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We Can Achieve Climate-Positive Agriculture Today

Viewpoints / Focus on Agriculture October 30, 2019

Credit: Pixabay 

By James C. Collins, Jr. @J_CCollins

Farmers and ranchers are already working smarter, more efficiently and with a smaller carbon footprint. An American Farm Bureau Federation analysis of Agriculture Department data shows that “U.S. farmers and ranchers are producing more crops, livestock, fruits and vegetables, fuel and fiber than ever before, while using less water, protecting against erosion and conserving more soil, avoiding nutrient loss, increasing wildlife habitat and improving biodiversity while using less cropland.”

They have a proud history of resilience. They understand the value and need for environmental sustainability. Despite all that farmers face – including trade, policy and weather challenges – many are also actively working to improve the environment with climate-positive production practices.

We can achieve climate positive agriculture without sacrificing productivity or ongoing profitability.

Let’s look at some facts. Various contributors of greenhouse gases exist, including Mother Nature, and the science is relatively simple. GHGs, which include water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2), absorb and emit radiant energy. Without GHGs, Earth’s average surface temperature would be around zero. Too many GHGs – particularly CO2 – and the Earth’s surface warms. Since farmers and ranchers manage 40% of all U.S. land, they know that CO2 is naturally stored in soil and many use production practices that “sequester” or keep it there.

Today, only 9% of total U.S. GHG emissions stem from agriculture. According to the National Academies of Science, even broader adoption of technologies that help store CO2 in soils and plants could cut that number in half. Innovations on the horizon could reduce it even further. In fact, when practices like diverse crop rotation, cover crops, reduced tillage, precision nitrogen management and improved grazing systems are fully adopted, farmers and ranchers could achieve net-negative GHG emissions.

We can achieve climate positive agriculture without sacrificing productivity or ongoing profitability.

This is critically important when we consider the need to protect and preserve natural resources, as well as increase agricultural productivity by 40-50% in the next 30 years to feed the world’s expected population of 9.3 billion.

Sadly, the catastrophic flooding and extreme weather events that reduce agriculture output have become commonplace and are having an impact. In the U.S., primary crop and hay acres were down 5%, about 15 million acres, in the 2019-20 growing season over the year prior.

Couple weather challenges with slim profit margins – U.S. farmers and ranchers receive only about 8 cents of every food dollar in terms of the farm production value – and I think you’ll agree that expecting growers to self-fund implementation of new, more environmentally sound production innovations won’t create change at the needed pace. 

This is why we announced the 2020 Corteva Agriscience Climate Positive Challenge. We want to help reward and scale what many farmers are already doing.

It invites collaboration at the farmgate by highlighting impactful, financially and environmentally sustainable ways to better manage GHGs and accelerate uptake across the industry. A total of $500,000 in grants will go to growers who voluntarily partner with local environmental, academic or agriculture groups to expand innovations beyond their own acres.

It’s just one part of Corteva’s broader sustainability efforts.

We’re also inviting other agricultural organizations to join us in this real-time climate-positive challenge. We can achieve more when we work together and when we help those who already stewarding our future.

James C. Collins, Jr. is Chief Executive Officer at Corteva Agriscience.

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