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How Small Forests Can Help Save the Planet

Eve Lonnquist examining trees on her property with Logan Sander, a consulting forester. Credit Leah Nash for The New York Times

BIRKENFELD, Ore. — Eve Lonnquist’s family has owned a forest in the mountains of northwest Oregon since her grandmother bought the land in 1919. Her 95-year-old father still lives on the 157-acre property. And she and her wife often drive up from their home just outside Portland.

But lately, Ms. Lonnquist, 59 and recently retired, has been thinking about the future of her family’s land. Like many small-forest owners, they draw some income from logging and would like to keep doing so. But they would also like to see the forest, with its stands of Douglas fir, alder and cherry, protected from clear-cutting or being sold off to developers.

“For us, the property is our family’s history,” she said.

More than half of the 751 million acres of forestland in the United States are privately owned, most by people like Ms. Lonnquist, with holdings of 1,000 acres or less. These family forests, environmental groups argue, represent a large, untapped resource for combating the effects of climate change.
Conserving the trees and profiting from them might seem incompatible. But Ms. Lonnquist is hoping to do both by capitalizing on the forest’s ability to clean the air, turning the carbon stored in the forest into credits that can then be sold to polluters who want or need to offset their carbon footprints.
Using a smartphone app by ecoPartners to help inventory Cedar Row Farms, a small family-owned 160-acre forested property.

“Trees are the No. 1 way in which carbon can be removed from the atmosphere and stored in vegetation over the long term,” said Brian Kittler, the western regional office director for the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, which has a program in Oregon to help the owners of family forests develop potentially profitable carbon projects.

Larger forests around the world have already been enlisted as carbon storehouses, through programs like the United Nations initiative for Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, that encourage forest conservation worldwide in exchange for credits that can be sold on the global carbon markets.

Some large timber companies, including Potlatch, have also entered the markets, reducing their logging to levels below legal limits in order to receive millions of dollars in credits.

But so far, small-forest owners, even conservation-minded ones like Ms. Lonnquist, have not rushed to embrace market-based carbon storage. Many do not even know it exists, and those who do often find the complexities bewildering.

By Erica Goode, The New York Times
Sept. 26, 2016

Coffee Supply Threatened by Climate Change

A report examining the many ways climate change threatens coffee and coffee farmers has alarmed people who are now imagining what it would be like getting through the day without their caffeine fix.

The report, released this month by the Climate Institute, a nonprofit organization in Australia, was commissioned by Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, the regional hub of the global Fairtrade system.

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Will coffee become extinct?

Christian Science Monitor; August 31, 2016 — Climate change could render about half of today’s coffee-growing land unsuitable for production by 2050, according to a new report. Major coffee companies including Starbucks are taking steps to help the world’s coffee farmers cope.

Among the undesirable consequences of a warming and wetter world is the potential for less morning joe available to its growing population of devotees.

Unpredictable weather, including unusual heat spikes or unseasonal rain or drought, will render about half of today’s coffee-growing land unsuitable for production by 2050, according to a new report from The Climate Institute in Australia. By 2080, estimates the institute, wild coffee such as weather-sensitive Arabica and Robusta could become extinct.

As coffee production declines due to climate, consumer prices will rise. Millions of coffee farmers in developing countries that depend on their robust coffee export businesses, such Honduras, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Guatemala, could go out of business. These countries are among the world’s most threatened by climate change.

Rising global demand for coffee is outstripping  existing supply, a trend that will only be reinforced by erratic weather, the report says.

“Before the century is out . . . conditions are set to become inhospitable for Arabica coffee in the wild in East Africa – its centre of origin,” the climate institute concludes in its report. As a result, coffee production will move to other parts of the world, particularly to the highlands of East Africa, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Andes.

“In just a few decades, climate change could . . . push production upslope and away from the equator,” the institute predicts.

Coffee and other major crops already are at the mercy of unpredictable weather. Cocoa, for example, likely won’t be able to grow in West Africa, the epicenter of cocoa production, by the middle of this century.

Central America is one of the regions where coffee growers have felt the likely effects of climate change. In 2011, unusual levels of heat and rain brought a plant disease that affected more than half of the coffee crops in the region. Between 2012 and 2013, this amounted to $500 million of crop damages and 350,000 farm workers unemployed, according to the Climate Institute.

The impact of all this is not just on the anonymous farmers in a far-off land, though. It’s also showing up in your morning brew, which has been getting more expensive. Starbucks, for example, announced in July, as it does regularly, that it has raised prices on some coffees by up to 30 cents partly because of rising coffee bean costs, according to Fortune. That trend is expected to continue for coffee overall.

“. . . Tight supply, potentially detrimental weather and extremely strong global demand, especially emanating from the US, China and India . . . will continue to tighten coffee markets,” predicted Harish Sundaresh, a portfolio manager and commodities analyst in Boston for Loomis Sayles Alpha Strategies team, told Bloomberg in June.

Starbucks has said that it’s worried about the impact of climate change on its coffee supply. The company’s former sustainability director, Jim Hanna, has said Starbucks works with with local producers to try to protect them from future changes.

“What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road – if conditions continue as they are – is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain, which is the Arabica coffee bean,” he told The Guardian in 2011.

Starbucks is one of a number of global coffee purveyors, including Tim Hortons, Neumann Gruppe, and Gustav Paulig, that are part of “the initiative for coffee and climate,” a partnership with NGOs and other organizations to “provide framers with training and tools to better respond to climate change,” according to the Climate Institute.

In addition to offering coffee farmers financial incentives for reducing carbon emissions, the initiative works with growers to better adapt their crops, including “developing more resilient production systems, diversifying crops, and shifting plantations upslope,” the report reads.

There is a small bit of comfort for coffee devotees, if not for farmers: If wild coffee disappears from some regions due to climate change, it could move to others that will become more hospitable – although the transition, the institute warns, could take several years.

Another ironically reassuring finding is that coffee plants appear to thrive with higher levels of carbon dioxide (C02), a gas in the atmosphere that is largely responsible for harmful global warming. But whether the benefits of C02 on those crops will outweigh the drawbacks of its negative impact on the climate, and thus coffee, is unclear.

By Lonnie Sheckhtman, CSM staff

New Variety of Quinoa Available Soon

Pacific Northwest farmers will be able to get their hands on a Washington State University variety of quinoa in about three years, according to the university’s breeder.

Kevin Murphy, assistant professor in barley and alternative crop breeding, hopes to follow the model for releasing wheat and barley varieties. He needs one more year of solid testing and then a year of increasing breeder seed and foundation seed.

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Water Quality Depends on Farmer’s Willingness Not Regulations

On the national level, the Federal Clean Water Act regulates pollution flowing out of pipes, known as point source pollution. But contaminants flowing off of farm fields — non-point source pollution — are exempt from regulations. With little authority to compel farmers to adopt clean water practices, state and federal agencies rely on a voluntary approach. As a result, farming practices can be dramatically different from one field to the next.