Farm Food Facts

Dr. John Newton, Megan Dwyer, Climate Week

September 24, 2019 Episode 43
Farm Food Facts
Dr. John Newton, Megan Dwyer, Climate Week
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Dr. John Newton, Megan Dwyer, Climate Week
Sep 24, 2019 Episode 43
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Our Thought Leader for today is Dr. John Newton, Chief Economist from the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

News You Need To Know
• For Climate-Smart Farmers, Carbon Solution is in the Soil.
• Reducing Farm Emissions may plant the seed for a Cooler Planet.
• Is it possible to raise a carbon-neutral cow?

Today's farmer is Megan Dwyer, a 4th generation farmer from Illinois who is a Certified Crop Adviser and Precision Agronomist by trade. 



Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm food facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to farm food facts for Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Have you watched the 30 harvest docu drama? It's on Facebook, it's on YouTube and also at https://usfarmersandranchers.org/30-harvests is an excellent video that brings front and center the issue that we're discussing today, climate change and its effect on our food supply. In fact, this week happens to be climate week and we've got two guests each with a unique perspective. Later on in the podcast we'll talk with Megan Dwyer, a fourth generation farmer from Illinois who's a certified crop advisor and precision agronomist by trade, national leaders, us governors, and top business executives gathered at the opening of climate week NYC yesterday, the biggest climate week event in the world, hosted by the international nonprofit, the climate group to drive even greater momentum on climate action in New York city. There's currently over 350 events that are scheduled to transform New York city into a thriving hub of climate action. With us. We have one of our favorite guests, no question about it. Um, John Newton PhD, who's the chief economist for the American farm Bureau Federation. John, welcome to farm food facts. Thanks for having me. So, John, let's bring this whole climate week down to the farm. Uh, you just posted an intriguing article https://www.fb.org/viewpoints/farmers-are-mitigating-climate-change-partners-needed, on the website called farmers are mitigating climate change partners are needed. Let's talk about how we're gonna feed the world. 9 billion people in a climate that seems increasingly volatile and extreme. Your words and all eyes are turning to us agriculture and rightfully so. What do you mean by that?
Dr John Newton:
1:59
Well, I think there's, there's no question that we've seen an increased frequency in natural disasters. Uh, Congress has had to address that twice in the past two years with the disaster packages. Uh, but I think it's important to acknowledge all the work that farmers and ranchers have been doing for a number of years to increase productivity, to conserve natural resources, uh, through a variety of practices, whether it's new technology to grow yields while using less inputs or the use of, of no till, uh, soil practices, which is now the number one soil practice in the United States. All of those are designed to conserve our natural resources and preserve the environment.
Phil Lempert:
2:37
The agriculture department says that over the last 70 years, U S farmers have boosted ag output by 270%. While the use of resources, including land, fertilizers, chemicals, and energy has remained unchanged. As you point out, this is with floods, droughts, excessive heat plants, diseases. What does the us farmer have to deal with when you're seeing this kind of change taking place?
Dr John Newton:
3:06
Well, it's, it's a great success story. You know, the innovation and practices of U S farmers, uh, to continually grow crop yields in the face of floods or droughts. This year is a perfect example. We had historic delays in planting due to record flooding in the Midwest. And yet we're, we're likely to see a crop that's bounced back, uh, somewhat so that the yield decline, the, the crop loss isn't as significant. And so you've seen those productivity gains at the same time. Uh, we're using less labor, we're using less inputs on the farms and we're doing more with less. And that's why we're able to produce 270 times more food today than we did 60 years ago. And that helps to reduce our overall per unit, uh, carbon footprint.
Phil Lempert:
3:53
I want to play devil's advocate here for a second. Um, when we see these articles written about sustainability and climate change, it, it always comes up, you know, back to the farm, the, that agriculture, um, is really doing a horrible job. The reality is, according to the EPA, in 2017, agriculture represented only 9% of us greenhouse gas emissions. You rate this far less than the 57% of emissions generated by motor vehicles and electric power generation. So with this, with the fact that we're only 9%, how come all the headlines keep on pointing to ag as the problem versus motor vehicles and electric power generation? Help me out here.
Dr John Newton:
4:45
Well I think what they're really trying to say is that we can be part of the solution. You know, our farmers and ranchers out there, uh, can capture carbon by planting trees. The plants we grow capture carbon, they take carbon out of the atmosphere. Uh, you think about the methane digester technology that we can now put in place at dairy farms around the country. Could take what was once a waste product and turn it into something that has a natural resources, has an energy, you can power fleets of vehicles, all only emissions from cattle today using modern technology. So I think what people really want to recognize is that farmers can be part of a solution. And I think what's critical is we need partners along the supply chain to recognize that, to share that voice and to help make it economically sustainable for farmers to do these resource conservation practices.
Phil Lempert:
5:35
And I think that the potential partners have to wake up. Um, if we take a look, there's some new research, uh, that just came out from the climate group that shows that nearly two thirds of generation Z Americans want to work for employers committed to tackling climate change. That 80% would support us companies adopting renewable energy in place of fossil fuels. And the reality is that ethical food and drink sales were up 16.3%, the largest increase since 2012 and that's fueled by these new food companies, these new farming techniques that are coming out that are really attracting generation Z and millennials.
Dr John Newton:
6:22
Well I think a, well a lot of consumers, you know, consumer preferences obviously have have changed and there is a demand for these products and I think farmers and ranchers have a willingness to produce it. We just have to make it economically sustainable. I think all too often, uh, production practices are pushed down from the, from the consumer, from the corporate level, and in the effort to meet consumer demand and maximize profits for the shareholders. The farmer often gets left behind. And I think that's where, uh, this business model needs to change, uh, to, to have more risk sharing, such as the farmers on board. The farmer sees the economic benefit for doing things that the consumer wants. And I think that's something that, uh, whether its production practices, whether it's organic products, uh, whether it's, uh, environmentally friendly products, we just need to make sure that business model works for agriculture at a time when farm income is so catastrophic. We low,
Phil Lempert:
7:16
so the $64,000 question to be trite, how do we do that? How do we get the farmer to have a seat at the table too from a business standpoint? Um, reap the benefits that a lot of these other companies, you know, are having and it's just not getting pushed down to the farmer.
Dr John Newton:
7:35
Well, I think USF RA is doing just that and making sure that, that farmers do have a seat at the table and a, and a voice, uh, during this process. But all too often the thought, the thought leaders are thinking about where we want to be and where we're going to be in 2050, how we're going to feed the 9 billion people, et cetera. We need to think about how we're going to get there and we need to start thinking about the nuts and bolts. What are the economic incentives that are going to drive this? How do we make sure that U S farmers and ranchers remain competitive in a global market where they're supplying consumers around the world, not just the U S consumers. So we've really got to think about the economics of this. It's got to be economically sustainable in order to really be environmentally sustainable longterm.
Phil Lempert:
8:20
When you reach out to farmers and ranchers and you're talking to them, what's their number one concern?
Dr John Newton:
8:27
Well, you know, on a real day to day basis, it's access to farm labor. Uh, farmers around the country need access to a reliable workforce. And so many farmers, you know, whether the farm economy is doing good or bad, whether we pass a certain piece of legislation, if they don't have somebody to help them on the farm at 3:00 AM when the cows need to get milk, there's no future in agriculture. So I think that's, that's the biggest thing of it that farmers are obviously focused on. But when it comes back to what we're talking about here, you talked to our farmers and ranchers, they say, Hey, we'll do it. We just need to make sure that it's economically feasible to do so. And I think, I think that's the important message. We want to be partners or I think we were uniquely able to, to capture carbon, all the technologies that we have across agriculture to conserve water, preserve the soil. We're good stewards of the land we have to be because that's what drives our family farms across the country. So we just need partners to step up to the plate and be there with us. Agriculture is, we work to accomplish our goals with respect to these challenges.
Phil Lempert:
9:29
Dr. John Newton, chief economist at the American farm Bureau Federation. Thank you for joining us today on farm food facts.
Dr John Newton:
9:37
Thank you very much for having me.
Phil Lempert:
9:39
And now for the news you need to know for climate smart farmers, carbon solution is in the soil. According to ene news, there's a new agricultural commodity that farmers, food giants and grassroots groups are all rallying behind it's carbon. The regenerative agriculture movement is gaining popularity among these groups who believed that soil health and carbon capture can stave off the most damaging effects of climate change on farmers. Food companies are introducing new initiatives to incentivize regenerative agriculture among its farmers. For instance, general mills has committed to managing 1 million acres of farm land using regenerative practices and grassroots groups like the American farmland trust are broadening their efforts and engaging with farmers about agriculture's role in providing environmental services like carbon capture. The government is getting involved as well. Both state and federal lawmakers are passing bills to increase farmer yields and profitability or improve soil health farming practices.
Phil Lempert:
10:48
Yes, climate smart farming is key and it's also important to focus on reducing greenhouse gases. Reducing pharm emissions may plant the seed for a cooler planet. visit.org recently reported on the findings of a research team which said that by adopting a few beneficial management practices, farms in particular dairy farms can play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. Based on a series of climate model projections. We were searched your spine that if farmers globally set a target to adopt practices to reduce their emissions, methane and nitrous oxide in particular by just 25% over the next 30 years, they could reduce overall warming by 0.21 degrees Celsius. Essentially 6% of the projected total warming emission cuts from dairy farms alone could contribute 0.03 degrees Celsius of that temperature reduction according to the researchers who reported their findings in the current issue of environmental research letters.
Phil Lempert:
11:51
And what about the beef we consume? Is it possible to raise a carbon neutral cow? Cattle are often lambasted in the media for their large carbon footprint, but a recent study suggested a farmers managed grazing using specific regenerative agriculture techniques. The final stage of beef production could actually sequester more carbon than it produces. However, it's still not clear if regenerative grazing practices are a clear solution to combating climate change. It's unknown what impact regenerative grazing has in different areas at different ecosystems or have carbons to question ration happens over time so more research is needed. As one environmental scientist States, there certainly seem to be enough evidence to suggest that we'll manage grazing tends to question a lot of carbon but what we need to understand is exactly how much under what management with what soil types and over time, what timeframe.
Phil Lempert:
12:50
Megan Dwyer is a fourth generation farmer from Northwest Illinois. She's a certified crop advisor and precision agronomist by trade. Her family grows both conventional and non GMO corn, soybeans, alfalfa and raises beef cattle. Megan has an off farm job as a nutrient loss reduction manager for the Illinois corn growers association. Her role allows her to use her passion to advocate for farmers to find practical and adaptable ways to address the nutrient loss reduction strategy and the positive role farmers can play in the climate change discussion. Climate week is this week. Megan, thanks for joining us today on farm food facts. Thanks for having me. So first up, let me get your reaction to the 30 harvest docu drama. What do you think?
Megan Dwyer:
13:37
I thought it was very emotional. It really I think told the story and the struggles a lot of farmers see today and what we want to see happen and, and looking and it showed how we try and find the solutions to some of these problems and what we can do to continue doing what we love to do.
Phil Lempert:
13:57
So the first time I saw it, I actually teared up. I thought, I thought it was beautiful, a very effective, really got the message out there. As you're talking and working with other farmers, um, what, what comes to mind of what we all need to bring the awareness to of what the situation to consumers, to retailers, to brands, you know, basically you to the world. How are we going to do that?
Megan Dwyer:
14:24
You know, I think farmers have been doing this all along, right? So you said I'm a fourth generation farmer, which is correct. So clearly we've been doing something to make sure that this soil, this land that we're on has been productive for generations. And I hope to continue that for my kids. So now it's trying to figure out how do we make sure that the average consumer, the end user, these corporations, um, our legislators see that as well. And don't see the negative impacts, but see the positive that we can do to offset some of the things that are happening. And I think that gives us a real opportunity. And I think we're seeing the other thing. I think we're seeing a change in seeing corporations with their own sustainability goals that are now reaching out to see how they can partner with farmers to use farmers, not only help with the farmer's doing, but in turn help their own sustainability goals.
Phil Lempert:
15:13
So let's talk about consumers and retailers for a moment. I would say that if I went to a retailer, um, and a consumer and I said, Hey, Megan's my buddy and she's a nutrient loss reduction manager, they wouldn't have a clue what, what that means. What is a nutrient loss reduction manager? And what are the messages that we need to get out to these people so that they understand what it is that you're doing for farmers?
Megan Dwyer:
15:41
Yeah. Um, so with the nutrient loss production manager piece with my off farm job that is trying to address the goals of the Illinois nutrient loss reduction strategy of seeing a reduction of phosphates and nitrates entering our waterways and ultimately hitting the Gulf of Mexico. And so in order to do that, change needs to happen. So my job is to try and find ways that are practical, um, as well as the economical side for a farmer to do things like implementing cover crops, changing their tillage practices, changing their nitrogen application, um, finding ways that truly make sense that are, like I said, the practical, they impact a farmer's bottom line in a positive way. And at the same time they're creating that positive environmental sustainable impact. My role as a CCA and what they do with ag authority of the company and my husband and I own, so I work with farmers directly and looking at data.
Megan Dwyer:
16:32
So every time you drive across the field, you're collecting data. Whether you're planting your seeds, whether your applying a crop protection product or you're harvesting at the end of the year. So my job is to look at that information as well as going out and pulling soil samples so we can see exactly what's going on within that soil profile. And using that information together to figure out what is best for that field. So every field has managed differently and every part of that field is managed differently. So we can see areas that are typically higher productivity versus lower. And we change our management accordingly. So we're ensuring we're only putting the proper nutrients where they need and where they can be most utilized and backing off, or they're not. Um, and again, that's, that's beneficial to the farmer. We're not spending money where we don't have to and we're hoping, um, hopefully increasing the productivity and maximizing that in the areas that can handle it.
Phil Lempert:
17:25
So Megan technology has played a huge role in farming recently, probably over the past five or 10 years. Everything from these automated tractors to being able to, as you point out, um, whether it's irrigate or add, you know, uh, to the soil, um, the fuel that it needs to grow in like one inch or two inch squares, which is remarkable. We see the drone technology. I'm going to ask you to look in your crystal ball. If there was one technology both as a farmer as well as a nutrient loss reduction manager that you would wish that, you know, the, the brilliant people in Silicon Valley could come up with for farming. What would that be?
Megan Dwyer:
18:11
Oh man, that's a really good question. Um,
Phil Lempert:
18:13
And money's no object. Money is no object.
Megan Dwyer:
18:16
You know, I think the unfortunate part is the biggest issue we faced that, I don't know how technology can help us is with the weather. So we can do everything right with an application of nutrients and timing. But if the weather doesn't cooperate, we can see that all be lost. So finding a way to maybe, uh, put an umbrella over at the time to ensure that the, the cross cover chance to take up the nutrients when we need them, then there's no risk for loss. To me that would be amazing. But seeing that, so finding a way really to hold those nutrients in place until we need them. And like I said, farmers are doing everything they can to ensure that the timing's correct. The race. Correct. The placements. Right. But if the weather doesn't cooperate, all of that can be lost.
Phil Lempert:
19:00
So I'm going to think back to my youth. Um, what I think you're looking for is mr Peabody on Rocky and Bullwinkle had a way back machine. So I think we need a weather machine so that you can control the weather.
Megan Dwyer:
19:16
That would be great. I think that would eliminate a lot of our problems.
Phil Lempert:
19:19
Well Megan, thanks so much for joining us on farm food facts today and happy climate week.
Megan Dwyer:
19:24
Thank you
Phil Lempert:
19:25
For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit food dialogues.com under the programs and media tab and visit us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USF RA. Until next time.
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