Farm, Ranch and Forest Leaders Shape Response to Climate Challenges at State Level

May 17, 2018

With the success of North American interests in negotiating agriculture’s on-going role in addressing climate change at a conference of international representatives in Bonn last week, U.S. farm leaders are taking a lead in the effort to make production more resilient and sustainable in the face of changing conditions.

Similar endeavors are being undertaken by farm leaders here in a wide range of states, including a number of high-profile projects facilitated by Solutions from the Land (SfL). Work done in North Carolina, and that underway in Ohio and Missouri, demonstrates the evolving conversation among local producers and state officials and policy makers that is lifting up the concerns and challenges posed by changing climate conditions and consumer expectations.

With the ever-growing threat of volatile weather inducing drought, flooding, wildfires, violent storms and altered growing seasons, stakeholders are utilizing SfL resources to reinforce the need for climate-smart agriculture (CSA), a landscape-wide approach based on:

  • Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods;
  • Enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience to climate change; and
  • Delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

Through the North Carolina Agriculture and Forestry Adaptation Work Group (NC-ADAPT), farm and forestry leaders explored the impacts of increasingly extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions on the agricultural and forestry sectors of the state and constructed an adaptive management plan to improve agriculture and forestry resiliency, further enhancing the economic viability of the sectors for decades to come.

Leaders from the Tar Heel state’s commodity crop, livestock, forestry and specialty crop sectors develop sector-specific recommendations for adaptive management practices, policies and programs. But they also developed some cross-cutting strategies, including calling on producers in each sector to indicate to policy makers that research on water management, adaptive cover cropping systems for improved soil and nutrient management, and a “Risk Management Collaborative” to collect and share information on policies and programs, as well as help steer adjustments in programs that reflect changing conditions, is important and needed.

Another SfL initiative – put in play last year – is Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land (OSA). The project has pulled together stakeholders from multiple production, food, health and environmental interests to find ways finite land resources in the Upper Midwest can meet growing demand for local, affordable and nutritious food, feed, fiber and energy, as well as maintain watershed and wildlife habitats and provide other ecosystem services – all while simultaneously adapting to changing climatic conditions. The effort aims to bring about better integrated landscape management of a resilient/climate-smart and multifunctional agriculture sector.

An OSA committee of leading innovators from around the state met this week to continue refining and organizing recommendations and “launching pad” initiatives that have evolved over the course of the first phase of the project. All are aimed at establishing agriculture and the food system as a public policy; encouraging production of fresh, locally produced fruits; develop an agricultural workforce and workforce support; protecting and enhancing agricultural landscapes and creating an ecosystem services pathway; and encouraging 21st century infrastructure and markets that support development and processing of profitable, diverse products from the farming landscape.

In Missouri, a Smart Agriculture Work Group, consisting of farm leaders and value chain interests, held an initial meeting in March that examined the potential vulnerabilities and opportunities created by changing climatic conditions in ways that are relevant to their daily lives. The project seeks to equip producers with the tools and knowledge they need to make informed decisions and manage new risks under changing conditions. Going forward, the work group will explore the supply chain sustainability standards being established by purchasers of commodities and evaluate strategies that can be deployed to improve resiliency and economic vigor of farming and forestry systems.

A new report from the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy – From the Ground Up: The State of the States on Climate Adaptation for Agriculture – reinforces SfL’s decision to scale up climate smart agriculture work at the state level. The report finds that “state-level climate adaption strategies frequently do not include agriculture, and a large number of states don’t have plans at all, a blind spot that could be costly to ag and forestry producers and state governments.” The research shows that climate adaptation plans in only 18 states include agriculture, and of those, agriculture-related strategies were often too general and aspirational and disconnected from the policies or resources required to implement them.

The projects facilitated by SfL demonstrate the role farmers, ranchers and foresters will play in addressing climate change and enhancing food and fiber resiliency. We call on agriculture and forestry leaders from across the nation to join in this effort aimed at attaining for producers the tools – programs, incentives and tax benefits, among others – they will ultimately need to ensure sustainable, resilient agricultural landscapes that can meet and mitigate the challenges of a changing environment. For more information, email [email protected].

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