A new – and what is expected to be an increasingly influential – player in the climate smart agriculture arena spread its wings earlier this month, staging its initial conference, which focused on expanding the value chain for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) generated from mixed agricultural feedstocks.
The Consortium for Cultivating Human And Naturally reGenerative Enterprises, or C-CHANGE, is a product of Iowa State University’s (ISU) Presidential Interdisciplinary Research Initiative (PIRI) and aims to catalyze new science and engineering breakthroughs to deliver abundant, affordable and safe food to 10 billion people without compromising the Earth’s supportive capacity in the long term.
C-CHANGE – one of the newest of the 15 interdisciplinary research teams created by PIRI since 2012 – structured the conference this month to share information and generate discussion about multiple RNG-related topics, including feedstocks, anaerobic digestion, coproducts, distribution, financing, policy, market opportunities and societal impact.
Participating in the conference were agricultural business and energy industry representatives, farmers and farmland owners, entrepreneurs, college and graduate students, researchers, governmental officials and representatives of agricultural, energy and environmental non-governmental organizations.
The conference underscored the major business and income opportunities, the growth in jobs and the environmental benefits that are all available to producers and local communities through the expansion of RNG production, giving farmers and value chain partners the incentive to invest in a product that can build resilience, boost conservation and promote renewable energy.
Among those invited to address the conference were SfL board member Ray Gaesser, an Iowa corn and soybean grower who also chairs the Enabling Policy Committee of the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA); Bryan Sievers, vice chair of the American Biogas Council, and head of Sievers Family Farms and AgriReNew located near Davenport; Matt Russell, a fifth-generation Iowa farmer and an SfL Farmer Envoy; and SfL President Ernie Shea.
Participation in the conference reflects the aims of the ongoing Iowa Smart Agriculture Initiative, in which SfL and ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are supporting a special, self-directed Work Group composed of state agricultural, business, academic, government and conservation leaders, who are examining ways to keep Iowa agriculture profitable while providing nutritious food, clean energy, and ecosystem services such as water filtration and carbon sequestration. These leaders are exploring and assessing the impacts that extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions are having and are expected to have on the state’s number one industry.
Farmers, agribusinesses and rural communities across the state are already experiencing the impacts of climate change and know that the threats to their livelihood are increasing. The overarching goal of this smart agriculture initiative is to inspire and empower agricultural leaders to become leaders in the broader discussion of climate smart agriculture (CSA), including adaptation and mitigation strategies.
The current IASA project aligned well with the C-CHANGE conference topic as the work group is exploring the feasibility of using cover crops, which help retain carbon in the soil, as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion, which produces renewable natural gas that can be used to fire generators and produce electrical power.
The C-CHANGE conference is a commendable example of the SfL land-management model characterized by generating multi-stakeholder collaboration that can integrate various problem-solving efforts, which, in turn, can be implemented on a landscape scale and provide market-based mechanisms that can boost ecosystem services.
Audio and video recordings of the C-CHANGE conference are available HERE until November 9. Recordings of breakout sessions on societal value; co-products; distribution, markets and feedstocks; and anaerobic digestion, policy and financing are all available HERE.