Carbon Sequestration a Positive Aspect of Beef Cattle Grazing Grasslands

Author: Donald Stotts | Published: December 6, 2016

Beef cattle grazing on grass pastures might not be the first thing people think of when discussing the subject of combatting greenhouse gas emissions, but it is an agricultural practice providing significant dividends to the effort.

“Environmental as well as economic sustainability are key elements of best management practices for agriculture, as most people involved in agriculture are well aware they are stewards of the land,” said Keith Owens, Oklahoma State University associate vice president for the university’s statewide Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system. “Air, water, soil; we pay attention to all of them.”

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, scientific studies have long indicated the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes such as deforestation have led to an increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial revolution.“Carbon dioxide atmospheric concentrations have risen from 280 parts per million prior to the industrial revolution to more than 400 parts per million today,” Owens said.Carbon sequestration – the long-term capture and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, typically as carbon dioxide – is a method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.“Many different agricultural production practices can capitalize on carbon sequestration in both soil and biomass to reduce negative environmental effects,” Owens said. “These practices enable use of the natural carbon cycle to replenish carbon stores while reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.” That is where beef producers who employ grasslands as a pasture resource come in. Research by R.F. Follett and D.A. Reed published in 2010 examined the effects of grazing on soil organic carbon storage in North American rangelands. Follett and Reed found impacts ranging from no change to up to 268 pounds of carbon stored per acre per year.


The New Water Alchemists

Author: Judith D. Schwartz | Published on: November 29, 2016

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent, and a nation cursed by headline-grabbing weather extremes. In 2013, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology famously added dark purple to its weather maps to denote over-the-top heat waves, the no-longer-rare days when air temperatures breach 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). Australia’s history since European settlement has been riddled with droughts and floods so dire they’re etched in the books as significant natural disasters. The millennium drought, known colloquially as the “Big Dry,” persisted for 15 years until finally doused by epic rains and floods that lasted from late 2010 into early 2011.

As for wildfires, the most devastating since 1851 have names, including Black Christmas and Black Tuesday. Most recently and most deadly were the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 in the southeastern state of Victoria, which killed 173 people. The sheer extent of Australia that goes up in smoke is mind-boggling. An estimated 60,000 bushfires, many of them extensive, flame through Australia each year. (Between one-third and one-half of these are attributed to arson.) According to several tallies, between 130 and 220 million hectares (or 321 to 543 million acres) are burnt each year by either wildfires or intentional controlled burns. That’s a patch of earth somewhat bigger than the nation of Liberia. The carbon emitted from these conflagrations dwarfs the amount spewed by fossil fuels.

“I think of this as solar real estate. And I look at myself as a capitalist,” says Chris Henggeler, referring to his land in a hot, desolate corner of Australia. And his cattle? That’s “middle management,” he says. “They’re our plumbers and electricians.”


Our Modern Food System Is Not Set up for Good Health

Author: Paul Ebeling | Published on: Nov

Cheap food is really more of a curse than a blessing.

Agriculture has undergone huge changes over the past 70+ years. Many of them were heralded as progress that would save people from hunger and despair.

But, today, we are faced with a new set of problems driven by the innovations and interventions that were meant to provide people with safety and prosperity.

Since WWII food production has been all about efficiency and lowering cost. Today, we see what this approach has brought on heightened disease statistics and a faltering ecosystem.

The success of the processed food industry has come at a tremendous price to the people who eat it. As their lives are now at stake due to diet-related diseases. Many people have also become incorrectly convinced that eating healthy is a complicated equation requiring lots of nutritional data.

They are wrong.

It is very much simpler than one might think. Eating healthy is really about eating REAL food, meaning food as close to its natural state as possible. Avoiding agricultural toxins like pesticides is also part of the answer. But sadly this is not the kind of food American farmers are currently focused on producing.


Drought in Southern Africa Points to Urgent Need for Climate Change Plans

It is expected that temperatures in southern Africa will rise by between 1.5°C and 3°C due to climate change by the year 2050. This is likely to cause heavy fluctuations of weather patterns and more frequent severe weather events like droughts and floods. Agriculture will be severely affected.

In turn, many economies in southern Africa which are dependent on agriculture will feel the impact. The effects of climate change are already being felt. The 2015 agricultural season in southern African was considered the driest in 35 years.

Five countries in the region – Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe – declared national drought disasters. Eight of South Africa’s nine provinces and the southern and central areas of Mozambique declared partial drought emergencies.

Massive crop failures were experienced across the region. This led to a deficit of 9.3-million tons in cereal crop harvests. On top of this 643 000 cattle were estimated to have died in the drought. Because of these agricultural failures, food insecure populations increased by 31%. This implied that more than 40 million people needed humanitarian assistance.


Africa: Climate Finance for Farmers Key to Avert One Billion Hungry

Author: Fabíola Ortiz | Published on: November 21, 2016 

Marrakech — With climate change posing growing threats to smallholder farmers, experts working around the issues of agriculture and food security say it is more critical than ever to implement locally appropriate solutions to help them adapt to changing rainfall patterns.

Most countries consider agriculture a priority when it comes to their plans to limit the rise of global temperatures to less than 2 degrees C. In line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement, 95 percent of all countries included agriculture in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

“We need to find solutions that allow people to live better, increase their income, promote decent jobs and be resilient.” — Martial Bernoux of FAO

“The climate is changing. We don’t have rains that we used to have in the past. In the last decade, we had two consecutive years of intense drought and we lost all the production. The animals all died because they had no water,” Ahmed Khiat, 68, a small farmer in the Moroccan community of Souaka, told IPS.


Diverse Groups Call for a Bold, New Vermont Agriculture Issue- Open Letter to Governor-Elect Scott

Author: Regeneration Vermont | Published: December 6, 2016

Today a group of more than a dozen Vermont farm, environmental and business leaders issued an open letter to Governor-Elect Phil Scott calling attention to the serious issues facing the state’s conventional dairy industry and proposing a solution to begin a necessary statewide transition toward regenerative and organic dairy production.

“We are deeply concerned about the dire economic conditions that continue to face Vermont’s conventional dairy producers and their families and the impact this is having on the economy, the working landscape, farmers and farm workers, the environment, and our rural communities,” the letter begins. “These are hardworking families and your leadership is needed to address what we believe requires a bold, new economic model that will result in a viable dairy sector in Vermont that lives up to our ideals and solves many of our farm-related issues.”

The letter was co-authored by former Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee and the team from Regeneration Vermont, a new nonprofit organized to promote agricultural solutions to the state’s environmental, climate and economic problems. The list of co-signers includes the Conservation Law Foundation, Lake Champlain International, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, VPIRG, NOFA-VT, Sierra Club (VT Chapter) and business leaders like The Alchemist Brewery, Butterworks Farm, and Chelsea Green Publishing.

The letter points out that, currently and for the foreseeable future, “Vermont’s conventional, non-organic dairy producers are getting paid less than it costs them to produce their milk — an economic travesty that is not only forcing farms out of business but is also giving rise to a host of ecological, worker justice, and animal welfare issues.”

The impacts from relying on this economically crippling, commodity-based model go far beyond just bankrupting farmers, but also include causing nearly half of Vermont’s water quality woes, promoting the use of GMO-derived feed, toxic pesticides and climate-threatening nitrogen-base fertilizers, giving rise to social and worker justice issues relating to farm and farm workers, and causing cow burnout and ill health from the dramatic push for more and more production of cheap milk.


USDA Publishes New Resource to Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

Farming is an inherently risky business. On top of daily weather events, market fluctuations, land access, taxes, and expenses, the stress of climate change exacerbates these problems and serves to make agriculture even less predictable. Farmers and ranchers all over the United States are already experiencing the effects of climate change and severe weather events, and this variability is only expected to increase in the years ahead.

So this begs the question– what can farmers do to maintain their livelihoods and America’s food supply in the face of a rapidly changing climate?

In response to these pressing concerns, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a new report to provide farmers with preparation strategies, coping mechanisms, and recovery actions to acclimate to climate change impacts. It will ultimately serve as a key resource for educators and advisors as well as farmers and ranchers. The report, titled Adaptation Resources for Agriculture: Responding to Climate Variability and Change in the Midwest and Northeast, was published by USDA’s Climate Hubs for the Midwest, Northeast, and Northern Forests.

In 2014, USDA created the National Climate Hubs program to collect data, scientific studies, and climate projections to gauge the effects of climate change on the environment. USDA maintains seven hubs–Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast–and three sub-hubs–Caribbean, Northern Forests, and California. According to USDA, “the hubs are intended to help maintain and strengthen agricultural production, natural resource management, and rural economic development under increasing climate variability by providing guidance on technologies and risk management practices at regional and local scales.”

For this report, the regional climate hubs assembled authors from different USDA programs, including theAgricultural Research Service (ARS),  the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Forest Service, in addition to conservationists and climate scientists.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and our members believe that by giving farmers the tools they need to invest in their soil and actively adapt to and mitigate climate change, we can develop effective strategies that work for farmers, the environment, and the economy. The report published this week provides an important overview of key adaptation and mitigation strategies to achieve that goal, and below we highlight key findings from the report.

Climate Change is Already Affecting Northeastern and Midwestern Farmers

All across the country, climate change means warmer temperatures for longer periods of time, in addition to more frequent and stronger weather events. As the report points out, the Northeast and the Midwest are experiencing more rainfall than ever before­, with the Northeast’s precipitation having increased by 70 percent since the mid 20th century.

The report digs into the climate change-fueled problems farmers are already facing. Extreme weather events, heightened precipitation levels, flooding, and warmer temperatures all have the potential to directly damage crops, soil health, and critical farm infrastructure. Warmer temperatures and resulting droughts can degrade soil moisture content, and ultimately lead to lower yields and poor quality outputs.

The report also highlights the impacts of increased pests pressures and diseases. Changing climate patterns allow invasive species to grow and outcompete fields of crops. And with milder and shortened winters, both destructive insects and pathogens are set to become stronger and to cover a larger ground, impacting crop and livestock production across the country.

As we have previously reported, the impacts of climate change will cost taxpayers billions of dollars, but our nation’s farmers and ranchers have an enormous opportunity to mitigate these effects through conservation practices that sequester carbon, improve soil health, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the same time, farmers will have to rapidly respond to the increased pressures from a changing climate, and the report highlights the key linkage between these two strategies.

The Linkage Between Adaptation and Mitigation

The report points out that climate change adaptation ­– a form of increasing resilience by reducing the impacts of these weather events– and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation – an action that actively seeks to reduce noxious carbon and other GHG emissions to reduce harm to the environment – are separate concepts. However, the actions needed to address these two goals can often be one and the same. For example, using cover crops helps retain soil moisture content and prevent erosion (an adaptation strategy) while also increasing the soil’s carbon sequestration (a mitigation strategy).

Adaptation can require immediate responses, based up on daily weather events, in addition to planning months or years ahead to prepare for ever-evolving patterns and obstacles. Both are equally important to consider and can often work in tandem such that “short-term initiatives can inform longer term strategy through a ‘learn by doing’ approach,” as noted in the report.

When presented with constant fluctuations both daily and annually, it is evident that farmers will not be able to continue their practices under the status quo. The report presents two adaptation options: maintain but adjust current practices or change over more completely to a sustainable agriculture approach.


Farmer Survey Reveals Concern, Shifting Attitudes on Climate Change

More than 1,300 primary producers, from a wide range of industries and states, responded to the survey which was organised by Farmers for Climate Action.

Of those who responded, 80 per cent wanted politicians to do more about climate change, including renewed and secure public investment in research, development and extension programs, to help farmers adapt to a more volatile climate.

The same number of farmers wanted their agriculture sector representatives to do more to advocate for stronger action.

Peter Holding, a mixed farmer from Harden on the NSW south-west slopes and long-time climate science advocate, said there was a clear message that farmers wanted strong political leadership on the issue.

“Economics you can work around, debts you can work around, finance and all the other issues that we’ve got [as farmers], but if we continue to ignore climate change and it continues to get worse, I think we’re in real big trouble,” he said.

Climate change concerns go beyond the label

Not all farmers are comfortable subscribing to the idea of climate change, the survey found.

According to the survey, about 60 per cent of farmers believed in climate change. But even more respondents said they were concerned about changing conditions they had observed on their properties, even though they were not prepared to call that “climate change”.

“Eighty per cent of farmers acknowledge that things are happening on their farm: whether or not they accept climate change, that doesn’t really worry them. Quite frankly it’s kind of irrelevant,” he said.

“They’re suffering more frequent droughts, less rainfall, more bushfires, increased weeds, and have made the statement that it’s been happening with more regularity.

“They don’t know why it’s happening, and they’re not prepared to accept climate change, but what we’re trying to point out to the politicians is that these things are happening.”

Mr Holding acknowledged there may have been an element of self-selection in farmers who chose to complete the survey, but noted that with 40 per cent of respondents saying they didn’t believe in climate change, the sample was far from unanimous.


Mainstreaming Biodiversity to Guarantee Food Security and Nutrition

Maintaining biological diversity is important for producing food and to conserve the very foundation of life and rural livelihoods, FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo told participants in an international summit aimed at protecting biodiversity.

“Biodiversity is essential for food security and nutrition,” Semedo said at the opening High-Level Segment of the 13thSession of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“It is needed to sustainably produce nutritious and abundant food and to adapt agriculture, forestry and fisheries to global challenges, such as climate change and growing populations,” she said. “Reducing the ecological footprint of agricultural sectors through sustainable practices will contribute to the conservation of biodiversity.”

She added “maintaining biological diversity in agricultural sectors is important for producing nutritious food, improving rural livelihoods and enhancing the resilience of people and communities.”

“If we want to transform the world, end poverty, reach zero hunger and ensure the lasting protection of biodiversity that humanity and its food systems depend on, then we have to respond through an all-inclusive effort that cuts across sectors and ministries,” she added.

Semedo cited agroecology as “an example of the transformation we need”.

“Agroecology, combining scientific research and local and traditional knowledge, allows the development of sustainable practices and improved knowledge about agricultural ecosystems,” she added.


Engaging Restaurants and Markets to Rebuild a Regional Food System

Alexina Cather

Betsy Fink is co-chair of Marshall Street Management and Trustee of the Fink Family Foundation, which seeks to move communities toward a more balanced, sustainable relationship with the environment. She served on the Founding board of Wholesome Wave and the board of American Farmland Trust. In 2005, she established Millstone Farm in Wilton, CT, a working farm dedicated to increasing networks for local food production and consumption, and engaging local restaurants and markets to rebuild a regional food system. Betsy previously held management positions at both Prodigy Services and, specializing in technical project management.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in organic farming and sustainable communities?

Betsy Fink (BF): I have a vision of healthy food grown in a manner that enhances the environment and doesn’t destroy it, a food system that understands the need for biodiversity and our ecosystems, and a farming community that treats our livestock humanely. All of these components require sharing of knowledge and educating our communities. I was inspired to understand and learn for myself to become a better philanthropist, impact investor, and citizen of this planet.

FT: You established Millstone Farm in Connecticut as an incubator for resilient solutions for community-based food systems. Can you talk about how the farm practices sustainable agriculture and emphasizes the importance of local food production?

BF: When I purchased Millstone Farm, I wanted to learn first-hand how to grow my own food and understand the ecosystem needed to enhance regional food systems. For us, a primary component in building a sustainable, regional food system is creating relationships. Relationships forge trust and drive interaction and action for improvement. As farmers we need to know where our seeds come from, who is slaughtering our livestock, and what our customers need. Millstone Farm uses best management practices, only organic products and has also become Animal Welfare Approved (AWA).

We have experienced staff who teach and train various interns, CSA members and visitors on our farming practices. This interaction with the community, whether it’s through workshops, Farm-to-Fork dinners or community events, is another key aspect of how Millstone has emphasized the importance of sustainable agriculture and local food production. After ten wonderful years helping build our regional food system and providing a platform for many activities, we are moving out of Connecticut and will sell the farm. Our greatest hope is that we find new owners who will continue to steward the land and evolve the activities, maintaining the integrity of the land and mission.

For ten years we have been focused on cultivating the land, cultivating human capital on the farm, and creating a consistent “experience” for anyone who steps on the farm, attends a conference or workshop on the property, or buys and enjoys our produce and value- added products at a restaurant, supermarket, or at home. Each Millstone Experience is another connection to the land and sustainable practices. It starts one mouth at a time, one child at a time, one school teacher or cafeteria nutritionist at a time, and believe it or not, one hedge fund manager at a time who has the “Millstone Experience” at a farm to table dinner.