September 2020

September 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest edition of NACSAA News, a monthly compilation of CSA-related news. “NACSAA in Action” features the latest on the Alliance activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past month; “Other News We Are Reading” is a listing of news stories from other sources we think you will find of interest; and “Partner News and Events.” We hope this newsletter will serve to keep you, your members and other constituencies fully engaged in the growing development of climate-smart agriculture policy, programs and practices. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. To subscribe, email info@SfLDialogue.net.

NACSAA Members in Action

SfL Submits Agroecology Policy Recommendations

 

In a submission to the Private Sector Mechanism of the FAO Committee on Food Security, Solutions from the Land has introduced a series of recommendations on the first draft of a major policy treatise on agroecology and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition.

 

One of the primary points made in the recommendations is that agroecology and other innovative approaches are not on a continuum. Rather, as NACSAA Steering Committee member Lois Wright Morton noted, “Each approach is context- and situation-specific, and sustainability will require multiple innovative approaches over space and time to achieve balance among healthy ecosystems, economic and social well-being (the definition of sustainability).” Member states will begin negotiating the draft document later this fall.

 

Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture Efforts Continue

 

NACSAA’s latest submission on the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture is in the final stages of development and will summarize primary pathways for enabling agricultural solutions to climate and other sustainable development goals (SDGs).

 

Earlier this month, Kip Tom, U.S. ambassador to the Rome-based UN agencies, was briefed in a call on global UN engagement work, including the KJWA, the recommendations submitted on food security issues and next year’s UN Food Systems Summit.

 

Food Systems Summit Preparation Work Gears Up

 

A.G. Kawamura, a NACSAA steering committee member and co-chair of the alliance’s coordinating organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL), joined a CEO-level call this month with Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, relaying to Kalibata NACSAA/SfL’s support for the events leading up to the event.

 

He also shared the organizations’ support for strategies to address the focal areas selected for action tracks for ending hunger and achieving food and nutrition along with other sustainable development goals. A primary recommendation is for world leaders to embrace and enable innovation as a primary pathway for ending huger and simultaneously delivering high value ecosystem services. He also offered NACSAA/SfL assistance in organizing and/or contributing to the pre-summit events that will be held next year.

 

In other Food System Summit developments, planning work in support of the event is broadening and accelerating. Scientific and advisory panels have been established and guidance is expected soon to help member countries plan and execute in-country “dialogues” to provide an opportunity for governments and communities to discuss their food systems and identify ways they might be strengthened.

 

The established desired outcomes for the summit include:

  • Dramatically elevated public discourse about the importance of food systems leading to the achievement of the SDGs and how to get the public working for people and planet.
  • Significant action, with measurable outcomes that enable achievement of the SDGs by 2030. This will include highlighting existing solutions and celebrating leaders in food systems transformation, as well as calling for new actions worldwide by different actors, including countries, cities, companies, civil society, citizens, and food producers.
  • A high-level set of principles established through the process that will guide Member States and other stakeholders to leverage their food systems capacity to support the SDGs. Distilled through all elements of the preparatory process, these principles will set an optimistic and encouraging vision in which food systems play a central role in building a fairer, more sustainable world.
  • A system of follow-up and review that will drive new actions and results; allow for the sharing of experiences, lessons, and knowledge; and incorporate new metrics for impact analysis.

 

EDF Report Call on Ag Lenders

To Better Assess Climate Risks, Boost Farm Resilience

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a NACSAA partner organization, released a report detailing the risks that agricultural lenders face from climate change, but also points out the opportunities that they have to support the long-term profitability of those who work the land.

The EDF report asserts that ag lenders have not proactively assessed their own risks, a concerning development given that agriculture is on the front lines of climate change. The report notes that those in the financial sector beyond ag lenders have already been making strides to incorporate climate risk into their decision-making process.

The EDF warns that crop insurance alone is not sufficient to handle the financial risks that come with climate change, including reduced farm earnings and declines in credit quality, especially in agricultural regions where lenders and related businesses tend to be concentrated.

The group also reports that current loan offerings don’t value resilience. It notes, for example, that short-term financial products such as annual operating loans don’t integrate the value of farmer investments in practices like no-till, cover crops and extended crop rotations. The disconnect between these practices – which have shown measurable financial benefits in terms of both cost savings and risk reduction – and ag lender policy undermines long-term profitability and resilience for both farmers and financiers.

 

Climate Week Gives Impetus to the Ongoing Efforts to Curb Growing Threats

During this year’s observation of Climate Week earlier this month, international leaders from around the world representing business, government and civil society collaborated virtually with the UN General Assembly to showcase global climate action.

Climate Week events gave prominence to the work that has yet to be done to curb the growing crisis.

NACSAA partners, including the Soil Health Institute, shared its overall climate strategies with other food and beverage company representatives, policymakers, conservationists and others – work they are conducting to address gaps in policy that, once filled, will allow the U.S. agricultural sector to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

On another front, Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, released during the week a report – Climate Action in U.S. Agriculture: A Compendium of Field to Market Member Climate Commitments – that celebrates leadership and momentum on climate action in the ag sector. It also underscores how greater collective action is needed to respond to unprecedented challenges from climate related impacts.

The report synthesizes public climate goals made by more than 85 Field to Market member organizations and unveils a shared vision from nine leading conservation organizations that defines key principles of meaningful climate action to match the scale and pace required by science.

The report came in conjunction with Field to Market’s sponsorship of a roundtable discussion that brought together farmers, policy leaders, scientists, food executives and conservation experts to explore innovative examples of how the food and agriculture value chain is scaling the adoption of climate smart agriculture, while also examining the serious consequences of failing to meet our collective goals set to address the climate crisis. One of the key messages coming out of this event was the need for farmers to be at the center of all climate discussions – a guiding principle long advocated by SfL and NACSAA.

Another NACSAA partner, Kellogg Company, the multi-national food manufacturing giant, was cited for its long-standing efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and energy use, and actively acknowledged that food insecurity and livelihood vulnerability are exacerbated by climate change. Generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation enabled work by a SfL-supported work group in Ohio that produced a landmark action plan that offered innovative solutions to challenges confronting the state’s farmers over the next several decades.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA), also a NACSAA partner, issued a new report during Climate Week spotlighting the key role U.S. agriculture plays in reaching the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

NACSAA partner Bayer Crop Science announced that it is taking several steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the company and along its entire value chain in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Among its sustainability targets for climate protection, Bayer says it wants to be climate neutral by 2030. To accomplish that goal, the company says it will implement energy efficiency measures at its sites and convert 100 percent of the purchased electricity to renewable energies. Remaining emissions will be offset by purchasing certificates from climate protection projects with recognized quality standards.

The company says it also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the up- and downstream value chain through cooperation with suppliers and customers.

Bayer joined the Science Based Targets initiative, which transparently reviews participants’ reduction targets. The initiative was founded by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and lists more than 800 companies as committed themselves to actively addressing the challenge of climate change and setting transparent targets for reducing their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

 

Featured News

Northern Hemisphere Just Had Its Hottest Summer on Record

It’s been a remarkably steamy, record-setting last three months for Mother Earth, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Not only was August 2020 the second-warmest August on record, but the Northern Hemisphere had its warmest summer, and the globe as a whole had its third-hottest three-month season, too.

According to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average global land and ocean surface temperature in August was 1.69 degrees F (0.94 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 60.1 degrees F (15.6 degrees C), making it the second-hottest August in the 141-year record, behind August 2016.

The Northern Hemisphere had its hottest August on record with a temperature departure from average of 2.14 degrees F (1.19 degrees C), besting the previous record set in August 2016. 

Globally, the 10 warmest Augusts have all occurred since 1998, with the five warmest occurring since 2015.

The 3-month season from June through August 2020 was the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest meteorological summer on record, surpassing both 2019 and 2016, which were previously tied for hottest.

The period, which also marks the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, was Earth’s third warmest in the 141-year record at 1.66 degrees F (0.92 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average. 

Globally, the year to date (YTD, January through August) ranked as second hottest recorded, at 1.85 degrees F (1.03 degrees C) above the 20th-century average of 57.3 degrees F (14.0 degrees C) – just behind the record set in 2016. The Northern Hemisphere’s YTD tied with 2016 as the hottest since global records began in 1880.

According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the five-warmest years on record.

Other notable climate stats and facts include:

  • Arctic sea ice continued declining: The average Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) in August was the third smallest on record, 29.4% below the 1981-2010 average, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent was close to normal, and had its highest coverage since 2016.
  • A few continents baked: North America as a whole had its hottest August on record (the Caribbean region saw its third-hottest), beating the previous record set in 2011 by 0.23 of a degree F (0.13 of a degree C). Elsewhere, Europe had its third hottest August, and South America and Oceania had their fourth hottest August.
  • 2020 has been a real boiler of a year, so far: Europe, Asia and the Caribbean region had their hottest January-August period on record. South America’s YTD average temperature ranked as second-hottest ever recorded.

 

EPA Says ‘No’ to Dozens of ‘Gap-Year’ Small Refinery Exemptions

The biofuel industry and growers that provide its feedstocks received some welcome news earlier this month when the EPA announced that it would reject 54 “gap-year” small-refinery exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) may have been a big victory for biofuels and agriculture producers.

But the issue remains far from over. While the EPA said it was also going to reject another 14 gap year extension requests still under review at the DOE, industry leaders say the agency has much to do to repair the damage they say EPA’s mismanagement of the RFS has rendered under the Trump administration.

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings said during a teleconference with reporters last week that the EPA action removal of the gap-year waivers was needed, arguing that they never should have been considered to start with.

“The unfortunate reality is that the Environmental Protection Agency has so badly mismanaged the RFS over the last three and a half years,” he said.

“You think about it, so many ethanol promises – promises to do right by this industry – have collected dust that I think too many folks misinterpreted [EPA]’s decision to reject some of these gap-year waivers is a significant turning point,” Jennings said.

“It was not,” Jennings said. “It was a step in the right direction. But these gap-year waivers should never have been given credibility. They were really nothing more than an outrageous attempt by refiners, really a last-gasp attempt by refiners hoping to avoid the consequences of our victory in the 10th Circuit.”

ACE, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union, all NACSAA partners, joined with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) to successfully petition the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, gaining a unanimous finding from a panel of the court’s judges in January declaring the EPA abused its authority by granting SRE’s to refineries that were not extensions of previously existing exemptions.

In the wake of the decision, small refineries flooded EPA with 67 petitions for retroactive waivers – some going back as far as 2011 – to try and comply with court decision language and establish a back-dated sequence of continuously extended exemptions.

When reports began to circulate earlier this month that the White House was calling on EPA to reject to gap-year waivers, the four plaintiff organizations issued a statement then that commended the administration for its action, but expressed continued disappointment, particularly over the refiners’ appeal of the 10th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. The high court historically agrees to hear only about 1 percent of the cases brought forth from the appellate courts.

The four industry groups said in their statement that it was “telling” that EPA did not request a rehearing in the Tenth Circuit, nor did it join the refiners’ Supreme Court appeal of the appellate court decision.

“Now, more than ever, our nation’s farmers and ethanol producers are counting on the RFS to provide market stability and certainty during an incredibly difficult and tumultuous time,” the industry groups said, calling on EPA to curb its practice under the Trump administration of granting a higher rate of waivers. The rate of same-year waivers granted by EPA has run about four times greater than those provided annually under previous administrations.

Biofuel industry leaders also want to see a more open SRE process at EPA. The House of Representatives last week passed massive energy legislation that includes provisions from Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) that would increase transparency by ensuring key information surrounding SREs is publicly disclosed. It also would set a deadline for refineries to submit SRE applications.

In response to industry complaints that the high volume of waivers that have been granted in recent years have cost the sector millions of gallons in demand and billions of dollars, the Peterson-Johnson measure would reallocate waived volumes to non-exempt obligated parties.

 

CFTC Subcommittee Report Aims for a Climate-Resilient Financial System

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) subcommittee this month released a report that a commissioner says will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

 

Released by the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the CFTC’s Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC), Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, was adopted by the panel unanimously, 34-0.

The report come as severe wildfires wreak havoc in the West, a derecho devastated much of the corn and soybean crops in Iowa, and hurricanes are inflicting heavy damages inland from the Gulf Coast.

CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam, sponsor of the MRAC. said the events what is “becoming our new normal [and] will likely continue to worsen in frequency and intensity as a result of a changing climate.

“Beyond their physical devastation and tragic loss of human life and livelihood, escalating weather events also pose significant challenges to our financial system and our ability to sustain long-term economic growth,” he said.

 

Benham asserted that the report will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

 

The document, which presents 53 recommendations to mitigate the risks to financial markets posed by climate change, concludes that:

  • Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy;
  • Climate risks may also exacerbate financial system vulnerability that have little to do with climate change; including vulnerabilities caused by a pandemic that has stressed balance sheets, strained government budgets, and depleted household wealth;
  • S. financial regulators must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the U.S. financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks;
  • Existing statutes already provide U.S. financial regulators with wide-ranging and flexible authorities that could be used to start addressing financial climate-related risk now;
  • Regulators can help promote the role of financial markets as providers of solutions to climate-related risks; and
  • Financial innovation is required not only to efficiently manage climate risk but also to facilitate the flow of capital to help accelerate the net-zero transition and increase economic opportunity.

 

“With this report in hand, policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders can begin the process of taking thoughtful and intentional steps toward building a climate-resilient financial system that prepares our country for the decades to come,” Benham said.

 

FFAR Seeks Research Proposals to Improve Climate Resilience in Crops

 

Scientists predict that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, as well as greater temperature variability. These changes will dramatically affect agriculture systems, decreasing crop productivity, harming farmers’ livelihoods and threatening global food security. To address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is seeking research proposals providing transformative approaches and solutions to increase a crop’s tolerance for higher temperatures. The resulting research will improve crop’s climate resilience.

 

The Request for Proposals is part of FFAR’s Next Generation Crops Challenge Area, which is accepting applications in an anticipation of a Nov. 11 deadline.

 

“We have a pretty good idea what increased temperatures will do to global farming, and it’s not good,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is looking for the next generation of climate-resilient crops that can actually produce more food with fewer inputs in more variable temperatures.”

 

Specifically, FFAR is seeking applications that increase the basal or acquired thermotolerance of crop plants, allowing them to better survive when exposed to high temperatures.

 

This funding opportunity is focusing on solutions that can be applied to one or more of the following crops: maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, sweet potato, cassava, banana, yam, common bean, cowpea, chickpea and groundnut.

 

Matching funds will be provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are not required from researchers.

 

Information about the funding opportunity, including application criteria, deadlines and eligibility requirements are available on the FFAR’s Request for Proposals webpage.

 

 

Hunting for a Better Biofuel Is Scope of New UT Austin-Led Research

 

PHOTO CUTLINE: A research team is examining switchgrass, including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE.  Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

 

A team of scientists from nine universities and research facilities hope to find out how to make switchgrass – a fast-growing perennial native to the United States

A research team is examining switchgrass_ including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE. Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

– into a biofuel powerhouse.

 

It’s part of new project funded by the DOE which awarded a $13-million grant. The grant includes more than $11 million for The University of Texas at Austin, with additional funding to support research by partners at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michigan State University, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the University of Florida, South Dakota State University, the Argonne National Laboratory and others.

 

Researchers say that in nature, switchgrass sequesters carbon underground in its roots, produces cellulose that can be used to make ethanol and typically grows in soils that are unsuitable for food crops – all characteristics that make it a great candidate for biofuel. Current biofuels come primarily from agricultural crops or feedstocks such as corn.

 

Tom Juenger, a professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin who has been studying different types of switchgrass over the past decade, will lead the research team.

 

The team has developed various switchgrass plants that were transplanted at 10 field sites in multiple states, from coastal South Texas to the Great Plains of South Dakota. Having the same plants growing at these sites allows researchers to consider how the plant’s genes interact with the environment and discover genes involved in specific traits, such as biomass production, with the aid of a method called quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping.

 

The effort has identified a number of important traits, candidate genes and potentially beneficial root microbes for improving switchgrass – given evidence that plants’ bacterial communities play an important role in their growth. A new round of funding will extend the research with both field and lab studies, in collaboration with Ulrich Mueller, also a UT Austin professor of integrative biology, who will study switchgrass-microbe interactions to optimize root microbial communities.

 

The funding will also allow Juenger and his fellow researchers to genetically engineer different types of switchgrass to be better at producing biofuel. The process will take advantage of the best traits of the species and remove any genetic downsides. Researchers plan to develop general switchgrass types that can grow just about anywhere, as well as special types that can grow in specific, targeted areas. These types of switchgrass will be engineered to maximize crop yield, stress tolerance and carbon sequestration based on natural alleles, or gene variants, involved in local adaptation.

 

Scientists Unlock Crops’ Power to Resist Floods

 

Scientists at the universities of Oxford in England and Sydney in Australia have discovered the structure of an enzyme that helps control oxygen in crops. The researchers hope it provides a platform to improve crop resistance to flooding.

 

Enzymes that control a plant’s response to lower oxygen levels could be manipulated to make vital crops resistant to the impacts of flooding triggered by climate change, the new research would indicate.

 

“Climate change is a major global issue, not least for its impact on food security,” said report co-author Mark White, of the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. “We hope these findings can help produce flood-tolerant crops to help mitigate the devastating social and economic impact of extreme weather events on food production.”

 

The research, largely done at the University of Oxford, was published earlier this month in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Climate change has increased the number and intensity of global flooding events, threatening food security through significant crop loss. Plants, including staple crops such as rice, wheat and barley, can survive temporary periods of flooding by activating energy pathways that don’t rely on air in response to the low oxygen conditions in water.

 

These responses are controlled by oxygen-sensing enzymes called the Plant Cysteine Oxidases (PCOs), which use oxygen to regulate the stability of proteins that control gene activity.

 

The research describes the molecular structures of the PCOs for the first time, identifying chemical features that are required for enzyme activity.

 

“The results provide a platform for future efforts to manipulate the enzyme function in an attempt to create flood-resistant crops that can mitigate the impact of extreme weather events,” White said.

 

The work was supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council New Investigator Grant, the European Research Council and the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research.

 

 

 

 

Other News We Are Reading…

Plant Protein Discovery Could Reduce Need for Fertilizer (Science Daily)

 

Researchers have discovered how a protein in plant roots controls the uptake of minerals and water, a finding which could improve the tolerance of agricultural crops to climate change and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. The research, published in Current Biology, shows that members of the blue copper proteins family, the Uclacyanins, are vital in the formation of Casparian strips. These strips are essential structures that control mineral nutrient and water use efficiencies by forming tight seals between cells in plants, blocking nutrients and water leaking between. This is the first evidence showing the implications of this family in the biosynthesis of lignin, one of the most organic polymers on earth. The study reveals that the molecular machinery required for Casparian strip lignin deposition is highly ordered by forming nano-domains which can have a huge impact on plant nutrition, a finding that could help in the development of crops that are efficient in taking in the nutrients they need. (Read more…)

 

How to Get a Handle on Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Plants (Rutgers Today)

 

How much carbon dioxide, a pivotal greenhouse gas behind global warming, is absorbed by plants on land? It’s a deceptively complicated question, so a Rutgers-led group of scientists recommends combining two cutting-edge tools to help answer the crucial climate change-related question. “We need to understand how the Earth is breathing now to know how resilient it will be to future change,” according to a paper in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Global observations suggest that natural ecosystems take up about as much carbon dioxide as they emit. Measuring how much carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants on land is complicated by the carbon exhaled simultaneously by plants and soils, the paper notes.

(Read more…)

 

Climate Disruption Is Now Locked In. The Next Moves Will Be Crucial

(The New York Times)

 

America is now under siege by climate change in ways that scientists have warned about for years. But there is a second part to their admonition: Decades of growing crisis are already locked into the global ecosystem and cannot be reversed. This means the kinds of cascading disasters occurring today – drought in the West fueling historic wildfires that send smoke all the way to the East Coast, or parades of tropical storms lining up across the Atlantic to march destructively toward North America – are no longer features of some dystopian future. They are the here and now, worsening for the next generation and perhaps longer, depending on humanity’s willingness to take action. “I’ve been labeled an alarmist,” said Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist in Los Angeles, where he and millions of others have inhaled dangerously high levels of smoke for weeks. “And I think it’s a lot harder for people to say that I’m being alarmist now.” (Read more…)

 

Advanced Biofuels Show Promise for Replacing Some Fossil Fuels

(Colorado State University)

 

Biofuel and bioenergy systems are integral to scenarios for displacing fossil fuel use and producing negative emissions through carbon capture and storage. But the net greenhouse gas mitigation benefit of these systems has been controversial, due to concerns around carbon losses from changes in land use and foregone sequestration benefits from alternative land uses. A new study led by Colorado State University – including an interdisciplinary team of plant scientists, ecologists and engineers – predicts significant climate benefits stemming from the use of advanced biofuel technologies. Accounting for all of the carbon flows in biofuel systems and comparing them to those in grasslands and forests, the team found that there are clear strategies for biofuels to have a net carbon benefit. The authors say this one of the first studies to look at both current and future carbon-negative biofuels. (Read more…)



.

 

Partner News and CSA Events

USDA, EPA Announce Competition to Advance U.S. Ag Sustainability

 

The USDA, a NACSAA partner, has joined the EPA to stage the “Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges,” a joint partnership and competition to advance agricultural sustainability in the United States.

 

The competition includes two challenges that seek proposals for new and existing fertilizer technologies to maintain or improve crop yields, while reducing the impacts of fertilizers on the environment.

 

“USDA is committed to encouraging the development of new technologies and practices to ensure that U.S. agriculture is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable for years to come,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “This challenge will stimulate innovation and aligns with USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda announced earlier this year.”

 

By evaluating the efficacy of existing technologies while sparking research and development of new technologies, these challenges explore the potential innovation that can result from academia, industry, government, and NGOs working together to address the complex issues related to excess nutrients in our environment, officials say.

 

Along with USDA and EPA, the competition is coordinated with NACSAA partners, The Fertilizer Institute and the National Corn Growers Association, as well as with the International Fertilizer Development Center and The Nature Conservancy.

 

The first segment, the: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, aims to identify existing Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEFs) that meet or exceed certain environmental and agro-economic criteria. EEF is a term for new formulations that control fertilizer release or alter reactions that reduce nutrient losses to the environment. The challenge will not have a monetary prize, but winners will receive scientific evaluation of their product and recognition from USDA, EPA and other collaborators and participants.

 

The second contest, the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge, aims to generate new concepts for novel technologies that can help address environmental concerns surrounding agriculture practices while maintaining or increasing crop yields. A panel of expert judges will review the submissions. Each winner will receive at least $10,000.

 

The Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges is accepting entries by Oct. 30 for the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, and by Nov. 30, for the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge. Winners will be announced in the winter of 2021.

September 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest edition of NACSAA News, a monthly compilation of CSA-related news. “NACSAA in Action” features the latest on the Alliance activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past month; “Other News We Are Reading” is a listing of news stories from other sources we think you will find of interest; and “Partner News and Events.” We hope this newsletter will serve to keep you, your members and other constituencies fully engaged in the growing development of climate-smart agriculture policy, programs and practices. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. To subscribe, email info@SfLDialogue.net.

NACSAA Members in Action

SfL Submits Agroecology Policy Recommendations

In a submission to the Private Sector Mechanism of the FAO Committee on Food Security, Solutions from the Land has introduced a series of recommendations on the first draft of a major policy treatise on agroecology and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition.

One of the primary points made in the recommendations is that agroecology and other innovative approaches are not on a continuum. Rather, as NACSAA Steering Committee member Lois Wright Morton noted, “Each approach is context- and situation-specific, and sustainability will require multiple innovative approaches over space and time to achieve balance among healthy ecosystems, economic and social well-being (the definition of sustainability).” Member states will begin negotiating the draft document later this fall.

Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture Efforts Continue

NACSAA’s latest submission on the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture is in the final stages of development and will summarize primary pathways for enabling agricultural solutions to climate and other sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Earlier this month, Kip Tom, U.S. ambassador to the Rome-based UN agencies, was briefed in a call on global UN engagement work, including the KJWA, the recommendations submitted on food security issues and next year’s UN Food Systems Summit.

Food Systems Summit Preparation Work Gears Up

A.G. Kawamura, a NACSAA steering committee member and co-chair of the alliance’s coordinating organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL), joined a CEO-level call this month with Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, relaying to Kalibata NACSAA/SfL’s support for the events leading up to the event.

He also shared the organizations’ support for strategies to address the focal areas selected for action tracks for ending hunger and achieving food and nutrition along with other sustainable development goals. A primary recommendation is for world leaders to embrace and enable innovation as a primary pathway for ending huger and simultaneously delivering high value ecosystem services. He also offered NACSAA/SfL assistance in organizing and/or contributing to the pre-summit events that will be held next year.

In other Food System Summit developments, planning work in support of the event is broadening and accelerating. Scientific and advisory panels have been established and guidance is expected soon to help member countries plan and execute in-country “dialogues” to provide an opportunity for governments and communities to discuss their food systems and identify ways they might be strengthened.

The established desired outcomes for the summit include:

  • Dramatically elevated public discourse about the importance of food systems leading to the achievement of the SDGs and how to get the public working for people and planet.
  • Significant action, with measurable outcomes that enable achievement of the SDGs by 2030. This will include highlighting existing solutions and celebrating leaders in food systems transformation, as well as calling for new actions worldwide by different actors, including countries, cities, companies, civil society, citizens, and food producers.
  • A high-level set of principles established through the process that will guide Member States and other stakeholders to leverage their food systems capacity to support the SDGs. Distilled through all elements of the preparatory process, these principles will set an optimistic and encouraging vision in which food systems play a central role in building a fairer, more sustainable world.
  • A system of follow-up and review that will drive new actions and results; allow for the sharing of experiences, lessons, and knowledge; and incorporate new metrics for impact analysis.

EDF Report Call on Ag Lenders

To Better Assess Climate Risks, Boost Farm Resilience

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a NACSAA partner organization, released a report detailing the risks that agricultural lenders face from climate change, but also points out the opportunities that they have to support the long-term profitability of those who work the land.

The EDF report asserts that ag lenders have not proactively assessed their own risks, a concerning development given that agriculture is on the front lines of climate change. The report notes that those in the financial sector beyond ag lenders have already been making strides to incorporate climate risk into their decision-making process.

The EDF warns that crop insurance alone is not sufficient to handle the financial risks that come with climate change, including reduced farm earnings and declines in credit quality, especially in agricultural regions where lenders and related businesses tend to be concentrated.

The group also reports that current loan offerings don’t value resilience. It notes, for example, that short-term financial products such as annual operating loans don’t integrate the value of farmer investments in practices like no-till, cover crops and extended crop rotations. The disconnect between these practices – which have shown measurable financial benefits in terms of both cost savings and risk reduction – and ag lender policy undermines long-term profitability and resilience for both farmers and financiers.

Climate Week Gives Impetus to the Ongoing Efforts to Curb Growing Threats

During this year’s observation of Climate Week earlier this month, international leaders from around the world representing business, government and civil society collaborated virtually with the UN General Assembly to showcase global climate action.

Climate Week events gave prominence to the work that has yet to be done to curb the growing crisis.

NACSAA partners, including the Soil Health Institute, shared its overall climate strategies with other food and beverage company representatives, policymakers, conservationists and others – work they are conducting to address gaps in policy that, once filled, will allow the U.S. agricultural sector to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

On another front, Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, released during the week a report – Climate Action in U.S. Agriculture: A Compendium of Field to Market Member Climate Commitments – that celebrates leadership and momentum on climate action in the ag sector. It also underscores how greater collective action is needed to respond to unprecedented challenges from climate related impacts.

The report synthesizes public climate goals made by more than 85 Field to Market member organizations and unveils a shared vision from nine leading conservation organizations that defines key principles of meaningful climate action to match the scale and pace required by science.

The report came in conjunction with Field to Market’s sponsorship of a roundtable discussion that brought together farmers, policy leaders, scientists, food executives and conservation experts to explore innovative examples of how the food and agriculture value chain is scaling the adoption of climate smart agriculture, while also examining the serious consequences of failing to meet our collective goals set to address the climate crisis. One of the key messages coming out of this event was the need for farmers to be at the center of all climate discussions – a guiding principle long advocated by SfL and NACSAA.

Another NACSAA partner, Kellogg Company, the multi-national food manufacturing giant, was cited for its long-standing efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and energy use, and actively acknowledged that food insecurity and livelihood vulnerability are exacerbated by climate change. Generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation enabled work by a SfL-supported work group in Ohio that produced a landmark action plan that offered innovative solutions to challenges confronting the state’s farmers over the next several decades.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA), also a NACSAA partner, issued a new report during Climate Week spotlighting the key role U.S. agriculture plays in reaching the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

NACSAA partner Bayer Crop Science announced that it is taking several steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the company and along its entire value chain in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Among its sustainability targets for climate protection, Bayer says it wants to be climate neutral by 2030. To accomplish that goal, the company says it will implement energy efficiency measures at its sites and convert 100 percent of the purchased electricity to renewable energies. Remaining emissions will be offset by purchasing certificates from climate protection projects with recognized quality standards.

The company says it also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the up- and downstream value chain through cooperation with suppliers and customers.

Bayer joined the Science Based Targets initiative, which transparently reviews participants’ reduction targets. The initiative was founded by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and lists more than 800 companies as committed themselves to actively addressing the challenge of climate change and setting transparent targets for reducing their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

 

Featured News

Northern Hemisphere Just Had Its Hottest Summer on Record

It’s been a remarkably steamy, record-setting last three months for Mother Earth, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Not only was August 2020 the second-warmest August on record, but the Northern Hemisphere had its warmest summer, and the globe as a whole had its third-hottest three-month season, too.

According to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average global land and ocean surface temperature in August was 1.69 degrees F (0.94 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 60.1 degrees F (15.6 degrees C), making it the second-hottest August in the 141-year record, behind August 2016.

The Northern Hemisphere had its hottest August on record with a temperature departure from average of 2.14 degrees F (1.19 degrees C), besting the previous record set in August 2016. 

Globally, the 10 warmest Augusts have all occurred since 1998, with the five warmest occurring since 2015.

The 3-month season from June through August 2020 was the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest meteorological summer on record, surpassing both 2019 and 2016, which were previously tied for hottest.

The period, which also marks the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, was Earth’s third warmest in the 141-year record at 1.66 degrees F (0.92 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average. 

Globally, the year to date (YTD, January through August) ranked as second hottest recorded, at 1.85 degrees F (1.03 degrees C) above the 20th-century average of 57.3 degrees F (14.0 degrees C) – just behind the record set in 2016. The Northern Hemisphere’s YTD tied with 2016 as the hottest since global records began in 1880.

According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the five-warmest years on record.

Other notable climate stats and facts include:

  • Arctic sea ice continued declining: The average Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) in August was the third smallest on record, 29.4% below the 1981-2010 average, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent was close to normal, and had its highest coverage since 2016.
  • A few continents baked: North America as a whole had its hottest August on record (the Caribbean region saw its third-hottest), beating the previous record set in 2011 by 0.23 of a degree F (0.13 of a degree C). Elsewhere, Europe had its third hottest August, and South America and Oceania had their fourth hottest August.
  • 2020 has been a real boiler of a year, so far: Europe, Asia and the Caribbean region had their hottest January-August period on record. South America’s YTD average temperature ranked as second-hottest ever recorded.

EPA Says ‘No’ to Dozens of ‘Gap-Year’ Small Refinery Exemptions

The biofuel industry and growers that provide its feedstocks received some welcome news earlier this month when the EPA announced that it would reject 54 “gap-year” small-refinery exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) may have been a big victory for biofuels and agriculture producers.

But the issue remains far from over. While the EPA said it was also going to reject another 14 gap year extension requests still under review at the DOE, industry leaders say the agency has much to do to repair the damage they say EPA’s mismanagement of the RFS has rendered under the Trump administration.

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings said during a teleconference with reporters last week that the EPA action removal of the gap-year waivers was needed, arguing that they never should have been considered to start with.

“The unfortunate reality is that the Environmental Protection Agency has so badly mismanaged the RFS over the last three and a half years,” he said.

“You think about it, so many ethanol promises – promises to do right by this industry – have collected dust that I think too many folks misinterpreted [EPA]’s decision to reject some of these gap-year waivers is a significant turning point,” Jennings said.

“It was not,” Jennings said. “It was a step in the right direction. But these gap-year waivers should never have been given credibility. They were really nothing more than an outrageous attempt by refiners, really a last-gasp attempt by refiners hoping to avoid the consequences of our victory in the 10th Circuit.”

ACE, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union, all NACSAA partners, joined with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) to successfully petition the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, gaining a unanimous finding from a panel of the court’s judges in January declaring the EPA abused its authority by granting SRE’s to refineries that were not extensions of previously existing exemptions.

In the wake of the decision, small refineries flooded EPA with 67 petitions for retroactive waivers – some going back as far as 2011 – to try and comply with court decision language and establish a back-dated sequence of continuously extended exemptions.

When reports began to circulate earlier this month that the White House was calling on EPA to reject to gap-year waivers, the four plaintiff organizations issued a statement then that commended the administration for its action, but expressed continued disappointment, particularly over the refiners’ appeal of the 10th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. The high court historically agrees to hear only about 1 percent of the cases brought forth from the appellate courts.

The four industry groups said in their statement that it was “telling” that EPA did not request a rehearing in the Tenth Circuit, nor did it join the refiners’ Supreme Court appeal of the appellate court decision.

“Now, more than ever, our nation’s farmers and ethanol producers are counting on the RFS to provide market stability and certainty during an incredibly difficult and tumultuous time,” the industry groups said, calling on EPA to curb its practice under the Trump administration of granting a higher rate of waivers. The rate of same-year waivers granted by EPA has run about four times greater than those provided annually under previous administrations.

Biofuel industry leaders also want to see a more open SRE process at EPA. The House of Representatives last week passed massive energy legislation that includes provisions from Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) that would increase transparency by ensuring key information surrounding SREs is publicly disclosed. It also would set a deadline for refineries to submit SRE applications.

In response to industry complaints that the high volume of waivers that have been granted in recent years have cost the sector millions of gallons in demand and billions of dollars, the Peterson-Johnson measure would reallocate waived volumes to non-exempt obligated parties.

CFTC Subcommittee Report Aims for a Climate-Resilient Financial System

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) subcommittee this month released a report that a commissioner says will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

Released by the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the CFTC’s Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC), Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, was adopted by the panel unanimously, 34-0.

The report come as severe wildfires wreak havoc in the West, a derecho devastated much of the corn and soybean crops in Iowa, and hurricanes are inflicting heavy damages inland from the Gulf Coast.

CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam, sponsor of the MRAC. said the events what is “becoming our new normal [and] will likely continue to worsen in frequency and intensity as a result of a changing climate.

“Beyond their physical devastation and tragic loss of human life and livelihood, escalating weather events also pose significant challenges to our financial system and our ability to sustain long-term economic growth,” he said.

Benham asserted that the report will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

The document, which presents 53 recommendations to mitigate the risks to financial markets posed by climate change, concludes that:

  • Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy;
  • Climate risks may also exacerbate financial system vulnerability that have little to do with climate change; including vulnerabilities caused by a pandemic that has stressed balance sheets, strained government budgets, and depleted household wealth;
  • S. financial regulators must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the U.S. financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks;
  • Existing statutes already provide U.S. financial regulators with wide-ranging and flexible authorities that could be used to start addressing financial climate-related risk now;
  • Regulators can help promote the role of financial markets as providers of solutions to climate-related risks; and
  • Financial innovation is required not only to efficiently manage climate risk but also to facilitate the flow of capital to help accelerate the net-zero transition and increase economic opportunity.

“With this report in hand, policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders can begin the process of taking thoughtful and intentional steps toward building a climate-resilient financial system that prepares our country for the decades to come,” Benham said.

FFAR Seeks Research Proposals to Improve Climate Resilience in Crops

Scientists predict that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, as well as greater temperature variability. These changes will dramatically affect agriculture systems, decreasing crop productivity, harming farmers’ livelihoods and threatening global food security. To address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is seeking research proposals providing transformative approaches and solutions to increase a crop’s tolerance for higher temperatures. The resulting research will improve crop’s climate resilience.

The Request for Proposals is part of FFAR’s Next Generation Crops Challenge Area, which is accepting applications in an anticipation of a Nov. 11 deadline.

“We have a pretty good idea what increased temperatures will do to global farming, and it’s not good,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is looking for the next generation of climate-resilient crops that can actually produce more food with fewer inputs in more variable temperatures.”

Specifically, FFAR is seeking applications that increase the basal or acquired thermotolerance of crop plants, allowing them to better survive when exposed to high temperatures.

This funding opportunity is focusing on solutions that can be applied to one or more of the following crops: maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, sweet potato, cassava, banana, yam, common bean, cowpea, chickpea and groundnut.

Matching funds will be provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are not required from researchers.

Information about the funding opportunity, including application criteria, deadlines and eligibility requirements are available on the FFAR’s Request for Proposals webpage.

Hunting for a Better Biofuel Is Scope of New UT Austin-Led Research

PHOTO CUTLINE: A research team is examining switchgrass, including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE.  Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

A team of scientists from nine universities and research facilities hope to find out how to make switchgrass – a fast-growing perennial native to the United States

A research team is examining switchgrass_ including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE. Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

– into a biofuel powerhouse.

It’s part of new project funded by the DOE which awarded a $13-million grant. The grant includes more than $11 million for The University of Texas at Austin, with additional funding to support research by partners at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michigan State University, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the University of Florida, South Dakota State University, the Argonne National Laboratory and others.

Researchers say that in nature, switchgrass sequesters carbon underground in its roots, produces cellulose that can be used to make ethanol and typically grows in soils that are unsuitable for food crops – all characteristics that make it a great candidate for biofuel. Current biofuels come primarily from agricultural crops or feedstocks such as corn.

Tom Juenger, a professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin who has been studying different types of switchgrass over the past decade, will lead the research team.

The team has developed various switchgrass plants that were transplanted at 10 field sites in multiple states, from coastal South Texas to the Great Plains of South Dakota. Having the same plants growing at these sites allows researchers to consider how the plant’s genes interact with the environment and discover genes involved in specific traits, such as biomass production, with the aid of a method called quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping.

The effort has identified a number of important traits, candidate genes and potentially beneficial root microbes for improving switchgrass – given evidence that plants’ bacterial communities play an important role in their growth. A new round of funding will extend the research with both field and lab studies, in collaboration with Ulrich Mueller, also a UT Austin professor of integrative biology, who will study switchgrass-microbe interactions to optimize root microbial communities.

The funding will also allow Juenger and his fellow researchers to genetically engineer different types of switchgrass to be better at producing biofuel. The process will take advantage of the best traits of the species and remove any genetic downsides. Researchers plan to develop general switchgrass types that can grow just about anywhere, as well as special types that can grow in specific, targeted areas. These types of switchgrass will be engineered to maximize crop yield, stress tolerance and carbon sequestration based on natural alleles, or gene variants, involved in local adaptation.

Scientists Unlock Crops’ Power to Resist Floods

Scientists at the universities of Oxford in England and Sydney in Australia have discovered the structure of an enzyme that helps control oxygen in crops. The researchers hope it provides a platform to improve crop resistance to flooding.

Enzymes that control a plant’s response to lower oxygen levels could be manipulated to make vital crops resistant to the impacts of flooding triggered by climate change, the new research would indicate.

“Climate change is a major global issue, not least for its impact on food security,” said report co-author Mark White, of the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. “We hope these findings can help produce flood-tolerant crops to help mitigate the devastating social and economic impact of extreme weather events on food production.”

The research, largely done at the University of Oxford, was published earlier this month in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change has increased the number and intensity of global flooding events, threatening food security through significant crop loss. Plants, including staple crops such as rice, wheat and barley, can survive temporary periods of flooding by activating energy pathways that don’t rely on air in response to the low oxygen conditions in water.

These responses are controlled by oxygen-sensing enzymes called the Plant Cysteine Oxidases (PCOs), which use oxygen to regulate the stability of proteins that control gene activity.

The research describes the molecular structures of the PCOs for the first time, identifying chemical features that are required for enzyme activity.

“The results provide a platform for future efforts to manipulate the enzyme function in an attempt to create flood-resistant crops that can mitigate the impact of extreme weather events,” White said.

The work was supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council New Investigator Grant, the European Research Council and the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research.

Other News We Are Reading…

Plant Protein Discovery Could Reduce Need for Fertilizer (Science Daily)

Researchers have discovered how a protein in plant roots controls the uptake of minerals and water, a finding which could improve the tolerance of agricultural crops to climate change and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. The research, published in Current Biology, shows that members of the blue copper proteins family, the Uclacyanins, are vital in the formation of Casparian strips. These strips are essential structures that control mineral nutrient and water use efficiencies by forming tight seals between cells in plants, blocking nutrients and water leaking between. This is the first evidence showing the implications of this family in the biosynthesis of lignin, one of the most organic polymers on earth. The study reveals that the molecular machinery required for Casparian strip lignin deposition is highly ordered by forming nano-domains which can have a huge impact on plant nutrition, a finding that could help in the development of crops that are efficient in taking in the nutrients they need. (Read more…)

How to Get a Handle on Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Plants (Rutgers Today)

How much carbon dioxide, a pivotal greenhouse gas behind global warming, is absorbed by plants on land? It’s a deceptively complicated question, so a Rutgers-led group of scientists recommends combining two cutting-edge tools to help answer the crucial climate change-related question. “We need to understand how the Earth is breathing now to know how resilient it will be to future change,” according to a paper in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Global observations suggest that natural ecosystems take up about as much carbon dioxide as they emit. Measuring how much carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants on land is complicated by the carbon exhaled simultaneously by plants and soils, the paper notes.

(Read more…)

Climate Disruption Is Now Locked In. The Next Moves Will Be Crucial

(The New York Times)

America is now under siege by climate change in ways that scientists have warned about for years. But there is a second part to their admonition: Decades of growing crisis are already locked into the global ecosystem and cannot be reversed. This means the kinds of cascading disasters occurring today – drought in the West fueling historic wildfires that send smoke all the way to the East Coast, or parades of tropical storms lining up across the Atlantic to march destructively toward North America – are no longer features of some dystopian future. They are the here and now, worsening for the next generation and perhaps longer, depending on humanity’s willingness to take action. “I’ve been labeled an alarmist,” said Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist in Los Angeles, where he and millions of others have inhaled dangerously high levels of smoke for weeks. “And I think it’s a lot harder for people to say that I’m being alarmist now.” (Read more…)

Advanced Biofuels Show Promise for Replacing Some Fossil Fuels

(Colorado State University)

Biofuel and bioenergy systems are integral to scenarios for displacing fossil fuel use and producing negative emissions through carbon capture and storage. But the net greenhouse gas mitigation benefit of these systems has been controversial, due to concerns around carbon losses from changes in land use and foregone sequestration benefits from alternative land uses. A new study led by Colorado State University – including an interdisciplinary team of plant scientists, ecologists and engineers – predicts significant climate benefits stemming from the use of advanced biofuel technologies. Accounting for all of the carbon flows in biofuel systems and comparing them to those in grasslands and forests, the team found that there are clear strategies for biofuels to have a net carbon benefit. The authors say this one of the first studies to look at both current and future carbon-negative biofuels. (Read more…)

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Partner News and CSA Events

USDA, EPA Announce Competition to Advance U.S. Ag Sustainability

The USDA, a NACSAA partner, has joined the EPA to stage the “Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges,” a joint partnership and competition to advance agricultural sustainability in the United States.

The competition includes two challenges that seek proposals for new and existing fertilizer technologies to maintain or improve crop yields, while reducing the impacts of fertilizers on the environment.

“USDA is committed to encouraging the development of new technologies and practices to ensure that U.S. agriculture is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable for years to come,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “This challenge will stimulate innovation and aligns with USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda announced earlier this year.”

By evaluating the efficacy of existing technologies while sparking research and development of new technologies, these challenges explore the potential innovation that can result from academia, industry, government, and NGOs working together to address the complex issues related to excess nutrients in our environment, officials say.

Along with USDA and EPA, the competition is coordinated with NACSAA partners, The Fertilizer Institute and the National Corn Growers Association, as well as with the International Fertilizer Development Center and The Nature Conservancy.

The first segment, the: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, aims to identify existing Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEFs) that meet or exceed certain environmental and agro-economic criteria. EEF is a term for new formulations that control fertilizer release or alter reactions that reduce nutrient losses to the environment. The challenge will not have a monetary prize, but winners will receive scientific evaluation of their product and recognition from USDA, EPA and other collaborators and participants.

The second contest, the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge, aims to generate new concepts for novel technologies that can help address environmental concerns surrounding agriculture practices while maintaining or increasing crop yields. A panel of expert judges will review the submissions. Each winner will receive at least $10,000.

The Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges is accepting entries by Oct. 30 for the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, and by Nov. 30, for the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge. Winners will be announced in the winter of 2021.

September 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest edition of NACSAA News, a monthly compilation of CSA-related news. “NACSAA in Action” features the latest on the Alliance activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past month; “Other News We Are Reading” is a listing of news stories from other sources we think you will find of interest; and “Partner News and Events.” We hope this newsletter will serve to keep you, your members and other constituencies fully engaged in the growing development of climate-smart agriculture policy, programs and practices. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. To subscribe, email info@SfLDialogue.net.

 

NACSAA Members in Action

SfL Submits Agroecology Policy Recommendations

 

In a submission to the Private Sector Mechanism of the FAO Committee on Food Security, Solutions from the Land has introduced a series of recommendations on the first draft of a major policy treatise on agroecology and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition.

 

One of the primary points made in the recommendations is that agroecology and other innovative approaches are not on a continuum. Rather, as NACSAA Steering Committee member Lois Wright Morton noted, “Each approach is context- and situation-specific, and sustainability will require multiple innovative approaches over space and time to achieve balance among healthy ecosystems, economic and social well-being (the definition of sustainability).” Member states will begin negotiating the draft document later this fall.

 

Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture Efforts Continue

 

NACSAA’s latest submission on the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture is in the final stages of development and will summarize primary pathways for enabling agricultural solutions to climate and other sustainable development goals (SDGs).

 

Earlier this month, Kip Tom, U.S. ambassador to the Rome-based UN agencies, was briefed in a call on global UN engagement work, including the KJWA, the recommendations submitted on food security issues and next year’s UN Food Systems Summit.

 

Food Systems Summit Preparation Work Gears Up

 

A.G. Kawamura, a NACSAA steering committee member and co-chair of the alliance’s coordinating organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL), joined a CEO-level call this month with Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, relaying to Kalibata NACSAA/SfL’s support for the events leading up to the event.

 

He also shared the organizations’ support for strategies to address the focal areas selected for action tracks for ending hunger and achieving food and nutrition along with other sustainable development goals. A primary recommendation is for world leaders to embrace and enable innovation as a primary pathway for ending huger and simultaneously delivering high value ecosystem services. He also offered NACSAA/SfL assistance in organizing and/or contributing to the pre-summit events that will be held next year.

 

In other Food System Summit developments, planning work in support of the event is broadening and accelerating. Scientific and advisory panels have been established and guidance is expected soon to help member countries plan and execute in-country “dialogues” to provide an opportunity for governments and communities to discuss their food systems and identify ways they might be strengthened.

 

The established desired outcomes for the summit include:

  • Dramatically elevated public discourse about the importance of food systems leading to the achievement of the SDGs and how to get the public working for people and planet.
  • Significant action, with measurable outcomes that enable achievement of the SDGs by 2030. This will include highlighting existing solutions and celebrating leaders in food systems transformation, as well as calling for new actions worldwide by different actors, including countries, cities, companies, civil society, citizens, and food producers.
  • A high-level set of principles established through the process that will guide Member States and other stakeholders to leverage their food systems capacity to support the SDGs. Distilled through all elements of the preparatory process, these principles will set an optimistic and encouraging vision in which food systems play a central role in building a fairer, more sustainable world.
  • A system of follow-up and review that will drive new actions and results; allow for the sharing of experiences, lessons, and knowledge; and incorporate new metrics for impact analysis.

EDF Report Call on Ag Lenders

To Better Assess Climate Risks, Boost Farm Resilience

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a NACSAA partner organization, released a report detailing the risks that agricultural lenders face from climate change, but also points out the opportunities that they have to support the long-term profitability of those who work the land.

The EDF report asserts that ag lenders have not proactively assessed their own risks, a concerning development given that agriculture is on the front lines of climate change. The report notes that those in the financial sector beyond ag lenders have already been making strides to incorporate climate risk into their decision-making process.

The EDF warns that crop insurance alone is not sufficient to handle the financial risks that come with climate change, including reduced farm earnings and declines in credit quality, especially in agricultural regions where lenders and related businesses tend to be concentrated.

The group also reports that current loan offerings don’t value resilience. It notes, for example, that short-term financial products such as annual operating loans don’t integrate the value of farmer investments in practices like no-till, cover crops and extended crop rotations. The disconnect between these practices – which have shown measurable financial benefits in terms of both cost savings and risk reduction – and ag lender policy undermines long-term profitability and resilience for both farmers and financiers.

 

Climate Week Gives Impetus to the Ongoing Efforts to Curb Growing Threats

During this year’s observation of Climate Week earlier this month, international leaders from around the world representing business, government and civil society collaborated virtually with the UN General Assembly to showcase global climate action.

Climate Week events gave prominence to the work that has yet to be done to curb the growing crisis.

NACSAA partners, including the Soil Health Institute, shared its overall climate strategies with other food and beverage company representatives, policymakers, conservationists and others – work they are conducting to address gaps in policy that, once filled, will allow the U.S. agricultural sector to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

On another front, Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, released during the week a report – Climate Action in U.S. Agriculture: A Compendium of Field to Market Member Climate Commitments – that celebrates leadership and momentum on climate action in the ag sector. It also underscores how greater collective action is needed to respond to unprecedented challenges from climate related impacts.

The report synthesizes public climate goals made by more than 85 Field to Market member organizations and unveils a shared vision from nine leading conservation organizations that defines key principles of meaningful climate action to match the scale and pace required by science.

The report came in conjunction with Field to Market’s sponsorship of a roundtable discussion that brought together farmers, policy leaders, scientists, food executives and conservation experts to explore innovative examples of how the food and agriculture value chain is scaling the adoption of climate smart agriculture, while also examining the serious consequences of failing to meet our collective goals set to address the climate crisis. One of the key messages coming out of this event was the need for farmers to be at the center of all climate discussions – a guiding principle long advocated by SfL and NACSAA.

Another NACSAA partner, Kellogg Company, the multi-national food manufacturing giant, was cited for its long-standing efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and energy use, and actively acknowledged that food insecurity and livelihood vulnerability are exacerbated by climate change. Generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation enabled work by a SfL-supported work group in Ohio that produced a landmark action plan that offered innovative solutions to challenges confronting the state’s farmers over the next several decades.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA), also a NACSAA partner, issued a new report during Climate Week spotlighting the key role U.S. agriculture plays in reaching the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

NACSAA partner Bayer Crop Science announced that it is taking several steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the company and along its entire value chain in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Among its sustainability targets for climate protection, Bayer says it wants to be climate neutral by 2030. To accomplish that goal, the company says it will implement energy efficiency measures at its sites and convert 100 percent of the purchased electricity to renewable energies. Remaining emissions will be offset by purchasing certificates from climate protection projects with recognized quality standards.

The company says it also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the up- and downstream value chain through cooperation with suppliers and customers.

Bayer joined the Science Based Targets initiative, which transparently reviews participants’ reduction targets. The initiative was founded by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and lists more than 800 companies as committed themselves to actively addressing the challenge of climate change and setting transparent targets for reducing their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

 

Featured News

Northern Hemisphere Just Had Its Hottest Summer on Record

It’s been a remarkably steamy, record-setting last three months for Mother Earth, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Not only was August 2020 the second-warmest August on record, but the Northern Hemisphere had its warmest summer, and the globe as a whole had its third-hottest three-month season, too.

According to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average global land and ocean surface temperature in August was 1.69 degrees F (0.94 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 60.1 degrees F (15.6 degrees C), making it the second-hottest August in the 141-year record, behind August 2016.

The Northern Hemisphere had its hottest August on record with a temperature departure from average of 2.14 degrees F (1.19 degrees C), besting the previous record set in August 2016. 

Globally, the 10 warmest Augusts have all occurred since 1998, with the five warmest occurring since 2015.

The 3-month season from June through August 2020 was the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest meteorological summer on record, surpassing both 2019 and 2016, which were previously tied for hottest.

The period, which also marks the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, was Earth’s third warmest in the 141-year record at 1.66 degrees F (0.92 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average. 

Globally, the year to date (YTD, January through August) ranked as second hottest recorded, at 1.85 degrees F (1.03 degrees C) above the 20th-century average of 57.3 degrees F (14.0 degrees C) – just behind the record set in 2016. The Northern Hemisphere’s YTD tied with 2016 as the hottest since global records began in 1880.

According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the five-warmest years on record.

Other notable climate stats and facts include:

  • Arctic sea ice continued declining: The average Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) in August was the third smallest on record, 29.4% below the 1981-2010 average, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent was close to normal, and had its highest coverage since 2016.
  • A few continents baked: North America as a whole had its hottest August on record (the Caribbean region saw its third-hottest), beating the previous record set in 2011 by 0.23 of a degree F (0.13 of a degree C). Elsewhere, Europe had its third hottest August, and South America and Oceania had their fourth hottest August.
  • 2020 has been a real boiler of a year, so far: Europe, Asia and the Caribbean region had their hottest January-August period on record. South America’s YTD average temperature ranked as second-hottest ever recorded.

EPA Says ‘No’ to Dozens of ‘Gap-Year’ Small Refinery Exemptions

The biofuel industry and growers that provide its feedstocks received some welcome news earlier this month when the EPA announced that it would reject 54 “gap-year” small-refinery exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) may have been a big victory for biofuels and agriculture producers.

But the issue remains far from over. While the EPA said it was also going to reject another 14 gap year extension requests still under review at the DOE, industry leaders say the agency has much to do to repair the damage they say EPA’s mismanagement of the RFS has rendered under the Trump administration.

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings said during a teleconference with reporters last week that the EPA action removal of the gap-year waivers was needed, arguing that they never should have been considered to start with.

“The unfortunate reality is that the Environmental Protection Agency has so badly mismanaged the RFS over the last three and a half years,” he said.

“You think about it, so many ethanol promises – promises to do right by this industry – have collected dust that I think too many folks misinterpreted [EPA]’s decision to reject some of these gap-year waivers is a significant turning point,” Jennings said.

“It was not,” Jennings said. “It was a step in the right direction. But these gap-year waivers should never have been given credibility. They were really nothing more than an outrageous attempt by refiners, really a last-gasp attempt by refiners hoping to avoid the consequences of our victory in the 10th Circuit.”

ACE, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union, all NACSAA partners, joined with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) to successfully petition the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, gaining a unanimous finding from a panel of the court’s judges in January declaring the EPA abused its authority by granting SRE’s to refineries that were not extensions of previously existing exemptions.

In the wake of the decision, small refineries flooded EPA with 67 petitions for retroactive waivers – some going back as far as 2011 – to try and comply with court decision language and establish a back-dated sequence of continuously extended exemptions.

When reports began to circulate earlier this month that the White House was calling on EPA to reject to gap-year waivers, the four plaintiff organizations issued a statement then that commended the administration for its action, but expressed continued disappointment, particularly over the refiners’ appeal of the 10th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. The high court historically agrees to hear only about 1 percent of the cases brought forth from the appellate courts.

The four industry groups said in their statement that it was “telling” that EPA did not request a rehearing in the Tenth Circuit, nor did it join the refiners’ Supreme Court appeal of the appellate court decision.

“Now, more than ever, our nation’s farmers and ethanol producers are counting on the RFS to provide market stability and certainty during an incredibly difficult and tumultuous time,” the industry groups said, calling on EPA to curb its practice under the Trump administration of granting a higher rate of waivers. The rate of same-year waivers granted by EPA has run about four times greater than those provided annually under previous administrations.

Biofuel industry leaders also want to see a more open SRE process at EPA. The House of Representatives last week passed massive energy legislation that includes provisions from Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) that would increase transparency by ensuring key information surrounding SREs is publicly disclosed. It also would set a deadline for refineries to submit SRE applications.

In response to industry complaints that the high volume of waivers that have been granted in recent years have cost the sector millions of gallons in demand and billions of dollars, the Peterson-Johnson measure would reallocate waived volumes to non-exempt obligated parties.

 

CFTC Subcommittee Report Aims for a Climate-Resilient Financial System

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) subcommittee this month released a report that a commissioner says will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

 

Released by the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the CFTC’s Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC), Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, was adopted by the panel unanimously, 34-0.

The report come as severe wildfires wreak havoc in the West, a derecho devastated much of the corn and soybean crops in Iowa, and hurricanes are inflicting heavy damages inland from the Gulf Coast.

CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam, sponsor of the MRAC. said the events what is “becoming our new normal [and] will likely continue to worsen in frequency and intensity as a result of a changing climate.

“Beyond their physical devastation and tragic loss of human life and livelihood, escalating weather events also pose significant challenges to our financial system and our ability to sustain long-term economic growth,” he said.

 

Benham asserted that the report will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

 

The document, which presents 53 recommendations to mitigate the risks to financial markets posed by climate change, concludes that:

  • Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy;
  • Climate risks may also exacerbate financial system vulnerability that have little to do with climate change; including vulnerabilities caused by a pandemic that has stressed balance sheets, strained government budgets, and depleted household wealth;
  • S. financial regulators must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the U.S. financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks;
  • Existing statutes already provide U.S. financial regulators with wide-ranging and flexible authorities that could be used to start addressing financial climate-related risk now;
  • Regulators can help promote the role of financial markets as providers of solutions to climate-related risks; and
  • Financial innovation is required not only to efficiently manage climate risk but also to facilitate the flow of capital to help accelerate the net-zero transition and increase economic opportunity.

“With this report in hand, policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders can begin the process of taking thoughtful and intentional steps toward building a climate-resilient financial system that prepares our country for the decades to come,” Benham said.

 

FFAR Seeks Research Proposals to Improve Climate Resilience in Crops

 

Scientists predict that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, as well as greater temperature variability. These changes will dramatically affect agriculture systems, decreasing crop productivity, harming farmers’ livelihoods and threatening global food security. To address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is seeking research proposals providing transformative approaches and solutions to increase a crop’s tolerance for higher temperatures. The resulting research will improve crop’s climate resilience.

 

The Request for Proposals is part of FFAR’s Next Generation Crops Challenge Area, which is accepting applications in an anticipation of a Nov. 11 deadline.

 

“We have a pretty good idea what increased temperatures will do to global farming, and it’s not good,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is looking for the next generation of climate-resilient crops that can actually produce more food with fewer inputs in more variable temperatures.”

 

Specifically, FFAR is seeking applications that increase the basal or acquired thermotolerance of crop plants, allowing them to better survive when exposed to high temperatures.

 

This funding opportunity is focusing on solutions that can be applied to one or more of the following crops: maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, sweet potato, cassava, banana, yam, common bean, cowpea, chickpea and groundnut.

 

Matching funds will be provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are not required from researchers.

 

Information about the funding opportunity, including application criteria, deadlines and eligibility requirements are available on the FFAR’s Request for Proposals webpage.

 

Hunting for a Better Biofuel Is Scope of New UT Austin-Led Research

 

PHOTO CUTLINE: A research team is examining switchgrass, including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE.  Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

 

A team of scientists from nine universities and research facilities hope to find out how to make switchgrass – a fast-growing perennial native to the United States

A research team is examining switchgrass_ including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE. Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

– into a biofuel powerhouse.

 

It’s part of new project funded by the DOE which awarded a $13-million grant. The grant includes more than $11 million for The University of Texas at Austin, with additional funding to support research by partners at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michigan State University, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the University of Florida, South Dakota State University, the Argonne National Laboratory and others.

 

Researchers say that in nature, switchgrass sequesters carbon underground in its roots, produces cellulose that can be used to make ethanol and typically grows in soils that are unsuitable for food crops – all characteristics that make it a great candidate for biofuel. Current biofuels come primarily from agricultural crops or feedstocks such as corn.

 

Tom Juenger, a professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin who has been studying different types of switchgrass over the past decade, will lead the research team.

 

The team has developed various switchgrass plants that were transplanted at 10 field sites in multiple states, from coastal South Texas to the Great Plains of South Dakota. Having the same plants growing at these sites allows researchers to consider how the plant’s genes interact with the environment and discover genes involved in specific traits, such as biomass production, with the aid of a method called quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping.

 

The effort has identified a number of important traits, candidate genes and potentially beneficial root microbes for improving switchgrass – given evidence that plants’ bacterial communities play an important role in their growth. A new round of funding will extend the research with both field and lab studies, in collaboration with Ulrich Mueller, also a UT Austin professor of integrative biology, who will study switchgrass-microbe interactions to optimize root microbial communities.

 

The funding will also allow Juenger and his fellow researchers to genetically engineer different types of switchgrass to be better at producing biofuel. The process will take advantage of the best traits of the species and remove any genetic downsides. Researchers plan to develop general switchgrass types that can grow just about anywhere, as well as special types that can grow in specific, targeted areas. These types of switchgrass will be engineered to maximize crop yield, stress tolerance and carbon sequestration based on natural alleles, or gene variants, involved in local adaptation.

 

Scientists Unlock Crops’ Power to Resist Floods

 

Scientists at the universities of Oxford in England and Sydney in Australia have discovered the structure of an enzyme that helps control oxygen in crops. The researchers hope it provides a platform to improve crop resistance to flooding.

 

Enzymes that control a plant’s response to lower oxygen levels could be manipulated to make vital crops resistant to the impacts of flooding triggered by climate change, the new research would indicate.

 

“Climate change is a major global issue, not least for its impact on food security,” said report co-author Mark White, of the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. “We hope these findings can help produce flood-tolerant crops to help mitigate the devastating social and economic impact of extreme weather events on food production.”

 

The research, largely done at the University of Oxford, was published earlier this month in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Climate change has increased the number and intensity of global flooding events, threatening food security through significant crop loss. Plants, including staple crops such as rice, wheat and barley, can survive temporary periods of flooding by activating energy pathways that don’t rely on air in response to the low oxygen conditions in water.

 

These responses are controlled by oxygen-sensing enzymes called the Plant Cysteine Oxidases (PCOs), which use oxygen to regulate the stability of proteins that control gene activity.

 

The research describes the molecular structures of the PCOs for the first time, identifying chemical features that are required for enzyme activity.

 

“The results provide a platform for future efforts to manipulate the enzyme function in an attempt to create flood-resistant crops that can mitigate the impact of extreme weather events,” White said.

 

The work was supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council New Investigator Grant, the European Research Council and the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research.

 

 

Other News We Are Reading…

Plant Protein Discovery Could Reduce Need for Fertilizer (Science Daily)

 

Researchers have discovered how a protein in plant roots controls the uptake of minerals and water, a finding which could improve the tolerance of agricultural crops to climate change and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. The research, published in Current Biology, shows that members of the blue copper proteins family, the Uclacyanins, are vital in the formation of Casparian strips. These strips are essential structures that control mineral nutrient and water use efficiencies by forming tight seals between cells in plants, blocking nutrients and water leaking between. This is the first evidence showing the implications of this family in the biosynthesis of lignin, one of the most organic polymers on earth. The study reveals that the molecular machinery required for Casparian strip lignin deposition is highly ordered by forming nano-domains which can have a huge impact on plant nutrition, a finding that could help in the development of crops that are efficient in taking in the nutrients they need. (Read more…)

 

How to Get a Handle on Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Plants (Rutgers Today)

 

How much carbon dioxide, a pivotal greenhouse gas behind global warming, is absorbed by plants on land? It’s a deceptively complicated question, so a Rutgers-led group of scientists recommends combining two cutting-edge tools to help answer the crucial climate change-related question. “We need to understand how the Earth is breathing now to know how resilient it will be to future change,” according to a paper in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Global observations suggest that natural ecosystems take up about as much carbon dioxide as they emit. Measuring how much carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants on land is complicated by the carbon exhaled simultaneously by plants and soils, the paper notes.

(Read more…)

 

Climate Disruption Is Now Locked In. The Next Moves Will Be Crucial

(The New York Times)

 

America is now under siege by climate change in ways that scientists have warned about for years. But there is a second part to their admonition: Decades of growing crisis are already locked into the global ecosystem and cannot be reversed. This means the kinds of cascading disasters occurring today – drought in the West fueling historic wildfires that send smoke all the way to the East Coast, or parades of tropical storms lining up across the Atlantic to march destructively toward North America – are no longer features of some dystopian future. They are the here and now, worsening for the next generation and perhaps longer, depending on humanity’s willingness to take action. “I’ve been labeled an alarmist,” said Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist in Los Angeles, where he and millions of others have inhaled dangerously high levels of smoke for weeks. “And I think it’s a lot harder for people to say that I’m being alarmist now.” (Read more…)

 

Advanced Biofuels Show Promise for Replacing Some Fossil Fuels

(Colorado State University)

 

Biofuel and bioenergy systems are integral to scenarios for displacing fossil fuel use and producing negative emissions through carbon capture and storage. But the net greenhouse gas mitigation benefit of these systems has been controversial, due to concerns around carbon losses from changes in land use and foregone sequestration benefits from alternative land uses. A new study led by Colorado State University – including an interdisciplinary team of plant scientists, ecologists and engineers – predicts significant climate benefits stemming from the use of advanced biofuel technologies. Accounting for all of the carbon flows in biofuel systems and comparing them to those in grasslands and forests, the team found that there are clear strategies for biofuels to have a net carbon benefit. The authors say this one of the first studies to look at both current and future carbon-negative biofuels. (Read more…)

.

Partner News and CSA Events

USDA, EPA Announce Competition to Advance U.S. Ag Sustainability

 

The USDA, a NACSAA partner, has joined the EPA to stage the “Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges,” a joint partnership and competition to advance agricultural sustainability in the United States.

 

The competition includes two challenges that seek proposals for new and existing fertilizer technologies to maintain or improve crop yields, while reducing the impacts of fertilizers on the environment.

 

“USDA is committed to encouraging the development of new technologies and practices to ensure that U.S. agriculture is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable for years to come,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “This challenge will stimulate innovation and aligns with USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda announced earlier this year.”

 

By evaluating the efficacy of existing technologies while sparking research and development of new technologies, these challenges explore the potential innovation that can result from academia, industry, government, and NGOs working together to address the complex issues related to excess nutrients in our environment, officials say.

 

Along with USDA and EPA, the competition is coordinated with NACSAA partners, The Fertilizer Institute and the National Corn Growers Association, as well as with the International Fertilizer Development Center and The Nature Conservancy.

 

The first segment, the: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, aims to identify existing Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEFs) that meet or exceed certain environmental and agro-economic criteria. EEF is a term for new formulations that control fertilizer release or alter reactions that reduce nutrient losses to the environment. The challenge will not have a monetary prize, but winners will receive scientific evaluation of their product and recognition from USDA, EPA and other collaborators and participants.

 

The second contest, the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge, aims to generate new concepts for novel technologies that can help address environmental concerns surrounding agriculture practices while maintaining or increasing crop yields. A panel of expert judges will review the submissions. Each winner will receive at least $10,000.

 

The Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges is accepting entries by Oct. 30 for the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, and by Nov. 30, for the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge. Winners will be announced in the winter of 2021.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest edition of NACSAA News, a monthly compilation of CSA-related news. “NACSAA in Action” features the latest on the Alliance activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past month; “Other News We Are Reading” is a listing of news stories from other sources we think you will find of interest; and “Partner News and Events.” We hope this newsletter will serve to keep you, your members and other constituencies fully engaged in the growing development of climate-smart agriculture policy, programs and practices. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. To subscribe, email info@SfLDialogue.net.

 

NACSAA Members in Action

SfL Submits Agroecology Policy Recommendations

 

In a submission to the Private Sector Mechanism of the FAO Committee on Food Security, Solutions from the Land has introduced a series of recommendations on the first draft of a major policy treatise on agroecology and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition.

 

One of the primary points made in the recommendations is that agroecology and other innovative approaches are not on a continuum. Rather, as NACSAA Steering Committee member Lois Wright Morton noted, “Each approach is context- and situation-specific, and sustainability will require multiple innovative approaches over space and time to achieve balance among healthy ecosystems, economic and social well-being (the definition of sustainability).” Member states will begin negotiating the draft document later this fall.

 

Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture Efforts Continue

 

NACSAA’s latest submission on the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture is in the final stages of development and will summarize primary pathways for enabling agricultural solutions to climate and other sustainable development goals (SDGs).

 

Earlier this month, Kip Tom, U.S. ambassador to the Rome-based UN agencies, was briefed in a call on global UN engagement work, including the KJWA, the recommendations submitted on food security issues and next year’s UN Food Systems Summit.

 

Food Systems Summit Preparation Work Gears Up

 

A.G. Kawamura, a NACSAA steering committee member and co-chair of the alliance’s coordinating organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL), joined a CEO-level call this month with Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, relaying to Kalibata NACSAA/SfL’s support for the events leading up to the event.

 

He also shared the organizations’ support for strategies to address the focal areas selected for action tracks for ending hunger and achieving food and nutrition along with other sustainable development goals. A primary recommendation is for world leaders to embrace and enable innovation as a primary pathway for ending huger and simultaneously delivering high value ecosystem services. He also offered NACSAA/SfL assistance in organizing and/or contributing to the pre-summit events that will be held next year.

 

In other Food System Summit developments, planning work in support of the event is broadening and accelerating. Scientific and advisory panels have been established and guidance is expected soon to help member countries plan and execute in-country “dialogues” to provide an opportunity for governments and communities to discuss their food systems and identify ways they might be strengthened.

 

The established desired outcomes for the summit include:

  • Dramatically elevated public discourse about the importance of food systems leading to the achievement of the SDGs and how to get the public working for people and planet.
  • Significant action, with measurable outcomes that enable achievement of the SDGs by 2030. This will include highlighting existing solutions and celebrating leaders in food systems transformation, as well as calling for new actions worldwide by different actors, including countries, cities, companies, civil society, citizens, and food producers.
  • A high-level set of principles established through the process that will guide Member States and other stakeholders to leverage their food systems capacity to support the SDGs. Distilled through all elements of the preparatory process, these principles will set an optimistic and encouraging vision in which food systems play a central role in building a fairer, more sustainable world.
  • A system of follow-up and review that will drive new actions and results; allow for the sharing of experiences, lessons, and knowledge; and incorporate new metrics for impact analysis.

EDF Report Call on Ag Lenders

To Better Assess Climate Risks, Boost Farm Resilience

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a NACSAA partner organization, released a report detailing the risks that agricultural lenders face from climate change, but also points out the opportunities that they have to support the long-term profitability of those who work the land.

The EDF report asserts that ag lenders have not proactively assessed their own risks, a concerning development given that agriculture is on the front lines of climate change. The report notes that those in the financial sector beyond ag lenders have already been making strides to incorporate climate risk into their decision-making process.

The EDF warns that crop insurance alone is not sufficient to handle the financial risks that come with climate change, including reduced farm earnings and declines in credit quality, especially in agricultural regions where lenders and related businesses tend to be concentrated.

The group also reports that current loan offerings don’t value resilience. It notes, for example, that short-term financial products such as annual operating loans don’t integrate the value of farmer investments in practices like no-till, cover crops and extended crop rotations. The disconnect between these practices – which have shown measurable financial benefits in terms of both cost savings and risk reduction – and ag lender policy undermines long-term profitability and resilience for both farmers and financiers.

 

Climate Week Gives Impetus to the Ongoing Efforts to Curb Growing Threats

During this year’s observation of Climate Week earlier this month, international leaders from around the world representing business, government and civil society collaborated virtually with the UN General Assembly to showcase global climate action.

Climate Week events gave prominence to the work that has yet to be done to curb the growing crisis.

NACSAA partners, including the Soil Health Institute, shared its overall climate strategies with other food and beverage company representatives, policymakers, conservationists and others – work they are conducting to address gaps in policy that, once filled, will allow the U.S. agricultural sector to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

On another front, Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, released during the week a report – Climate Action in U.S. Agriculture: A Compendium of Field to Market Member Climate Commitments – that celebrates leadership and momentum on climate action in the ag sector. It also underscores how greater collective action is needed to respond to unprecedented challenges from climate related impacts.

The report synthesizes public climate goals made by more than 85 Field to Market member organizations and unveils a shared vision from nine leading conservation organizations that defines key principles of meaningful climate action to match the scale and pace required by science.

The report came in conjunction with Field to Market’s sponsorship of a roundtable discussion that brought together farmers, policy leaders, scientists, food executives and conservation experts to explore innovative examples of how the food and agriculture value chain is scaling the adoption of climate smart agriculture, while also examining the serious consequences of failing to meet our collective goals set to address the climate crisis. One of the key messages coming out of this event was the need for farmers to be at the center of all climate discussions – a guiding principle long advocated by SfL and NACSAA.

Another NACSAA partner, Kellogg Company, the multi-national food manufacturing giant, was cited for its long-standing efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and energy use, and actively acknowledged that food insecurity and livelihood vulnerability are exacerbated by climate change. Generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation enabled work by a SfL-supported work group in Ohio that produced a landmark action plan that offered innovative solutions to challenges confronting the state’s farmers over the next several decades.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA), also a NACSAA partner, issued a new report during Climate Week spotlighting the key role U.S. agriculture plays in reaching the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

NACSAA partner Bayer Crop Science announced that it is taking several steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the company and along its entire value chain in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Among its sustainability targets for climate protection, Bayer says it wants to be climate neutral by 2030. To accomplish that goal, the company says it will implement energy efficiency measures at its sites and convert 100 percent of the purchased electricity to renewable energies. Remaining emissions will be offset by purchasing certificates from climate protection projects with recognized quality standards.

The company says it also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the up- and downstream value chain through cooperation with suppliers and customers.

Bayer joined the Science Based Targets initiative, which transparently reviews participants’ reduction targets. The initiative was founded by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and lists more than 800 companies as committed themselves to actively addressing the challenge of climate change and setting transparent targets for reducing their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

 

Featured News

Northern Hemisphere Just Had Its Hottest Summer on Record

It’s been a remarkably steamy, record-setting last three months for Mother Earth, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Not only was August 2020 the second-warmest August on record, but the Northern Hemisphere had its warmest summer, and the globe as a whole had its third-hottest three-month season, too.

According to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average global land and ocean surface temperature in August was 1.69 degrees F (0.94 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 60.1 degrees F (15.6 degrees C), making it the second-hottest August in the 141-year record, behind August 2016.

The Northern Hemisphere had its hottest August on record with a temperature departure from average of 2.14 degrees F (1.19 degrees C), besting the previous record set in August 2016. 

Globally, the 10 warmest Augusts have all occurred since 1998, with the five warmest occurring since 2015.

The 3-month season from June through August 2020 was the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest meteorological summer on record, surpassing both 2019 and 2016, which were previously tied for hottest.

The period, which also marks the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, was Earth’s third warmest in the 141-year record at 1.66 degrees F (0.92 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average. 

Globally, the year to date (YTD, January through August) ranked as second hottest recorded, at 1.85 degrees F (1.03 degrees C) above the 20th-century average of 57.3 degrees F (14.0 degrees C) – just behind the record set in 2016. The Northern Hemisphere’s YTD tied with 2016 as the hottest since global records began in 1880.

According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the five-warmest years on record.

Other notable climate stats and facts include:

  • Arctic sea ice continued declining: The average Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) in August was the third smallest on record, 29.4% below the 1981-2010 average, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent was close to normal, and had its highest coverage since 2016.
  • A few continents baked: North America as a whole had its hottest August on record (the Caribbean region saw its third-hottest), beating the previous record set in 2011 by 0.23 of a degree F (0.13 of a degree C). Elsewhere, Europe had its third hottest August, and South America and Oceania had their fourth hottest August.
  • 2020 has been a real boiler of a year, so far: Europe, Asia and the Caribbean region had their hottest January-August period on record. South America’s YTD average temperature ranked as second-hottest ever recorded.

EPA Says ‘No’ to Dozens of ‘Gap-Year’ Small Refinery Exemptions

The biofuel industry and growers that provide its feedstocks received some welcome news earlier this month when the EPA announced that it would reject 54 “gap-year” small-refinery exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) may have been a big victory for biofuels and agriculture producers.

But the issue remains far from over. While the EPA said it was also going to reject another 14 gap year extension requests still under review at the DOE, industry leaders say the agency has much to do to repair the damage they say EPA’s mismanagement of the RFS has rendered under the Trump administration.

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings said during a teleconference with reporters last week that the EPA action removal of the gap-year waivers was needed, arguing that they never should have been considered to start with.

“The unfortunate reality is that the Environmental Protection Agency has so badly mismanaged the RFS over the last three and a half years,” he said.

“You think about it, so many ethanol promises – promises to do right by this industry – have collected dust that I think too many folks misinterpreted [EPA]’s decision to reject some of these gap-year waivers is a significant turning point,” Jennings said.

“It was not,” Jennings said. “It was a step in the right direction. But these gap-year waivers should never have been given credibility. They were really nothing more than an outrageous attempt by refiners, really a last-gasp attempt by refiners hoping to avoid the consequences of our victory in the 10th Circuit.”

ACE, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union, all NACSAA partners, joined with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) to successfully petition the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, gaining a unanimous finding from a panel of the court’s judges in January declaring the EPA abused its authority by granting SRE’s to refineries that were not extensions of previously existing exemptions.

In the wake of the decision, small refineries flooded EPA with 67 petitions for retroactive waivers – some going back as far as 2011 – to try and comply with court decision language and establish a back-dated sequence of continuously extended exemptions.

When reports began to circulate earlier this month that the White House was calling on EPA to reject to gap-year waivers, the four plaintiff organizations issued a statement then that commended the administration for its action, but expressed continued disappointment, particularly over the refiners’ appeal of the 10th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. The high court historically agrees to hear only about 1 percent of the cases brought forth from the appellate courts.

The four industry groups said in their statement that it was “telling” that EPA did not request a rehearing in the Tenth Circuit, nor did it join the refiners’ Supreme Court appeal of the appellate court decision.

“Now, more than ever, our nation’s farmers and ethanol producers are counting on the RFS to provide market stability and certainty during an incredibly difficult and tumultuous time,” the industry groups said, calling on EPA to curb its practice under the Trump administration of granting a higher rate of waivers. The rate of same-year waivers granted by EPA has run about four times greater than those provided annually under previous administrations.

Biofuel industry leaders also want to see a more open SRE process at EPA. The House of Representatives last week passed massive energy legislation that includes provisions from Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) that would increase transparency by ensuring key information surrounding SREs is publicly disclosed. It also would set a deadline for refineries to submit SRE applications.

In response to industry complaints that the high volume of waivers that have been granted in recent years have cost the sector millions of gallons in demand and billions of dollars, the Peterson-Johnson measure would reallocate waived volumes to non-exempt obligated parties.

 

CFTC Subcommittee Report Aims for a Climate-Resilient Financial System

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) subcommittee this month released a report that a commissioner says will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

 

Released by the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the CFTC’s Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC), Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, was adopted by the panel unanimously, 34-0.

The report come as severe wildfires wreak havoc in the West, a derecho devastated much of the corn and soybean crops in Iowa, and hurricanes are inflicting heavy damages inland from the Gulf Coast.

CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam, sponsor of the MRAC. said the events what is “becoming our new normal [and] will likely continue to worsen in frequency and intensity as a result of a changing climate.

“Beyond their physical devastation and tragic loss of human life and livelihood, escalating weather events also pose significant challenges to our financial system and our ability to sustain long-term economic growth,” he said.

 

Benham asserted that the report will help build a climate-resistant financial system.

 

The document, which presents 53 recommendations to mitigate the risks to financial markets posed by climate change, concludes that:

  • Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy;
  • Climate risks may also exacerbate financial system vulnerability that have little to do with climate change; including vulnerabilities caused by a pandemic that has stressed balance sheets, strained government budgets, and depleted household wealth;
  • S. financial regulators must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the U.S. financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks;
  • Existing statutes already provide U.S. financial regulators with wide-ranging and flexible authorities that could be used to start addressing financial climate-related risk now;
  • Regulators can help promote the role of financial markets as providers of solutions to climate-related risks; and
  • Financial innovation is required not only to efficiently manage climate risk but also to facilitate the flow of capital to help accelerate the net-zero transition and increase economic opportunity.

“With this report in hand, policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders can begin the process of taking thoughtful and intentional steps toward building a climate-resilient financial system that prepares our country for the decades to come,” Benham said.

 

FFAR Seeks Research Proposals to Improve Climate Resilience in Crops

 

Scientists predict that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, as well as greater temperature variability. These changes will dramatically affect agriculture systems, decreasing crop productivity, harming farmers’ livelihoods and threatening global food security. To address these challenges, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is seeking research proposals providing transformative approaches and solutions to increase a crop’s tolerance for higher temperatures. The resulting research will improve crop’s climate resilience.

 

The Request for Proposals is part of FFAR’s Next Generation Crops Challenge Area, which is accepting applications in an anticipation of a Nov. 11 deadline.

 

“We have a pretty good idea what increased temperatures will do to global farming, and it’s not good,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is looking for the next generation of climate-resilient crops that can actually produce more food with fewer inputs in more variable temperatures.”

 

Specifically, FFAR is seeking applications that increase the basal or acquired thermotolerance of crop plants, allowing them to better survive when exposed to high temperatures.

 

This funding opportunity is focusing on solutions that can be applied to one or more of the following crops: maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, sweet potato, cassava, banana, yam, common bean, cowpea, chickpea and groundnut.

 

Matching funds will be provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are not required from researchers.

 

Information about the funding opportunity, including application criteria, deadlines and eligibility requirements are available on the FFAR’s Request for Proposals webpage.

 

Hunting for a Better Biofuel Is Scope of New UT Austin-Led Research

 

PHOTO CUTLINE: A research team is examining switchgrass, including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE.  Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

 

A team of scientists from nine universities and research facilities hope to find out how to make switchgrass – a fast-growing perennial native to the United States

A research team is examining switchgrass_ including how samples from different parts of the country interact with microbes and the environment and adapt to different climates. The project is funded by the DOE. Credit: Robert Goodwin, Michigan State University

– into a biofuel powerhouse.

 

It’s part of new project funded by the DOE which awarded a $13-million grant. The grant includes more than $11 million for The University of Texas at Austin, with additional funding to support research by partners at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michigan State University, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the University of Florida, South Dakota State University, the Argonne National Laboratory and others.

 

Researchers say that in nature, switchgrass sequesters carbon underground in its roots, produces cellulose that can be used to make ethanol and typically grows in soils that are unsuitable for food crops – all characteristics that make it a great candidate for biofuel. Current biofuels come primarily from agricultural crops or feedstocks such as corn.

 

Tom Juenger, a professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin who has been studying different types of switchgrass over the past decade, will lead the research team.

 

The team has developed various switchgrass plants that were transplanted at 10 field sites in multiple states, from coastal South Texas to the Great Plains of South Dakota. Having the same plants growing at these sites allows researchers to consider how the plant’s genes interact with the environment and discover genes involved in specific traits, such as biomass production, with the aid of a method called quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping.

 

The effort has identified a number of important traits, candidate genes and potentially beneficial root microbes for improving switchgrass – given evidence that plants’ bacterial communities play an important role in their growth. A new round of funding will extend the research with both field and lab studies, in collaboration with Ulrich Mueller, also a UT Austin professor of integrative biology, who will study switchgrass-microbe interactions to optimize root microbial communities.

 

The funding will also allow Juenger and his fellow researchers to genetically engineer different types of switchgrass to be better at producing biofuel. The process will take advantage of the best traits of the species and remove any genetic downsides. Researchers plan to develop general switchgrass types that can grow just about anywhere, as well as special types that can grow in specific, targeted areas. These types of switchgrass will be engineered to maximize crop yield, stress tolerance and carbon sequestration based on natural alleles, or gene variants, involved in local adaptation.

 

Scientists Unlock Crops’ Power to Resist Floods

 

Scientists at the universities of Oxford in England and Sydney in Australia have discovered the structure of an enzyme that helps control oxygen in crops. The researchers hope it provides a platform to improve crop resistance to flooding.

 

Enzymes that control a plant’s response to lower oxygen levels could be manipulated to make vital crops resistant to the impacts of flooding triggered by climate change, the new research would indicate.

 

“Climate change is a major global issue, not least for its impact on food security,” said report co-author Mark White, of the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. “We hope these findings can help produce flood-tolerant crops to help mitigate the devastating social and economic impact of extreme weather events on food production.”

 

The research, largely done at the University of Oxford, was published earlier this month in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Climate change has increased the number and intensity of global flooding events, threatening food security through significant crop loss. Plants, including staple crops such as rice, wheat and barley, can survive temporary periods of flooding by activating energy pathways that don’t rely on air in response to the low oxygen conditions in water.

 

These responses are controlled by oxygen-sensing enzymes called the Plant Cysteine Oxidases (PCOs), which use oxygen to regulate the stability of proteins that control gene activity.

 

The research describes the molecular structures of the PCOs for the first time, identifying chemical features that are required for enzyme activity.

 

“The results provide a platform for future efforts to manipulate the enzyme function in an attempt to create flood-resistant crops that can mitigate the impact of extreme weather events,” White said.

 

The work was supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council New Investigator Grant, the European Research Council and the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research.

 

Other News We Are Reading…

Plant Protein Discovery Could Reduce Need for Fertilizer (Science Daily)

 

Researchers have discovered how a protein in plant roots controls the uptake of minerals and water, a finding which could improve the tolerance of agricultural crops to climate change and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. The research, published in Current Biology, shows that members of the blue copper proteins family, the Uclacyanins, are vital in the formation of Casparian strips. These strips are essential structures that control mineral nutrient and water use efficiencies by forming tight seals between cells in plants, blocking nutrients and water leaking between. This is the first evidence showing the implications of this family in the biosynthesis of lignin, one of the most organic polymers on earth. The study reveals that the molecular machinery required for Casparian strip lignin deposition is highly ordered by forming nano-domains which can have a huge impact on plant nutrition, a finding that could help in the development of crops that are efficient in taking in the nutrients they need. (Read more…)

 

How to Get a Handle on Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Plants (Rutgers Today)

 

How much carbon dioxide, a pivotal greenhouse gas behind global warming, is absorbed by plants on land? It’s a deceptively complicated question, so a Rutgers-led group of scientists recommends combining two cutting-edge tools to help answer the crucial climate change-related question. “We need to understand how the Earth is breathing now to know how resilient it will be to future change,” according to a paper in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Global observations suggest that natural ecosystems take up about as much carbon dioxide as they emit. Measuring how much carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants on land is complicated by the carbon exhaled simultaneously by plants and soils, the paper notes.

(Read more…)

 

Climate Disruption Is Now Locked In. The Next Moves Will Be Crucial

(The New York Times)

 

America is now under siege by climate change in ways that scientists have warned about for years. But there is a second part to their admonition: Decades of growing crisis are already locked into the global ecosystem and cannot be reversed. This means the kinds of cascading disasters occurring today – drought in the West fueling historic wildfires that send smoke all the way to the East Coast, or parades of tropical storms lining up across the Atlantic to march destructively toward North America – are no longer features of some dystopian future. They are the here and now, worsening for the next generation and perhaps longer, depending on humanity’s willingness to take action. “I’ve been labeled an alarmist,” said Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist in Los Angeles, where he and millions of others have inhaled dangerously high levels of smoke for weeks. “And I think it’s a lot harder for people to say that I’m being alarmist now.” (Read more…)

 

Advanced Biofuels Show Promise for Replacing Some Fossil Fuels

(Colorado State University)

 

Biofuel and bioenergy systems are integral to scenarios for displacing fossil fuel use and producing negative emissions through carbon capture and storage. But the net greenhouse gas mitigation benefit of these systems has been controversial, due to concerns around carbon losses from changes in land use and foregone sequestration benefits from alternative land uses. A new study led by Colorado State University – including an interdisciplinary team of plant scientists, ecologists and engineers – predicts significant climate benefits stemming from the use of advanced biofuel technologies. Accounting for all of the carbon flows in biofuel systems and comparing them to those in grasslands and forests, the team found that there are clear strategies for biofuels to have a net carbon benefit. The authors say this one of the first studies to look at both current and future carbon-negative biofuels. (Read more…)

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Partner News and CSA Events

USDA, EPA Announce Competition to Advance U.S. Ag Sustainability

 

The USDA, a NACSAA partner, has joined the EPA to stage the “Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges,” a joint partnership and competition to advance agricultural sustainability in the United States.

 

The competition includes two challenges that seek proposals for new and existing fertilizer technologies to maintain or improve crop yields, while reducing the impacts of fertilizers on the environment.

 

“USDA is committed to encouraging the development of new technologies and practices to ensure that U.S. agriculture is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable for years to come,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “This challenge will stimulate innovation and aligns with USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda announced earlier this year.”

 

By evaluating the efficacy of existing technologies while sparking research and development of new technologies, these challenges explore the potential innovation that can result from academia, industry, government, and NGOs working together to address the complex issues related to excess nutrients in our environment, officials say.

 

Along with USDA and EPA, the competition is coordinated with NACSAA partners, The Fertilizer Institute and the National Corn Growers Association, as well as with the International Fertilizer Development Center and The Nature Conservancy.

 

The first segment, the: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, aims to identify existing Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEFs) that meet or exceed certain environmental and agro-economic criteria. EEF is a term for new formulations that control fertilizer release or alter reactions that reduce nutrient losses to the environment. The challenge will not have a monetary prize, but winners will receive scientific evaluation of their product and recognition from USDA, EPA and other collaborators and participants.

 

The second contest, the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge, aims to generate new concepts for novel technologies that can help address environmental concerns surrounding agriculture practices while maintaining or increasing crop yields. A panel of expert judges will review the submissions. Each winner will receive at least $10,000.

 

The Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges is accepting entries by Oct. 30 for the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, and by Nov. 30, for the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge. Winners will be announced in the winter of 2021.