In June 2019 on a farm in Newburg, Maryland, agriculture leaders and CEOs, food manufacturers, environmentalists, farmers, and anti-hunger advocates met in private to tackle one of the biggest, most urgent, and most ignored topics in US agriculture, climate change. The US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance partnered with the Aspen Institute to host the “Honor the Harvest” forum, aimed at discussing the uncertain fate of the agricultural industry and taking action on the taboo topic of climate change.
The forum was a national meeting of the minds from all corners of the agricultural, environmental, food, policy and agribusiness worlds,” wrote Shelby Watson-Hampton in a report for Lancaster Farming, which covers the farming and agriculture industry in the region. With representatives from the likes of the World Wildlife Fund, Tyson Foods, Bayer, National Black Growers Council, Campbell Soup Co., Feeding America, PepsiCo, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, members of Congress, and three Secretaries of Agriculture present, among others, this may have been the most robustly representative meeting of agriculture’s key players to ever converge in a single space.
Groups from across the political spectrum took part, with even notoriously conservative organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation admitting the need to become combatants against climate change, lest their entire industry succumb to its effects. In the wake of disastrous flooding conditions for US farms in 2019, which drastically impacted crop production, small-time farmers and mega-corporations alike are taking notice. Efforts to reduce carbon output on farms have been gaining support, including methods to sequester carbon in the soil such as reducing tillage and growing cover crops.
The livestock subset of the industry is a bit more sensitive about climate policy. Although raising livestock accounts for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it makes up only a small fraction of overall US emissions. Still, blame has often been heavily placed on the meat industry for its role in climate change, and in turn these industries tend to be the biggest supporters lobbying against climate change legislation.
Forums like this foreshadow what may become impactful shifts in the industry’s attitude and actions toward the climate crisis. Farmers and agribusinesses are realizing that blame needs to be set aside in order to enact productive changes that could help to save their livelihoods and the planet.
This story was first covered in July 2019 by Lancaster Farming, a local Maryland newspaper. It gained more extensive coverage from Politico in December 2019, but has received no corporate news coverage as of February 2020.
Shelby Watson-Hampton, “Ag Leaders Come Together For Conference” Lancaster Farming, July 5, 2019, https://www.lancasterfarming.com/news/southern_edition/ag-leaders-come-together-for-conference/article_a1a94bf7-5f7c-5b1e-a1c2-297f52f3990e.html.
Helena Bottemiller Evich, “How a Closed-Door Meeting Shows Farmers Are Waking up on Climate Change,” Politico, December 9, 2019, https://www.politico.com/news/2019/12/09/farmers-climate-change-074024.
Student Researcher: Megan Fickert (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)