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Nitrogen Pollution’s Farm Policy Roots

Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room. When Minnesota environmental officials announced the results of a new major nitrogen pollution study on Thursday, they were surprisingly frank about how bad the problem is, but just as surprisingly hesitant to name a major underlying cause: federal farm policy. First the problem: basically, the Minnesota Pollution…  Read More

The (Growing) High Price of an Unreformed Crop Insurance Program

Just when you think the facts and figures around federal subsidized crop insurance can’t get any more outlandish, new numbers emerge exposing the out-of-control spending and lack of accountability for this area of farm policy. Earlier this month, USDA released the most recent data on crop insurance costs. It’s ugly: the federal government anticipates doling…  Read More

Crop Insurance: Good Enough for Monsanto-Good Enough for Conservation Farming

From the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction department: In 2007, Monsanto talked the USDA’s Risk Management Agency into giving farmers a discount on crop insurance premiums if they planted the company’s triple-stacked GMO corn. Reportedly, some reviewers of the proposal raised concerns that the premium subsidy would unfairly benefit a single private company. But in the end, the USDA…  Read More

Insuring Against Disaster

Thanks to the recently passed 2014 Farm Bill, federally subsidized crop insurance is an even bigger player in determining what the landscape looks like. That’s troubling, considering that in recent years that impact has been mostly negative, since the program removes most of the risk associated with plowing up acres formerly considered too erosive, wet…  Read More

MDA Sustainable Ag Grants Program Strengthened; Deadline is Jan. 29

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced yesterday that it will award up to $250,000 in 2014 for on-farm sustainable agriculture research or demonstration projects. That funding amount is good news: it marks a $150,000 increase from previous years. The Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program has supported farming innovations in the state for almost a…  Read More

Purebreds, Pluggers & Profitable Soil

On a recent August evening in south-central North Dakota, soil scientist Kristine Nichols laid out what I like to call the “purebred vs. the plugger” approach to farming. “With healthy soil, you may not out-yield your neighbor in the best years, but you will out perform them in the not-so-good years,” said Nichols, a soil…  Read More

Dust-to-Dust: Don’t Blame the Drought

I recently phoned members of my geographically far-flung family to give them Thanksgiving greetings and was struck by a common element of our ensuing conversations. From Iowa and Nebraska to Kentucky and Texas, the report was the same: drought, drought and more drought. I thought about that recently while watching the  new documentary, The Dust…  Read More