February - March 2009
Newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.
Ready for Challenges
In this issue of ATTRAnews, we look at ways farmers and ranchers can strengthen their operations and prepare for the unexpected.
In this issue:
Rex Dufour, NCAT Program Specialist
This year brings many challenges and opportunities for farmers and ranchers. Marketing, soil management, energy use, access to government commodity and conservation programs, and even the changing climate all present opportunities for positive change. And change we must. There are more and more of us using a larger share of this planet’s limited resources. We can’t continue on this path of unthinking consumption without expecting some nasty ecological—and economic—surprises. Economic health cannot be separated from a healthy ecology for very long.
Because the intensity and speed of many of the coming changes will be difficult to predict, the best thing farmers and ranchers can do is look at their own operations for weak ecological and economic links. It’s time to find the problem areas of your operation—single buyer? depleted soils? high energy costs?— and strengthen them.
Diversify and Consider Local Markets
Be Kind to Your Soil
Many farmers could (and should) treat their soil to a cover crop, some compost, a green manure, or maybe a bit more diversified rotation—along with some conservation tillage. These investments in your soil will yield much better results than the stock market has been providing, though that’s not saying much these days. It’s time to visit your local USDA service center. Find it in the phone book under U.S. Government. Ask the folks at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) how they can help you better conserve your on-farm soil and water resources. See ATTRA’s Sustainable Soil Management for tips about excellent soil stewardship.
This article is adapted from ATTRA’s new 16-page publication, which was written by NCAT specialists Jeff Schahczenski and Holly Hill. The new guide offers information about the developing market for carbon sequestration services from farmers.
The Earth’s average surface temperature increased 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and is projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to increase by an additional 3.2 to 7.2 degrees F over the 21st century. These seemingly slight changes in temperature could have profound implications for farmers and ranchers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an increase in average temperature can have the following effects:
Innovative farming practices such as conservation tillage, organic production, improved cropping systems, land restoration, land use change, and irrigation and water management are ways that farmers can address climate change. Good management practices have multiple benefits that may also enhance profits, improve farm energy efficiency, and boost air and soil quality.
The Science of
The naturally occurring greenhouse effect traps the heat of the sun before it can be released back into space. This allows the Earth’s surface to remain warm and habitable. Increased levels of greenhouse gases enhance the naturally occurring greenhouse effect by trapping even more of the sun’s heat, resulting in a global warming effect.
The primary greenhouse gases associated with agriculture are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). Although carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, nitrous oxide and methane have longer durations in the atmosphere and absorb more long-wave radiation. Therefore, small quantities of methane and nitrous oxide can have significant effects on climate change.
How Does Agriculture
Influence Climate Change?
The primary sources of greenhouse gases in agriculture are waste management, the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers, and the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, diesel fuel, and natural gas. Methane emissions result from the fermentation that takes place in the digestive systems of ruminant animals.
Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and converted to organic carbon through the process of photosynthesis. As organic carbon decomposes, it is converted back to carbon dioxide through the process of respiration. Conservation tillage, organic production, cover cropping, and crop rotations can drastically increase the amount of carbon stored in soils.
Forests and stable grasslands are referred to as carbon sinks because they can store large amounts of carbon in their vegetation and root systems for long periods of time. Soils are the largest terrestrial sink for carbon on the planet. The ability of agricultural lands to store or sequester carbon depends on several factors, including climate, soil type, type of plant, and management practices.
Farmers may be able to slow or even reverse the loss of carbon from their fields if they will minimize soil disturbance and encourage carbon sequestration (see box). In the United States, forest and croplands currently sequester the equivalent of 12 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the energy, transportation and industrial sectors. For more information, see Climate Change Resources.
Here is one of many enterprises that might help producers diversify their operations and supplement their incomes. This article is adapted from the 28-page ATTRA publication recently updated by NCAT program specialist Katherine Adam.
Small-scale defines a nursery with fewer than five acres in container production and fewer than 15 acres in field production. A nursery can be part of a diversification strategy to make a farm more profitable or a nursery can be a sole enterprise. In either case, it is important to start small and expand later.
Sustainable nurseries aim to reduce levels of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These nurseries use integrated pest management systems and focus on building the soil to promote plant health.
The most important things to consider before starting production are what crops to grow and how to market them. Marketing starts with deciding what to produce and at what volume.
In addition to the publications listed here, ATTRA offers hundreds more that provide general information and specific details about all aspects of sustainable and organic agriculture. They are available to download for free from ATTRA’s Web site or call 1-800-346-9140 to order a free paper copy.
Spanish-Language Community Food Security Flyers
These attractive, full-color flyers are designed to inspire people to learn more and take action. They were produced in collaboration with the Community Food Security Coalition. The flyers can be downloaded for printing at www.attra.ncat.org/espanol/mercadeo.html. English versions of the flyers can be found at www.foodsecurity.org/handouts.html.
ATTRAnews is the bi-monthly newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The newsletter is distributed free throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.
Teresa Maurer, Project Manager
Comments? Questions? Email the Weekly Harvest Newsletter editor Karen Van Epen at .
ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
© Copyright 2009 NCAT