Conservation

Dana Cronin / Harvest Public Media

Amid a push from the Biden administration for U.S. agriculture to help slow climate change, a new study shows farmers in the Corn Belt are dropping the ball on adopting a climate-friendly practice.

 

A mountain of research shows the benefits of planting cover crops -- from sequestering carbon from the environment to keeping waterways cleaner. 

 

Carbon Is A New Cash Crop For Some Farmers

Feb 19, 2021
Katie Peikes / Harvest Public Media

There’s been a lot of hype around how farmers can make money from selling the carbon their plants naturally remove from the air, but there are still questions about how much of a difference these markets can make in reducing greenhouse gases.  

Seth Bodine / Harvest Public Media

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending the deadline for the largest private land conservation program in the country, following a shortfall in enrollment and change in the White House. 

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers and ranchers to preserve land for 10 to 15 years, but it saw a shortfall of 4 million acres under the Trump administration. As of December 2020, there are 20.8 million acres enrolled in the program. 

With President Biden’s focus on mitigating climate change, the USDA extended the deadline for enrollment. 

Seth Bodine / Harvest Public Media

Mary Chris Barth knows how important it is to control the soil in the panhandle of Oklahoma. She’s the child of parents that grew up in the Dust Bowl. When farmers started planting fence row to fence row in the 1970s and removing the native plants from the soil, she remembers farmers trying to control the dust. Barth, a former president of the Beaver County Farm Bureau and a farmer in the area, says some of the soil should have never been touched. 

Ed Koger

Lesser prairie chickens don’t really bother Mike McCarty. He likes them just fine, but doesn’t think people understand how hard it is to balance wildlife conservation and being a rancher and farmer in southwest Kansas.

“Yes, we need to protect our wildlife and everything,” he says, “but we also need to protect our people, our agriculture.”

courtesy of Christopher Gannon/ISU

Farmers and landowners enrolling acres in the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program have a new practice available to them.

Areas of native grasses and flowers, called prairie strips, have proven helpful in keeping soil in place, preventing nutrients from washing away and increasing the presence of birds and bees.

Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

As grassland and prairies gave way to farmland in the Midwest, habitats for some native birds disappeared. There’s a relatively new program in central Illinois looking to restore wetlands for migrating birds and help farmers at the same time.

The program to help them is limited but is secure for now. However, the future for both the bird and the program could be on shakier ground in just a few years.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture data show the amount of land in the largest federal conservation programs has decreased nationwide and in many Midwest and Plains states. But that doesn’t mean farmers are ignoring soil health, nutrient runoff or erosion problems.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

More farmers are using cover crops to keep water, soil and nutrients from running off fields. But while many studies have shown the agronomic and environmental benefits of the plants that come up after cash crops such as corn or soybeans get harvested, it’s been harder to determine whether a farm business will recover the initial planting cost.

A new report says there’s evidence the conservation strategy brings economic benefits, too.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Bruce Carney raises cattle, poultry and a few sheep on his 300-acre farm in Maxwell, Iowa. He no longer grows any grain, but is preparing for new crops of a different kind.

Orange flags dot what was previously a cattle lot, with a ridge (or swale) built around it to manage water flow. The fruit trees Carney will be planting at each of the flags later this year will also help.

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