Winter 2023

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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.

NACSAA Partners Prominent as Agriculture Secured Place at COP27 Table

Solutions from the Land (SfL) and other NACSAA partners hosted five panel discussions as part of COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November. These side events, and other sessions, were held at the Food and Agriculture Pavilion. 

 

NACSAA has long understood agriculture’s critical role in meeting the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, while farmers and ag businesses and organizations have long advocated a strong farming presence at the annual conference.

Last November, it finally happened. The five panels that SfL helped convene covered a wide range of topics and included participants from six continents – including a strong sampling from Africa, where the challenges of smallholder farmers are of great importance. Small African farms and large farms in North and South America spoke with one voice – recognizing that visions such as SfL’s 21st Century Agricultural Renaissance apply equally to agriculture of different scales. A brief summary of each of the five sessions is below.

Agriculture’s Role in Decarbonizing the Economy and Reducing GHG Emissions

“Sustainability is a business,” said Evandro Gussi, CEO of the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.

He was addressing an audience attending a panel discussion on agriculture’s role in decarbonizing the economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The panel, part of the COP27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, was co-hosted by Solutions from the Land (SfL), the American Biogas Council, and the American biofuel company, POET.

 

Agriculture does more than produce food, feed, and fiber. “We are selling sustainability,” Gussi said, by reducing CO2 in the air and storing it in the soil. “Agriculture is a solution.”
What Bryan Sievers does on his grain and livestock farm in Iowa, POET executive Doug Berven oversees at 33 plants in eight U.S. states: capture CO2 and the benefits of byproducts and waste and turn it into sustainable products in a circular economy.
With an on-farm biodigester he’s had for almost a decade, Sievers turns manure from his beef cattle confinement buildings – along with food waste and dead animals – into biogas that he sells to utility companies. The “digestate,” a byproduct of the biogas process, is a compost-like material that has enriched the depleted prairie soils. Meanwhile, that soil, in which he grows corn, beans, wheat, and rye, is further enhanced by off-season cover crops. Perennial grasses along waterways help prevent soil and nutrient runoff.
Likewise POET, which buys about 7 percent of the U.S. corn crop annually, turns starch into ethanol by a process that creates valuable byproducts – such as CO2 to carbonate beer and soft drinks and a process to make asphalt more pliable.
“If we want to solve climate problems, we need resources from the surface of the land, rather than drilling down,” Berven said. “The U.S. Midwest is the largest carbon sink on the planet. … The world needs agriculture; agriculture needs biofuels; and successful agriculture is a key to solving world’s biggest problems: climate change, poverty, hunger, and disease.”
As for “selling sustainability,” Sievers has markets for his biogas; carbonated drinks are a market for POET’s CO2. And fifth generation New Mexico farmer Verity Ulibarri’s family needed an ethanol plant as a market for sorghum, and nearby dairy farms as markets for hay from soil that, with crop diversification, now holds water.
“I can’t be climate-smart if I don’t have a consumer on the other end who supports this,” she said. “You need that marketplace in order to make transition to new crops.” Until her father had a market for sorghum, he grew wheat year after year, and periodically left land fallow to give it a rest. Now, on her own farm – with no-till, cover crops, livestock grazing on stubble – the soil holds moisture and is more productive without any fallow periods.
With all the new practices, she said, “the neighbors thought we were crazy. Then we get a good hay crop when nobody else does.”
Fred Yoder, a fourth-generation Ohio farmer and co-chair of SfL, cites “three pillars of climate smart agriculture:” 1) sustainable intensification, including markets for new crops; 2) adaptation and resilience, as farmers learn to save on inputs with sustainable practices; and 3) reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.
“We’ve got to use all the tools in the toolbox and match the practices with what the land is telling us to do,” he said. “If we focus on the outcome, we can find more agreement among farmers and others. We need to find the common ground, and we need ‘safe harbor’ for farmers who are willing to experiment, to try something new, that may have short-term steps back.”
To view the panel, click HERE.

Farmers at the Center of Climate Action 

A panel made up mostly of farmers on four continents agreed that widespread regenerative agriculture depends every bit as much on markets, finance, and partnerships up and down the supply chain as it does on the products and practices used on the farm.

Nonetheless, farmland is the core of how our food systems adapt to and mitigate climate change, moderator Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said at a panel discussion on the role of farmers, co-hosted by 

Solutions from the Land, World Farmers Organisation, Regen 10, and IFOA. She noted that all farms are complex, interconnected, and changeable, and said patience is essential as farmers determine what sorts of diversity, flexibility, and adaptation are best suited to meet broad sustainability goals on their particular parcels of land.

But in the long run, these complex adaptations must be both financially and ecologically beneficial, said Neils Peter Nørring, of the Danish agribusiness firm Landbrug & Fødevarer. “Farmers cannot go green if we are in the red,” he said. “Agriculture is not a problem – it is part of the solution. We cannot do it ourselves in agriculture – we have to do it together, with and for the society.”

Helmy Abouleish grows mostly produce on the organic farm his father founded in the Egyptian desert. He is one of 2,000 organic farmers in Egypt, and want to see that number rise to 7 million farmers. He said agriculture and forestry are needed to balance other environmental challenges, and that farmers need to monetize the benefits of regenerative farming to make organic competitive.

In Malawi, farmers are “the leading voice in talking about climate change,” said Betty Chimyamunyamu, who works with a national smallholder farmers association there. “It’s not one solution that works for everything. We must adapt methods and tools to the right crops at right time. Crop insurance helps persuade farmers to make changes.”

Ohio farmer Fred Yoder, chair of NACSAA’s steering committee, agreed. “We have to convince farmers that these practices are important – that they must be profitable and practical. There are different circumstances in different states and regions. Tell us what outcomes are needed and we’ll figure how to do that on our land.” Yoder is an advocate of policies that give farmers the flexibility to experiment with new ideas and techniques that “allow us to try something different. Farmers need to experiment and be willing to make mistakes.”

As crop consultant, Yoder said he tells clients to try something new every year “something that may make you uncomfortable.”

Both Yoder and Chimyamunyamu noted that farmers learn best from other farmers. “We need to tweak things and keep trying,” Chimyamunyamu said. “We need to highlight what is working well, and then we need to share those stories.”

To view the panel, click HERE.

A Sustainable and Inclusive Agriculture Transformation: Engaging the Private Sector

 

Policymakers, non-governmental organizations, agribusiness companies, finance institutions, and farmers need to more-effectively coordinate their efforts if they want agricultural systems to become more sustainable and inclusive.

 

That was the conclusion of a South African farmer and representatives of the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), International Food Network IFN), Green Climate Fund (GCF), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in a panel discussion, co-hosted by SfL, at the COP27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

“A farm that is not profitable is, by definition, a farm that is not sustainable,” said Theo De Jager, a farmer and executive director of the Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI) in opening remarks by panelists in the session. He said farmers must become able to produce more goods on less land with fewer inputs in such a way that no one – not even the smallest of farms – is left behind.

“If you cover the risks of the smallest farmers, you will cover them all,” he added, setting a tone for the discussion. Farmers cannot bring this transition on their own. “We need the whole supply chain … and all of humanity. We must understand each other. We need a new approach to the relations between farmers and consumers.”

Bernhard Stormyr of IFA echoed the concern about small farms and the critical importance of supply chains. A sub-Saharan area with small farms experienced a bumper crop but did not increase revenue because an insufficient supply chain could not handle the increased yields.

“You’ve got to get the economy working,” he said. “Smallholder farmers are the backbone, but they often lack access to quality inputs, finance, and markets – the many moving parts. We know what is needed, but we have to put together the complex puzzle.” The completed puzzle is what he calls an “ecosystem of partners.”

That “ecosystem” includes making sure smallholders have access to any innovations in farming techniques and tools, said Saswati Boru of TNC.  “Equity needs to be part of the equation – a transfer of incentives,” he added. “We need philanthropy to bring more financing in.”

Soji Omisore said the Green Climate Fund “wants to take more risk to finance these programs, to help provide equity to NGOs to support innovative models.”

(Many of these are measures that Fertilizer Canada and Global Affairs Canada have included in their multi-year 4R Nutrient Stewardship project in Ghana, Ethiopia, and Senegal, which SfL helped promote with a summary and video. The effort started with smallholder farmers – but in the context of improving supply chains, finance options, and extension programs, and including women among the extension and co-op leaders.)

To view the panel, click HERE.

Water is the Face of Climate Change

Water deficiency accounts for about 40 percent of yield loss around the world every year, but the deficiencies vary greatly from place to place. Not only that, but drought and heavy rains can happen in same place. Managing water in ag is a major challenge.

That’s how Jerry Hatfield, of Iowa State University, framed a panel discussion on water as the face of climate change during the COP27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. It was co-hosted by Solutions from the Land (SfL), the U.S. Soybean Export Council, and Netafim, a consortium of companies centered on irrigation solutions. Discussion ranged from improved irrigation strategies that make better use of declining water levels in many places, to better water management upstream and downstream. 

Brad Doyle, a rice and soybean grower in Arkansas, has used many methods on his farm, which is 100 percent irrigated in a state that is the second highest user of water for agriculture in the U.S. In the past, he used flood irrigation. But now, a 100-acre reservoir on the farm feeds hoses in furrow irrigation, which results in much less surface evaporation. What’s more, he’s experimenting with a “tailway recovery system” that captures water at the bottom end of the field and continuously recirculates it back to the top. Developed by an Arkansas extension researcher, the systems reduce water use in rice fields by as much as half.

Those are the kinds of innovations that Netafim works on. John Farner says the partnership develops innovations by “listening to farmers about how they are using their land.” In the past, he said, “different types of irrigation didn’t work well together. Now we’re working with farmers so that some parts of field may have center-pivot while others have drip irrigation,” adding that new tactics might someday have huge benefits: “If we can double yields in Brazil, we can eliminate Amazon deforestation.”

A.G. Kawamura, a vegetable grower in southern California, has used reclaimed water for last 30 years – a necessity for people farming in the desert. Water is becoming more accessible with new water, and used or recycled water. But strategies upstream are just as important, he said, pointing to a “Headwaters of the Colorado” initiative in which SfL is a partner. The goal is for ranchers, foresters, state and federal parks in Colorado and Wyoming, and others to restore and reforest land there to support water all through the Colorado basin.

In a Q and A segment, one question led panelists make a strong case for farmers to have a central role in global climate policy. Given that so many farmers each produce so many things, the questioner asked, would it be better to have a centralized plan for what should be grown where.

Jocelyn Anderson, an almonds and walnut grower in northern California, asked that policymakers “work with [farmers] rather than against us. There is so much diversity in agriculture, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for water and agriculture.”

As panelists noted in their presentations, the most effective measures to capture carbon, enrich the soil, and retain moisture in the fields require great diversity in the crops grown – including pastureland and forage for livestock. If policymakers don’t listen to farmers, they must at least listen to the land. Farner added that in a UN conference on water coming up next year, “We need to make sure ag is at the table.”

To view the panel, click HERE.

 

 

USDA announces Second Pool of Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities

NACSAA partners are a part of seven projects to be funded through the second round of Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grants in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s climate-smart program. The $325 million in grants announced December 12 by USDA were awarded to 71 proposals seeking funds from $250,000 to under $5 million. The first funding pool, announced in September, included $2.8 billion for 70 much larger projects.

 

  • The Farm Journal Foundation is a partner in Improving Access to Grazing Resources for Native American Farmers and Ranchers, a $4.925 million initiative to provide Native American farmers and ranchers with technical assistance and education, and at least $1 million in direct payments to support the adoption of climate-smart practices like rotational grazing and planting of native grasses. Partners will help participants validate greenhouse gas emission reductions and market climate-smart commodities. Farm Journal Agricultural Foundation is the lead partner.

    University of Florida is a partner in Production and Application of Biochar in Agricultural Practices at Small and Underserved Farms: Soil Enhancement, Carbon Sequestration, and promoting Climate-Smart Commodities. The $4.855 million project plans to develop biochar-based climate-smart practices and technologies that may be implemented on farms, especially on underserved farms, and to market the resulting climate-smart commodities. In addition to training, producers may receive a per-acre financial stimulus to use such practices as using biochar in soil amendment, water infiltration and manure composting. The Lead Partner Florida A&M University.

    University of Florida is a part of A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Impact of Industrial Hemp and Soil Microalgae Consortium as High-Efficiency Carbon Sequestration Model Plants, a $4.990 million project to cultivate and market industrial hemp as a climate-smart commodity crop with high-efficiency carbon sequestration in the southeastern United States. The project also will provide financial assistance to small and/or underserved farmers to implement climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices. The Lead Partner is Florida A&M University.

    Soil Health Institute is among several partners in Cover Crop Seed Production Grown with Climate-Smart Wheat, a $4.722 million effort to assist Tribal leaders from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation with financial and technical support to grow cover crop seed into wheat fallow systems with adequate precipitation. The project includes purchasing the climate-smart cover crop seed from participating farmers and sell it to distributors removing a financial barrier to producers that would otherwise reduce participation in growing cover crop seed. Grassland Oregon is the Lead Partner.

    Soil Health Institute is a part of Increasing Accessibility to Regenerative Farming Practices and Markets for Small and/or Underserved Producers, a $4 million initiative that will pay participating farmers a stipend to cover time spent on designing plans for climate-smart regenerative farm practices and emissions reduction. Lead Partner Greener World plans to provide customized marketing support to all project producers.

    Bayer and Syngenta are among those partnering with the National Black Growers Council in working with historically underserved farmers to test regenerative agricultural practices through the National Black Growers Council Regenerative Agriculture Pilot Program. The $4.789 million effort will determine which practices are best suited for various regions and farm types in the Southeast United States. The study will lead to incentives for additional farmers to adopt regenerative agricultural practices and leverage market data to sell products to corporate partners who need to meet corporate sustainability goals.

    Iowa State University, in particular its Agronomy Department, is part of Building Profitability for Underserved Producers with a Pipeline of Land Access, Regenerative Agriculture, and Market Development, a $271,200 project to provide resettled refugees access to low- or no-cost land and technical assistance to use cover crops, buffer strips, improved wetlands, and other climate-smart practices. The Lead Partner is Dalla Terra Ranch Foundation.

    For a complete list of grants, read HERE.

Circular System Pathways for Scaling Climate-Smart Agriculture

 

Farming in a circular economy is a new phrase, but the concept goes back centuries – even millennia.

“I never heard of a circular economy until three months ago – then I found out that’s what I do.” said Bob Lowe, whose Calgary-area farm produces crops and cattle in Canada. He was speaking in a panel discussion at the COP27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November. The panel on “Circular System Pathways for Scaling Climate-Smart Agriculture” was co-hosted by Solutions from the Land, Canadian Cattle Association, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and Aprosojo, an association of soy farmers in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state.

Lowe grows barley, wheat, canola, and peas. He also raises cattle, which spend the summer in the mountains and then come down to graze on crop stubble. He calls manure the “second most valuable part of the cow,” enriching less-productive land.

Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser, an SfL board member, was the panel’s moderator. In introductory remarks, he spoke of interconnections among conservation, water management, and soil health; the need for crop and livestock farmers to work together; and the agricultural aspects of renewable energy. “We have diverse topography, diverse weather, and diverse market opportunities. We have complex systems and decision-making processes. “We should think more circularly in agriculture,” he said. And he asked panelists what would help farmers embrace circularity.

Jocelyn Anderson, a fourth-generation almond and walnut grower in northern California, said incentive programs would help. Planting cover crops between orchard rows is a good thing to do, but can complicate the work. With a simpler application process for assistance, farmers would be more receptive to making such changes.

Several panelists mentioned the need to measure the amount of CO2 they sequester in the soil. “You can’t sell what you can’t measure,” Lowe said. Brazilian farmer Nathan Belusso said universities in Brazil have done work on measuring sequestration.

Michigan State University researcher Bruno Basso offered a litany of strategies and tools that are economically and environmentally circular: High diversity (five-phase crop rotation); integrated livestock and nutrient cycles; cover crops, perennials, agro-forestry; precision technology; greenhouse gas mitigation; and soil carbon sequestration. He encouraged yield-stability analysis, noting that some areas are inefficient while others have continual high yields. Farmers, he said, should have incentives to study this and focus nutrients only on areas that need it; low-productivity areas could be converted into wildlife areas – not farmed, but offering beneficial uses.

He added that, despite the increase in circular farming, many have not adopted that approach. “Economics plays a critical role. Why would they pay for a cover crop, which is expensive, when benefits are vague, and don’t accrue quickly? It’s foolish to think the farmers are the only ones who should sustain the risks. We need to better communicate the advantages – farmers more likely to listen to other farmers than an academic.”

Belusso, who grows soybeans and corn in central Brazil, has an on-farm solar-power plant that serves 70 percent of the 6,000-acre farm’s needs. One-third of the acreage is irrigated by an on-farm reservoir.

Brad Doyle also has a reservoir on his farm in northeast Arkansas. The soil type on much of his land does not drain well, so he seeks crops that excel in that. Arkansas is one of the leading U.S. rice producers, and Doyle is a leading producer there (he also grows corn and soybeans). Rice oil is a byproduct of his crop, and rice hulls are used for poultry bedding. To complete the circle, chicken manure is used as fertilizer.

Gaesser noted that farmers are becoming innovators, and that needs to be a consideration in global climate policy. Attendees agreed that the ag-sector presence at this COP is greater than before, which is an encouraging sign.

To view the panel, click HERE.

 

SfL’s Indiana Smart Agriculture is under way with Purdue as a partner

Indiana Smart Agriculture, the latest of Solutions from the Land’s growing number of statewide climate-smart agriculture plans, spent 2022 on an assessment phase and is now doubling down to develop priorities, strategies, and a full plan in the coming year. Over a series of meetings, Indiana agricultural leaders reached several conclusions:

 

  • Climate change is real and it is not going to go away;
  • Driving forces for change are increasing (weather events, crop and livestock losses, expectations of value chain partners and institutional investors, growth in government climate-smart program resources);
  • Producers need to lead climate-smart conversations and adaptive management planning work; and
  • The state and the ag industry as a sector would benefit from the development of a farmer-led adaptation/mitigation strategy for presentation to their peers, policy makers, researchers, and value chain partners.

In September, the Indiana Smart Agriculture Work Group – 23 members, mostly farmers, along with other ag professionals, and Purdue University agriculture staff – convened to explore how a climate smart agriculture strategy, and developed the following plan of action:

  • A climate smart agriculture strategy for Indiana should be driven by the state’s agriculture community through a series of regional listening sessions organized through Purdue Extension.
  • An Indiana Climate Smart Agriculture Adaptive Management Plan should be developed by respected farm and forestry leaders representing commodities, livestock, specialty crops, small markets, conservation, processing, aggregators, finance, technical services, and youth groups— along with ag retailers, crop consultants. The plan would be used to shape enabling policies, research priorities, and risk management strategies among other things. The plan would include such components as:
    • Regularly updated science-based assessment of current and future conditions.
    • Adaptive management recommendations for: 1) Research needs and priorities, 2) climate-smart production practices and systems, 3) Finance mechanisms and markets, 4) Hard infrastructure needs, 5) Technical infrastructure needs, 6) Water and soil management, 7) Education and communication outreach, 8) Decision support tools, and other factors.
    • Enabling policy and program recommendations.
    • Collaboration with partners and platforms such as 4R, Soil Health, military installations, and others.

Given the speed and magnitude of ongoing climate variation, the work group intends to focus on the next 10-20 years as the timeline for identifying, prioritizing, and championing pragmatic, science-based steps to keep Indiana agriculture vibrant and productive for future generations. Moving Indiana agriculture forward is critical, as evidenced by climate change shocks that productive agricultural breadbaskets across the globe have and are experiencing.

To learn more about the Indiana initiative, read HERE.

GASCA Annual Forum is set for May 4-5 in Rome

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture will look to the future at its 2023 Annual Forum May 4-5 in Rome. GACSA will focus on its crosscutting themes of youth, women and finance, while emphasizing the central role of farmers in all of these themes. In addition, the Forum will showcase new activity proposals, inviting all GACSA members to become more involved with the Alliance. The proposals aim to accelerate GACSA’s multi-stakeholder actions, create new tools and share knowledge to lead positive change.

 

  • The Forum will feature a hybrid format — either in-person in Rome, or through virtual attendance on the Zoom platform. The events will take place at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome. Registration information is expected to be circulated soon. The Forum’s goals include:

    • Highlighting the importance of climate smart agriculture in sustainable food systems, investments, and actions on the global, regional and country levels
    • Engaging GACSA members and organizations in new activity proposals
    • Promoting an increase in climate-smart agriculture innovations and technologies
    • Strengthening collaborations among action groups and regional alliances
    • Creating “satellites” for GACSA countries, regions and constituencies

    Casting a wide net is another of GACSA’s goals. The Forum will encourage participation from all geographic regions, with representation from all key stakeholders from government, research institutions, universities, farmer organizations, agri-businesses, agricultural financiers, civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the media – including technical divisions from Rome Based Agencies and the permanent representations to Italy.

    The Forum will feature a variety of sessions over the two-day event. A session on “Global to Local” will emphasize the importance of strengthening partnerships among GACSA action groups and regional alliances, with a focus on the cross-cutting themes of women, finances, and indigenous people.

    Among other sessions, one on “Innovation and Technology” will include GACSA members from six constituencies presenting their climate-smart innovation practices and technology. Another, “Youth is the Future,” will encourage all youth members of GACSA to speak up. It also will highlight start-ups, new climate-smart practices, e-learning, training, and the impact of youth in general.

    For more information about the GACSA Forum, read HERE.

Featured News

California Could Capture Its Destructive Floodwaters to Fight Drought

The waters that rush across California’s agricultural Central Valley after major storms – as with the spate of “atmospheric rivers” this winter – may someday replenish aquifers beneath the valley with a mix of modern practices and ancient terrain.

 

The state, prodded by researchers at University of California Davis and Stanford University, is helping to identify “paleo valleys” carved by rushing streams of glacial melt from the Sierra Nevada after ice ages eons ago. As the waters slowed, they deposited rocks, stone, and sand that filled the valleys. Capturing stormwater higher in the valleys would allow it to filter down.

An emeritus professor of hydrogeology at UC Davis, Graham Fogg, has studied California’s water systems for 40 years, and believes there are a dozen or more of these valleys that can replenish groundwater depleted by over-pumping and controlling rivers with levees and dams. Along with Rosemary Knight of Stanford he has persuaded California’s Department of Water Resources to survey the Central Valley over the next three years in search of paleo valleys. It’s very possible that every tributary coming off the Sierras has created one.

Finding ways to move water from storm-filled reservoirs to the tops of paleo valleys would create a kind of storm drain that allows groundwater recharge. But local land-use policies in a growing region can be in conflict with the intent to help nature refill groundwater in the valleys. Land above one such valley near Sacramento already is targeted for housing development – and the impermeable surfaces that come with it.

Studies estimate that the underground “rivers” in the paleo valleys extend more than 12 miles into the Central Valley. Capturing water from heavy rains that rush to the sea or cause flooding would likely ensure enough water to recharge the region into the future. Currently, California’s major aqueducts that move water from north to south are underused in winter when fewer growers need to irrigate their crops. Instead, they could transport excess winter stormwater to depleted aquifers. Pipes could be added to them to move the water to the paleo valleys.

If the state takes advantage of these opportunities, it wouldn’t be alone if it pursued this strategy. Many states, cities and countries are joining what environmental writer Erica Geis call the “slow water movement” to restore water’s slow phases where surface and groundwater connect. “Moving away from our strict control mind-set toward more respect for water’s natural cycles,” she wrote, “can make our human habitat more flexible and strengthen our ability to go with the flow.”

For more information about capturing California’s stormwater to fight drought, click HERE.

Winemakers Protect Vines and Climate Through Agroforestry

Once upon a time, vineyards and woodlands coexisted. Ancient Romans used trees as living trellises, and later European vineyards often incorporated orchards. Those practices were largely lost under modern monocropping, but with climate pressures igniting interest in sustainability, agroforestry is returning to wine country around the world.

 

Julie Johnson of Napa’s Tres Sabores winery exults in the renewed coexistence in the October 24 edition of SevenFiftyDaily, an online magazine covering the beverage alcohol industry.

“I have 15 varieties of pomegranate,” she says. “They bring hummingbirds, and hummingbirds eat insects. Some kind of sage is always blooming and bringing in beneficial predators. California buckwheat is great for pollen. The lavender isn’t native, but it’s drought tolerant, and bees love it. The dill looks messy, but it’s a feast for beneficial wasps.”

Agroforestry, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, is “the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits.”

“As it turns out,” Johnson says, “it’s imperative that we weave this web of hedgerows and trees and native plantings into our monoculture.” 

Bordeaux, Sicily, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Iran, and Nepal are some of the regions and countries where the old ways are new again in vineyards.  Katherine Favor, an agriculture specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), notes that the U.S. Census of Agriculture has little data on how common agroforestry is in U.S. vineyards because it does not break down agroforestry practitioners by crops grown. But agroforestry is on the rise in in the California viticulture counties of Sonoma and Mendocino.

An environmental organization in Spain is promotes the mix of viticulture and agroforestry not just for the beneficial birds, but as hedgerows. At one vineyard and winery, Abadía Retuerta, 865 acres of woodland surround 370 acres of vines, and the hedgerows diminish the velocity of the wind and the hot, dry gusts that can desiccate the grapes. 

“If we don’t support biodiversity, it will continue to decline,” says Jo Ann Baumgartner, the executive director of the Wild Farm Alliance . “We benefit from [biodiversity] so why wouldn’t we bring it in?” Birds and bats can help control insects – and raptors such as owls can catch small rodents – that are a threat to vines.

For more information about winemakers practicing agroforestry, click HERE.

Beyond Productivity – Recreating the Circles of Life to Deliver Multiple Benefits with Circular Systems

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).

 

The paper highlights growing evidence of benefits when farmers transition from the artificial simplicity of a linear production-volume model to a circular complexity that seeks to replicate or simulate the interrelated systems of nature. It shows that the approach can apply to a fish farm in Vietnam as well as a corn-and-bean farm in Iowa. In a sense, circular farming means listening to the Earth. It means looking closely at everything produced on a farm – even things that have been considered waste – and delineating what can be sold on the market; what can be reused on the farm; what can be sold as an input to neighboring farms; and what can add diversity and nutrients to the land. It means looking at the wildlife and natural vegetation amid the farmland and learning what beneficial characteristics they may add.

The paper identifies several ways farmers can find new paths in the value chain: 1) designing out waste and pollution (recovering and reintroducing discarded wastes for productive uses); (2) protecting and renewing natural systems; (3) establishing processes that systematically reuse products and materials; and (4) offering economic benefits from reduced inputs and value-added byproducts.

It also emphasizes the importance of farmer-to-farmer learning in advancing the concept of circularity – an approach central to SfL’s work. The SfL process is to:

  • Engage farmers and their partners in conversations about what works and what does not work.
  • Discuss and debate the reasons, motivations, and risks associated with altering their current production systems.
  • Envision what their farm, community, and region might look like if they diversify their farms and integrate human and natural systems.
  • Encourage, educate, and equip farmers to experiment and learn from personal and peer experiences, local knowledge, and scientific research.
  • Find right-sized technologies for farm systems at various scales and geographies.
  • Create system processes, collect data, and maintain feedback loops that provide information to guide adjustments as conditions.

Discussions in some SfL farmer workgroups pointed to three non-linear strategies: efficiency, substitution, and redesign. Combining those strategies can yield even better results: increased profitability, improved soil health, and protecting water resources. One farmer noted that “alfalfa fields near pollinator plots and woodlands seem to rarely need insecticides, and hawks and eagles eat the small rodents that make farming with cover crops and no-till a challenge.”

Achieving circular agricultural systems will require farmers to modify their resource inputs and flows by increasing on-farm and farm-to-farm recycling, and by redirecting current outputs into inputs for other production systems. The approach replaces the traditional “take, make, and dispose” model with a circular “make, use, and recycle” model.

Other News We Are Reading

A Washington Post story published near the end of the COP27’s second week provides a mainstream view of agriculture’s role in addressing climate change. The article began and ended with a pitch for lab-grown meat by the founder of San Francisco-based Eat Just Inc. But the bulk of the article highlighted farmers’ efforts to produce more food while decreasing their environmental impact.

“No one is more vulnerable to climate change than the world’s farmers, and I firmly believe no one can do more about it in a shorter space of time than the world’s farmers can,” said Theo de Jager, a macadamia-nut farmer in South Africa and the former head of the World Farmers’ Organization. “How could anyone have ever considered not talking about it?” He was pleased that after 12 years of attending the U.N. Climate Summit, agriculture finally had a prominent place on the agenda. Jager also spoke atSustainable and Inclusive Agriculture Transformation: Engaging the Private Sector,” one of five COP27 side-events co-hosted by Solutions from the Land.

The article quoted some critics who said the summit’s agriculture sessions were too heavily focused on corporate partners. But it also noted that wealthy nations have an obligation to ensure that advances are shared with poorer nations. “The choice is between adapting or starving,” Dina Saleh, a regional director for the U.N. International Fund for Agriculture Development, said at a news conference where she called on wealthy nations to honor their $100 billion pledge.

A chef in a Hudson Valley village north of New York City is trying to help farmers diversify their production and preserve their favorite seeds by creating a high-end – but not too high-end – retail market for healthful, savory heritage produce.

Row 7, the seed brand established by chef Dan Barber and Michael Mazourek in the Hudson Valley north of New York City, packages and sells vegetables grown from seeds from a network of 55 breeders who, until now, did not have a sustainable market for many of their favorite varieties. Plants from these seeds may require more attention than typical varieties that may be bred as much for shipping and storage as for taste. Row 7 also guarantees its farmers with a contract to purchase what they can produce at above-market rates.

Barber’s restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns (famous in foodie circles) is on an experimental farm in Tarrytown, New York. Seeks to reinvigorate the seed industry with a focus on “true seasonality.” Initially focused on restaurants and specialty markets, Row 7 is expanding into retail, with produce called Badger Flame Beets, and squashes named Honeypatch and Koginut.

The broad vision is largely farmer-driven and intended to make the farms economically stronger. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all model. The retail rollout is limited to the New York City and Boston areas because that’s where the retail target market is, but also where the Row 7 farmers are based, and where the seeds are bred to thrive. Ideally, this concept could be adapted to different parts of the country.

For more information about chefs, specialty seeds, and diversified cropping, click HERE.

Partner News and Events

February USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum is 99th annual event

USDA’s largest and premiere annual gathering will be held in-person on February 23-24 at the Crystal City Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va. Sessions also will be livestreamed on a virtual platform. Registration is required for both virtual and in-person attendance, but there is no cost to attending the forum virtually.

More than 30 sessions and 100 agriculture leaders and subject matter experts will highlight key issues in agriculture, including USDA’s initial forecast for the agricultural economy, commodity markets, and trade in 2023, and the U.S. farm-income situation. Other key topics include: climate smart agriculture; supply chain challenges and solutions; factors affecting U.S. trade and the global marketplace; and a food prices outlook.

For additional details about the Outlook Forum, click HERE.

Western agriculture can address conservation without downsizing itself

The Family Farm Alliance’s 2023 Annual Meeting and Conference, in Reno on February 23-24, will make a case for the irrigated system of agriculture in the West – with an argument that compares downsizing western agriculture to the decline of American manufacturing in recent decades. 

The conference is an opportunity for producers, policymakers and water professionals from throughout the West to focus on topics of critical concern. A wide variety of speakers will take on the issues that make a difference to irrigators. Members of Congress and their staff, Administration officials, and representatives from constructive NGOs are regulars on the program. Speakers will highlight alternatives to policy ideas that focus primarily on conservation and downsizing of Western agriculture

For more event details, click HERE.

Building a Resilient Future for Canadian Agriculture, March 6-7

“Building a Resilient Future for Canadian Agriculture” is the theme for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s 2023 annual meeting March 6 – 7 at the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel. Farm leaders from across the country, along with industry stakeholders and government representatives, will join to set priorities for Canadian agriculture in the coming year. The context of climate change and large-scale supply chain disruptions makes it more important at this time to develop greater resilience in agriculture and the food supply chain.

A policy workshop will be available for producer delegates and stakeholders, elected organizational representatives as well as political participants. Staff may also attend the policy symposium. In addition to the general workshops, the conference includes professional-development workshops limited to the staff of CFA member organizations and other attending organizations. Producer delegates and directors are asked not to attend this.

For more event details, click HERE.

 

Ace Bringing Advocates to the Hill for DC Fly-In March 29-30

 

After a COVID-19 hiatus, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) will resume its 12th annual Washington, D.C., Fly-in and Government Affairs Summit on March 29-30.

 The event’s priorities include pushing bipartisan congressional legislation for nationwide and permanent E15 market access; supporting a technology-neutral clean fuel policy that recognizes farmers’ and ethanol producers’ contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and promoting the Next Generation Fuels Act. Those priorities all are designed to boost ethanol demand. Also on the agenda are the new Farm Bill, renewable-fuel standards, and implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act.

For more Fly-In details, click HERE. HERE.

ABOUT NACSAA

About NACSAA

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.

North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA)

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