitally important opportunity to drive collective action worldwide to transform global food systems and mitigate climate change. The national academies of science and medicine have united to urge policy-makers to take immediate action on climate change to improve the sustainability of global food systems. In its wide-ranging new report, Opportunities for Future Research and Innovation On Food and Nutrition Security and Agriculture: The InterAcademy Partnership’s Global Perspective, the authors call for an end to business as usual and urge leaders to look to science to drive innovation and inform policy. Read more…


How Wood Biomass Can Help Solve Climate Change (Enviva)


The recent UN Report on climate change has put renewable energy back in the headlines, and rightly so. If we want to avoid the most serious damage from climate change, we need an all-in approach, solutions that are available today, and policies that support our working forests. While solar and wind power are the most talked-about renewable solutions, bioenergy is a critical part of the mix – and one that is available right now. As an alternative to coal, wood pellets help power utilities reduce their carbon footprint up to 85 percent on a lifecycle basis, often without undergoing major renovations to their existing infrastructure. Power generation using biomass also provides a reliable, clean source of energy that complements the intermittency of wind and solar energy. Read more…



House Dems Plan to Bring Back Committee on Climate Change ( The Hill)


Democrats are reportedly planning to revive a House committee on climate change after winning back control of the House. The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was dissolved by Republicans in 2011 after the GOP took control, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will ask Democrats to reconstitute it. The special committee, which was started by Pelosi, was not authorized to advance legislation, but the panel held hearings to address concerns about climate change, extreme weather events and global warming. Read more…


A Carbon Tax Wave? 7 States Considering Carbon Pricing to Fight Climate Change (Inside Climate News)


At least seven state governments are poised at the brink of putting a price on climate-warming carbon emissions within the next year. Some are considering new carbon taxes or fees. Others are making plans to join regional carbon markets. The situation runs counter to the instant analysis of the November election, which focused on a defeat for carbon pricing in Washington state and discounted incremental progress across the board. Overall, the midterm election results increased their odds for success, say activists and analysts. Carbon price proponents are encouraged as Democrats expanded their legislative majorities in key states, and supporters of climate action displaced foes. And at the federal level, Congress also faces a new carbon pricing proposal, a bill introduced by a bipartisan group of House members. Read more…


EIA: Reduced Electric Demand Has Halved Carbon Emissions in Power Sector (ACEEE)


Recent hurricanes and major climate reports have heightened awareness of climate change and the dire need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This week, a blog post from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows energy efficiency is a vital climate solution. Half of the carbon dioxide emission reductions in the electric power sector since 2005 have come from stopping growth in demand for electricity, as shown in the EIA’s graphic. Other research finds that a large part of the demand reduction is due to consumer energy efficiency. Read more…


Companies Launch Plan to Capture Methane from Manure Lagoons

( The Washington Post)


The world’s largest pork producer is teaming up with a Virginia-based energy company to harness methane gas from thousands of malodorous hog lagoons to both heat homes and combat climate change. Food giant Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy, a large electric and gas utility, have agreed to spend $125 million each over 10 years to cover hog lagoons in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah, capture methane gas and feed that into Dominion’s pipeline network, the companies said. Read more…


U.S. Ethanol Producers Feeling the Pinch from Trump Trade War



U.S. ethanol producers drew a bleak picture of their industry in quarterly filings and analyst calls this week, detailing how the critical farm belt business has been devastated by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and biofuels management policies that they say have tilted toward oil refiners. The ethanol business had grown for years at breakneck speed, but its outlook has dimmed due to Washington’s aggressive protectionist stance and the administration’s unpredictable management of its renewable fuel program. No. 4 U.S. ethanol producer Green Plains Inc. which reported a net loss of $12.5 million in the third quarter, has idled plants to trim soaring inventories and boost margins. CEO Todd Becker and other industry leaders noted that China had been expected to import 200 million gallons of ethanol this year, but has instead been out of the market for months due to Trump’s trade war. Becker said Chinese buying would wipe out the U.S. supply glut, which he estimated at about 120 million gallons. Read more…


EU Lawmakers Set Energy Efficiency, Renewables Targets (Reuters)


European Union lawmakers on Tuesday targeted energy savings of 32.5 percent and a renewable energy uplift of 32 percent by 2030, in a push to meet the bloc’s pledge under the Paris climate accord to curb global warming. National governments now have until the end of the year to draft their own plans for implementing the bloc’s overall climate goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement. However, the new clean energy targets voted on in the European Parliament on Tuesday put the EU on track to reduce emissions by about 45 percent by 2030, the EU executive said in a statement. Read more…



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