Land Line: Carbon Farming Caution, Soil Ecology Economics, COVID Help, Losing Local Control, Land Grab U

March 29: An LSP Round-up of News Covering Land, People & Communities

When it Comes to Carbon Markets, Farmers Should have Plenty of Questions

(3/18/21) Farmers face a bewildering set of choices and requirements as new carbon payment plans and markets are proliferating, reports Agri-Pulse Communications. Highlights:

  • The rules for existing programs, which are being driven largely by corporate commitments to offset greenhouse gas emissions, can vary wildly on such issues as whether farmers will get paid based on their farming practices or for the amount of carbon they keep out of the atmosphere.
  • Politico reports that farmers worry large agribusinesses and food companies would use their political prowess and market heft to profit from the credits, bending the program to their benefit at the expense of smaller producers. USDA programs have traditionally buoyed larger farms, and several private companies have begun their own carbon markets and credits. That could leave the federal government purchasing offsets directly from corporations considered drivers of environmental ills like nitrogen runoff and carbon pollution.
  • Agri-Pulse Communications suggests farmers ask several questions before deciding whether to enter the carbon market:

1) When and how much will you get paid?

2) What are you committing to do and for long do you have to do it?

3) Who sets the price for credits?

4) Will a lien get attached to your property?

5) Will you be contractually bound to maintain certain cropping or livestock management practices?

6) Will you still own the farm data used to qualify for credits or payments?

While there are plenty of questions about whether carbon markets are good for the environment and agriculture, there's little doubt that building carbon via good soil health practices can benefit the land and farmers. Check out LSP's white paper, Farming to Capture Carbon & Address Climate Change Through Building Soil Health. You can sign LSP's 100% Soil Healthy Farming Petition here.

♦ ♦ ♦

How Farmers can Improve Profitability While Helping the Environment

(3/24/21) During a recent Agweek Farm Show, farmers Gabe Brown and Grant Breitkreutz described how they are balancing environmental stewardship with profitable farming by building soil health. They walked the audience through six soil health principles. Highlights:

  • Farming in context. Brown explained that he once calved in January and February in often-frigid central North Dakota. "That's not the way nature functions." Switching to calving in late May and June made calving fun, he said.

  • Keep "armor" on the soil surface. Keeping soil covered protects it from wind and water erosion and evaporation.
  • Use the least amount of mechanic and chemical disturbance as possible. No-tilling is one step in that direction.
  • Focus on diversity of plants. Monocultures, Brown said, only exist where man has made it that way. Nature thrives in diversity.
  • Keep a living root in the soil as long as possible. Keeping living plants growing helps grab carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil.
  • Integrate animals on the land. "Ecosystems do not function properly without animals and insects," Brown said. "We need to get those animals back out on the landscape where they belong."

LSP's Soil Builders web page includes numerous resources on how farmers can profitably increase soil health.

♦ ♦ ♦

USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative Announced

(3/25/21) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that USDA is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative — USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers — will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs, according to Morning Ag Clips. Highlights:

  • USDA is dedicating at least $6 billion toward the new programs. The Department will also develop rules for new programs that will put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, timber harvesters, and people who are part of the food supply chain, among others.
  • Existing programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will fall within the new initiative and, where statutory authority allows, will be refined to better address the needs of producers. USDA will reopen sign-up for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days, beginning on April 5.

For more information on signing up for USDA pandemic assistance, click here.

♦ ♦ ♦

Factory Farming Regulations have all but Vanished in Missouri. One Rural County is Fighting Back.

(3/22/21) In Missouri, state lawmakers recently passed legislation that would wipe a 1997 county ordinance off the books that allowed local officials to regulate CAFOs and the millions of gallons of waste they produce. Soon after, in January 2020, a pork corporation came to Livingston County in the northwestern part of the state and notified nearby landowners that they were filing an application for a 5,700-hog operation. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting describes how a group of neighbors in the county have banded together to fight the proposal and to preserve their right to control the placement of CAFOs in the community. Highlights:

  • Compared to statewide regulations, the Livingston County ordinance provides stronger setback distances between CAFOs and residences. It also outlines the option for the commission to enforce groundwater and emissions monitoring. CAFO operators are required to furnish a surety bond worth between $15,000 to $100,000 to the county treasurer for manure storage systems to cover any future liability. Additionally, before the permit is approved, the county is required to hold a local public hearing.
  • In 2019, Missouri Senate Bill 391 passed, preempting local health ordinances like the one in Livingston County that are more stringent than statewide regulations. The law is being challenged in court by a small group of counties and concerned citizens, who are hoping, at the very least, that their local ordinances will be grandfathered in.

LSP has long worked to preserve the right of local governments to control the placement of massive CAFO operations. Our township manual, Protecting Your Township from Unwanted Development, is available here.

♦ ♦ ♦

Land-Grab Universities: Expropriated Indigenous Land is the Foundation of the Land-Grant University System

(3/30/20) A special investigation by High Country News shows how the 1862 Morrill Act turned Indigenous land into college endowments. According to the Morrill Act, all money made from land sales must be used in perpetuity, meaning those funds still remain on university ledgers. At least 12 states are still in possession of unsold Morrill acres as well as associated mineral rights, which continue to produce revenue for their designated institutions. Highlights:

  • The Morrill Act worked by turning land expropriated from tribal nations into seed money for higher education. In all, the act redistributed nearly 11 million acres — an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. The Morrill Act's footprint is broken up into almost 80,000 parcels of land.

  • For example, four Dakota bands signed treaties at Mendota and Traverse des Sioux, Minn., in the summer of 1851, relinquishing nearly all Dakota territory. They did so in response to the withholding of rations, the threat of violence, enforced starvation, the killing of game, and the destruction of agriculture. In the following years, Congress unilaterally altered the agreements and delayed annuity payments. Faced with crop failures and widespread graft by white traders, a Dakota faction fought back in 1862. In response, Gov. Alexander Ramsey called for the extermination or exile of the Dakotas and deployed U.S. Army and militia units to end the so-called “Dakota War.” Congress would go on to abrogate Dakota treaties and expel the bands from the state, but before it did, Lincoln authorized the largest mass execution in U.S. history: In December 1862, the U.S. Army hanged 38 Dakota men for their participation in the insurrection.

  • Less than five weeks later, Gov. Ramsay claimed Minnesota’s Morrill Act windfall. State land agents soon selected over 98% of Minnesota’s grant in territory ceded by the Dakota in 1851. The selections covered 145 square miles, broken up into more than 300 parcels, scattered across 18 counties. Appraisals pegged the land’s value at between $5 and $10 per acre. By the early 20th century, sales and leases raised nearly $580,000, equivalent to more than $10.5 million today. Through the cession of 1851, the Dakota were paid less than 2.4¢ per acre for the same land.
  • The state assigned the endowment to the University of Minnesota in 1868. For every dollar the United States claims to have spent to purchase Dakota title, the Morrill Act heaped $250 into the University of Minnesota’s coffers — a return of 250 to 1. In fiscal year 2019, the University of Minnesota’s endowment was valued at $2.5 billion.

On Tuesday, March 30, nationally known journalist and documentarian John Biewen will cap off a special “Whiteness in the Food System” study series with a keynote and question-and-answer-session. He will take questions from members of an LSP study group that has been examining whiteness in the food system using the journalist’s work. To register, click here.

♦ ♦ ♦

Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.