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As COP26 nears, activists say agriculture should be a bigger part of the agenda

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which starts Oct. 31 in Glasgow, has been billed as a “turning point” for humanity and the “last, best chance” of averting climate disaster. Given the growing awareness of the central role that food and agricultural systems play in climate change — both as a cause and as part of a potential solution — many activists say that the sector is not as big a piece of the COP26 agenda as it should be. Food production is a major contributor to climate change, responsible for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The food system is also highly vulnerable to climate change’s effects, like droughts and floods. At the same time, agriculture and land use are increasingly being touted as solutions to mitigating climate change through carbon storage. “In the two weeks of COP, there isn’t a single day dedicated to food and agriculture issues, despite the clear attention that’s being given by civil society, researchers, and by international institutions on the links between food and climate,” says Chantal Wei-Ying Clément, deputy director of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, noting that she and others had pushed for food systems to be a more prominent part of the negotiations. Still, food will get more consideration at COP26 than at other recent climate conferences, said Ed Davey, the international engagement director of The Food and Land Use Coalition. The Koronivia Joint Work, for instance, an agreement to reduce emissions in the food system that was established in 2017, will be part of the debate. But the real litmus test for the role that food and agriculture will play in the negotiations, Davey said, will be found in each nation’s blueprint for how to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, each country must submit new or updated pledges — called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs — this year on how they will further cut emissions. Not every country that agreed to submit an updated pledge has done so, including China, which emits more greenhouse gases annually than any other nation. Chinese president Xi Jinping has not announced whether he will attend COP26; the Kremlin said last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be there. Meanwhile, President Biden is reportedly bringing a team of 13 cabinet members and top advisers to Glasgow. The U.S. plan aims to cut emissions to 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by focusing primarily on the transportation sector, buildings (including electricity, heating, and cooling) and industry. But it also would tap the carbon-storage potential of the country’s “vast lands” and cut agricultural emissions by scaling up “climate smart” practices like cover cropping, reforestation, and rotational grazing. Under the plan, federal and state governments also would invest in forest protection and management, try to reduce the scale of wildfires, and boost “blue carbon” storage by restoring coastal and marine ecosystems like tidal marshes and seagrass ecosystems. The Biden administration has previously announced a goal of getting U.S. agriculture to zero net emissions by 2050, and to significantly cut emissions in the coming decade. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who is part of Biden’s Glasgow team, said last week, “I frankly think agriculture can be at the leading edge of climate change and reduction of greenhouse gases.” To get there, he called for a paradigm shift. “Historically, we’ve had an extraction economy in this country. We’ve essentially taken things from the land, taken things out of the land. What we really need is to move away from that extraction model to one in which basically we are replicating nature.” In Glasgow, the U.S. and United Arab Emirates will officially launch the The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, which aims to increase investment and accelerate climate-smart agriculture and other food system innovation. So far, 30 countries have signed on to the voluntary initiative. Additionally, the U.S. and the EU will unveil The Global Methane Pledge, a major effort to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030. Methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas responsible for about a quarter of current warming. Globally, some 40% of methane comes from agriculture and livestock. But that number is higher in the U.S., where half of methane comes from agriculture, especially from large-scale hog and dairy farms. As part of the effort to cut methane emissions, the U.S. has promised new regulations for the oil and gas industry and tougher pollution standards for landfills. But environmentalists say the plan gives the livestock industry a “free pass” because it includes no new regulations and only voluntary measures, such as incentives to adopt so-called climate-friendly practices like anaerobic digesters and improved livestock feeds. Davey says he expects to see mounting pressure on governments to address methane emissions from animal agriculture. Overall, the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions are currently 17% below 2005 levels, according to government estimates. The United States has emitted more carbon into the atmosphere, cumulatively, than any other nation, and has the highest per-capita carbon emissions in the world. Only China emits more greenhouse gasses annually. COP26, which runs through Nov. 12, comes on the heels of two other high-level UN summits focused on food systems and biodiversity. There are growing calls to coordinate action on all three fronts — hunger and malnutrition, climate, and biodiversity loss. The food system is considered the main driver of biodiversity loss worldwide, and global hunger is rising, fueled in part by climate change. “It’s not just a climate crisis we’re facing right now,” said Chantal Wei-Ying Clément. “We have a biodiversity crisis, a health crisis through the pandemic, and we also are dealing with ongoing poverty and malnutrition issues. We really need to understand that these things are interconnected and tackle them jointly.” If national governments aren’t yet taking a comprehensive approach to the interrelated issues of food systems and climate, many states and cities are, Clément said. Bruges, Brussels, for example, is trying to shift residents’ diet to be 60% plant-based by 2030. To address hunger and food waste, São Paulo, Brazil, now collects unsold food from its markets and redirects what’s edible to the hungry while composting the rest. To recognize this sort of work, and push national policymakers to do more, Clément will help present the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration on November 6. Signatories — which include dozens of local governments worldwide, such as Austin, Texas; Philadelphia; and New Haven, Connecticut — commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in local and regional food systems, using food policy to fight climate change, and involving all sectors of the food chain. Michael Fakhri, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, says this understanding that the problems are inseparable is becoming more widespread, and that he thinks that food systems, while remaining somewhat marginal on the climate agenda, are gaining “a foothold” in international climate policy circles. Transformative systemic change will require breaking down the fragmentation between groups working on hunger, agricultural policy, and the environment, he said. Climate change can often feel like an abstract problem, Fakhri said, and a focus on food systems can help build broader support for action. “Focusing on the food system makes the issue of climate change very real, very specific, very concrete,” he said.

Fortenberry is indicted on charges of lying about campaign donations

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles charged Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, the senior Republican on the House panel that oversees USDA funding, with three counts of concealing information and making false statements during an investigation of an illegal $30,000 campaign contribution, said the Justice Department on Tuesday. In a video recorded in his pickup truck, Fortenberry said, “We will fight these charges.” Fortenberry, 60, was scheduled for arraignment in U.S. district court in Los Angeles on Wednesday. He was charged with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. If convicted, the felony charges each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. House Republican rules say a representative must step aside from committee assignments if indicted on a felony with a potential sentence of two years or more. The assignments are restored following acquittal, dismissal, or a reduction of the charges. It is rare for a sitting representative to be indicted. “The indictment alleges that Fortenberry repeatedly lied to and misled authorities during a federal investigation into illegal contributions to Fortenberry’s re-election campaign made by a foreign billionaire in early 2016,” said the Justice Department. “Gilbert Chagoury, a foreign national prohibited by federal law from contributing to any U.S. elections, arranged for $30,000 of his money to be contributed through other individuals (conduits) to Fortenberry’s campaign during a fundraiser held in Los Angeles.” According to the Justice Department, the co-host of the fundraiser told Fortenberry during a June 2018 phone call that the $30,000 “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury.” Fortenberry did not amend campaign finance reports after the conversation and, according to the indictment, “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up … material facts” about the donation. In March and July 2018 interviews, Fortenberry falsely denied being aware of any wrongdoing in the donations, it said. “I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew,” said Fortenberry, a nine-term lawmaker, in the video on YouTube. “They’ve accused me of lying to them, and they’re charging with this. We’re shocked.” In an email, he said the accusations were a political attack on him ahead of the 2022 House elections, reported KOLN Radio. The Justice Department said in April that Chagoury had paid a $1.8 million fine as part of resolving allegations that he provided $180,000 to individuals in the United States to contribute to four federal candidates. Federal law bars foreigners from donating to U.S. candidates. Open Secrets, which tracks campaign contributions and lobbying data, identified the four candidates, all Republicans, as Fortenberry, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, and former Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska. Earlier this month, Axios reported that Fortenberry had set up a legal defense fund because, he said, “Biden’s FBI is using its unlimited power to prosecute me on a bogus charge.”

New research shows hunting’s effect on sage grouse population is mixed

The sage grouse population fell so low during the 1990s that the chicken-size species was considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Now, two researchers say that restrictions on hunting the sage grouse have a mixed record when it comes to the bird’s numbers. A ban on hunting sage grouse in central Idaho apparently resulted in greater population growth, said assistant professor Jonathan Dinkins of Oregon State University. However, Dinkins and professor Jeff Beck of the University of Wyoming say that in their examination of 22 relatively distinct populations of greater and Gunnison sage grouse, some populations went up, some went down and some held steady under hunting restrictions. “Not all sage grouse populations were influenced by the same environmental change or human disturbance factors,” said Dinkins. Hunting restrictions are in place in 11 states in the American West and two Canadian provinces with the intention of preserving the species. Regulations have become more conservative over the past quarter-century. Sage grouse thrive best in an expansive habitat dominated by sage bush with an understory of native grasses and wildflowers. Population can decline due to fire, disease, drought, invasive species and human activities such as oil and gas drilling and housing construction.

Celebrate National Farmer’s Day

If you visit websites like National Today, you’ll find that every day of the year is designated to celebrate something, from World Plumbing Day on March 11 to National Mustard Day on August 2. Today, October 12, is National Farmer’s Day, and that’s definitely worth celebrating. The origins of this day of honoring American farmers isn’t known, but there are records of it as far back as the 1800s; it was once called Old Farmer’s Day. October 12 was chosen to coincide with the harvest in many parts of the U.S. In honor of this day, here are just a few highlights of the history of American Agriculture: 1793: The cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney. 1797: Charles Newbold patents the cast-iron plow. 1820: The Agriculture Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives was established, followed by a Senate committee in 1825. 1834: The McCormick reaper was patented. 1840: The first Census of Agriculture was completed. 1840s: Commercial farming grew in popularity, coinciding with the growing use of factory-made machinery. 1862: The U.S. Department of Agriculture was established. President Abraham Lincoln called it the "people’s department." 1865-70: The slave plantation system in the South was replaced by the sharecropping system. 1856: The two-horse straddle-row cultivator was patented, allowing horses to pull plows instead of people. 1868: Steam tractors are tried for the first time. 1874: Barbed wire fencing became available. 1892: John Froelich invents the gas-powered engine that could be driven backwards and forwards. The Froelich Tractor inspired John Deere’s two-cylinder tractor. 1900-1910: George Washington Carver found new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans, helping to diversify Southern agriculture. 1902: Edwin Thomas Meredith began publishing Successful Farming magazine. 1932-36: Drought and dust-bowl conditions developed. 1933: The Agricultural Adjustment Act and subsequent New Deal laws provided farm subsidies.  1933: After three decades of experimentation, hybrid corn varieties became widely available. 1944: Norman Borlaug used cross-breeding to develop disease-resistant, high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties, which would expand access to food and save more than a billion lives. 1945: The change from horses to gas-powered tractors begins. 1980: John Deere produces a four-row cotton picker, increasing productivity by up to 95%. 1982: Monsanto Company scientists became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. 1994: Satellite technology allows farmers to see their farms from above. 1997: The first weed- and insect-resistant soybeans and cotton became available. 2000: Scientists sequenced the first genome of a flowering plant, allowing the more efficient development of new varieties of crops.

Rural America, mostly white, is becoming more diverse

Three-quarters of rural Americans are white, a larger proportion than the roughly six in 10 for the nation overall, but the rural population is becoming more diverse, said a pair of analyses of Census data. The rural America of the future will be increasingly diverse and not as politically conservative as many assume, said the Brookings Institution. “Contrary to the dominant narratives that use ‘rural’ as a synonym for ‘white,’ 24% of rural Americans were people of color in 2020,” said Brookings. “While rural America is still less diverse than the nation as a whole (42.2% people of color), it is diversifying as well: The median rural county saw its population of color increase by 3.5 percentage points between 2010 and 2020.” The rural population was relatively static from 2010 to 2020, increasing by just 164,000, or 0.3%. But the rural Hispanic population surged by nearly 1 million people, or 20%, in the past decade. Meanwhile, the number of whites declined by almost 5% and the rural Black population fell by 6%. “The overall rural population between 2010 and 2020 would have declined substantially if not for growth in its Hispanic population,” three researchers from the Housing Assistance Council said in the Daily Yonder. Hispanics make up 10.4% of the rural population and Blacks make up 7.4%. People of two or more races make up 4% of the rural population, and Native Americans are 2%, twice the national rate. There are highly regionalized variations in the concentration of Blacks, Latino Americans, and Native Americans, said Brookings. “Rural counties in the South and West are particularly racially and ethnically diverse — with a substantial number of rural areas in these regions majority or near-majority people of color.” More than 85% of rural Blacks live in the South, said the Housing Assistance Center. A large number of Native Americans live on or near reservations and trust lands in the Plains, Southwest, and Alaska. Nearly half of rural Hispanics live in four states — Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona. “The regional variation also has political ramifications,” said Brookings. Former president Trump won only three majority-Black rural counties and did not fare well with rural voters working in the hospitality and leisure sector, particularly in the West. “Rural counties with recreation-focused economies were also more likely to gain population over the last decade, meaning the future of rural America is not only increasingly diverse but not as conservative as many assume,” wrote Brookings researchers D.W. Rowlands and Hanna Love. The Housing Assistance Council researchers said, “Despite advances made through the civil rights movement, labor struggles, and increased self-determination, the experiences and conditions of non-white rural residents and communities are often overlooked given their relatively small populations.”

COVID is killing rural Americans at twice the rate of urbanites

Rural Americans are dying of COVID at more than twice the rate of their urban counterparts — a divide that health experts say is likely to widen as access to medical care shrinks for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer, and less vaccinated. While the initial surge of COVID-19 deaths skipped over much of rural America — where roughly 15% of Americans live — nonmetropolitan mortality rates quickly started to outpace those of metropolitan areas as the virus spread nationwide before vaccinations became available, according to data from the Rural Policy Research Institute. Since the pandemic began, about 1 in 434 rural Americans have died of COVID, compared with roughly 1 in 513 urban Americans, the institute’s data show. And though vaccines have reduced overall COVID death rates since the winter peak, rural mortality rates are now more than double urban rates — and accelerating quickly. In rural northeastern Texas, Titus Regional Medical Center CEO Terry Scoggin is grappling with a 39% vaccination rate in his community. Eleven patients died of COVID in the first half of September at his hospital in Mount Pleasant, population 16,000. Typically, three or four non-hospice patients die there in an entire month. “We don’t see death like that,” Scoggin said. “You usually don’t see your friends and neighbors die.” Part of the problem is that COVID incidence rates in September were roughly 54% higher in rural areas than elsewhere, said Fred Ullrich, a University of Iowa College of Public Health research analyst who coauthored the institute’s report. He said the analysis compared the rates of nonmetropolitan, or rural, areas and metropolitan, or urban, areas. In 39 states, he added, rural counties had higher rates of COVID than their urban counterparts. “There is a national disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to COVID in rural America,” said Alan Morgan, head of the National Rural Health Association. “We’ve turned many rural communities into kill boxes. And there’s no movement toward addressing what we’re seeing in many of these communities, either among the public or among governing officials.” Still, the high incidence of cases and low vaccination rates don’t fully capture why mortality rates are so much higher in rural areas than elsewhere. Academics and officials alike describe rural Americans’ greater rates of poor health and their limited options for medical care as a deadly combination. The pressures of the pandemic have compounded the problem by deepening staffing shortages at hospitals, creating a cycle of worsening access to care. It’s the latest example of the deadly coronavirus wreaking more havoc in some communities than others. COVID has also killed Native American, Black, and Hispanic people at disproportionately high rates. Vaccinations are the most effective way to prevent COVID infections from turning deadly. Roughly 41% of rural America was vaccinated as of Sept. 23, compared with about 53% of urban America, according to an analysis by the Daily Yonder, a newsroom covering rural America. Limited supplies and low access made shots hard to get in far-flung regions at first, but officials and academics now blame vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and politics for the low vaccination rates. In hard-hit southwestern Missouri, for example, 26% of Newton County’s residents were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 27. The health department has held raffles and vaccine clinics, advertised in the local newspaper, and even driven the vaccine to those lacking transportation in remote areas, according to department administrator Larry Bergner. But he said interest in the shots typically increases only after someone dies or gets seriously ill within a hesitant person’s social circle. Additionally, the overload of COVID patients in hospitals has undermined a basic tenet of rural healthcare infrastructure: the capability to transfer patients out of rural hospitals to higher levels of specialty care at regional or urban health centers. “We literally have email Listservs of rural chief nursing officers or rural CEOs sending up an SOS to the group, saying, ‘We’ve called 60 or 70 hospitals and can’t get this heart attack or stroke patient or surgical patient out, and they’re going to get septic and die if it goes on much longer,’ ” said John Henderson, president and CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals. Morgan said he can’t count how many people have talked to him about the transfer problem. “It’s crazy, just crazy. It’s unacceptable,” he said. “From what I’m seeing, that mortality gap is accelerating.” Access to medical care has long bedeviled swaths of rural America — since 2005, 181 rural hospitals have closed. A 2020 Kaiser Health News analysis found that more than half of U.S. counties, many of them largely rural, don’t have a hospital with intensive care unit beds. Pre-pandemic, rural Americans had 20% higher overall death rates than those who live in urban areas, due to their lower rates of insurance, higher rates of poverty, and more limited access to healthcare, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. In southeastern Missouri’s Ripley County, the local hospital closed in 2018. As of Sept. 27, only 24% of residents were fully vaccinated against COVID. Due to a recent crush of cases, COVID patients are getting sent home from emergency rooms in surrounding counties if they’re not “severely bad,” health department director Tammy Cosgrove said. The nursing shortage hitting the country is particularly dire in rural areas, which have less money than large hospitals to pay the exorbitant fees travel nursing agencies are demanding. And as nursing temp agencies offer hospital staffers more cash to join their teams, many rural nurses are jumping ship. One of Scoggin’s nurses told him she had to take a travel job — she could pay off all her debt in three months with that kind of money. And then there’s the burnout of working for over a year and a half through the pandemic. Audrey Snyder, the immediate past president of the Rural Nurse Organization, said she’s lost count of how many nurses have told her they’re quitting. Those resignations feed into a relentless cycle: As travel nurse companies attract more nurses, the nurses left behind shouldering their work become more burned out — and eventually quit. While this is true at hospitals of all types, the effects in hard-to-staff rural hospitals can be especially dire. Rural health officials fear the staffing shortages could be exacerbated by vaccination mandates promised by President Biden, which they say could cause a wave of resignations the hospitals cannot afford. About half of Scoggin’s staff, for example, is unvaccinated. Snyder warned that nursing shortages and their high associated costs will become unsustainable for rural hospitals operating on razor-thin margins. She predicted a new wave of rural hospital closures will further drive up the dire mortality numbers. Staffing shortages already limit how many beds hospitals can use, Scoggin said. He estimated that most hospitals in Texas, including his own, are operating at roughly two-thirds of their bed capacity. His emergency room is so swamped, he’s had to send a few patients home to be monitored daily by an ambulance team. This story was republished from Kaiser Health News. Subscribe to KHN’s free Morning Briefing.

‘State of emergency’ in drought-hit U.S. forests

The government needs to quicken the pace of its fuel reduction work in public forests at the same time that it marshals enough crews to fight wildfires, said Forest Service chief Randy Moore at a House hearing on Wednesday. “The sobering takeaway: America’s forests are in a state of emergency, and it’s time to treat them like one.” Some 63 million acres, or about a third of national forest land, is rated “at high or very high hazard for wildfires that would be difficult to contain,” he said. “This is in part a result of 110 years of overly aggressive fire suppression policies as well as climate change.” Hundreds of communities are at high risk, said Moore. “To reduce this risk, there is a need to significantly scale up hazardous fuel reduction treatments across landscapes and in partnership with communities in the most at-risk places.” So far this year, nearly 46,000 wildfires have burned 5.9 million acres and more than 4,500 homes, commercial properties, and outbuildings. “We must ensure a stable, resilient firefighting force,” said Moore, who said the pay scale was often too low. “We are in a constant mode of training new employees.” The Biden administration announced a 10% pay bonus for many of its full-time firefighters earlier this year as well as steps to make sure permanent and temporary firefighters earn at least $15 an hour. The Forest Service carries out fuel reduction treatments on roughly 3 million acres a year. To read Moore’s written testimony, click here. For a video archive of the hearing, click here.

Cargill launches new regenerative ag program that pays farmers for improved soil health

Cargill has begun enrolling farmers in Cargill RegenConnectTM , a new regenerative ag program that pays farmers for improved soil health and positive environmental outcomes, including payment per metric ton of carbon sequestered. The program connects farmers to the growing carbon marketplace and will help scale the voluntary adoption of regenerative agriculture practices. This program is born out of a commitment Cargill made one year ago to advance regenerative agriculture practices across 10 million acres of land in North America by 2030. Cargill recognizes that many management practices can not only improve soil health but also open new revenue streams for farmers. “Agriculture has a unique opportunity to utilize voluntary carbon markets and regenerative ag to address the global climate challenge and better the economic prospects for farmers, who really are the heroes of our food system,” Ben Fargher, vice president of sustainability in Cargill’s North American agricultural supply chain says. “Changes made at the roots of our supply chains will deliver the greatest impact in reducing emissions, delivering higher yields, improving water quality, sequestering carbon and building the resilience of our soils for the next generation. We are actively working hand-in-hand with farmers to lead the way, supporting them with tools, resources – and most importantly, market access – to make the shift to regenerative agriculture.”  Farmers enrolled in the program will implement regenerative agriculture practices of their choosing beginning this fall into the next planting season. Practices that will qualify include cover crops and reduced- or no-tillage. Cargill is partnering with carbon measurement firm Regrow to make it easy for farmers to Measure, Report and Verify (MRV) carbon outcomes using in-field data, remote sensing and crop and soil health modeling. The Regrow MRV platform ensures enrollment, secure data collection, and provides transparent measurement and verification options for farmers. “Growers have told us they are looking for sustainability programs that offer simplicity, transparency, and flexibility to suit their specific operation. We’ve taken this feedback and designed our program, RegenConnect, to address these needs and it has been very well received,” Fargher says. Farmers Find Profitability in Soil and Carbon Markets  Every day, Cargill helps farmers increase their productivity and profitability by promoting sustainable, innovative agricultural practices, providing inclusive market access, and building resilient agricultural communities. The RegenConnectTM program furthers this role by connecting farmers to Cargill’s downstream customers, who are counting on agricultural supply chains to achieve their carbon reduction goals. “Farmers are working hard right now to navigate through incredibly disruptive global market conditions,” Fargher adds. “Profitability and positive environmental impacts can work together. We do not want to place a still heavier burden on their operations. Anything we do together to reduce emissions should also improve their businesses.”  In a study of 100 farmers across nine states conducted by The Soil Health Institute and supported by Cargill, researchers found that soil health management systems increased incomes for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% of farmers growing soybeans. Average income for corn growers increased by $52 per acre and $45 per acre for soybeans. Additionally, farmers reported reduced average costs to grow corn by $24 per acre and soybeans by $17 per acre. Cargill has been advancing sustainable agriculture for more than a decade, investing in partnerships to enable farmer profitability through regenerative soil health practices. In the U.S., Cargill has also supported ecosystem service markets like the Soil and Water  Outcomes Fund and Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, which provide new opportunities for farmers to get paid for sustainable agriculture practices. In addition, Cargill is connecting farmers with FarmRaise, a financial technology platform that efficiently connects farmers with capital to optimize their financial and ecological performance. Their newly launched Eqip application reduces the lengthy application down to a simple 15-minute process.

Indigo pays 267 farmers for carbon farming program

Indigo Ag disburses its initial payments to the inaugural cohort of Carbon by Indigo participants. The 267 paid growers are the first to implement on-farm practice changes and provide the data required to ensure the rigorous measurement and validation of resulting emissions reduction and removals according to registry protocols. In doing so, they have helped pave a path for the scaled production of carbon credits as a new income stream for farmers, demonstrating the emerging market’s potential as a real and meaningful instrument for mitigating the drivers of climate change. Carbon by Indigo provides outcomes-based, direct payments to growers at scale, a milestone enabled by the successful filing of a monitoring plan detailing the data and methods used to generate the program’s inaugural crop. Final credit calculations, generated and made public upon completion of a rigorous third-party verification process currently underway according to the Climate Action Reserve’s “Soil Enrichment Protocol” will result in the world’s first crop of high-quality, registry-issued agricultural carbon credits generated at scale this Spring 2022. With plans for expanded eligibility to a total of 28 states also announced today, 78% of US cropland is now poised to respond to mounting demand for high-quality credits which has already resulted in a credit price increase of 35% in the first year of the program. Now, beginning with the 2022 crop year, farmers across Wisconsin, Michigan, Alabama, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are also eligible to begin farming carbon with the end-to-end support of Indigo’s farmer-first program. "For farmers to participate in the ag carbon market with confidence, they need trust that all partners joining them on that journey, from their agronomic advisors through credit buyers, want to see them come out on top," Chris Harbourt, global head of Carbon at Indigo Ag says. "Our program brings together exactly those partners to ensure farmers have choices that maximize upside in their participation. Backed by confidence in our scientifically rigorous quantification methods and the development of a committed buyer network, these initial payments are just the beginning as they represent progress toward the inaugural carbon crop year and an important milestone in this work." The cohort’s carbon farming efforts represent a wide range of experience adopting beneficial practice changes in the 2019 and 2020 crop years. Overall participation spanned 19 states, included 15 unique crop types and over 50 unique practice change combinations, and varied from implementation on just one field to practice change on 85. The initial payments represent an advance on the program’s expected first-year vesting (50%). Farmers will receive the remainder of these payments in subsequent years, in addition to further income generated as a result of their ongoing beneficial farming efforts including through continuation of practices, additional practice adoption, or expanded enrolled acreage in future crop years.   “There's always uncertainty with any practice change. It can be daunting to try a new practice that you're not very familiar with. But in farming, if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. Indigo has given us the opportunity and support to improve our land and our income,” Christopher Lehe of Brookston, Indiana, who counts nearly four thousand acres currently enrolled in the program, says. “As the carbon credit market expands, our income can keep growing with increasing carbon prices and our increasing carbon impact, because we're not just getting paid for our practice changes. We're getting paid top dollar for what we're accomplishing. We’re only getting started, and the income potential is a huge incentive for us to expand these practices.” Today, Carbon by Indigo represents over 3.3 million participating acres, a cohort of 14 leading organizations committed to purchasing issued credits, and recently announced industry collaborations with Corteva and Growmark to further support farmers in these efforts.

Ivermectin intended for animals is not a treatment for COVID-19

What started as a quest to learn about the potential use of ivermectin in treating COVID-19 has spiraled into an alarming trend across multiple states. Thinking it can be used as a substitute for ivermectin intended for humans, many people are flocking to farm supply stores to purchase ivermectin meant for animals. First licensed as a veterinary product in 1981, the drug is approved for use in preventing heartworm disease in small animals like dogs, and for treating certain internal and external parasites in cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and horses. The FDA approved ivermectin for human use to combat a variety of parasitic diseases (both internal and external) in 1996. While Alvin Bronstein, a member of the AAPCC Board of Directors, says they cannot say with accuracy how the concept of using ivermectin to treat COVID-19 started, many believe a research paper out of Australia may have been the glimmer of hope people were looking for during the pandemic, setting off the ivermectin craze. Released in April 2020, the paper (The FDA-approved drug ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro) documents how the virus that causes COVID-19 responded to ivermectin when exposed in a petri dish. Because it was not given to people or animals, additional testing was needed to determine whether ivermectin might be safe or effective in preventing or treating COVID-19. Yet, it didn’t stop the idea from lighting up social media. “There is still a lot we don’t know about how effective a treatment ivermectin really is for COVID-19,” says Soren Rodning, an Auburn University associate professor of animal sciences. “Specifically, they have not been proven safe for use by people through clinical drug trials.” What we do know, he adds, is that the concentration of ivermectin in these products or some of the inactive ingredients used in the animal formulations may not be safe for humans.  “The bottom line – do not self-medicate with animal ivermectin products,” Rodning says. “I cannot emphasize this enough.”  Poison Control Centers See a Surge in Calls From January to August 2019, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) recorded 402 cases of human exposure to ivermectin across the U.S. The following year there was a slight increase for the same time frame, with 435 cases reported. In 2021, the Center saw a sharp spike, with the figure jumping to 1,125 cases. “Cases began increasing in July 2021,” Bronstein says. “We assume this is COVID-19 related.” People are purchasing various highly concentrated animal ivermectin drug formulations such as pour-on, injectable, paste, and drench intended for horses, cattle, and sheep. The rise also triggered multiple admonitions from federal agencies and state health officials alike. “You are not a horse or a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” tweeted the FDA on August 21. The Alabama Poison Information Center – Children’s of Alabama has fielded more than two dozen ivermectin exposure calls in recent months. Most of those calls were related to COVID-19. The Arkansas Poison and Drug Information Center says it has received 24 ivermectin calls recently. “Of those 24 cases, 23 are an individual taking a veterinary product as a prophylactic or as a treatment for COVID-19,” says Howell Foster, the center’s director. While that number may not seem like a lot, the combined total for the past four years is only 25 calls.  While Ed Boetti says the Iowa Poison Control Center has received a few reports related to ivermectin use, calling is not a requirement.  “Even though we cover the entire state, no one is required to give us a call,” says Boetti, medical director, Iowa Poison Control Center. The center uses what is called passive surveillance, a system where reports are received from hospitals, clinics, or other sources. “It’s possible there are more cases out there that we’re just not hearing about,” he says. “When we do get a call, one of the questions asked is what product the person affected has taken. In every call we’ve fielded, the animal version is what has been taken, and he or she has developed symptoms.” Some of the symptoms associated with ivermectin toxicity include confusion, decreased consciousness, rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.  Denying Customers As the department lead in farm for Theisen’s, Cole Steenhoek says he can usually tell when someone is trying to purchase ivermectin for personal use. “It’s pretty clear by the way they talk about the product and the questions they ask,” he says.  The Ames, Iowa, location has seen a handful of customers try to buy ivermectin recently. The most requested item – an ivermectin oral paste used to treat worms in horses. The store also sells an injectable liquid as well as a drench, which is like the paste but in liquid form. “I did have one customer try to buy the injectable because we were out of the paste,” he says. “I told him definitely not.” To date, Steenhoek has turned away about seven customers. “When I have had to deny selling it to a customer, it’s because he told me outright that he plans to use the product to treat COVID-19. At that point, I can no longer sell it to him,” he says, adding that the store recently posted a sign warning about the use of animal ivermectin for human consumption.  Fleet Farm has also posted signs in its stores alerting customers. In a statement, the company noted that in recent weeks, it has not seen an increase in sales of ivermectin products. While Steenhoek and Fleet Farm may not be overwhelmed with requests, others like Tractor Supply are reportedly feeling the effects. Aside from people potentially harming themselves, there may also be unintended consequences that could impact the animal industry. “If shelves are cleared of ivermectin by people using it as a prophylactic against COVID-19, it could impact animal health because it wouldn’t be available for animal husbandry practices like deworming,” Rodning says. Since it is an ingredient in heartworm tablets for dogs, a shortage could also potentially affect the supply of ivermectin to manufacturers. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine is asking veterinarians and animal caretakers who are having difficulty obtaining ivermectin for animal use to let them know by emailing [email protected] “I know people are looking for hope. They want something that will help treat or prevent COVID-19 but taking ivermectin meant for animals is not the answer,” Boetti says. “You are not a cow or a horse with an intestinal parasite, so please do not use it.”

Over 1,900 acres of Garst farms sell for over $19 million

The “crown jewels” of the historic Garst family farmland in Iowa sold today for a grand total of $19,262,308 at auction. As Peoples Company auctioneer Jared Chambers says, “It doesn’t take long to sell good farmland.” Out of the 31 sealed bids submitted by deadline on August 6, 27 bidders attended the live, absolute auction in downtown Coon Rapids. Eight tracts of land totaling 1,998.04 acres were available across Carroll, Audubon, Greene, and Guthrie Counties. Five different bidders, all local farmers, purchased the tracts at an average of $9,641 per acre. [embed:render:node:317056:center:picture|image_embed_full] Here is the breakdown: Tract 1 - 160 acres m/l sold for $11,700/acre Tract 2 - 80 acres m/l sold for $9,600/acre Tract 3 - 80 acres m/l sold for $8,850/acre Tract 4 - 240 acres m/l sold for $11,000/acre Tract 5 - 493.23 acres m/l sold for $9,700/acre Tract 6 - 463.93 acres m/l sold for $9,700/acre Tract 7 - 429.88 acres m/l sold for $8,700/acre Tract 8 - 51 acres* m/l sold for $4,900/acre Tracts 1-7, mostly tillable farm land, sold at an average of $11,461 per acre. All acres are placed under a soil conservation easement, the first of its kind, that will ensure certain sustainable agriculture practices be used on the farms and that conservation measures and structures currently utilized on the farms be maintained. This easement aligns with values long held by the Garst family, who have been strong advocates of conservation and sustainability. Read More: Q&A with Liz Garst The practices include no-till farming, annual cover crop plantings post-harvest with the basis of having continuous, living roots in the soil, and maintenance of existing terraces and waterways. “What is unique with this easement is that it’s a continuation of how the Garst family has been managing these farms for years,” Steve Bruere, president of Peoples Company says. “They want to preserve those farming practices that continue to build on the soil health foundation they’ve created.” [embed:render:node:317057:center:picture|image_embed_full] Conservation easements are permanent agreements made between landowners and conservation organizations that allow a landowner to maintain ownership and control of the land while voluntarily giving up rights to actions that could damage the land. This permanent agreement applies to any future landowner as well, creating lasting protection. The conservation organization that holds the easement ensures current and future owners continue to meet the conservation vision of the landowners who established the conservation easement. The Garst family donated the easements to Whiterock Conservancy for the organization to monitor and provide guidance on the conservation values upheld by the easement. Whiterock Conservancy’s Land Manager will work with the new landowners as technology and farming practices continue to evolve over time. *Of these acres, 46.38 are enrolled in a Conservation Reserve Program. 

Historic Garst farms easements accepted by Whiterock Conservancy

In August, Whiterock Conservancy in Coon Rapids, Iowa, enters a new chapter as it begins to accept donated conservation easements from landowners who want to ensure specific conservation practices and soil health management will continue on their land long after the ground has transferred ownership. Conservation easements are permanent agreements made between landowners and conservation organizations that allow a landowner to maintain ownership and control of the land while voluntarily giving up rights to actions that could damage the land. This permanent agreement applies to any future landowner as well, creating lasting protection. The conservation organization that holds the easement ensures current and future owners continue to meet the conservation vision of the landowners who established the conservation easement. The first conservation easements Whiterock Conservancy will accept are being donated to Whiterock Conservancy by the Garst family as their generational farmland is sold at auction. The easements place a focus on protecting sustainable agricultural values, particularly as it relates to soil health.​ READ MORE: Over 1,900 acres of crown jewel Garst family farm set for auction in August The Garst family is auctioning farmland located throughout four counties in west-central Iowa that already utilizes and benefits from sustainable farming practices. The conservation easements protect the decades of soil conservation efforts implemented by the Garst family and maintain the sustainable value of the properties for the environment. “It’s natural for Whiterock Conservancy to accept these easements as it directly correlates to our core mission of responsible land stewardship through conservation, sustainable agriculture, recreation, and education,” Butch Niebuhr, chairman of the board for Whiterock Conservancy says. “Whiterock Conservancy currently employs the farming practices specified in the easements and will continue to do so on our own land.” The eight farm parcels to be protected by conservation easement are distinct from the Whiterock Conservancy site where visitors enjoy trails, camping, paddling, and lodging in nature. None of this 5,500-acre site is being sold. Accepting conservation easements strengthens the organization’s ability to safeguard land for generations to come. READ MORE: Q&A with Liz Garst Whiterock Conservancy’s role is to monitor adherence to the easements and provide guidance on the conservation values upheld by the easement as technology and farming practices continue to evolve over time. This work will involve reviewing practices implemented or maintained on the field each year, such as no-till farming, annual cover crop plantings postharvest, maintaining terraces and grassed waterways, and more. Following the Garst Land conservation easements, Whiterock hopes to accept more conservation easements in the future.

Over 1,900 acres of crown jewel Garst family farm set for August auction

Interest is growing in a historic family farm described as a “crown jewel” by Peoples Company and Community Insurance Agency. The eight parcels in Coon Rapids, Iowa, that are up for auction on August 17 have a lot working in their favor. The land is being sold by the agriculturally innovative Garst family, who famously hosted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cold War in 1959. Long-term soil conservation practices have been implemented over decades on the land parcels going to auction. They include no-till practices in place since the 1980s, the introduction of cover crops in 2013, terraces, buffer strips, terraces, waterways, contour strips, and headlands. These investments have led to growth in crop yields, a rich soil that reduces problems related to compaction and abundant water retention that is superior to other farms in the area. “These farms are doing better than county averages on yield,” says Liz Garst, granddaughter of Roswell Garst and the Family Business Manager. “I think these farms are hardened for the future and productive because of soil health. But our tenant, George Johnston, also has contributed to our increasing yields through his good farming practices.” Read More: Q&A with Liz Garst, Garst Seed Company Long-term farm operator Johnston says the farms are as good as it gets in the area. The Auction “The farmland market is on fire right now,” Steve Bruere, President of Peoples Company, says. “Farmers have been aggressive buyers and outside capital hasn’t historically been able to compete locally, but this land is more unique because of the easement.” Bruere says several out-of-state inquiries have been made and he anticipates a mix of market participants. The easement requires that certain sustainable agriculture practices be used on the farms and that conservation measures and structures currently utilized on the farms be maintained. The practices include no-till farming, annual cover crop plantings post-harvest with the basis of having continuous, living roots in the soil, and maintenance of existing terraces and waterways. “We’ve been around many conservation easements throughout the years that simply take land out of production,” Bruere says. “What is unique with this easement is that it’s a continuation of how the Garst family has been managing these farms for years, which is with waterways, no-till, cover crops, and terracing. They want to preserve those farming practices that continue to build on the soil health foundation they’ve created.” Outside of the financial and soil health benefits that strengthen the farm, the easement is attractive as interest and demand builds from consumers, sustainability groups, and companies in the food supply chain for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. “At the end of the day, these farms are set up to meet a lot of ESG requirements,” Bruere says. “Some people may look at this as a ready-made ESG opportunity. A lot of capital is tied to sustainability and carbon and other goals, so this may attract a new style of buyer.” In addition, Bruere says one of the key characteristics that makes this sale unique is the availability of data. The Garst farms have a long history of recorded performance that validates the management practices. “The Garsts have been strong advocates of conservation and sustainability,” Bruere says. “They’re really endorsing the idea of the soil conservation easement. It is a pioneering move.” While some may view the easement as an added layer of complexity and speculate if the land will sell at a discount, Bruere says it’s really an opportunity for a buyer and that the easement requirements aren’t any different than how the land would be farmed without it. To the Garst family, this sale is an act of agricultural innovation to show farmers the real value in soil conservation practices. “In acquiring this land, much which has been in our family for over 65 years, a new owner will have the most well-cared-for soil you will find in Iowa, plus a conservation easement that is flexible enough to make continuous improvements while ensuring the soil continues to yield dividends from good water management, weed control, reduced compaction, and yield growth,” Garst says. The sale is being co-brokered by Clive, Iowa-based Peoples Company and Coon Rapids, Iowa-based Community Insurance Agency. Interested parties must submit a sealed bid by close of business on Friday, August 6, 2021, with a live auction for invited bidders to take place Tuesday, August 17, 2021, at Raccoon River Social Club, 513 Main Street, Coon Rapids, Iowa, at 10 a.m. The sale is expected to close on Friday, September 17, 2021.

Manage your farmland intentionally

Owning and managing farmland can be a complicated process with few, if any, one-size-fits-all solutions. Communicating with renters, understanding stewardship practices, knowing how to write a farmland lease — nonfarming landowners face these and many other barriers that keep them from realizing their visions for their land. Practical Farmers of Iowa, Heartland Cooperative, Des Moines Water Works, and Peoples Company are hosting a multipart virtual boot camp designed to share the why, what, when, and how of successful and intentional farmland management. “All four partners on this project have the ultimate goal of empowering landowners and renters by providing them with an open seat at the table to learn about and discuss on-farm conservation to improve water quality, equitable leasing arrangements, and build healthy communication skills,” says Ruth McCabe, conservation agronomist with Heartland Co-op. “When supported by both renter and landowner, on-farm conservation practice adoption tends to be long-term, and that is what we are aiming for.” Learn from landowners, farmers, and conservation professionals about successful strategies for implementing conservation and stewardship practices on rented farmland and hear why responsible landownership is so important to building better agriculture in Iowa and across the Midwest. McCabe says conservation farming practices improve soil health and increase the long-term viability, sustainability, and value of the farm. “Additionally, when we improve our water quality and our wildlife habitat, we improve the ecosystem services provided to the environment from our farm fields,” McCabe says. “This, in turn, makes for a more beautiful state with more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and engage with nature. In an ideal world, the children of our current non-operating landowners might want to come back home and engage more permanently in their family farms. And nationally, perhaps we can change some of those negative narratives that are being told about our current farming systems to positive stories of change and improvement.” Workshop #1: Every Farm Matters Friday, July 30 | Noon-1:30 p.m. With more and more landowners owning smaller and smaller farms, it can be easy to think that your farmland doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. During this workshop, learn why that’s not true and what it means to be part of a watershed. Hear from fellow landowners about why we should all care about intentional and thoughtful farmland management that prioritizes stewardship. Workshop #2: Rhythms of Agriculture Friday, August 6 | Noon-1:30 p.m. The day-to-day business of running a farm can be mysterious to those who aren’t directly involved with agriculture. During this workshop, hear from farmers and ag professionals about a year in the decision-making life of a farmer. Learn more about what research tells us about the priorities of both farmers and landowners, and gain an understanding of the resources, experts, and services that farmers use to help make decisions on the farm. Workshop #3: Strategies & Next Steps Friday, August 13 | Noon-1:30 p.m. Taking an active hand in managing farmland can be daunting for many landowners. In this workshop, learn more about how to build healthy and robust relationships with farmland tenants. Landowners and conservation professionals will highlight best practices for communicating with renters, explore different approaches to farmland leasing, and discuss why building equitable partnerships leads to better farm stewardship. Workshop #4: Strategies & Next Steps for Women Landowners Friday, August 20 | Noon-2 p.m. Managing farmland can be daunting, and women landowners in particular face specific and gender-driven barriers that keep them from achieving their farmland goals. During this workshop intended for women landowners, learn more about farmland management strategies and next steps. This workshop will overlap slightly with Workshop #3 and includes an additional 30 minutes for discussion and Q&A. Register for the workshops online at: https://practicalfarmers.org/events/landowner-boot-camp/

The sweet potato whisperer

In football lingo it is known as “the trenches.” It’s the area along the line of scrimmage where jumbo-size players – the big uglies, as Keith Jackson used to call them – toil mostly in obscurity, digging and sweating and struggling to control every inch of ground. The football trenches were where Jason Brown dwelled for more than a dozen years, earning a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina as an offensive lineman, and then spending seven successful and lucrative seasons as a center in the NFL. But in 2012, at the age of 29, Brown walked away from football’s fortunes and – along with his wife, Tay, and their growing family – entered a new set of trenches. Or, as he put it, “I was being called to a different field.” That field turned out to be a humble 1,000 acres in North Carolina that Brown named First Fruits Farm. It is a plot of land he has been working for nearly a decade as a sweet potato farmer. Digging and sweating and struggling to again control the ground, though this time as part of a greater calling from God. [embed:render:node:315560:left:picture|image_embed_full]Brown has detailed this amazing transformation from football to farming in the new book Centered, which he wrote with author and journalist Paul Asay. As the cover indicates, it is the story of a man who traded his plans “for a life that matters,” and discovered this life in a hot, dusty field far from the perks and privilege of the NFL. “I knew that in my transition from football to farming, God was creating a transformative story,” Brown said during a phone call in late June. “It’s a testimony, but God is the author. … I want to tell everybody just how awesome and miraculous God has been in our lives.” A quick-paced 203 pages, Centered is a book that can be read in a day or two, but its message will live much longer. The story is about farming, but the focus is on faith and family, especially the support Brown received from Tay, who is mentioned prominently throughout. [embed:render:node:315559:left:picture|image_embed_1_2_width]As detailed in the book, Brown came from a farming background. His grandfather owned a 200-acre farm near Yanceyville, North Carolina, and battled racism as leader of a local chapter of the NAACP. “My grandfather was a farmer,” Brown writes. “He stared down droughts and floods, and wasn’t about to be frightened off by men in sheets.” But in the early 1960s, the situation grew violent, and the Brown family – including Jason’s father, Lunsford – moved to Washington, D.C. It would be nearly 20 years before the family moved back to North Carolina, just before Jason was born in 1983. Lunsford stayed behind in D.C. for another 16 years, working in a government job and doing freelance landscaping on the side. When Jason made visits to D.C. to see his father, he often helped with the landscaping, which he writes is how he learned that “working the land is hard work, but rewarding work.” Athletics did not enter Jason’s life quite as quickly. He was cut from his middle school baseball team, and when he began high school he initially was more interested in the band than football. But he eventually developed into a star athlete and went on to become a first-team All-ACC player at North Carolina. During his junior year at UNC in 2003, Brown’s older brother, Ducie, died while serving as a soldier in Iraq. Brown’s description of his relationship with his brother – and how Ducie helped shaped him – provides some of the book’s most poignant moments. Two years later, Brown was chosen by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft. He played well enough over the next four seasons to sign a five-year, $37.5-million contract with the St. Louis Rams in 2009, which made him the highest-paid center in NFL history. Brown fell into many of the trappings of NFL wealth, buying a 12,000-square-foot home with marble fireplaces and two massive bars, which he stocked with expensive liquor (including a $1,500 bottle of Louis XIII cognac). He readily admits that neither he nor Tay drink, but they had succumbed to a lifestyle built on pretense. As his playing career hit new heights, Brown’s life was reaching depressing lows. “My identity and self-esteem were wrapped up in football,” Brown writes. “I’d fallen in love with football, and football wasn’t loving me back anymore. … My marriage was broken. My family was broken. My life was broken.” It was a time, Brown writes, “when our bank accounts were full but our hearts were empty.” So Brown turned down offers to remain in the NFL for the 2012 season, and instead embarked on a new calling as a farmer, even though he admits, “most folks (thought) I had lost my mind.” “I’d built a career on spray-painted grass and artificial turf,” Brown writes. “God told me to dig deeper, to sink my hands into the earth and pull goodness out of it.” [factoid]“We’re sharing God’s love in a practical way. Food is a constant need that every single one of us has. Everybody has to eat. So when it comes to making an impact and giving back, the most practical way is through hunger relief.”[/factoid]At this point, the second half of Centered segues into Brown’s fascinating transition to the farm life. It details the numerous obstacles he encountered along the way, including losing much of his NFL savings in shady financial investments, and the repeated moments when he says God answered his prayers through people who helped him at exactly the right time. For example, Brown’s initial harvest in 2014 of 120,000 pounds of sweet potatoes was accomplished with the use of 600 volunteers from the Society of St. Andrews. Over the years he received unexpected donations or discounts on vital equipment, including a brand-new John Deere tractor, which replaced a cranky, old Allis-Chalmers, and a state-of-the-art greenhouse. “I knew my family had my back, but little did I know the community was going to rally around me as well,” Brown said. “That has led to some of the most encouraging moments through it all.” [embed:render:node:315561:left:picture|image_embed_full]Brown gives away most of what he grows to food banks and churches, keeping just enough to feed his family (which is up to eight children) and help pay the bills. He says providing that generosity was part of the calling that lured him away from football. “We’re sharing God’s love in a practical way,” Brown said. “Food is a constant need that every single one of us has. Everybody has to eat. So when it comes to making an impact and giving back, the most practical way is through hunger relief.” But while Brown undoubtedly is giving back by making financial sacrifices most people can’t imagine, he writes that farming has given him so much more. It has made his overall life more enjoyable and left him at peace. He is, as the title readily indicates, centered. “Every seed we plant is almost like a little prayer,” Brown writes. “When we put it in the ground, it’s a way of saying, ‘I believe. I believe you will grow.’ … (Farming) gives us a front-row seat for what it looks like to walk in faith every day, and what the harvest of that faith can be.” Learn more about First Fruits Farm at WisdomForLife.org.

Q&A: Betsy Freese, Successful Farming Executive Editor

On June 18, 1984, Betsy Freese reported to a third-floor cubicle in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, for her first day of work. She’d just been hired by Successful Farming after graduating from Iowa State University. A day in the life of an ag journalist 37 years ago looked much different from today’s fast-paced emails, Zoom interviews, and market-shifting global news. Five editors were dedicated to covering livestock for Successful Farming magazine. Smoking was permitted at your desk. “I worked in a haze of secondhand smoke,” she recalls. There was no social media or internet. Filling her Rolodex with knowledgeable sources was a slow process of building trust. Articles were physically copied and pasted into magazine page layouts. Cutting copy was much harder than hitting the backspace key. Film photography took more planning and patience than whipping out an iPhone. This summer, Freese is retiring after a lauded career covering rural lifestyles, breaking news, farm chemicals, and livestock. She recently sat down at her new home outside Indianola to reflect on her time with Successful Farming. SF: Tell me about getting hired at Successful Farming. BF: Loren Kruse [managing editor of Successful Farming] came up to Iowa State and did mock interviews. I took my clipbook in because I had worked a couple of summers at the Delmarva Farmer when I was home. I had quite a few stories, and I told him, “I want a job.” I wore a suit. I guess he was impressed with my aggressiveness. He called one night and said the assistant swine editor job was available. I was thrilled Loren wanted me to interview. I interviewed with [editor in chief] Rich Krumme, and he was not really impressed. I got terribly nervous. I got dry mouth and couldn’t even talk. I was 21 years old. I’m sure I seemed so green, but Loren and Gene Johnston [senior swine editor] had faith in me. LISTEN: Successful Farming's Betsy Freese retires Gene was my direct boss, and he and I got along great. He realized I knew a lot about the hog industry. I had grown up on a hog farm and most of my courses that weren’t journalism were animal science. So, they hired me as assistant swine editor, which I’ve always said is the lowliest job in ag journalism. SF: You’re known in the industry for your highly anticipated annual Pork Powerhouses® report. Tell me about that. BF: When the first Pork Powerhouses report hit mailboxes in September 1994, I was with my three young children at a fall festival on the square in Indianola. I’d just finished all that work and was exhausted. I remember walking around with them, worrying about the story and its effect on our readers. People had been writing and calling in to the magazine because it was so shocking for readers to see those sow numbers. Nobody had really detailed the growth at these big pig companies. Some people even called and said they were quitting the pork industry. They were getting out of the business.  One farmer said he and his neighbors in Illinois, who all raised hogs, had met and they were all selling out. They saw the numbers and were like, “Forget it. We can’t compete with this.” (By 1998, the market collapsed because of overproduction. People who hadn’t gotten out, a lot of them went out at that point.) I just remember sitting there at the fall festival thinking, What have I done? I’m destroying the swine industry by writing this.  But it was just fact. There were people who thought I had made up the numbers. They couldn’t believe the numbers. Nobody could be that big, they said. You realize you’re impacting people’s lives. SF: What did that feel like to realize? BF: I remember that being scary. With other stories over the years, though, people have said they were really encouraged or inspired to try something new. That feels really good. SF Bio Name: Betsy Freese Background: Freese was raised on a strawberry and pig farm near Rising Sun, Maryland. After college, she settled in central Iowa with her husband, Bob, where they raised their three children, Nowlan, Warren, and Caroline. Education: She has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture journalism from Iowa State University. In 2020, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences named Freese the recipient of the prestigious Henry A. Wallace Award for her professional achievements.

U.S. ag exports to set all-time record in 2021, thanks to China

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s quarterly agricultural trade forecast projects fiscal year 2021 U.S. farm exports at $164 billion – the highest total on record. This represents an increase of $28 billion, or 21%, from last fiscal year’s total, and a $7-billion increase from USDA’s previous FY 2021 forecast published in February. The annual export record of $152.3 billion was set in FY 2014. “U.S. agricultural trade has proven extraordinarily resilient in the face of a global pandemic and economic contraction. This strength is reflected in today’s USDA export forecast,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As we conclude World Trade Month, it’s clear that trade remains a critical engine powering the agricultural economy and the U.S. economy as a whole. Today’s estimate shows that our agricultural trading partners are responding to a return to certainty and reliability from the United States. Yesterday’s action regarding the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement also made it clear that our trading partners must play by the rules. Ensuring that all U.S. producers and exporters have access to global markets is a key to building back better and ensuring the continued strength and resiliency of rural America.” Key drivers of the surge in exports include a record outlook for China, record export volumes and values for a number of key products, sharply higher commodity prices, and reduced foreign competition. China is poised to be back on top as the United States’ No. 1 customer, with U.S. exports forecast at $35 billion, eclipsing the previous record of $29.6 billion set in FY 2014. This growth is led by Chinese demand for soybeans and corn. Other top markets, in order, are Canada, Mexico, Japan, the European Union, and South Korea, with demand remaining strong across the board. USDA projects that total exports of bulk commodities and meat will reach record levels for both volume and value in FY 2021. On the bulk commodity side, this is true for both corn and soybeans exports, with sorghum export value also at a record. On the meat side, beef and pork export values and volumes are projected at an all-time high, as is broiler meat volume. The full USDA export forecast is available at: www.fas.usda.gov/data/quarterly-agricultural-export-forecast.