Farm Food Facts

Erin Fitzgerald & Sally Rockey Highlight Foster Our Future interviews PART 1

February 18, 2020 USFRA Episode 63
Farm Food Facts
Erin Fitzgerald & Sally Rockey Highlight Foster Our Future interviews PART 1
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Erin Fitzgerald & Sally Rockey Highlight Foster Our Future interviews PART 1
Feb 18, 2020 Episode 63
USFRA

Today’s edition is a very special one that you do not want to miss – and we urge your colleagues and friends to listen to as well. 

On February 5th the second “Foster Our Future” event was held in Washington DC; so we packed up our gear and headed to the Ronald Reagan Building to interview seven of the leaders of US Agriculture and have them share with us what is on their minds and look into their crystal ball and tell us what they see for the future. 

I’m joined by Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, who created and hosted “Foster our Future” and our own Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance – both here to discuss the insights that our Agriculture leaders shared. 

We'll also discuss the other big new from “Foster Our Future”, a new Ag-climate partnership was announced between the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the World Farmers Organization and USFRA. 

Show Notes Transcript

Today’s edition is a very special one that you do not want to miss – and we urge your colleagues and friends to listen to as well. 

On February 5th the second “Foster Our Future” event was held in Washington DC; so we packed up our gear and headed to the Ronald Reagan Building to interview seven of the leaders of US Agriculture and have them share with us what is on their minds and look into their crystal ball and tell us what they see for the future. 

I’m joined by Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, who created and hosted “Foster our Future” and our own Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance – both here to discuss the insights that our Agriculture leaders shared. 

We'll also discuss the other big new from “Foster Our Future”, a new Ag-climate partnership was announced between the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the World Farmers Organization and USFRA. 

Phil:

Farm Food Facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for February 19th, 2020 I'm your host Phil Lempert. Today's edition is a very special one that you do not want to miss and will urge your colleagues and friends to listen to as well. On February 5th the second foster future event was held in Washington DC. So we packed up our gear, headed to the Ronald Reagan building to interview seven of the leaders of U S agriculture and have them share with us what's on their minds and look into their crystal ball and tell us what they see for the future. I'm joined by Sally Rockey, executive director of the foundation for food and agriculture research who created and hosted foster our future and our own. Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of US farmers and ranchers Alliance both here to discuss the insights that our agriculture leaders shared, but first at foster a future, a new ag climate partnership was announced between the foundation for food and agriculture research, the world farmers organization and USFRA, Erin and Sally. Congratulations and Erin, why don't you get us started and tell us a bit about this partnership and its goal.

Erin:

Well, we are so excited to partner with foundation for food and agriculture research and in particular Sally Rockey and her entire team really we have found a shared spirit of making certain that agriculture and farmers in particular are prepared to address the next 10 years in the next 30 years to deliver on climate smart agriculture solutions. And when we really look at the grand challenge before us in the next 10 years, we know that our farmers need better data science and information, boots on the ground information to translate into results. And we couldn't think of a better partnership to bring all the scientific knowhow together and working together. We believe that we can be stronger together.

Phil:

So Sally and I, and I know you're going to chuckle because it's the last word in the name, but why is this focus on research so critical for the planet?

Sally:

Well, thanks Phil. That's a great question. But first let me also echo Erin and saying what a great, wonderful partnership we're having with USFRA. This has been a partnership that we recognize will bring science closer to the farmers and facilitate farmers taking on new kinds of practices that'll be climate smart. So research is really important because agriculture is a biological system and a living system and discoveries that we've made so far in science and agricultural sciences have led to all sorts of new types of practices that have for years led for increases in yields, reduce insect, then pathogen problems, et cetera. And right now is, I meant just that phenomenal time for science and agricultural science is because these discoveries are going to take us to the new level. And one of the things we're going to be looking at is how we reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture so that it will be a solution that takes a lot of science and a lot of research. So we're looking forward, uh, to this next couple of years to really get this partnership organized, help bring that science directly to the farmers.

Phil:

So Sally you say it's, it's a lot of research, but I'm also gonna assume it's a lot of money to be able to conduct that research.

Sally:

Well, research is typically very expensive, but also research is something that many people and organizations want to invest in. We've seen over time that the [inaudible] they, uh, the payback from research really is, is many times the magnitude of what you invest because what you learn can be applied directly and improve either economic situation for farmers or improve the environment. So we know that it's costly, but we believe that this is a, a very laudable goals and many people will want to join us and help fund.

Phil:

And certainly, Erin, from a farmer standpoint, it's critical for them to be able to, you know, grow crops, make money. What are you hearing from farmers about the ag climate partnership?

Erin:

You know, farmers can not do it alone. And so we often think about people are, farmers are on the land really working on these changes day in and day out, but they cannot do it on their own. And we need partners like Sally and her network of scientists to really step up and help co-create solutions with our farmers and in partnership. And so that's what this project really does. And and partnership is really about making certain that we're working hand in hand and we can ultimately get solutions in the hands of our farmers.

Sally:

And I would say it's the other way around as well. And that scientists must work with farmers to really assure that that science science is most meaningful for those songs, those farmers. And that's really what this partnership is about. So as Erin said, co-create so that the scientists can be working on scientific issues and research issues that are going to be directly applicable to the farmer, be tested on farms, see how there's feedback to know what's working and not working and go on to the next greatest February.

Phil:

Now you've both stated that the goal of the partnership is to transform us agriculture into a net carbon negative sector and your vision is that every farmer and rancher will employ at least one climate smart solution on every acre of farmland. How are we going to do that and how, how is this gonna, you know, be the solution to solve the climate crisis.

Sally:

So really what we're trying to do is to bring the science and the research together with the farmers that will test that science and make sure that those practices are working and then be able to measure how that those practices are [inaudible] influencing the reduction in greenhouse gas mission. If we do that and have a, a, what we're calling a tool box or a suite of types of practices that are going to really make a change in greenhouse gas reduction across farms and across ranch lands, then they farmers will feel comfortable that they have potential for types of practices that they can use that are really going to make a difference. So this is why we want to create what we're calling now a toolbox that allows them to have choices on how they do that. And we also believe that it's momentum building. If they start on one acre, 10 acres, and then it starts the ball rolling, it can be more easily implemented across all acreage. And that's really our goal.

Phil:

So Erin, one of the critical steps in making the ag climate partnership a reality is to actually being able to coordinate a coalition of all stakeholders who's going to be involved. And how do you intend to bring these people in organizations together?

Erin:

Well, I know that U S farmers and ranchers Alliance, we are essentially becoming a secretariat for leadership movement and really recognizing that agriculture has a potential to be a solution to climate change. We know through the national Academy of science, through the work of the scientific community that agriculture is 8.4% of total carbon, but in the next decade we can imagine in that report it says we could have our carbon footprint. The report also says something that's really cool that I think that Sally and I and initially so fired up about a partnership and if we could deploy information and existing science into the hands of farmers that we could be at net negative carbon. And so that lets us really realize that if we can deploy our leadership network and our farmer networks of which we have 54 different farmer groups, part of our effort that working together we could become a solution. And that's all about bringing the science into action, um, through, through this partnership.

Scott:

Well, congratulations and the ag climate partnership is, is certainly a great initiative for us all. Now let's head to foster our future. First up, Scott Hutchins, deputy under secretary of the us department of agriculture's research education and economics mission area, which is comprised of the agriculture research service, economic research service, national agriculture statistic service, and the national Institute of food and agriculture. Big job at foster our future. He shared with me an advanced copy of the USDA science blueprint, which is a roadmap for USDA science from 2020 to 2050. Here's what he had to say about the blueprint.

Phil:

So tell me a bit about the USDA signs report. What is that all about and what's your objective for it?

Scott:

Yeah, great question. And it's a very timely one as well because actually tomorrow, secretary Purdue will be releasing publicly the USDA science blueprint. We're very, very proud of the science blueprint because what it really does for us is for the next five years, it kind of captures and puts forth some of the things that we think will begin to shape and make a big impact on the next era of agriculture. And there are five themes that we've identified working across all of our science-based agencies and trying to gain some consensus understanding. And those five themes I think really do define where we need to go as a nation and really as a broader community. The first one is ag sustainable intensification. Lots of components of that as we just made reference to from regenerative agriculture, uh, to, uh, the ability to ensure that we can protect the, the crops and the animals in the correct way.

Scott:

Uh, but, uh, but ultimately it really aligns with being able to bring the best technology and the best science to bear to make that profitability a reality, but also to ensure the sustainability of the soil, the air in the water all together. Um, the next key theme there is climate adaptation. Obviously lots of discussion, lots of science around climate. What we really want to focus on with USDA, with this blueprint is to make sure that us agriculture can adapt and farmers can adapt and that can mean things such as, um, obviously plant and animal breeding advanced tools and plant and animal breeding, but also understanding the patterns, uh, the changing shifts, the resiliency opportunities so that we stay ahead of whatever changes coming as the scientists always debate how much and how far and so forth. That's all gonna happen and it'll sort out and will contribute to mitigate that in a big way with soil health and other things.

Scott:

But we want to make sure that we have a resilient economic system as well for our, for our farmers. The third key theme is, is what we call food and nutrition translation. This is what I'm really excited about because it's for the first time as result of a convergence of a number of sciences and areas, we're able now to be able to put together prescription nutrition, prescription diets and so forth based on an individual's DNA based on being able to link food types to chronic diseases and so forth. And so we've always had this great dream of being able to use nutrition and food as a way to create a healthier medicine. Exactly, and now I think we're on the cusp of really being able to do that in a precise way. Now the fourth theme is one that we refer to as value added innovations and this is a broad one and it includes everything from him as a crop to the products that might come from him to the many types of products that can be created from agricultural products.

Scott:

It's a continuing learning process. There's intellectual property that we create in USDA and licensed to folks. The notion of creating vaccines for things such as African swine fever, these are all very important innovations that will add value to the agricultural enterprise. And then the last thing is for the U S to stand tall on science and really lead the world in science policy development when it relates to agriculture. And we're just committed to really doing that. The secretary feels extremely passionate about that. Uh, and uh, we want to make sure that science prevails at the public believes and understands and respect science and scientists and that we stay above the fray in terms of being objective and value based. So those are the five themes.

Phil:

So Sally, what are your thoughts and how does the ag climate partnership work within this blueprint?

Sally:

Yeah, I really love the areas that the USDA has put forth. I don't, no, how many of your know, but the R foundation? Yeah, the foundation for food and agriculture research is actually the foundation for the USDA. And our job is to take the innovations within the USTA and to create public private partnerships to help bring the two groups together, government and the private sector as well as universities. So he's areas, especially ag, sustainable intensification of course and climate adaptation as well as value added innovation all fit very well within the [inaudible] da climate partnership and our expectation because the USDA has about $3 billion a year in [inaudible] agricultural sciences and are have networks across the country that we're going to be able to work closely with the USDA to bring them in the fold of the ag climate partnership and today use what they're learning as well as what other groups are learning in the private sector and to join forces in this, this whole initiative.

Phil:

Let's listen now to what secretary Hudson's had to say about USDA science's role in agriculture. When you pull back and look at the role that USTA science plays in agriculture, what are your hopes?

Scott:

Yeah, well, that's a great question. And, and um, I, I'd say there, there are several hopes, but I think these hopes are really reality as well. I mean, I'm so blessed to have the opportunity to work within an organised science organization that's really the largest and most, um, um, most impactful organization in the world in terms of agricultural research. When you consider, uh, the capabilities of the agricultural research service, uh, which is, um, you know, 90 locations and you know, uh, 6,000 plus, uh, staff focused on national priorities and agriculture. When you think about the reach and the partnership that NEFA the national Institute of food and agriculture has with land grant universities and other groups for competitive grants as well as for capacity grants and what they're able to do and synergize with. And then the national acts statistics service, which really measures everything ag and we are data driven.

Scott:

So we need those, those data, uh, and any economic research service, just a group of rock stars that really understand deeply how to analyze, understand, and help us formulate policy across the USDA. So we have a great team and uh, I don't have to hope about it. It's actually true. They're having a tremendous impact. If I do have a hope is that we are able to work even more closely with organizations like far here, uh, as well as with the private sector because we're all in this innovation ecosystem together and we all need to be having the arrows moving in the same direction to solve these biggest challenges, but also to create big new opportunities.

Phil:

And here's what he said when I asked him to look into his crystal ball and 10 years from now, what is USDA and ag and farmers and ranchers all look like together and scientists?

Scott:

Well, I always like to say I don't use a crystal ball. I prefer the Weegee board. But, uh, you know, first of all, um, we're starting from a great base. So what I would see, what I would hope to see, and hopefully less than 10 years, is that we can all on an innovation strategy in the U S an innovation strategy that looks to solve the biggest opportunities and challenges that we can see today, but also truly embraces and leverages the technologies that are developing today for agriculture. And there's a number of those that have been outlined from digital ag and the automation to genome editing and the genome design to systems-based integration of all that and prescriptive intervention. I mean these are burgeoning areas of technology. So I think part of our responsibility in the USDA is to see if we can align and drive those so that we actually are solving big problems in agriculture onto the farm and have them used. Yeah, that's exactly right. And you know, as a research organization we're very big into publications and the rest of it, and I will never say anything negative about publications. I publish myself, we all have. But at the end of the day, those are milestones on the way to solutions. If we don't get a technology innovation and solutions on the farm, then we have not done our job. Well. Scott, thank you so much for joining us today on farm food facts. It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Phil:

So Erin, your thoughts about what the secretary had to say as it relates to technology and our farmers embracing technology beyond just figuring out where to put water, where to put seed, you know, how big of a role does technology play on the farm today?

Erin:

Well, there's no doubt about it. Um, the next 10 years we're going to need a lot more technology. And I, what I loved about the blueprint is a talked about the need for really thinking about productivity but also preparing for climate adaptation. And I think that that's a really powerful way to think about how you know, this grand challenge before us in the next 10 years is our farmers are increasingly being asked to provide food, fiber and energy, but also looking at new constraints that are emerging on their farms. So I really love that that is a new addition. The other really cool thing I think Sally would talk about as well as she mentioned, is these value added products and connecting food. Really to help, you know, I often say that agriculture has both a footprint where we can reduce our footprint in our economies, but also we have a hand print.

Erin:

And when we think about value added products, it's amazing to think that we can have, have food, fuel or products that are generated from the green space like green things and innovative green products that can perhaps offset fossil fuel derived products. So I love how they're putting this value added ideas, um, front and center. And then finally I would just say I also welcome that he believes that that we need to work together. And I think that that is what this whole partnerships about as well as, um, all of our efforts in creating a leadership movement and really excited to see a USDA ARS and step up.

Phil:

So Erin stay right there because I spoke with dr Shavonda Jacobs, young administrator of the USDA, chief scientist in house research agency who has to update the departments, new initiatives to us all. When we talked to farmers, you know, farmers keep on saying we need more data, we need more science, we need more money, you know, to do all of that stuff. So it's important that we have those voices. So what are some of the new initiatives that USDA is working on to help?

Chavonda:

Well, that's a great question. We, um, in ARS and then USDA have been leaders in um, sustainability research and uh, in ARS specifically, we have established in 2011 some longterm Eggo ecosystem research network sites. So they're 18 sites across the country where we have varying agro ecosystems and we're able to study some of the practices that we talk about. Some of the science that we've developed has come from our studies of those 18 sites. Um, those sites are equipped. They're, they're have sensors and high tech equipment to be able to run common experiments across the country. So when we look at things like crop rotation, like crop cover grazing, we're able to make those comparisons across the country. And most recently we created the climate hubs and we have 10 climate hubs across the country and that's a USDA effort. And so we have the forest service and NRCS and, and it's a holistic approach. And those hubs have been set up to take all that data, all the rich data we have and all of the information we have and translate it into tools that producers can use. Um, we write a lot of peer review publications, but we don't want to ask a producer to go out and start studying those peer review publications. We really want to convert those into information that's easy to understand and certainly easily to apply.

Phil:

So Erin, how do we take the information from these 18 sites, from these 10 climate hubs, and then be able to drill it down in an easy way to understand, as dr Shavonda said for the farmer?

Erin:

Well, I think what's really exciting is Sally and I in our longterm vision for the ag climate partnership is really that the learning centers are the place where we're at. The scientists and the farmers are truly learning. We're really excited that that's a central focus. And we know that that is key, that these farms are monitored and wired as she said. So we can really see the biological interactions as well as climate fluxes and nitrogen fluxes. And then ultimately that body of work can get translated into the broader scientific community. And then through that getting to farmers. So this, I would almost say these learning centers are kind of like ground zero for a lot of the, both the science and the farming community. And we need these research centers to be almost like, I would say learning center, maybe lighthouse farms or that are attracting the right science data and farmers, um, to continue to learn.

Phil:

And here's what she sees in her crystal ball 10 years from now. What does SGA, what

Phil:

What does ag look like? Why are in the U S.

Chavonda:

so agriculture is a high tech industry. And you know, we spend a lot of time really trying to share that message. Um, the success we've seen historically in the United States has come from innovation. When we look at the milk production, when we look at productivity levels, all of that has come from fundamental science that's been translated into use. And so when I look at my crystal ball, I wanted to be able to see a farmer, him or her with an iPhone or some smart device in their hands and being able to have not only decision making too, but predictive tools so I can know in advance what I'm going to be facing in two weeks. And so I can make my adjustments there. And so what I see is us using tools like machine learning, like artificial intelligence and applying those tools to the vast, vast decades of data that we have in agriculture. So I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to integrate technology and innovation in ways we've never seen it done before. Well, with you at the helm, it's going to happen. Thank you. Thank you for joining us today on farm food facts. Thank you.

Phil:

Sally. Talk about the ag climate partnership as it relates to mobile device as it relates to artificial intelligence, machine learning. Is this part of the initiative?

Sally:

Oh, absolutely. In fact, it's at the core of this initiative and Aaron and I have talked quite a bit about how we're going to bring together the existing datasets and the existing analytical power that we have across this country and ag sciences and to bring all that together so we can answer questions in a holistic approach. That's at the core of it. We have, we have quite a bit of data already existing. We have quite a bit of analytical datasets, uh, analytics that are already going on. Um, but this effort is to really bring those all together too and to say, okay, what are the most important data sets and analytics that we can use to answer the questions about how we're going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how also we're going to use things in AI as Shavonda just mentioned to do deep learning and machine learning and all the things that we have to do with these highly complex and large data sets. Big data is that agriculture is core. When you think about agriculture and the complexity of agriculture, we have data about weather, about soils, about animals, about plants, about genetics, about people, about economics. It makes the enormous datasets that have, we have to use the everything we know in today's digital age and what we're going to, the technology we're going to have tomorrow to interpret large data sets to bring this all together around the a climate partnership.

Phil:

AG Kawamura is one of my GoTo farmers. Whenever I've got a question, is a third generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper in orange County, California and former secretary of the California department of food and agriculture and the co-chair of solutions from the land. AG gives us the one Oh one on the UN sustainability development goals to transform our world.

AG:

Nine nations has come out with 17 sustainable development goals. And the beautiful thing is you look at that list and you realize if we could accomplish those by the year 2030 the world would be significantly different. In fact, we would have a new world in many ways, but the most remarkable thing about those goals is you look at them and you realize that wait a minute, maybe six, seven, eight nine of them have a lot to do with agriculture. In fact, so much so you realize that if agriculture is not thriving and doing well as we approach 2030 you cannot accomplish the goals. Everything else falls apart. And so for many of us, I think the excitement is that the SDGs provide us now with a way how we can talk about agriculture and the broad dimensions of multiple benefits that come together when we're working collaboratively to accomplish these 17 goals or these nine goals through agriculture and that agriculture is the solution.

AG:

Uh, actually not the problem. How realistic is it for farmers and ranchers to be able to meet these goals? And what kind of help is out there, um, to aid them in accomplishing this? Well, in a couple of ways that you might agree or disagree, but the most important thing that I see is we have the capacity globally to fulfill these goals and accomplish these goals today. We don't necessarily certainly have the will to do that once we garner the will to do that. I think it can happen much quicker, much faster than we ever thought. But we will need help in agriculture instead of agriculture being attacked and people calling us the problem if they believe that we're the solution. That also means we need assistance, help incentivization, encouragement to make sure that we can fulfill our role to get those goals, to be a complete in a package for humanity if you will.

Phil:

And how do we get on that switch to go on for the will? How do we get people to really understand it and get behind it and support it?

AG:

Well I think you find all over the world it's already taking place but it's just not widely reported or not quite understood how much progress is being made in every single category. Whether it's an end to waste, whether it's renewable energy, uh, whether it's um, water quality, water availability, um, we're moving much faster. All of us who are been farmers for awhile. I'm 40 plus years into my career. We don't farm anything like the way we did 40 years ago and we won't farm a whole lot. Like, actually, let me put it this way, we're, the toolbox for improvement has never been more dynamic and it's becoming more dynamic with every year that passes, especially as we start to link this collaborative view on how we need to work together. Cross disciplines across a aisles, if you will too. And also technology advances have helped a lot. Tremendous advances that were, you know, things that you thought were impossible are possible. Things that are possible are plausible and actually criminalized much faster now.

Phil:

So I'd like both of you to comment on the UN sustainable developmental goals. Erin, why don't you give us your comments first.

Erin:

AG is so amazing. It's always wonderful to hear him talk about the sustainable development goals. And I also get very excited and thinking about the sustainable development goals. And I think we are seeing unprecedented notion of setting goals. But I also think about people-based movements and I get excited when I think about sectors that can go solve the goal that really as a culture of a people, farmers have this innate notion of stewardship, these values and commitment to leave the land better. And sustainability then is about putting our values to work, making the tough economic business models and lineup for our communities and a plan. That's tough. That's a tough business, especially at this time. But if we think about setting goals better to be at the table than farmers, we are, I believe if farmers are at the table, we can go cocreate those solutions as AEG said, to help us go get those goals. After all, you know, um, there's 3 million farmers in the country, um, that are stewarding 48% of the landmass and I have a feeling boots on the ground reality go get, get this stuff solved. So it's wonderful to see aging other leaders stepping up and talking about other farmer leaders talking about the sustainable [inaudible] goals because farmers are the solution and if they're at the table, I truly believe we can hit those goals.

Phil:

And Sally, your thoughts?

Sally:

Yes, I would agree with AIG and I'm, I agree with what Erin just said. I think one of the other things about the sustainable development goals is that they demonstrate how important schools are at a global level. And in the case of climate change, this is a global issue that we all have to work together on. So we expect and the a climate partnership not only to focus on us agriculture but also on how globally agriculture can be a solution for climate change. And as AGS had pointed out, most of the 17 sustainable development goals as something with agriculture right at its core. So if we emphasize agriculture as a solution to many of these issues, then we're going to make rapid progress.

Erin:

Can I build on just one thing you said? I think you know, while what we're working on here as partners here in the U S I think our partnership as it relates to connecting with world farmers organization also just demonstrates under the sustainable development goals, this power of the goal of collaboration and partnership. And we know what we're doing here matters to our local farmers. So it's kind of exciting. You know, as we think about this Nosha stale Obama goals that we have a partner in this with world farmer's organization.

Phil:

Well thank you both so much for being with us on farm food facts on the next episode of farm food facts. We continue our discussion as Erin and Sally add their insights to those from Foster Our Future speakers. Meredith Ellis of G bar C ranch. Isaya isseka of the university of California at Davis and dr. Gene Lester, national program director at USDA ARS. Thanks for joining us.