As we launch into a new year, SfL farmer-leaders are finding new ways to make agriculture and our food systems more resilient and are continuing to seek integrated land management solutions to ensure food and nutrition security, diverse and healthy ecosystems and economic well-being under extreme weather conditions and a continuously changing climate.
2022 will be another year of unexpected and difficult challenges, but there also will be opportunities for our nation’s farms, ranches and forests to work with others to create solutions to those challenges.
The COVID pandemic and its newest variant will keep stressing and disrupting local and global food and agricultural supply chains. We are about to enter the third year of the virus and its control over the world’s economy is expected to last at least through the first six months of 2022.
Climate change will continue to introduce and increase challenges for farmers and ranchers, a fact affirmed by CoBank, a private provider of credit to the U.S. rural economy that offers loans and financial services to cooperatives, agribusinesses, rural public utilities and Farm Credit customers. In their 2022 outlook report, “The Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the U.S. Rural Economy“, CoBank President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Halverson notes that climate policy will continue to drive private sector economic activity. “Another fairly certain bet is that the private sector in advanced economies, including here in the U.S., will continue to align around the policy goal of reducing global carbon emissions and addressing climate change,” Halverson writes.
“There is a convergence occurring right now along multiple vectors,” he continues, “including government, policy and regulation, institutional investment practices and priorities, consumer preferences and behavior, and technological change. This convergence is inexorably powerful and will influence how companies and capital providers make business decisions and engage with each other going forward.”
The uncertainties are raising food prices for consumers, while farmers are experiencing increases in the cost of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. CoBank says fertilizer prices have recently spiked to record highs and were recently double the 10-year average. Together, the uptick in fertilizer and pesticide costs resulted in an increase in costs borne by producers equal to about 70 cents per bushel of corn, an increase in total production costs of about 15 percent.
Meanwhile, some crop protection chemicals, which are often imported, have for a time been nearly impossible to obtain at any price. Due to a shortage of containers and drivers, West Coast ports are experiencing some gridlock, leading to congestion within the ocean transport system.
Ag producers are also experiencing the harmful effects of climate change. The recent, devastating wildfires in Colorado were driven by grass rendered dry by a lack of snow attributable to historically warm temperatures. Experts find considerable evidence that the changing climate is playing a major role in drying out of the West, both with warmer temperatures and less reliable snow and rain. Those factors have resulted in more severe and extreme drought that has led to the ongoing, unprecedented hot megadrought gripping large parts of the West since 1999. Researchers say the heat and dryness are also increasing the risk of big, destructive wildfires.
Even with the challenges that loom ahead in the new year, there are opportunities to reevaluate the roles agriculture can play in delivering multiple solutions.
As SfL Board Member and farmer Lois Wright Morton said in testimony submitted to an UN-sponsored global climate workshop, “farmers and ranchers are essential partners in attaining key social, economic and environmental results.” She identified “the reduction of hunger and the improvement of nutrition as critical sustainable development goals that will require increased production of fruits, vegetables, animal proteins, and food-grade grains for human consumption.” Further, Morton noted that “underlying the capacity to increase food and nutrition security is the need for greater investments in climate smart agriculture research-based science to increase productivity while ensuring the integrity of agroecosystems.”
She also reminded workshop participants that agriculture, food systems and their value chains are major sources of rural economies, providing employment and livelihoods.
But as SfL has long insisted, change does not happen overnight. Nor are there any silver-bullet solutions. We encourage farmers, markets and policy makers to find ways to guide and incentivize the continuous improvement model of efficiency, productivity, and resource conservation to the next level by expanding and utilizing innovations and technologies that support circular systems that “make, use and recycle” rather than “waste, discard, and pollute.”
Those who work the land today are managing multiple challenges simultaneously using integrated multifaceted land management initiatives. We call on stakeholders to urge policy makers to give those in the agriculture sector the tools and financial incentives to address these complex issues and optimize their contributions to our nation’s well-being.