Climate, Water-Sustainable Ag & the Future of Food

Dec 20, 2019 | Agriculture, Citizen Advocacy, Clear Water Farms, Water Policy

As we continue to talk with Wisconsin farmers and bring new farms into our Clear Water Farms program, we’re thinking a lot about climate change. Of course, agriculture is both a major contributor to and a major victim of climate change.

Tilling the land, fuel consumption, the use of fossil-fuel sourced fertilizers, and slash and burn techniques add carbon to the atmosphere. Agriculture is collectively responsible for more than 30 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, climate change is making food production more challenging. Heat, changing rainfall patterns, and salination linked to climate change are a drag on yield. They are devastating when they manifest as flooding, storms, and droughts.

The Link Between Water Stewardship and Climate-Smart Ag

Water stewardship and climate-smart agriculture are deeply linked. Many of the practices necessary for reducing farms’ carbon footprint have the dual benefit of more sustainably managing water.

A new bill recently introduced by the Wisconsin State Legislature (LRB 4201) is attempting to kickstart farmers’ adoption of these practices. The bill offers “sustainable agriculture grants,” through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for fertilizer and pesticide reductions, planting riparian buffers, and adopting minimal tillage practices. All of these reduce carbon emissions while improving water management.

It is increasingly clear that the agriculture sector is waking up to the fact that climate change is the new reality, and that farmers will need to make serious changes. But all of us need to take responsibility if we want to transform the food system. Production is demand driven. Many consumers desire abundant cheap meat and produce from conservation-minded farmers. Yet a huge amount of the food produced is simply wasted—unconsumed or discarded by consumers. This is carbon added to the atmosphere for no benefit.

One way we can contribute to climate sustainable agriculture is by being willing to pay more (if we can) for food produced in sustainable ways and by actually eating what we buy. Farmers can do their part by transitioning to less carbon-intensive (and water-contaminating) practices.