How to make rain – by splashing water

Kate Ravilious – The Guardian – May 22, 2016
Need to make it rain? Try asking farmers to turn their water sprinklers on. New findings suggest that the act of water splashing on to ploughed fields throws up millions of microscopic particles – the remains of dead plants and animals. And it turns out that this special dust often helps to seed clouds and generate localised rainstorms. For full story, click here.

Owyhee County Ranchers Create Wetlands for Wildlife, Livestock

By Steve Stuebner – Life on the Ranch – Video
In the arid West, water is key to the survival of everything. That's why early-day pioneers staked out the riverbottoms when they settled the West. It was all about water. In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been partnering with ranchers in Owyhee County to create more ponds and wetlands on private lands. For full story, photo album, and to view video, go here.

NRCS to Help Farmers Measure Conservation Impacts on Water Quality

Contact: Ciji Taylor – USDA Natural Resources Conservations Service – April 26, 2016
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the availability of $2 million to help farmers install edge-of-field stations that monitor water quality as it leaves their fields, providing data to evaluate the success of various conservation efforts. The funding is available to farmers located across key watersheds in nine states and is part of USDA’s ongoing commitment to measure the effectiveness of a wide range of conservation initiatives. For full news release, click here.

Conservation needn't cut agriculture profits 

By Jon Cartwright – Environmental Research Web – April 14, 2016
Scientists in the US have put forward an economic argument for diversifying cropland and improving agricultural ecology. The argument, made by Elke Brandes at Iowa State University and colleagues, draws on publicly available data on agriculture to show that conservation techniques can be driven by market forces. For full story, click here.

USDA says voluntary water quality efforts are working

By Chris Kick – Farm and Dairy – March 29, 2016
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced new funding for water quality efforts in the Western Lake Erie Basin, and released a study that says voluntary practices are making a difference, during a March 28 press conference at Maumee Bay State Park. USDA will invest $41 million in a three-year initiative to support the ongoing work of farmers in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The initiative helps farmers implement conservation measures to reduce runoff. For full story, click here.

Lake Erie phosphorus-reduction targets challenging but achievable

Phys.org – March 22, 2016
Large-scale changes to agricultural practices will be required to meet the goal of reducing levels of algae-promoting phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40 percent, a new University of Michigan-led, multi-institution computer modeling study concludes. For full story, click here.

Regenerating degraded dirt

By Britt E. Erickson – Chemical & Engineering News – March 7, 2016
It’s hard to find a bare spot on the more than 800 acres farmed by Cory Atkins of Seaford, Del. Even in the dead of winter, a carpet of ankle-high ryegrass blankets the soil where he plans to grow soybeans in the spring. In other fields, wheat and barley sown last fall poke through the dirt next to remnants of sunflowers, clover, and radishes.“These cover crops hold the dirt in place and put nutrients back in the ground,” Atkins says. They also increase soil organic matter—the dark material, called humus, in the top layer of dirt. That layer contains cellulose, starch, lignin, and other molecules from the decomposition of plants and animal residues, plus a slew of biochemicals produced by earthworms and other organisms that live in soil. For full story, click here.

USDA invests $25 million in watersheds to improve water quality

By USDA – AGProfessional – February 29, 2016
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced an investment of $25 million targeted to help agriculture producers improve water quality in high-priority streams and rivers across the country. Through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will help agricultural producers in 187 priority watersheds apply conservation measures that contribute to cleaner water downstream. For full story, click here.

Conservation study: Millions spent, but no lasting gains

By Donnelle Eller – The Des Moines Register – February 8, 2016
A study of eight high-priority watersheds in Iowa found little increase in acres devoted to two key farm conservation practices over a three-year period, indicating taxpayers are getting minimal additional environmental benefits despite millions of dollars spent. The Environmental Working Group's report, being released Sunday, comes as Iowa lawmakers are expected to weigh proposals this year that would ramp up financing for farm conservation practices to help clean the state's rivers, lakes and streams — including a $4.7 billion plan from Gov. Terry Branstad. For full story, click here.

Nutrient field studies starting to show results

By Chris Kick – Farm and Dairy – February 1, 2016
Scientists are actively pursuing answers to how nutrients are moving and leaving farmers’ fields in the western Lake Erie basin, and the results could be a little surprising. Mark Williams, a Columbus-based soil drainage researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gave Ohio Farmers Union members an update on research regarding tile drainage and surface runoff. He said phosphorus loss through tiles was considered negligible in the 1980s, because the focus at the time was on nitrogen drainage. But now that phosphorus is showing up in the water, researchers are trying to figure out why, to help combat the growth of toxic algal blooms. For full story, click here

Rural pollution is becoming an urban issue

By Rona Kobell – Bay Journal – January 04, 2016
Arkansas poultry farmer Jeff Marley grows 240,000 birds a year on his farm outside Fayetteville. But it’s because of city dwellers in Tulsa, OK, that he rarely spreads manure on his pastureland. Marley sells most of the 1,500 tons of manure his birds generate via a litter bank. He doesn’t store it on his property even for a few days, he said. As soon as the hauler shows up and loads his truck, the manure is gone. Nearly 15 years after the Tulsa Metropolitan Water Authority sued six poultry companies and one small Arkansas city for contaminating Tulsa’s water supply with phosphorus from manure, most of the waste never touches the land in the watershed that feeds Tulsa’s lakes. Instead, it goes to Kansas, Missouri and other areas not near the watershed, called the Eucha-Spavinaw for its two lakes. Marley’s farm is in a neighboring watershed, but he still has the manure hauled out. Why spread it at home when it’s so valuable elsewhere? For full article, click here.

Water Runoff From Farming Will Be Major Issue In 2016

By Dr. Mike Rosmann – Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan – January 5, 2016
Increasingly, complaints are being lodged about runoff and discharged water from U.S. farms and other sources, such as industries and metropolitan areas, by downstream users of the water who raise concerns about its safety to drink, as well as the costs to treat contaminated water to make it drinkable. Last week’s Farm and Ranch Life column provided information about the availability of water worldwide for agriculture and other uses.  Underground aquifers have almost been used up in some countries and are dwindling slower--but declining nevertheless--in key agricultural-producing regions of the U.S., chiefly the seven western-most states and the Ogalalla Aquifer which underlies parts of seven High Plains states. For full story, click here.

Agriculture is big threat to water quality. These farmers are doing something about it.

By Richard Mertens – The Christian Science Monitor – December 27, 2015
Mike Werling shoulders his way into a field of head-high corn and peers down a row. “That’s a beautiful sight!” he exclaims. It was not the corn that delighted Mr. Werling in late September as much as what was growing underneath. Shoots of rapeseed and rye poked up through the dirt, spreading a green flush beneath the tangled leaves. The new plants, sown the week before into the ripe corn, will remain in the field long after the harvest. They’ll protect the soil over the winter and absorb nutrients that might otherwise find their way into the St. Marys River, whose brown-green waters flow past Werling’s farm on their way to Lake Erie. For full story, click here.

Organic farming can cut nitrate leaching in half

By Francis Thicke, Margaret Smith and Paul Mugge – The Des Moines Register – December 24, 2015
New research indicates that organic farming can be one solution to the problem of excess nitrate in Iowa’s rivers. Recent research published by Cynthia Cambardella and Dan Jaynes, USDA Agricultural Research Service in Ames and Kathleen Delate, Iowa State University in the journal “Sustainable Agriculture Research” demonstrated that a typical organic crop rotation reduced nitrate leaching from crop fields by nearly 50 percent, compared to the conventional corn and soybean rotation common in Iowa. The researchers measured how much nitrate leached down through the soil profile and out through the field tile drainage systems, which drain into streams and rivers. Over three years, the conventional corn/soybean cropping system leached a total of 69.7 lb/acre of nitrate-nitrogen, compared to 35.1 lb/acre for the organic cropping system. For full story, click here.

Saturated buffers reduce nitrates in runoff from farms’ tile drains

By Rona Kobell – Bay Journal – December 14, 2015
A new technique to reduce nitrates flowing off farm fields, now being tested in the Midwest, holds promise for Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers. Called a saturated buffer, the practice focuses on reducing the amount of nitrate that can enter streams via tile drains. Tile drains, ubiquitous in the Midwest and quite common in parts of the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed as well, are a system of trenches and below-ground pipes that improve drainage so crops can grow. For full story, click here.

Farms near Lake Erie get millions

By Tom Henry – The Blade – November 30, 2015
Between 2008 and 2015, concentrated animal feeding operations in the western Lake Erie watershed have received more than $16.8 million in direct payments, cost-shares, and other subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to a report issued earlier this month by activist groups tracking the issue. The Less=More Coalition said in its Nov. 19 report, Follow the Manure: Factory Farms and the Lake Erie Algae Crisis, that millions of taxpayer dollars continued to be disbursed even as concerns about algal toxins rose following the 2014 Toledo water crisis. For full story, click here.

Gulf Hypoxia Battle Still In Early Rounds

By Lisa Heacox – CropLife – November 7, 2015
It took decades for the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico to develop. It’s going to take decades to wipe out. That’s the most recent conclusion not only of a February 2015 EPA report but of the many groups that have been developing and implementing strategies to prevent nutrient losses. For full story, click here.

USDA commits $4M in several states to improve Chesapeake Bay water quality

WaterWorld – October 2, 2015
In a first round of funding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will commit $4 million to several states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to help agricultural landowners with accelerating stream and riverbank tree plantings that can reduce soil sedimentation and field and animal waste runoff, ultimately improving water quality. Delaware, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia have each been approved for an additional $1 million under the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to increase or maintain acres enrolled in Chesapeake Bay Riparian Forest Buffer conservation. For full story, click here.

Farm Bureau will take Chesapeake Bay water quality fight to Supreme Court

Farm Futures – September 22, 2015
The American Farm Bureau plans to take its fight over EPA Chesapeake Bay pollution limits to the Supreme Court, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a group in support of the limit plans. Joining AFBF in the effort to overturn two lower court decisions on the blueprint will be the National Association of Homebuilders. AFBF has requested an extension of time to ask for the Supreme Court to hear the appeal. For full story, click here.

Irrigation District to Clean Water in Milestone Settlement

By Scott Smith – abc news – September 16, 2015
The federal government has settled a decades-old lawsuit with the nation's largest irrigation district, which has agreed in a tentative deal to clean up contaminated water in California's fertile Central Valley. Westlands Water District will clean up water tainted by salt that has accumulated in soil from years of irrigation, general manager Thomas Birmingham said Tuesday. Federal officials have failed for more than half a century to do the work that the district will undertake, he said. The Department of the Interior estimated the cleanup to cost $3.5 billion, based on a project the government had proposed several years ago but never completed. For full story, click here.

Agriculture and forest restoration could coexist - with proper planning

By Apoorva Joshi – Mongabay – July 23, 2015
Around the world, humans have razed billions of hectares of forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems in our pursuit of land on which to grow our food and expand our infrastructure. Ecological restoration is a widely recognized way of reversing some of the damage done to converted land. Now, a new study recently published in Frontiers in Ecology finds it may help save one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet – while still allowing room for agriculture. For full story, click here.

Agriculture and forest restoration could coexist - with proper planning

By Apoorva Joshi – Mongabay – July 23, 2015
Around the world, humans have razed billions of hectares of forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems in our pursuit of land on which to grow our food and expand our infrastructure. Ecological restoration is a widely recognized way of reversing some of the damage done to converted land. Now, a new study recently published in Frontiers in Ecology finds it may help save one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet – while still allowing room for agriculture. For full story, click here.

First farm-based wetland built during ‘ground-breaking’ Conservation Expo

The Wetlands Initiative – August 18, 2015
August has been an exciting and ground-breaking month for the Wetlands Initiative—literally! During the week of August 3, 2015, the Wetlands Initiative's senior environmental engineer, Jill Kostel, coordinated construction of the first farm-based wetland designed for nutrient removal in the Big Bureau Creek Watershed in north-central Illinois. The small wetland was built at Thacker Farms in Bureau County during a three-day Conservation Expo, co-organized by TWI and the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association (ILICA). Nearly 100 people from 13 counties participated in the expo, learning about various conservation practices and observing the wetland's construction firsthand. For full story, click here.

Soil-health movement gains converts

By Mychel Matthews – Idaho PressTribue – July 26, 2015
Nestled in a valley west of the Big Wood River lies a pricey chunk of land where cattle graze in the shadows of brush-covered foothills. Spiked Diamond Ranch operated for years as a traditional cattle ranch. But big changes are coming to the 750-acre spread. The ranch has no choice but to change, says its manager, Dan Vandermeulen. Using traditional farming methods, the ranch was not able to pull its own weight — and pay its increasing property taxes — forcing Vandermeulen’s family to think about selling. Farmers and ranchers all over the country have found themselves in similar predicaments and are experimenting with ways to survive in the competitive field of agriculture. For some, it means finding ways to increase production. For others, it means finding ways to reduce costs. For those in drought-threatened areas, it means finding ways to conserve water. For full story, click here.

Officials in Columbus discuss Midwest’s role in Gulf of Mex. dead zone

By Laura Arenschield – The Columbus Dispatch – May 21, 2015
The farmlands of the Midwest are contributing to a dead zone the size of Connecticut in the Gulf of Mexico, where low oxygen levels have made it impossible for fish and other aquatic life to survive. On Wednesday, policymakers from across the Midwest met in Columbus to talk about ways to ease that dead zone and solve other agriculture-runoff problems, including the kind of toxic algae that plagues Lake Erie each summer. For full story, click here.

9 Things You Need to Know About Water Quality

By Gil Gullickson – Agriculture.com – May 5, 2015
Water quality — or lack of it — is the buzzword in environmental and agricultural circles these days. Here are nine points to keep in mind about the issue following a panel discussion at the recently held North American Agricultural Journalists meeting in Washington, D.C. For full story, click here.

EPA regulator set to release key herbicide report, lauds biopesticides

Carey Gillam – Reuters.com – May 5, 2015
The Environmental Protection Agency has wrapped up its review of the world's most widely used herbicide and plans to release a much-anticipated preliminary risk assessment no later than July, the regulator's chief pesticide regulator told Reuters. The EPA review of the health and environmental impacts of glyphosate comes at a time of intense debate over the safety of the chemical, and after the World Health Organization's cancer research unit declared in March that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans." For full story, click here.

USDA Extends Comment Period for Ag Cons. Easement Program

USDA – April 29, 2015
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will extend the deadline to provide public comment on the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s (ACEP) interim rule until May 28, 2015. “We extended the comment period for the ACEP rule to give our partners, landowners and the public additional time to comment on a rule that will be used to implement USDA’s premier conservation easement program on private agricultural lands,” Weller said. For full news release, click here.

Periodic corrections to ag. and values provide opportunity for conservation

By Larkin A. Powell – Journal of Soil and Water Conservation – March/April 2015
Private landowners manage over 75% of the land in the United States. More than 90% of each state's area in the Midwest and Great Plains is owned privately (Powell 2012). Thus, the decisions made on private lands may serve as major sources of change in farmed landscapes and ecosystems. For full article in PDF, click here.

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil

By Erica Goode – The New York Times – March 9, 2015
Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice. “The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences. Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad. He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor. For full story, click here.

Ranchers crucial to saving sage grouse – USDA

By Scott Streater – E & E Publishing LLC – February 12, 2015
Federal partnerships with private landowners across the West have resulted in protecting millions of acres of greater sage grouse habitat, according to a new report that underscores the critical role ranchers play in ongoing efforts to save the imperiled bird. The report released today by the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service shows that since 2010, NRCS has spent $296 million on programs partnering with ranchers and other private landowners that have resulted in restoring 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat. USDA also announced today that it plans to spend an additional $200 million over the next four years through conservation programs funded by the farm bill to expand restoration partnerships with working ranches and farms covering hundreds of thousands of acres across the grouse's 11-state Western range. For full story, click here.

EPA, Army Corps officially withdraw Waters of the U.S. Interpretive Rule

By Janell Thomas – Farm Futures – February 2, 2015
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers late Friday issued a memorandum of understanding to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. Interpretive Rule, which outlines which conservation activities provide farmers an exemption from Clean Water Act permitting. Congress requested that EPA and Army Corps withdraw the IR in its "Cromnibus" funding legislation, passed in December. Many farm groups opposed the Interpretive Rule, which offered 56 "normal farming and ranching" exemptions under the regulations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. For full story, click here.

Plan targets farmers in 3 states to reduce Lake Erie algae

By John Seewer – Seattle PI – January 18, 2015
Farmers in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana are being asked to be part of the solution in fixing the algae problem in Lake Erie. Federal officials on Friday outlined a program that will make $17.5 million available to farmers who take steps to reduce the pollutants that wash away from the fields and help the algae thrive. First, it's a voluntary program so farmers won't be forced to take part. And it only applies to those who have land in the western Lake Erie watershed, which is mostly made up of northwestern Ohio, southeastern Michigan and northeastern Indiana.For full story, click here.