Innovation Needed to Address Ag’s Future Is Already Being Demonstrated

May 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a myriad of problems, some unprecedented, that have impacted virtually every aspect of our lives – from maintaining safe distances from one another to how we continue to work to how we spend our leisure time. The pandemic has launched an equally broad spectrum of calls for “innovation” in the food system, land use and climate action.

Merriam-Webster tells us innovation is “a new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method” and is often viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, existing needs, or even unarticulated needs. Innovation, experts tell us, produces something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new.

For Solutions from the Land, innovation will be a central theme and foundational recommendation as we engage in multiple global platforms where the future of agriculture and the food system is being shaped.

As announced last week, SfL is broadly expanding its mission to combat the interconnected threats the world now faces, ranging from food and nutrition security, sustainable livelihoods, and climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic. The special initiative seeks to enable farmers to be valued and rewarded for delivering solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which collectively call for action by all countries – developed and developing – to work together and create strategies to end hunger, improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth, all while tackling climate change and protecting ecosystems.

Led by a panel of the SfL Board of Directors, the new initiative will be aided by a broad team of farmer envoys and distinguished SDG senior advisors. Each member of these teams has been asked to serve after demonstrating his or her own abilities to innovate and sustain food, feed and fiber production in the face of numerous challenges.

Among farmer envoys aiding in this endeavor is Trey Hill, the owner and manager of Harborview Farms in Rock Hall, MD. A fourth-generation grain farmer, Hill and his family sustainably produce corn, wheat, and soybeans for the Mid-Atlantic region. He is among the first to recognize the agronomic and financial benefits of cover crops and other carbon-sequestering practices, taking advantage of marketplaces emerging to pay farmers for their carbon-storing efforts. Hill is using the money he has made to increase his operation’s sustainability, investing in a roller-crimper that kills cover crops without chemicals and plants a cash crop in the same field pass. Devoted to innovative agriculture, Hill utilizes farm management software to keep track of planting and harvesting schedules, nutrient applications, input costs and inventory, among other farm functions. He uses GPS technology and precision equipment to farm effectively while managing resources and his farm’s environmental impact. His approach is demonstrated by Harborview’s use of a grain system powered almost entirely by a 360-kilowatt/hour (kWh) solar array, and converting its propane-powered driers to electricity-run units annually saves 3,200-kWh.

Another SfL Farmer Envoy is Larry Black, a fifth-generation citrus grower based in Fort Meade, FL. He serves as the General Manager of Peace River Packing Company, a citrus cooperative that provides caretaking, harvesting and fresh fruit packing. Black is a strong advocate of research that has generated improvements enabling the citrus industry to become more efficient and prosperous in the face of freezes, hurricanes, invasive pests and diseases. He says Florida citrus growers are becoming better, more efficient, more environmentally responsible farmers each year through research and innovation in the groves. Black works with local schools to support agricultural programs that he says foster students’ interest in the opportunities and new technologies that are critical to the farm industry’s success.

Also joining the SfL initiative as a farmer envoy is Matt Russell, a fifth generation Iowa farmer producing beef and growing specialty crops in Marion County. He is a nationally recognized advocate (he has testified before Congress) for compensating farmers for ecosystem services, such as retaining carbon in the soil. Russell is also the executive director of Interfaith Power and Light, a statewide organization mobilizing the religious community through more than 300 congregations to become leaders in the movement for climate action. Russell, who spent eight years on the Farm Service Agency state committee, says his group engages Iowa farmers to innovate on their farms, capturing carbon and generating renewable energy. The group also calls on policy makers to support those practices and provide the resources needed to make them happen on Iowa farms.

Hill, Black and Russell are among more than 30 thought leaders across the nation joining together in SfL’s efforts to realize a mid-century vision for U.S. agriculture, helping it be ready to face present and future challenges. As SfL Co-Chair A.G. Kawamura noted earlier this month in the announcement of the SDG initiative: “The world is searching for answers and agriculture has a unique opportunity to advance a new vision for how sustainably managed farms, ranches and woodlands can deliver high-value, near-term and scalable solutions to the ‘mega-challenges’ of our times.” SfL invites those who share the vison of farmers at the forefront of global challenges to join us in supporting this epic endeavor.

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Our Vision

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.