LSP Land Line: Ag & Climate Change, Cover Crops, Farmland Prices, Local Food Up North

Oct. 5: An LSP Round-up of News Covering Land, People & Communities

U.S. farm landscapes could be reshaped by changing climate – research

(10/5/20) Climate change could render swathes of agricultural land largely useless for farming in the U.S. South, and force Midwestern farmers to move corn and soybeans elsewhere as crop yields decline, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation. This assessment is based on new research published in the journal Nature Communications, which modeled optimum growing areas for crops under changing climates. Highlights:

  • Corn would become less concentrated in the Midwest while the wheat growing regions of the Great Plains would see a gradual "hollowing-out," found the paper. Soybean production would have to shift north.
  • In order to minimize the losses, by 2070 more than half of U.S. counties would have to shift what crops they grow.
  • However, even if farmers are able to adjust their plantings, about 5% of farmland will be unable to sustain six key crops by 2070, with southern states likely the worst affected. That means shifting what crops are grown where isn't enough — new climate-smart practices must be adapted, conclude the researchers. "Farmers are particularly exposed to the problems of climate change," said James Rising, one of the paper's authors. "We need to better understand the potential for adaptation for farmers and policy-makers to make long-term decisions."

Check out LSP's white paper, "Farming to Capture Carbon & Address Climate Change Through Building Soil," on our Carbon Farming web page. LSP is holding the last in a series of "Virtual Soil Health & Climate Listening Sessions" on Tuesday, Oct. 6. You can register here.

As cover crop acreage adds up, more benefits emerge

(8/19/20) More than 90% of farmers participating in a national cover crop survey reported that cover crops allowed them to plant earlier or at the same time as non-cover-cropped fields in 2019, according to Successful Farming magazine. That's a big deal, considering the extreme weather many farming areas experienced last year. The 2019-2020 National Cover Crop Survey was conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC). More than 1,170 farmers from across the country participated in the survey, which has been conducted in one form or another since 2012. Highlights:

  • In 2019, when extremely wet conditions prevailed across much of the Corn Belt, many respondents found yield gains resulted following the use of cover crops. Soybean yields improved 5% and corn yields increased 2% on average, while spring wheat yields improved 2.6%.
  • It's becoming clearer just how helpful cover crops can be in reducing the need for chemical inputs. With soybeans, 41% of respondents saved on herbicide costs and 41% on fertilizer costs. With corn, 39% saved on herbicide costs and 49% on fertilizer costs.
  • 52% of respondents planted green (seeding cash crops into growing cover crops) on at least some of their fields, which is up from 39% in 2016-2017.
  • Among those who had planted green, 54% said the practice helped them plant earlier than on other fields. Of the farmers planting green, 71% reported better weed control and 68% reported better soil moisture management.
  • Of the 184 horticulture producers responding to a question related to profitability, 35% reported a moderate increase in net profit (defined as an increase of 5% or more) after planting cover crops.

LSP's Cover Crops & Soil Health web page has fact sheets, videos, podcasts, and other resources to help utilize cover copping profitably.

Farmland prices holding steady, maybe even ticking upward in Minnesota

(9/30/20) Despite trade wars, a pandemic and a five-year slump in corn and soybean prices, farmland in the Upper Midwest has mostly held its value, reports the Star Tribune. Highlights:

  • The federal crop insurance program and tens of billions of dollars in trade war and COVID-19 relief payments are not only stabilizing land prices, but in some cases keeping them at vastly inflated levels — some farms in western Minnesota have recently sold for $8,000-per-acre.
  • Non-farm investors looking to "diversify their holdings" are also bidding up land prices, according to one analyst.

Are you a beginning farmer looking to rent or purchase farmland in the Midwest? Or are you an established farmer/landowner in the Midwest who is seeking a beginning farmer to purchase or rent your land, or to work with in a partnership situation? Check out LSP's Seeking Farmers-Seeking Land Clearinghouse. Other LSP farm transition tools and resources are available here.

Creating new food systems

(8/31/20) Writing in Agate, Stephanie Hemphill describes how a new generation of farmers are working to create a more resilient local food system in northeastern Minnesota. Highlights:

  • Various models are being used to connect eaters in the region with their food while helping farmers remain financially viable. Creative ideas being tried include Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), food hubs, farm-to-school, and farm credit cooperatives.
  • A report commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation found that if residents of the Iron Range were to shift just 20% of their food purchases to local producers, more than $50 million annually would stay in the local economy.
  • As it is in many areas, access to land is difficult for farmers supplying local markets in northeastern Minnesota. People around the town of Finland are organizing the "Finland Food Chain" and are exploring creation of a land trust for their community.

LSP publishes the annual Twin Cities, Minnesota & Western Wisconsin Region Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Directory. The 2021 edition will be out in February. Check LSP's Farmer-Eater Exchange for information on member-farmers who have meat and other products available for direct-sale.

Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.