California isn’t the only state grappling with drought

Photo credit: Takepart

Bales of hay sit on a family farm near Logan, Kansas. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

The Drought Is Bigger Than California: New Relief Money Will Go to 8 Dry States


California isn’t the only state grappling with dry weather and a farming sector thirsty for more water.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced $21 million to support sustainable farming practices on Tuesday to help mitigate the impacts of the dry spell. In addition to California, which has been hogging the water-scarcity headlines ever since Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory water-use reductions, seven states are experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

USDA is making the funds available to farmers in those states: California, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. Funded through the 2014 farm bill, the new cash will go toward helping farmers invest in various water-conservation measures, including irrigation upgrades, watering facilities for livestock, changes in grazing systems, and more. In most cases, USDA will cover half of the required costs, with the farm’s owner making up the difference.

From a sustainability standpoint, two farming systems covered by the relief funding are most interesting: the introduction of cover crops and conversion to no-till practices, both of which help increase soil fertility and water retention.

Planting seeds in fields littered with the dead, decomposing remnants of last year’s crops—organic material that would otherwise be tilled under, hence “no-till”—has been on the rise over the past 15 years. In 2009, according to a USDA Economic Research Service report, 35.5 percent of farmland planted in the top eight crops grown in the U.S. were no-till operations. As the old plant material breaks down, it feeds the soil; the dry material covering what would otherwise be bare dirt keeps erosion down and, like mulch, helps the soil retain water.

Read the full article: Takepart

Corn and soy instead of prairies

Photo credit: Treehugger

CC BY 2.0 Joshua Mayer

Natural prairies replaced with corn and soy following biofuel law

by Margaret Badore
Business / Environmental Policy

A new study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that corn and soy, two crops commonly used for biofuels, are expanding into previously un-farmed prairie in the United States.

The study used high-resolution satellite images to identify where cropland expanded between 2008 and 2012, the four years following the passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates the use of renewable fuels including biofuels. Of course, not all of this crop is used for biofuels, but ethanol has driven up the domestic demand for corn (see chart below). In 2014, over 40 percent of corn grown in the U.S. was used to make ethanol, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Read the full article: Treehugger

Impact of Local Food Systems

Photo credit: FoodTank

An increase of local and regional food sales

USDA Report Offers Insight on the Impact of Local Food Systems

Developing local food channels is seeming a reliable solution to increasing access to healthy foods for communities throughout the United States.

by Jessica Wright

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report to Congress reports that local and regional food sales in the United States totaled US$6.1 billion in 2012—an increase from the reported US$4.8 billion in 2008. This amount accounts for the selling of food from local farms, “for human consumption through both direct-to-consumer (e.g., farmers’ markets) and intermediated marketing channels (e.g., sales to institutions or regional distributors).” The report findings provide an updated assessment of the growing trend in both the production and consumption of local food in the United States.

Local food sales are accounted from the 7.8 percent of U.S. farms that identify as “marketing food locally.” Of those farms, 70 percent facilitated sales solely through direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing channels, while the remaining 30 percent operated entirely through intermediated marketing channels, or a combination of both.  Between 2002 and 2007, the number of DTC farms and number of DTC sales demonstrated a correlating increase of 17 percent and 32 percent. However, from 2007- 2012, data exhibited only a slight increase of 5.5 percent in the number of DTC farms in the U.S., “with no change in DTC sales.” Dr. Sara A. Low of the Economic Research Service (ERS) suggests that the plateau in DTC sales could have resulted from a lull in consumer interests, an increase in sales transactions through intermediated marketing channels, or a byproduct of the recession.

Read the full article: FoodTank

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