Category Archives: Climate Change

Farm and Food News 10/7/11

Devoted Pennsylvania farmer honored

American Farmland Trust honored Bob Ambrose with the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Local Hero Award this week. Bob and his wife run a 130-acre farm and are dedicated to protecting farmland from development.

Growing vegetables and palates

FoodCrops continues to thrive in its first year of service. One corps member in Maine is teaching students how to grow fruits and vegetables while eating healthier foods.

Creative (and manageable) solutions to farming

Sunnyside Farm in Dover, Pennsylvania, will be hosting a workshop on solutions to everyday farm problems on October 17th. Topics range from how to save thousands of gallons of water to learning about creating a pig-managed rototiller.

Grants awarded to beginning farmer programs nationwide

The USDA has awarded grants totaling more than $18 million for enhancing programming and support for beginning farmers and ranchers. Project funding was awarded nationwide, including support for the Stone Barns Center in New York.

More fruits and vegetables, how are you doing it?

The USDA is hosting a contest in which you submit short video clips on how you are adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet while still watching your budget. There are three different categories that you can enter into: tips for kids, tips when eating at home, and tips when eating away from home. So how are you adding more fruits and veggies to your diet?

Pure fall farm beauty

If you haven’t had a chance to get out to the countryside recently to enjoy the beautiful fall, savor some gorgeous fall farm photos before marveling in your closest countryside soon.

Climate change impacting wine industry

Changes in climate felt throughout the nation could alter grape growing conditions in California wine country within the next 30 years. Changes are already being felt in Washington’s Puget Sound and Central New York where conditions, for the time being, are becoming more favorable for the wine industry.

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The New Political Landscape – Farm Policy Implications

The 2010 midterm elections brought significant changes to the makeup of Congress.

In the House, the Republican Party gained 63 seats to take a 242 to 193 majority, while in the Senate, the GOP gained five seats, narrowing the Democrat majority from 53 to 47.

The November results also brought a change of leadership at the House Agriculture Committee, where Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) has taken over from outgoing Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota).

United States CapitalShortly after the election, in a webinar presented by the Washington, D.C. based law firm McLeod, Watkinson & Miller (“Election Results and the Agriculture Committees”) former Staff Director of the House Agriculture Committee Bill O’Conner pointed out that, “Chairman Peterson had wanted the farm bill in 2011, and incoming Chairman Lucas had never been very excited about that, and has now publicly stated that he thinks it’s better to do the farm bill in 2012. That will give the committee some chance to adapt to the new situation and to do the background hearings necessary to begin to familiarize themselves with the very large and complex jurisdictions in a farm bill.”

A CQ- Roll Call Summary of new House Members indicated that a few freshmen bring an agricultural perspective to Capitol Hill.  Among them is Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas), a self described “deficit hawk” who “spent most of his working life in agriculture-related news services.”

Vicky Hartzler, a new GOP Member from Missouri “owns an agricultural equipment business with her husband,” and has made balancing the budget one of her key priorities; and, a former Ohio Farm Bureau President, Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) has indicated that “cutting the federal deficit and lowering the national debt” is one of his top concerns.

Representatives Crawford, Hartlzer and Gibbs, will all serve on the House Agriculture Committee.

Balancing fiscal restraint while maintaining a sound national agricultural and food policy will be a key issue as Congress gets to work.

The Hill newspaper reported last week, “Farm subsidies and the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) will come under scrutiny from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the new chairman of the [Appropriations] Agriculture subcommittee.”

Rep. Kingston stated that, “If there is an agricultural conservation program that is popular in red states, we have to look at it. If there is an inner-city school lunch program popular in blue states, we have to look at that, too.”

With respect to the Senate makeup and agriculture, the most significant change is the appointment of a new Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  After Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) was defeated on November 2, and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) opted to retain his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan became the new leader of the Agriculture Committee.

In her first speech as the new Chairman, Sen. Stabenow indicated last week that, “We are going to have a series of hearings on how the farm bill is working and what should change…[W]e will need to find creative solutions to help our growers manage risk. The safety net might look a little different than it does now.”


Keith GoodAbout the author: Keith Good, an attorney from central Illinois, compiles a daily summary of news relating to U.S. farm policy each weekday at www.FarmPolicy.com.

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Reinventing Agricultural Conservation in California – Focus on Farmland

Last year, TIME Magazine ran a cover story that called California “an apocalyptic mess … dysfunctional … broke.” Then it concluded, “It is still the dream state … the greenest and most diverse … the most globalized … an unparalleled engine of innovation.” Think of it what you will, California is unquestionably an agricultural leader, producing one-eighth of all U.S. food and fiber – more than 300 different crops – on just three percent of its farmland. Following is the first of a three part series that explains how American Farmland Trust is helping to reinvent agricultural conservation in the cornucopia on the Coast — written by our California Director, Edward Thompson, Jr., who has been with the organization since it was founded 30 years ago.

California is not only the nation’s biggest agricultural producer; it is also the most populous and fastest-growing state. One out of every six acres of all the California land developed since the 1849 Gold Rush was paved over in just the past two decades. During this period, more than a half million acres – 840 square miles – were urbanized, most of it highly-productive and largely irreplaceable irrigated cropland.

But the most troubling statistic is this: on average, only 9 new residents are being accommodated for each acre of California land permanently removed from food production. Imagine a couple of four-person teams playing touch football in the Rose Bowl – with a single referee – and you get a picture of how spread out that is. Suburban sprawl is a California invention and, despite a growing awareness that it’s bad for the economy, the environment and our food supply, it persists as perhaps the most significant long-term challenge facing agriculture in the Golden State.

Not that it’s the only challenge. Ask farmers and ranchers what they consider the most important problems they now face and you’re likely to hear government regulation, shortages of irrigation water and farm labor, invasive species and unfair foreign competition. Ask the person on the street and they’ll probably say that California agriculture uses too much water, isn’t as environmentally friendly as it could be and that there isn’t enough locally-grown food to satisfy the skyrocketing demand in a state that has been a bellwether of the “foodie” culture. (In fact, most of the fresh fruits and vegetables sold in California markets – indeed, in the United States – are grown in the state, but aren’t always labeled as such.)

Then there are challenges that loom on the horizon but, in comparison with the more immediate problems, haven’t received as much attention from either agriculture or consumers: A changing climate that is likely to further exacerbate water shortages in a state totally dependent on irrigation. The increasing scarcity and cost of fossil fuels on which agriculture depends, not only to power tractors and irrigation pumps, but also for fertilizer and pesticides. And inadequate infrastructure, everything from crumbling aqueducts to the lack of cold storage devoted to local rather than national distribution of produce.

What all these challenges have in common is that they raise a fundamental question about the sustainability of California agriculture. Can it continue to produce enough healthy food for a growing global population while maintaining the health of the planet and its own residents? Since opening its first California office in 1983, American Farmland Trust has been working with farmers, ranchers and many other partners to address that question on three fronts: farmland protection, regional food systems and environmental stewardship.

Part One: Protecting California Farmland

The central fact about farmland in California, as in much of the country, is that expanding urban areasare situated right in the middle of the most productive, versatile land. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the San Joaquin Valley (map), which accounts for 60 percent of California’s $38 billion annual agricultural sales. There, the most fertile, well-watered and least environmentally problematic farmland (dark green) traces the Highway 99 corridor beneath the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains on the east side of the Valley. Strung out along that freeway are six major urban areas and a host of smaller ones – all of them expanding into the surrounding land. About 4 million people now live in the San Joaquin Valley, a figure expected to reach 9.5 million by the year 2050. That’s equivalent to adding four more major urban areas and, at the present rate of conversion, it would consume another 330,000 acres of the Valley’s best farmland.

This kind of growth puts such pressure on farmland that the traditional approach used by AFT and others to save land, the purchase of conservation easements, doesn’t have much of a chance of success in the San Joaquin Valley. It’s simply too expensive and too slow. So, the centerpiece of our strategy in California has been the management of urban growth through better planning and stronger land use policies, building a framework for more compact, efficient development step-by-measured-step.

Encouraging Smarter Growth in the San Joaquin Valley

Since 2004, AFT has participated in the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley – a blue ribbon commission charged by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with addressing the Valley’s many problems, from poor air quality and poverty to crime and conservation. The group called for a regional planning exercise that became the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint, the first time all eight counties in the region have worked together to map out future urban growth. Last year, with AFT participating on the regional advisory committee for the Blueprint, officials endorsed a compact growth strategy that will, in comparison with a continuation of present development patterns, save more than 115,000 acres of the Valley’s most productive farmland by the year 2050.

Though this is an encouraging result, we argued for an even more ambitious plan that would have cut farmland loss in half, saving 175,000 acres and $2.3 billion in annual agricultural economic activity. That plan was rejected by local government officials, even though it was backed by a strong majority of citizens who attended a regional summit meeting. Undaunted, we’re pursuing three new initiatives to protect more farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.

Using California’s Landmark Climate Bill as a Lever of Land Use Policy.

AFT is a founding member of a consortium of nonprofit groups called Climate Plan, whose mission is to forestall and mitigate climate change through better land use. The connection is that auto travel is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) and is closely tied to the pattern of land development. The more spread out it is, the more people have to drive. So, the solutions to global warming and farmland protection are the same: more compact urban growth.

Under state law, the California Air Resources Board is now setting targets for greenhouse gas reduction through changes in land use and transportation patterns. The target recently established for the San Joaquin Valley calls for a 12 percent reduction in GHG by 2030, which can be accomplished only if the Valley’s urban areas grow more efficiently, using less farmland per person, than the Blueprint calls for. That would require local officials to adopt a more aggressive growth management strategy like the one AFT advocates, or forfeit state and federal transportation funding. In the November election, this strategy got a boost when voters resoundingly rejected Proposition 23, which would have effectively repealed the state’s climate law.

Rallying Citizens to Promote Official Accountability for Land Use Decisions

Our new “Groundswell” initiative in the San Joaquin Valley is intended to increase public participation in land use decision making and, thereby, hold elected officials more accountable for their actions. The Blueprint decision illustrates the need. Though Valley officials rejected the more ambitious plan that would have saved more farmland – and resulted in less greenhouse gases, air pollution, habitat loss, energy consumption and taxes spent on public services – there has been little hue and cry from the public. We hope to change this by rallying nonprofit organizations concerned about many things that define the quality of life in the Valley to encourage decisions that will serve all their interests. To date, 30 organizations have joined the network and a web site www.groundswellsjv.org serves as their communications hub.

San Joaquin Valley “Greenprint”

At AFT’s urging, San Joaquin Valley officials recently agreed to do a “greenprint” plan or strategy for the conservation of rural lands that will complement the Blueprint plan for urban growth. They have applied for a state grant to conduct a formal study of the region’s agricultural, natural and recreational resources with a view to protecting the most important areas and harmonizing their many uses. AFT now serves on the steering committee for the San Joaquin Valley Greenprint and in partnership with the University of California at Davis, we have begun to devise a new approach to identifying the farmland that is most important to protect because it is the most likely to sustain long-term commercial agricultural production

Part II: Taking local food to scale and a fresh look at environmental stewardship in the Golden State

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Colorado Meeting Addresses Climate Change’s Impact on Agricultural Production

Farmers and ranchers across the United States and throughout the world are already experiencing the repercussions of changing weather and climate.  The impacts are particularly felt in the American west where declining water tables, increases in temperature, and a rise of pests and diseases moving into new areas have been linked to the changing climate.

Our ability to adapt through transformations in technology and environmental conditions will be a key factor in the future of agricultural production and economics.  Reacting to these changes will require a broad-based effort from stakeholders across the environmental and agricultural communities.

On July 19, 2010, in Denver, Colorado, we are inviting members of the agricultural community to meet with representatives from the USDA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality in an effort to bring these stakeholders together.  The objective of the one-day session is to help in developing Federal recommendations for adapting to climate change impacts.  In addition to hearing about planning efforts and proposed adaptation strategies, farmers and ranchers will have the opportunity to contribute their feedback on how agricultural producers can adjust their operations to meet an unpredictable future.

The public meeting, Helping Agriculture Adapt to a Changing Climate, is organized by the USDA and co-hosted by American Farmland Trust and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  A draft agenda and additional information, as well as registration material, are all available online.

Please join us for the meeting and help us to spread the word to other interested parties, including farm groups, trade groups, commodity groups, agritech and agribusiness representatives, insurance representatives, environmental/conservation groups, and local/national land managers/producers.  We look forward to seeing you soon in Denver!

About the Author: Jimmy Daukas is Managing Director, Agriculture and Environment Campaign

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Don’t Forget Farmland is a Part of America’s Great Outdoors

Recently, President Obama attended the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors to speak and sign a memorandum that sets a 21st century conservation agenda to bridge public and private efforts to conserve outdoor spaces (including farmland) and connect Americans with the outdoors.

While the efforts of farmers and the importance of farmland conservation were mentioned by the President, I want to stress how vital farmland is to any strategy to protect the outdoors.

Why? Because farmers and ranchers are stewards of almost half the land in America. Moreover, farms produce more than food, fiber and renewable fuels. Increasingly we’re pressing farm and ranch land into service to also address climate change, air and water pollution and energy concerns.

The President also noted that “conservation is not contrary to economic growth,” but an integral part of it, and he’s right. Environmental markets mean new opportunities for American agriculture.  We no longer measure the production from our nation’s farms and ranches by just bushels, bales, pecks, or animal units ―but now also miles per gallon, carbon offsets, water quality credits and bird nesting sites.

However, if we’re going to have healthy farms, healthy food and a healthy environment, we have to remember that farm and ranchland is the critical component. We can no longer assume that increased agricultural productivity per acre will make up for the continued loss and fragmentation of our farmland, or offset the increasing demand on agricultural lands to provide these types of environmental benefits in addition to the basics of food and fiber.

Some of the broad goals of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative include building on local and state and private priorities for the conservation of land, water, wildlife and other resources; and determining how the federal government can best advance those priorities through public private partnerships and locally supported conservation strategies.

There is much to gain if we focus on stemming the loss of America’s farm and ranchland. Despite efforts to protect agricultural land, over 23 million acres has been lost since 1982.  We need to clarify and understand the multiple demands on, and the benefits provided by well-managed agricultural lands, and determine our country’s need for agricultural land as a national security asset in a sustainable green economy for food, environmental services, wildlife, energy and open space.

The Departments of Agriculture and Interior are accepting ideas to better support modern-day land and water conservation efforts happening in communities across the country.  We hope you’ll submit a comment expressing the importance of our farm and ranch lands in achieving any national conservation goals.

We can encourage the federal government to be an active partner and contributor to the efforts of private landowners, states and communities to secure and manage this resource base for future generations. At American Farmland Trust I know we’re ready to work with the administration and stakeholders, and I hope you’ll join in this effort, too.

About the author: Bob Wagner celebrates his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010.  He has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land. He can be reached at bwagner@farmland.org

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Band Plays Environmentally-Friendly Tune with Help of Farmers

While others debate how to reduce carbon emissions, students at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, are calculating the carbon footprint of their activities, then paying local farmers to offset those emissions with healthy farming practices that capture carbon and preserve the land.

The initiative, organized as StoCarb (St. Olaf Carbon Offsets: Seeking Forgiveness for Our Carbon Sins) is just one in a series of St. Olaf student environmental projects that combine education, research, personal responsibility and partnership with area farmers.

“We have an ideal situation, because St. Olaf owns 400 acres that it rents to local farmers,” explains Dr. Kathleen Shea, field ecology research supervisor and curator of natural lands.  “We’ve had student projects lead the college to a change in land use that will be better for the land.”

As an example, she cites Megan Gregory’s semester-long monitoring of the effects of cropping and tillage patterns on soil, water, energy use and productivity, which demonstrated that local farmers could make a better income and better protect the land with no-till planting techniques that disturb the earth much less than traditional plowing methods. No-till traps greater amounts of carbon in the soil, a process known as carbon sequestration.

“The upshot of that project is that the college decided all contracts for its land would require either no-till or low-till practices,” Shea says.

Students have determined that no-till technology sequesters about 0.6 metric tons of carbon per acre – but they aren’t limiting their research to what farmers can do about carbon emissions.

They are also looking at the carbon cost of some prized college activities, such as the St. Olaf Band’s annual tour.  For the 2008-09 season, a group of band members calculated the carbon implications of the 100-member unit traveling to California and back with its instruments and gear at 171.6 metric tons of carbon.

Erin Fulton, a senior, organized the St. Olaf Band Eco-Crew, which educated fellow band members about the issue and presented the idea of offsetting the band’s carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits.

Band members bought the idea, making personal contributions to purchase carbon credits on 286 no-till acres – enough to make their tour carbon-neutral. Students and farmers used Chicago Climate Exchange data to agree on a price of $1.40 per ton. In March, students hosted farmers at the college for a business lunch on the project – and the farmers surprised them by donating their carbon checks back to StoCarb to help continue the initiative.

Keeping up the momentum will be challenging.  This year, the St. Olaf Band toured Japan, a trip with a huge carbon footprint, and there is talk of purchasing credits to make all St. Olaf international study programs carbon-neutral, with students encouraged to base carbon emissions paybacks on the length of flights.

Still, farmer Dave Legvold sees great potential in the St. Olaf approach, not only to manage carbon but for a stronger partnership in general:  “It’s a great method to bring students and farmers together.  You wouldn’t think of a college band working with local farmers to offset carbon emissions, but that’s what we have here.

“We have a great relationship between students and real ‘I farm for a living’ farmers.”

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