It’s time to bring the conversation about climate down to earth, says Judith Schwartz. How we treat our land matters. This is good news, because by managing our land for enhanced ecological function — for operational carbon, water, nutrient, and energy cycles — we are enhancing climate resilience and mitigation. We can also produce healthier and more abundant crops while relying less on expensive and environmentally counterproductive inputs. In short, we will be working with nature rather than against her. (No paywall)
Now in its third version, an online game developed by Iowa State University lets students learn about land-use concepts by mixing crops and conservation practices on a simulated 6,000-acre watershed, says Wallaces Farmer magazine. Professor Lisa Schulte-Moore, leader of the team that developed the game, People in Ecosystems Watershed Integration (PEWi), says the new version has more options than previous editions.
To get long-lasting benefits, USDA should pursue land easements, rather than pay billions of dollars to landowners who abandon a short-term commitment to land stewardship whenever commodity prices boom, says the Environmental Working Group.
Congress has adjusted the enrollment cap on the Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent to idle fragile land, in every farm bill since the program was created in 1985. With commodity prices in a trough, there are calls for a sizable increase in the reserve, a step that could affect wheat production far more than corn or soybeans according to a back-of-the-envelope estimate.
Enrollment in the Conservation Reserve, the largest land-idling program in the United States with 23.9 million acres under contract, is becoming dominated by high-priority practices, such as filter strips along waterways and habitat restoration for wildlife. The USDA says it accepted three times as much fragile land in three years through the continuous signup option as it did in the first "general" signup, open to all landowners.
The Conservation Reserve, the largest U.S. land-idling program, has shrunk to its smallest size since the late 1980s, when it was only a couple of years old. With low commodity prices forecast for years into the future, putting a pinch on farm income, economist David Widmar says a proposal to expand the reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent in exchange for retiring fragile farmland for 10 years or longer, "is likely to capture broad political appeal."
USDA says it saw the strongest competition among landowners in the 30-year history of the Conservation Reserve when it held the first "general" signup in three years. There were 26,000 offers totaling 1.8 million acres to idle cropland in exchange for an annual payment.
Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against 20 private dairy and beef farms in Northern California’s Point Reyes National Seashore, claiming they are destroying wildflowers, "eroding coastal bluffs and polluting creeks while the park stands littered with muddy feedlots, waste pits and trailers for ranch hands,” reports The San Francisco Chronicle.
Lawmakers in Utah announced on Monday that they’re poised to sue the federal government for control of 31 million acres of public land, according to an AP report in The Spectrum.
The Agriculture Department announced a four-year plan to nearly double, to 8 million acres, conservation projects in 11 states in the West to improve habitat for the greater sage-grouse.
Landowners can apply beginning Sept. 1 for federal payments for preserving grasslands, rangeland and pastures while keeping the land in production, said the USDA.
Landowners removed a comparatively small 90,000 acres from the long-term Conservation Reserve under an "opt out" provision written into the 2014 farm law just as commodity prices slumped. The withdrawn land is one-third of 1 percent of total enrollment in the reserve, according to USDA data. "The preliminary estimate is that 90,000 acres were withdrawn," says the department in its most recent report on the reserve.
The USDA announced the first general signup for the Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent to idle fragile cropland for at least 10 years, since the 2014 farm law limited the reserve to a maximum of 24 million acres.
Portions of the Renewable Fuels Standard that effectively mandate the use of corn-based ethanol would be repealed under a bill introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Farmers and ranchers have two additional weeks to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays producers for practicing conservation on working lands. The deadline for applications initially was set for Friday but now will be March 13, says the Natural Resources Conservation Service. An official announcement will be made this morning.
The biggest USDA conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, slights ongoing work by farmers in favor of operators who are new to the program or agree to take on additional land, water and wildlife work, say two small-farm groups.
The government could idle more environmentally fragile cropland if it alters its management of the Conservation Reserve to maximize the benefit achieved per dollar instead of aiming for the greatest benefit per acre, says a study by the think tank Center for Agricultural and Rural Development. Created in 1985, the Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners to idle fragile cropland for 10 years or longer, is the largest U.S. land set-aside program ever with an annual cost of $2 billion.
USDA proposes use of a reverse auction to maximize the environmental benefits of targeted enrollment of land into the Conservation Reserve, according to a Federal Register notice.
The AGree project, a multiyear endeavor to reach consensus among food and farm leaders, released a package of four papers that call for substantial remodeling of U.S. conservation, public nutrition and food aid programs as well as comprehensive immigration reform.