NACSAA Members in Action
Welcome to NACSAA News, a quarterly compilation of CSA-related developments. “NACSAA Members in Action” features the latest on our partners’ activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past quarter; “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” offers the latest partner updates. 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, click here.
UNFCCC Intersessional Update
The UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Bodies for Technical Assistance and Implementation met June 5-15 at the UNFCCC Conference Centre in Bonn, Germany. One of the agenda items at this year’s intercessional before COP 28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates was how to structure the four-year Sharm el-Sheikh
joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security. Several NACSA members including Cornell University, USDA via the U.S. government, Bayer Crop Science and Solutions from the Land participated and/or intervened with formal recommendations, as did numerous other governments, NGOs and other officially recognized bodies. The conclusions presented by the Chairs under SBI/SBSTA agenda item 10 “Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security are available at the following link: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/DT_sbi58.i10_SBSTA58.i10.2.pdf
Unfortunately, conflicts involving mitigation work programs and support for developing countries in reducing emissions and adapting to climate change consumed a significant amount of negotiating time and imposed serious limitations on their consideration of the Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on agriculture. As time ran out, the member state negotiators could not forge consensus on a path forward for the Sharm el-Sheikh work plan but did agree to pick up where they left off at COP 28 in Dubai. One of the sticking points was the G77 countries’ attempt to establish a “coordinating committee” to organize the work. This was opposed by several member states who felt that this would slow down the process unnecessarily, and possibly exclude countries that wanted to participate. To get a sense of the wide range of views on how the Sharm el-Sheikh works should go forward, we invite you to study the submissions that have been offered to date which can be accessed the following link Home (unfccc.int)– type “agriculture” in the search bar, then click on “calls for submissions, elections and statements for consideration at upcoming sessions (2)” then scroll down to:
Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security
Deadline: 26/03/2023 Title:
Parties and observers to submit views on the elements of the joint work referred to in paragraphs 14–15 of FCCC/CP/2022/L.4, including views on topics for the workshops referred to in paragraph 15(b) above, for consideration by the subsidiary bodies at their fifty-eighth sessions (June 2023)
Failure to agree on an agriculture roadmap at COP 28 could reinforce previous proposals to address the implications of climate change on agriculture through existing cross-sectorial workstreams on adaptation and mitigation instead of specific sectorial negotiations. SfL does not support this path. Sfl believes the UNFCCC needs a dedicated and focussed platform for addressing agricultural adaption and mitigation issues, and we will continue to advocate for its creation.
UN Water Conference
The UN Water Conference held March 22-24 in New York City was only the second such global conference in history, and several NACSAA members including the Irrigation Association, World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Solutions from the Land (SfL) had a role – hosting a side event on March 23 that showcased agriculture water management solutions to address water
quality/quantity, food security, biodiversity, climate, resilience and disaster-risk reduction objectives, and issuing a call for collaboration to achieve these goals.
The well-received program at the Nature Hub interjected agricultural expertise and stimulated collaborative conversation on how farmers, ranchers, foresters and the entire agricultural value chain are leading the way in enhancing water management and what they need to take what they are doing to the next level.
SfL senior advisor Jerry Hatfield, a former USDA/ARS lab director with a 45-year research career, moderated the 75-minute event and gave a brief presentation that framed the discussion.
“Water is the face of climate change,” he said. “Forty percent of our productivity is lost every year due to water stress.” We live in fragile ecosystem “that is changing before our eyes. … Managing water is going to be one of our biggest challenges in how we manage climate change” a prospect made even more complex because there is no one-size-fits-all solution in a world with different climates and geographies. “Every place has its own challenges, but they all have challenges,” Hatfield told attendees.
“Management is at the producer’s decision/strategy level; environment is what they’re trying to overcome; genetics is what they have to optimize. We need to look at these together rather than in silos,” said Hatfield. He then introduced three presenters who all stressed the importance of collaborative efforts that are backed by monitoring and data, and that can adapt similar guiding principles to the different conditions among continents, ecosystems, and even individual farms.
John Farner, chief Sustainability officer at Netafim, the irrigation technology company, began with some striking facts: 70 percent of the Earth’s available fresh water use is for agriculture; and the 20 percent of arable land that is irrigated accounts for 40 percent of global food production. But just 6 percent of that is drip irrigation, while 75 percent is flood irrigation. He noted that in some particular cases, flood irrigation actually may be appropriate, but that is an exception to the rule.
He also noted that “the majority of global food comes from smallholder farmers, most of whom are not aware of the issues we’re discussing.” The goal is to promote collaboration among smallholders on production and supply chains in order to bring new practices and technology to places with small-scale production. This also applies to considering agriculture from biodiversity perspective – such as protection of migratory birds that benefit from wetlands.
Anca Mataoanu, global sustainability lead for financial services at Cargill, spoke of RegenConnect, which hopes to significantly expand in the 100,000 acres now under contract with farmers to advance climate-smart practices. She said the Soil Health Institute, a NACSAA member, will measure some of the benefits, including farmer profitability. The next step is to expand the program to France, Eastern Europe and other places “where Cargill already has a footprint.” Cargill also is collaborating with producers, equipment providers, and the Mexican government in a pilot project to expand drip irrigation.
Saswati Bora, global director for regenerative food systems at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) spoke of integrated approaches, while working at three scales – the farmer level; foodscapes level, and an ecosystems approach. TNC is looking at 10 foodscapes around the world, with water as a particular focus, to identify possible policy changes and other practices. In India it promotes no-till and more crop residue to hold water. In Argentina it urges farmers to diversify their income beyond soy and beef production. In the Central Highlands of Kenya, which suffers from serious drought, the goal is to incentivize farmers to make changes that have long-term economic as well as environmental benefits.
A panel discussion followed, with Jocelyn Anderson, a California almond grower, and farmer envoy at Solutions from the Land, representing producers; Mike Nemeth, senior advisor on agricultural and environmental sustainability, corporate sustainability and stakeholder relations at Nutrien representing industry; and Adam Putnam, CEO of Ducks Unlimited representing non-governmental organizations.
Audience questions focused on how subsidies could be structured to encourage better agricultural practices, rewarding good behavior, and balancing farmers’ need to provide both food and ecosystems services. Many of the answers overlapped with the various questions. Here, in short, are the collective answers:
Policy should restructure and redirect existing subsidies to focus more on climate-smart practices and water conservation, ensure collaboration within and among farmer groups, public-private partnerships, and institutions. Pilot projects – funded by governments and/or business partners and research institutions – are essential to get data on the effectiveness of conservation practices in various conditions; the data, in turn, can help farmers get private or public lenders to support their transition to better practices.
Speakers noted that virtually every country subsidizes its farmers in some way, and that subsidies are not necessarily a bad thing. They also agreed, however, subsidies should have stronger links climate-smart agriculture and good soil and water management.
Jerry Hatfield concluded that water is complex – a “wicked” but “not unsolvable” problem. “To solve this puzzle, it will take a concerted effort to break down barriers” among NGOs, businesses institutions, government agencies, academic partners, and individual farmers.
Collaborating co-organizers of the event included: the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition, Cargill, ComNet Mekong, Ducks Unlimited, General Mills, Global Water Partnership, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Irrigation Association, Netafim, Nutrien, The Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Water Policy Group and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
For more information about the UN Water Conference, click HERE.
SfL Hosts Sessions at Two Global Climate-Smart Conferences in Rome
1) Accelerating Farmers’ Capacities to Deliver SDG solutions under Climate Change
Farmers from around the world shared their climate-smart technologies and innovative approaches and practices on May 3 at a Climate, Science and Innovation Event organized in Rome by the International Agri-Food Network.
At a workshop organized by Solutions from the Land (SfL) (along with Canadian Canola Growers Association and Global Dairy Platform) farmers from the United States, Kenya, Argentina, and Italy stressed that farmers, fishers and foresters of all scales and types are at the core of our food systems – and thus must be part of identifying problems, seeking solutions, and shaping agricultural and climate policies.
Agriculture is directly or indirectly a factor in 11 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development goals. The workshop spotlighted the innovative approaches and science-based diversified, circular systems applications farmers use to produce more and better food, while also improving soils, water management, and other ecosystem services. The climate-smart approaches use a variety of tools and technologies that reduce inequalities, and also help farmers improve food and nutrition security, farm profitability, gender equality and women and youth empowerment. These strategies work best in creative partnerships that bring together farmers, business, academic and government partners, NGOs and civil society.
The workshop’s moderator, SfL President Ernie Shea, joined American livestock producer Amelia Levin Kent, Kenyan dairy farmer Margaret Munene, Argentine soy producer María Beatriz (Pilu) Giraudo, and Italian grain farmer Marco Pasti in showing how they use innovation and technology, collect and analyze data, and use circular, resource-efficient practices to achieve global development goals. Events like this enable different types of farmers in different environments to exchange knowledge, real-world experiences, and outcomes from proven solutions that benefit producers, the public and the planet.
On Kent’s beef cattle operation in Louisiana, she and her husband are experimenting with various management practices that improve and balance the needs of the land, their cattle and their economics. They no-till drill ryegrass and clover for winter grazing, which helps feed and protect the soil while also providing nutrition for the cattle (and ultimately a nutrient-dense protein source for people). They manage each of their properties as independent units, rotating cattle through those properties based on the growing conditions to allow for optimal forage regrowth.
“We’re focused on having the cows do as much of the work on the property as we can, thus reducing our dependence on machines,” Kent says.
Well managed grazing is a form of circular bioeconomy system. It not only reduces carbon emissions by cutting down on diesel and other greenhouse-gas-generating emissions from machines, it enables cattle to sequester carbon in the soil, which benefits the entire ecosystem while delivering food security.
From now on, increases in agricultural, forestry and fishery production must be accomplished with fewer resources and under conditions that threaten biodiversity and ecosystem health as climates change. As a result, farmers must better understand the relationship between humans and natural systems, and find ways to increase production while protecting and renewing natural resources.
This session led to agreement by FAO to join with SfL and other IAFN partners in constructing a roadmap that will outline pathways for scaling circular bioeconomy solutions to SDG attainment.
2) GACSA Forum Highlights Climate-Smart Research and Practices
In a second conference in Rome, immediately following the IAFN forum, SfL provided moderators at two sessions of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture’s annual forum on May 4.
Fred Yoder, an SfL co-chair, as well as chair of the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), moderated a session with regional alliance members reporting on their progress in deepening support for climate-smart agriculture systems, practices, programs and investments at the country level. NACSAA, of which SfL is a member, shared the major achievement of over $20 billion in climate-smart agriculture investments made by the U.S. through the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
“We have to identify local needs that farmers can relate to rather than only talk about reducing greenhouse gases,” says Yoder. “Mitigating economic risk and building soil resilience—key components of climate-smart agriculture—resonate with farmers on a personal basis. Incentivizing farmers with benefits like these will be a more effective way of creating sustainable development than requiring farmers to change their practices through regulation. That’s why we emphasize being farmer-centric in these international discussions.”
SfL President Ernie Shea moderated a panel of researchers and policymakers exploring the twin goals of sustainability and increased agricultural production. He asked panelists and participants in breakout groups to focus on two questions: What do you need to scale up the adoption of CSA systems and practices? And how can GACSA be of service? Panelists included:
- Shamie Zingore, director research and development at the African Plant Nutrition Institute, discussing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program, organized by Fertilizer Canada and the Canadian government.
- Terry Cosby, chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, discussing climate-smart agriculture programs for farmers.
- Allison Morrill Chatrchyan, Ph.D, senior research associate at Cornell University’s Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, discussing the global aspects of Cornell’s CSA Knowledge Sharing Program.
The panel of GACSA members focused on the innovative approaches, systems, technologies, practices, and programs they are using to sustainably intensify production. They also addressed ways to adapt and improve resilience; reduce or sequester greenhouse-gas emissions; and achieve food and nutrition security, healthy ecosystem services, robust livelihoods and other Sustainable Development Goals.
The final report from the gathering GACSA Annual Forum 2023 Report emphasized the need for climate-smart agriculture strategies to be farmer-centric, leaving farmers the flexibility experiment on their own land withing the parameters of policies. It also addressed the need for financing mechanisms to enable small farms to adapt to new methods – along with training for farmers and the opportunity to share new ideas among farmers, at home and around the world.
U.S. Dairy Advances Collaboration and Action Toward Sustainability Priorities
Methane mitigation, and sustainable dairy management in general, were the focus of the 2023 Dairy Sustainability Alliance Spring Meeting in Rosemont, Ill., in May. The Alliance, a multi-stakeholder group involving more than 180 companies and organizations, came together 15 years ago to put the dairy industry on a path to sustainable solutions and practices.
At COP26 in November 2021, the European Union, the United States, and other partners committed to reduce methane emissions by at least 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. Since then, the Global Methane Pledge has gained country endorsements of the GMP have grown to 150, and more than 50 countries have developed national methane action plans or are in the process of doing so.
Barbara O’Brien, president and CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and Dairy Management Inc., cited progress among many farmer-led conservation groups that have received climate-smart agriculture grants, along with 36 companies representing 75 percent of U.S. milk production that have adopted the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment.
Sessions focused on how dairies help to address climate change, and support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, through better utilization of the nutrient and biological value of manure and the upcycling of protein-rich whey from cheesemaking.
Tim Kurt, senior vice president of environmental research for DMI, shared how the dairy checkoff supports projects that help the dairy industry in reach its 2050 environmental stewardship goals. He gave updates on projects to reduce dairy’s greenhouse gas footprint related to feed, enteric methane, manure and energy, including:
- Dairy soil and water regeneration: Feed footprint and water quality
- Greener Cattle Initiative: Enteric methane mitigation
- Ruminant farms systems: Whole farm process-based model to enable scenario planning
One intervention for mitigating enteric methane is dietary reformulation, which manipulates the composition of feedstuffs in ruminant diets to redirect fermentation processes toward low CH4 emissions. Examples include reducing the relative proportion of forages to concentrates, determining the rate of digestibility and passage rate from the rumen, and dietary lipid inclusion.
Such practices have gotten a boost from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is investing over $500 million in methane reduction projects through Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities, and up to $90 million for domestic food loss and waste reduction.
At the close of the Sustainability Alliance conference, Pennsylvania farmer Marilyn Hershey praised increased collaboration on climate and environmental issues, especially regulators working more closely with farmers.
Hershey, who is also DMI chair, said. “Everyone is so pinpoint focused on food, climate change and the production of food. Thankfully collaboration is happening even more, but it needs to go past dairy and into all of agriculture. We need to bring the whole barnyard together.”
AI-Climate institute aims to curb emissions, boost economy
Cornell is among six universities, led by the University of Minnesota, that will form an institute aiming to create more climate-smart practices that will curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while boosting the economy in the agriculture and forestry industries.
The AI Institute for Climate-Land Interactions, Mitigation, Adaptation, Tradeoffs and Economy (AI-CLIMATE) is made possible through a combined total of $20 million over five years from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
AI-CLIMATE is one of seven new NSF- and USDA-NIFA-funded AI Institutes announced May 4. The institute is part of a larger federal initiative, totaling nearly $500 million, to bolster collaborative AI research across the country.
Cornell’s share is $6 million – with $3.5 million going to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and $2.5 million to the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information. They comprise 15 Cornell researchers with the hope of expansion. Other universities in the AI Institute are Colorado State, Delaware State, North Carolina State, and Purdue.
Johannes Lehmann, whose research focuses on soil biogeochemistry and soil fertility management, is one of three Cornell principal investigators for the institute. He said computer scientists and engineers should talk with soil scientists, earth scientists, plant scientists. He added that “we should talk with farmers and industry and policymakers. That’s a tall order, because we all speak different languages, so I think the most exciting task will be to develop a common understanding, a common language, common goals, and align our ways of working.”
Carla P. Gomes, who pioneered the field of computational sustainability and co-directs the Cornel AI for Science Institute, said AI can be an integral part of solving the climate crisis.
“AI can help scale up solutions to tackle the tremendous challenges associated with climate-smart ag and forestry practices,” she said. “For example, AI can help by optimizing carbon sequestration, aiding in adaptation measures and identifying effective mitigation strategies.”
She noted that AI could help develop multi-objective decision-making approaches, that will consider viable tradeoffs –her work on the Amazon River Basin is an example of this approach – and strategies that can maximize economic value while minimizing negative environmental impacts.
Diane Bailey, director of the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture, said AI-CLIMATE fits well with her goal of advancing equitable, sustainable and efficient agriculture and food systems through multidisciplinary research.
“We want to spread a really wide umbrella,” she said. “We want others to come in to see the kinds of things that we have planned, to talk to us about extensions of that work, variations of that work, ideas that are perhaps tangential but related.”
Using new AI techniques like deep reasoning networks (DRNets) and knowledge-guided machine learning, researchers at the AI-CLIMATE institute are improving accuracy and lowering the cost of accounting for carbon and greenhouse gases in farms and forests, ultimately making the process more accessible for more people.
For more information about AI-CLIMATE, click HERE.
SfL Side Event-Field Day at AIM4climate Summit
The concept of “From Land to Sea” is personal to Shelby Watson-Hampton. She and her husband, Wade, along with their family business partners, operate Robin Hill Farm and Vineyards. They grow grapes, make wine, and host events and agritourism opportunities in Southern Maryland. Their farm sits along the Patuxent River, which runs into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the largest estuary in United States and the third largest in the world.
While she and Wade work the land, they have family members whose livelihoods depend on the water as fisherman and crabbers. And, of course, they know the value of clean water for all of life.
“The river is a precious resource to us,” Watson-Hampton says. “Nothing is perfect, but we try to be as regenerative and sustainable as possible in all our farming practices.”
Clean water starts on the land, a responsibility Watson-Hampton and her family take seriously on their farm. As part of a special side event of the AIM for Climate Summit, Watson-Hampton shared how her family manages water in ways that benefit both their economics and the environment.
Watson-Hampton’s farm was part of a tour of agriculture and seafood sites May 11 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, led by Solutions from the Land (SfL), as part of the AIM4climate Summit in Washington. The side event, From Land to Sea: Managing Natural Waters to Advance Global Sustainability Goals Under Changing Climate Conditions, is to foster new multi-stakeholder partnerships among producers, university scientists, government agencies, corporate and NGO partners
SfL’s co-sponsors included the Foundation for Food and Agriculture (FFAR), the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology and the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
More than 50 international government officials, NGOs, and agriculture and conservation supporters attended the event. They stepped away from the AIM for Climate Summit in Washington, D.C., and onto a bus that took them to the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown, Maryland, a 1,000-acre agricultural research station known for its Angus cow herd, right on Maryland’s iconic Eastern Shore. There, participants saw first-hand how Maryland farmers and agricultural partners are collaborating to sustainably intensify production, adapt and improve resilience in the face of climate change, and reduce or sequester greenhouse gases while concurrently delivering important ecosystem services.
Other collaborations featured during the event included the:
- Maryland Climate Smart Ag Project, which brings together voices from agriculture—farmers from all ag segments, technical service providers, state and federal agencies, agriculture and environmental organization, policymakers, and university and private research teams—to find ways to help Maryland’s farmers, ranchers and foresters adapt to climate change.
- Delaware-Maryland 4R Alliance, which is a collaboration among agribusinesses, farmers, government agencies, conservation groups and scientists working to ensure every nutrient application on Delaware and Maryland farms is consistent with the 4Rs: the right nutrient source applied at the right rate, at the right time, in the right place.
- Delmarva Land and Litter Collaborative, which brings together representatives from chicken companies, farming, regulatory agencies, academia and environmental groups to identify science-based solutions for profitable chicken and grain farming, clean water, and thriving ecosystems in the Delmarva Peninsula.
For more information about AIM4climate Summit, click HERE.
States Reach Deal to Protect Drought-Stricken Colorado River
The states in the lower basin of the Colorado River, already in the midst of a water crisis depleting Lake Powell and Lake Mead, came to agreement in May on a plan that averted a political and administrative crisis.
California, Arizona, and Nevada will voluntarily conserve 3 million acre-feet of water over the next three years, which amounts to 13 percent of these states’ total allocation from the river. In return, the federal government will provide the states with $1.2 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act to pay farmers, Native American tribes, cities, and others who voluntarily forgo their supplies.
Over 40 million people in seven states and 30 Tribal Nations rely on the Colorado River Basin for drinking water and electricity.
After nearly a year of negotiations and multiple missed deadlines, the deal is a temporary solution intended to protect the country’s largest reservoirs from dropping to critical levels over the next three years. Lakes Powell and Mead have fallen dramatically as the warming climate and the past two decades of drought have reduced the river’s natural flow by about 20 percent.
Despite the delays, the agreement from the lower-basin states is expected to achieve more conservation benefits more quickly than either of two proposals that the U.S. Department of Interior would have required the states to accept.
A year ago, the department’s Bureau of Reclamation said the states needed to cut water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet – a third of the river’s annual average flow — or the federal government would step in to protect the river. The new deal calls on them to conserve at least 3 million acre-feet by 2026, with at least half of that coming this year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, what it would take to cover an acre of land with a foot of water. The federal options would have required the cuts to start in 2024. Under the new plan, states will begin cuts this year.
The states had until May 30 to issue formal comments on the Interior Department alternatives. As part of the new deal, Interior plans to suspend the comment period and instead analyze the new proposal in the federal environmental review process.
The heavy rain and snow in Western states during this past winter helped ease the crisis on the Colorado and provided time and space for negotiators to reach a deal. With spring runoff, the reservoirs have started rising and dire predictions about reaching critical thresholds have receded, for now. But the states recognize that they cannot count on similar gains in the coming years.
The Family Farm Alliance, which represents farmers who rely on irrigation throughout the West, has long insisted that farmers, ranchers, and foresters be part of planning and discussions that affect water supplies and use.
“We will continue to urge Reclamation to continue to bring all water users together to develop solutions and ensure agriculture has a place at the table,” Executive Director Dan Keppen said after the agreement in May. “There has been an unfortunate narrative lately that demonizes irrigation and minimizes the importance of domestic food production. As we are scrutinized, and we scrutinize ourselves, we realize the many other benefits – including to the environment – that irrigated agriculture brings to the Colorado River Basin.”
He said Alliance members – including those in the Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico – have been proactive and judicious, using water in ways that benefit downstream users as well as themselves.
“This prevents cuts that would otherwise be required under water laws and, in most cases, would provide immediate measurable protections for the water supply system as a whole,” he said. “Urban, agricultural, and environmental water users would all benefit from such efforts in the short and long-term.”
For more about the Colorado River water agreement, click HERE.
Ag Funding Bill Cuts Funding for Rural Energy and Climate Smart Farming
The House Appropriations Committee approved an annual spending bill that would slash funding for climate change and rural energy programs at the Department of Agriculture next year, in the face of strong opposition from minority Democrats.
The spending bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes $17.8 billion in discretionary spending — the least in several years — but also rescinds $7.5 billion in unspent funds from recent appropriations, bringing the effective spending level close to current-year levels.
Agriculture Subcommittee Chair Andy Harris (R-Md.) said farmers “simply have to do more with less under this economy,” and that Congress needs to rein in wasteful spending and make difficult choices.
Even with the broad reductions, Harris said, the bill supports essential USDA programs and includes a few increases for food safety and certain research grants.
The measure passed Wednesday differed little from the bill the subcommittee approved before Congress and the Biden administration agreed to modest cuts in a debt ceiling deal, and Democrats accused Republicans of backing out on that deal by sticking with deep cuts for agriculture.
Cuts in the bill include the elimination of funds for climate change research and a 30 percent reduction in USDA loans for clean water and waste disposal in rural communities.
The bill also includes funding cuts for REAP – the Rural Energy for America Program. Conservation programs would be reduced, and community facilities grants through the rural development office would tumble by 90 percent.
The bill would prevent payments to farmers who claim past discrimination in USDA programs. Harris said such claims belong in federal courts.
Because Democrats control the Senate, and with the debt limit deal in place, prospects would appear dim for the kind of reductions the Republican House bill envisions. But the proposals reflect the House GOP’s objective to roll back the Inflation Reduction Act and Democratic initiatives on climate change, racial equity and other issues.
Among opponents of the $20 billion in federal climate-smart agriculture investments are the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (which includes the American Farmer Bureau Federation, Farm Credit, the Food Industry Association, The Nature Conservancy, and nearly 80 other members). The Environmental Law & Policy Center pushed a “Don’t Raid REAP!” campaign. Other opponents of the cuts are the Environmental Defense Fund, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Farmers Union, and Agriculture Energy Coalition,
REAP has brought energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities to farms, ranchers, and rural small businesses across the country – cutting energy waste, tapping renewable energy, and sparking rural economic development. Over its first 20 years, REAP has drawn investment through grants and loan guarantees in over 22,000 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and it is ready to do more.
The Inflation Reduction Act boosted this popular program by nearly $2 billion over the next 10 years. But the appropriations bill released in May would slash that by a half billion dollars.
In all, the ag appropriations would be cut to levels not seen since 2006. It reduces funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which operates popular and successful programs that fund on-farm conservation practices, including cover cropping and agroforestry, and it eliminates funding for equity initiatives and climate change that are crucial for maximizing the benefits of those conservation programs.
The hit to rural electric cooperatives totals $3.2 billion in cuts to affordable and reliable clean energy for consumers – risking high energy costs by removing a valuable tool for cooperatives, and limiting the ability of co-ops to add an estimated 90,000 new jobs and nearly $50 billion in wind and solar-induced economic development revenue in rural areas.
For more about REAP, click HERE.
IPCC’s latest climate report is a final alarm for food systems, too
A report in March from the International Panel on Climate Change sounded a dire warning that global temperature is on track for a catastrophic increase of nearly 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. News coverage of the report, however, quickly noted one sentence with a note of optimism, or at least hope: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all (very high confidence).”
But that according to a New York Times story would “require industrialized nations to join together immediately to slash greenhouse gases roughly in half by 2030 and then stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by the early 2050s. If those two steps were taken, the world would have about a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
In the meantime, however, food production faces immediate threats due to increasing extreme weather. One on the most extreme of California’s many climate challenges this year is the seeming return of Tulare Lake in the heart of the Central Valley – threatening Kings County’s $2 billion agricultural industry. It’s a product of a dozen or more “atmospheric rivers” that keep dumping water on already-saturated farmland throughout the region. Looming above, after years of drought, is the biggest snowpack in the Sierra Nevada in decades – and uncertainty over when and how quickly it will send snowmelt into the valley. And California is just one part of North America where climate and weather uncertainty make farmers nervous.
“Overall, the picture is stark for food systems. No one is left unaffected by climate change,” said Rachel Bezner Kerr, a professor at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said in Civil Eats. Kerr, who was the lead author on the report’s food chapter, added, “At the same time, we find that every increased amount of warming will increase the risk of severe impacts. So, the more rapidly we can take strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the less severe the impacts will be.”
In the years since the 2014 Paris climate agreement, thanks to rapid growth in clean energy, humanity has started to bend the emissions curve. Current policies put us on pace for roughly 3 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 — a better result, but still devastating. Many countries have vowed to slash emissions even faster. So far those promises exist mostly on paper, but if nations follow through, the world could potentially limit total warming to around 2 to 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100. Yet scientists and world leaders increasingly say even that much warming is too risky. To hold global temperature increases to a safer limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, far more action is needed.
At least 18 countries, including the United States, have reduced their emissions for more than a decade, according to the report, while the costs of solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles have dropped considerably. Yet as we learn more about climate effects, we know that even relatively modest increases in global temperature can be more disruptive than previously thought.
As is clear in California and other places, current levels of warming already are straining the world’s food production – which continues to rise through improvements in farming and crop technology, though climate change has slowed the rate of growth. In Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Arctic, and small island nations, extreme climate events have already caused food shortages in some communities and reduced water security. In North America, warming temperatures have reduced wheat, corn, and soybean crop productivity and water availability for drinking, livestock, and irrigation. Globally, warming oceans have affected seafood production.
If countries fail to keep temperature rise within the 1.5°C range, crop losses due to droughts, flooding, and other extreme weather events will increase, along with food safety risks from food- and waterborne diseases, including zoonotic diseases that can be passed between animals and humans. Over time, global warming will also progressively make it harder for farmers to grow food, as water becomes more scarce and natural processes get disrupted, affecting soil health, pollination, and threats from pests.
The report calls that an ominous trend that puts food security at risk as the world’s population soars past 8 billion people. Protecting forests is critical to mitigating climate change, but forests compete with agriculture for land use. And the manufacture of electric vehicles requires mining of metals for use in car batteries. Meanwhile, at last November’s climate talks in Sharm el Sheik, language calling for an end to fossil fuels was struck from the final agreement after pressure from several oil-producing nations.
While the next decade is almost certain to be hotter, scientists said the main takeaway from the report is that nations still have enormous influence over the climate for the rest of the century.
For more information about the IPCC report, click HERE.
A Push to turn Farm Waste into Fuel
Biofuel plants and energy from on-farm biodigesters have been a part of the agricultural landscape for decades. But as the global climate continues to warm and as agriculture continues to face new challenges, bioenergy is becoming a more-important “crop.”
The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act is a driving force in the increase. The act’s climate provisions include $140 billion in tax incentives, loans and grants to replace fossil fuels with cleaner renewable energy that lowers emissions of carbon dioxide. Part of that is for solar and wind power, but much is for fermenting corn, along with and methane from the billions of gallons of liquid and millions of tons of solid manure produced by big dairy, swine and poultry operations.
Gevo Inc., a Colorado-based renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company, is building Net-Zero 1 – an $875 million refinery to turn corn into low-carbon jet fuel in South Dakota. Powered by a wind farm, the plant seeks to turn 35 million bushels of corn from about 100 South Dakota growers into 65 million gallons of jet fuel a year. From $140 billion allocated by Congress, the U.S. Department of Energy will guarantee loans to finance innovative carbon-reducing projects. Gevo expects the department to approve a $620 million loan guarantee to pay for 70 percent of the Net-Zero 1 construction costs. Last September, USDA gave Gevo a $30 million grant to pay its corn growers a bonus if they use “climate smart” growing practices to produce their crops.
Other examples of bioenergy investments include:
- Greenfield Nitrogen, which is building a $400 million plant in Iowa to produce 96,000 tons of zero-carbon fertilizer from ammonia — a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen.
- Avapco, a biofuel company that operates an ethanol refinery in Thomaston, Ga., about 60 miles west of Macon, was awarded an $80 million grant by the Department of Energy to build a plant capable of producing 1.2 million gallons of jet fuel a year from wood chips.
- Marquise Energy is collaborating with LanzaJet, which makes low-carbon fuel, on a 2,500-acre site near Hennepin, Ill., to build an ethanol and biodiesel plant to produce aviation fuel for jets taking off from Chicago’s two major airports.
- In Scott County, Iowa, the $14 million expansion of an existing biodigester on Bryan Sievers’s cattle farm.
“It’s a new pathway for mixing conservation farming and energy production that farmers will adopt as fast as society accepts it,” said Sievers, one of the leaders of Iowa Smart Agriculture, an initiative of Solutions from the Land.
Thousands of other large livestock operations are likely to use the tax benefits and subsidies. The American Biogas Council, an industry trade group, counts 2,300 biodigesters in operation in the United States that convert organic wastes to methane to burn in power plants or be used as transportation fuel. With tax credits in the new climate law, the council envisions the installation of 15,000 more, including 8,600 on large dairy, hog and poultry farms.
For more information about turning farm waste into fuel, click HERE.
Prime farmland in Ohio may combine agriculture and solar panels
One third of the 6,300 acres of prime farmland owned by tech billionaire Bill Gates may be used to test whether row crops and grazing can coexist with an 800-megawatt solar farm and a 300-megawatt energy storage system in central Ohio. Kansas City-based Savion Energy is seeking approval from state regulators for the $1 billion Oak Run Solar Project about 30 miles west of Columbus.
“To me it’s all about farming. It’s not about solar energy or renewable energy. It’s about farming. If I was a farmer and I could grow corn or grow soybeans and produce energy, why wouldn’t I do it,” Sarah Moser, director of farm operations and agrivoltaics with Savion, told The Columbus Dispatch.
Shell New Energies US, a subsidiary of European oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, bought Savion in December 2021 as part of the company’s move away from fossil fuels. Savion has proposed farming between rows of solar panels on at least 2,000 acres of the 6,050-acre project along with farming all suitable acres inside and outside the fence around the project.
Agrivoltaics has been done around the world and there are a number of tests taking place in the U.S., but this project is the first at such a utility-scale, said Dan French, executive producer of the Solar Farm Summit, which bills itself as North America’s agrivoltaics expo.
Dale Arnold, director of energy utility and local government policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said farmers will need to understand the risks and costs before they get involved in agrivoltaics – whether it’s the need for new equipment and buildings, additional workers, how their relationship would work with the solar company, what kinds of plants can be grown and much more.
“The opportunity is there,” he said. “The research still needs to be done.”
Savion said it would contract with local residents to farm the property, and grazing would be used to maintain any vegetation on the property not being actively farmed. Oak Run has said it also would work with Madison County on a vegetation plan for the site that includes planting pollinator-friendly plants as long as it doesn’t interfere with farming.
Savion has worked with Ohio State University’s (OSU) College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to do research on a 2-acre test site in northwest Ohio, growing alfalfa, hay and soybeans under, around, and in the shade of solar panels, using smaller equipment to bale between the rows of panels.
Savion also is talking with OSU about expanding the nearby Molly Caren Agricultural Center – a 2,100-acre site that is home to the Farm Science Review each September – into a national training center to teach farmers how to successfully farm around solar panels.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $1.8 million grant to Ohio State to conduct tests at the Madison Fields Solar Project, a smaller solar farm that Savion has begun, which could provide clues as to how the Oak Run project would be handled should it be approved.
The Ohio Power Siting Board has the final say on approving the project. Supporters back renewable energy, property rights, and creation of 1,000 temporary construction.
Opponents cite removing prime farmland from production, and argue that solar farms spoil the beauty of the countryside and can hurt property values, damage drainage, and lead to increased truck traffic. One Madison County commissioner vows to “fight tooth and nail” to oppose the project in an agricultural county that already has reached a “saturation” point with four existing solar farms.
How California is using recent floods to prepare for future drought
Making the transition to circular agriculture systems is done with a set of guiding principles and ideas. It’s an approach –not a recipe or an instruction manual. That’s a big part of the message from a new paper by Lois Wright Morton and Ernie Shea, published in October in the Journal of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. Morton is a retired professor of rural sociology at Iowa State University and Shea is president of Solutions from the Land (SfL).
More than 600,000 acre-feet of floodwaters from the San Joaquin River will be diverted to places where it can soak into the ground and replenish an aquifer under the San Joaquin Valley, according to a Washington Post article.
“California’s new climate reality is it requires us to better manage extreme wet conditions and extreme dry conditions,” said Jule Rizzardo, assistant deputy director for the division of water rights at the California State Water Resources Control Board.
The process is called “managed aquifer recharge,” said Helen Dahlke, a professor and groundwater hydrologist at the University of California at Davis. Spreading water over designated areas is a common recharging method. Pipelines, canals or ditches route water from the source, such as a river or aqueduct, to the recharge location. As it seeps into the ground, natural filtration can rid the water of contaminants and pollutants before it reaches the groundwater table, Dahlke said.
But diversion might have environmental and legal implications. Jonathan Yoder, director of the State of Washington Water Research Center and a professor at Washington State University, said introducing water of different characteristics to an aquifer can bring problems, Yoder said. “Even if the water that’s being introduced doesn’t have a particular toxicity, it can change the character of groundwater.”
From a legal perspective, senior water rights holders downstream might claim that diversions of floodwaters upstream could negatively impact them.
“You have to look at this in the context of your whole system: Your hydrologic system, your legal system, and then how the users are using the water,” said Sharon Megdal, director of the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center.
For more information about California floodwater diversion, click HERE.
Other News We Are Reading
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for barely 3 percent of the planet-heating gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere, but poor smallholder farmers in places such as Malawi are on the front lines of the droughts and torrential storms that are a result of climate change. After generations of monoculture production of a few key crops encouraged during colonization, they are, on their own initiative, doing the same things as an expanding number of larger North American farmers: diversifying their production, double-cropping, nurturing their soil, and experimenting with new practices and old ways. They are planting less maize and more of the millet and yams that fed their forebears; less tobacco and more peanuts and sunflowers. The vetiver grass they plant keeps floodwaters at bay, and sowing pigeon peas amid other crops shades their soils from the scorching sun. In Malawi, the predictable patterns leading to different seasons are long gone, and cyclones are more frequent. This year, Cyclone Freddy made several landfalls over five weeks and left farmers reeling.
As climate change drives the risk of declining U.S. food production, in the form of intensifying droughts, shifting rain patterns, more frequent wildfires and spreading pests and diseases, policymakers and private investors alike are turning to natural climate solutions. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who proposed expanded funding for agroforestry in 2020, said she’ll be pushing it again in the 2023 Farm Bill. The Inflation Reduction Act included $60 million for a project advancing agroforestry in 37 states through the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program. Agroforestry can buffer extreme weather impacts on livestock and crops, boost soil health, increase crop yields and reduce air and water pollution, as well as assist in growing diverse crops to reduce economic risk. But some climate-smart advocates worry that a sudden influx of funding into agroforestry could translate into less money going to farmers and forest landowners, while companies “greenwash” it as a pathway to land consolidation, said Karam Sheban, director of sustainable forestry at Rural Action in southeast Ohio.
The North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) is a farmer-led platform for inspiring, educating, and equipping agricultural partners to innovate effective local adaptations that sustain productivity, enhance climate resilience, and contribute to the local and global goals for sustainable development.
NACSAA reflects and embraces all scales of agriculture in Canada, Mexico and the United States, ranging from small landholders to midsize and large-scale producers. NACSAA encourages climate smart agriculture (CSA) strategies to enhance the adaptive capacity of North American agriculture to changing climate conditions and works to achieve this goal through three complementary strategies: 1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods (i.e. sustainable intensification); 2) enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience; and 3) delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.
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