Posts

Want Healthier Soil? Link It to Crop Insurance

Author: Elizabeth Grossman | Published on: May 2, 2017

Most farmers know that the health of their soil is important, but they don’t all prioritize it over, say, maximizing what they grow each year. Now, some scientists are looking into ways to ensure that more farmers—especially those producing commodity crops in the middle of the country—start taking soil seriously.

The world’s biggest crop insurance program, the U.S. Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) provides coverage to help farmers recover from “severe weather and bad years of production.” But recently, a pair of Cornell University scientists looked at what might happen if crop insurance were also tied to soil quality—that is, if insurance companies began considering soil data when determining rates.

In a new paper, Cornell University assistant professor of agricultural business and finance Joshua Woodard and post-doctoral research assistant Leslie Verteramo Chiu argue that tying the Crop Insurance Program to the health of a farm’s soil could make it a powerful tool for promoting more sustainable and resilient farming. Including soil data in crop insurance criteria, they write, would “open the door to improving conservation outcomes” and help farmers better manage risks to food security and from climate change.

Or, as Paul Wolfe, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) senior policy specialist, explained, “The big picture is that crop insurance could be a great way to incentivize conservation, but it isn’t now.”

KEEP READING ON CIVIL EATS

Want Good Soil? Feed the Microbes

Author: Kathy Voth  | Published on: March 20, 2017

In June of 2014, Grist reporter Nathanael Johnson reported on a battle between two men in New South Wales Australia. Clive Kirkby and John Kirkegaard were having it out over the proper handling of crop residues after harvest. Kirkby was trying to get farmers to stop torching wheat stubble. Rather than letting fire release all that carbon into the atmosphere, he told them that they could increase soil organic matter and build healthier, carbon-rich soils by leaving the stubble in the field.  John Kirkegaard, an agronomist, told Kirkby he was wrong. The practice of burning and cultivating was what was growing the best crops.

As most folks will tell you nowadays, cultivating, or plowing, disrupts soil microbes and releases even more carbon into the air. That’s why no-till is becoming increasingly popular. But the practice that Kirkby was promoting didn’t seem to be making a difference either. After six years of leaving stubble in the field, Kirkegaard’s data showed that soil organic matter and the carbon it holds wasn’t increasing, and in some cases, it was even decreasing.

Farmers have been encouraged to leave stubble in the field for the same reason that management-intensive grazing proponents leave plenty of forage behind in pasture: It’s food for the soil. Put more precisely, it’s fuel for a complex, not entirely understood food web of fungi, insects, and microbes eating the residue and each other and transforming plant remains into stable, carbon-rich soil.

KEEP READING ON ON PASTURE

Want to Double World Food Production? Return the Land to Small Farmers!

Author: GRAIN | Published on: November 22, 2014

All over the world, small farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture, writes GRAIN – and it’s justified by the need to ‘feed the world’. But it’s the small farmers that are the most productive, and the more their land is grabbed, the more global hunger increases. We must give them their land back!

The United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. As part of the celebrations, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released its annual ‘State of Food and Agriculture‘, which this year is dedicated to family farming.

Family farmers, FAO say, manage 70-80% of the world’s farmland and produce 80% of the world’s food.

But on the ground – whether in Kenya, Brazil, China or Spain – rural people are being marginalised and threatened, displaced, beaten and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land.

A recent comprehensive survey by GRAIN, examining data from around the world, finds that while small farmers feed the world, they are doing so with just 24% of the world’s farmland – or 17% if you leave out China and India. GRAIN’s report also shows that this meagre share is shrinking fast.

KEEP READING ON THE ECOLOGIST