The Pandemic, Climate Action and the Future of Agriculture

What has the pandemic taught us about food systems, and what's next for agriculture and climate action?

With all the dreadful changes that COVID-19 has introduced to our lives and the modern economy, the pandemic has also triggered an acceleration to what could be a much brighter future for the agriculture industry and climate action.

Why now?

We see a fast-approaching future in which we embrace agriculture's effect on ecosystems rather than detach ourselves from it. This future is coming through an incredible confluence of factors, including rising consumer awareness of climate change, and a greater understanding of the agricultural production system's current fragility, along with maturing climate and agricultural modeling and sensing technologies. We are starting to see the emergence of incentives to farm our land in a positive way for the planet and the people.

There is no doubt that farmers are doing everything possible to be the best stewards of their land. Their land is the livelihood of their families. They want their land to be inherited by future generations. They understand, better than many of us city-dwellers, that the health of the soils is vital to the resilience of their own business and their communities.

With the emergence of carbon markets that incentivize the adoption of various conservation practices, farmers will finally be renumerated for farming practices with a long-term payback period. However, these transitions come with the risk that needs to be shared.

This transition and shift in priorities feel good for everyone involved in the agriculture supply chain. Sustainable climate-smart farming should be good business. In 2021, climate-smart farming represents access to large markets of consumers concerned about food's impact on the environment. What I believe can enable this change now is an equal parts pressure from the consumers and company's stakeholders, as well as the emergence of the technologies that can support the low-cost, large-scale transition of the entire industry towards more resilient food production.

Industry's role

It was fantastic to hear this sentiment echoed by industry leaders from Cargill, The Nature Conservancy, Land O'Lakes, and others, at the recent World Agri-Tech conference. [Since its launch in 2013, the conference had the highest attendance rate to date. It is fantastic to see more and more groups of stakeholders outside of ag - across conservation, technology, and policy joining the conversation this year.] These leading organizations are making commitments to shift their sourcing to more regenerative acres [General Mills and Cargill, to name a few] or to supporting farmers through this transition [Nutrien]. Additionally, they are taking practical actions to power this transition in the agrifood space, with piloting, proving, and scaling systems and approaches.

According to Nutrien's Chuck Magro, we are "shifting to a dual pillar [business model]- to feed the world and do so sustainably". We see an active search for functional deployable solutions to enable this change, including monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems, such as Regrow's platform. These systems facilitate the efficient quantification of the ecosystem co-benefits generated by a producer and enable them to be rewarded for it.

An essential part of rewarding the producer for sustainable practices is the transaction cost: the cost involved in understanding how much a producer should be paid and verifying the payment claim. Low-cost verification and quantification tools play a critical part in ensuring that the transaction cost is low enough and the systems are scalable enough to be deployed globally while keeping the accuracy of quantification at a required level.

The producer's take

On the other hand, the producers have been actively participating in a number of programs that can be further leveraged to demonstrate their progress towards carbon sequestration and improved soil health.

In the words of one producer who also holds the position of president on a state board: "adding another goal to our farming operation is making us nervous." Producers want tools to evaluate whether adopting additional conservation practices would put them at risk of participation in their current markets. If such decision support tools are offered, will they be supported by their trusted advisors? As this producer said, "everything we do, we do it to advance our kids' future on our land."

The reality is that many producers are already implementing farming practices for air quality, water quality, and, in some particularly sensitive or regulated areas, to regulate the use of synthetic fertilizer and nutrient run-off. What these producers are now wondering is: will some of these practices be counted for carbon sequestration? Is there a way to evaluate the co-benefits from already implemented practices? Whether the answer is yes, or no, any decision support tools will need to handle this inquiry on a field-by-field, farm by farm, county by county basis.

Our take

At Regrow, we see even the formation of our business, through FluroSat and Dagan eagerly joining forces, as proof that the transition to climate-smart farming is an important goal that will drive powerful collaboration.

By focusing on addressing the producer's questions, working with their trusted advisors, providing systems that allow the quantification of the benefit of farming practices to both productivity and long-term resiliency, and by forging meaningful collaborations, we can move the industry towards this brighter future. I believe together we can achieve this.

This is why I believe now is one of the most exciting times to be working in agriculture, to lead the renaissance, regeneration, regrowth of our food production system to the one that will serve generations to come.

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