soil health

Hefty subsidy needed for adoption of cover crops

Only 5 percent of U.S. cropland is planted to cover crops amid debate over their financial benefits to farmers. Congress may need to offer a "sizable" subsidy to growers if it wants large-scale adoption of the farming practice, said two university economists.

As the climate changes, new efforts arise to diversify what’s grown in the Corn Belt

A growing number of farmers, researchers and nonprofits are working to transform the Midwestern corn and soybean belt into a more diverse cropping region, including a new USDA-funded project at Purdue University designed to study how to help growers diversify their farms. (No paywall) 

USDA allows more leeway on cover crops

Four months after it announced a temporary rule change, the USDA said on Wednesday that it would alter crop insurance rules permanently so farmers can hay, graze, or chop cover crops at any time and still be eligible for a full prevented planting payment.

Farming boom threatens Biden’s climate and conservation goals

High prices for corn and soybeans, coupled with the ethanol mandate and generous crop insurance, are spurring farmers in the Great Plains to plow up native grasslands in favor of commodity crops. The loss of these ancient carbon sinks "poses a conundrum for the Biden administration," which wants to cut agriculture's carbon emissions to net zero and conserve 30 percent of the nation's land in a bid to protect biodiversity.(No paywall)

World Conservation Congress takes aim at agriculture as key to addressing the biodiversity and climate crises

The urgent need for systemic change in order to avoid biodiversity collapse and further climate catastrophe echoed across the opening weekend of the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France. In a speech to kick off the congress on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of addressing both biodiversity and climate change in an integrated way, saying, “There is no vaccine for a sick planet.”(No paywall)

House GOP package allows donors to name climate projects

Five farm-state Republicans unveiled a package of climate bills that in one instance would allow private-sector donors to USDA conservation accounts to specify where the money would be spent and put "a name or a brand" on a project. Another of the bills would allow landscape-scale forest management projects of up to 75,000 acres — bigger than the District of Columbia — to reduce wildfire risk through forest thinning, controlled burns, salvaging dead or endangered trees, and creation of "fuel breaks" up to one-half mile wide.

Cover crops grow in popularity, but still a niche

Extolled as a defense against erosion and nutrient loss during fallow seasons, cover crops are being planted on a larger portion of U.S. cropland than before, said USDA economists. Plantings expanded 50 percent in a five-year period, but still only 5 percent of cropland is sown with them—and incentive payments are an important factor in adoption of the practice.

Climate change could accelerate soil erosion

U.S. cropland could lose two inches of soil nationwide by 2035 if climate change delivers its expected droughts and floods, said the Union of Concerned Scientists on Thursday. In a report, the group recommended such steps as crop insurance discounts for farmers who adopt practices that reduce erosion and improve soil health.

Study: U.S. commodity farmers imperil biodiversity for ever-lower yields

In less than a decade, U.S. corn, soybean and wheat fields wiped out an expanse of native grasslands and other ecosystems larger than the state of Maryland, according to a new analysis, destroying crucial wildlife habitat and spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The new fields produced lower crop yields than existing farmland.(No paywall)

Cargill to support regenerative agriculture on 10 million acres

Agricultural processor Cargill said on Wednesday that it would support the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices on 10 million acres of North American farmland over the next 10 years.

Cover crops a boon for weed control, says report

Often cited as a way to reduce erosion or improve soil quality, cover crops are also useful in controlling weeds that have developed an herbicide tolerance, said a survey of farmers by the Conservation Technology Information Center on Wednesday.

World Food Prize goes to scientist who ‘transformed the way the world saw soils’

Rattan Lal, one of the world's leading soil scientists, is this year's winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize, "the Nobel of agriculture," for his breakthrough research on the importance of carbon to soil health and the potential of carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. Lal's research "transformed the way the world saw soils," said the foundation that awards the annual prize.

Big money is pouring into ‘carbon farming.’ But can it help mitigate climate change?

As efforts to wean society off fossil fuels have stalled, “natural climate solutions” such as soil carbon sequestration have rapidly gained steam. But, as Gabriel Popkin reports in FERN's latest story, published with Yale Environment 360, "a growing number of scientists worry that mounting societal pressure to do something to counter climate change is pushing money into so-called carbon farming before the science needed to underpin it is mature."(No paywall)

Rep. Pingree highlights role of farmers in fighting climate change

Maine Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree rolled out a five-point plan to “support farmers in the fight against climate change,” offering a contrast to the Green New Deal announced earlier this year, which largely sidestepped agricultural issues and came under criticism for not engaging with farmers.(No paywall)

Survey: farmers support Conservation Stewardship Program

In a survey of over 800 farmers and ranchers across five states, the Center for Rural Affairs found overwhelming support for the farm bill's Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The Nebraska-based organization, which advocates for environmental stewardship and rural communities, concluded that the CSP should continue to exist and be funded as a standalone farm-bill initiative.

NATO plants biofuel-grass to clean contaminated military sites

Miscanthus, a fast-growing grass often grown as a biofuel, is now planted on six military sites, from Kansas to Kazakhstan, in a three-year NATO-run effort to clean up contaminated soil. At a conference earlier this month at Kansas State University, researchers reported that the grass stabilizes contaminants in the soil, preventing them from escaping into the air and water, and then gradually absorbs them.

On World Soil Day, a $20-million project for soil health

The congressionally created Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research has announced a $20-million research and education project to speed the adoption of soil management systems nationwide.

Wheat yields benefit from cover crops, says farmer survey

Farmers taking part in a survey about cover crops reported a nearly 3-percent increase in wheat yields when cover crops are used in the offseason, says the Conservation Technology Information Center. This was the first time the survey compiled enough responses to calculate the impact on wheat; past surveys associated cover crops with higher corn and soybean yields.

Scientists study microbiome of sourdough bread starters

More than 500 people from the U.S. to Thailand have sent their sourdough bread starters to be analyzed by microbiologist as part of the Sourdough Project, led by biologist Rob Dunn at North Carolina State University. “The project is trying to answer many questions,” says NPR. “How does a starter's microbial ecosystem vary with different flours? How does a new starter compare with one that's 200 years old, filled with tradition and lore? Do they change with geography, as some claim? And, of course, how can you bake a more delicious loaf?”

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