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Reversing Climate Change through Regenerative Agriculture

By Andre Leu, International Director of Regeneration International

This year’s Acres U.S.A. Conference features numerous speakers, who can show how we can reverse the disruptive effects climate change by adopting best practice regenerative production systems. These systems will also make our farms and ranches more productive and resilient to the current erratic climate disruption that we are all facing.

Andre Leu international director of Regeneration International

Andre Leu is the international director of Regeneration International

The increasing erratic and disruptive weather events caused by climate change are the greatest immediate threat to viable farming and food security. We are already being adversely affected by the longer and more frequent droughts, and irregular, out-of-season and destructive rainfall events.

The world is already around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the industrial revolution. The energy needed to heat the atmosphere by 1.8 degrees is equivalent to billions of atomic bombs. I am using this violent metaphor so that people can understand how much energy is being released into our atmosphere and oceans and why we will get more frequent and stronger storms wreaking havoc in our communities.

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Increasing Soil Organic Matter Through Organic Agriculture

Numerous scientific studies show that soil organic matter provides many benefits for building soil health such as improv­ing the number and biodiversity of beneficial microorganisms that pro­vide nutrients for plants, including fixing nitrogen, as well as controlling soilborne plant diseases. The decom­position of plant and animal residues into SOM can provide all the nutri­ents needed by plants and negate the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers that are responsible for numerous environ­mental problems.

Organic (above) vs. conventional (below). The higher levels of organic matter allow the soil in the organic field to resist erosion in heavy rain events and capture more water.

The year 2015 was declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.” I was particularly pleased with the theme because this is a message that we in the organic sector have been spreading for more than 70 years, and at first we were ridiculed. Now there is a huge body of science showing that what we observed in our farming systems is indeed correct.

“Organic farming” became the dominant name in English-speaking countries for farming systems that eschew toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers through J.I. Rodale’s global magazine Organic Farming and Gar­dening, first published in the United States in the 1940s. Rodale promot­ed this term based on building soil health by the recycling of organic matter through composts, green ma­nures, mulches and cover crops to increase the levels of soil organic matter as one of the primary management techniques.

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The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health

Mycorrhizal inoculation effecta

This University of Florida photo shows the effect of mycorrhizal inoculation on maize drought response. Mycorrhizal colonization (front left and back right) helps plants avoid severe drought losses compared to the control (front right and back left).

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.

The vast majority of our cultivated soils are in an eroded and degraded state. As we increase demands on our soil to feed billions, we are losing it and depleting it at an unprecedented rate. Our ability to transform it will address both of these key issues. In addition to addressing drought and climate, the web of soil life is critical to maintaining and building soil resources we need now and into the foreseeable future.

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Interview: Author, Advocate Courtney White Unites Groups at Odds through Regenerative Agriculture

Courtney-WhiteFinding Common Ground

“Courtney, the Berlin Wall fell down up here.” These were the words of a Forest Service District Ranger back in 1998. He was talking about the wall between ranchers and environmentalists in the region, and people passing out the hammers and helping with the teardown were, and still are, called the Quivira Coalition. Courtney White, the subject of this month’s interview, co-founded Quivira in 1997 because he was dismayed and disheartened by the nasty, unceasing legal and ideological dogfighting over the disposition of Western lands. He thought it might be a good idea, for example, if environmentalists heard from scientists about the importance of fire to restoring grass. Or if ranchers and farmers heard from a peer about the advantages of moving livestock around, and heard it while conservationists and environmentalists were in the room. As the ranger indicated, the simple idea of bringing people together to relax the grip around each other’s throats and learn a few things, turned out to be terrifically well-timed and apt. After 17 years as director of Quivira, White decided to concentrate full-time on writing books, of which the eminently useful Two Percent Solutions for the Planet is only the latest example. Reached at home in Santa Fe, he graciously agreed to reflect on the past two decades of building coalitions and opening eyes.

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Book review: Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate

by Laura Lengnick, book review by Chris Walters

resilient-agricultureThis is not a book composed of brisk summaries and sweeping statements. Laura Lengnick gets into the weeds without delay, devoting the first 100-odd pages to laying out the particulars of sensitivity and adaptability that affect farms buffeted by rapid changes in weather patterns. Given the size and complexity of the phenomena under discussion — as well as masses of fresh data being collected all the time — it’s something like a thumbnail sketch. But it’s an impressively detailed, lucid and well-organized introduction to a topic that could easily fill several volumes.

Lengnick asks the crucial question in the final paragraph of her book’s first third: “What are the barriers and opportunities to the development of a sustainable U.S. agriculture robust to the increasing pace and intensity of climate change?” The rest of the book is devoted to the answer as delivered by 25 sustainable producers from all over the land. Every region is represented, and readers are likely to encounter people they’ve already met either at conferences or in these pages. All of them sound like people you’d like to meet, and taken as a whole, the range of their responses to the bedevilments of the past few years are dazzling. Continue Reading →

Interview: Researcher, Author Eric Toensmeier Explores Practical, Effective Carbon Farming Strategies

Real-World Solutions

While this Eric Toensmeier_rgb (2)interview was being prepared a story surfaced on public radio about a couple of enterprising Americans who are taking advantage of changing policy to open a factory in Cuba. Their product? Tractors! The whole idea, the story helpfully explained, was to introduce “21st century farming” to the beleaguered island. By making it easier to tear up the soil. Clearly there is some distance to go before an accurate idea of 21st century farming penetrates the mainstream. It will take people like Eric Toensmeier. His new book, The Carbon Farming Solution, carries enough heft, range and detail to clear away forests of confusion. If the notion of leaving carbon in the soil is going to take its place next to that of leaving oil in the ground, this one-volume encyclopedia on the subject is exactly the kind of deeply informed work that’s required. Reached at his home in western Massachusetts, Toensmeier was exhilarated over finishing a project years in the making, and more than happy to talk about it.

This interview appears in the May 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

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