The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance is igniting efforts to connect the agriculture and food industries to solve one of humankind’s greatest challenges: How to nourish an unprecedented population while protecting and enhancing the world in which we all live.
“There is no ‘or’ in this equation. We must grow and raise healthy foods to feed billions of people and we must do so in a way that positively contributes to the environment,” said Erin Fitzgerald, CEO, USFRA. “There is no other sector that can provide nourishment for our communities while drawing down carbon into our soils and enhancing ecosystem services like the food and agriculture sector.”
According to American Farmland Trust, agricultural land in the United States disappears at a rate of 175 acres per hour due to business and residential expansion. That loss of land, combined with climatic changes and a growing global population, is forcing farmers and ranchers to protect and optimize the environment while increasing the amount of food they produce per acre.
“We are proud to carry the responsibility of being a trusted source for food,” said Chip Bowling, USFRA chairman and a seventh-generation farmer from Newburg, Maryland. “But farmers and ranchers need the support and collaboration of food makers and industry stakeholders to advance existing technologies and management practices.”
“Our future is dependent upon contagious collaboration between the food and agriculture value chain,” added Fitzgerald. “I’m urgently asking all innovators, food makers, non profit groups and financial institutions to join us as we create a strategic roadmap to meet these challenges of the next decade.”
In early June, nearly 100 top leaders across agriculture, technology, NGOs, finance and investment, and food companies gathered at a 1400-acre farm an hour outside Washington, D.C., to discuss the urgency of the issues and collaborate on a vision. The Honor the Harvest Forum, created by USFRA and The Aspen Institute, featured working sessions among stakeholders that centered on the ability of agriculture to draw down greenhouse gases and adapt to a changing climate, while growing shared value across the food chain.
“We’re talking about doing new things that haven’t been done before,” said Chris Adamo, vice president of Federal and Industry Affairs, Danone North America. “So we’re going to need different people coming up with ideas that frankly I haven’t heard of, probably farmers haven’t heard of, and sometimes consumers haven’t heard of. We’ve all got to be sitting down and really working on this together.”
Studies have found that farming and ranching will play a critical role in solving climate change issues. Agricultural soils have the capacity to draw down and store carbon through the photosynthesis process. Through climate smart agriculture practices, farmers and ranchers can optimize for production, improve resiliency, minimize fertilizers and other inputs, improve water use and quality, all while storing carbon for future generations.
“This idea that agriculture provides solutions to some of the biggest problems humanity faces is not something new,” said A.G. Kawamura, former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “It’s something that needs to be re-thought through and more importantly re-communicated that we’re all in this together.”
In the coming months, the leaders who attended Honor the Harvest will be outlining a path forward to a more sustainable food system, and define how food systems could look in 2030.
“We can have a lot of strategies,” said Chrstine Daughtery, vice president of Sustainable Agriculture & Responsible Sourcing, PepsiCo. “We clearly need vision. But at the end of the day, we need to roll up our sleeves and we need to get the work done.”