The climate crisis is threatening to take food off your family’s dinner table. Unprecedented global warming is causing a catastrophic combination of crop-sapping droughts and farm-swallowing floods.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been working as a food safety consultant in the agricultural industry. In 2015, I teamed with my daughter to publish a 600-page book on the climate crisis. Despite my dual experience in these two arenas, I failed to recognize the strong connectivity between agriculture and the climate crisis. That is—until recently!
The climate crisis is enmeshed in all aspects of our lives on this planet. It’s analogous to heralded California naturalist John Muir’s quote about the web of life: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” And so it is with the climate crisis. When we pull on one strand of the climate web, all the other strands resonate in response. The climate crisis is now affecting everything we do, think, and feel. And this is especially true for world-wide agriculture and food production.
As Lisa Archer and Kari Hamerschlag emphasize in their February 8, 2019 GreenBiz webcast: “The food sector is the single biggest generator of climate-harming greenhouse gases. In fact, agriculture accounts for nearly one-third of our global emissions. This means that—with scientists worldwide confirming we have just 12 years to avoid irreversible climate chaos—transforming food and agriculture is central to addressing our climate crisis.”
So we know for certain that the climate crisis is currently threatening the essential food supplies of our families. But what can we do about it? An array of farming practices—known collectively as Regenerative Agriculture (RA)—is the answer. Actually, much of RA is not really new. In fact, some of the practices harken back to the way things used to be done down on the good ol’ family farm.
In a nutshell, RA involves farming smaller and smarter. Instead of routinely tilling the soil in all fields before each crop season, eliminate tilling completely. Tilling is a major factor in releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) from agricultural fields to the atmosphere. Instead, emphasize using crop rotation and cover crops.
Also increase the use of organic fertilizers—such as manure and compost—in lieu of synthetic chemical fertilizers. These “old school” practices simultaneously preserve topsoil fertility, biological diversity, and carbon sequestration while minimizing the potential for soil erosion caused by both wind and water.
Regenerative Agriculture emphasizes a speedy transition from our current mega-scale, chemical-dependent food producing methods to healthier, organic, and ecologically-minded farming practices. Archer and Hamerschlag state that making the RA transition will mandate resilient, fair, local, and regional food systems while ensuring good jobs and healthy food for all.
So how do we make the transition to RA a reality? As Archer and Hamerschlag summarize it: Our government must stop giving billions of dollars in subsidies, loans, and research to support large-scale industrial agriculture (in other words, “Big Ag”). Instead we need to expand our support for resilient—local and regional—farmers and ranchers.
To be successful, RA must also emphasize growing crops that are both organically and ecologically sound. Accomplishing this requires healthy, low-carbon, plant-based crop production. Future federal subsidies must then be focused on farms that feature conservation practices that lead to carbon sequestration and better soil health/biological structure.
If wisely and broadly applied, Regenerative Agriculture will help ensure your dinner table remains set with the healthy food your family needs and deserves. Plus, the resultant wide-spread increase in carbon sequestration will help us harness the climate crisis. Now that’s a win-win situation we can all live with!
Budd Titlow is a professional wildlife biologist, wetland scientist (emeritus), nature photographer, and author of four books. His most recent book—written with his daughter, Mariah Tinger— is PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change.