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Giving Compass' Take:
• Maywa Montenegro, Annie Shattuck, and Joshua Sbicca describe a vision for an agricultural new deal to ensure the long-term viability of farming in the United States.
• How can funders support farmers in the long-term? How can farmers prepare for climate change?
• Learn about decreasing farmland in the United States.
Agriculture generates about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from sources that include synthetic fertilizers and intensive livestock operations. These emissions can be significantly curbed by adopting methods of agroecology, a science that applies principles of ecology to designing sustainable food systems.
Agroecological practices include replacing fossil fuel-based inputs like fertilizer with a range of diverse plants, animals, fungi, insects, and soil organisms. By mimicking ecological interactions, biodiversity produces both food and renewable ecosystem services, such as soil nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration.
Cover crops are a good example. Farmers grow cover crops like legumes, rye, and alfalfa to reduce soil erosion, improve water retention, and add nitrogen to the soil, thereby curbing fertilizer use. When these crops decay, they store carbon–typically about one to 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide per 2.47 acres per year.
Cover crop acreage has surged in recent years, from 10.3 million acres in 2012 to 15.4 million acres in 2017. But this is a tiny fraction of the roughly 900 million acres of farmed land in the U.S.
Another strategy is switching from row crops to agroforestry, which combines trees, livestock, and crops in a single field. This approach can increase soil carbon storage by up to 34 percent. And moving animals from large-scale livestock farms back onto crop farms can turn waste into nutrient inputs.
Unfortunately, many U.S. farmers are stuck in industrial production. A 2016 study by an international expert panel identified eight key "lock-ins," or mechanisms, that reinforce the large-scale model. They include consumer expectations of cheap food, export-oriented trade, and, most importantly, concentration of power in the global food and agricultural sector.
Because these lock-ins create a deeply entrenched system, revitalizing rural America and decarbonizing agriculture require addressing systemwide issues of politics and power. We believe a strong starting point is connecting ecological practices to economic policy, especially price parity–the principle that farmers ought to be fairly compensated, in line with their production costs.
Read the full article about a vision for an agricultural new deal by Maywa Montenegro, Annie Shattuck & Joshua Sbicca at Pacific Standard.