The Farm Bill, conservation and crop insurance

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

House Farm Bill lacks conservation measure
A key soil and water conservation provision in the Senate-passed federal Farm Bill is not in a  House draft of the bill unveiled last week.

The Senate bill, approved last month, would require farmers to meet certain minimum conservation standards in order to qualify for taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance. That provision would maintain conservation requirements that most farmers currently have to meet to receive direct subsidy payments, which are being phased out in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.

In addition to the difference over the conservation provision, the House legislation would cut total Farm Bill spending more deeply, make bigger cuts in the food stamp program and provide more federal spending for southern rice and cotton farmers at the expense of Midwestern corn and soybean growers.

Read a National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition commentary critical of  the conservation provisions in the House legislation.  Read a Politico analysis of the two bills. Read a Star Tribune editorial  on the Farm Bill, and an op-ed response to it that focuses on conservation provisions. The op-ed was written by Becky Humphries of Ducks Unlimited, Peggy Ladner of the Nature Conservancy, Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever and  Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Research: Rising seas can be slowed, not stopped
Rising sea levels cannot be stopped over the next several hundred years, even if deep emissions cuts lower global average temperatures, but they can be slowed down, climate scientists said in a study.

A lot of climate research shows that rising greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for increasing global average surface temperatures by about 0.17 degrees Celsius a decade from 1980-2010 and for a sea level rise of about 2.3mm a year from 2005-2010 as ice caps and glaciers melt.

Rising sea levels threaten about a tenth of the world’s population who live in low-lying areas and islands which are at risk of flooding, including the Caribbean, Maldives and Asia-Pacific island groups. More than 180 countries are negotiating a new global climate pact which will come into force by 2020 and force all nations to cut emissions to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius this century – a level scientists say is the minimum required to avert catastrophic effects.

But even if the most ambitious emissions cuts are made, it might not be enough to stop sea levels rising due to the thermal expansion of sea water, said scientists at the United States’ National Centre for Atmospheric Research, U.S. research organisation Climate Central and Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Melbourne.

Citizens join fight against aquatic invasives
Clayton Jensen spends a lot of time at the public access to Lake Melissa, about a mile down the beach from his home.

He carries a handful of glossy fliers he designed and printed, simple one-page handouts that explain how boaters can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The creatures, which include zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil, are moving from lake to lake across Minnesota. Often, they hitch a ride unobserved on boats and equipment.

Jensen, a retired doctor, is part of a movement of citizens and local governments joining the effort to slow the spread of the unwanted plants and animals. Although he attended a training session sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources, he has no authority as an inspector. His job is to educate.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Drip irrigation expands worldwide 
As the world population climbs and water stress spreads around the globe, finding ways of getting more crop per drop to meet our food needs is among the most urgent of challenges.

One answer to this call is drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to the roots of plants in just the right amounts. It can double or triple water productivity – boosting crop per drop – and it appears to be taking off worldwide.

Over the last twenty years, the area under drip and other “micro” irrigation methods has risen at least 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to more than 10.3 million. (One hectare is about 2.5 acres. The latest figures from the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage include countries accounting for only three-quarters of the world’s irrigated area, so the 10.3 million figure is low.) The most dramatic gains have occurred in China and India, the world’s top two irrigators, where the area under micro-irrigation expanded 88-fold and 111-fold, respectively, over the last two decades.
–National Geographic

Proposal seeks to cut nitrous oxide releases from ag 
Read an interesting article from the Corn and Soybean Digest about a proposal to pay farmers to reduce their losses of nitrous oxide – a particularly potent greenhouse gas – from the fertilization of their crops. Under the proposal, other industries faced with caps on the greenhouse gases they emit could buy credits for nitrous oxide emissions reduced by farmers.

Overall, farms are not a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but nitrogen fertilizer use releases nitrous oxide. And nitrous oxide in the atmosphere traps far more heat than the most common greenhouse gas,  carbon dioxide. A California nonprofit group, Climate Action Reserve, is pushing for establishment of a market in nitrous oxide credits.

GAO reviews EPA water pollution grants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sends about $200 million a year to the states to fight non-point water pollution, including agricultural runoff. A new General Accounting Office review of  the spending finds fault with some aspects of the grants. Read the report.