On the ground in Rio with a diverse set of opinions

Posted March 21, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Nathanael Greene coordinates renewable energy work at the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC). He is travelling on an IATP-led delegation to Brazil to study agriculture, biofuels and land use. IATP is reposting views from others on the trip. This blog first appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

I'm in Rio De Janerio today on my first full day of a nine-day trip to explore the impacts on biofuels policy here in Brazil and back home in the U.S. on land-use change here (ILUC). As I wrote about earlier this week, the trip was organized by IATP and includes a mix of farmers, ethanol producers, environmentalists and one academic who also fits into a number of those other categories.

We all got to Rio with no problems and spent the afternoon wandering along the beach and downtown. This is a beautiful and incredibly lively city, and our conversations kept switching between biofuels and policy, land-use and agriculture, and hey look at that!Sugar Loaf at sunset

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Brazil: In the middle of the game on agriculture

Posted March 21, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

IBASE Wall

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

“In Brazil, the pressure of the market is overwhelming,” John Wilkinson, professor at the Rural Federal University in Rio, told us as he described Brazilian agriculture in stark terms. We were in the offices of the Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) to get the state of play on biofuels, agriculture and the environment in Brazil. IBASE is a long-time friend of IATP (one of IBASE’s four directors, Candido Grzybowski, served many years on IATP’s board).

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Learning about Brazilian agriculture

Posted March 18, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

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IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

The first phase of our trip to Brazil was a success: we all arrived in Rio on time. For the Minnesota contingent, our arrival meant a sharp 50-degree swing upward in temperature. Today, was the first time the entire group met face to face. The impressive group is very diverse in backgrounds and opinions about the role of biofuel production on land use. Aside from four staff from IATP, we have representatives from Heartland Corn, Chippewa Valley Ethanol Cooperative, Frontline Bioenergy, Central Minnesota Ethanol Cooperative, the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota. (Photo: Bill Lee of Frontline Bioenergy and Nathanael Greene of NRDC check out land use on the Rio beach.)

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The Brazil connection: agriculture, biofuels and land use

Posted March 16, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Today, four IATP staff will lead a small delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (we'll be reporting here on the trip throughout the next week). We're traveling to Brazil to learn more about something called "indirect land-use change" (ILUC)—a concept that has important implications for farmers, food security, the climate and, of course, land in both Brazil and the United States.

Indirect land-use change, very broadly, is the idea that what we grow on agricultural land in the U.S. affects agricultural production in other parts of the world. For example, more corn grown in the U.S. to meet biofuel markets has come at the expense of soybean production, signaling soybean producers in other parts of the world to expand production, often damaging the environment, so goes ILUC thinking. Disagreements over whether ILUC actually takes place, and if so, how much is occuring, have been part of heated debates over California's low-carbon fuel standards, national renewable fuel standards, the EU's biofuel mandates and at global climate talks. Disputes over ILUC have frequently pitted environmentalists against farmers.

ILUC discussions also often include Brazil. Like the U.S., Brazil has a booming biofuel sector. Like the U.S., it is a major player on international agricultural markets, particularly for soybeans and sugar. While the U.S. has long transformed most of its native landscape into farmland and cities, Brazil is still home to some of the most unique, biodiverse ecosystems in the world, including the Amazon and the Pantanal. And the biggest threat to these environmental treasures is expanded agricultural production.

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Minnesota's green chemistry building blocks

Posted January 11, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

No amount of clean living and eating can entirely avoid it: We all have toxic chemicals in our bodies, according to the Center for Disease Control. Exposed through the air, water, food and consumer products, we are bombarded everyday by these toxic chemicals. Fortunately, a new movement in chemistry is working to stop toxic chemicals before they start—in the laboratory.

The first event convened by the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum and partners at the University of Minnesota: Adding Value through Green Chemistry conference, was held at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs last week. Nearly 200 representatives from government, business, academia and nonprofit organizations gathered to share ideas about how to advance the practice of green chemistry in the state.

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Clock ticking to take on big meat companies

Posted November 18, 2010

U.S. livestock and poultry markets are some of the most concentrated in the world. Just four companies control 83 percent of the beef production, four control 66 percent of pork production, and another four control 58 percent of poultry production. You know the companies: Tyson, Cargill, Swift/JBS, Smithfield, Pilgrim's Pride.

Over the last several decades, these companies have established themselves as pillars of industrial food production. The result has been devastating for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

Since 1980, the U.S. has lost nearly 600,000 hog farms and more than half a million cattle farms, according to USDA. Farmers and ranchers are making less and less of the food dollar spent in the grocery store. Unfair contracts, retaliation, secrecy and deception are now common in U.S. meat and poultry markets.

In June of this year, the USDA published new draft rules designed to reign in the market power of these companies and ensure fair competition in livestock and poultry markets. They are taking public comments on the draft rules until November 22. You can read IATP's comment here. We think these new rules are a good first step - and long overdue.

In a special issue of Radio Sustain, we interview poultry farmer Mike Weaver, rancher Gilles Stockton, R-CALF President Bill Bullard, and agriculture columnist Alan Guebert to find out more about the potential impact of these new rules. 

Take a listen to Radio Sustain. Then, take few minutes to send a letter to the USDA by November 22 in support of our farmers and ranchers. To build a more sustainable and resilient food system - we need more independent farmers and ranchers – not fewer.

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Stonyfield Farm and IATP reward sustainable farming

Posted October 13, 2010

"It's hard to think green when you're in the red," says IATP's Jim Kleinschmit, as he describes the challenge for farmers routinely trapped by a precarious bottom line. In a short film by Stonyfield Farm, Jim explains how a new program created by IATP in 2006, helps companies involved in the emerging bioplastics industry to support farmers growing corn more sustainably - including no genetically modified crops, no cancer-causing pesticides like atrazine and improved soil management.

You can read more about the Working Landscapes program in our press release below.

IATP applauds Stonyfield Farm’s purchase of Working Landscapes Certificates

New program pays farmers premium for more sustainable practices

MINNEAPOLIS – The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) applauds StonyfieldFarm’s decision to purchase Working Landscapes Certificates (WLC)—a program that rewards farmers by linking sustainable corn production with bioplastics.

The adoption of the WLC program by Stonyfield, the world’s largest organic yogurt maker, in conjunction with their introduction of a new bioplastic packaging line, means support not only for better plastic, but also for better farming practices. Through the purchase of WLCs, the company is providing support for more sustainable corn productionon over 500 acres in Iowa. IATP created the Working Landscapes program in 2006.

“This innovative, market-based mechanism allows companies to link their purchase of bioplastics to support for more sustainable crop production locally,” says Jim Kleinschmitof IATP, who heads the WLC project. “This extra payment makes clear to farmers that companies and consumers care about, and are willing to pay for, more sustainable farming and its benefits for the environment.”

The Working Landscapes Certificates program was created by IATP to address a core issue: linking the emerging biobased market to more sustainable farming. Bioplastics, which are currently made from corn, provide a more environmentally sound alternative to petroleum plastics if they support sustainability goals throughout their production, use and disposal. Currently, however, direct sourcing of more sustainably produced feedstock crops for the production of bioplastics is logistically and financially difficult. So the WLC program provides an alternative mechanism for companies like Stonyfield to support farmers who want to grow corn more sustainably.

To be eligible for the WLC program, farmers agree to undertake certain production practices, including: planting only non-genetically modified seed varieties; excluding the use of atrazine and carcinogenic chemicals; and using soil fertility testing and residue management to avoid soil erosion and water quality issues.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Page 2These sustainable practices are quantified as a “good”—a Working Landscapes Certificate—that a company like Stonyfield can purchase, in a quantity linked to the amount of corn needed to produce the bioplastics the company uses. Participating farmers were paid $60 an acre in 2010 to implement these sustainable practices. This payment is in addition to the market price the farmer receives for the corn itself.

“As a company constantly looking for ways to improve its environmental performance, this program builds more sustainable practices into our production,” said Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm Vice President for Natural Resources. “Supporting the environmentand farmers are two touchstones for our company.”

You can find out more about the Working Landscapes program at http://www.workinglandscapes.org. You can find out more about Stoneyfield’s involvement in the program at http://www.stonyfield.com/MadeFromPlants/.

Download this press release as a PDF.

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Farmers' new normal

Posted September 29, 2010

While floods from earlier this summer have receded in Iowa, rivers are bursting in Minnesota from last week's downpour of rain. Flooding, heat waves and other extreme weather over the last few months has had a devastating affect on agriculture in the U.S., Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, China and elsewhere. These weather events are consistent with global climate change—and they are not waiting for a new global climate treaty, or a U.S. climate bill.

In a commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, IATP President Jim Harkness writes about the need to include farmers—on the front lines of extreme weather—in developing climate policy. Jim and IATP's Shefali Sharma will be in Tianjin, China next week at the UN climate talks, connecting with more farm organizations concerned about climate change. Read the full commentary in the Star Tribune.

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Great ideas from the Midwest Rural Assembly

Posted September 1, 2010

Last month, IATP and some of the Midwest's leading rural thinkers and doers got together for the Midwest Rural Assembly in South Souix City, Nebraska. Participants exchanged ideas on how to address the gamut of challenges facing rural communities, including the loss of jobs and young people, inadequate health care and education, and other issues related to rewewable energy, agriculture and natural resources.

At the Midwest Rural Assembly site, we've posted a series of video interviews with many participants, blog reports on the rich discussions and the fantastic photo slideshow below. Look for many of these ideas and initiatives to continue to bloom throughout the rural Midwest in the coming years.

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What health care reform means for rural communities

Posted August 18, 2010

The challenges of providing adequate health care for rural residents has been a common theme throughout the Midwest Rural Assembly. Stephanie Larson of the Center for Rural Affairs discussed how the recently passed health reform law could benefit rural communities.

Many farmers are self-employed and must travel great distances to find health care. There are too few doctors in rural areas. Additionally, one in five farmers has medical debt. Larsen outlined several provisions in the new health care law that will help address these issues. 

Many aspects of the new health care law will take affect in 2014; however, some aspects of the law will be implemented more immediately. As of July 1, 2010 insurance companies must permit adult children under the age of 26 to remain on their parents insurance plans. Additionally, patients who fall into the Medicare “donut-hole,” a gap in prescription drug coverage that patients must cover out of pocket, will receive $250 to apply to drug costs that would not be otherwise covered. Also starting July 1, the government, at either the state or federal level depending on the state’s preference, will create “high-risk pools” for people with pre-existing and chronic conditions who have been uninsured for six months or longer. 

September 23, 2010 is another important implementation date of the health reform law. Larsen reported that after September 23, insurance companies will no longer be able to use rescissions, a term that refers to denying patients health insurance based on previous health conditions or errors in paperwork, even if their premiums have been paid. 

Additional aspects of the law will continue to be phased in beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2014.  Some of these aspects relevant to rural communities include incentives for health care providers to increase primary and preventive care, incentives for doctors practicing rural medicine, a 50-percent discount on drugs that fall into the Medicare prescription drug benefit program donut-hole, and a provision that will require nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance either through programs like Medicare or Medicaid, government provided vouchers, or private coverage. 

By Wade Hauser

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