How Did Farmer Brown Bring His Dying Land Back From the Brink?
By Jeff Turrentine
Sometimes enlightenment arrives as a flash of epiphany: a gravity-obeying apple that falls from a tree, for instance, or a blinding light that freezes you in your tracks on the road to Damascus.
Other times, though, it's more of a process. That's how Gabe Brown came to regenerative agriculture. About 20 years ago, Brown nearly lost his 1,760-acre farm outside Bismarck, North Dakota, which he had taken over upon his in-laws' retirement in 1991. Just as his wife's family had done since the 1950s, Brown continued to till, fertilize, graze and chemically treat the land—all of which were considered best practices at the time.
In high school and college, he said, "I was taught the current production models. That's all I was exposed to. I learned the conventional mind-set—how to use all the fertilizers and pesticides and fungicides, and how to give growth hormones to cattle to get them to grow faster."
Gabe Brown poses at his ranch in Bismarck, North Dakota.Gabe Brown
Then, in 1995 and 1996, a pair of massive hailstorms destroyed his crops. A blizzard followed in 1997, leading to the deaths of many of the cows the Browns had been relying on to generate income in the wake of their successive crop failures. Brown and his wife steeled themselves and regrouped, only to have a third freak hailstorm destroy their crops once more. In discussing these events and their aftermath, Brown tends to refer to this dark time in his farming life as "the four years," in the kind of hushed tone typically reserved for myths and legends.
He didn't give up. Having already been introduced to the central ideas of regenerative agriculture, Brown was eager to give them a try—to fortify his weakened farmland by minimizing synthetic inputs and restoring ecological balance. Put simply, regenerative agriculture aims to boost microbial activity, carbon retention and water infiltration in soil so that plants can get more of what they need more efficiently. Paradoxically, the best way to achieve this agricultural state of grace is to do less, not more.
Some examples of regenerative ag include reducing or refraining altogether from tilling, which farmers have been doing for centuries but which can destroy soil structure, inhibit water infiltration and increase erosion; ending the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides, so that healthy microbial biodiversity can flourish underground; and planting cover crops in multispecies combinations to "armor" the soil, further preventing erosion and promoting the generation of organic matter. Brown had heard the stories from scientists and other farmers about how these strategies could result in higher crop yields and greater soil resilience, irrespective of location. After enduring the four years, he and his wife knew something had to change.
And so it did. Brown now runs a flourishing 5,000-acre ranch with his wife and their son, Paul, and has become a well-known champion of soil health in the bargain. His story is recounted in a new book, Dirt to Soil: One Family's Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, which also serves as a primer for farmers, ranchers, and policy makers who want to better understand how one can boost the operations of an entire farm by putting the health of the soil above all else. Moreover, Brown's conversion experience suggests a possible way out of our modern agricultural predicament, wherein centuries of mechanical and chemical disturbance have rendered soils nutritionally depleted and highly vulnerable—locking farmers into cycles of constant (and costly) interventions that only serve to perpetuate the underlying problem.
Once Brown started to think of his soil not just as a medium for other living things but as a living thing itself, he was stunned by the immediate results. In one early experiment, he planted several one-acre plots with different monoculture cover crops: radishes, turnips, lupine, and so on. But on one plot, he planted all of these together in a biodiverse polyculture "cocktail." Over a two-month period marked by very little rain, production was three times greater on the polyculture plot.
A healthy cut of soil from Brown's land.Gabe Brown
By 2010, Brown stopped using synthetic fertilizers and today, his crop yields are 20 percent higher than the average yields in his county. He's also seen water-infiltration rates skyrocket—from one-half inch per hour, back in 1991, to one inch in nine seconds in 2015. Carbon-retention rates have risen dramatically, too. "On our home place, where we've done in-depth, significant testing, our soils have 96 tons of carbon per acre in the top 48 inches," he said—compared with the 10 to 30 tons of stored carbon typically found in conventionally farmed soils of the Northern Plains.
"I tell people that many of the ills we're seeing today—whether we're talking too much carbon in the atmosphere and not enough cycling in the soil where we need it, problems with our watersheds, nitrates in our estuaries or in the Mississippi Delta or the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes or the Chesapeake—we can solve all of those," Brown said. And there's consequences for human health, too. "We no longer have healthy, functioning soil, so we don't have the ability to move nutrients out of the soil and into plants," he said. "People aren't getting the necessary nutrition they need from the food that's being produced."
Brown now spends nearly as much time touring the country and spreading the regenerative agriculture gospel as he does working his land. He's hopeful that the message is breaking through to a younger generation of farmers. "They're looking for something else, because the production model we're in is just wrong; it's broken," he said. "But what's wonderful today about these younger producers is that they have the experience of all of us—the ones who went before them—to draw upon." The seeds of regenerative agriculture have been planted.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.