Farmers, educators are allies in climate-smart agriculture

June 14, 2023

There’s been a lot of talk about climate change on the global level, and that can be helpful. It takes time to understand the needs of different countries and to find the common ground upon which we can all build to make the world a safe, healthy place for future generations.

But talk with no action won’t get us far. Action starts at the local level, in the hands of real people—including farmers, ranchers, and foresters—who understand better than anyone what it takes to make a living on the land and the importance of continual improvement, for themselves and their families, their communities, and, ultimately, broader society.

Here within the intersections of social, environmental, and agricultural systems lies the greatest interests of Allison Chatrchyan, Ph.D. The senior research associate at Cornell University, and SfL member, is passionate about working on climate change, and she sees farmers, ranchers, and other land stewards as some of her best allies. As co-developer and leader of the Cornell Climate Smart Farming program, Chatrchyan is developing powerful and user-friendly tools to help farmers in the Northeast better see how climate change is expected to affect them and what they can do about it.

Current tools include:

  • A growing degree day calculator, which predicts plant development and pest/disease outbreaks.
  • Charts that provide observed and forecasted daily minimum temperatures vs. apple and grape hardiness thresholds in order to assess potential risks for freeze damage.
  • An interactive map showing how climate has changed county-by-county since 1950 and projections over the next century.

“I think it’s critical that we understand more fully what farmers know about climate change, the effect that climate change is already having on their operations, and whether or not they are making changes to reduce their impact and adapt to climate change,” Chatrchyan said when the Climate Smart Farming program launched. “This is really important because if we don’t know what farmers believe or need, then we can’t design decision tools that will help them.”

Cornell’s Climate Smart Farming program has given Chatrchyan the opportunity to learn more from farmers, which is the first step in developing educational, outreach, and research programs to better meet their needs and empower them to deliver solutions to the kinds of social and environmental issues discussed at global meetings—including the Bonn Climate Change Conference (SB58) where Chatrchyan is now and SfL is participating virtually.

Chatrchyan has deep experience working with diverse groups of people, facilitating groups to work toward common goals, and translating science for decision makers. Added with her respect for farmers, Chatrchyan is an excellent representative committed to common sense solutions at SB58, which runs from June 5-15 in Bonn, Germany. The conference is a meeting of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), which are expected to draft decisions on how to implement the Sharm el-Sheikh “Joint Work on Implementation of Climate Action on Agriculture and Food Security” from COP27 to be presented and adopted at the COP28 in the United Arab Emirates this December.

Chatrchyan has been participating in the agriculture negotiations for Cornell University and the delegation of Armenia. Students in her class submitted input on what topics need to be further considered in the work program, including water conservation, soil health, and building the capacity of extension to support farmers, including small farms. Negotiators from every region in the world have been carefully considering and working through how best to address agriculture under the Paris Agreement, and it can be frustratingly slow. But the high interest shows how incredibly important the issue is to so many, including policy makers and farmers in Armenia and the United States.

Solutions from the Land contributed to these discussions by monitoring sessions virtually and through its submission in the Sharm el-Sheikh work, in which SfL advocated for and affirmed its two overarching guiding principles:

  • Farmers at all scales must be at the center of all discussions and decision-making.
  • Agriculture is not separate but part of the earth’s ecological system.

SfL also recommended the joint work adopt six high-profile global workstream priorities that recognize:

  • Water as essential to all life and shifting water-soil relationships as the signature of a variable and changing climate and capacity to produce food.
  • The need for system approaches.
  • Integrative livestock systems for high quality protein and livelihoods for farmers at many scales.
  • Innovations, scientific, local, and indigenous knowledge.
  • Innovative policy and social approaches to scaling up.
  • Context-specific priorities and solutions.

You can read Solutions from the Land’s full submission and the UNFCCC Farmers Constituency submission, to which SfL contributed, for more information. SfL looks forward to reviewing the work products of SB58 and bringing farmer voices into the center of agricultural discussions at COP28 this fall.

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.