Posts

Unlikely Allies Seek to Make Vermont’s Milk the Cream of the Industry

Author: Alicia Freese | Published: February 22, 2017 

An improbable coalition is calling for dramatic changes to the state’s dairy industry. Former agriculture secretary Roger Allbee has joined forces with three longtime environmental activists to argue that depressed milk prices, the need to reduce water pollution, and uncertainty about trade and migrant labor at the federal level present a unique opportunity to reinvigorate Vermont dairy farming.

“A perfect storm is brewing,” Allbee told the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee earlier this month. “Vermont has the rare opportunity of helping rescue its largest agricultural industry and to plot a future agriculture [system] for the state that is uniquely Vermont.”

The goal: to develop a set of environmental and ethical standards for dairy farms and build a made-in-Vermont brand that would bring farmers a premium price for their milk. Farms would have to meet those requirements — which could go above and beyond using organic practices — to qualify for using the state seal.

Requirements could include providing a livable wage and decent housing to farmworkers, allowing cows to graze on grassland, using non-GMO corn, forgoing pesticides and synthetic fertilizer, and cultivating carbon-rich soil. State financial incentives would encourage, rather than force, farms to make the transition.

“Our model is broken,” said Allbee, though he added: “I recognize that all dairy farmers cannot go organic.”

In addition to making its pitch to the legislature, the loose alliance of activists is meeting with government officials, writing op-eds and pressuring Vermont’s largest milk customers, which rely on conventional milk.

The Green Mountain State’s conventional dairy farmers have struggled for decades. Unlike farmstead cheese, milk is a commodity. Consumers don’t differentiate Vermont milk from that produced in Wisconsin or Idaho. So farmers here are subject to the price volatility of an international market and to increasing competition from larger farms able to produce cheaper milk. Vermont currently has 838 dairy farms, down 158 from five years ago, according to the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. The number of cows declined by 4,000, to 130,000, during the same time period.

Persistently low prices have further squeezed Vermont’s farmers in recent years. Milk has been selling for less than what it costs to produce, and a federal price insurance program has failed to provide much relief. At the same time, farmers are under mounting pressure to reduce water pollution as the state launches a concerted effort to clean up Lake Champlain and other waterways. Runoff of manure and fertilizer from farms contributes roughly 40 percent of the phosphorous contaminating the waters.

KEEP READING ON SEVEN DAYS 

NYS Lawmaker Introduces Carbon Farming Tax Credit Bill

Author: Allison Dunne | Published: February 15, 2017

A New York state Assemblywoman has introduced legislation on carbon farming that she says is the first of its kind. The idea is to promote environmentally friendly farming practices while, at the same time, putting money back into the pockets of farmers.

Democrat Didi Barrett has sponsored a bill that creates a carbon farming tax credit. Barrett, who represents portions of Columbia and Dutchess Counties, says the plan will give farmers a new tax break while helping the state reach its climate change goals.

“This would make New York state the first in the country,” Barrett says. “And I’m very excited about something that really is a win-win for our environment and for our farmers and have New York be the lead on it.”

The 2014 Farm Bill gave USDA authority to provide technical assistance to farmers and land owners in support of their response to climate change. Barrett says that while other states like California have also begun to develop programs with similar aims, New York’s carbon farming tax credit would be the first of its kind to create a tax break for farmers who use climate-smart methods. Barrett says she had been speaking with farmers over the past few years about whether they thought such a tax credit would be beneficial.

“In continuing this conversation, in the midst of one of them, I said, do you think that if we created a tax credit for practices that put carbon back in the soil and obviously therefore take it out of the atmosphere that farmers would find that attractive,” says Barrett.

And these conversations led to her crafting the bill. Barrett, who sits on both the Assembly’s agriculture and environmental conservation committees, says there are items that still need to be worked out, such as metrics, or figuring out how to measure carbon in the soil. She says metrics on the USDA web site are a good place to start.

“What we need to work on next is really figuring out how we measure the changes,” says Barrett. “At one point, you start, and then you measure what the carbon content of the soil is, and then, after a particular cycle, measure again to see the change and the increase, and then develop a tax credit based on that.”

KEEP READING ON WAMC

The Magic of Carbon Farming

Author: C B Ramkurmar | Published: February 4, 2017 

Farmers have always been life givers, as they work to feed the millions in this planet. The service they provide of growing food for all of us is invaluable. This importance of farming is even greater for economies that are dependent on agriculture as the primary contributor to the economy. Now, this humble age old practice of farming has now taken on a role, that is making climate activists and scientists smile.

Until now, we know farmers who farm fruits, farm vegetables, farm millets, etc. but attention is now going towards farmers who farm carbon! And this is what is drawing the attention of the climate change community.
“There’s a really significant potential for carbon farming worldwide to play a role in reversing the climate crisis,” said Stedman, an agricultural consultant at AppleSeed Permaculture. Stedman explained that plants pull carbon out of the air and bury it in the ground. While this seems like an obvious truth that all of us learnt in school, the problem is when all the carbon is then released to the atmosphere because of the modern farming practices.

All agricultural production has photosynthesis at the centre of it. Plants use sunshine to combine carbon dioxide from the air with water and micro nutrients from the soil to produce plant material that we see growing in farms.

These plants have a root system that is below the ground that we do not see. As the plant grows, it stores some of the carbon it produces below the ground. As farmers till the soil and as live stock grazes, the carbon that is stored in the soil is released into the atmosphere. As much as one third of the Co2 in the atmosphere that is driving climate change has come from land management practices.

On the other hand, carbon can be stored in soils for decades and centuries too, and this process is called soil carbon sequestration. Carbon farming is a process when the rate at which Co2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant matter is accelerated.

This results in reduction of Co2 from the atmosphere. Carbon farming is successful, when the amount of carbon that is removed from the atmosphere by the plants is greater than the amount of carbon that escapes into the atmosphere as a result of farming processes like tilling. So the trick is to now engage in smart farming practices that keeps this formula in mind.

KEEP READING ON DECCAN CHRONICLE 

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.”

KEEP READING ON CRAFTSMANSHIP QUARTERLY

Is There Any Money in Soil Carbon Projects? It Seems There Is Now

Author: James Nason | Published: December 9, 2016

One question more than any other is directed at CarbonLink’s Terry McCosker by producers wanting know more about on-farm carbon storing projects. Is there any money in it?

KEEP READING ON BEEF CENTRAL 

It’s Time to Invest in Indigenous Carbon Farming on Aboriginal Lands

There’s a touch of irony in the fact the Australian government has invested $200m in the international Green Climate Fund, a United Nations fund to assist developing countries in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

There is, however, no equivalent investment fund by the government, or corporate Australia, towards developing sustainable economies on Aboriginal lands through one of those mitigation practices, namely carbon farming.

Investment in a sustainable Aboriginal carbon industry would directly impact climate change, Indigenous poverty and the management of traditional lands and waters. These are all key parts of meeting Australia’s commitment to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), specifically SDG13 (climate action), as well as SDG8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG14 (life below water) and SDG15 (life on land).

The government formally adopted the sustainable development goals in Paris last year. At the same time the UN called upon the international business community to play their part in achieving the goals, saying their success relies heavily on action and collaboration by all actors.

Paris is a long way from an Aboriginal community in Cape York undertaking carbon farming or central Australia where I live, and so is Sydney. But climate change is the great equaliser. All Australians experience the hotter summers, crazy storms and pungent smoke from out-of-control bushfires that float into the cities and towns. Climate change is like the polluted air all people, rich and poor, have to endure in Beijing and around the world. It impacts on us all.

 

KEEP READING ON THE GUARDIAN

Regenerative Farming: Number One Antidote to Climate Change

Author: Bud Ward

North Carolina farmer Suzanne Nelson has this thing about farming as a regenerative rather than an extractive business.

She also has a thing for cows.

Nelson says people should do what they love doing. For her, “for whatever reason, I love cows. I loved cows before I knew I loved cows.”

She says she now tends to Jersey dairy cows, St. Croix sheep, heritage pigs, laying hens, meat chicken and, seasonally, turkeys. Cows, she believes, “are the only animal that can live on one acre and make four acres fertile.” She sees properly managed pastured livestock as “our number one antidote to climate change,” helping, with a boost from legumes and soil microbes, boost soil fertility and keep carbon in the soils and not excessively in the atmosphere.

A nine-year Carolina farmer, Nelson says in a four-minute video produced by the University of North Carolina’s Institute for the Environment that extreme weather events appear to be getting more extreme, summer droughts longer and worse. She’s trying to counter those trends on her 400-acre Haw River Ranch in Saxaphaw, in north-central North Carolina.

WATCH THE VIDEO ON ECOWATCH

What’s a Carbon Farmer? How California Ranchers Use Dirt to Tackle Climate Change

Author: Sally Neas

For many climate change activists, the latest rallying cry has been, “Keep it in the ground,” a call to slow and stop drilling for fossil fuels. But for a new generation of land stewards, the cry is becoming, “Put it back in the ground!”

As an avid gardener and former organic farmer, I know the promise that soil holds: Every ounce supports a plethora of life. Now, evidence suggests that soil may also be a key to slowing and reversing climate change.

Evidence suggests that soil may also be a key to slowing and reversing climate change.

“I think the future is really bright,” said Loren Poncia, an energetic Northern Californian cattle rancher. Poncia’s optimism stems from the hope he sees in carbon farming, which he has implemented on his ranch. Carbon farming uses land management techniques that increase the rate at which carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in soils. Scientists, policy makers, and land stewards alike are hopeful about its potential to mitigate climate change.

Carbon is the key ingredient to all life. It is absorbed by plants from the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and, with the energy of sunlight, converted into simple sugars that build more plant matter. Some of this carbon is consumed by animals and cycled through the food chain, but much of it is held in soil as roots or decaying plant matter. Historically, soil has been a carbon sink, a place of long-term carbon storage.

But many modern land management techniques, including deforestation and frequent tilling, expose soil-bound carbon to oxygen, limiting the soil’s absorption and storage potential. In fact, carbon released from soil is estimated to contribute one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Ranchers and farmers have the power to address that issue. Pastures make up 3.3 billion hectares, or 67 percent, of the world’s farmland. Carbon farming techniques can sequester up to 50 tons of carbon per hectare over a pasture’s lifetime. This motivates some ranchers and farmers to do things a little differently.

KEEP READING IN YES MAGAZINE

A Boon for Soil, and for the Environment

Author: Beth Gardiner

When Gabe Brown and his wife bought their farm near Bismarck, North Dakota, from her parents in 1991, testing found the soil badly depleted, its carbon down to just a quarter of levels once considered natural in the area.

Today the Brown farm and ranch is home to a diverse and thriving mix of plants and animals. And carbon, the building block of the rich humus that gives soil its density and nutrients, has more than tripled. That is a boon not just for the farm’s productivity and its bottom line, but also for the global climate.

Agriculture is often cast as an environmental villain, its pesticides tainting water, its hunger for land driving deforestation. Worldwide, it is responsible for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, though, a growing number of experts, environmentalists and farmers themselves see their fields as a powerful weapon in the fight to slow climate change, their very soil a potentially vast repository for the carbon that is warming the atmosphere. Critically for an industry that must produce an ever-larger bounty to feed a growing global population, restoring lost carbon to the soil also increases its ability to support crops and withstand drought.

“Everyone talks about sustainable,” Mr. Brown said. “Why do we want to sustain a degraded resource? We need to be regenerative, we need to take that carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the cycle, where it belongs.”

Since people began farming, the world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 percent to 70 percent of their natural carbon, said Rattan Lal, a professor of soil science at the Ohio State University. That number is even higher in parts of south Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, he added.

KEEP READING ON THE NEW YORK TIMES

Soil Matters

Russ Lester’s property looks, at first glance, like that of many of his neighbors. He grows about 900 acres of walnut trees a few miles east of Winters. But at Dixon Ridge Farms, Lester never tills his land, and he keeps cover crops growing most of the time. He also laces the earth around his trees with biochar, charcoal-like leftovers from biomass energy production. Added to the soil, this gritty burnt material  —  made largely of carbon  — stays there for a long time.

These simple practices have profound implications for the environment and, especially, the climate: Lester’s farm is a carbon sink, absorbing carbon atoms more rapidly than they can escape into the air.

“We’re carbon negative,” Lester says. “Most businesses and farms, and most people, are carbon positive.”

“We aren’t going to get out of our gas-guzzling cars anytime soon or rebuild our cities, and we have major infrastructure issues that won’t be solved anytime soon -— but we have the knowledge and the tools to modify right now the way that we grow food.”

Renata Brillinger, executive director, California Climate & Agriculture Network

Agriculture generates lots of carbon dioxide, the main culprit in climate change. Louise Jackson, a UC Davis soil scientist, explains that tilling the earth allows microbes to better access the soil’s organic matter, which consists of about 50 percent carbon. “And like people, they produce carbon dioxide,” Jackson says.

Due to unsustainable farming practices, staggering volumes of carbon — hundreds of billions of tons — have escaped from the planet’s soils and into the atmosphere since the dawn of agriculture. The pace of emissions has increased since the advent of mechanized farm machinery, and over time, carbon-rich soil that was almost black as coal when human fingers first broke its surface has been transformed into thin, pale dirt.

KEEP READING IN COMSTOCK’S MAG