Pages tagged "Regenerative Agriculture"
Announcing: Soil Symposium!
Cultivate Oregon is excited to announce our virtual symposium, Enabling Regenerative Agriculture: Getting Paid For Improving Soil Health, scheduled for November 10th and 17th of 2020. Our symposium will educate farmers, orchardists, vintners, ranchers, landowners, managers, philanthropists, decision-makers, state agency personnel, and others on how farmers can get financial rewards for producing healthy soil. The discussion will feature current incentive programs for farmers, a summary of best practices for sustainable agriculture, details about how to access Carbon Marketplaces, and details about how to earn financial incentives for building healthy soils.
Digging In: Master Gardener Meets Master Climate Protector
Rhianna Simes (M.S. Ed., Verdant Phoenix Urban Mini-farm & Educational Center and Co-Director, Cultivate Oregon) was a featured guest speaker on SOCAN's July 2020 Monthly Meeting, Digging In: Master Gardener Meets Master Climate Protector. Rhianna discussed how we can implement regenerative agriculture in our own back yards, using techniques that minimize soil disturbance, keep soils covered, protect soil health, and reduce irrigation needs.
Watch the full video below, courtesy of SOCAN.
REPORT: Climate change threatens food security globally
On Thursday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—a global group of scientists convened by the United Nations to study our shifting climate—released a much-anticipated special report on climate change and land. In it, the panel concluded that cutting emissions from major polluters like factories and power plants won’t be enough to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius. Land use and food systems have to change, too. And our current land use practices are making problems worse.
The report found that food production (including post-harvest activities like transportation) accounts for between 21 and 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.
The scientists emphasize the need to manage land better if we want it to stay productive under increasingly harsh conditions. That means dramatically shifting the way we think about soil health, managing fertilizer inputs, water usage, and handling manure from livestock. They also recommend diversifying cropland, reducing food waste and transitioning to vegetarian or vegan diets.
Photo by Dietmar Reichle on Unsplash
The Macron Government of France is offering its farmers a way out of glyphosate dependency within the next 3 years
The Macron Government of France is offering its farmers a way out of glyphosate dependency within the next 3 years.
Millions have been following European discussions on the possible ban (or a new licensing period) for glyphosate-based herbicides; discussions which stemmed from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declaring glyphosate a probable human carcinogen in March, 2015.
Glyphosate application to pear trees (Credit: Chris Hardy)
European countries finally voted, in November, 2017 to allow glyphosate to be used another 5 years on farms. Although not the time period desired by many, this was less than the time wanted by industry, some countries, and some European agencies.
Germany, after initially abstaining, in a surprise, politically-motivated, change-of-heart, voted to back the European Commission’s proposal to extend the use of the weed-killer for 5 years. The surprise came when then Agricultural Minister Christian Schmidt took it upon himself to cast Germany’s deciding yes vote supporting 5 more years of glyphosate. Neither Chancellor Merkel nor Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks had been notified of his intent. After the vote, French President Macron said he would take all necessary measures to ban the product, as soon as an alternative was available, and at the latest within three years.
The French solution to glyphosate
In November, 2018, the French government presented possible mechanisms for achieving such a ban. Here is my best understanding on how the French government sees a transition away from glyphosate use while protecting farmers financially.
Overall, the plan emphasizes good farming practices and encourages dialogue among farmers. The government has also declared that no one will be left without a solution if they abandon glyphosate.
The plan also involves:
1. An online platform where farmers can publically declare they are glyphosate free, or are in the process of committing to a glyphosate phase-out. The government anticipates that 25,000 organic farmers will sign up on the online platform since none use glyphosate.
2. A glyphosate phase-out support component where farmers can share experiences online with other farmers (both organic and conventional) who are involved in the phase-out process.
3. A “technical resource bank”–not fully described–but it appears experts will interact with farmers who have questions on how to phase out glyphosate use.
4. A tax for those farmers using glyphosate amounting to 1 Euro per Kilo of glyphosate used. This is referred to as a “phytosanitary” tax on the use of a pollutant. It is anticipated that this tax will generate $50 million euros ($57 million dollars) annually to help farmers transition away from pesticide use.
5. A National “Glyphosate Task Force” will be formed and led by the Ministries of Ecological Transition and Agriculture. With the support of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), and other national agencies, they will report on the actions undertaken and the progress made by farmers in transitioning away from glyphosate based herbicides.
Supporting Macron’s ground-breaking plan, INRA declared that alternatives to glyphosate already exist for nearly 2/3 of the agricultural crop land.
Considerable descriptions are provided in the online platform giving farmers suggestions about changing their farming techniques. The great news is that the recommendations include the use of cover crops, no or minimal tillage and other procedures that encourage healthy soils and discourage weeds and pathogens. It thus appears there may be a major shift to agroecological or perhaps regenerative agricultural principles.
A clear description of how the program is envisioned to develop is offered here.
Glyphosate in Germany
The situation with France’s neighbor Germany seems less well developed and is apparently more complicated by political issues. Here is the situation as of November 6, 2018.
The German Minister for the Environment (Svenja Schulze) is calling for a binding date for the complete cessation of the use of glyphosate. The Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture (Julia Klockner) is resisting a complete phase-out program. She is suggesting a ban on glyphosate in public parks and private gardens and a 2020 start on a program setting aside 10% of each farm to be glyphosate-free. Key details of her suggestions are not yet available though. There is no information as to whether that 10% of the farm is always in the same area or if it rotates around the farm. There is also no mention as to a schedule for increasing the 10% farm set aside area over time.
Schulze also wants to establish pesticide protected areas and establish new regulations on all future pesticide uses in the environment. She does not wish to have new future pesticides without new regulations intended to protect the environment from harms to “biodiversity.”
But aren’t all pesticides harming biodiversity? There are no synthetic pesticides that are 100% directed at a pest only. Exactly how harms to biodiversity will be defined and measured is apparently not yet determined.
Unlike France, neither German minister has provided timing, and other details on their glyphosate phase-out programs, nor how farmers can best be making such a transition.
Through these announcements and actions, the French Government is making it clear it believes there are alternatives to using glyphosate (and other toxic herbicides) in commercial farming practices. This is a fact known to organic farmers since the beginning of agriculture. It’s called organic, agroecological, sustainable, or more recently regenerative agriculture. What is new in all this is the French government is offering mechanisms using 21st century technologies and knowledge to help farmers adopt and adapt traditional farming practices with the aid of online information, robust communication and assistance, and financial incentives to make the switch and get it right. The rewards include lower energy inputs, carbon dioxide sequestration from the atmosphere back into the soil, higher soil organic matter to better hold moisture, increased soil fertility and provide for greater biodiversity, while improving pollinator health, fewer toxic synthetic pesticides in our foods and bodies, and potentially higher financial returns to the farmers. The actual benefits from such a model agricultural system were recently documented in a small North Italian farming town that opted to stop using synthetic pesticides.
It is our hope that this French program to abandon glyphosate use on commercial farms and in public places takes hold and becomes a model for other nations. Perhaps U.S. States, and communities may also be considering a ban on glyphosate. The State of Carinthia, Austria is another example of how pesticides can be banned.
These are important green shoots for sustainable agriculture. Let’s see them nurtured.
Microbes in the crop rows: Soil's secrets may yield a new ag revolution
Soil microbes are mostly bacteria and fungi. Scientists and farmers have known for a long time that some disease-causing microbes can wreak havoc on crops. So they paid close attention to those detrimental soil inhabitants.
"We focused over the last century-plus on the bad microbes, the microbes that cause diseases," explained Kinkel. "And we've asked one pretty straightforward question, which is, 'How do we kill those bad guys?'"
The answer, typically, has been: Pesticide, which kills both the bad and the good microbes.
"And this is the funny thing. It's like everything we do in agriculture to produce a crop is going to have an effect on our microbiome, but we've been working blind, for hundreds of years we had no perception of what we're doing to our microbiomes," she said.
But what if, instead of killing the disease-causing microbes, farmers focused on the good ones? What if they tried feeding and supporting the beneficial microbes that can help prevent disease or help plants absorb more nutrients from the soil?
Some plants have a mutually beneficial relationship with microbes. Legumes provide food for microbes on their roots and the microbes produce nitrogen the plants can use to grow.
Those relationships are what Kinkel and her colleagues are exploring.
"As scientists, what we really want to do is shift that balance for the good microbes and not let those aggressive bad ones win," said Kinkel.
The theory is that, if good microbes are strengthened, there will be less need to find ways to eradicate the bad ones. And that could have a significant impact on the way farmers think about pesticides and fertilizer use.
How A Regenerative Revolution Could Reverse Climate Change
Earlier this month the world’s leading climate scientists released the most urgent warning on climate change to date. It describes the implications of our current warming trajectory, including dire food shortages, large-scale human migration and crises ranging from a mass die-off of coral reefs to increasingly extreme weather events. To reverse course, the report calls for a global transformation of historically unprecedented speed and scale. As one of the IPCC study’s co-chairs emphasized, “The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”
Among the ambitious ideas to meet this challenge is to enable a regenerative revolution, one that supplants our extractive economic model and goes beyond “sustainability” to draw down carbon and reverse course on climate change. Marc Barasch is among the leaders striving to galvanize such a transformation. He is the founder and executive director of the Green World Campaign, and an environmental activist who co-convened a first-of-its-kind conference for a regenerative society earlier this year. In our interview he shares what a regenerative revolution might achieve, how technology can help, and how we could advance this economic transition.
Lorin Fries: There is a surge in discussion around “regeneration.” What does it mean?
Marc Barasch: Regeneration is a design principle that works to ensure that all inputs and outputs, upstream and downstream, people and planet, conduce to the health of the whole system.
As someone who has been a cancer patient, I tend to think in healing metaphors—it’s not just attacking the disease, but activating the body-wide immune system. It’s going beyond remediating the symptoms to healing the root causes of pathology. If sustainability is about avoiding negative footprints, regeneration is about leaving positive handprints—lots of them.
Regeneration means not just lowering CO2 emissions to prevent further damage, but looking at how to potentially reverse climate change—designing endeavors that are not just carbon-neutral, but "carbon-negative.” It’s not being content with a model of sustainability where a company’s operations are fundamentally extractive but it sprinkles in corporate social responsibility to mitigate some of the harm. Rather, it’s building regeneration into the operations themselves, resulting in positive environmental impacts and improving human wellbeing.
How We Can Stop the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico
At the bottom of the Mississippi River's journey from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico lies the world's largest dead zone.
This particular dead zone at the Mississippi's mouth is a swath of ocean, big as New Jersey at its peak, that's choked for oxygen. There, native plants die. Marine animals move away, or die.
The dead zone most directly harms people and industry along the Gulf Coast, but states to the north had the biggest hand in causing it.
Mississippi River valley states have poured millions of dollars into restoring water and soil health in the river valley. The dead zone has only gotten bigger.
Scientists know what it'll take to fix the dead zone. But the best solutions are unattainable under the status quo.
Still, there are farming and conservation techniques offering hope for the oxygen-starved mouth of the Mississippi.
What's the fix?
The best dead zone solutions are the toughest sells.
They involve taking farmland out of production (land retirement) or changing its use. This is expensive, and it's a tough sell to farmers.
Scientists quantified the effectiveness of common methods to curb nitrogen and phosphorus levels in 2016 study by the Center for Watershed Protection. Moira McDonald, a study author, said the researchers studied three states with the most-robust nutrient reduction strategies — Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.
Across the three states, methods to manage and reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen put into the soil cut the nutrient levels by up to 24 and 26 percent, respectively, the study found.
Retiring land cut phosphorus levels by up to 75 percent and nitrogen levels by as much as 85 percent.
Buffers — like those championed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's administration — reduced nitrogen levels by 95 percent in Minnesota, the study found. Creating buffers requires adding permanent vegetation along the sides of fields to filter runoff before it hits the watershed.
But there isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach to reducing nutrient contamination, said Roger Wolf, director of environmental programs and services for the Iowa Soybean Association. Buffers help, he said, but they're no panacea — such a thing doesn't exist.
While the agricultural systems are similar up and down the river, McDonald said, science proves it's going to take time and myriad methods to reduce nutrient contamination and — eventually, over decades — the dead zone.
"We learned that you can't, like apples and oranges, you can't look at [methods] all the same, McDonald said. "There is actually lots of potential to improve, but it's not going to be super fast."
Taking mass acreage of farmland out of production, or converting it to wetlands or perennial crops, would cut the dead zone fastest. It would clean up waterways, too.
But it's also expensive and a nonstarter for the farming community.
McDonald said she thinks the best bet is to focus on how to get the most plant cover on the landscape for the longest period of time. Solutions like cover crop are an option because the rejuvenate the soil and clean out nutrients before they reach the Mississippi River.
"That's the kind of practice that you can have work for both farmers and the environment," McDonald said, "because farmers are interested in improving their soil health."
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Produce is less healthy than it was 70 years ago. These farmers are trying to change that
There it sits — in all its green glory — in the produce section of your local grocery store.
Broccoli. One of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet.
But 70 years ago, it contained twice the calcium, on average, and more than five times the amount of vitamin A. The same could be said for a lot of our fruits and vegetables.
The answers lie in the soil and how Americans farm it.
Over the past two centuries, U.S. population growth and food production methods have stressed and degraded our dirt. Our farming soil is not as alive as it once was, and experts say that’s a problem.
It’s a complex issue, and there are various factors at play, but studies through the years draw a direct line back to American farms.
More and more farmers are recognizing they are part of the problem — one that extends beyond their farms, affecting the water quality in our lakes, rivers and oceans downstream.
Slowly, a soil health movement is spreading across the Midwest and other parts of America. Farmers are changing the way they farm, adding something called cover crops and changing up crop rotations. They’re finding ways to use less fertilizer, which is linked to decreased soil health and water degradation.
"This has an impact on everybody who eats," says Eileen J. Kladivko, a professor of agronomy at Purdue University.
As states like Indiana emerge as leaders, experts say the movement is on the cusp of mainstream adoption – though much still stands in the way.
Photo from Pixabay.
Agroecology - Bringing Farming Back to Nature
Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally.
Representatives of more than 70 countries gathered in Rome recently to discuss this approach to creating a healthier and more sustainable food system. (We were there.) It was an invigorating and encouraging gathering, made more so when José Graziano da Silva, the director general of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, called for “transformative change toward sustainable agriculture and food systems based on agroecology.”
Agroecology isn’t rocket science. It simply takes full advantage of nature’s assets, drawn from the farm itself and surrounding ecosystems, to grow food. But in a $5 trillion food system dominated by ever-growing corporate giants, an endorsement from the U.N.’s top food official for farmers to use compost as fertilizer, to take steps to attract pollinators as well as predators that consume agricultural pests and to grow complementary crops for soil health is a significant poke in the eye to a cynical, essentially self-regulating agriculture industry. It’s an industry that would have us believe that we need rocket science to grow a carrot.
Much of the world is waking up to the costs of the industrial approach that defines most of American agriculture, with its addiction to chemicals and monoculture. A new reckoning known as true cost accounting is putting dollar figures on industrial agriculture’s contribution to soil erosion, climate change and public health. At the same time, more and more countries — pushed by networks of small and medium-size farmers like La Via Campesina — are actively shifting to policies and investments that support agroecological food systems.
Photo from Pexels.
A Look Inside Life of a FoFF Organizer and FoFF Programs
Friends of Family Farmers does incredible work in our state, and has some valuable resources we wanted you to be aware of.
Recently, Lindsay Trant of FoFF published a blog post detailing her experience as a Field Organizer and describes some of the programs and resources FoFF offers. Be sure to read the full post and consider donating to help them continue their work!
The side of agriculture that I get to see during my farm visits is largely regenerative, restorative, and responsible. I get to travel all over the state learning from amazing farmers and ranchers that are working hard to provide food in incredibly innovative manners. They work with their land, their communities, and their animals to create a vibrant and diverse food system throughout Oregon. The growing number of producers that have joined our Oregon Pasture Network (OPN) are great examples of this. You can read more about the work our OPN Members do here. and can support them directly via our recently published OPN Product Guide.
On the other side of my role with FoFF, I work with young and aspiring farmers; the ones who dream of continuing the work of other producers before them, working to regenerate our food system. Over the course of the summer, I attended and presented at events put on by organizations with similar missions to ours. I showed beginning farmers how to use Oregon Farm Link (OFL) to find land to start – or expand – their farming operations, and recruited landholders to list their land on OFL in order to find someone to keep the land in agricultural production.
Photo from Friends of Family Farmers.