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Zero-till farming more than doubles in NSW

Posted on May 31, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Agriculture,No Till Farming

A dramatic jump in the adoption of zero-till farming in NSW reflects increasing recognition of the economic and environmental benefits of such farming systems, according to experts from Industry & Investment NSW.

Zero-tillage has more than doubled between 2001 and 2008, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The area of land under preparation for cropping or pasture using zero-till methods more than doubled, from 26% in 2000-01 to 57% in 2007-08, figures from the ABS Agricultural Resource Management Survey finalised last year show.

Levels of crop stubble left intact after a crop increased from 18% in 2000-01 to 45% in 2007-08. Industry & Investment NSW (I&I) has previously estimated the net present value to industry of notill in northern NSW to be $302 million by 2020 and $568 million for no-tillage and reduced tillage combined, says I&I NSW economist, Fiona Scott.

“We have also calculated that in northern NSW, compared to conventional tillage, no-till can increase crop gross margins from $38 to $124 a hectare,” Ms Scott said.

“Case studies of successful adopters show technical constraints to adoption have not been insurmountable, but often required a step-by-step approach. “Climate change has reinforced the need for farmers to adopt reduced tillage and residue retention cropping practices that preserve soil water and reduce soil temperatures.”

I&I NSW is now modelling response-cropping strategies that reduce the risks associated with climate variability and climate change, under an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research-funded project known as “Enhancing production and marketing of maize and soybean in north-western Cambodia and production of summer crops in north-eastern Australia”.

The aim is to estimate what changes to the summer cropping system, in terms of planting time and use of varieties of differing maturities, would be best to adapt to expected climate change in the next 50 years and how these changes would fit within the crop rotation system.

WSU Report on Climate Friendly Farming Project Funded by Paul G. Allen Family Foundation Outlines How to Make Agriculture More Sustainable

Posted on May 25, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Agriculture,Investment

PULLMAN, Wash. – New agricultural practices, technology and strategies could dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change, increase the amount of carbon held in the soil and replace products made with fossil fuels with those made with biomass, according to a report by Washington State University.

WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, in partnership with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, released the “Climate Friendly Farming” report today to outline the progress of a five-year project aimed at turning farms from greenhouse gas emitters to carbon sinks. The foundation funded the “Climate Friendly Farming Project” in 2004 with a $3.75 million grant to CSANR. The goal was to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, restore carbon to soils and replace fossil fuels with biomass.

“The Climate Friendly Farming project has been successful well beyond our expectations,” said Anson Fatland, senior program officer for science and technology innovations with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “With strong scientific foundations, the team has addressed greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration in on-farm settings and made significant advancements in replacing fossil fuel-derived products with those derived from biomass. The farm of tomorrow will be more productive, with a smaller environmental footprint, thanks to the work of this group.”

Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said the project results to date build a scientific base to support specific on-farm practices.

“The Climate Friendly Farming Project is an extraordinary interdisciplinary effort that involved some of the most prominent agricultural researchers at WSU,” he said. “Sound public policy in this arena must be based upon rigorous scientific analysis. This report provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the greenhouse gas emissions from Pacific Northwest agricultural systems.”

Chad Kruger, interim director of CSANR, agreed. He said overcoming obstacles facing farmers wanting to adopt new practices is the next step.

“Regardless of what happens with climate change and greenhouse gas policy, many of the management practices and technologies we evaluated can provide win-win scenarios for farmers and the environment,” Kruger said. “Overcoming technical and economic barriers will enable our farmers to be more sustainable.”

The project focused on agriculture’s relationship to greenhouse gases in dairy production, dryland grain farming and irrigated crop farming. The interdisciplinary team that tackled the issues included soil scientists, bio-systems engineers and economists from WSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Specifically, the report explores and outlines the benefits of technology such as anaerobic digestion of dairy manure; conservation tillage to decrease erosion and other loss of carbon in the soil; managing carbon inputs such as crop residues, green manures and organic amendments to increase soil carbon; and improving nitrogen use efficiency to minimize one of the most significant greenhouse gases.

No-till saves water, labor

Posted on May 21, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Agriculture,No Till Farming

Declining water table convinced Roy Carlson and his three sons, Jeffrey, Michael and Brent, to turn to a no-till production system to make the most of every drop of water available on their Hereford, Texas, corn operation.

THE CARLSONS switched to no-till corn production because of a declining water table. They have added other conservation measures, including LEPA irrigation and cover crops.

They’ve discovered that no-till increases organic matter, fertility level, water holding capacity and yield. Labor and energy requirements go down.

They’ve been in no-till production for six years and are not likely to switch back. Brent says researchers say plowing one time takes the no-till advantage back to zero.

“I highly recommend no-till,” Roy says.

“Our main goal is to become more sustainable, with minimal inputs,” Michael adds. “The longer we stay with no-till, the less fertilizer we need. That’s down the road a ways, but we’re getting closer.”

“The water table took us to no-till,” Roy says. “We used to have wells that pumped 500 to 600 gallons a minute. Now they’re down to 100 to 200 gallons and some as low as 60 to 70 gallons, so we have to do everything we can to use water as efficiently as possible.”

In addition to no-till practices they also use low energy precision application (LEPA) irrigation systems.

They rotate much of their corn land with either wheat or black-eyed peas and are trying cover crops for the first time this year. “We only have three circles of continuous corn,” Brent says. “No-till works best with rotation,” Michael adds. “It keeps yields up.”

They don’t use additional seed treatments with corn rotated behind wheat or peas. “We don’t add anything to what comes on the seed,” Roy says. On continuous corn they treat seed with Poncho 1250 or Gaucho for insect control.

Corn borers, corn earworms and spider mites are their main insect pests. “We don’t fight corn earworms much,” Roy says.

They plant only food grade corn, white and yellow, so they don’t use genetically engineered hybrids.

They prefer to plant corn behind peas or wheat. “We’re not planting as much wheat this year,” Brent says. Black-eyed peas offer a better profit option, most years. “But the market is volatile,” Roy says. “We always contract before we plant.”

“We just about have to get an acreage contract,” says Michael. “It’s a pretty high risk crop. If it rains at the wrong time, when peas are drying down, we can lose the crop.”

“But it’s low input,” Brent says.

They’re trying cover crops for the first time this year, common vetch to add nitrogen to the soil and tillage radishes for residue. “Radish roots go deep,” Michael says. “It’s amazing how the roots will push through hard ground,” says Roy.

“Those roots help break up compaction,” Brent adds. “We will not know how much this combination helps until we harvest the corn.”

But Roy figures potential of a “20 to 30 bushel per acre yield kick.”

Brent says he learned a lot about no-till production at a no-till conference in Salinas, Kansas, last year and recommends that any farmer interested in switching to no-till attend the conference.

The Carlsons appreciate the value of organic matter in the soil. “We add compost to the land,” Roy says, “a minimum of three tons per acre. With compost we add organic matter and improve water-holding capacity.”

“It’s also good for microbes,” says Michael. Microbes feed on the organic matter from crop residue and compost.

They believe the organic matter they get from that compost and residue from previous crops increases yield. Better water holding capacity is a factor. “Water penetrates into the soil,” Michael says. “That residue is the key.”

“We also get a little hail protection from the residue,” Roy says.

They make only two trips across no-till fields before planting, to burn down winter weeds.

“Weed pressure is minimal since we don’t plow,” Brent says. “Things like pigweed germinate the first two years in a no-till system. After that, we have no viable weed seed left in the planting zone. We get some annual weeds, like mares tail, that are hard to kill.”

They use Roundup and 2, 4-D as a burndown treatment, apply Balance and Bicep behind the planter and then water it in.

In addition to the organic matter they get from the compost they also pick up some nutritional benefit, about 30 to 40 units of nitrogen per acre. “But it’s probably not always that much,” Roy says. “Samples vary and we do analyze it.”

Brent says they applied 5 tons per acre last year.

They improve equipment efficiency with no-till and need fewer tractors, and even though the four have a combination of separate operations and partnerships, they share equipment and labor.

“Swapping equipment makes it a lot easier to get into farming,” Brent says.

“And we just need a lot less,” adds Michael, who farms in a partnership with Jeffrey. “It’s critical to have first class planters and sprayers.”

They also improve efficiency with GPS technology.

“Swath control pays off,” says Michael. “We can put the recommended amount of chemical in the tank for 120 acres and when we’re done we will have no more than 5 gallons left.”

“It’s extremely accurate,” Brent says.

“We started out with a light bar in 2003,” he says. They went with a full blown auto-steer about 4 years ago. They say the combination of no-till and GPS technology reduced labor, equipment needs and stress.

They were preparing equipment for planting in early April. “We usually start planting corn about the 17th or 18th of April,” Roy says. “We wait for the soil to warm and it takes a little longer in no-till.”

With six years’ experience they are convinced that no-till will remain crucial to their operations. “A lot of other farmers in the area have also switched to no-till,” Roy says.

And they can’t argue with success. Roy won first place in the 2009 National Corn Growers Association corn yield contest for no-till, irrigated production. Winning yield was 314.87 bushels per acre with Pioneer 33Y74 hybrid.

No-till farming makes soil more stable

Posted on May 18, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital in Soil,Agriculture,No Till Farming

A joint U.S. Department of Agriculture-university study suggests no-till farming can make soil much more stable than plowed soil.

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service joined a team led by Kansas State University Assistant Professor Humberto Blanco-Canqui in studying the effects of more than 19 years of various tillage practices across the central Plains.

The team discovered no-till stores more soil carbon, which helps bind or glue soil particles together, making the first inch of topsoil two to seven times less vulnerable to the destructive force of raindrops than is plowed soil.

The researchers said the structure of the aggregates in the first inch of topsoil is the first line of defense against soil erosion by water or wind. They said understanding the resistance of such aggregates to the erosive forces of wind and rain is critical to evaluating soil erodibility, especially in semiarid regions where low precipitation, high evaporation and yield variability can interact with intensive tillage to alter aggregate properties and soil organic matter content.

Tillage makes soil less resistant to being broken apart by raindrops because the clumping is disrupted and soil organic matter is lost through oxidation when soil particles are exposed to air.

The study that included the University of Nebraska-Sidney and ARS researchers Maysoon Mikha, Joe Benjamin and Merle Vigil was reported in a recent issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal.

“Sustainable agriculture is a space that looks as big or bigger than clean tech”

Posted on May 17, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital

“Sustainable agriculture is a space that looks as big or bigger than clean tech,” said Paul Matteucci, a venture capitalist with U.S. Venture Partners in Menlo Park, Calif. “Historically, we have not seen a ton of entrepreneurial activity in agriculture, but we are beginning to see it now, and the opportunities are huge.”

A catch-all phrase for environmentally beneficial farming, sustainable agriculture has long been the province of organic enthusiasts. But venture capitalists say a growing awareness of conventional agriculture’s contribution to climate change and concerns over its consumption of water and energy are creating markets for technological innovation to minimize those effects.

Clean Seed capital groups primary initiative is predicated on identifying solution-driven, sustainable, environmentally responsible, agricultural based companies that need a strategic partner to facilitate progress. As a value added group, CleanSeed Capital Group provides strategic capital, business advisory services, and marketing strategies that yield both positive impact and significant investor returns from this rapidly growing sector.

They work in partnership exclusively with companies that share there vision of a sustainable future in agriculture and that will have a meaningful effect on the current system.

No-till shifts to top gear

Posted on May 15, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital

THE Moree watercourse property, “Boonaldoon” – a bright gem in an expanding crown of North West conservation farming operations – is moving into top gear after switching to zero-till in 2002.Acquired by the New Zealand-owned Rimanui Farms Ltd in 1996, the 17,000-hectare property was then made up mainly of grazing pastures.

Recognising the cropping potential, Rimanui began clearing land for farming under NSW State Environmental Planning Policy 46 rules, as soon as the sale was complete.

The operation now includes about 12,000ha of dryland cropping, with 1000ha suitable for irrigation.

General manager, Tim Grellman, said while the company had sold its water licences last year, it could still pump water through supplementary allocations and temporary transfers.

The property runs about 1000 Angus breeders, and there are plans to lift that to 1800 to push weaner sales.

Mr Grellman, a former cotton grower from Wee Waa, came to the property in 2002 to lead the drive to zero-till conversion.

“I arrived to a share-farmed and cultivated operation, and I wanted no-till to be the ultimate goal with our cropping,” he said.

Converting the property into a self-managed and conservation-based farm was achieved in stages.

“With stubble-retention in cereal paddocks, we’re doing what all no-till farmers do: conserving and increasing moisture levels, while allowing better infiltration and less evaporation – it’s all about keeping as much water below surface as possible.”

Cropping manager, Jim Christie, said the only cultivation work on “Boonaldoon” now was pupae-busting before the cotton pick.

“The old-style cultivation methods were certainly more prone to crop failures. As far as we’re concerned, zero-till is now standard practice,” he said.

“We are all about minimising risk through moisture conservation and managing crop rotations carefully.”

Only rarely were cereals grown back-to-back, because of the area’s high incidence of crown rot.

“Because we don’t plough in after harvest, the crown rot could then carry over. So, we prefer to go in straight after a cereal with a chickpea rotation.”

The program is usually to have five winter crops: three cereals, and two legumes – then go out of cereals and into a long fallow for the next summer crop, followed by another long fallow, then another cereal.

“These rotations help us to not only combat carry-over disease, but to work in alternating chemical groups and to then, hopefully, keep resistance issues at bay. Our problem weed is black oats,” Mr Christie said.

As cropping manager, he’s first to admit the zero-till challenges include having slightly less flexibility.

“For example, when we plant wheat/chickpea rotations, we can’t double-crop. This might lead us to some short-term profit loss but we’re looking at the big picture. It’s part of the sacrifice that comes with conservation farming,” he said.

The program is usually to have five winter crops: three cereals, and two legumes – then go out of cereals and into a long fallow for the next summer crop, followed by another long fallow, then another cereal.

“These rotations help us to not only combat carry-over disease, but to work in alternating chemical groups and to then, hopefully, keep resistance issues at bay. Our problem weed is black oats,” Mr Christie said.

As cropping manager, he’s first to admit the zero-till challenges include having slightly less flexibility.

“For example, when we plant wheat/chickpea rotations, we can’t double-crop. This might lead us to some short-term profit loss but we’re looking at the big picture. It’s part of the sacrifice that comes with conservation farming,” he said.

Carbon credits offer opportunities for farmers

Posted on May 14, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital

No-till fields store carbon in the form of soil organic matter, which can be sold by farmers, providing them with an additional source of income.

As the United States looks to become more green, a program to trade carbon credits from farmland could play a role.

When carbon is emitted into the atmosphere, by vehicles or other means, it can be absorbed and stored by trees and other plants and may eventually wind up in the soil as organic matter.

No-till fields store carbon in the form of soil organic matter, which can be sold by farmers, providing them with an additional source of income.

“Carbon credits are currently a voluntary method used by organizations that want to offset their carbon emissions,” said Lenny Farlee, Purdue University Extension forestry specialist. “But it also creates an opportunity for farmers that may have no-till fields or landowners who replant forest trees.”

Carbon offset credits are sold through the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), which operates like a stock exchange. Offsets typically come from agriculture methane capture, no-till farming, grasslands and planting trees.

The CCX will accept a minimum of 100 tons of carbon at a time. Most landowners sell credits through an aggregator, comparable to a stock broker, who will combine multiple landowners’ credits together.

“An aggregator will lump several accounts together until it reaches 100 tons or more and sell the carbon to the CCX,” Farlee said. “This is really the easiest solution for farmers and landowners, because some people do not own enough land to sell 100 tons of carbon, and the aggregator can handle most of the administrative work associated with selling the credits.”

Carbon from grasslands and no-till farming is sold to the CCX at a fixed rate per acre. Carbon from trees also is sold at a fixed rate based on tree species, age of the planting and region.

As the voluntary program becomes more popular, the federal government is debating whether to make reduction of carbon emissions a mandatory system.

‘There have been legislative proposals in place for about a year,” Farlee said. “Part of the debate is over making the carbon emissions reduction system a carbon tax or a market-based offset and reduction system or whether to have a mandatory reduction system at all.”

Under a carbon tax, emitters might be charged based on emission rates above some established threshold. If an offset market system is used, those entities emitting carbon could be allowed to buy and sell carbon offset credits based on their carbon emission reductions and offset credits to meet a required total emissions target.

“Europe has installed a mandatory carbon reduction and offset system, and the price per ton of carbon offset credits has been between $20 and $35 a ton,” Farlee said. “It is hard to predict what the future will bring here in the United States in terms of legislation related to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Kwantlen U steps closer to unique degree in sustainable agriculture

Posted on May 13, 2010 by Clean Seed Capital