In a recent presidential debate, the topic of climate change policies was addressed to the candidates. One of those questions stood out because it aimed to address how American farmers would be supported in light of the drastic environmental changes, including droughts, increasing temperatures, and flooding, that are increasingly threatening their livelihood. While talk surrounded federal funding and relocating farmers, one area was missed—innovations in food science, specifically focused on how agricultural advancements allow farmers to adapt to climate change.
Below is a roundup of informative articles highlighting how science enables growers to shift their practices in response to climate change. Among the solutions referenced are indoor agriculture, regenerative farming, and an emphasis on sustainability. Ultimately, ensuring crop yield and the preservation of global farmers in the face of radical climate events rests on the adoption of forward-thinking and innovative practices. Many farmers are actively making adjustments to incorporate cutting-edge innovations into their operations and, together with food scientists, do their part to combat climate change.
- Weathering the Impact of Climate Change – The January 2020 Food Technology magazine cover story highlights how shifting environmental conditions are taking a toll on food production, but progressive farmers and food companies are fighting back through practices such as regenerative farming, water-use efficiency, drought-resistant crops, and deforestation efforts. Deforestation plays a significant role in cocoa, and farmer training programs are teaching farmers how to increase their yields on less land and replace aging trees with structured replanting (more on that here).
- Agriculture Moves Indoors – This feature article examines controlled environment agriculture (e.g., hydroponics), where crops are grown in enclosed spaces ranging from smart greenhouses to high-tech vertical farms. Growing in a controlled indoor environment is local and sustainable; it requires far less water than outdoor growing, and it doesn’t deplete the soil. A few examples of companies on the forefront of urban food production include BrightFarms and Mirai.
- Utilizing Greenhouse Gases to Produce Food – U.S. agriculture accounts for approximately 9% of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, soil management, rice cultivation, and burning of crops, but the food industry can help mitigate emissions by utilizing CO2 and methane as a feedstock to produce food. This article highlights how biotechnology company Calysta is using a natural fermentation method to produce a nutrient-dense protein that doesn’t contain any animal-derived byproducts, and the fermentation process is fueled by methane gas.
- Lessons in Sustainable Livestock Production – An Inside Academia feature showcasing scientists at Utah State University who are identifying sustainable production methods such as optimal reproduction and breeding techniques, effective plans for nutrition and feed efficiency, and consistent meat quality. The notion of sustainable production in the beef and dairy sectors may seem like an oxymoron, but it is an objective that scientists have developed many strategies to achieve—because it involves far more than simply allocating more land for crops and less land for food animals.
- Regenerative Agriculture Takes Root – Food Technology staff penned this article that looks at regenerative agriculture which “describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity—resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.” This is important to note because in September 2019, 19 companies joined forces to increase the use of alternative farming practices, including regenerative agriculture. The coalition includes Danone, Balbo Group, Barry Callebaut, DSM, Firmenich, Google, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Kellogg Company, Kering, Livelihoods Funds, L’Oreal, Loblaw Companies Limited, Mars, Migros Ticaret, McCain Foods, Nestlé, Symrise, Unilever, and Yara. They aim to focus on three main areas:
- Scaling up regenerative agriculture practices to protect soil health.
- Developing product portfolios to boost cultivated biodiversity and increase the resilience of the food and agriculture models.
- Eliminating deforestation, enhancing the management, restoration, and protection of high value natural ecosystems.
The intrinsic relationship between farmers and food scientists has never been more critical, as we collectively work to feed a growing population. The impact of climate change on these efforts will be among the many topics featured at this year’s IFT Annual Event and Food Expo. Early registration opens March 2 (even sooner for IFT Premier members), so mark your calendar and get ready to shift to what’s possible.
by Maria Velissariou