Agriculture doesn’t have a seat at the Paris climate talks, but we can’t wait for an invitation


Credit: Flickr user Domenico

The CEOs of 14 major food and beverage companies have now signed a joint letter asking the 190 governments attending next month’s United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris to act decisively in order to protect global food supplies. In the letter, sponsored by sustainability advocate Ceres, these businesses pledged to accelerate action on climate change and asked U.S. and world leaders to do the same.

Other stakeholders are also pushing for crop production and food security to be a major topic of discussion at the upcoming negotiations, but agriculture isn't in the draft text for a new climate agreement. Most of the focus will be on emissions from deforestation and land use changes.

These are pressing and important issues that are very closely tied to agriculture – but they don’t capture the emissions and environmental impacts that result from food production. This is problematic, since there’s a lot at stake for farmers. Reports on how climate change will impact the global food supply and crops will suffer from higher temperatures are everywhere.

That’s why we need investment, research, and tangible actions to help farmers and protect our food supply – and we need it now. Fortunately, the private sector can help – their pledges are a great step in the right direction, but it's the demonstrations of agricultural innovation from within that can spark real change, at scale. Read More »

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USDA invests $350 million to protect farmlands, grasslands and wetlands

ACEPAmerica’s agricultural lands are getting another significant boost from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $350 million to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation.

The funding, provided through the 2014 Farm Bill’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), rewards farmers and ranchers for voluntary efforts to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat from future development.

ACEP is a program that consolidates three former programs – the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program – into one voluntary program that provides technical and financial assistance to help landowners protect our nation’s vital farmlands, grasslands and wetlands.

The program is a shining example of USDA’s steadfast commitment to preserving the long-term viability and health of our agricultural landscapes.

How does it work? Read More »

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How a 10-year old Walmart speech fostered sustainable food production

_Y1C0167Ten years ago the former CEO of Walmart, Lee Scott, made a speech that included three aspirational environmental goals. One of these goals was “to sell products that sustain our resources and environment.”

Yesterday Walmart announced that it will surpass its aggressive goal of reducing 20 million metric tons (MMT) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its supply chain. In total, Walmart will reduce 28 MMT of GHG from its supply chain by the end of 2015. That’s the equivalent of getting almost six million cars off the road.

To achieve this goal, Walmart tackled a diverse range of projects, including changing food date labeling to reduce waste and working with food companies and EDF to optimize fertilizer use on over 20 million acres of U.S. farmland.

As EDF president Fred Krupp said, "When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world."

That’s why Walmart’s commitments have had a ripple effect with food companies across the country – 15 companies representing 30 percent of the U.S. food and beverage market created fertilizer efficiency plans – and why the retailer is helping make sustainable food production the norm. Walmart and the food companies supplying products to the retailer’s shelves understand that we’re facing environmental challenges that demand market based solutions. Read More »

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When landowners invest in sustainability, everyone wins

19007_Aerial View of Field.JPGForty percent of the U.S. is taken up by farmland. Yet only half of these acres are actually owned by active farmers. In the Corn Belt, 70 percent of growers rent some portion of their land from a non-farming landlord. And the biggest growth in non-farming landowners is coming from investors that see farmland ownership as a good business opportunity.

Here’s the problem: non-farming landlords aren’t always informed on the best ways to care for the farm, which can present environmental and economic challenges for tenants and the owners themselves.

As more non-farmers buy up cropland, government agencies, organizations, and even the private sector will need to ramp up efforts to educate landowners on the importance of soil health, fertilizer efficiency, and other conservation measures in protecting their farm’s value and making the land more resilient to extreme weather events.

Non-farming landowners can be a powerful partner in reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint at scale and ensuring food productivity in the future. Plus, when landowners invest in sustainability and collaborate with those farming their lands, everyone wins – growers, landowners, consumers, and the planet. Read More »

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Who will protect farmers’ privacy in the big data boom?

shutterstock_171929321When it comes to technology and agriculture, policymakers are wrestling with the role government should play in protecting the intellectual property rights and privacy of farmers.

This discussion came to a head recently when the House Agricultural Committee held a hearing to examine the impacts of “big data” on the entire agricultural life cycle. With farmers and companies collecting and storing data on everything from fertilizer rate to yield to soil conditions, there are important concerns to consider: Is the data secure? Who owns analyzed data? Will companies sell the data to others or make new products based on sensitive information?

Ahead of this hearing I wrote a blog post detailing the hurdles farmers must overcome to fully integrate data as a way to increase the abundance and sustainability of modern food production. The main challenges I highlighted were:

  • Privacy: Farmers need to know they won’t be willingly revealing trade secrets when deciding to share data about their farming techniques.
  • Format: Not all data collection platforms use the same language, so a uniform way to understand what is being collected must be created.
  • Complexity: Many growers are intimidated by the vast quantity of data they collect, so we have to help them understand what matters and what doesn’t.

Read More »

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New White House mitigation standard opens market opportunities for farmers and ranchers

farmToday, President Obama announced a plan to safeguard America’s land, water and wildlife by establishing a “no net loss” standard for mitigating impacts on natural resources and encouraging related private investment to deliver better outcomes for the environment.

The plan will create a more sustainable future for the energy and agriculture sectors, for example, that provide our nation's food, fuel and fiber.

If there is one sector that I believe can gain the most from this new mitigation standard, it’s agriculture.

Read More »

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