Monday, February 9, 2009

Agriculture and Climate Change

Distinguished panel tells packed room of environmental journalists that the way we grow our food matters to a heating planet.

A top USDA climate-change scientist, a university professor specializing in agriculture in developing countries, and the farm director at the Rodale Institute agreed: How we reward farmers to produce our food across the planet will have great bearing on our ability to dial down the mercury and deal with other coming consequences of global warming.

These specialists comprised the “Climate Change and Agriculture” panel, moderated by National Geographic Executive Editor Dennis Dimick, as part of a recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference that brought together environmental writers, educators, policymakers, industry leaders and special-interest groups from around the nation and globe, included Nobel Prize winner and International Panel on Climate Change chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, who delivered the conference keynote address.

Organic solutions for a broken food system
“It’s become painfully clear over the past few weeks that our banking system is broken, and I think it will become equally clear that our food system is broken,” said Rodale Institute Farm Director Jeff Moyer, at the October 2008 event.

The Rodale Institute, he said, has been working to connect the dots between agriculture and climate change and to help farmers make the necessary changes to become more environmentally responsible while maintaining yields. Research at the Institute has, Moyer said, shown that organic yields hold up to conventional ones—and even surpass them in times of extreme weather conditions such as drought or excessive moisture.

But in an age of global warming, he said, yield is not the most significant issue. “How we produce food is the critical issue,” he said.

In the Rodale organic research trials, Moyer said, “We are able to sequester three times as much carbon,” compared to conventional no-till systems, when utilizing cover crops, crop rotations and the application of compost. “We are changing the soil’s ability to support life, to sequester carbon and, ultimately, to feed us.”

Farming organically with a focus on long-term biological interactions actually turns soil into a carbon sink, or reservoir, while conventional farming with chemicals has the opposite effect of releasing carbon into the atmosphere, Moyer told the packed room.

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