TRAVERSE CITY — Alert: This is not a fad.
Climate-change talk, that is, said Tim Hammerich, senior director of strategic communications for Cogent Consulting and Communications, and host of the Future of Agriculture podcast.
During Michigan Farm Bureau’s Voice of Agriculture Conference Jan. 20-21, Hammerich said farmers should continue to care about their consumers’ likes and dislikes, especially if it affects how they do business.
“We can put our heads in the sand and deny that (climate change) happens and deny that it's important — and that's OK — but if the consumer cares enough about it, and they're going to influence policy decisions, markets, and environmental social governance (ESG) that are impacting companies we buy inputs from and sell to, we should be paying attention to it,” he told Michigan Farm News.
“And we should care enough to know how to address it.”
More Fortune 500 companies are already embracing “climate-smart” agriculture, promising to be carbon neutral by 2030. So more is being done to reward farmers for adopting practices to capture carbon and other greenhouse gasses.
That list includes USDA's Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program, which will use $3.1 billion to fund climate-smart pilot projects; ADM and PepsiCo’s agreement to collaborate on projects that aim to “significantly expand regenerative agriculture across their shared North American supply chains”; and Truterra LLC’s commitment to pay farmers more than $4.5 million for nearly 237,000 tons of carbon sequestration.
Farm methods encouraged in these programs include cover crops, crop rotations, and no-till and minimum tillage practices.
Consumers, according to Hammerich, care about the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and the preponderance of food waste.
“Agriculture has the opportunity to be part of the solution in sequestering carbon, in leading the fight against food loss and waste, in trying to help show the public that we are utilizing the resources to the best of our ability and that animal agriculture, which is often under the scrutiny of climate activists, is part of that upcycling byproducts that we can’t eat as humans,” Hammerich said.
Hammerich said interesting innovations are already happening in the agriculture space: Sound Agriculture (nutrient-efficiency products) and Mill (at-home compost bins) are creating ways to cut down on waste and runoff and create a “positive impact on the planet.”
“Consumers care more and more about these things,” Hammerich said. “By 2050, we need to reduce our carbon emissions by around two-thirds in order to not raise the temperature inevitably by two degrees.”
That’s why the federal government’s allocating more funding to — yep, you guessed it —climate-smart agriculture.
“As we face down the dual crises of climate change and food insecurity, USDA recognizes that changes to our agriculture and food systems can only happen at the needed scale and speed if farmers are at the center of our solutions,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said in November.
But what do consumers know about farming?
Wrong way of looking at it, Hammerich said.
“Food and agriculture are something we all have a vested interest in, right?” he suggested.
“For some of you, it's your livelihood. So it's important to understand and appreciate where consumers are coming from, even if they don't have the first inkling or knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to