Farm Food Facts

Behind The Scenes At COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference

November 16, 2021 USFRA Episode 115
Farm Food Facts
Behind The Scenes At COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference
Show Notes Transcript

Today’s episode is a very special one. Anne Meis, chair of USFRA and Erin Fitzgerald our CEO just returned from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland where for the first time the farmers voice was heard and farmers now have a seat at the table.

Phil:

US farmers and ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2021 honor the harvest. Welcome to Farm Food Facts, the webcast and podcasts of the US farmers and ranchers in action. Today's episode is a very special one. Anne Meis, Chair of USF A and Erin Fitzgerald, our CEO, just returned from the 2021 United nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where for the first time the farmers voice was heard and farmers now have a permanent seat at the table. Anne and Erin welcome to Farm Food Facts.

Anne:

We're excited to be here.

Phil:

Now, you've both been world travelers first to Rome for the pre-conference then to Glasgow. Uh , and you didn't invite me. So you got to tell me everything that happened when it was while you were there. Um, but first, and why were these two events so important for the U S working farmers and ranchers?

Anne:

You know , that's a key question, Phil , you know, what does this mean for us agriculture? Well, climate change conferences in the past have been focused a lot on energy and reduction of emissions. And that's important, definitely a piece of the climate of the climate discussions, but we witnessed a shift to focus more on nature based solutions. So these nature-based solutions not only include forest and natural lands, but also agricultural lands. So it's so critical now is the time for millions of farmers who steward the land and natural resources to stand up and be heard as part of the solution to the climate issues of our times. We are the eco workforce , uh, that has been entrusted to not only provide food, but to leave this land better for the next generation. So as this shift happens on this global stage at the climate conference to move toward land solutions, those of us who are closest to the soil just have to be front line and help steer this movement so we can get this right.

Phil:

So, Erin, I remember the first day you took over the leadership at USF RA and you said one of the most important issues is to get the farmers and ranchers voices heard at cop. It was the first time a panel included two farmers. How did Mateo and Elizabeth change the tenor of that discussion?

Erin:

Well, it was really fun. Anna and I were walking through the conference center on Friday and we had just spoken to many of the producer groups from around the world and all of the farmers , um, you know, felt that their voice wasn't being heard and that we were at a side event. And luckily we had been working quite a bit with action track , Nigel topping, Gonzalo Muniez Federico, and they had worked very hard to make certain that we had a producer panel front and center. They do believe that it's critical. Um, and we realized at the time like, well, we actually have, we can do this. Uh, and so we put, we work with the chefs to get , um, the sprouts that were being put on pizzas to lay them at the feet of our farmers. So it became really clear that those are the two panelists out of the whole day of the action track and actually walk in nature with their boots on the ground. And we wanted to signal that that's different than everybody else that's talking on stage.

Phil:

Absolutely. So, and a very personal question when you're at this conference and you meet people and you say I'm a farmer. What , uh , what's the reaction that you get from all these people?

Anne:

You know, I was in awe that when you say you're a farmer, there's an appreciation and a respect there. And, but remember we were running in farmer networks, but that was very much appreciated. And that recognition that farmers are frontline in, you know, working the soils and, and utilizing the natural resources that were given us. But I also want to counter that with, there is no doubt that the UN climate talks have had a very European , uh, influence for very long. And , um, there is , uh, a real perception out there that , uh, you know, we were often asked, oh, you're from the United States, do you do industrial agriculture? You know, are you part of the industrial agriculture? So that's the perception out there. And the other major perception out there is that animal agriculture is , uh , very detrimental. And w you know, is part of the problem of climate change. So we've got work to do , uh, to explain that our technology and our data and our climate smart practices can be part of the solution and began to uplift, you know , our decade of ag as a positive vision for agriculture. And , um, that we are not just industrial ag and factory farming here in the United States.

Phil:

That's interesting to me because I wouldn't have thought that with all the publicity and everything else that the Europeans would think of us that way. Um, but obviously, you know, you discovered a key message that we need to get out there , um, that it's not all industrial ag. And , and I know the, both of you went to the secretary general , um, and , and said to them, here's what you want to do. What , what was his reaction?

Erin:

Yes . So I would say , uh , on Saturday , um, you know, when we've talked to our farmers , like, we need, we need to do something, we just shake it up. This is the UN right. This is where people March. Uh, so we have a producer groups around the world. We had to get permission from them. Like, are you, would you be okay if we did this? And all the farmers kind of said, yes. So then we sent a formal letter to register and you have to get security and permission. And the secretary came over from the secretary General's office and he, it was amazing. It's kind of like, sometimes people are just meant to be the kid your path. And he says , say no more. He's like, I understand , uh, I work with farmers in Africa and what do you need to be helpful for this March? This needs to become a tradition at the UN and helped us organize it, those get structured and ready. So that way we can March off stage , um , that, that we can, we can deliver. And I'll let him talk about the leading and walking through off the stage, because it was pretty impressive.

Anne:

You know, it was, it was very , uh, impressive and, and very meaningful that, you know, at this impromptu where we had Aaron led the panel on food and agriculture. So she had worked the avenues and open doors that allowed us agriculture to, you know, be front and center on that stage. And then to think, you know, let's really bring this home and let's have the farmers with the growing greens, carry it to the chefs so that people really get grounded in food and agriculture that we all depend on it. And that, you know, our , our farmers and our chefs are the ones that are bringing food to our tables every day. And let's not forget that. So, and again , um, you know, there seems to be a common thread going through the UN climate talks that we're not going to meet our goals if we don't start with food. And if we don't food starts with agriculture. So there's a real opportunity here to shift and , and help with understanding of the conversations at this large global level.

Phil:

And I know you've got , um, a passion for my next topic here, and it has to do with finance. And you know, what, what you've been talking about is that all these finance people are talking to each other. They're not talking about farmers and the farmers are really the ones who need the longterm financial help in order to achieve these goals. Tell us more.

Anne:

Absolutely. Um, there's, there's a lot of interest and there's finance out there, investment finance that wants to invest in real solutions for the climate. So, and they're looking to invest in climate solutions in a big way, and this capital needs to land in rural America or rural world to benefit farmers in a way that we are really going to be impactful on this path of continuous improvement to make these changes at the farm level, toward climate smart practices, the changes that are needed. We all have a wishlist on our family farms. You know, we want to buy a drill to plant the cover crops. We need new equipment. We need irrigation systems that use less water and use a variable rate and , and technology. But all of that investment has to have a return for our farm to make those decisions. And if there's this interest in these ecosystem services that are going to benefit society, then there needs to be an avenue that, that investment reaches the average farmer and rural America and a real investment. And that's beyond government. This is private capital. We're talking about

Phil:

How, w how do we get farmers and ranchers voices heard to the financial community, the private financial community, and get a seat at that table.

Anne:

I'm going to let Aaron talk about our project.

Erin:

Oh, and , and , um, February of this year , um , from United States soybean board, and from Wells Fargo, they funded our first ever transformative investment report that really looked at where dollars are currently moving into ag from the private sector. But most importantly, if we imagine, as Anne said, environmental social governance funds these new people that want to invest in green or eco solutions, we want agriculture to be the number one place where that investment happens. We know renewable energy was a sector invested in 10 years ago, and it it's for its growth. We think agriculture could do the same thing I was struck. And Anne was to that on, on Wednesday was producer day. And that was all the farmers trying to say it was producer day, and we had these side events, but the main stage show was finance day. And you saw a lot of the financial institutions step up and make very bold commitments to climate change. But what you didn't see was commitments to funding agriculture. And so what we were putting this out there now, we want to see that at cop 27, that finance day and farming day, you know , come together. We think that there's a great opportunity , um , to invest in this sector. And , um , there's still a lot of work to be done.

Phil:

Yeah. And when you, when you say that, it just sounds so logical that, you know, they, they're making a commitment to climate change, but they're ignoring the farmer that doesn't work. That's a disconnect here. Um, you know, you can talk all you want about, you know, electric cars. Uh , that's a lane , one, one issue , um, that that has to be discussed. Um, you know, I want to get your reaction, or I want your reaction to the reaction of the audience when you showed them USF RAs, 30 harvest film. What did they think of that?

Anne:

I was in the audience when, I mean, again, that was an, a major accomplishment to get a, you as film, you know, shown on the UN stage on, on Saturday, on nature day, that agriculture was spotlighted. And, you know, it was just, it's an emotional film by design because we have to understand, you know, the plights of the farmer and, and, but yet what they can contribute. So , uh, extremely impactful and extremely emotional is what I would say about the film showing. I

Phil:

Also heard standing ovation.

Erin:

I will say I got very emotional when I saw Ian stand up and , uh, and , and realize we had to go on that . We couldn't even believe that we got let alone, as an said in American film, but one about agriculture , uh , on the stage. So it was, it was great.

Phil:

So I also understand Aaron that , um, you had some challenge coins with you, the USF for a challenge coin that I have here right on my desk at all times. And you gave it to somebody who really is very concerned about the climate. Tell us about that experience.

Erin:

Um, yes . And , and I gave out a lot of challenge coins throughout the course of the event. Um, I know Anne has a couple of favorites that I did too . Um, one of them that was particularly memorable , um, is that we gave the challenge queen to prince Charles. Um, we recognize him that he is a farmer himself and he does in his personal hobbies take agriculture very, very seriously. Um, and we asked him as we do for all leaders to step up and to use their strengths and leadership , uh, for the decade of ag . And , um, it was a real special moment. And I do think that , um, he took that challenge coin seriously and , um, very special , very special .

Phil:

So Andy who's , who's the , um , most special person that you gave a challenge going to?

Anne:

Well, you know, part of the work we're doing over there is to collaborate and have partnerships. And we've established a partnership with the world farmers organization. And I was able to bestow the challenge coins to the president of the world farmer organization, Theo from South Africa. And that just was very meaningful to me. And he was taken aback and , and said he will really honor and treasure the coins

Phil:

As we all need to, as we all should. Um, I want to switch gears a little bit because what we saw while you were there , uh, we saw on TV here, a lot of young people outside demonstrating , um, you know, Aaron , tell me, tell me what they were demonstrating about. Tell me the effect of that and how can we , um , at USF RA embrace this next generation that really cares much more about the climate than we've seen, probably in any other generation.

Erin:

Um, you know , I know Anne's going to want to jump on this question too. Um , we were definitely struck by the youth , um , that were outside and inside. They had songs, they had a chance, but one thing was really interesting. I feel that's very similar to our farmers is that the youth were saying our voices not being heard , um, and that we want solutions. We want them now. And in that respect, the youth and the farmers actually have so much in common , uh , that the farmers voice hasn't really been at the table and that farmers want solutions now, and that they are taking action now. And that's what the kids want too . So it was really wonderful to kind of see that there's actually so much in common , um, with the UN process that I think that if we continue this idea of that food and farming is the transition to a net zero economy is we're boots on the action and grounds happen in is what we can do. Uh, it was in our power and that the farmers are doing it. There's actually some sort of really unique alignment. Um, I really do believe that that March to the kitchen next year led by our farmers is going to be bigger than ever at cup 27. I think it will be a tradition. And your thoughts on the youth?

Anne:

Um, you know, we were walking through the, one of the main entrances by the goat room and there was a group of youth , uh, singing their song in honor of their grandparents before. Um, and , um, it was very impactful because they, they care, they care deeply and they want to hear about solutions. And the two words that I heard over and over at cop, where we need acceleration, we need this to happen soon, and we need action, no more, just talking. We need action. And we in agriculture can deliver on both of those.

Phil:

Well, also, when I look at honor, the harvest where you very effectively brought in youth , um, they, they have some of the strongest opinions. They've got some of the smartest things that come out of their mouth and they're our next leadership. Um, and we need to, to involve them in these discussions, whether it's about farming or climate change, just about everything that, that affects us. Um, so, you know, I didn't get my invitation to come to cop 27 to March with you , um, because I can hold a bushel of, of garlic, you know, and, and bring it to the chef. But , um, what I, what I want to know from both of you and, and , um, if you could go first , um, if, if tomorrow cop 26 had to happen all over again , um, what, what might you do differently?

Anne:

I would be ready and understand that our time is now that eyes are on agriculture and we have an amazing opportunity in front of us and to really proudly carry that message.

Phil:

And Aaron , what would you do differently?

Erin:

I think we were surprised. Um, and then , uh, every day that we were there and tonight the momentum just kept building to Saturday. I was very sad to leave on the plane. Um, I felt like if we would've stayed one more week, I couldn't even imagine what would have happened. But I think what I know is that the partnerships that partnerships that we built prior to coming mattered , um, that when we showed up, we had people fighting for us to get onstage , to leave that March. They were coming out of the woodwork to make certain that our voice was heard. So I think it's a real Testament to the hard work that we've done in a decade of ag that people are recognizing it. They understand they're starting to understand that agriculture is part of the solution and that they're starting to understand that there's these amazing farmers and that they need to be part of this, this dialogue . And when they do meet them, they're in awe. They're just an awe. You know, when Ann was meeting people, I know she won't say it, but like they would be like, now tell me about this. And, you know, it's just that to really understand that, go back to the biological process that can, you know, I was saying agriculture can eat carbon for lunch. It's as simple as that. And when they would hear and speak and get to talk and listen to what she was doing on her farm, do you just watch light bulbs go on? So I think that would be my, my thing is like, you know, keep building our partnerships, maybe stay a little longer, definitely organize a bigger March. Start with the chefs first in the farmers. Um, it was just, it was amazing to see the momentum by , by Saturday was unexpected.

Phil:

So both of you mentioned that the time is now to , to do all this. Um, and not only because of the youth that were there, but because of climate change and everything, do you think that because of the pandemic hitting just about every country in the world , um, that it really reinforced that we have to do it now that, that, that gave us a little push and raise the interest level.

Anne:

I'll just say, yes. I really think our way of thinking in this world has shifted with, with COVID, you know, we became more aware of our supply chains and where things come from, and we had time to stop running from event to event and began to really root ourselves in our lives and think about things. So, yeah, it's, it's an opportunity. The time is now

Phil:

And Aaron to everybody who's watching and listening, what action do you want them to take?

Erin:

Well, I would say , um , number one, get the word out. Um, and if you haven't signed, the decade of ag is to really, I know everybody in the United States is taking great action. There's so many wonderful things going on, but your strengths to work. Um, we, we know that we can be a force when we work together. No one organization has all of the answers, what we do together as a farming community with the food community now matters. We got a lot to figure out, and it was demonstrated at cop that people are looking for leaders in action. And that's what the decade of ag is all about.

Phil:

And Aaron, thank you so much for representing every us farmer , uh , in Glasgow. And , um, and your hard work, both of you , um, has really achieved so much over the past few months. It's, it's unbelievable, and you both deserve a lot of credit. So thank you for joining us today on farm food facts and keep up the great work us farmers and ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2021 honor, the harvest forum, our Sapphire sponsors, Ernst and young, and the United soybean board. Our platinum sponsors the innovation center for us, dairy native American agriculture fund and Concannon Reed or silver sponsors, dairy west Nebraska, soy Cortez agriscience McDonald's Cargill and PepsiCo. Our bronze sponsors, CoBank, nutrient and pollination, and our copper sponsors the association of equipment manufacturers. Culver's the foundation for food and agriculture research and Hy-Vee supermarkets for more about all food and agriculture. Please visit [email protected] Also be sure to visit us on Facebook and Instagram at farmers and ranchers, as well as on Twitter and LinkedIn at USF RA until next time.