February 2023: Climate Smart Ag

February 2023: Climate Smart Ag

Our first session after over a year apart! We decided we would generally focus on climate smart ag, but let our minds and discussion wander freely. Here are some interesting ideas we toyed with:

  • The struggle between incrementalism and the need for disruptive action. Do we demonize incremental progress unfairly? How do we make space for both?
    • USDA climate smart commodity programs look primarily at large monocrop farms in the Midwest doing cover crops, water storage, etc. based on interesting climate smart frameworks.
    • People think of small organic as climate smart farming. If you only do cover cropping but nothing else, are you climate smart? It’s not one size fits all.
    • Organic milk doesn’t necessarily mean climate smart, as it travels farther on average and larger dairy farms can invest in dairy digesters. Are we incorrectly demonizing larger producers?
      • On biogas digesters: interesting intersection of digesters vs environmental groups because of methane & construction efforts to build digesters. Environmentalists don’t want to see pipelines being built, which perpetuates use of gas. Locals are often NIMBYs. Digesters are encouraged through incentives for industry to develop & rural economies are fueled by fuel from the digesters. Not expanding into the state wide grid, keeping it regional. That’s climate smart ag? Digester pipelines are a utility in California.
      • Related to the mass consolidation of power in farming in the US, as cost competition increases, access to suppliers is decreasing, and monopolies have formed.
  • Food miles are overblown as an issue, they’re just one component. Soil restoration & carbon capture lead to lower CO2e per unit.
  • What about energy? Plastic bottles have a lower carbon footprint & energy requirement than glass, although glass is (essentially) infinitely recyclable. With future clean energy predictions, cleaner energy could become a moot point. Should we be optimizing for energy efficiency or circularity? It’s hard to take it all into account, including water health, soil, & tilling the carbon you’ve stored.
  • A key issue is farmer financing. There’s simply not enough money for farmers to transition. Policies are on soil health, but there’s not a lot of evidence that carbon sequestration works in the long term. Conservation ag (no til, cover crops, agroforestry, etc.) is great, but need to pay them to do it, as they’re not making enough money from the required investments, and there’s not enough money in USDA programs. Benefits in the long term are likely.
  • Climate adaptation angle: water, manure, and soil management. How do we create manure management to be safe during manure flare-ups?
  • In order to create baselines for measurement, need lifecycle assessments (LCA) on production processes.
  • Digital twinning of farm data to analyze how farmers can sustain longterm economic output, and to predict how owners can internalize prices without increasing food prices astronomically, as anything that makes food more expensive is a human rights issue.
  • When comparing regenerative practices to productivity, how long does it take to break even?
  • Decoupling growth & carbon. Is it possible to redefine growth as change, not just “more”? Can economists and government workers reframe? Instead of requiring more of items, we adapt the metrics of change?
  • CSAs are enforced by the USDA, who focus programs on soil not emissions, although language is focused on emissions.
  • Ag companies in cooperatives are allowed to be monopolistic. In a winner takes all commodity market, with future-based pricing, who survives is based on who gets subsidies. A lot of market control & levers being pulled to amass power to get the lowest possible prices
  • Cultivated meat is in its preliminary phases & piloting in startups right now. How would larger production effect existing ecosystems? It will still be energy intensive. Is it feasible at scale? More environmentally friendly? Looking at more sustainable ways to produce. Could cultivated meat mean decentralized distribution in the future? Could cultivated meat devices mean food sovereignty? Centralized cultivated meat producers could centralize power, lead to corruption, hurt food sovereignty, food security and more.
    • B2B companies emerging on growth factors, amino acids, precision fermentation.
    • Some use fetal bovine serum, some biopsy from animal cells, others don’t, with the goal for animal component free processes.
  • for American consumers.
  • Interesting projects:

Interesting resources we shared: