The Earth does a lot for us, so why do we only dedicate one day to it?
Climate change is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for our planet, and it is something we should actively be trying to solve. When trying to help the Earth we should focus on finding a climate solution, more than just one day per year.
Every day is Earth Day for farmers. CIBO hosted a webinar on Earth Day featuring three agriculture professionals Dustin Madison, Nathan Smith, and Michael Toelle to discuss how regenerative agriculture is one solution to climate change. They discussed topics such as the business of farming, the future of regenerative agriculture, why growers are increasing their sustainable farming practices, and more! The information below goes into more detail about their discussions during the webinar.
“For those of us that work in agriculture…every day is Earth Day.”
– Nathan Smith, Senior Agricultural Analyst at CIBO
The webinar began with understanding why Earth Day is every day for farmers. The group shared that the last thing farmers want is to be detrimental to their land. The fact that conservation and regenerative agriculture are back in the public attention and the way the administration is focused on reducing emissions with new technology is very hopeful progress.
To set the stage, only 2% of people in the US are involved in agriculture. Not many people are looking at the world the way these three individuals do on a daily basis especially through the lens that farming is a business. According to Michael, we need to figure out the puzzle together with farming, conservation, economics, sustainability, and carbon. We need to figure out how to combine them to make it workable.
Here are some highlights from the panel discussion.
What is the critical threshold to see regenerative agriculture working?
Risk is an important concept when talking about new practices and how growers implement those on farms. Farmers do a lot of farm trials, that way they are not risking too much on one practice in one year. Additionally, there are geographical differences in farming across the US. Farmers must be enabled to take calculated manageable risks to try new conservation practices and find what works for them and scale it.
Farming is a risky business and a large component is that the weather is different every year. Farm margins are so thin that one mistake can set an operation back half a decade or put growers out of business. The technology has advanced so farmers can learn from each other which has helped them mitigate risks from trying out technologies by themselves.
Are there other economically aligned activities that conservation and regenerative farming can do to build resiliency into farming operations?
There have been incredible differences for farms that utilize no-till and cover crops versus ones that do not. During rough years, the farms that use basic regenerative practices will have more positive outcomes and stay in business longer compared to the farms that used conventional methods.
Furthermore, as we talk about agriculture, there is a huge discussion about soil health. High-quality soil health can help offset some of the significant weather events seen in farming. If you can build up the soil health it will help it be able to better survive the ups and downs in the long run.
What are the barriers and benefits of doing regenerative agriculture?
On the cost side, cover crops, minimum-till or no-till, can take specialized equipment. It will improve soil health but it does take time and money. It does not happen in one growing season and you need to stay persistent. A farm needs to be able to make it through from a business standpoint because it does take effort and capital to implement some of these things.
Many companies are making carbon and climate commitments publicly. However, the question is are these companies just saying they are for sustainability or are they actually putting it into action?
There is a lot of effort and work trying to think through how to accomplish these climate goals. Corporate announcements give momentum and publicity to the climate issues facing the world today. Organizations have the right intentions, but actually applying it to agriculture and farming is sometimes difficult and expensive. The hard part that remains is figuring out how to put this into practical use at the “farm gate” according to Michael.
“Money is important but time is our biggest commodity in agriculture.”
– Dustin Madison, Agronomy Consultant with operations in Virginia.
How can people who aren’t farmers get involved in regenerative agriculture?
There are opportunities to buy carbon credits to offset regenerative agriculture activities. People interested in regenerative agriculture can also try to get out and talk to farmers. These discussions help the public understand what is happening at the farm level. Many people are far removed from farms and they should try to understand how the farmer sees it to get more informed. People can also reach out to their local FSA office to get in touch with growers. It helps them get publicity and it is a great way for people to learn about agriculture.
The webinar ended with each individual sharing their thoughts on the next 10 years around carbon farming, conservation and regenerative agriculture.
- Michael Toelle believes that information is very powerful. When we think about the technology we have today and the ability to share the data, resources, and information. Farmers have always been cautious and slow to adopt new practices. Over the next 10 years, he believes we will see more transformation and change with the new technology and information.
- Dustin Madison agreed and said as long as this is something that people want to happen from the farmer and non-farming side, and they understand the value in it at the farming level, it will just get better. We will find better ways to measure our carbon footprint, improve it, and find ways to get paid which will allow it to develop and get bigger.
- Nathan Smith believes that with the regenerative potential, modeling capabilities, carbon markets, incentivization, and promotion of these types of practices with growers will be huge. He believes there will be an explosion of new practices developed and implemented in farming across the globe.
Meet the Panelists!
Dustin Madison is an Agronomy Consultant with operations in Virginia. His family has been farming for three generations and he manages around 20,000 acres across the state of Virginia. Agronomy consulting is about trying to find profitable fits for different farms. Everyone does things a little differently, and operations need to find new ways to create value and bring in revenue, which is less traditional. He decided to go into agronomic consulting because he thought it was a good chance to work directly with farmers and add value to their operations. Many farmers don’t always have time to focus on the revenue business parts of farming.
Nathan Smith is a Senior Agricultural Analyst at CIBO, a science-driven software startup. Prior to CIBO, he worked in agriculture for Monsanto and The Climate Corporation. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business and Management with a minor in Agronomy from Southern Illinois University.
Michael Toelle owns T & T Farms, a diversified farming company, and sits on the board of CF Industries Holdings, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of nitrogen-based fertilizers located in Deerfield, Ill. Toelle also serves on the board of directors for the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company based in Columbus, Ohio.