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OTHER VOICES: Iowa ag offers solutions to many of world's challenges
Other Voices

OTHER VOICES: Iowa ag offers solutions to many of world's challenges

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Farmers in Iowa and across the nation are in a position to offer solutions to many of the current challenges facing this country including food security, health and nutrition, stagnant economies, degraded environments and even climate change.

The Climate Crisis Action Plan released by the majority staff of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (HSCCC), recognizes the critical role agriculture and forestry sectors can play in providing valuable climate and ecosystem services.

The plan, which includes specific policy and program recommendations, confirms the fact that the agriculture sector is in a strong position to address the risks posed by increasingly erratic and extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions. Rather than dwelling on agriculture’s contributions to these conditions, the HSCCC document concentrates on solutions and lays out science-based policy recommendations that offer solid building blocks for enabling agriculture's role in stemming climate change. What a refreshing change and departure from prior national climate debates where farmers were framed as the problem, not the solution.

The House policy roadmap now coupled with the emergence of bipartisan agricultural climate enabling legislation in the Senate signals that policymakers recognize and appreciate that agriculture is in a position to offer solutions to many of the challenges the world is currently facing. It also paves the way for agriculture's growing capacity for problem solving to be a cornerstone of the 2023 Farm Bill.

On a broader scale, those solutions from agriculture address many of the issues that are targeted by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including ending hunger and improving food security, restoring terrestrial ecosystem health, protecting and storing water and producing affordable clean energy, among others.

Here in Iowa, the farmer-led Iowa Smart Agriculture initiative (IASA), which we co-chair, tackles similar issues by seeking to reduce hunger and improve nutrition through the enhanced production of fruits, vegetables, animal proteins, and food-grade grains for human consumption. The initiative also aims to create jobs and generate economic growth by diversifying and sustainably intensifying production and processing of food, feed, fiber and renewable energy. The effort also aims to augment ecosystem services to improve the environment, enhance the resilience of agricultural and woodland landscapes, while improving the farmer's bottom line.

IASA is supported by Solutions from the Land and Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and is led by a special, self-directed Work Group composed of state agricultural thought leaders and value chain partners. Together, we are looking into the future, examining what science is telling us is coming and preparing a plan of action to improve resiliency and ensure the economic viability of the state’s agricultural sector for decades to come.

One innovative approach we are pursuing is integrating cover crop and renewable energy initiatives, where harvested cover crops can be used to enhance the effective functioning of anaerobic digesters on hog and beef farms to produce renewable natural gas. This is a great example of asymmetrical thinking and uncommon collaboration that we need in a post-COVID economic recovery.

By mobilizing thought leaders to advocate for needed changes in land use practices, research, education and policy, our state's farmers, ranchers and woodland owners and managers are exercising the leadership needed to ensure Iowa agriculture provides nutritious food, clean energy, and ecosystem services such as water filtration and carbon sequestration, all while remaining profitable. This is what 21st century Iowa agriculture is about, and we invite all interested partners to join us in scaling up the delivery of high-value solutions from the land.

Bryan Sievers, who served two terms in the Iowa Legislature, operates a cattle feedlot near Stockton, Iowa. Ray Gaesser, a corn and soybean producer from Corning, Iowa, is past chairman and president of the American Soybean Association. Kellie Blair is a diversified crop and livestock producer near Dayton, Iowa.

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