On water, carbon, and the multiple functions of agriculture

Casey Hoy's picture

Alayne Reitman shared the following article and asked, "Can the region take
advantage of our water? Can we be a center for innovation and
manufacturing in support of what may be developed?"  I just returned from a week of work with USDA and these multiple benefits of agriculture, including carbon and water
storage, figure prominently in the direction that the USDA grant
programs are taking. The most recent one, Ecosystem Services, was a
combined program with EPA in which carbon sequestration figured
heavily. A lot of people in our area seem to feel that water isn't of
concern, because there's this big lake. But the continental divide is
in northern Wayne county, and climate change scenarios include much
more variable weather, more frequent floods and droughts. Under those
conditions we have a challenge in switching from a water drainage and
removal mindset to a water capture and storage mindset, with farmland
figuring heavily in both. Alayne is right, that will take some
innovation and means opportunity.


DB Climate Change Advisors (DBCCA) today published a new report,
"Investing in Agriculture: Far-Reaching Challenge, Significant
Opportunity: An Asset Management Perspective." The report, along with
copies of all of our other research, is available online at www.dbcca.com/research.
In this study, we explore the question of how to sustainably meet the
growing energy and food demands of a global population approaching nine
billion people in 2050 in a sector affected by climate change.In
collaboration with The Nelson Institute’s Center for Sustainability and
the Global Environment (SAGE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
(UW), we estimate that the caloric needs of the planet will soar 50% by
2050 driven by population, wealth and diet as well as some biofuel
demand. The focus of the report is on how to meet the challenge of
boosting agricultural productivity to meet the needs of the Earth’s
population. The paper looks at this challenge through 2050 and presents
new agricultural data and models.

The challenge of boosting productivity is investigated in three
phases:1) Investigate the world’s existing agricultural lands and
raised the productivity using the best available practices. This would
entail massive investment in production technologies and yet, supply
would fall short of meeting demand.2) Explore utilizing additional
lands such as degraded and abandoned lands, pasturelands and
multi-cropping while still preserving existing forests. This still may
not meet global demand.3) Taking into consideration the resulting
increased use of water, land and increased greenhouse gas emissions in
a climate change framework, some alternative approaches were looked at
such as low-input organic farming practices, broad scale reallocation
of land uses, and the potential of using more biotech crops to maximize
output with minimal input.

The report finds that policy solutions are necessary in boosting
agricultural productivity. Currently, there are a host of tariff
systems and subsidies that create distortions in the global agriculture
markets. Additionally, policy makers and scientists are asking how
agriculture can help to mitigate carbon emissions. This is evident in
the current Waxman-Markey legislation. Sustainable forestry, addressing
deforestation, and ending slash-and-burn agricultural conversion are
obvious answers. Carbon sinks can also be created through practices
that sequester carbon in agricultural soils, such as low tillage and

On the investment front, we outline the long-term view that the
upward trend in agricultural prices will resume. The good news is that
this should stimulate investment and will offer large investment
opportunities across the agribusiness complex including, fertilizers,
irrigation, mechanization, sustainable biofuels as well as management
practices and infrastructure development.

We analyze production trends, identify opportunities for improvement
and study the supply-side responses that will attract capital in the
effort to boost agricultural output. The following topics are also
discussed at length:

- Recent market trends and what they mean for the future

- Land-use analysis: measuring the production and yield gap by major crop and region

- Constraints for raising productivity

- Key investment themes and implications (including, water,
fertilizers, stronger plant varieties, agricultural equipment, farm
commercialization, and supply change management)

- Biotech and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) crop options

- Policy trends

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One Article and One Blog Posting about Rainwater Catchment

Steve Bosserman's picture

Today's NY Times featured a front-page article on rainwater catchment out West where water rights is a hotly contested issue, especially with increasing water scarcity in many areas.  Also, the Green Inc. section of the online edition has a blog posting on the same subject.

Indeed, we are blessed with big lakes, but climate change will not leave OH, MI, and PA unaffected.  While we may have a decided advantage in the moment compared to those residing elsewhere, the adoption of effective water management practices assures that advantage is sustained.  Such action is a combination of innovation in the development and application of related technology AND innovation in administrative structures so that "ownership" and responsibility-taking for sound ecological and economic water management decisions occur in a healthy way at local levels throughout the region, not solely at the state and national levels.

Achieving this balance is one of the unspoken, but key points in the articles.  Our tri-state region can set the standard for both the technical and administrative aspects of sustainable water management practices.  Demonstrating how to do that would bring us well-deserved recognition and provide us with a much-needed shot in the arm during these tough economic times  Hey, why not?!