How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats

December 21, 2020 by  
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How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats C.J. Clouse Mon, 12/21/2020 – 02:00 The contraption Matt Sheffer wants to show me sits at the far end of a field of alfalfa and grasses, a weave of green and pale gold, broken only by the parallel grooves we’re trudging along, a path carved by the tires of a pickup truck. It’s Nov. 4, and America is in the midst of a presidential election that feels like being trapped, upside down and spinning, on a ramshackle carnival ride. So I’m grateful for this opportunity to escape, to walk on sturdy ground and see all the way to where the earth touches the sky.  I’ve come to Stone House Farm from Brooklyn to learn more about how regenerative agriculture — the nature-based approach to farming generating all kinds of buzz around its climate mitigation potential — actually works. Standing alone in the open field, the solar-powered equipment Sheffer shows me could be mistaken for some sort of high-tech scarecrow, but it has a far different job: to monitor and measure the CO 2 in the soil at this farming operation and research center in New York’s Hudson Valley.  Many scientists and other experts agree that regenerative practices — growing diverse crops rather than monocultures; planting cover crops (such as the alfalfa and grasses) on resting fields instead of leaving them bare; minimizing mechanical tillage of the soil; and incorporating livestock into the crop rotation — lead to environmental and health benefits. The soil becomes richer and healthier, runoff that pollutes water is reduced, biodiversity and habitat for the birds, bees and other wildlife increases, farm animals live better, and the food produced is more nutritious. Early research also indicates farmers using these techniques can reap long-term financial gains .  Still, it’s regenerative agriculture’s potential as a carbon sink that’s driving millions of corporate and investor dollars into soil-climate initiatives, large and modest. And while there’s plenty of room for skepticism when Big Ag gets into the sustainability business, this trend represents something of a game-changer, a level of investment in sustainable farming that never has happened before.  In fact, the current system of agriculture finance in the United States has, for decades, worked against any large-scale transition away from the industrial farming complex it was built to support. Scientists may not agree on exactly how much CO 2 agricultural soil can sequester — in fact, they spend a fair amount of time blog fighting about it. But in a way, it doesn’t matter. Given that American agriculture needs to change, for a whole slew of reasons including its contribution to the heating of the planet , if the hype around soil carbon helps to fuel that transformation, that in itself is a good thing.  Making it rain for America’s farmers Sheffer and his partner Ben Dobson are among those who believe aligning farmers’ economic interests with positive environmental outcomes is the way to remake the farming landscape. This month, they’ll launch Hudson Carbon , an agriculture-focused carbon marketplace they envision as a “farmers market” for carbon credits, where mission-driven brands and individual consumers can connect with a particular farm and buy offsets to support its regenerative transition.  They’re also asking Hudson Carbon customers to pay more, significantly more than the current global price of roughly $20 per ton, which they say doesn’t necessarily motivate farmers. (That price is also far below the low-ball estimate of $50 per ton for the true social cost of carbon pollution.)  “The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation,” Sheffer tells me. “To catalyze any major shift to regenerative agriculture, there needs to be better financial mechanisms and a higher price per ton of CO 2 .” How high? Hudson Carbon wants its customers to pay $100.  Matt Sheffer is managing director of  Hudson Carbon , an agriculture-focused carbon marketplace they envision as a “farmers market” for carbon credits. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse The marketplace is one of a number of new platforms born in anticipation of huge corporate demand for soil carbon credits. In January, Seattle startup Nori raised $1.3 million to fund its marketplace, which uses blockchain technology to pay farmers for carbon sequestration. Boston-based Indigo Agriculture , a similar startup, announced in June a $300 million kitty from its investors, making it the world’s highest-valued agtech firm at an estimated $3.5 billion. The new Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), set to launch in 2022, promises to be the largest. It will offer both carbon and water credits, and planning has begun for biodiversity credits as well, executive director Debbie Reed told me when we spoke by phone in October. ESMC, in fact, will comprise two markets: one where a broad range of companies — from Silicon Valley to Wall Street — can buy offsets to meet science-based emissions reduction targets; and one for “members,” companies with agriculture in their supply chains — including food and beverage, fashion, and beauty and cosmetics brands — that will make results-based payments to their suppliers. Some refer to this practice as “insetting.”  The beauty of insetting is that a company enables its suppliers’ transition from conventional to regenerative practices by providing educational, technical and, in some cases, financial assistance. One $8.5 million ESMC-linked pilot , sponsored by McDonald’s, Cargill , Target and The Nature Conservancy, aims to convert 100,000 acres of land in Nebraska, by providing beef producers technical assistance and an upfront 75 percent cost share. Meanwhile, Nestlé, which is working with 500,000 farmers to support the implementation of regenerative agriculture practices, just announced it would invest $1.3 billion in that effort over the next five years, funds that will go toward sharing the cost of capital improvements and the premium price the company will pay for regeneratively grown goods.  Farmers who want to earn money selling credits — offsets or insets — on these new markets opt into data monitoring and measurement, because payments are based on outcomes such as increases in soil carbon or improved water quality. The Nebraska program is one of a number of pilots underway to test ESMC’s protocols for quantifying and verifying credits. These pilots are also working out potential cost and pricing models, Reed said. The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation. “These major corporations are putting a lot of money into this, and if we can work with them … we can scale impact,” said Reed, who believes having standardized, transparent protocols will help hold companies accountable. “If we don’t work with these companies, and they do it themselves, then we have a patchwork, and it’s really hard to tell [who’s actually successful and who’s not].” While multinational corporations making big announcements get most of the attention, regenerative agriculture is a movement led by farmers and mission-driven entrepreneurs and brands, which have been researching and innovating for years. Of the 670 companies that work with The Climate Collaborative , nearly 300 have made regenerative ag commitments, director Erin Callahan told me. Most of these are privately owned small to midsize companies in the natural products industry. When we spoke in October, Callahan shared that she’d recently sent an email blast asking for progress reports on regenerative ag initiatives. “I thought I’d get five responses,” she said. “And I got 130 in 36 hours.”  One example comes from Happy Family Organics , which learned from two training pilots it sponsored, in 2018 and 2019, that farmers really need financial assistance and ongoing access to mentoring to make the transition to regenerative practices work. This year, the company established a Regenerative Farmer Fund, setting aside $40,000 per year to support up to four farmers annually with new practice implementation. You grow tom?toes, I grow tom?toes  It’s difficult to overstate how crucial both training and financial help are to farmers, because transitioning to regenerative or organic practices is complicated, expensive and risky. It takes time and knowledge. Stone House Farm, which sits on more than 2,000 acres in Columbia County, New York, used to grow corn and soybeans conventionally. A grain farm of this size can expect to run in the red for the first two years of an organic transition, accumulating a deficit of more than $400,000 before turning a profit in year three, according to analysis by the USDA.  The fact that the Peggy McGrath Rockefeller Foundation owns Stone House made its transition possible. An activist in the cause of preserving farmland, McGrath Rockefeller engineered the purchases of various dairy operations that created the farm. When her children Abby, David and Peggy took over, they wanted to rid the farm of toxic chemicals and establish a viable business. The foundation hired Ben Dobson to implement the transition in 2013. Along with his work on Hudson Carbon, Dobson manages Stone House Grain , a certified organic, non-GMO producer that grows barley, corn, soybeans and wheat. The grain company rents the land and facilities from the foundation, which intends for the farm to serve as a model for the region. Dobson’s parents ran one of the area’s first organic farms back in the 1980s. His interest in soil carbon grew from an early fascination with managing large landscapes naturally and in a closed loop cycle. “I wanted to farm like my parents, but they were very small-scale,” he says. “All these organic farms are so small, and that’s good, it’s a great lifestyle. But how do we change this huge land base in America that’s just plastered in chemicals?” To see what he means, look at the stats. Over the past decade, organic food sales in the United States doubled to more than $50 billion in 2019, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2020 Organic Industry Survey . The number of individual organic farms has surged as well — climbing by more than 50 percent from 10,903 farms in 2007 to 16,585 farms in 2017 — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest data , released in October. And yet, there are still only 5.5 million certified organic acres, up from just over 4 million acres over the same time period, a swath of land that represents less than 1 percent of the 911 million acres of total farmland nationwide.  Ben Dobson, founder of Hudson Carbon, also manages  Stone House Grain , a certified organic, non-GMO producer that grows barley, corn, soybeans and wheat. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse Granted, this data does not include regenerative farms not certified as organic. The two farming systems are similar but not exactly the same. Some organic farmers till the soil to control weeds, while no-till farmers sometimes use herbicides. Still, both systems aim to farm more sustainably, and many farmers use methods from both. Often, no-till farmers want to eventually eliminate chemical inputs, while organic farmers are trying to reduce tillage by incorporating certain cover crops, which help control weeds, into their rotation. Some of this is being done out of need, as farmers look for ways to deal with “superweeds” that have become resistant to herbicides.  Dave Miller, founder and CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT , understands well the disconnect between consumer demand for clean, healthy food and available financing.  For nearly 15 years, the Illinois-based specialty finance company has provided leases and mortgages to organic farmers. One of only a handful of companies with a history of specializing in sustainable farming finance — others include Farmland LP and Dirt Capital Partners — Iroquois Valley has invested in more than 60 organic farms comprising nearly 13,000 acres all over the country. Over time, it became evident that limited access to capital was holding back farmers’ growth, Miller told me. So last year, Iroquois Valley began offering operating lines of credit as well.  “All of our farmers want more land,” Miller said when we spoke by phone in April, as he hunkered down on his farm in Iroquois County, about an hour and a half south of Chicago, during the first wave of COVID-19. “We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. It’s great to have a market for your product, but if you can’t get funds to operate and to grow, then you’re SOL.” Frustration with traditional agriculture finance has led others to step up as well. It motivated the 2019 launch of Steward , a crowdfunding platform for sustainable farming that has raised more than $2.6 million for roughly 20 farms, and this year’s launch of rePlant Capital , a new farmer-first financial company that aims to deploy $250 million to producers converting to regenerative or organic practices. RePlant has partnered with Danone North America (another ESMC member), committing to invest as much as $20 million over the next few years to help Danone’s suppliers transition.  How Goliath won the battle for America’s farmland  America’s industrial agriculture system dates back to just after World War II, when federal farming policy began to focus on quantity. The shift to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, along with advances in mechanization, created the type of efficiency and scale the U.S. government hoped for. In a way, some farmers benefited as well, with increased production and easy pest control. But farming families also paid a big price, as the number of farms in the U.S. dropped by half from 1950 to 1970, and the detrimental environmental and health impacts of these chemicals played out. Still, the mantra “get big or get out” stuck — Sonny Perdue, Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary, repeated it just last year . And this policy shaped the country’s system of agricultural funding. Federal subsidies that keep commodity prices low and the federal crop insurance program promote monocultures by making it difficult for farmers to plant a variety of crops at once or to include cover crops in their rotation. Many farmers have taken on huge debts to purchase conventional farming equipment or land, which essentially locks them into the status quo. Meanwhile, banks and other financiers often have denied loans to small operations or organic/regenerative farmers they view “too niche” in their practices.  We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. “Federal farm programs make it more attractive to stay in the system you’re in,” Lisa French, a Kansas farmer, told me during a phone call in October. In terms of federal crop insurance, “you almost didn’t want to tell them you were planting cover crops because it might make you ineligible for payments. …. Or the banker may not want to loan money for cover crop seed because he doesn’t understand why you want that extra expense, when in fact you may be reducing other expenses in the process.” French and her husband grow wheat, sorghum and soybeans, and raise 40 head of cattle on roughly 800 acres near the Lake Cheney Watershed in the south-central part of the state. She’s also served as project director for the watershed for 20 years, because like many small producers, the Frenches don’t earn enough from the farm alone to make ends meet. Intrigued by farming in a way that enriches soil and what that meant for nutrient density in their livestock and crops, the Frenches have used certain regenerative practices for years, but they wanted to learn and do more. So they, along with 23 other growers in the area, enrolled in a ESMC-linked wheat pilot program sponsored by General Mills, one of three regenerative agriculture pilots the company has rolled out in the last year.  A new regenerative normal  To help its suppliers transition, General Mills contracted the consulting company Understanding Ag to provide training and coaching to the participants. They also assigned local regenerative farmers to act as mentors and help build a community. “The opportunity to learn from each other and to see what other people are trying is invaluable,” French said. And having a program focused on one geographic area “tends to bring along other farmers who are not participating because they see many of their neighbors making changes on their farms. The program makes it more likely that farmers will be successful in their transition, and it makes it more likely that regenerative ag is the norm in the neighborhood.” Ray Archuleta, founder of Understanding Ag, has dedicated his life to teaching farmers about soil health. A conservation agronomist, he spent 32 years working for USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) before retiring four years ago. Now he does the same job as a consultant.  “You know how I draw people into my classes? I draw them in economically, and later they start to fall in love with the ecology,” Archuleta told me when I caught up with him by phone in October. “The ecology was always first, then the economics followed, but we switched it around. And they begin to understand.” There is a long-term economic argument for regenerative ag from the farmer’s perspective, if they can just get over the transitional hump. First and foremost, it reduces and even can eliminate the costs associated with conventional farming, the money spent on chemical herbicides and fertilizer. And even though there isn’t a legal or regulatory definition of “regenerative agriculture” yet, consumers already seem willing to pay more for “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed” meat, eggs and dairy products, for example, much as they do for certified organic produce.  Some early research also indicates that regenerative farmers can maintain or even improve yields in the long run, because the soil is healthier and can better withstand the severe weather disturbances happening more often due to climate change.  “If you have drought conditions or heavy rain, land farmed regeneratively is more resilient, because with better management the soil is usable again more quickly,” Keith Paustian, a professor in soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University, explained. “If you have heavy rain, there is typically more water holding capacity which reduces flooding. And if you have a dry year, because regenerative farm soil holds moisture longer, it’s less dry than soil farmed conventionally.” Cattle grazing on the French farm in Kansas. Photo courtesy of Lisa French Flipping the script to reward positive outcomes When it comes to soil’s potential to sequester carbon, however, any scientific consensus ends. Some declare soil carbon the planet’s savior and others basically call BS on such assertions. As is often the case, the truth likely lies somewhere in between the extremes. “People who say this is a panacea, those numbers are wrong,” Paustian told me. “But in my opinion, and I think the data bears it out, there’s a definite role for soil carbon sequestration as part of the solution [to the climate crisis].” Some people I spoke to seem exasperated by the whole debate.  “I think there has been a bit too much argument about what the exact potential is,” said Jay Watson, sustainability engagement manager at General Mills. “Can we just agree that there is potential, and it’s the right thing to do? I think the General Mills approach has been: We’re committed to learning, but let’s just get started. … The clock is ticking.” Essentially, it comes down to a chicken-and-egg question. Some believe paying for carbon sequestration will motivate a regenerative transition that will bring a whole slew of environmental and social benefits. Others favor cost sharing and alternative financial incentives — payment for water quality and biodiversity, for example — to motivate the transition, which in turn will reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and lead to some amount of carbon sequestration.  In the end, the goals are the same, and meeting those goals requires a realignment of America’s agriculture finance system to one that rewards positive environmental outcomes and discourages destructive practices. Right now, it does the opposite, by not considering the true costs, the unsustainability of the current system or the benefits of a regenerative transformation.  In 2018, Farmland LP, Delta Institute and Earth Economics released a report , funded by the USDA, that found $21.4 million in net ecosystem service benefits using regenerative practices on roughly 6,000 acres over five years. Yet, the system continues to incentivize farmers to plant the same monoculture crops year after year, sapping the soil of minerals and organic matter. To boost production of weak soil, they add more chemical fertilizers, which run off into the water supply and eventually to the ocean, causing dead zones, such as the Massachusetts-sized one in the Gulf of Mexico . At the same time, the U.S. loses top soil at a rate 10 times faster than it’s replenished. And carbon seeps from the plowed, exposed soil into the air, contributing to the emissions rapidly warming the planet. What’s more, it costs U.S. taxpayers a bundle to bail farmers out when they get hit by floods or droughts, or sharp drops in commodity prices. Farmers affected by severe weather and Trump’s trade war with China received more than $22 billion in government payments in 2019, the highest level of farm subsidies in 14 years. By comparison, government programs that encourage regenerative and organic growing practices, such as the NRCS’s Environmental Quality and Incentives Program and Conservation Steward Program, historically have been funded at a fraction of conventional subsidies.  Such policies have been entrenched for decades, and changing them will not be easy.  “Here’s the problem: We have lobbyists … chemical company lobbyists, the fertilizer company lobbyists … they push the senators, and the senators push the heads of the agencies,” Archuleta said. “Nobody wants to touch the subsidies, no stinking way. The Democrats and the Republicans do not have the guts to terminate them.” Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint. After more than 30 years working for the government, it’s easy to understand Archuleta’s skepticism. However, there are positive signs. New bipartisan legislation that would provide incentives to adopt regenerative techniques has been introduced in the Senate, and President-elect Joe Biden recently reiterated his support for climate-smart farming, saying he would pay farmers “to put their land in conservation and plant cover crops.” The think tank Data for Progress also has proposed overhauling the federal crop insurance program to limit the total acreage eligible for coverage, phase out incentives for single-crop planting and create new tax credits designed specifically for family-owned farms.  If they wanted to, large, powerful corporations that have set science-based emissions reduction targets could push politicians toward a regenerative agriculture transition, although it’s still unclear whether that will happen. In the end, the real push could come from the farmers themselves, as they find themselves struggling year after year to produce sufficient yields on conventionally farmed land.  “Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint,” General Mills’ Watson told me. “The current way they’re farming just isn’t working anymore. They’re having to apply a lot more input to protect yield, and at some point, that becomes unsustainable.”  Grassroots grass-fed solutions  Like Archuleta, Dobson doubts real change will come from the top. When we sit down Nov. 4 in the sparse office he uses to manage farm business at Stone House, I ask him how he feels about the presidential election, which won’t be called for three more days.  “I don’t think we can look up for a leader,” he tells me. “The solutions are going to come from people. It would be easier with a Biden presidency to make progress, but I still think it has to come from people seeing a problem and believing we have to do something about it.”  Dobson and Sheffer have been measuring soil carbon at Stone House for five years, and the trends in the data at various sites show the farm is gaining soil carbon at various levels, sequestering CO 2 at a rate of about 7 tons per acre per year. Meanwhile, the trend in the data from the conventional farm up the road, which they’ve been measuring since 2018, shows it is losing soil carbon. This month, Stone House will begin selling credits on the Hudson Carbon marketplace as its first project. The farm and the PMR Foundation plan to divide proceeds from these sales, with the farm’s portion going to overhead, while the foundation’s portion goes to infrastructure improvements and other costs related to its regenerative agriculture mission. The platform aims to add more local farms next year and eventually to go global and include forest carbon credits.  But will companies and consumers be willing to fork over $100 per ton?  At least one company is. Hudson Carbon’s first customer, Light Phone , a New York-based technology startup that makes an “anti-smartphone,” has agreed to offset its footprint by purchasing credits on the platform. Time will tell whether others follow, or whether we succeed at transforming American agriculture before the planet completely falls apart.  I’ve not felt optimistic about our willingness to undertake transformational change and save ourselves in a long time, but something about regenerative agriculture does leave you with a sense of hope — a sense that if we can, one way or another, just get farmers through the transitional phase, replacing our industrial agriculture complex with something better is actually — doable. Pull Quote The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation. We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint. Topics Food & Agriculture Carbon Removal GreenFin Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off The Stone House Farm in New York is home to a new carbon marketplace tied to regenerative agriculture. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse Courtesy of C.J. Clouse Close Authorship

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How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats

How the digital wave is contributing to the rise of sustainable fisheries

November 12, 2020 by  
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How the digital wave is contributing to the rise of sustainable fisheries Myisha Majumder Thu, 11/12/2020 – 02:03 World fish consumption has almost doubled between the 1960s and now, and some estimates suggest fish contributes to at least 50 percent of total animal protein intake in developing nations. Despite higher demand for seafood and fish, world reserves have not kept up, and aquaculture is becoming more common as a result. Aquaculture uses techniques of breeding marine species in all types of water environments as a means to supplement seafood demand. The practice comes with many advantages, including reducing the dependence on wild-caught species, but also raises environmental concerns, which some industry experts are trying to address with up-and-coming technologies such as analytics, blockchain, artificial intelligence and the internet of things. Jennifer Kemmerly, vice president of global ocean initiatives at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said a focus on sustainability is necessary in the field, as 3 billion people rely on seafood, and 60 million people rely on the seafood industry for their livelihood. But this demand comes with noticeable problems, Kemmerly observed during a breakout session during VERGE 20 in late October. “There’s a lot of overfishing, or depleted fish stocks on the wild side of capture fisheries. There is illegality and mismanagement traceability back to the source of where the seafood is coming from, even whether it is farmed or wild… There are environmental issues and concerns that need to be dealt with,” she said. Kristina Furnes, global communications manager for Grieg Seafood, an international seafood company in Norway, British Columbia and Shetland specializing in fresh Atlantic salmon, said fish farming is complex. “It actually takes between 2.5 to three years to farm salmon, [which is] quite a long production period compared to, for example, chicken, which maybe takes like one or two months,” she said. Part of this farming process occurs in freshwater facilities on land and the other part occurs at sea. The process becomes even more complex with the introduction of sustainable practices, as fisheries strive to reduce impact on nature and improve fish welfare. “We have to cut carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, and we have to find new ways to think more in line with the circular economy,” Furnes said. Data and digital technologies can play a big role in helping out the process, said Furnes and her fellow VERGE 20 panelists. At Grieg Seafood, data analytics are being used to reduce the company’s feed conversion ratio, typically the amount of feed given over the amount of weight gained by the livestock, she said. One operational center can support all the different farms in that region, and with them, decision-making support as we call it, so we don’t think that digital tools will ever replace the fantastic guys on the farm. Although technological advances can assist in making fishery practices more sustainable, Furnes emphasized the importance of long histories of fishing communities. She believes that well-established farmers who have “grown up with the ocean” have had the experience-based learning crucial for decision-making. Furnes does not see technology as a way to replace humans in the process, but rather to assist, through the creation of operational centers in the Grieg Seafood infrastructure. “One operational center can support all the different farms in that region, and with them, decision-making support as we call it, so we don’t think that digital tools will ever replace the fantastic guys on the farm. But the idea is that it will help them to make better decisions,” she said. Among the sources of information Grieg uses to inform decisions include sensors and cameras to gather environmental data and monitor equipment on the farms. Another area where data analytics can be used to help fisheries is through early detection of potential damages. Furnes offered the example of harmful algae blooms that can damage the salmon by decreasing levels of oxygen. In Grieg Seafood’s British Columbia center, the company uses machine learning models to predict the probability of algae blooms. If the model warns of such an event, the company puts into place protective barriers through use of upwelling systems, which is simply taking water from further down in the ocean and increasing the overall height. Blockchain also could play a role in supporting the sustainable evolution of aquaculture, said Espen Braathe, head of blockchain transparency efforts in Europe for IBM, who believes IBM’s preexisting blockchain network for the food market in Europe can be implemented in some way. Braathe said data analytics about the condition of fish farms is appealing to consumers as well. “We expect information to be at our fingertips and we expect to have the truth about food… You want to feel good about you know the food that we eat, and we want to make sure it’s healthy right for us as well,” he said. In Braathe’s opinion, consumers are looking for the connection that once ago existed between the consumer and the farmer. It is possible to recreate this relationship through digital connections, he said. Although it is clear that usage of data can benefit the sustainability of fisheries, the industry will need to overcome certain barriers, according to the panelists. “The data is there, it resides in silos, but the quality of the data is not always to the point where you can actually use it [for analytics],” Braathe said. Furnes echoed this statement, and said some sort of streamlining across the industry and within individual companies is necessary to efficiently use the large amounts of data gathered. “There is a need for a standard in the industry on how you actually collect data… Ensuring that you actually have quality data that you are collecting that you can actually use for something and compare is really big,” she said. Adopting such practices hopefully will come with time, as global consumption of seafood likely will continue to rise and have an impact on the surrounding climate and environment. Kemmerly sees great potential in the role of technology in the solutions. “The challenges are not insurmountable. Technology has proven it can play a powerful role in enabling the sustainability and improved management of both fisheries and aquaculture,” she said. Pull Quote One operational center can support all the different farms in that region, and with them, decision-making support as we call it, so we don’t think that digital tools will ever replace the fantastic guys on the farm. Topics Oceans & Fisheries VERGE 20 Digitalization Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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How the digital wave is contributing to the rise of sustainable fisheries

The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture

July 30, 2020 by  
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The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture Jean Orlowski Thu, 07/30/2020 – 02:00 Nearly a decade ago, as we took in the lush plant life, clean air and warm sunshine surrounding us during a vacation in Hawaii, my wife, Danielle, and I knew a life shift was happening. A connection to the land — this island — was built on that trip, leading us to relocate permanently to Captain Cook, Hawaii. It was there that we came across a six-acre Kona coffee farm that had fallen into neglect. Nurturing this farm back to life strengthened our relationship with the island, taught us the true meaning of sustainability and allowed us to become advocates for organic farming beyond our own acreage. Today Hala Tree Coffee Farm consists of nearly 100 acres, and we’ve built a network of like-minded coffee farmers looking to become fully organic. While organic processes may not change the taste of the coffee beans (the environment here takes the credit for that), the organic processes show respect to the land that produces them. We’re firm believers that authentic Kona coffee is organic and that shifting toward regenerative agriculture is vital. Globally, but especially on an island, just being “organic” is no longer enough.  Moving from ‘minimizing impact’ to regenerating  Our motivation to make a career out of farming stemmed from a love of the land. We wanted to work with this island, not take from it, and leave it even better than we found it. Learning the intricacies of Kona coffee farming from the ground up highlighted the need for organic practices early on. While sustainability is important no matter where you live, living on an island increases the urgency. Our soil, our trees and our water eventually connect to the ocean that surrounds Hawaii. While we want to care for the island itself, the consequences of not using organic practices can reach to the mainland United States and beyond, carried by the currents. Even small island farms leave a lasting effect — both positive and negative — on the environment globally. And because Hawaii must import large amounts of produce (resulting in 600,000 pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere for each flight from San Francisco to Hawaii), regenerative agriculture is imperative for our state. One major way to do that is to shift the way farming is done, especially for key crops such as coffee. Until recently, Hawaii was the only U.S. state that grows coffee beans (California has just started), and Kona coffee is coveted around the world. The mix of rain, quality soil, sunshine and elevation on the island creates the perfect environment for farming coffee beans. The conditions truly can’t be reproduced elsewhere, and that’s why the Kona coffee farming community is passionate about the environment and our island. At Hala Tree, we focus on two key areas: our soil and our trees.  We focus on topsoil regeneration by using perennial peanuts as ground cover to nourish the soil and anchor it. Our farm, as with most coffee farms in Hawaii, covers sloped areas prone to runoffs. Ground cover is vital to stabilizing our soil; we focus on the regenerative piece by choosing materials that give back to the soil. During pruning and clipping seasons on the farm, everything cut from the trees is spread on top of the current soil throughout the farm. We also use natural fertilizer made from fish bones throughout the farm. Wildlife is also a consideration with ground cover; we must ensure that we are not restricting movement or harming native animals. These species are key to the land’s ability to regenerate, and we must work with them, not around or against.  New trees are continuously planted on the farm to boost carbon sequestration. We have about 100,000 trees under our management, each being carefully maintained with organic practices.  Part of our initiative to move toward regenerative agriculture is helping other local farmers obtain organic certification. This initial process can be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive for small farms; for example, the weed maintenance piece is a tall order in a wet, humid climate where plants grow at astounding speeds. By bringing more farms under our wing and helping them on the organic path, we aim to better equip the agriculture community to embrace regenerative farming.  What’s good for one is good for all  While smaller farms may have the most to gain from going organic, the upfront cost to earn that designation can be prohibitive. Materials, tools, processes and labor need to be accounted for, not to mention the cost of certification. Farms also must be fully organic for three years before a certification can be awarded, adding a time investment on top of cost. For a small farm with just a few acres, this may be impossible to achieve alone. In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands ) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support. In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support.   Our own expansion as a company is partially fueled by mentoring other farms. The territory here can be difficult to work with, given the grades of hills and the need for special equipment. We help smaller farms by sharing resources and, in some cases, we manage their acreage to support their journey toward organic certification. Our partners either pay a fee or share a part of their harvest with us in exchange, making organic farming attainable while ensuring that they still see profit. It’s a form of regenerative agriculture itself: We’re investing in the community that invested in us, keeping everything local. Other types of agriculture are starting to use this model, and more need to follow. The wine industry is similar to coffee in terms of cultivation, harvest and processing. Established vineyards with organic certification can lift up neighboring vineyards and share their resources. When more organic wine enters the market, consumers are more likely to try it, which benefits the newly established organic farms and boosts the industry as whole. While new technology can help this process, machines can’t fully replace people or mimic the value of a strong, supportive network. That’s why we all need to work together. We hope to see farms of all kinds on the mainland and beyond consider the model we’ve created in Hawaii. We need more minds behind innovation in this area to continue growing and making regenerative practices accessible. While living on an island initially may have raised our sense of urgency for going organic, it’s no less imperative for our farming community in other U.S. states and around the world to shift their practices. While sustainability discussions can feel overwhelming and difficult, we have an opportunity in the agriculture community to show fellowship, support and positivity — and perhaps improve products and profits along the way. Pull Quote In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support. Topics Food & Agriculture Regenerative Agriculture Organics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Hala Tree Coffee Farm owners Danielle and Jean Orlowski. Courtesy of Charla Photography Close Authorship

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The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture

Black farmers embrace and implement solutions for climate resiliency

January 8, 2020 by  
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“Our duty as earthkeepers is to call the exiled carbon back into the land and to bring the soil life home,” said Larisa Jacobson, co-director of Soul Fire Farm.

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Black farmers embrace and implement solutions for climate resiliency

Episode 185: Word games, cool planes , Nori’s blockchain-driven carbon removal mission

August 23, 2019 by  
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Plus, many of those food waste stats you’ve heard don’t include what’s discarded at the farm. Tune in to hear about both the problem, and potential solutions.

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Episode 185: Word games, cool planes , Nori’s blockchain-driven carbon removal mission

Episode 185: Word games, cool planes , Nori’s blockchain-driven carbon removal mission

August 23, 2019 by  
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Plus, many of those food waste stats you’ve heard don’t include what’s discarded at the farm. Tune in to hear about both the problem, and potential solutions.

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Episode 185: Word games, cool planes , Nori’s blockchain-driven carbon removal mission

Toxic chemicals can enter food through packaging, so we made a list

August 23, 2019 by  
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Environmental NGO EDF has identified toxic chemicals of concern that must be addressed to ensure health and safety.

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Toxic chemicals can enter food through packaging, so we made a list

Bee hive vandalism in Iowa kills tens of thousands of honeybees

October 15, 2018 by  
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Bee vandals have struck again, this time at the Grateful Acres Farm northeast of Des Moines, Iowa. Last week, farmer Jake Knutson discovered that someone had trashed three of his strongest hives with cinder blocks, logs and bricks, causing him to lose tens of thousands of bees and 150 pounds of honey. The vandalism allowed bees from nearby farms to steal the honey from the exposed containers, and it also left Knutson’s insects to die in the rain. During the past year, hive vandalism has made news all over the world and killed hundreds of thousands of bees, including massacres in California , Ontario and Manchester, England, according to USA Today . Last winter, vandals also hit another Iowa farm, killing 500,000 honeybees. The insects do not fly in cold temperatures, and they died on the ground in the snow. Related: Bees addicted to pesticides much like smokers to nicotine, scientists say In last year’s Iowa vandalism case that caused over $60,000 in damages, two boys — ages 12 and 13 — ended up with felony charges. Knutson believes that kids are to blame for the current damage on his farm. Even though he doesn’t want to see kids get into trouble, he did contact authorities, because the vandals showed up two different times, and he doesn’t believe they should get a pass. “That means whomever did this came back within the last day and a half with the intent to destroy them,” Knutson wrote on Facebook. “The first time I guessed it was curious kids, and I was just wanting to speak to their parents, but after the recent incident I filed a police report and will prosecute when they find them.” Knutson saved as many bees as he could, and he plans to rebuild the hives for next year. One of Knutson’s friends created a GoFundMe account to help the farm recoup its losses. Knutson says that they will be able to recover, but “it just sucks” that someone would destroy everything after the huge investment of time and labor into the hives. Knutson also wrote on social media that bee vandalism seems to be a growing trend among kids, and parents need to teach their children about the importance of bees and seek out a local beekeeper to support . According to estimates, 35 percent of all food production depends on bee pollination. Meanwhile, honeybees continue to die off at an alarming rate. Via USA Today and EcoWatch Photography by Marisa Lubeck via USGS

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Bee hive vandalism in Iowa kills tens of thousands of honeybees

How addressing energy used in food processing contributes to more sustainable agriculture

July 25, 2018 by  
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Greater energy efficiency beyond the farm gate and more sustainable processes inside the farm are the two sides of the same coin.

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How addressing energy used in food processing contributes to more sustainable agriculture

This tiny home lets visitors experience life as homesteaders

July 5, 2018 by  
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Homesteading is a full-time job, but for those who’d like to just try it briefly, you can rent out a beautiful 300-square-foot tiny home made from reclaimed materials located on a six-acre working farm. Available to rent on Airbnb , the Tiny House Farmstay on the  Chittle Homestead  is a small rental home just an hour outside of Seattle that lets guests experience the best of sustainable living. Guests looking for a simple homestead experience can head up to the historic fishing village of Gig Harbor to stay on the charming Chittle Homestead. On their land, Tessa and Tim Chittle built a tiny home out of locally-sourced building materials such as recycled denim insulation and reclaimed cedar wall siding. The house boasts non-toxic paints to create a healthy environment. Related: Cool homestead retreat with vintage trailer brings glamping to Mojave desert At just 300 square feet, the tiny home is designed to maximize space while putting the focus on spending time outdoors. The wood-clad interior houses a small living room and two private bedrooms — a sleeping loft with a queen-sized bed and a Murphy bed on the ground floor. The bathroom is small but functional with a tiny sink and shower, as well as an odorless composting toilet . Outside the tiny house, a long farm table welcomes visitors to enjoy a meal or socialize with one another. According to the owners, guests at the farm will wake up to the sounds of roosters crowing and views of sheep grazing in the expansive meadow that surrounds the home. The land is home to plenty of farm animals and gardens that produce fresh herbs and veggies. The homestead owners are more than happy to share their knowledge with visitors looking to test out the world of homesteading. Guests can assist with the daily chores of taking care of the farm animals, or they can choose to stroll down the beach, go on a kayak adventure or tour the local antique shops. Best of all, guests at the Chittle retreat will take comfort in knowing that the cost of their stay, which averages around $100 per night, goes toward improving the tiny home and its farm. According to the family, “All proceeds from your vacation booking goes to homestead projects that improve the sustainability of the homestead… improving soil, creating habitat for wildlife, increasing food self-sufficiency, and future dreams of solar panels, rainwater catchment and aquaponics.” + The Chittle Homestead Via Tiny House Talk Photography by Markie Jones Photography and Jenna Spesard

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This tiny home lets visitors experience life as homesteaders

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