Tag Archive for: Farming

Restorative Farmland Finance Is Growing Organic Agriculture

Author: Katy Ibsen | Published: August 1, 2018

Iroquois Valley Farmland Real Estate Investment Trust puts organic farmers first. As a restorative farmland finance company, it is helping organic and regenerative farmers gain long-term, secure access to land by through farmland investment. By offering equity and debt investments, the company is able to provide favorable leasing and mortgage opportunities to farmers.

“We’re not as much focused on the real estate as we are the farmers themselves and using land access as a way for them to become more successful in their business,” said Claire Mesesan, communications director.

Rather, Iroquois Valley Farms (IVF), as it’s more commonly known, provides financing for organic farmers who present the company with specific land opportunities. This effort fills the void of banks and traditional forms of financing that are not prevalent in rural areas, especially for organic farmers.

Today the trust is operating in 14 states and, according to Mesesan, that growth was not only strategic but an outcome of the organic-farming community.


6 Ways We’re Letting Our Soil Die – and How We Can Save It

Author: Malcolm Smith | Published: July 18, 2018

Unless you’re an avid gardener, you probably don’t give much thought to soil. It’s that dark muddy stuff that dirties your shoes. But farmers are utterly reliant on it to grow most of our food crops and to raise livestock  on pasture it nurtures.

So we are all reliant on soil for our breakfast cereals, our milk, our beef…and much more. Are farmers treating soil with the respect it deserves, though? Here are six soil concerns – and some solutions.

Less matter

Organic matter is the lifeblood of a healthy soil. But a government survey this year found that just a third of farmers keep track of it.

Organic matter gets into soil through the decomposition of plants on the soil surface (the stems and leaves after a crop has been harvested), from living and dead soil organisms, or by adding compost or manure.


Regenerative Agriculture: Merging Farming and Natural Resource Conservation Profitably

Authors: Claire E. LaCanne, Jonathan G. Lundgren​ | Published: February 26, 2018

Most cropland in the United States is characterized by large monocultures, whose productivity is maintained through a strong reliance on costly tillage, external fertilizers, and pesticides (Schipanski et al., 2016). Despite this, farmers have developed a regenerative model of farm production that promotes soil health and biodiversity, while producing nutrient-dense farm products profitably. Little work has focused on the relative costs and benefits of novel regenerative farming operations, which necessitates studying in situ, farmer-defined best management practices. Here, we evaluate the relative effects of regenerative and conventional corn production systems on pest management services, soil conservation, and farmer profitability and productivity throughout the Northern Plains of the United States.


Environmentally Friendly Cattle Production (Really)

Author: Michigan State University | Published: March 19, 2018

Three hundred years ago, enormous herds of bison, antelope and elk roamed North America, and the land was pristine and the water clean.

However, today when cattle congregate, they’re often cast as the poster animals for overgrazing, water pollution and an unsustainable industry. While some of the criticism is warranted, cattle production – even allowing herds to roam through grasslands and orchards – can be beneficial to the environment as well as sustainable.

In a study published in the journal Agricultural Systems, Michigan State University scientists evaluated adaptive multi-paddock, or AMP, grass fed operations as well as grain-fed, feedlot herds.

“Globally, beef production can be taxing on the environment, leading to high greenhouse gas emissions and land degradation,” said Jason Rowntree, MSU associate professor of animal science, who led the study. “Our four-year study suggests that AMP grazing can potentially offset greenhouse gas emissions, and the finishing phase of beef production could be a net carbon sink, with carbon levels staying in the green rather than in the red.”


Nature Can Reduce Pesticide Use, Environment Impact

Author: Michigan State University | Published: March 1, 2018

Farmers around the world are turning to nature to help them reduce pesticide use, environmental impact and, subsequently, and in some cases, increasing yields.

Specifically, they’re attracting birds and other vertebrates, which keep pests and other invasive species away from their crops. The study, led by Michigan State University and appearing in the current issue of the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, showcases some of the best global examples.

“Our review of research shows that vertebrates consume numerous crop pests and reduce crop damage, which is a key ecosystem service,” said Catherine Lindell, MSU integrative biologist who led the study. “These pest-consuming vertebrates can be attracted to agricultural areas through several landscape enhancements.”

For example, Lindell and graduate student Megan Shave led earlier research to bring more American kestrels to Michigan orchards. Installing nest boxes attracted the small falcons, the most-common predatory bird in the U.S., to cherry orchards and blueberry fields. The feathered hunters consume many species that cause damage to crops, including grasshoppers, rodents and European starlings. In cherry orchards, kestrels significantly reduced the abundance of birds that eat fruit. (Results from blueberry fields are pending.)


In Ethiopia’s Wheat Diversity, the Seeds of a Wheat Rust Solution

With pathogens like Ug99 evolving and adapting quickly, a diverse agricultural gene pool is often the best insurance for the future.

Authors: Kerstin Hoppenhaus & Sibylle Grunze | Published: January 22, 2018

Ethiopia is one of the oldest cultivating regions not only for wheat, but also for other crops like coffee, millet, and barley. Over thousands of years, the environment and farmers have interacted by selecting and breeding in order to adjust old crop varieties to regional conditions. The result is a unique variety of crop variations, and today, Ethiopia is recognized worldwide as a center for genetic diversity.

The Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov identified these centers as early as 1926. He noticed that in Peru, for example, there were thousands of potato varieties, while South and Central America had many different tomatoes and Central Asia saw a wide variety of carrots.

In Ethiopia, the diversity is in wheat — durum wheat in particular.


Baby Steps – Profile in Soil Health

Moving Beyond Sustainability into a Regenerative System

Ezra Lakey started Lakey Farms in 1945 with a focus on small grain production.  Half the acres were in small grains and the other half were summer fallow, with the occasional plow down nitrogen pea crop.  The farm progressed and grew through the years as did the family.  Ezra’s five children all helped on the farm, but Dwight and his younger brother Jerry were the two who were most involved.  Dwight’s eldest son, David, returned after college to the farm to help the operation grow to nearly 9,000 acres at one point.  With the passing of Ezra in 2009 and the retirement of Jerry, additional help was needed.  At that time, Dwight’s youngest son, Dan, was 2 years out of college where he had obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and was living in Twin Falls working in outside sales.  With the pending birth of his first child, the desire to raise his children on the farm was growing.  When presented with the opportunity to return to the farm, Dan and his wife, Marie, made the decision to return to the small East Idaho town.

A Legacy of Conservation

Soil conservation is nothing new to the Lakey’s.  In the early 1980s, they transitioned away from moldboard plowing into chisel plowing to reduce erosion.  They also incorporated water and sediment basins and contour farming for the same reason.  Then in the late 1990s ,they moved away from fallowing so many dryland acres and moved to annual cropping. Dwight served on the Caribou Soil Conservation District from 1989 to 1998.  Through the years, they have tried to implement the best conservation techniques of the time.

When Dan came back to the farm in 2009, changes were in the works.  The Lakey’s were seeing the negative effects of using Anhydrous Ammonia (NH3) fertilizer and starting to transition away from it.  Dwight was looking at incorporating mustard into their limited crop rotation.  Then a JD-1895 no-till drill was purchased. Dan was tasked with figuring out how to operate it and run it.  By 2013, mustard was in the rotation and giving the ground a much needed break from cereal grains, but they still were seeing some concerns on other cropland.   “At that time, I thought that what we needed was a different tillage tool or something to dump out of a jug that we could use to cure the problem,” Dan recalls.

Changing Views

The farm was looking at additional tillage implements such as disk rippers and high speed vertical tillage tools to deal with compaction and residue.  At one point, he thought possibly more fallowing and returning to the plow might be the answer.  Then, Dan began attending soil classes in 2014.

“I started to realize that what I was seeing and treating on the cropland were merely symptoms, and they weren’t addressing the real problem,” he said.


Why Healthy Humans and Ecosystems Need Healthy Soil

Author: Eva Perroni | Published: January 2018

Emanuela Pille da Silva and Anabel González Hernández are working at the nexus of land rehabilitation, soil health, and sustainable agriculture. Their project Agricultural Production in Recovered Areas After Coal Mining in Brazil was a finalist in the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Yes! Competition. The project assesses whether land that has been degraded by coal mining in southern Brazil is suitable for the production of safe and nutritious food. Their ongoing research at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, uses plant microorganisms and soil microbes to monitor and aid the recovery of degraded lands.

Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Pille da Silva and González Hernández about their project, the impact of coal mining on sustainable food production, and the links between soil and public health.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to become involved in food and agriculture research, and in particular to focus on soil microbiology?

Emanuela Pille da Silva & Anabel Gonzalez Hernandes (EPS & AGH): Our research team is multidisciplinary. We have experts in different areas from three universities in Latin America: a microbiologist from the University of Havana, Cuba, a biologist from the University of Antioquia, Colombia, and an agronomist from the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. We have all finished or are completing studies in the Plant Genetic Resources Graduate Program at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, which has been dedicated for almost 20 years to identifying conservation strategies and the sustainable use of plant genetic resources. Within the program, we chose to work on projects related to the recovery of degraded areas after mining, since the Brazilian mining industry is a significant contributor to the economy of Brazil. In the past, coal mining has been inadequately developed in southern Brazil, without observing the biotic and abiotic aspects necessary and indispensable to maintaining the quality of the environment around the mined areas. We believe that the land that has been degraded as a consequence of these mining activities can and should be reclaimed and regenerated for food production, especially for local communities. However, food quality and safety need to be monitored and ensured in this context.

FT: Congratulations on your project Agricultural Production in Recovered Areas After Coal Mining in Brazil making the BCFN YES! Competition finals in 2016. Can you tell us about the project?

EPS & AGH: Thank you. Our project is based on the idea that there may be a global scarcity of suitable farmland in the future. We believe that this scenario is even more likely in southern Brazil, where coal mining has put great pressure on land use and lead to environmental impacts, such as the contamination of soil and water with heavy metals. These elements are known to be bioaccumulative and pose a danger to human health. For these reasons, the Brazilian government and the coal industry were forced to conduct environmental recovery projects, implementing measures such as revegetation of affected areas and land reclamation for future use. Food production has been identified as a potential future use for these areas. However, there is uncertainty about the risk of transfer of toxic and heavy metals to humans, animals, and agricultural crops in these locations. The objective of the project was to assess the quality of food produced in these so-called recovered areas and their potential risks to human health. We hope that the monitoring of food contamination with heavy metals will be adopted as a public health policy in the region.


Turning Appalachia’s Mountaintop Coal Mines Into Farms

In the post-coal economy, community organizations are creating jobs and restoring the ravaged land.

Author: Catherine V. Moore | Published: January 12, 2018

On a surface-mine-turned-farm in Mingo County, West Virginia, former coal miner Wilburn Jude plunks down three objects on the bed of his work truck: a piece of coal, a sponge, and a peach. He’s been tasked with bringing in items that represent his life’s past, present, and future. “This is my heritage right here,” he says, picking up the coal. Since the time of his Irish immigrant great-grandfathers, all the males in his family have been miners.

“Right now I’m a sponge,” he says, pointing to the next object, “learning up here on this job, in school, everywhere, and doing the best I can to change everything around me.”

Then he holds up the peach. “And then my future. I’m going to be a piece of fruit. I’m going to be able to put out good things to help other people.”

Jude works for Refresh Appalachia, a social enterprise that partners with Reclaim Appalachia to convert post-mine lands into productive and profitable agriculture and forestry enterprises that could be scaled up to put significant numbers of people in layoff-riddled Appalachia back to work. When Refresh Appalachia launched in 2015, West Virginia had the lowest workforce participation rate in the nation.

When he’s not doing paid farm work on this reclaimed mine site, Jude is attending community college and receiving life skills training from Refresh. “I’m living the dream. The ground’s a little bit harder than what I anticipated,” he says of the rocky soil beneath his feet, “but we’ll figure it out.”

On this wide, flat expanse of former mountaintop, the August sun is scorching even through the clouds. In the distance, heavy equipment grinds away on a still-active surface mine site—the type of site where some of the Refresh crew members used to work, blowing up what they’re now trying to put back together.

Crew leaders drive out to an undulating ridge where we can see a 5-acre spread of autumn olive—a tough invasive shrub once heavily seeded on former mine sites as part of coal companies’ reclamation plans. It’s summer 2016, and the crew for this particular Reclaim Appalachia site is awaiting the arrival next week of a forestry mulcher that will remove and chew up the shrubs into wood chips. By the next spring, the clearing will have been replanted by this Refresh crew with over 2,000 berry, pawpaw, and hazelnut seedlings. During my visit, everyone’s clearly excited for the mulcher to arrive.

“It’s almost like a continuous miner head,” explains Nathan Hall, “but instead of mining coal, it’s mulching autumn olives.” Hall is from Eastern Kentucky and worked for a short time as a miner before attending the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies; now he heads up Reclaim Appalachia, which focuses on repurposing mine land.

A few small agriculture projects are on other former surface mines in the area, but Refresh and Reclaim are the only outfits attempting anything of this scale while also operating a job-training project. One crew member, former miner Chris Farley, says he’s stoked to be a part of “the first bunch” to attempt to farm these rugged lands.

“It’s a long-term science project,” says Ben Gilmer, Refresh’s president.


How California Farmers can Conserve Water and Combat Climate Change

Author: Rich Collins | Published: December 9, 2017

In January and February, no less than 125 million gallons of rain fell upon my 200-acre farm, located off Highway 80 between Dixon and Davis.

Our soil, blanketed with an annual winter cover crop of mixed grass and legumes, absorbed all of those 24 inches of rain. Not one single gallon left our property.

Where did all that water go? Some was used by the cover crop and a small amount evaporated. But most sank down to be stored in the soil and to recharge groundwater.

On conventionally managed fields nearby, copious and disheartening amounts of rainwater ran off, causing some localized flooding. But most it made its way out the Delta, then the bay and beyond. It was an opportunity lost.

Similarly, I fear Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature will be missing an opportunity in the coming budget.

California is a global leader on climate change. Brown and legislative leaders miss no opportunity to remind the world of our model. The state has an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target and many climate change programs to achieve those goals.

Among them are agriculture programs supported by farmers and ranchers that help store carbon in soil, trees and shrubs; fund conservation easements that spare farmland threatened by development; and help dairies reduce methane emissions. More than $200 million has been invested in these programs.

However, our leaders could be missing a great opportunity to support sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change unless they provide at least a modest sum for critically important sustainable agriculture programs.

The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program has provided financial assistance to growers for improvements that save water and energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Launched in 2014 during the drought, and oversubscribed by more than 200 percent, this popular program has provided $67.5 million for almost 600 projects across the state. Over the 10-year life of the project, 700,000 acre-feet of water will be conserved, and there will be a reduction of 225,000 tons of greenhouse gas. It will be one of the state’s most cost-effective climate programs.


Tag Archive for: Farming

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