By Kathleen Merrigan, AGree Co-Chair & Executive Director of Sustainability at The George Washington University
As someone who has been working in agriculture for nearly sixty years, there isn’t much that I haven’t seen. We’ve tried many different things on my farm and the ones my sons and daughters farm: conservation tillage, cover cropping, GMO varieties, non-GMO varieties, precision agriculture, brewery ingredients and malting, heirloom vegetables, farmers markets. Certain trends – like the growing interest in locally grown foods and seasonal consumption – remind me of how my grandparents farmed and fed their families. In many respects, we have come full circle.
We commend the U.S. Congress for moving toward passage of the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252).
You hear about the partisanship and inaction in Congress. This bill is an example of how diverse interests can come together to support food security and poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Through our investments overseas, we are helping smallholder farmers in the world’s poorest regions improve yields and pull their families out of poverty.
Originally published by the Chicago Council for Global Affairs on their blog – Global Food for Thought.
Agriculture is intricately linked to opportunities and challenges we routinely lump into baskets labelled “water,” “energy,” “nutrition,” “resilience,” “climate change,” and so on. When we talk about agriculture and agricultural policy, we are actually talking about the nexus of food, energy, and water.
Profound. That’s how I describe a recent “learning journey” to South Africa and Zambia to explore one of the world’s most pressing questions: How to produce enough food for a growing, more affluent and increasingly urban world in the years ahead? Cargill hosted the trip in celebration of its 150th Anniversary.
Reflections on Driving Positive Change in Food and Agriculture: The Second Annual AGree Partners Forum
Earlier this month, AGree Advisors, Co-Chairs, partners, and friends spent a day laying out integrated, forward-looking strategies to drive positive change in the food and agriculture system. The Second Annual AGree Partners Forum brought together leaders who understand the critical role food and agriculture plays in our economy, environment, and health and wellbeing.
What really is local agriculture?
The era of political battle over the value and meaning of local food is over.
A strong food and agricultural science education system is important for many reasons. The current release of the AGree paper titled Food and Agricultural Education in the United States highlights the need for parents, educators and policy makers to advocate for the inclusion of food and agricultural science throughout classrooms at all grade levels.
I recently attended the 100th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Omaha. Colloquially known as “the North American,” the conference is one of if not the largest annual gathering of fish and wildlife management agencies and conservation organizations. Having been engaged professionally in conservation over two decades, I am keenly aware of the overwhelming importance of private landowners to wildlife conservation in the United States.
In the Great Lakes region, all eyes are on water quality and agriculture is front and center in that conversation.
Water quality concerns in the Great Lakes came to the forefront last fall with the shutdown of the Toledo drinking water supply as a result of a harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie. While many factors played a role in that event – invasive species, malfunctioning septic and sewage systems, and climate change – agriculture was also involved.
Agriculture has a critical role to play in addressing the challenge of climate change. Exciting opportunities are emerging for farmers and ranchers to engage in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction efforts that benefit the global community, the health of their land, and their bottom line. Progress in this arena is evident in California: the state's cap-and-trade program is the cutting edge of U.S. climate policy, includes growing opportunities for agriculture, and is closely watched all over the globe.
How can the 40-year old Endangered Species Act be made more effective and more responsive to the scientific advancements and societal needs of the 21st century, while still maintaining the basic goals and objectives of the Act?
Making informed decisions at the farm or landscape scales is not easy. Critical information may be missing, consequences may not be readily identifiable, or there may be too much information to process. The agricultural sector, like all parts of our global economy, is becoming data-rich due to advances in remote and mobile measurement technologies. However, this increases the need for enhanced data management and analytical capabilities.
Originally published by the Chicago Council for Global Affairs on their blog – Global Food for Thought.
Last month, more than 50 watershed project managers; federal, state and local officials; and NGO representatives gathered together in Sycamore, Illinois for the fifth Leadership in Midwestern Watersheds (LMW)* forum. The diverse stakeholders attending this meeting share a common goal: improving water quality by reducing agricultural runoff in targeted watersheds.
I admit it: I was a bit skeptical coming into the AGree process. The goals were profound - develop agreement on what are the critical issues in food and agriculture – never mind the solutions – and then work with representatives across the supply chain, conventional and organic, left and right, big and small, as well as experts in nutrition, international development and rural development to advance solutions together. Really?!
I was eager to embrace the challenge! But could we possibly succeed, I wondered?
Is it possible to grow more food, increase profits for farmers, and improve the environment along the way – just by changing the way we insure crop loss? Based on anecdotal evidence, this reality may be well within reach; during the drought of 2012, Midwest producers who used conservation practices, such as cover crops, experienced lower yield losses. Given this and other similar emerging evidence that conservation practices lead to lower crop losses, could the federal crop insurance program recognize these practices as risk mitigation strategies?
There is an old saying that you might not hear much anymore. In my youth when family or friends were presented with a particularly complex set of circumstances, conditions or tasks their summary of the situation might be that it was “a lot to say grace over,” reflecting that there was so much on the table one hardly knew where to begin. But also implicit in that old saying are that while difficult and complex the problems are both solvable and, above all, cannot be walked away from.
On behalf of AGree, I would like to congratulate the recipients of the 115 USDA RCPP grants that Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on January 14. These projects, which will leverage nearly $800 million to support agricultural conservation across the country, demonstrate the leadership of the partners involved and have strong potential to move us toward a future where landscape stewardship, long-term productivity, and the prosperity of farming communities are aligned.
Ten years ago a senior vice-president of one of the world’s largest food brands said, “We just don’t have sustainability on our radar yet.” Now, most food companies have a sustainability profile and a number of them have made a commitment to sustainably sourcing agricultural materials.
The public conversation around prioritizing and re-invigorating U.S. agricultural research investments recently took some promising strides forward.
Reflections on Sharing AGree’s Working Landscapes Recommendations with the Senate Agriculture Committee
Over a year ago, I sat down with my fellow producers, AGree Co-Chair Jim Moseley and Advisory Committee Member Fred Yoder, to develop a proposal to help answer a critical question for the future of food and agriculture: how could we align the long-term productivity and profitability of our operations with environmental outcomes- soil health, water quality and quantity, and wildlife habitat? We agreed our approach should be farmer- and rancher-led, watershed-based, and supported by a broad range of partners in the public and private sector.
Reflections on AGree’s Pivot to Action and the Value of Building Consensus among Diverse Food and Ag Interests
Last week marked an important milestone for AGree.
The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture notes that there are nearly one million women farmers in America. We are two of them. One of us runs an organic produce and flower farm farm in rural Ohio and is a co-founder of a national organization working with volunteers making schools healthier places for kids to eat, learn, and grow.
The seminal connection between food, agriculture, and climate was underscored in New York at the Development Dialogues hosted by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in association with the UN Climate Summit. The week’s events energized discussions about how to move towards more sustainable and resilient “climate-smart” agriculture and food systems.
AGree Releases Five Papers on Achieving Productivity, Profitability, and Environmental Outcomes in Agriculture
Meeting the food, feed, fuel, and fiber needs of a growing and increasingly prosperous world, and doing so in a manner that also maintains and improves environmental quality, is one of the grand challenges facing humankind in the 21st century. Drawing on diverse expertise among landowners and producers, supply chain leaders, and nonprofit organizations, AGree’s Productivity, Profitability, and Environmental Outcomes Workgroup is developing a set of consensus strategies and recommendations for policy and action that will drive transformative change in U.S.
The U.S. government is the world’s single largest donor of publicly-funded food assistance, a reflection of the support and commitment that the American people have shown over generations for those around the world who struggle with poverty and food insecurity, especially in times of natural disasters or conflict.
Public awareness of agriculture's vital role in our society was the simple idea that led to the establishment of National Ag Day in 1973. This year, in addition to events held around the country, a statue of legendary plant breeder Dr. Norman Borlaug was unveiled in a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol. In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, Dr. Borlaug warned that the struggle against hunger had not been won. “We may be at high tide now, but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts,” he said.
In late January, the House leadership issued principles to guide their work on immigration reform.
As producers, we applaud this step to begin working on immigration, and we were glad to see the document specifically note the labor challenges facing agriculture in the absence of reform.
By AGree Co-Chairs Dan Glickman, Gary Hirshberg, Jim Moseley and Emmy Simmons
Passage of the 2014 Farm Bill ends a frustrating two-year legislative journey, largely driven by a search for significant budget reductions, and often fueled by polarizing rhetoric on how to make those cuts a reality.
A growing number of farmers throughout the nation have “discovered the cover” — and for some very good reasons.
They’re recognizing that by using cover crops and diverse rotations, it’s possible to actually improve the health and function of their soil, said David Lamm, a soil health expert with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Farmers are also reaping the benefits healthy soils bring to their operations in the form of better nutrient cycling, improved water infiltration and more consistent yields over time.
Pick any day and there's bound to be a student tour snaking its way through the hallways and corridors of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation of Ardmore, Oklahoma (www.noble.org), the largest independent, non-profit agricultural research institute in the U.S.
On a perfectly normal tour last spring, a 5th grader made a revealing statement. When learning that hamburger meat originated from cows, the young man balked and said, "I would never get my meat from a cow. I'd just buy it from the grocery store."
What’s the one thread that ties all humans together? The need to eat!
The social, nutritional and cultural importance of food in our society should never be underemphasized. Yet until now, there was no major student competition in the world focused specifically on rewarding agricultural innovation.
Arguing about which type of agriculture is best is like the soft mud in a dirt road—it’s where we get stuck. Small farms and big farms each have logic and value for different people, crops and places. Good farmers of any type—organic or “conventional”—can learn from one another.
Since the global food price spikes of 2008-09 and the widespread riots that ensued, the world has begun to pay more attention to food security. The link between food and security is no longer in question.
There's been a lot of debate recently in the U.S. about food aid reform, especially since the U.S. Government proposed a shift toward more cash programs and increased local and regional purchases of food close to where it is needed. But what's lost in the lively discussion is a sense of long-term focus.
When Congress picks up its Farm Bill deliberations in September, proposed cuts to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) will once again be on the table. Recent reports suggest that House leadership is considering a package that would cut SNAP by some $40 billion over 10 years – twice the level of cuts included in the original House Farm Bill.
Mark Winne on July 24th launched an attack on anti-hunger groups for creating and adhering to “orthodoxy” – i.e., in his words, acting as “pit bull defenders” of SNAP (food stamps) that “threaten to rip the limbs off heretics” who might “modify” SNAP, and that “oppose food stamp change at any cost.” Winne doesn’t actually propose any changes, although he seems comfortable with the disastrous recent House of Representatives’ splitting of the Farm Bill into two parts, and he references New York City’s ill-conceived proposal – rejected by USDA – for a sloppily evaluated “demonstration
At the risk of being labeled a Tea Party toady or right-leaning deviationist, I have to ask if the severing of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) from the Farm Bill by the Republican House Majority isn’t an opportunity worth taking advantage of. And in the same breath, I have to ask if the lockstep resistance to that move and piling on of liberal vituperation isn’t yet more evidence that the left-leaning social policy machine is running on empty.
After months of negotiation and intense debate, on June 27 the U.S. Senate passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, with a healthy push from AGree.
Of the approximately two million agricultural workers in the United States, it is estimated that at least half are undocumented immigrants. Specifically relevant to agriculture, S. 744 creates a blue card for existing agricultural immigrants, and would also create an agricultural guest worker program to address the future flow of workers.
When the South Florida Water Management District announced new standards to reduce nutrient loading and increase water retention on the lands draining into Lake Okeechobee, one of the most important regions in the world for water and wildlife, Northern Everglades cattle ranchers knew they needed strategies to meet those environmental targets while maintaining the profitability of their beef operations.
We recently wrote one of five papers in response to a call for concept notes issued by AGree to elicit bold ideas on strengthening the U.S. public sector agricultural research system. The papers are available here. We believe the following seven recommendations are critical ingredients for building a more efficient and sustainable public agricultural research system that responds to the challenges of the future:
U.S. food aid has been the backbone of our global emergency response system for more than 60 years. When natural, economic, or political disaster strikes another part of the world and people are left without food, the U.S. has delivered.
After months of negotiation and intense debate for weeks in the Judiciary Committee, the U.S. Senate is expected to begin consideration of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, the week of June 10.
Our planet is swiftly urbanizing. Today, for the first time in history, more than half of earth’s people live in cities, but by 2050, the percentage of urban dwellers is expected to jump to 70 percent.
Who would have predicted that a public high school with a curriculum focused on agriculture, located in one of the biggest cities in America, would become so popular with kids that a lottery system is necessary to choose 150 lucky students from among 3,000 applicants each year?
Editor’s note: Recently, AGree posted to its website a background paper by Philip G. Pardey, Julian M. Alston and Connie Chan-Kang entitled Public Food and Agricultural Research in the United States: The Rise and Decline of Public Investments, and Policies for Renewal. The publication was commissioned by AGree to inform and stimulate dialogue about policy reform; it does not represent official AGree positions.
As the 113th Congress gets underway, it appears that both political parties are serious about tackling comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, for the first time in many years. A crucial piece of that package must address farm labor issues, a topic that has risen to the top of the policy agenda for AGree and many other groups. Wyoming rancher Pat O’Toole, an AGree Advisory Committee member, has strong views on this subject.