Farmers are being inundated with opportunities and news surrounding climate-smart agriculture, and there are opportunities there. But there's also a challenge. The complexity of agriculture and its interaction with the climate makes measuring actions more challenging. One public-private program aimed at tackling this data challenge is AgMission.
"The ag community and industry sector are all working in the area, creating sustainability goals and working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). "They're working from company sourcing to new science in the area and other efforts. How can we bring the whole community together and accelerate what they're doing?"
The multifaceted actions taken by companies and consumers may be having a significant impact on the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But how do you measure that?
AgMission, which was started with U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (USFRA), the World Farming Organization and FFAR, is working to bring together all those data into one place to provide more accurate measurement of actions taking to reduce climate change.
"Data is a big part of it; we're generating incredible amounts of data, but we're all generating incredible amounts of data," Rockey points out, observing that the pile of data collected is of little value if they can't be put to work. "If we're going to walk the walk and talk the talk, and accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change or achieve net zero emissions, [we have to measure that]."
Ag's role in climate mitigation
The AgMission program, which includes those major organizations, is also getting corporate support. Recently, McDonald's joined PepsiCo as corporate partners in the effort. Rockey explains that the way funding works from FFAR is that public money must be paired with private funds in research programs to be available. The capital campaign that brought in McDonald's and PepsiCo will be bringing in other partners soon, too.
"The first call for applications in the program is to help guide us in what data we need," Rockey says. "We're working to bring all this data together and build what we're calling a data action framework."
Rockey notes that agriculture is the only industry that can naturally mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration, which gives the industry a leg up on a lot of other sectors. She adds that because the foundation is farmer-driven and that farmers are involved in many ways, this new initiative will be farmer-based.
The aim is to use that data action framework as a guide to promote new practices that farmers can adopt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rockey notes that any program proposed must be economically viable for farmers.
Power of public-private work
Rockey likens this multifaceted approach to the original human genome project, where academia and government was moving the needle — but when industry got involved. it accelerated genome mapping. "We can bring the private sector and public sector together," she says. "We're not just talking on the farm, but across the whole supply chain, and try to bring as much data as we can."
The key is pulling together that massive pile of information and making it interoperable. For example, supply data from McDonald's can be connected to the work a farmer did to raise the soybeans that became fry oil to build a deeper picture of the whole climate impact picture.
In an announcement about McDonald's supporting AgMission, Erin Fitzgerald, CEO, USFRA, commented that "soil and farmlands already sequester 100 times more carbon that is emitted in a year. But farmers and ranchers cannot do it alone. This effort requires a response that rivals the magnitude of the challenge we are overcoming."