Friday, September 07, 2007

NPS Nutrient Management

We hope you can provide us with insight—your experience is invaluable to us. We need your input on the role you think that our sciences can play in achieving both yield and national NPS pollution abatement needs.

Some Food for Thought:
  1. Are there programs, specific areas of research, methods of working with producers, or tranportation and other incentives that can be used to effectively reduce NPS pollution?
  2. Who are the stakeholders involed in NPS pollution mitigation?
  3. Are there success stories we can learn from?
Please comment or send information to
We will post a more indepth analysis of NPS pollution abatement options in the coming weeks as we gather information and develop a better understanding of the topic.

Discussion Draft of National Soil Resolution

*Please note, this text has not yet been adopted and introduced by the Senate.
It is a draft for discussion.
S. RES. #
U.S. Soil Policy:
Sustaining the National Soil Resource

________________________ submitted the following resolution; which was considered and agreed to:

Soil is a natural resource essential for life on earth. Soil links plants, animals, water, and air, affecting the weather, natural resources, and human health. The soil provides minerals for production; toxicity remediation potential; water purification; a growing medium for food, fiber, feed and fuel production; and ecosystems that support fish and wildlife. Soil is now used as the basis of raw inputs for industrial processes, and as a source of antibiotics.

Contemporary pressures on the soil resource elicit the need to increase the fundamental knowledge of soils and develop practical management technologies for sustainable use of this resource. Only those educated in soil science can provide such expertise. Well-trained soil professionals have experience in toxicology; nutrient management; chemical, biological and physical sciences; and natural resource and agricultural land management. Soil professionals are equipped with the information and experience needed to address the issues of today and those of tomorrow. It is now the time to invest in our natural capital, soil.


(1) Soil, plant, animal and human health are intricately linked. Soil degradation or improvement impacts climate, water and air quality, human health, biodiversity, food safety, and agricultural production;

(2) Soil is an essential, non-renewable resource, in that the degradation rates can be rapid and the formation and regeneration processes very slow;

(3) Soil is a dynamic system which performs many functions and services vital to human activities and ecosystems;

(4) Soil functions include biomass production; storage, filtration, and transformation of nutrients; weathering/formation of minerals (raw material); breeding ground for organisms used in medicine and bioremediation techniques; storage of carbon; and storage of the geologic and archeological heritage of the United States (U.S.);

(5) The soils in the U.S. are vulnerable to several soil degradation processes including erosion, nutrient depletion, organic matter decline, contamination, salinization, compaction, loss of soil biodiversity, urban sealing, landslides and flooding;

(6) Despite soil’s importance to human health, the environment, nutrition, and food, feed, fiber and fuel production, there is little public awareness of the importance of soil protection;

(7) Protection of U.S. soil, based on the principles of preservation of soil functions, prevention of soil degradation, mitigation of detrimental use, restoration of degraded soils and integration of these preservation principles into other policies is essential to the long-term prosperity of the United States;

(8) Spatial variability is a natural characteristic of soil; enormous differences exist in soil structural, chemical, and biological properties over the U.S. landscape;

(9) Soil diversity can be taken into account when areas of high risk are selected and appropriate measures implemented to ensure protection of the soil;

(10) Soils vary in susceptibility to degradation processes, and the risk of soil degradation can be identified;

(11) U.S. legislation in the areas of organic, industrial, chemical, biological, and medical waste pollution prevention and control should include provisions on soil protection;

(12) U.S. legislation on climate change, water quality, agricultural and rural development needs to provide a coherent and effective legislative framework for common principles and objectives that are aimed at protection and sustainable use of soil in the U.S.;

(13) Industrialization coupled with poor or inappropriate soil management practices continues to leave contaminated sites in the U.S. A common strategy to manage historic contamination of soil can prevent and control the harmful effects that soil contamination will have on human health and the environment;

(14) Soil can be used in a sustainable manner, which preserves its capacity to deliver ecological, economic, and social services, while maintaining its functions so that future generations can meet their needs.

Now therefore, be it resolved, that the U.S. Senate—

(1) recognizes it as necessary to introduce measures to improve knowledge, exchange information, and develop and implement best practices for soil management, carbon sequestration, and long-term use of the nation’s soil resource;

(2) recognizes the important role of soil and the role of the Soil Science Society of American and Certified Professional Soil Scientists in managing the national soil resource;

(3) commends the members of the Soil Science Society of America for educating historic and emerging soil and environmental professionals;

(4) commends the Soil Science Society of America for continuing the legacy of education, outreach and awareness necessary for generating more public interest in and appreciation for soils for the future;

(5) acknowledges the promise of the Soil Science Society of America to continue to enrich the lives of all Americans, by improving stewardship of the soil, combating soil degradation and ensuring the future protection and sustainable use of our air, land and water resources.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Farming Carbon

The House Committee on Natural Resources recently held a hearing on geological and terrestrial sequestration of carbon dioxide. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a similar hearing in March.

Congress' new enthusiasm for technological climate change solutions has spread across both parties and throughout the Washington DC. On Tuesday, May 1 Senator Saxby Chambliss issued a press release on his hopes for voluntary carbon offset trading as a supplement to farm income.

Currently, farmers who wish to profit from the sequestration potential of their soils can sell carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). The exchange offers binding contracts to companies and cooperatives that wish to voluntarily offset their emissions. The CCX does not certify individual farms for sequestration. Instead, it relies on third-parties called aggregators who compile databases of farmers willing to adopt carbon-friendly management practices. From those databases, CCX randomly selects farms for field visits. Once an aggregator’s sample farms are certified its entire portfolio is ready for trading.

After an aggregator trades its portfolio, individual farmers receive their allotted share of the sale less a 10 percent administrative fee for the aggregator. There are only two aggregators presently working to certify conservation-minded farmers - the National Farmers Union’s Carbon Credit Program and the Iowa Farm Bureau Carbon Credit Aggregation Program.

Under both NFU and Iowa Farm Bureau aggregation plans all producers willing to adopt conservation tillage best practices are credited with 0.5 metric ton of carbon for each acre of eligible no-till cropping and 0.75 ton per acre for qualifying grass stands each year of the contract.

To be eligible, lands must be classified as "crop land" by the USDA's Farm Service Agency. Producers must also agree to use conservation tillage as defined in the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Handbook of Conservation Practices.

According to the Iowa Farm Bureau these definitions are: No-till/Strip-till - Managing the amount, orientation, and distribution of crop and other plant residue on the surface year-round while growing crops in narrow slots or tilled or residue-free strips in soil previously untilled by full width inversion implements.

Fallow: In areas where non-tillage fallow is an acceptable practice, no credits shall be issued for the year in which the land is fallowed.

Crop Residue Removal: No credits shall be issued on otherwise eligible cropland (row crops and small grains) during any year in which crop residue is removed by harvest or burning. Crop harvest is permitted for alfalfa and grass hay and through grazing of grass.

As the programs have expanded, aggregators have placed additional regional requirements on sequestering farmers. The Iowa Farm Bureau's requirements are available here.

Since 2003, CCX carbon prices have hovered around $4 per ton of sequestered carbon. Assuming a price of $4 per ton, participating farmers will receive $2.00 per acre for no-till and $3.00 per acre for grass stands, minus the aggregation fee.

At present, aggregators don't attempt to gauge the carbon impact of individual farms nor do they quantify counterbalancing emissions of traces gases. Hopefully, ASA/CSSA/SSSA members can play a constructive role in the CCX, providing the scientific basis on which aggregators will improve their climate accounting.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The 2007 federal budget

Each year the Congressional Budget Office provides an estimate of the spending which the Federal Government should reasonably expect in the next budget cycle given current law. This year, Democrats in Congress have elected to institute Pay-As-You-Go (or PAYGO) rules which place significant bureaucratic hurdles in front of any spending beyond that baseline. In theory, Congress can increase funding for individual programs as long as it finds equivalent budget cuts or tax increases. In practice, those offsets rarely materialize.

PAYGO rules will shape the 2007 Farm Bill because the March 2007 CBO baseline estimate of farm bill expenditures is unusually low. As Federal farm payments are generally triggered by low commodity prices, the price spike in certain commodities during the latter half of 2007, particularly corn and soy, have resulted in a depressed CBO baseline. Under PAYGO rules, commodity growers and all other stakeholders in the Farm Bill must compete for this limited pool of funds. If, for example, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees wish to find more money to conservation or research programs they must to agree to cut money from commodity payments or food stamps. This is unlikely to happen.

Before leaving for spring break, the House of Representatives passed a $2.9 trillion budget blueprint. This will have to be reconciled with a similar bill passed in the Senate the previous week. House Democrats allowed up to $20 billion in additional funding for the upcoming Farm Bill, assuming that the Agriculture committees can find offsets in other farm programs. The Senate’s proposal included a $15 billion set aside for the farm bill also contingent on matched savings.

The House and Senate have set today (April 15) as their deadline for reconciling the two spending plans.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns was skeptical about budget increases for agricultural programs when he spoke last Tuesday at the Informa Economics Food & Agriculture Policy Conference in Arlington, Virginia. Johanns reminded the audience that there are some 50 “reserve” fund spending measures contained in the House and Senate Budget measures and that some will be removed as part of today’s compromise.

According to a Tuesday report by Congressional Quarterly, “The Senate’s budget has more than triple the number of reserve funds than the House budget — some 38 in the Senate’s compared to 12 in the House. Reserve funds are essentially ‘placeholders’ inserted into the budget that allow a final budget’s spending and revenue levels to be adjusted at a later date to accommodate the budgetary impact of legislation Congress may consider.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Should ASA/CSSA/SSSA Support the Creation of a National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA?

In the July issue of the CSA News, I wrote about the FY 2007 agriculture spending bill and how the increases slated by the House for formula funds and the NRI don’t amount to much in the way of new research funding opportunities for our scientists/sciences. As a comparison, I asked the reader to consider the increases being sought for the National Science Foundation: in his 07 budget for NSF, President Bush requested $6.02 billion, a 7.9% increase! Finally, I submitted that if current trends for ag research funding hold, we should not expect to make much headway in the coming years with either extramural research accounts supported by USDA Cooperative State, Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES)—formula funding, NRI and Integrated (sec 406)—or Agricultural Research Service (ARS) intramural accounts. A possible solution to stagnant funding for ag research was then offered: new legislation, S 2782, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Act of 2006 (NIFA), introduced May 10, by Senators Kit Bond (R-Missouri), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Jim Talent (R-Missouri), which would establish the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide funding for the support of fundamental agricultural research of the highest quality. The legislation would place NIFA outside of the USDA-Research, Economics and Education mission area, as a separate institute answerable only to the Secretary.*Should the agricultural community support NIFA?*Where do our scientists plan on getting funding for their research projects 5,10, and 20 years into the future?*Given that the NRI, which was created around 1990 and authorized at $500 million, has reached a high in funding of only $181 million during the past 16 years, can current funding mechanisms provide adequate funding for our programs?*I recommend that ASA, CSSA and SSSA support NIFA. How can we tell these Senators that they do not have the support of the agriculture community? What are our alternatives?*Please air your thoughts, concerns, disagreements, and suggestions. My office needs your input so we know how to take action! Thanks, Karl