National workshop explores challenges and opportunities for enhancing the climate resilience of agriculture

MSU leads a climate listening session for agricultural technical advisors who are helping farmers adapt to changes in the climate during the National Adaption Forum, April 23-25, 2019, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Standing water in corn field
Photo by Monica Jean, MSU Extension

I recently overheard a graduate student say she decided to pursue a PhD in agriculture because of its potential to deliver climate change solutions. “Agriculture is the silver bullet for climate change,” explained the student, “because of its carbon sequestration capabilities.” While a silver bullet solution to climate change would be nice, in fact, it will require significant changes throughout our society—not just agriculture—to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. This multi-sector approach is more like “silver-buckshot” than a silver bullet.

Agriculture does offer unique climate change solutions, particularly through biological carbon sequestration. However, there are challenges to realizing this potential. Agricultural advisors, such as Extension educators and crop consultants, are working at the front lines of these challenges.

Conservation practices that offer “win-win” and “no-regrets” adaptation options for farmers often can help mitigate climate change. These practices, such as reduced tillage, cover crops and perennial plantings, help to reduce climate risk on the farm. Coupled with diversification of production and marketing, these practices have the potential to enhance the resilience of agricultural businesses and the communities they serve through improvements in soil and water quality, increased biodiversity and other climate-friendly co-benefits.

Despite documented benefits of these practices, producer adoption remains low in many regions of the U.S. Farmer advisors, including extension, agency and private sector consultants, are uniquely positioned to help crop and livestock producers reduce risks and capture new opportunities through conservation-based, climate-resilient mitigation and adaptation strategies. As trusted sources of information, advisors can help farmers identify new weather-related challenges, plan adaptive responses and advocate for increased public and private investments in agricultural climate solutions.

But there is much more to learn, which led me and Julie Doll, education and outreach coordinator at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, to form a working group to address this topic at the National Adaptation Forum in Madison, Wisconsin, held April 23-25, 2019. The group includes members of Michigan State University (MSU) and MSU Extension, Purdue Extension, South Dakota State Extension, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Michigan Agribusiness Association and an adaptation expert from Cultivating Resilience, LLC.

What kinds of changes to agriculture are needed to realize the potential of agricultural climate solutions and who will determine how best to achieve these changes? Will these changes be imposed on farmers and ranchers from those outside of agriculture, or will the agricultural community embrace the development of climate change solutions? How can agricultural technical advisors promote a transition to more climate resilient agricultural systems? These are just some of the questions that will be discussed at the MSU-led workshop, Agricultural Adaptation for Climate Resilience: Challenges and Opportunities for Technical Advisors.

The workshop brings together farmer advisors and adaptation specialists to explore barriers and opportunities for reducing climate risk and enhancing the climate resilience of their clientele’s businesses, while delivering climate solutions to society. If you would like to contribute to this conversation, register for the National Adaptation Forum and join us on Wednesday, April 24, from 8 to 10:30 a.m. in Madison. A summary of the workshop discussion will be available in a future MSU publication.

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