EDITOR'S NOTE: Welcome to the latest edition of NACSAA News, a quarterly compilation of CSA-related news. "Featured News" offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past month; "NACSAA Members in Action" features the latest on the Alliance partner activities; "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 CSA Events." We hope this newsletter will serve to keep you, your members and other constituencies fully engaged in the growing development of climate-smart agriculture policy, programs and practices. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. To subscribe, email info@SfLDialogue.net
Food and Ag Climate Alliance
Push Policy Recommendations
Alliance leaders note that Congress and the Biden administration have expressed high levels of interest in the previously released FACA recommendations and requested additional guidance on how to achieve the goals laid out in their November report.
In response, the alliance's policy working groups are producing more detailed and specific proposals focusing on the carbon bank concept, tax credits and other incentives, as well as climate research. The policy working groups continue to uphold FACA's three principles:
- Agricultural and forestry climate policies must be built upon voluntary, incentive-based programs and market-driven opportunities;
- They must promote resilience and adaptation in rural communities; and
- They must be science-based.
Earlier this month, four witnesses representing FACA founding organizations and co-chairs –American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and National Farmers Union – testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on the ag, food and forestry sectors' role in delivering climate solutions.
Farmers, ranchers and forest owners are on the frontlines of climate impacts and offer innovative, natural solutions through increased carbon sequestration in trees and soils and reduced GHG emissions, lawmakers were told.
In accordance with FACA's guiding principles, the four representatives stressed to lawmakers that federal climate policy must be built upon voluntary, incentive-based programs and market-driven opportunities, promote resilience and adaptation in rural communities, and be grounded in scientific evidence.
In addition, solutions proposed by Congress and the Biden administration must be strongly bipartisan and accommodate the diverse needs of producers and landowners, regardless of size, geographic region or commodity, the FACA leaders said.
FACA's original 40-plus recommendations are summarized in a one-page hand-out, cover six areas of focus: soil health, livestock and dairy, forests and wood products, energy, research, and food loss and waste.
The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance consists of organizations representing farmers, ranchers, forest owners, agribusinesses, manufacturers, the food and innovation sector, state governments, sportsmen and environmental advocates. These groups have broken through historical barriers to develop and promote shared climate policy priorities across the entire agriculture, food and forestry value chains.
IEA Experts Assert Bioenergy's Role
As a Climate Change Solution Pathway
A global network on research and implementation of bioenergy issued a statement last month correcting what member scientists say are misconceptions about wood bioenergy.
Members of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy Technology Collaboration Program (BTC) said they released the statement in response to media campaigns and publications questioning the use of woody biomass for renewable energy production.
Many of the accounts, the experts said, misrepresent ongoing forestry practices and bioenergy systems, and associate the use of woody biomass for energy with overexploitation of forests, even permanent deforestation, and "the burning of trees."
In their statement, BTC experts contend bioenergy is an integral part of the forest sector, which responds to bioenergy demand by devising forest management approaches and industrial processes to sustainably produce fuels, heat and electricity, as well as sawlogs, paper and a multitude of other biobased products.
With sustainability as an overarching principle, the use of wood for renewable energy can be a key driver in not only expanding the supply of biomass for energy, but also in enhancing and capturing a myriad of environmental services that healthy, properly managed forests provide.
In addition to boosting carbon storage, good management practices being undertaken today can improve a forest's biodiversity, wildlife habitat, soil retention, water filtration and storage, and recreation, the experts said, adding that all of these objectives can be accomplished while still supplying the valuable wood and byproducts needed by the traditional forest products industry.
Combustion is the most frequent means of converting woody biomass into energy today, particularly in the form of heat and/or power. BTC researchers acknowledge that the process can conjure a vision of "burning trees and forests" among those who are unfamiliar with today's forestry, including many scientists.
However, those in the sector recognize that any harvesting of biomass – be it for bioenergy, construction material, paper or other use – should occur within sustainable boundaries. That means observing good forest management and harvesting principles, which provide safeguards against overharvesting, while maintaining ecological sustainability, and cultural and recreational values.
In their statement, the experts examine questions raised about woody biomass, including those that cast doubts about its need for energy. They say the most important climate change mitigation measure is to transform energy and transport systems as soon as possible so that fossil carbon can be left in the ground.
In addressing the contention that forests being cut to produce bioenergy, the BTC experts said "on-the-ground" practices are used to manage forests to provide multiple forest products, such as sawn wood, paper, bioenergy and other biobased products. These different forest products together avoid fossil carbon emissions by replacing those products that would otherwise leave a high-carbon footprint, such as fossil fuels, cement, steel, or petroleum-based plastics and chemicals.
The experts note that some 90 percent of global renewable industrial heat consumption is currently based on biomass, mainly in industries that can use their own biomass waste and residues, such as sawmills and the pulp and paper industry. By shifting from fossil fuels to biomass, these industries can stop injecting fossil carbon into the atmosphere. Also, energy efficiency improvements and changes in industrial processes enable the sustainable production of fuels, heat and electricity.
Feeding Cattle Seaweed Reduces
Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions 82 Percent
A bit of seaweed in cattle feed could reduce methane emissions from beef cattle as much as 82 percent, according to new findings from researchers at the University of California, Davis. The results, published March 17 in the journal PLOS ONE, could pave the way for the sustainable production of livestock throughout the world.
"We now have sound evidence that seaweed in cattle diet is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and that the efficacy does not diminish over time," said Ermias Kebreab, professor and chair of the Department of Animal Science, as well as director of the World Food Center at the university. Kebreab conducted the study along with Ph.D. graduate student Breanna Roque.
"This could help farmers sustainably produce the beef and dairy products we need to feed the world," Roque added.
Over the course of five months last summer, Kebreab and Roque added scant amounts of seaweed to the diet of 21 beef cattle and tracked their weight gain and methane emissions. Cattle that consumed doses of about 80 grams (3 ounces) of seaweed gained as much weight as their herd mates while burping out 82 percent less methane into the atmosphere. Kebreab and Roque are building on their earlier work with dairy cattle, which was the world's first experiment reported that used seaweed in cattle.
Greenhouse gases are a major cause of climate change, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and half of those come from cows and other ruminant animals that belch methane and other gases throughout the day as they digest forages like grass and hay.
Since cattle are the top agricultural source of greenhouse gases, many have suggested people eat less meat to help address climate change. Kebreab looks to cattle nutrition instead.
"Only a tiny fraction of the earth is fit for crop production," Kebreab explained. "Much more land is suitable only for grazing, so livestock plays a vital role in feeding the 10 billion people who will soon inhabit the planet. Since much of livestock's methane emissions come from the animal itself, nutrition plays a big role in finding solutions."
In 2018, Kebreab and Roque were able to reduce methane emissions from dairy cows by over 50 percent by supplementing their diet with seaweed for two weeks. The seaweed inhibits an enzyme in the cow's digestive system that contributes to methane production.
In the new study, Kebreab and Roque tested whether those reductions were sustainable over time by feeding cows a touch of seaweed every day for five months, from the time they were young on the range through their later days on the feed lot.
"There is more work to be done, but we are very encouraged by these results," Roque said. "We now have a clear answer to the question of whether seaweed supplements can sustainably reduce livestock methane emissions and its long-term effectiveness."
Support for the research comes from Blue Ocean Barns, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Grantham Foundation.
SfL Offers Vision for an 'Ag Renaissance'
In the 21st Century
Solutions from the Land (SfL) has issued a "white paper" that lays out a vision for an agricultural renaissance in this century and offers a model for constructing sustainable and resilient systems across working landscapes to counter growing interlinked global food security, nutrition, health and climate challenges.
The paper – "21st Century Agricultural Renaissance: Solutions from the Land" – details the vision's implementation, which is characterized by broad initiatives that reject the siloed management approaches of the past to foster multi-stakeholder collaborations that utilize integrated approaches to agriculture, forestry, and food system challenges.
The report was released by SfL Co-Chair A.G. Kawamura during a side event that SfL, the Global Farmer Network, the Global Dairy Platform, along with Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands and the United States, hosted Feb. 11 in conjunction with the 75th anniversary meeting of FAO's Committee on Food Security held virtually from Rome.
The paper notes that the 21st century is now fully under way, amid weather-related crop failures; locust plagues; wildfires and deforestation; regional conflicts; loss of biodiversity; erosion of ecosystem health and functionality; a changing climate; and the spillover of 2020's global pandemic into 2021.
"Our 20th century agricultural production and conservation systems are increasingly under stress and are proving to be inadequate to manage the risks and uncertainties of 21st century production" said Kawamura. "Our report promotes solution pathways that better boost not only food security, but energy, healthy ecosystems and livelihoods as well."
The SfL paper sets out a vision and pathways for defining agriculture through the lens of a broader reality of living as opposed to simply surviving. It promotes the resilience needed to maintain abundance in the years to come.
"Today's agriculture must address hunger, livelihoods, water scarcity, clean water, healthy soil, ecosystem resilience, climate change, greenhouse gases and a whole range of local and global realities. " said the report's Co-Chair Howard-Yana Shapiro, a Senior Fellow at the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, University of California in Davis.
The paper offers a lengthy list of technologies and innovations that address the proliferating and varied challenges that farmers, ranchers and foresters are facing. Smartphones, computing technologies, geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), remote sensing, models, robotics, drones, and on-demand local climate projections are being applied to support precision agriculture, agricultural ecosystem and biodiversity management, and more effective ways for farmers and others in farming landscapes to communicate and collaborate.
Advanced science is uncovering processes in microbiology, plant biology, agroecology and landscape ecology – at field, farm and landscape scales – that can be harnessed to develop nature-positive production systems. Inventions such as robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, CRISPR, nanotechnologies, genetic and biological engineering, sound wave pulverization and data-rich modeling are rapidly moving beyond conceptualization to experimental trials and mainstream uses.
"Yet despite these advances," the report warns, "without the full engagement of farmers, foresters and their partners, our capacity to transform the systems of agriculture for the future will be compromised. The development of a more dynamic and robust toolbox is essential, but will be insufficient without the voice, experience, and understanding that the stewards of the land provide as they move beyond timely projections to address changes and threats in real time.
"Those on the front line must have support and resources to strike new ground in managing their lands and shaping their working landscapes," agreed report Co-Chair Tom Lovejoy, who serves as Biodiversity Chair and Professor at George Mason University and previously as President of the Heinz Center.
A vision for working landscapes of the future offered by the paper brings production, environmental, food, and nutrition policies into harmony and streamlines regulations that are too often overlapping and contradictory. It is a model that engages with farmers to sharpen a shared focus on outcomes, not prescriptive mandates that tell farmers how to farm.
The vision calls for strategies anchored by the three overlapping climate smart agriculture (CSA) pillars: 1) sustainable intensification of production, 2) adaptive management and 3) greenhouse gas reduction. The paper notes that a CSA approach does not prioritize any one of the pillars and represents the simultaneous co-benefits that accrue from their pursuit. Subsequently, a "many pathways" approach to managing working lands recognizes the tremendous diversity of agricultural landscapes and ecosystems, and enables producers to utilize the systems and practices that best support their own unique situations and circumstances.
The overarching objective of the vision for 21st century agricultural and forestry production systems offered by SfL's white paper is the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 objectives set in 2015 for 2030 by UN members to call for (among other outcomes) the elimination of hunger, the restoration of clean water resources, the development of clean energy and the mitigation of a changing climate.
Included in the paper are "stories from the land" that document the work being undertaken on many farming, ranching and forestry operations that showcase "win-win" scenarios: systems and practices that offer that present solutions for global challenges, while improving environmental resilience, building strong rural communities, engaging consumers, and enhancing public health through access to nutritious food.
AFBF Economist Spells out What's Needed
To Optimize Ag's Role Against Climate Change
John Newton told the 2021 Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Forum last week that farmers, ranchers and other producers had brought their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) down by 24 percent over the past three decades, a figure that accounts for the increase in the sector's productivity. Ag-related GHGs can drop even more if Congress and the White House fully commit to the assistance those in the sector will need to optimize their efforts to reduce emissions and stem climate change, he said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Bloomberg News in an interview in early March that the Biden administration was taking a hard look at how to structure a carbon market that would encourage broad participation by U.S. farmers, including examining whether to guarantee a minimum price for credits given for reducing emissions.
In his own remarks during the Agri-Pulse forum, Vilsack said that while he thought USDA had the authority to create carbon bank that would pay farmers for sequestered emissions, he is polling farmers for suggestions on how best to run it.
“Is this a bank that should pay for carbon credits? Is this a bank that should guarantee a price for credits? Is this a bank that potentially should finance the improvements to carbon sequestration and capture?” said Vilsack.
The USDA posted a public notice Feb. 15 to launch a 45-day comment period to solicit input from stakeholders as the agency develops a climate-smart agriculture and forestry approach to addressing climate change.
"We will be exploring in depth how we could structure appropriately a carbon bank that would be designed for and benefit farmers,” Vilsack said. "Would it require a price guarantee on carbon? Would it require a program that invests and provides resources for the capital costs associated with capture of carbon?"
In putting together the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers maintained two longstanding working lands program – the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. However, funding for those critical programs remained unchanged and insufficient for the effort needed to fully contribute to climate stabilizing efforts. Budget writers only retained the same conservation funding level – $60 billion over 10 years – assigned in the 2014 farm bill, and moved away money intended for the CSP and used if for other programs.
Some success was achieved, Newton told the Agri-Pulse forum, noting that his data shows the CSP was used last year to support conservation tillage, crop rotation, cover crops, nutrient and pest management and other activities on 14 million acres.
But, he said, "There’s a backlog of projects to be approved," adding that it may fall on the writers of the next farm bill to provide the resources needed “to significantly expand some of these programs…We've been spending billions of dollars every year on working lands programs, on land retirement, on EQIP.”
Acknowledging the traditionally difficult effort to secure proper funding, Newton emphasized that Congress will need to scale up most related programs if those in the ag sector are going to be able to make their operations even greener.
Biofuel, Farm Leaders Embrace New EPA Position
On 10th Circuit's SRE Decision
EPA filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court March 24 in support of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year holding as improper small refinery exemptions (SREs) to Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) biofuel blending requirements granted by the agency to three operations during the Trump administration.
The high court is set to hear the case April 27.
The official filing marks the full reversal from agency policy under the previous administration, when EPA granted 88 small refinery exemptions from 2016 to 2020, a total nearly four-fold the numbers granted in previous years.
The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union, all NACSAA members, and the Renewable Fuels Association – working together as the Biofuels Coalition – issued a statement lauding an announcement last month from EPA that it was reversing its position on SREs.
"Our nation's biofuel producers and farmers appreciate EPA's careful review of the Tenth Circuit Court's decision, and we are pleased the agency's new leadership is reversing the previous administration's flawed position on small refinery exemptions.," the allied trade groups said. "The reversal marks a major step forward by the Biden administration to restore the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard and honor the intent of Congress. We wholeheartedly agree with EPA's conclusion that the small refinery exemption was intended to be a temporary measure and we are pleased to see the agency confirming that only previously existing exemptions may be extended."
Under challenge from the refineries is a January, 2020, ruling by the appellate court that held only small refineries that have remained continuously exempt from obligations under the RFS program are eligible for future extensions of the compliance exemption.
"We believe the Tenth Circuit got it right the first time, and we will continue to defend the court's ruling and stand up for the farmers and renewable fuel producers harmed by the granting of these illegal waivers," the coalition said in its brief filed with the Supreme Court last week. "We strongly believe the Tenth Circuit Court's ruling is consistent with both the Clean Air Act and Congressional intent."
Earlier last month, comments submitted to EPA by ACE CEO Brian Jennings highlighted what he called a "lack of merit" behind the petitions from refiners, oil-state governors, and the National Wildlife Federation in support of the refiners' petition for waiver from the RFS requirements.
He detailed how these requests "fail to satisfy the statutory evidentiary requirements and precedent from 2008 and 2012, which require EPA to determine that the RFS itself must be proven to be the cause of 'severe economic harm' to justify a waiver," not outside factors such as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary argument made in support of the waiver requests.
SHI Research Shows Soil Health Boosts
Corn, Soybean Growers' Income by More Than 80 Percent
Improving soil health can help farmers build drought resilience, increase nutrient availability, suppress diseases, reduce erosion and nutrient losses, and increase economic benefits according to recent research from NACSAA partner, the Soil Health Institute (SHI).
"In addition to benefiting farmers and their land, many soil health management systems also benefit the broader environment by storing soil carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving water quality," says Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, SHI president and CEO, "However, investing in soil health is also a business decision, and information regarding the economic benefits of adopting soil health practices was limited until the Institute's recent evaluation."
To address the information gap, Cargill and SHI partnered to assess the economics of soil health management systems and provide farmers with the economic information they need when deciding whether to adopt regenerative soil health systems.
SHI researchers interviewed 100 farmers across nine states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee) who adopted soil health systems to acquire production information such as tillage practices, nutrient management, pest management, yield changes, and others.
Dr. Archie Flanders, SHI Agricultural Economist, then evaluated the on-farm economics using partial budget analysis. A detailed description of the partial budget methodology used can be found on the SHI website. In the approach, the costs and benefits of a soil health system are compared before and after adoption of that system.
From the data collection and analysis across all 100 farms, SHI found that soil health management systems:
- Increased net income for 85 percent of farmers growing corn and 88 percent of farmers growing soybean,
- Reduced the average cost to grow corn by $24/acre and soybean by $17/acre, and
- Increased net farm income by an average of $52/acre for corn and $45/acre for soybean.
"In addition, 97 percent of the farmers we interviewed reported their soil health management system increased crop resilience to extreme weather," said Dr. John Shanahan, Project Manager for the study.
"There has been growing awareness and interest among farmers in soil health. Increasingly, they are looking for a more robust picture of the long-term benefits soil health management systems can provide," said Ryan Sirolli, Global Row Crop Sustainability Director at Cargill. "We're encouraged by the work the Soil Health Institute has done to provide additional quantitative evidence to demonstrate the economic benefits of adopting soil health management systems. These results further our confidence that agriculture is how farmers can become more resilient and profitable while making a positive impact on the environment."
"To get information into the hands of farmers that is most relevant to them, we are presenting results for each individual state using webinars and fact sheets," said Dr. Honeycutt. "The webinars will cover the highlights and give farmers an opportunity to ask questions, while the fact sheets will provide a bit more detail for their particular state. We are inviting as many state-based, ag-related organizations as we can find and asking them to please forward the invitation to all farmers on their mailing list."
State-by-state webinars will occur weekly through May 13. For a schedule, click HERE. Registration is free but required to participate. All who register will receive that state's fact sheet.
Dialogue Held to Discuss Means
To Strengthen Landscape Partnerships:
UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) North America and EcoAgriculture Partners staged a dialogue March 30 that prompted a discussion on landscape partnerships in the context of the United Nations Food System Summit (UNFSS). The UNFSS is using the dialogue to look for bold actions to receive global support and mobilization to transform food systems inclusively.
SfL Board of Directors member Pat O'Toole, a Wyoming rancher, conservationist, public lands expert and president of the Family Farm Alliance, was on the event's first panel, discussing support for landscape partnerships.
Partners of the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People initiative have proposed a "game-changing solution" to institutionalize support to "Strengthen Landscape Partnerships" as a means to promote nature-positive production, resilience, sustainable development, and human rights around the world.
The event, which was held on Twitter, is part of the UNFSS Dialogue series. Panelists from UNFSS Action Tracks, FAO, and Landscape Leaders discussed the role of Landscape Partnerships in sustaining global food systems and the types of institutional support they need to be a "game-changing" solution for food systems transformation in the context of post-COVID recovery and beyond.
Momentum Continues to Build
For ASABE Initiative on Circular Economies
Momentum continues to build for NACSAA partner American Society for Agricultural and Biological Engineers' initiative to promote circular agricultural and environmental systems, with several peer organizations formally joining the effort and others signaling strong interest in collaboration.
The ASABE initiative, Circular Economies for Food and Agricultural Systems, will advance the transition of food and agricultural systems into circular systems by 2050, to meet the increasing demands of the growing global population while sustaining availability of natural resources and the health of ecosystems.
Among those organizations that have formally joined the coalition are the fellow NACSAA partners the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America, along with the American Society for Soil Science and the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. Additional organizations, as well as federal agencies, have expressed interest in joining or otherwise supporting the initiative, including the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).
Crucial support for the concept was provided by NASEM’s Board of Agricultural and Natural Resources (BANR), which in February 2020 approved an ASABE proposal to conduct a consensus study and make recommendations for pathways to make the transition. BANR is seeking assistance within NASEM and with stakeholders to raise an estimated $1.5 million to conduct the study.
ASABE has pledged support toward the study and encourages the collaboration of a broad complement of partners, to ensure that initiative benefits from strong, multidisciplinary input.
"Identifying how to move to circular systems will be critically important for the U.S in order to maintain its position as a global leader in food and agriculture and to have a continued impact on commerce, the environment, health, and security." said ASABE Executive Director Darrin Drollinger. "Creating a societies coalition to undertake these activities that promote convergent systems for developing knowledge and technology will be key to successfully transitioning to circular systems."
Those with an interest in the initiative are invited to contact Drollinger.
Other News We Are Reading
Farmers face significant expenses in adopting climate mitigation practices, and the Biden administration is pondering how to "de-risk those investments," possibly through a so-called carbon bank, said USDA climate adviser Robert Bonnie. "Can we look at some new authorities to create some new financing mechanisms?" The concept of a carbon bank at the USDA has figured prominently in discussions about how the government could encourage farmers, ranchers, and foresters to slow global warming by sequestering carbon and other greenhouse gases in the soil and in trees. Bonnie, for example, in a white paper, advocated creating a carbon bank, drawing on USDA funding, to finance "climate-smart land management practices" by paying a guaranteed price per ton of carbon reductions. (Read more…
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack predicted farms would provide "early wins" for the Biden administration's efforts to counter climate change, and hinted he will draw on the department's borrowing authority to fund initiatives to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He told the National Farmers Union
Monday that he believes USDA has "some flexibility" to draw resources for climate change initiatives from the Commodity Credit Corporation
, a New Deal-era entity with borrowing authority that President Donald Trump tapped to fund his $28 billion trade bailout. Vilsack suggested he would take quick action, adding that "it's going to take a while" for other sectors of the economy such as power generation, construction and transportation to switch to more climate-friendly practices. But agriculture is "in the best position to start early and quickly." (Read more…
During a recent, virtual panel discussion sponsored by an ag policy think tank, Robert Bonnie, USDA's deputy chief of staff for incoming Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, said that President Biden's executive order on climate change said the administration wants to develop climate-smart agriculture, and said it is important to find a way to "de-risk" investments related to climate change in agriculture and forestry. Because carbon is a commodity, using the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), USDA's line of credit at the Treasury Department to help farmers, can be justified in developing programs to address climate change. "CCC was built to help think about how we stabilize that and think about how we can work with producers to help market them and do other things with commodities," Bonnie said. He said a carbon bank would make "flexible" policy possible. Read more…
Extolled as a defense against erosion and nutrient loss during fallow seasons, cover crops are being planted on a larger portion of U.S. cropland than before, said USDA economists. Plantings expanded 50 percent in a five-year period, but still only 5 percent of cropland is sown with them — and incentive payments are an important factor in adoption of the practice. Some 15.4 million acres were planted with cover crops in 2017, "larger than the area that is planted to spring wheat, cotton, sorghum, or rice," said the Economic Research Service. "The recent growth in cover crop acreage has been rapid, with cover crop acreage increasing 50 percent between 2012 and 2017. Corn-for-grain and soybean fields accounted for most of this growth in acreage." Read more…
The United States needs to set a target to slash its greenhouse gas emissions between 57 and 63 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 in order to achieve the Biden administration's longer-term goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a new analysis released March 11. Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analyzed President Joe Biden's plans to decarbonize the electricity sector, commercial buildings and new vehicle fleet and found that for the United States to do its share to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius - the goal of the Paris Agreement - it needs to cut at least 57% of its emissions by the end of the decade. The analysis comes before the United States is due to announce its new Paris Agreement pledge for 2030 known as a Nationally Determined Contribution ahead of a climate leaders' summit the country will host on April 22. (Read more…
(Fern's Ag Insider)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the need for structural changes to U.S. food distribution systems in order to tackle hunger, strengthen equity, and increase access to school meals during his keynote address Wednesday at the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, a multi-day event co-sponsored by Feeding America and the Food Research & Action Center, in cooperation with the National CACFP Forum. Vilsack drew attention to the twin crises
of food insecurity and "nutrition insecurity," citing striking levels of childhood and adult obesity — 18.5 percent and 71 percent, respectively — along with the 40 percent of Americans suffering from more than two chronic illnesses, many of which stem from poor diets. (Read more…
Partner News & CSA Events
Prep Work for Upcoming Food Systems Summit Continues with Dialogue April 6th
To help ensure that farmer and rancher experiences, insight and recommendations are elevated in the discussions leading up to a UN Food Systems Summit (FSS) this fall, Solutions from the Land (SfL) and a group of collaborating agricultural organizations are holding a dialogue for stakeholders April 6.
The objective of the dialogue – a virtual event that will run from 9-11:30 a.m. – is to engage a cross section of farmers and ranchers in a discussion of topics to be considered under an FSS "action track" aimed at optimizing the use of environmental resources in food production, processing and distribution, thereby reducing biodiversity loss, pollution, water use, soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.
"Boost Nature Positive Production at Sufficient Scale," the third of five action tracks laid out for the global summit, aims to deepen understanding of the constraints and opportunities facing farmers and enterprises along the food value chain. It will also strive to support food system governance that realigns incentives to reduce food losses and other negative environmental impacts.
Joining SfL in staging the dialogue are the Almond Board of California; Animal Agriculture Alliance; Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions; National Corn Growers Association; National Institute for Animal Agriculture; U.S. Grains Council; and the U.S. Soybean Export Council.
Underscoring the importance of input from agricultural stakeholders is the fact that this fall's event will be the first global food summit in 25 years, and stakeholders across the globe are weighing in with their suggestions for changes to our food systems. Of critical importance in any discussion about the future of food systems are the voices of farmers and ranchers – the producers who make the investments, incur the risks and do the real work to grow the food that the world needs.
The critical nature of this fall's summit and the work to be done at the April 6 dialogue is underscored in the fourth annual Global Report on Food Crises, which holds that the number of people across the globe suffering from hunger and malnutrition is rising. In the 55 countries that the survey covered, 135 million people were classified as being in the crisis or worse category; 183 million were classified as experiencing stressed conditions; 75 million children were stunted and another 17 million were suffering from wasting.
These tragic conditions, fueled by conflict, climate shocks and low economic activity, will likely deepen as the full impact of the current global pandemic is realized. In response to these and other challenges, the UN Secretary General plans to use the 2021 Food Systems Summit to:
- Dramatically elevate public discourse about the importance of food systems leading to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how to get the public working for people and the planet.
- Prompt significant action, with measurable outcomes that enable achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This will include highlighting existing solutions and celebrating leaders in food systems transformation, as well as calling for new actions worldwide by different actors, including countries, cities, companies, civil society, citizens and food producers.
- Establish a high-level set of principles through the process that will guide Member States and other stakeholders to leverage their food systems capacity to support the SDGs. Distilled through all elements of the preparatory process, these principles will set an optimistic and encouraging vision in which food systems play a central role in building a fairer, more sustainable world.
- Establish a system of follow-up and review that will drive new actions and results; allow for the sharing of experiences, lessons, and knowledge; and incorporate new metrics for impact analysis.
"While food and agriculture may differ by region and locale, U.S. producers face challenges relating to economic, environment, and social sustainability and are equally invested in the Summit vision and objectives," says SfL President Ernie Shea. "There is no one size fits all in agriculture. Each farm, notwithstanding its size, type or production style, plays a role – and each is interconnected through our food systems.
FAO Offers Briefing on Pathways
To a More Resilient, Sustainable Food System
A congressional briefing held March 31 share with lawmakers and staff how nature-based solutions in agriculture can help growers adapt to climate change while creating economically sound, environmentally sustainable and more resilient food systems.
The briefing, which was conduction on Twitter, was sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
Presentations can be found on Twitter using #NatureBasedSolutions.
Briefing participants said Agriculture Nature-Based Solutions (Ag-NbS) have an integral role to play in providing win-win scenarios that not only promote more sustainable agriculture production systems, but also serve as high-yielding, long-term investments.
FAO and TNC are promoting the adoption of Ag-NbS through the development of financing at scale, from source water protection to soil health, carbon mitigation, water quality improvement, wetland protections, and fisheries and biodiversity benefits.
The congressional briefing aimed to showcase how Ag-NbS approaches can enhance resource efficiency, food system resilience, food security, and rural livelihoods. Speakers also discussed how the United States can advance Agriculture Nature-based Solutions as a part of Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.
Featured speakers included:
- Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, U.S. Representative for Maine's 1st Congressional District
- Vimlendra Sharan, Director, FAO North America
- Sasha Koo-Oshima, Deputy-Director, Land and Water Division, FAO
- Thomas Iseman, TNC Global – Provide Food and Water
- Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer, TNC
- Thomas Pesek, Senior Liaison Officer, FAO North America (Moderator)
USDA Requests Information
On Climate-Smart Ag and Forestry Strategy
The USDA is seeking public input on a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy. The department posted a public notice Feb. 15 that officials say represents an important step toward implementing President Biden's executive order on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.
The order, signed Jan. 27, states that, "America's farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels."
The order directs Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to solicit input from stakeholders as USDA develops a climate-smart agriculture and forestry approach.
"USDA is committed to addressing climate change through actions that are farmer, rancher, and forest landowner-focused and that create new market opportunities for the sector in a fair and equitable way," said Vilsack. "We want your ideas on how to position the agriculture and forestry sectors to be leaders on climate smart practices to mitigate climate change. This includes making the most of USDA programs, developing new USDA-led climate strategies, strengthening existing markets and developing new markets that generate income."
The notice seeks information on four topics: climate-smart agriculture and forestry; biofuels, bioproducts, and renewable energy; catastrophic wildfire; and meeting the needs of disadvantaged communities through USDA's climate strategy.
The notice will be available for public input until April 30 and is available online through the Federal Register.
NRCS Seeks Public Comment
On Revised Conservation Practice Standards
The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to 23 national conservation practice standards. The proposed revisions were published March 9 and comments are due by April 8.
"NRCS wants to ensure that the standards used to carry out the conservation practices are relevant to local agricultural, forestry and natural resource needs," Acting NRCS Chief Terry Cosby said. "We are revising conservation practice standards to make sure they are the best technology and address the needs of producers and the natural resources on their land."
Proposed revisions to the national conservation practice standards include:
- Stream Crossing- modification to allow vented fords as an alternative.
- Waste Treatment – Milk House- inclusion as a new conservation practice for the treatment of greywater from the cleaning of milking equipment.
- Energy Efficient Agricultural Operation -formerly known as Farmstead Energy Improvement, rewritten to focus on energy efficiency criteria, fire and electrical safety, flexibility, and manufacturer's requirements.
- Dry Hydrant - adding flexibility intended to encourage more landowners to install dry hydrants to meet fire suppression needs.
The 2018 Farm Bill required NRCS to review all 169 existing national conservation practices to seek opportunities to increase flexibility and incorporate new technologies to help the nation's farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners better protect natural resources on their working lands. In 2020, 57 conservation practice standards were updated after public review and are available on the NRCS website. NRCS's conservation practices offer guidelines for planning, installing, operating and maintaining conservation practices nationwide.
NRCS is encouraging agricultural producers, landowners, organizations, Tribes and others that use its conservation practices to comment on these revised conservation practice standards. NRCS will use public comments to further enhance its conservation practice standards.
The proposed revisions to the 23 conservation practice standards are available on the Federal Register. Comments can be made through regulations.gov or by mail or hand delivery. See notice for additional information.
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