USDA pilot offers 30-year contract for Conservation Reserve

Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve has paid landowners an annual rent to idle environmentally fragile land under contracts that last for 10 or 15 years. Now a pilot program will offer a 30-year contract in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay regions.

Coronavirus forces California farmworkers to scramble for safe drinking water

Some 1 million residents of California farmworker communities have relied for years on bottled water because their tap water is tainted with nitrate and other agricultural pollutants. Now, as stores ration water to prevent hoarding during the coronavirus crisis, these residents are relying on friends and family, or driving many miles to bigger towns in search of water, reports Liza Gross in FERN's latest story. (No paywall)

As the Salton Sea shrinks, a toxic mess looms

The Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, is drying up, revealing a bed packed with toxic chemicals, the residue of a century of runoff from Imperial Valley farms. Public-health experts worry that those chemicals pose a grave risk to the health of people who live nearby, mostly farmworkers, the elderly and families too poor to relocate, as Lindsay Fendt reports in FERN's latest story, published with The Weather Channel. (No paywall)

Algae blooms linked to agricultural runoff choke waterways nationwide, says report

A new analysis from the Environmental Working Group reveals that state and federal testing of lakes and other bodies of water has found toxins from algae blooms in waterways in 48 states. The toxins, which sometimes make their way into drinking water supplies, can cause negative health outcomes ranging from skin rashes to serious illness or death.

In Missouri, lawmakers are poised to eliminate local regulation of CAFOs

Communities in Missouri have been fighting the expansion of large-scale livestock operations in the state for years. But a controversial pair of bills moving through the state legislature would make community oversight of those farms even harder. The bills would eliminate local ordinances that regulate industrial animal farms in the state, or make it impossible to enforce those ordinances. The bills mirror trends in other states where legislators have moved to undermine local control of large-scale livestock farms.(No paywall)

Eating tomorrow: A conversation with Timothy Wise

Timothy A. Wise spent four years researching the industrialization of agriculture and the influence of agribusiness on policy creation around the world. Everywhere he traveled, he saw how governments and philanthropies have committed to a vision of hunger eradication that heralds industrial, large-scale agriculture. His new book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food, details how this vision has largely failed to bring countries closer to food security even as it has imperiled our water, soil, and farming communities.(No paywall)

Central figure in Iowa nutrient runoff case, Bill Stowe, dies of cancer

Bill Stowe, a central figure in the 2015 lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works that tried to hold drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties responsible for nutrient runoff from farms, died of cancer on Sunday at age 60. He retired as general manager of the utility on April 2 because of the illness, said the Des Moines Register.

Trump announces plan to roll back WOTUS rule

President Trump announced a plan to roll back Obama-era clean water regulations that aimed to protect rivers and streams from agricultural runoff and other pollutants. It will remove vast wetlands and thousands of miles of waterways from federal protection.

FERN Q&A: Beaver-created wetlands could be a farmer’s best friend

In his new book, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, FERN contributor Ben Goldfarb makes the case that this widely vilified rodent, which was trapped nearly out of existence in the U.S., is not only making a comeback but could play a major role in mitigating the effects of climate change and other problems afflicting farmers. (No paywall)

Signup starts today for high-priority land-stewardship projects

The USDA says there is now enough room in the Conservation Reserve that, for the first time in months, it will accept applications for high-priority stewardship projects, such as filter strips, that prevent erosion and maintain water quality on fragile land. Enrollment runs from today through Aug. 17 for the practices, which require comparatively small amounts of land.