Forum addresses role ag can play in climate change

December 4, 2019

More than 80 farmers, academics and members of the agricultural supply chain met in Des Moines, Nov. 25, for an Iowa Smart Agriculture Initiative forum co-sponsored by Solutions from the Land and Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They met to explore and assess the impacts that extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions are having and are expected to have on the state's number one industry — and how the agricultural sector can contribute to addressing these issues.

The forum was coordinated by a  work group co-chaired by Iowa corn and soybean producer Ray Gaesser, a past chairman and president of the American Soybean Association, and Daniel J. Robison, Endowed Dean's Chair of Iowa State's College of Agriculture and Life Science and a co-chair of the Iowa Conservation Infrastructure Initiative.

The agenda was designed to bring views from diverse aspects of Iowa agriculture, with the ultimate goal of providing nutritious food, clean energy and ecosystem services such as water filtration and carbon sequestration, all while maintaining profitability.

As highlighted by members of a science panel that opened the forum, the increasing frequency of erratic, extreme weather events and climate variation pose unprecedented risks to the sustainability of Iowa agriculture, as well as numerous challenges to sustaining and enhancing crop productivity, livestock health and the economic vitality of rural communities. Epic flooding this spring caused more than $2 billion in damage in Iowa and delayed the planting of the 2019 corn and soybean crop. Coupled with a wet and late harvest, this year's weather-related calamities represented the latest real-world example of the "new normal" that is occurring, many forum attendees agreed.

Fred Yoder, chair of the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance and a Solutions from the Land co-chair, said climate challenge goals cannot be met without technology and innovation. He cited the three pillars to climate-smart agriculture: 1) adaptation and resiliency, 2) productivity, and 3) greenhouse gas reduction, noting that the first and second pillars lead to the third.

Agriculture and science may not have all the answers today, said Yoder, "but we have some of the answers...We need tools in the toolbox to build resilience and mitigate climate impacts. We need farmer leaders to integrate all of this into the system." He added that farmers learn from other farmers, and farmers from Iowa will lead the effort to meet the climate challenge. 

The SfL leader also encouraged agriculture to assert its leadership position now to take an active role in decisions being made at all policy levels. "If agriculture doesn't lead, others will," Yoder said.

Jerry Hatfield, director of the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, was among speakers who urged in-the-field measures from growers, emphasizing that farmers must enhance their soils. 

The USDA scientist said that to live with climate variation, growers must build resilience to yield variation and plan for both production and ecosystem services.

"The path will be complex," Hatfield said, noting the debate over whether climate goals can best be accomplished be through economic incentives or through regulation. "We know what we need to get done..." he said. "Opportunities exist to build a new ag system to capture environmental value. This is how we need to be thinking about the new economy of agriculture."

Mike Castellano, a soil scientist and professor of agronomy at Iowa State, invited farmers to lead on the actions that are needed. "It is critical that we link this (climate smart) science to the people and the operations on the ground," he said.

Others to address the forum included representatives of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.

A more detailed recap of the forum, which includes a video of the presentations, can be downloaded HERE.

The Iowa Smart Ag Work Group reconvened the day after the forum to discuss its findings and continue the conversation on how to create a path forward.


This article is revised from a Solutions from the Land news release