Our Farms, Our Food and Our Future Depend on Climate Change Solutions

Karen Batra
Karen Batra
October 31, 2019

“We really need to wake up quickly,” Al Gore told The Washington Post in an interview about the looming food crisis caused by climate change. ...“But technology and science has an important role to play,” Gore stated.

Farmers can be part of the climate change solution by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, increasing carbon sequestration and making farms more resilient, according to a Capitol Hill hearing this week.

“Anyone who eats should care about the climate crisis,” said Committee Chair U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.)

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis discussed “Solving the Climate Crisis: Opportunities in Agriculture” and heard from witnesses who agreed that conservation tillage is a best practice for reducing carbon dioxide emissions – a key contributor to climate change.

“Climate-smart agricultural practices such as reducing tillage, planting cover crops, and diversifying crop rotations can increase farmlands’ potential to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change,” said Castor. “These practices often improve soil health, reduce costs, increase yields and make farms more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather.”

Millions of farmers across the United States and around the world are using such practices made possible through biotechnology innovation.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), biotech crops contributed to food security, sustainability and climate change solutions by:

  • reducing CO2 emissions in 2016 by 27.1 billion kg. This is equivalent to taking 16.7 million cars off the road for one year;

  • conserving biodiversity in 1996 to 2016 by saving 452 million acres of land, and 55.6 million hectares of land in 2016 alone; and

  • providing a better environment

  • by saving on 671 million kg. a.i. of pesticides in 1996-2016, and by 48.5 million kg in 2016 alone from being released into the environment;

  • by saving on pesticide use by 8.2 percent in 1996-2016, and by 8.1 percent in 2016 alone;

  • by reducing EIQ (Environmental Impact Quotient) by 18.4 percent in 1996-2016, and by 18.3 percent in 2016 alone.

And new innovations such as gene editing are contributing in other ways such as helping farmers grow food using less water, soil, fertilizer and pesticides and making climate-resilient plants and disease-resistant animals a reality.

Big Food is on board too. Companies like General Mills, Danone, Kellogg, and Nestlé, among others, are embracing corporate sustainability practices as a priority.

This NBC News story explains how regenerative agriculture practices build organic matter back into the soil, effectively storing more water and drawing more carbon out of the atmosphere. Food manufacturers believe practices like regenerative agriculture help to reverse climate change.

A recent 60 Minutes segment highlights the opportunities technology offers the modern American farmer. Land O'Lakes CEO Beth Ford says ag tech is the key to farmers’ long-term survival.

“Most people don’t realize that agriculture is so tech-forward,” says Ford.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, released a report in August concluding that the climate change situation is dire, but better land management and reducing greenhouse gas emissions can help.

“We call on Congress to seize the opportunity to make agriculture a key partner in fighting climate change,” Jennifer Moore-Kucera, climate initiative director at American Farmland Trust, told the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis during the October 30 hearing. Moore-Kucera, as well as other hearing witnesses, testified that lawmakers could engage the agriculture community through either stand-alone legislation in Farm Bill programs.

While science and technology offer solutions for climate change, innovation can’t thrive in a vacuum. We need sound public policies that support and encourage research, development and investment. As Beth Ford told 60 Minutes, “Policy must also be a catalyst for innovation.”