Pages tagged "Soil Health"
Join the Emerging Futures Network Zoom meeting and get a sneak-peak at our November Virtual Soil Symposium
Join the Emerging Futures Network Zoom meeting tomorrow (Oct 7th at 5:30pm PST) and get a sneak peek at our November Virtual Soil Symposium, "Enabling Regenerative Agriculture: Getting Paid for Promoting Soil Health." Here is the Zoom link to use.
Hear from three of Cultivate Oregon's Steering Committee members- Chris Hardy (Founder of Hardy Seeds), Dr. Ray Seidler, Rhianna Simms MS.Ed - and the Food Solutions Project team at Emerging Futures for an hour zoom talk on:
- What is Regenerative Agriculture?
- Local Framework and what’s going on in our Rogue Valley
- What’s happening and why you want to attend the Soil Symposium 2020 in November
$25 gift certificate from Falafel Republic will be raffled off on the Oct 7th zoom call.
You can RSVP on Facebook and share with your friends here. For more information, view their newsletter and event flyer in your browser (and be able to click on active links) here.
Everyone is welcome to attend this free event.
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.
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.
The latest IPCC report does not mince words about the state of our planet: we must act now to achieve global change at a scale that has “no documented historical precedent” in order to avoid the climate catastrophe that would result from a 2 degree C rise in average global temperature. Climate change already disproportionately affects the world’s most vulnerable people including poor rural communities that depend on the land for their livelihoods and coastal communities throughout the tropics. Indeed, we have already seen the stark asymmetry of suffering resulting from extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires and more.
So far, advocates and politicians have tended to focus on reducing fossil fuel consumption through technology and/or policy, such as a steep carbon tax, as climate solutions. These proposals are, of course, essential to reducing manmade carbon emissions—71 percent of which are generated by just 100 fossil fuel companies. For this reason, fossil-fuel–related emissions reductions rightly figure heavily in the national climate commitments of the 181 nations that signed the global Paris Agreement.
Yet the international focus on fossil fuels has overshadowed the most powerful and cost-efficient carbon-capture technology the world has yet seen: forests. Recent scientific research confirms that forests and other “natural climate solutions” are absolutely essential in mitigating climate change, thanks to their carbon sequestering and storage capabilities. In fact, natural climate solutions can help us achieve 37 percent of our climate target, even though they currently receive only 2.5 percent of public climate financing.
Forests’ power to store carbon dioxide through the simple process of tree growth is staggering: one tree can store an average of about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in one year. Recent research shows intact forests are capable of storing the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emissions of entire countries such as Peru and Colombia.
For this reason, policy makers and business leaders must create and enforce ambitious policies and incentives to prevent deforestation, foster reforestation of degraded land, and support the sustainable management of standing forests in the fight against climate change. Protecting the world’s forests ensures they can continue to provide essential functions aside from climate stability, including producing oxygen, filtering water and supporting biodiversity. Not only do all the world’s people depend on forests to provide clean air, clean water, oxygen, and medicines, but 1.6 billion people rely on them directly for their livelihoods.
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.
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.
Wallowa County farmers look to innovation
In Oregon farming communities, a common reaction to the idea of practices that enhance soil health is: “That won’t work here.”
A group of farmers in Wallowa County are proving the naysayers wrong — replacing skepticism with innovation. Over the last few years, these farmers have teamed up to share ideas, experiment with field trials and seek technical expertise to develop a unique recipe for soil health that suits their operation.
And even better — they are seeing results on-the-ground, such as better soil moisture and water infiltration, reduced weed pressure, higher crop yields, and enhanced cattle forage, just to name a few.
Their argument is that if it works in Wallowa County, it can work anywhere. That’s because these guys farm in a cold, high climate with a very limited growing season. The ground is only frost-free for about six precious weeks of summer.
“Innovation is driven by challenges,” said Nick Sirovatka, an agronomist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oregon. “Without challenge, it’s too easy to sit back and keep farming the same way. But producers in the Wallowa Valley know they have to try new approaches if they want to remain profitable and sustainable for the long term.”
These farmers were inspired by their NRCS District Conservationist at the time, Nate James. James worked closely with these producers, encouraged them to try different cover crops on their farms and share lessons learned. All of them are using a combination of soil health farming practices, such as cover crops, no-till, crop rotations, and grazing.
Photo from Flickr.
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.
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.
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.