Growing Returns

New climate change report is an urgent call to action for agriculture

Credit: Flickr user Bruno Monginoux

Credit: Flickr user Bruno Monginoux

The USDA today released a new scientific assessment at the United Nations negotiations in Paris that found climate change will pose a significant threat to food security and to farmers.

National Public Radio’s Dan Charles said it best in his latest story:

“Chances are, you’ve picked up some chatter about the new global talks on climate change. If you can’t quite see how it matters to you, personally, you might want to take a peek inside your pantry. Or your candy jar. Because it might just affect your access to everything from cheese to chocolate.”

Today’s report represents an urgent call to action for food companies, policymakers and agribusinesses to collaborate in reducing emissions from food production and implementing farming practices that increase resilience.

We have the tools at our disposal to make sustainable agriculture a reality. But to implement these measures at scale, we need increased investment from the private sector and collaboration across the agricultural supply chain. We need to go beyond commitments and towards on-the-ground support for farmers. Read More »

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

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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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How to make meat production more sustainable? Start with corn.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations celebrates World Food Day each year on October 16th.

It’s World Food Day, which promotes awareness of the planet’s most challenging food issues, including eradicating global hunger. All food production depends on environmental health, but food production itself can harm the planet.

So to address hunger and increase food security, we’ll need to address the environmental impacts of food production and how the food choices we make every day affect the planet.

These choices affect the stability of the climate, the availability of clean drinking water and running rivers, and the persistence of native habitats and the wildlife they house.

No matter our political or cultural differences when it comes to food, there’s one trend that is clear: across the globe, we are making the choice to eat more meat.  Read More »

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Water risk: Which food companies are managing it and how can they do better?

A Splash of Water

Credit: Flickr user phphoto2010

Unreliable water supply and quality is a source of enormous risk to the agricultural sector. That was the key takeaway of a new report from Ceres that evaluated 37 of the world’s leading agriculture, beverage, meat and packaged food companies to see how they are managing risks from diminishing water supplies and water quality.

In a nutshell, companies need to improve their performance.

Companies use huge amounts of water in the production of crops, which also affects water quality when nitrogen fertilizer not absorbed by plants runs off into waterways. Read More »

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USDA’s new climate strategy is a huge step in the right direction

Credit: Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

Credit: Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced a new national climate strategy aimed at reducing emissions from the agriculture and forestry sectors. USDA will partner with farmers and ranchers on voluntary and incentive-based approaches to implement climate-smart agriculture techniques and programs. This approach will also ensure that crops are resilient to increasing fluctuations in weather and climates, and that farmers’ livelihoods are protected.

The new focus on ‘cooperative conservation’ is a huge step in the right direction.

America’s farmers face a challenge: increase productivity to feed a growing population, but do so in an era where climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable, with warmer growing seasons, droughts, and floods. Farmers are also called upon to increase production in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This is a tall order, given that if we continue with current farming practices agriculture could be responsible for 70 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Read More »

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What was an Ohio corn farmer doing in Abu Dhabi?

Fred Yoder, Ernie Shea and AG Kawamura representing the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi.

Fred Yoder, Ernie Shea and A.G. Kawamura representing the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi.

Climate smart agriculture is still a new concept – but it won’t be for long. In the past year alone, there have been several key developments that are bringing sustainable farming to scale:

  • The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture was launched to bring together government, academics, non-profit organizations and the private sectors to support farmers across the world in responding proactively to changing weather conditions associated with climate change.
  • A diverse group of 34 organizations and universities launched the regional North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, which will interface and collaborate with the Global Alliance.
  • Earlier this month at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi, over 3,200 attendees from across the globe – including the Global and North American Alliances – gathered to share their plans for implementing climate change mitigation and conservation practices.

I asked Fred Yoder, chair of the North American Alliance and past president of the National Corn Growers Association, about what happened in Abu Dhabi and why the North American plan may be a template for the rest of the globe. Read More »

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How the private sector can help stem emissions from agriculture

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Credit: Flickr user Rory MacLeod

Here’s the challenge: we need to feed 9 billion people by 2050, yet if we continue with current farming practices agriculture could be responsible for 70 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions by that same year, according to an official at the World Bank.

So what do we do?

We can’t just point the finger at growers and tell them to solve the problem. This is a tall order – and it will require all hands on deck: food companies, suppliers, consumers, and producers. We all need to implement climate-smart agricultural approaches on a global scale to reduce emissions, increase resilience, and protect farmers’ livelihoods.

But climate-smart agriculture absolutely cannot become mainstream without more help from the private sector. We need corporations to invest in research and to make tangible changes to their supply chains. Read More »

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Nuts about chocolate and wine? Your favorite Valentine’s Day treats are at risk

box of chocolatesIf you are among the old school Valentines who appreciate a good box of chocolates and a fine cabernet, you’ll be heartbroken to learn that these romantic treats may be much harder to come by in the future because of climate change.

Droughts and rising temperatures pose great risks to agricultural productivity across the globe, from California’s Napa Valley to West Africa’s cocoa fields.
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A new decision-making tool for farmers: more climate data

Rebecca Shaw is participating in the First Working Meeting of the Global Alliance for climate-smart agriculture on December 17 and 18, taking place in Rome

Rebecca Shaw participated in the first working meeting of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture on December 17 and 18 in Rome.

The President’s Climate Data Initiative launched earlier this year to bring vast amounts of government data together in one place for communities and businesses to use when making decisions in the face of climate change. Last week, the Department of Interior and other executive branch offices released more data specific to water and ecosystems, as well as new geospatial tools, that will help natural resource managers – including farmers – better prepare for the future.

The newly released data sets include critical information about stream flow, soil, land cover and biodiversity, and are complemented by tools that will enable users to visualize and overlay data sets related to ecosystems, land use, water and wildlife. Together, the new data and tools will help farmers build resilience to the impacts of changing weather. Read More »

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Pill holds promise for reducing fertilizer’s unwanted side effects

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Future fertilizer pill would detect signals from plant roots to reduce nutrient losses. Photo credit: Liz Bokt

Can a little pill solve the problem of fertilizer waste? It sounds futuristic, but it could become a reality in the next 10 years, according to recent article on AgWeb.com.

The article highlighted new developments in nanotechnology aimed at creating a “fertilizer pill” that could detect chemical signals from plant roots and release nitrogen according to those signals. The pill would allow for nitrogen to be released on an as needed basis, thereby reducing fertilizer waste byproducts that are harmful to the environment.

Although fertilizer has undeniable benefits for crop yields, excess fertilizer that runs off into our waterways is damaging to rivers, oceans and the climate.

Read More »

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