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Get Smarter on Agriculture and Climate

cleary, david, nature conservancyIn a somber scene-setter for the upcoming climate summit in New York, the UN’s meteorological office, The World Meteorological Organization, released a report showing that world carbon emissions in 2013 reached a record high, and atmospheric carbon is increasing at the fastest rate seen in over thirty years. Some hard questions are facing the international order, which has spent much of that period in an interminable round of meetings meant to combat climate change. Against this backdrop, the pertinent question the UN report raises is: why bother? If we appear to be losing the battle, what difference does yet another meeting and round of press conferences make, other than to traffic conditions in lower Manhattan?

It matters when it comes to the subject of food. Rising temperatures and extreme weather events are familiar agricultural foes in much of the world. Farmers have been managing weather since farming began. But all the evidence suggests that climate change will now severely tax the world’s ability to feed itself within a generation. Grains, for example, can grow faster if temperatures are higher. But higher temperatures reduce the amount of time seeds have to mature, and that can depress yields. We don’t have enough data yet to confirm this is happening, but equally we can’t say that it isn’t. It is a clear danger at all scales of agriculture: Iowa corn growers and African smallholders alike.

Farmers around the world, and society in general, need to place greater importance on both adapting to and mitigating climate change. Mitigation means reducing emissions directly linked to agriculture from the current level of around a quarter of all emissions: reducing deforestation and habitat clearance, using fertilizer more efficiently, using tillage and crop rotation to sequester carbon in soil, and so forth. Adaptation involves diversifying crop portfolios, combining grazing with cropping, using water and other inputs more efficiently, and using seeds and plants that can resist climate stresses. Farmers have done much of this for millennia, but now we have to do more, and more urgently.

Hence a buzz-phrase you will be hearing more of: Climate Smart Agriculture. Nothing fixes a politician’s attention more than the prospect of problems with food supply. That is obvious in Africa, but no less true in developed countries which import food from around the world and rely on efficient agricultural sectors for domestic supply. So while it has been difficult to get an agreement on climate change, everyone agrees that making agriculture more resilient to climate change – climate smart agriculture – is important.

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3 thoughts on “Get Smarter on Agriculture and Climate

  1. You are so right David, modern agriculture (1930’s on) is the real “foot on the gas pedal” of Global Warming. It started with fertilizer instead of “crop rotation” and culminated with the advent of CAFO’s whose increases in methane and nitrous oxide are the current cause of GW.

    Modern Industry has a “cost free to the farmer” answer that started in the Netherlands that no one but yourself may be interested in since the simple minded are on a witch hunt for CO 2.

    I would love to talk to you and can be reached at (732) 493-4520.

  2. Then find funding for The Land Institute from a fraction of the funding that goes to genetic manipulation. Perennial grain crops are the bridge away from industrial ag. But agribiz does not want what The Land Institute is doing to get funded. But it is one of the interim solutions to getting back to more small holders growing polycultures than millions of hectares in monoculture.

  3. Indeed, they issued a report that emissions reached new heights, however, temperatures, while not reaching new lows, at least have not followed suit. I remember giving away my children’s toboggan early in the new millennium (which I had inherited second-generation by the way), only to buy a brand-new one a few years later. Some of the science isn’t what it used to be …

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