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In Rio Vista, California, Ryan Mahoney's cattle ranch usually gets 16 to 18 inches of rainfall a year. This year it got only 3 to 5 inches, forcing Mahoney to sell off a big chunk of his Angus cattle herd. The same goes for Andrew McGibbon's 90,000 acre cattle ranch near parched Tucson, Arizona. Worsening drought conditions are forcing Western ranchers to reconsider their sources of income.
Image Source: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg
Methane can warm the earth's atmosphere 80 times more than carbon dioxide in the short term, and animal agriculture releases about one-third of methane emissions globally. Most of the gas comes from burping cattle, but Cargill has potential solution: high-tech masks that absorb methane like the catalytic converter on a car. The agricultural giant has begun promoting the wearable devices for cows and expects to offer them to European dairy farmers next year. Made by UK company Zelp, the methane masks reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50%.
Image Source: Neeta Satam
For the past 100 years, Black and other minority farmers have lost farmland in legal disputes and been denied loans, government assistance, and full access to USDA programs. To make amends, the American Rescue Plan will pay off farm debt held by "socially disadvantaged" minority farmers totaling an estimated $4 billion. In protest, white farmers have sued the USDA claiming reverse discrimination, and banks have lobbied against the measure, arguing that early repayments will cut into their profits and hurt investors. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the benefits to banks outweigh the risks, as banks will be paid principle plus interest and can loan the money out again. To put things in perspective, the payments in total represent less than 1% of all US farm sector debt.
Image Source: Edwin Remsberg, University of Maryland
A new study from Cornell University, Stanford University, and the University of Maryland added a novel factor to farm productivity measurements: weather patterns. Results showed that climate change has reduced agricultural productivity globally by 21% since 1961. In the US, changing weather patterns only account for about 10% of production losses, but it accounts for 30% of declines in warmer regions like Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The study authors urge lawmakers to remember the butterfly effect: Small changes here can lead to big consequences there.
Image Source: Chris Machian
In 2020, most agriculture stimulus payments went to large corporate farms. To help reach small, local farms, the USDA's latest round of aid includes about $6 billion for fruit and vegetable growers, beginning farmers, organic farms, and biofuel producers, as well as supplementary funds for commodity producers and cattle ranchers. The new $1.9 trillion stimulus package also adds $4 billion for debt relief among minority farmers and $1 billion to improve access to land, resolve property disputes, and provide legal aid to socially disadvantaged farmers. The package even provides $3.6 billion to facilitate food donations and to protect food system workers from COVID-19. These funds should go a long way toward helping America's agricultural sector get back up and running.
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