ESMC News Executive Director Update
The sheer volume of recent activity that impacts ESMC’s work and that of our members and stakeholders seems to increase every month. Political change aside (for the moment), we’ve seen more and more companies and sectors in and outside the food and beverage sector taking on new goals and commitments to become more sustainable, including pledges to be net zero emitters of carbon and GHG by certain dates. Goal setting and reporting commitments are fantastic to see; they signal that the private sector is continuing to step up to address not just climate change, but associated natural resource and ecological impacts, including water resource constraints, biodiversity impacts, and related concerns that are critical to human and planetary health and food security. Concerns that the global COVID pandemic might reduce commitments or reduce resolve are calmed by the doubling-down of corporate actors that are evident in headlines everywhere, every day.Valid concerns that society and consumers need to have transparency and clarity into the true impacts of these commitments and endeavors are also increasing. ESMC’s industry-wide approach ensures that sustainability and climate change mitigation activities in the agricultural sector are appropriately and rigorously quantified, verified, and certified by independent authorities. ESMC’s mission of scaling beneficial impacts that benefit society is centered in a voluntary, private market that meets multiple demand-side and buyer needs, while paying the farmers and ranchers whose actions create the impacts. Our program ensures that corporate actors in the agricultural supply chain and value chain need not make these investments individually; and that farmers and ranchers have the necessary tools and opportunities to participate without unduly burdening them. To de-risk these markets, we are ensuring that all market actors have the necessary tools to participate and are testing the entire program with all of them.ESMC’s programmatic investments in technologically advanced protocols, tools, technologies and a monitoring, reporting, and verification platform have and will continue to establish a credible, durable system that meets market standards, buyer and investor needs, and can track and reward the impacts appropriately. The importance of having a robust and national scale infrastructure that ensures transparent, rigorous outcomes-based, certified tracking of impacts from agriculture cannot be overstated. We need change now, but the changes and the tracking must be durable, and the system must adapt to changing science, technology, and market standards. That flexibility of design is an underpinning of our approach. Where we will be in 5 years is not where we are now.
Recent political changes promise to bring additional opportunities to this space, and ESMC looks forward to engaging as these changes are further discussed and shaped. Additional support to the significant investments the private sector has made in this space, as well as to the public and private investments that ESMC and our members have collectively made is always welcomed, particularly in a manner that does not undermine or erode private voluntary markets which have the potential to scale ecological outcomes alongside traditional conservation programs. Both are necessary, and both must continue to scale impact and outcomes with necessary speed.
Thanks again to our members, stakeholders, collaborators, funders, and supporters for all the work that you do. We are honored to work with you, alongside you, and for you in what continues to be an inspiring and rewarding journey.
Employment Opportunity: Senior Software Engineer
In addition to other current employment openings with ESMC/ESMRC, we seek an experienced, highly skilled, and motivated Senior Software Engineer (FTE contractor) with experience in leading the development of successful technology tools and/or platforms to join our small and dynamic, fast-paced team environment. The 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 ESMC contractors. The engineer will drive day-to-day development as well as long-term product strategy and vision. More information on this position is available on our website.
ESMC in the News Webinar: Making Stewardship Pay: Ecosystem Services Markets
On Friday, November 20 from 12 – 1 pm CST, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) will present a webinar on ecosystem services markets. The focus will be on work done in Minnesota to test and develop new, market-based models to provide financial incentives to farmers that implement practices – such as new cash cover crops – that improve soil health, store carbon in soils, and reduce nutrient runoff from their fields. ESMC’s 50,000-acre pilot project in the Sauk River watershed in Central Minnesota will be featured by speakers from ESMC Founding Circle Member, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), who is leading the project on the ground. Click here to register.
Fate of Climate Payment Plans in Hands of Researchers
Agri-Pulse (November 16)
An array of ongoing research projects, with sponsors ranging from the Energy Department to multinational food industry giants, may determine whether carbon credit markets can become a reliable, meaningful source of income for farmers. ESMC was included in the article as one of the more prominent efforts driving research; ESMC’s Debbie Reed stated, “When we are quantifying outcomes for ecosystem services markets, hand grenades and horseshoes are not enough — close is not enough — we need to be accurate”. Read the full article here.
Here’s How Joe Biden Could Cultivate a More Sustainable Food System
GreenBiz (November 13)
Last week, Jim Giles of GreenBiz interviewed leaders from food and agriculture and asked them what Biden’s administration should do to accelerate progress toward a more sustainable food system. ESMC’s Debbie Reed noted, “To support this transition, the USDA should boost farmer and rancher program service delivery through more boots-on-the-ground technical assistance. There continues to be a real need for technical assistance to transfer knowledge, outcomes and benefits to working farmers and ranchers.” Additionally, Chris Adamo, vice president of federal and industry affairs at Danone North America, an ESMC Founding Circle Member, stated, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture can take advantage of tools and money it already has to help farmers transition to more climate-friendly practices that can also lead to improved farm economic resilience in the long term.” Read the full story here.
Corporate Giants’ Climate Pledges Take Root, Pressing Farmers To Go Green
AgriPulse (November 9)
Officials with many corporations, including ESMC Founding Circle Members such as McDonald’s, General Mills, Cargill, and Danone, have made sustainability pledges to consumers and investors to slash the carbon emissions in their supply chains and meet corporate sustainability targets. ESMC’s Debbie Reed noted that, “What we are hearing on all sides of this is that companies are really doubling down on their commitments, and then you see companies also saying, ‘Not only are we going to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint by this much by this day, but we commit to being carbon neutral’”. ESMC is working with many of these corporations to deliver quantified, verified, certified emissions reductions in their agricultural supply chains. Read the full story here.
Ag Water Quality Certification Program Sets Enrollment Goal
Farm Progress (November 6)
Minnesota has set a 1 million-acre goal for its ag water quality certification program. As of mid-October, there were 671,522 acres on 961 certified farms in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), said Brad Jordahl Redlin, MAWQCP manager. MAWQCP staff continue to collaborate with other organizations, businesses, and programs to expand water quality conservation and program certification. As an example, MAWQCP provided funding for a new ESMC pilot project led by ESMC Founding Circle member TNC in the Sauk River watershed to test and streamline the creation and sale of environmental credits from farmland. Read the full article here.
Farmers First Is the Key to Regenerative Agriculture
GreenBiz (October 29)
During two regenerative agriculture breakout sessions at the VERGE 2020 event in October, panelists highlighted four ways to help farmers unclog the carbon sinks beneath their feet. ESMC’s Debbie Reed highlighted the importance of conservation programs and funding to deploy technical assistance to farmers. “You need to have boots on the ground across the U.S. landscape that is specific geographically and [matched] to the production system of farmers and ranchers,” she said. “Because there are no silver bullets. You really do have to tailor these opportunities to the producers.” Read the full article here.
ESMC Member News
ESMC Welcomes Two New Legacy Partner Members Missouri Corn Merchandising Council
The Missouri Corn Merchandising Council (MCMC) is an organization of corn growers dedicated to the profitability of corn production by investing checkoff dollars in the development and expansion of corn markets, facilitating communication with growers and customers, and utilization research. Read more about MCMC here.
Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council
The Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC) is a farmer run organization dedicated to improving the profitability of the Missouri soybean farmer through a combination of marketing, research, and commercialization programs. Read more about MSMC here.
Ag Groups Offer Climate Ideas
Progressive Farmer (November 18)
Earlier this week, a group of farm organizations announced a set of proposals for how agriculture should tackle climate change, as they expect to see more aggressive measures taken to lower greenhouse gas emissions under the incoming president. The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) unveiled work started last February to develop recommendations for federal climate policy involving agriculture and forestry. Four groups co-chair the alliance: ESMC Legacy Partner Member American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and ESMC Legacy Partner Member National Farmers Union. The alliance also includes FMI — the Food Industry Association, the National Alliance of Forest Owners, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and ESMC Founding Circle Member The Nature Conservancy. Read the full announcement here.
Dr. Cristine Morgan, Soil Health Institute Chief Scientific Officer, Named Soil Science Society of America Fellow
Soil Health Institute (November 11)
ESMC Founding Circle Member The Soil Health Institute (SHI) recently announced that ESMC Legacy Partner Member the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) recognized Dr. Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer of SHI, as a 2020 SSSA Fellow. The annual award is presented for outstanding contributions to soil science through education, national and international service, and research. Read the full press release here.
New Field to Market Report Analyzes Trends in Farm Financial Well-Being
Field to Market (November 11)
A prolonged period of low commodity prices has created significant financial pressures for U.S. agriculture, jeopardizing many farming operations and challenging the ability of supply chains to meet ambitious sustainability goals absent more direct support for growers. This is the key finding of a report released recently, Economic Sustainability: Trends in Financial Well-Being, issued by ESMC Legacy Partner Member Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture based upon research and analysis from economists at the University of Illinois. Read the full article here.
Soils Offer Solution to Climate Change, Expert Says
Capital Press (November 3)
It is widely understood in agriculture that carbon sequestration in soil is a potential game-changer for climate challenges, but getting there is not a straight-forward route, soil health experts say. To explore the barriers, as well as the opportunities, Pecan Street — a data research and development organization focused on water and energy — hosted a webinar featuring leaders in the carbon sequestration field. One of the speakers was LaKisha Odom, scientific director the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), an ESMC/ESMRC funder and a member of our ESMRC Executive Committee. She noted that stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations has been recognized as one of the greatest environmental challenges of the century. Read the full article here.
ADM Finds Five Trends Shaping the Food Industry
Food Business News (October 28)
Behavioral and societal changes spurred by the coronavirus pandemic will impact the way consumers eat and drink in the new year, according to ESMC Founding Circle Member ADM. Drawing on research from its OutsideVoice consumer insights platform, the company also reported that more than two thirds of consumers said they want to have a positive impact on the environment through everyday actions, meaning sustainability will continue to be front-and-center. As awareness about the collective environmental impact grows, companies will need to demonstrate sustainability commitments beyond the end product to issues surrounding responsible sourcing and operating standards. Read the full article here.
Spotlight: General Mills’ Approach to Regenerative Agriculture
Climate Collaborative (October 13)
The Climate Collaborative held an interview with ESMC Board Member Mary Jane Melendez of General Mills, an ESMC Founding Circle Member, about the company’s regenerative agriculture work, pilot projects, and work to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas footprint. Agriculture represents more than 50% of the greenhouse gas footprint across General Mills’ entire value chain. Read the full article here.
Other News of Note
GreenBiz (November 16)
In a recent newsletter article, Joel Makower of GreenBiz noted that this year, there has been much ado about zero. It’s becoming hard to read the green media, or even the mainstream media, without seeing new net-zero commitments from companies, governments, institutions and others. Read the full newsletter article here.
Can Biden Keep His Promise to Make Farms Climate Friendly?
New Republic (November 16)
Last month, when asked on Pod Save America to name three or four things atop his first-term agenda, Joe Biden mentioned a surprising topic, noting that agriculture could be “the first net-zero industry in America” when it comes to carbon emissions. The president-elect is right—it could be. Read the full article here.
Grassland 2.0 Aims to Replace Soy and Corn Farming with Perennial Pasture in the Upper Midwest
Civil Eats (November 11)
The University of Wisconsin-Madison project will help farmers transition to pasture-based systems to protect the environment and boost rural livelihoods while meeting demand for grass fed meat and dairy. Read the full article here.
What the Limits of Traditional Accounting Mean for the Future of Food
GreenBiz (November 6)
Traditional accounting methods do not fully capture the externalized costs of economic activities in the food and agricultural space, and this shortcoming is becoming more apparent because climate change is intensifying the focus on sustainable development. Against this backdrop, some industry officials think that true-cost accounting for food offers a better way forward. Read the full article here.
Cutting Greenhouse Gases From Food Production Is Urgent, Scientists Say
New York Times (November 5)
Rising greenhouse gas emissions from worldwide food production will make it extremely difficult to limit global warming to the targets set in the Paris climate agreement, even if emissions from fossil-fuel burning were halted immediately, as written by scientists in a Science journal article. But they said that meeting one of the targets, limiting overall warming this century to 1.5 degrees C, or about 2.7 degrees F, could be achieved through “rapid and ambitious” changes to the global food system over the next several decades, including adopting plant-rich diets, increasing crop yields and reducing food waste. Read the full article here.
Global Executive Survey: Known Gaps and Blind Spots in Corporate Sustainability – Part I
Despite increasingly ambitious targets and a stated desire to meet sustainability targets, companies continue to delay action to implement the necessary changes. In a new report, GreenBiz surveyed 200 executives of large multinationals to better understand priorities, barriers, and key practices that accelerated sustainability transformation. Read the synopsis and download the report here.
FCC Approves $1 Billion to Facilitate Precision Agriculture
JDSupra (October 29)
As part of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) efforts to support “precision agriculture” technologies and issues, the agency confirmed that at least $1 billion will be made available to specifically target the deployment of technologically innovative 5G networks that facilitate precision agriculture. These funds will be available in “Phase II” of the FCC’s 5G Fund, the general goal of which is to bring 5G wireless broadband connectivity to rural America. The Public Notice announcing the adoption of the Order allocating these funds can be accessed here. Read the full article here.
Saving the Climate From the Ground Up
Phys.Org (October 27)
Soil has the capacity to bind large quantities of carbon in the long term. An international team of researchers is now advocating effective use of this potential. Experts estimate that this could reduce currently rising rates of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a third. At the same time, agricultural yields in many regions would also increase significantly. In a recent publication in Nature Communications, they present a strategy to achieve these goals. Read the full article here.
This Design Collective Is Helping Fashion Embrace Regenerative Agriculture
Vogue (October 27)
Everyone’s talking about regenerative agriculture. Brands large and small are partnering with regenerative cotton farms and peppering words like “soil health” and “carbon sequestration” into fashion week chats. Even Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzarri mentioned regenerative agriculture in his Copenhagen Fashion Summit keynote, citing it as a priority in Gucci’s mission to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Maybe fashion is rallying around regenerative ag, as it’s come to be known, because it’s so different from the other sustainability trends and buzzwords we’ve encountered. It has virtually no downsides or compromises, and it isn’t just “less bad” than conventional farming. It’s categorically good, and it’s good for every living thing involved: the farmers, the plants, the animals, the soil, the micro-organisms in the soil, and, eventually, the consumer. Read the full article here.