Climate change is making ancient Hopi farming nearly impossible, threatening not just the Tribe's staple food source, but a pillar of its culture and religion, the Arizona Republic reports.
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For some people, the name Charlotte Figi may not mean much—but to the Stanley Brothers, Charlotte meant everything. The Stanleys, a group of seven brothers from Colorado, found peace and purpose in the little girl who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome.
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
A new report released Tuesday details the "shocking" state of global land equality, saying the problem is worse than thought, rising, and "cannot be ignored."
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Around 50,000 farmed salmon swam free on Monday after a fire melted part of their enclosure off the coast of Tasmania.
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By Scott Faber
The staggering number of food and farm workers who have died from Covid-19 has laid bare the Trump administration's disastrous policies on food and farm issues.
By Matthew R Sanderson, Burke Griggs and Jacob A. Miller
A slow-moving crisis threatens the U.S. Central Plains, which grow a quarter of the nation's crops. Underground, the region's lifeblood – water – is disappearing, placing one of the world's major food-producing regions at risk.
Changes in Ogallala water levels from before the aquifer was tapped in the early 20th century to 2015. Gray indicates no significant change. Water levels have risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, but are mostly in decline. NCA 2018
A Production Treadmill<p>At first glance, farmers on the Plains appear to be doing well in 2020. Crop production increased this year. Corn, the largest crop in the U.S., had <a href="https://www.nass.usda.gov/Newsroom/2020/08-12-2020.php" target="_blank">a near-record year</a>, and farm incomes increased by <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-sector-income-finances/farm-sector-income-forecast" target="_blank">5.7% over 2019</a>.</p><p>But those figures hide massive government payments to farmers. Federal subsidies increased by <a href="https://www.agweb.com/article/usda-says-farm-income-increasing-gov-payments-are-record" target="_blank">a remarkable 65%</a> this year, totaling $37.2 billion. This sum includes money for <a href="https://theconversation.com/most-us-farmers-remain-loyal-to-trump-despite-pain-from-trade-wars-and-covid-19-146535" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lost exports from escalating trade wars, as well as COVID-19-related relief payments.</a> Corn prices were too low to cover the cost of growing it this year, with federal subsidies making up the difference.</p><p>Our research finds that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/socpro/spy011" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subsidies put farmers on a treadmill</a>, working harder to produce more while draining the resource that supports their livelihood. Government payments create a vicious cycle of overproduction that intensifies water use. Subsidies encourage farmers to expand and buy expensive equipment to irrigate larger areas.</p>
Irrigation pump in Haskell County, Kansas. Matthew Sanderson/Kansas State University, CC BY-ND<p>With <a href="https://www.agweb.com/markets/futures" target="_blank">low market prices for many crops</a>, production does not cover expenses on most farms. To stay afloat, many farmers buy or lease more acres. Growing larger amounts floods the market, further reducing crop prices and farm incomes. Subsidies support this cycle.</p><p>Few benefit, especially small and midsized operations. In a 2019 study of the region's 234 counties from 1980 to 2010, we found that larger irrigated acreage <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-019-00390-9" target="_blank">failed to increase incomes or improve education or health outcomes</a> for residents.</p>
Focus on Policy, Not Farmers<p>Four decades of federal, state and local conservation efforts have mainly targeted individual farmers, providing ways for them to voluntarily <a href="https://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/managing-kansas-water-resources/wca" target="_blank">reduce water use</a> or <a href="https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip/" target="_blank">adopt more water-efficient technologies</a>.</p><p>While these initiatives are important, they haven't stemmed the aquifer's decline. In our view, what the Ogallala Aquifer region really needs is policy change.</p><p>A lot can be done at the federal level, but the first principle should be "do no harm." Whenever federal agencies have <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1230/all-info" target="_blank">tried to regulate groundwater</a>, the backlash has been swift and intense, with farm states' congressional representatives <a href="https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2015-06-19/pdf/2015-15151.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">repudiating federal jurisdiction over groundwater</a>.</p><p>Nor should Congress propose to eliminate agricultural subsidies, as some <a href="https://www.ewg.org/agmag/subsidies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">environmental organizations</a> and <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/five-reasons-repeal-farm-subsidies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">free-market advocates</a> have proposed. Given the thin margins of farming and longstanding political realities, federal support is simply part of modern production agriculture.</p><p>With these cautions in mind, three initiatives could help ease pressure on farmers to keep expanding production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's <a href="https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-program/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Conservation Reserve Program</a> pays farmers to allow environmentally sensitive farmland to lie fallow for at least 10 years. With new provisions, the program could reduce water use by prohibiting expansion of irrigated acreage, permanently retiring marginal lands and linking subsidies to production of less water-intensive crops.</p><p>These initiatives could be implemented through the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/farmbill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">federal farm bill</a>, which also sets funding levels for nonfarm subsidies such as the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, or SNAP. SNAP payments, which increase needy families' food budgets, are an important tool for addressing poverty. Increasing these payments and adding financial assistance to local communities could offset lower tax revenues that result from from farming less acreage.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a68a352afef927017e5c51944388e7b"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHJsdtLZGoY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Amending <a href="https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/farm-loan-programs/" target="_blank">federal farm credit rates</a> could also slow the treadmill. Generous terms promote borrowing for irrigation equipment; to pay that debt, borrowers farm more land. Offering lower rates for equipment that reduces water use and withholding loans for standard, wasteful equipment could nudge farmers toward conservation.</p><p>The most powerful tool is the tax code. Currently, farmers receive <a href="https://www.irs.gov/publications/p225#en_US_2020_publink1000218297" target="_blank">deductions for declining groundwater levels</a> and can write off depreciation on irrigation equipment. Replacing these perks with a tax credit for stabilizing groundwater and substituting a depreciation schedule favoring more efficient irrigation equipment could provide strong incentives to conserve water.</p>
Rewriting State Water Laws<p>Water rights are mostly determined by state law, so reforming state water policies is crucial. Case law demonstrates that simply owning water rights <a href="https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/224/107/" target="_blank">does not grant the legal right to waste water</a>. For more than a century courts have upheld state restrictions on waste, with <a href="https://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/2d/3/489.html" target="_blank">rulings that allow for adaptation</a> by modifying the definitions of "beneficial use" and "waste" over time.</p><p>Using these precedents, state water agencies could designate thirsty crops, such as rice, cotton or corn, as wasteful in certain regions. Regulations preventing unreasonable water use <a href="https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2020/c085762.html" target="_blank">are not unconstitutional</a>.</p><p>Allowing farmers some flexibility will maximize profits, as long as they stabilize overall water use. If they irrigate less – or not at all – in years with low market prices, rules could allow more irrigation in better years. Ultimately, many farmers – and their bankers – are willing to exchange lower annual yields for a longer water supply.</p><p>As our research has shown, the vast majority of farmers in the region <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/gwat.12940" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">want to save groundwater</a>. They will need help from policymakers to do it. Forty years is long enough to learn that the Ogallala Aquifer's decline is not driven by weather or by individual farmers' preferences. Depletion is a structural problem embedded in agricultural policies. Groundwater depletion is a policy choice made by federal, state and local officials.</p>
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T. C. Knight / Getty Images
By Chaoqun Lu
Stream gauge measurements show that the amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) moving from Mississippi River Basin states to the Gulf of Mexico fluctuates dramatically from year to year. Heavy rainfalls can produce higher nitrogen levels. Modified from Lu et al., 2020, CC BY-ND
Percentage increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012. Globalchange.gov
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The first U.S. "murder hornet" nest has been discovered and eliminated.
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By Jennifer Ann Thomas
For the first time, researchers have developed a model capable of anticipating drought periods in the Amazon up to 18 months in advance. The study was conducted by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), in Germany, as part of the Tipping Points in the Earth System (TiPES) project, led by physicist Catrin Ciemer and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Average monthly sea surface temperature (in degrees Celsius, red scale) and average continental rainfall in South America (in millimeters/month, blue scale) from 1981 to 2016. Sea surface temperatures and precipitation are generally higher around the equator. On the left, the area where El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) occurs; dotted lines indicate the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in January and July, responsible for transporting heat and humidity from the oceans around the tropics.
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'Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution': New Paper Outlines Vision for Climate Action
By Andrea Germanos
A white paper out Friday declares that "there is hope right beneath our feet" to address the climate crisis as it touts regenerative agriculture as a "win-win-win" solution to tackling runaway carbon emissions.
Graph from Rodale Institute's new white paper "Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution."<p>The claim made in the new paper is bold: "Data from farming and grazing studies show the power of exemplary regenerative systems that, if achieved globally, would drawdown more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions.</p><p>"Regenerative agriculture, as the researchers describe, represents "a system of farming principles that rehabilitates the entire ecosystem and enhances natural resources, rather than depleting them."</p><p>In contrast to industrial practices dependent upon monocultures, extensive tillage, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, a regenerative approach uses, at minimum, seven practices which aim to boost biodiversity both above and underground and make possible carbon sequestration in soil.</p><ul><li>Diversifying crop rotations</li><li>Planting cover crops, green manures, and perennials</li><li>Retaining crop residues</li><li>Using natural sources of fertilizer, such as compost</li><li>Employing highly managed grazing and/or integrating crops and livestock</li><li>Reducing tillage frequency and depth</li><li>Eliminating synthetic chemicals</li></ul>