ESMC News: Executive Director Update
As we kick off 2021 and welcome the incoming administration of President Joseph Biden, I am optimistic that we can collectively make significant inroads on issues important to society, and to ESMC/ESMRC and our members. The Biden administration has identified COVID-19, racial equity, and climate change as three of their highest priorities to address. These critical issues will demand immediate and extended attention to adequately address, and will require that we all do our part, with patience, focus, and determination. For the administration in particular, burgeoning federal debts and fiscal realities will require a balancing act to ensure existing federal resources are maintained and/or redeployed in a manner that ensures all necessary priorities are equitably supported.
As we head down this road together, I wanted to share some thoughts on our collaborative work seeking to scale beneficial agricultural outcomes and ecosystem services impacts that benefit society and that recognize and reward farmers and ranchers for their work. Our agenda aligns well with the new administration’s agenda in many ways, and we look forward to working collaboratively with the Administration, the legislative branch, and with our members and stakeholders to achieve positive change.
One worthwhile discussion I think we should begin with is the role of the public and the private sector – as well as public-private partnerships such as our own, and where joint or shared investments are also appropriate. Thinking just about scaling GHG mitigation and delivering ecosystem services from agriculture, for instance, a common understanding of our shared vision, and a comprehensive plan that delineates public and private roles and shared or joint roles now and in the future can ensure the most beneficial, durable outcomes for which current and future investments – whether public, private or joint – make sense.
We should take stock of what investments the private sector (which I define here to include private corporations as well as civil society, non-profit organizations, and philanthropic organizations) has made and is making, and will best retain in the future for purposes of longevity and durability, and identify what roles the public sector can retain, improve, and perhaps additionally take on in ways that avoid duplicating or undermining those investments. We should recognize where the private sector is leading (and where it has greater agility and ability to ensure continued progress and investments to scale and achieve beneficial outcomes) to ensure that the public sector’s resources are best utilized to address gaps.
For instance, corporates in the private sector are leading in making investments to reduce their direct and indirect GHG and environmental impacts, but access to federally funded research data, practice data, and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers would help scale private sector advances, particular private voluntary market-based programs. Because markets won’t pay early adopters or innovators after the fact for their ecological goods and services, however, a public role could be paying early adopters whose beneficial actions we seek to maintain and encourage and whose leadership we wish to tap to scale greater adoption. USDA, for instance, could pay farmers and ranchers to protect existing soil organic carbon stocks, while private markets can pay for new and increased soil carbon sequestration. Why? Soil carbon lost from existing stores increases the need to mitigate GHG, and that soil carbon is more difficult and more costly to replace – but since markets don’t (with some notable exceptions) reward the protection of these stocks, federal agencies could. The Biden Administration has signaled USDA’s Carbon Bank as a priority. This could be used to protect soil carbon stocks in this way and to reward early actors and good stewards. The same concept also could be applied for early adopters whose early systems changes eliminate them from participating in ecosystem services markets due to additionality requirements; if USDA can reward early adopters for their significant impacts (lets just say – for the past 5 years – though the timeframe should be discussed and agreed) then we are not perversely penalizing them by preventing their participation in private markets. We might also consider rewarding them for their leadership and pay them to showcase their own farms and ranches to help train the next generation. A few more suggestions for public sector investments:
- Standardize data collection (focused on collection of, and quality of, data) needed to track and quantify GHG and ecosystem services outcomes and impacts.
- Establish and maintain shared public research data repositories to allow all users to benefit equally in data that improves all ecosystem quantification methodologies (e.g. all process models).
- Rather than investing in new tools and technologies – a place where private sector activity is robust – perhaps establish criteria against which all constituents can assess and compare the accuracy, rigor, and proper utilization of these tools, and perhaps also their commercial viability.
These are just a few thoughts and examples, and we look forward to engaging further in these discussions with our members and stakeholders and with the administrative and legislative branches as we collectively work to achieve the many critical needs of society today and in the future.
ESMC Welcomes Two New Staff for Policy, Project Coordination
Andrew Lentz, Policy Director
Andrew Lentz joins ESMC as a Policy Director and will develop ESMC’s strategic national policy plan. Andrew has more than a decade of experience in the nation’s capital, serving in roles in the public and private sectors, including at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Andrew comes to ESMC from Deloitte where he served as a Senior Lead in the firm’s Policy & Government Relations office. He brings knowledge of the legislative and political processes of developing public policy to ESMC and excels at stakeholder management, government relations, and corporate affairs. He earned an MBA and an MA in Government from Johns Hopkins University and received his bachelor’s in Political Science from Villanova University. Andrew was born and raised in downtown Chicago and currently lives in Washington, DC.
Lizzie Rose, Project Coordinator
Lizzie Rose joins ESMC as a Project Coordinator to provide scheduling and support for ESMC staff as well as research for ESMC pilot projects. Her past roles include working as a Naturalist at the Audubon Center of the North Woods teaching nature-based classes and serving as a Communications and Outreach Intern with Women for Conservation by publicizing work to protect endangered species in the Colombian rainforest. Lizzie earned a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Environmental Studies and English from St. Olaf College, and holds a Master of Natural Resources Stewardship with a specialization in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University. She currently lives in Kansas City.
Employment Opportunities at ESMC/ESMRC
ESMC and ESMRC, the research arm of ESMC, have new positions open immediately for individuals looking to join the ESMC/ESMRC team. All positions are posted on ESMC’s website; interested applicants should send a cover letter, along with salary requirements, available start dates, and a resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name in the title of all files (ex. Jane Doe cover letter). All positions will remain posted until filled.
The Lead Engineer will be responsible for the development, oversight, and coordination of all technical and product aspects of building, launching, and supporting the Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) platform through collaboration with the ESMC team, ESMC members, ESMRC Working Group participants, and other contractors. Driving the day-to-day development and long-term product strategy/vision, the candidate’s experience in leading the development of successful technology tools and/or platforms will be key to the success of ESMC’s dynamic, fast-paced team environment where impact and sustainability is at the forefront of the mission.
ESMRC Postdoctoral Researcher/Research Scientist
ESMRC seeks a dedicated ESMRC Postdoctoral Researcher with experience in the agricultural field related to water quality and quantity issues. The Postdoctoral Researcher will be responsible for providing additional research and technical expertise to the Working Groups, R&D projects, and pilots/field demonstrations. The Postdoctoral Researcher will focus on a topic that relates directly to the impacts of soil health and other conservation practices on ecosystem services outcomes within agricultural systems: water quality and water quantity quantification and modeling.
ESMC in the News
On January 26, ESMC’s Debbie Reed was a featured speaker on AgriTalk. In the interview, Debbie highlighted features of ESMC’s program and discussed how ESMC is creating innovative market opportunities. Listen to the interview here (click on the January 26 link; the interview begins at minute 9:30).
A recent article in the Indianapolis Star, There is a lot of money on the table with carbon markets. But farmers are skeptical, highlights agriculture’s key role as part of the climate solution. ESMC’s Debbie Reed noted that, “We’re at a point where we no longer have options, and we have to do all of the above for every sector. That’s true for the agriculture sector.”
Look for ESMC At……
Farming for the Future: A Forum Exploring Ecosystem Markets
On February 12, from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM CST, ESMC will participate in a free, national webinar exploring environmental and carbon market opportunities for Midwest farmers. Click here for more information and registration.
National Association of Conservation Districts 2021 Annual Meeting
On February 10 at 1:30 pm ET, ESMC staff will lead a training session at ESMC Legacy Partner Member NACD’s annual meeting. This training will provide attendees specific information on how to become an ESMC Enrollment Specialist. Click here for more information and registration.
ESMC Member News
2021 All-Bay Agriculture Network Forum
ESMC Founding Circle Member the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will host six events during the 2021 watershed-wide “All-Bay Agriculture Network Forum.” The Forum brings together NGO, local, state, and federal ag conservation leaders and partners to share best practices, network together, discuss collaborative implementation strategies and opportunities for accelerating and scaling up nutrient and sediment load reductions. Read more and register here.
Leading at the Edge: A Roadmap to Advance Edge of Field Practices in Agriculture
On Friday, February 5, join a 1-hour webinar about the importance of accelerating the adoption of Edge of Field practices to achieve an integrated, whole-farm approach to working lands conservation. The webinar is hosted by ESMC Founding Circle Member The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), and Meridian Institute. Read more and register here.
Other News of Note
The State of Green Business 2021
GreenBiz (January 25)
The GreenBiz State of Green Business report (now in its 14th year), is an annual report highlighting key data and trends in sustainable business. The report, a free download, includes 10 sustainable business trends to watch in 2021 as well as the State of Green Business Index. The report looks at the past five years across a wide range of metrics for thousands of companies around the world and provides insights into the direction business is headed — and whether the private sector is moving at the scale, scope, and speed necessary to address challenges and seize opportunities. Read the full article here.
Some Farmers Updating Methods, Trying `Regenerative’ Farming
Wisconsin State Farmer (January 24)
Regenerative farmer Rick Clark has spoken on his farming methods in Russia, France, Spain, and 25 U.S. states — but he still has trouble finding open ears in his home of Warren County, Indiana. “The old adage holds true, you don’t know what you’re talking about unless you’re more than 50 miles from home,” Clark said. “I can’t get anyone in my local community to understand what I’m doing, but I get calls from Russia to come and speak.” Clark, a fifth-generation farmer near Williamsport, has spent more than a decade working on the health of his soil through nutrient-building practices commonly called regenerative farming. Read the full article here.
Planting Crops — And Carbon, Too
Washington Post (January 22)
President Biden says farmers can adopt agricultural methods that help fight climate change. Maryland farmer Trey Hill has been trying. Hill is at the cutting edge of what many hope will provide not just a more nature-friendly way of farming, but a powerful new climate solution. Read the full article here.
Can Regenerative Farming Combat Climate Change? Experts Weigh In
Sourcing Journal (January 19)
Though there’s no denying the damaging effects the fashion industry can have on the environment, the sector has significant opportunity to do good. Not only does the industry employ 161 million people worldwide, according to global fashion network FashionUnited, it also has the potential to reverse its carbon footprint by implementing specific methodology at the source. Brands feeling pressure to meet aggressive sustainability targets are turning to regenerative agriculture practices to rebuild soil and, in turn, improve the planet. Read the full article here.
5 Things You Need to Know About What Biden’s Plan for a Carbon Market Means for Farmers
Indianapolis Star (January 18)
President-elect Joe Biden has said he plans to support regenerative farming as a key tool in the fight against climate change. He plans to do that through a series of solutions. Notably, his administration has proposed a carbon market. Read the full article here.
How Consumers Could Drive More Farmers to Fight Climate Change
Indianapolis Star (January 18)
As environmentalists, economists, and politicians all wrestle with how to get more farmers to switch to practices that are known to improve the soil and fight climate change, some experts say the key might be to start with the consumer, instead. Efforts are underway across the country to propel the idea of sustainable agriculture beyond the term “organic” and bring regenerative farming into the mainstream. Read the full article here.
Livestock’s Role in a Changing Climate
Successful Farming (January 14)
Edward Bork’s research surrounding how livestock grazing affects soil carbon has made him a believer in the beneficial role cattle can potentially play in a changing climate. “Because their grazing contributes to the concentration of carbon in the soil – a helpful process – livestock can be a tool to help reduce atmospheric carbon and thus mitigate climate change,” says Bork, director of the Rangeland Research Institute, University of Alberta. Read the full article here.
Black Farmers Face a Slew of Systemic Challenges
Marketplace (January 12)
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package includes $13 billion for agriculture programs. But for Black farmers, there is a long history of discrimination in federal funds distribution and structural barriers that make it more difficult for them to access aid than their white counterparts. Cornelius Blanding is the executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, a cooperative association of Black farmers, landowners, and cooperatives in the South. Blanding spoke to “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about the ways in which systemic racism manifests in Black agriculture. Read the full article here.
Why Aren’t USDA Conservation Programs Paying Farmers More to Improve Their Soil?
Civil Eats (January 12)
Soil health is crucial to fighting climate change, but a new study published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems finds that funding to support it in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is lacking. Read the full article here.
A New Study on Regenerative Grazing Complicates Climate Optimism
Civil Eats (January 6)
In November, a group of eight scientists published a comprehensive, peer-reviewed life cycle analysis on the research done at White Oak Pastures, an eastern Georgia-based sixth-generation farm that practices multi-species rotational grazing. The findings confirm that multi-species pasture rotations sequester enough carbon in soil to create a greenhouse gas footprint that is 66 percent lower than conventional, commodity production of beef. The catch is that the regenerative approach requires 2.5 times more land. Read the full article here.
Does Regenerative Agriculture Have a Race Problem?
Civil Eats (January 5)
BIPOC farmers and advocates say the latest trend in agriculture is built on an age-old pattern of cultural theft and appropriation. With Black Lives Matter marches sweeping the nation in 2020, leading to a national reckoning over systemic racism across myriad industry sectors, BIPOC farmers and leaders—including some who describe their work as “regenerative”—have begun publicly criticizing the regenerative movement, saying it’s high time to address racial injustice, power, and equity in the food system. Read the full article here.
Once Called Naïve for His Focus on Returning Land to Black Farmers, Thomas Mitchell Is Now a MacArthur Genius
Civil Eats (December 9)
The Texas A&M law professor talks about his work to help Black families navigate a discriminatory system and retain ownership of their farmland, as well as the new bill that would provide reparations in the form of farmland. Read the full article here.