December 3, 2020
Scientists: Soil health needed to maintain water storage
Improving soil health across the state can increase California’s groundwater storage by about 10% overall, and up to 30% in some places. Researchers discussed this potential during a CalEPA research symposium on climate change Wednesday.
"Soil health is something that should be really considered more in a sort of holistic way in response to climate change,” said Lorraine Flint, a soil scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “The better your soil health is, the more you're maintaining water in the watershed, you're increasing your recharge, you're reducing fast runoff and water quality issues.”
The takeaway: On a warming planet, as much as 60% of the snowpack could be lost. Much of the precipitation will fall as rain during intense storms, making it challenging to store in reservoirs. Flooding will be exacerbated by intense wildfires in upper watersheds, which destroy soil health and reduce water retention.
UCLA climate scientist Alex Hall said this decrease in snowpack has to be compensated “by an increase in other forms of storage” to maintain the state’s water resources.
Water Blueprint considering groundwater storage on fallowed land
A consortium of agricultural and water groups known as the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley is considering what to do with the thousands of acres of farmland to be fallowed due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Researchers on Wednesday outlined a recent study showing the potential for strategically conserving that land to benefit wildlife, improve soil health and recharge aquifers. They hope to work with the consortium on policies addressing this.
“I'm very much looking for the opportunity to bring this work…to be an input into that collaborative planning process that brings all the pieces together,” said Rodd Kelsey, a scientist at The Nature Conservancy and a principle author on the study.
He spoke during a webinar hosted by the Department of Water Resources.
CalCAN issues progress report on Healthy Soils
In recognition of Healthy Soils Week, the California Climate and Agriculture Network, or CalCAN, issued its progress report on CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program.
The advocacy group noted a few places for improvement, such as prioritizing farmers of color, women farmers, smaller farmers and those leasing land, and adding incentives for transitioning to organic.
Thompson selected to lead Republicans on House Ag
The power shift in the House Agriculture Committee is close to being complete. The House Republican steering committee on Wednesday picked Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn Thompson as the Ag committee’s ranking member, replacing the retiring Mike Conaway.
The selection of Thompson, who comes from a long line of dairy producers, was no surprise and it’s a big win for the dairy sector. The House Democratic caucus is expected to approve Rep. David Scott of Georgia as the committee chairman.
Arkansas Sen. John Boozman will take over as either chairman or ranking member of Senate Ag, depending on which party controls the Senate.
Another House aggie, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, will become the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She replaces retiring Oregon Rep. Greg Walden. McMorris Rodgers represents the eastern third of Washington, a major wheat growing region.
E&C is critical to agriculture because it has oversight of both the Environmental Protection Agency – including biofuel policy – and the Food and Drug Administration.
Read our story here.
Farm income set up for a fall?
Farmers could face a steep drop in earnings next year unless they can make up in the market what they’ve been getting in government payments this year. USDA’s latest forecast has net farm income this year hitting its highest level since 2013, thanks to soaring government payments and a run-up in prices for soybeans and other commodities this fall.
Net farm income is projected at nearly $120 billion this year, with nearly $46.5 billion of that coming from government payments, including coronavirus relief and the Market Facilitation Program. From 2015 through 2017, government payments averaged less than $12 billion a year.
“We would expect 2021 net farm income to be a lot lower than in 2020 if there are no new ad hoc payments and no major changes in commodity markets,” said Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.
Another top economist, Dan Basse, expects government payments to fall back to $15 billion or $17 billion in 2021, but he’s bullish on commodity prices, especially if China keeps buying aggressively. Basse, president of AgResource Co., says soybean prices could go as high as $14 to $16 a bushel, given the tightening stocks and prospects for crops in South America.
By the way: USDA economist Carrie Litkowski says while the risk of insolvency in the farm sector is rising, it’s still relatively low. The farm debt-to-asset ratio has been increasing since 2013 and is at its highest level since 2002, but it’s still nowhere near the levels observed in the 1980s farm crisis, she said on a webinar.
Read our report on the USDA forecast here.
The Senate Ag Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, presents a gavel to retiring Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts as he holds his final hearing.
Wanted: More ag scientists
Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman worries the U.S. is falling behind countries like China and Brazil in prioritizing food and agricultural research. Glickman told the Senate Ag Committee on Wednesday that one of the challenges for U.S. agriculture is recruiting more ag scientists.
“We have to have a new generation of young scientists who are willing to tackle these problems, who find them sexy – who find them interesting and are going to be solving the problems of the future,” he said.
Moving forward, public and private partnerships must work together to prepare for threats that could wipe out agriculture, including pests, diseases or a future pandemic, says Glickman.
She said it:
“Mr. Chairman, we do look forward to hanging you in the new year.” — Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee to retiring Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas. She was referring to Roberts’ portrait that will hang in the Senate Ag Committee hearing room.
Spencer Chase, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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