Farm Food Facts

Alesha Black, AG Kawamura, Sustainability Goals

April 10, 2019 USFRA Episode 20
Farm Food Facts
Alesha Black, AG Kawamura, Sustainability Goals
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Farm Food Facts
Alesha Black, AG Kawamura, Sustainability Goals
Apr 10, 2019 Episode 20
USFRA

This Week's Thought Leader: Alesha Black, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Managing Director the Global Food and Agriculture Program 

The Stories YOU need to know:
• Dairy group wants the FDA to get more strict about Terms used for Non-Milk Products.
• Grocers can capture Consumers with Fresh-Cut Fruit. 
• How “Digital Twins” could allow Retailers give more to Food Banks. 
• Tyson Foods and Cloud-Based Tech—could this be the next Frontier for reaching Sustainability Goals?

Farmer of The Week: AG Kawamura, Third generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, CA, Former Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture

Show Notes Transcript

This Week's Thought Leader: Alesha Black, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Managing Director the Global Food and Agriculture Program 

The Stories YOU need to know:
• Dairy group wants the FDA to get more strict about Terms used for Non-Milk Products.
• Grocers can capture Consumers with Fresh-Cut Fruit. 
• How “Digital Twins” could allow Retailers give more to Food Banks. 
• Tyson Foods and Cloud-Based Tech—could this be the next Frontier for reaching Sustainability Goals?

Farmer of The Week: AG Kawamura, Third generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, CA, Former Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture

Phil Lempert:

Farm, Food, Facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to the Farm, Food, Facts interactive podcast presented by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance for Wednesday, April 5th, 2019 I'm your host, Phil Lempert.

Phil Lempert:

Today, it's all about water. First, we will connect with Alesha Black, the Managing Director of the Global Food and Agriculture Program at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Then, AG Kawamura, farmer and founding member of the Orange County Produce and former Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture, shares what he is facing on his farms throughout southern California. And now, Alesha Black is the Managing Director of the Global Food and Agriculture Program at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Before that, she was at the B,ill and Melinda Gates Foundation where she focused on the foundation's strategic partnerships for ag development, where she coordinated foundation partnerships with China, Brazil, as well as the U.S., and UN agencies working to support small-holder farmers. Alesha also co-led important activities to link nutrition and agriculture programs at the foundation, and contributed to numerous strategic projects at the beginning of the ag development program, including the first gender impact strategy. Alesha, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.

Alesha Black:

Thanks so much for having me.

Phil Lempert:

So, in your role managing food and ag program for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, tell us a bit about your work in advancing food security, nutrition, and alleviating poverty through the development of agriculture.

Alesha Black:

Great. I'm happy to. So, the Chicago Council is an organization that's nearly a hundred years old and its focus has largely been to advocate for U.S. engagement in the world. That's on a range of issues, starting from our early days in the 20s up till now it's looked at foreign policy, security, and a whole range of issues. And about 10 years ago, food security became a really important topic globally as the food price spike happened around 2007, 2008. And in keeping with this belief that the world is better off when the U.S. engages, the Chicago Council, formed a bipartisan group to look at the issue of U.S. engagement in global food security and why that should be at an important priority. And since then, the Council has continued to look at the root causes of food insecurity, of low agricultural productivity around the world - especially in small holders systems - and has tried to think about ways that U.S. engagement can support advancement on those issues. So, in my role at the council, I support the ongoing research that we do, I do public speaking on this topic. We try to convene stakeholders from private sector, civil society and government to talk about kind of what the challenge is we are currently facing and what they will be, and then look for ways to creatively solve them, working with private, with government, right.

Phil Lempert:

So, I'm proud to hear that this was started a hundred years ago. What gave the Chicago Council the idea to even do this a hundred years ago?

Alesha Black:

Well, the idea to look at U.S. engagement in the world a hundred years ago actually didn't necessarily look at agriculture and food. It was looking at U.S. leadership on a whole range of issues. But I'm happy to say, and not surprised to report, that as early as the early eighties, the Chicago Council had thinkers who were looking at U.S. engagement on global food security, on climate change, on water resource management - various issues that they were concerned were going to be threats. I won't say that they got all the details right about what might be the challenges that we face, but there were certainly efforts to look at it from a Midwestern perspective and thinking about the U.S. as an important actor. But the current incarnation is as a decade old effort, looking at this issue. And I will say, even though the council may not have been writing about it back in the 20s, the U.S.'s legacy on global food security certainly goes back to the early part of the last century and there's been consistent leadership on a bipartisan basis to look at global food and nutrition since then.

Phil Lempert:

And then talking about that, in March you held the Global Food Security Symposium. What were some of the insights that were discussed there?

Alesha Black:

Yeah, this symposium focused on our newest report, which is, From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future. And this is a report looking at the issue of water scarcity, which is increasingly a challenge for many people - there are about 2.4 billion people, about a third of the global population that currently live in water scarce regions. And so we wanted to discuss that topic, which so intimately affects agriculture, given the large proportion of water that's used in agriculture. But we also wanted to talk about the intersections of that issue with other things like changing diets and how that's going to impact the demand for water. We also wanted to talk about how water quality is changing, how urbanization is impacting the way that water resources are shared between cities and rural areas. So, some of the discussions we found was that there needs to be a lot more collaboration between sectors and between different domains of policy to find governance solutions and innovations that serve everyone. Right? So we need more collaboration between the water and sanitation sector and the agriculture sector, because a lot of times on farms, especially in poor communities, the same water point is being used for a lot of different things. You're irrigating and you're also using it for clean water in the household. So, we need to work together. We also need to work more collaboratively between the agriculture and nutrition communities to think through, how do we create affordable, nutritious food that also is sustainable, can be produced by our farmers? So, I would say collaboration was the big theme. And also thinking about sort of what the challenge is that we have ahead of us. Global demand for water is projected to rise by 30 to 50% by 2050 as the population rises. And so we really new investments in technology and R&D, and we need to recognize the competition is getting fiercer. And so we need to respond now.

Phil Lempert:

We always talk about having enough food to feed people with the global population. But this is the first time I'm really hearing about the water scarcity. Thirty to fifty percent more water; that's a huge number. And you know, certainly from the farmer, from brands, CPG companies, from retailers, I mean this is a very big issue that you're taking on.

Alesha Black:

It is, and I think as you pointed out, for farmers this is a very big deal. So, 71% of the fresh water is used by agriculture. But as many of my farmer friends will remind us, we're all complicit; everyone who eats is complicit in that 71%. It's really about our food needs. So, farmers are going to be hit hard as that scarcity starts to increase. And I think particularly where we don't have good governance in place between our growing cities - who need that food - and our rural areas that are producing that food, we need to really understand how we're sharing that resource. But yes, as you mentioned, the next biggest user is 20% at the domestic household level, and industrial uses and then water and sanitation is 9%. There's a lot of water savings to be had in the supply chain. So, obviously food waste is one place. But a lot of the big multinational companies have really been showing leadership on how you can reduce your water footprint, using improvements in your food processing. And frankly, it also demonstrating that you can put water back into the system even cleaner than you found it if you're in the food processing sector. And we certainly had some corporate leaders that spoke about that at the symposium as well. So, it's a big challenge, but I think there's a lot of confidence in the ability to respond to challenges using R&D. We can respond by having seeds that are more drought tolerant. We can also respond by greater investments in precision agriculture, but we can also respond through better governance and collaboration across sectors.

Phil Lempert:

So, last question. Not everybody was able to attend the Global Food Security Symposium. So, for those retailers, those brands and others in the food value chain that want to get involved, how did they do that?

Alesha Black:

Well, so I would say they can certainly download our report, which points to some very specific ways that companies can be involved. And I mentioned a few of them just now that there's certainly products that can actually contribute to reducing our water usage, products that farmers need all over the world and that I know many of these companies are supplying. But we also have some information about collaborations across communities, or excuse me, across corporate partners that are working collectively on goals. And those are highlighted in our report. And we have a lot of blogs on our Global Food for Thought blog, which highlight corporate actors that are taking action. So, there's a lot of examples to draw upon there, and we can certainly point to the direction of more they want if they want more information from the council website.

Phil Lempert:

And just give them the website address.

Alesha Black:

Yeah. So we're at thechicagocouncil.org. And then, once you get there, you can click through the agriculture program work.

Phil Lempert:

Terrific. Well, Alesha, thanks for some great work and thank you for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts.

Alesha Black:

Thanks for having me.

Phil Lempert:

And now the news you need to know. A dairy group wants the FDA to get more strict about terms that are used for non-milk products. The National Milk Producers Federation has petitioned the FDA to take action against nondairy products that use terms like milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and butter in their marketing campaigns. They say that the existing FDA rules require the products use the word "imitation" if they reference a standardized dairy food but they don't have the same nutritional value. The petition also said that the FDA rules allow for the term "substitute" or "alternative" on products deemed nutritionally equivalent to dairy products. If this petition is successfu, then plant-based alternatives would either have to prove that they're nutritionally equal to their dairy-based counterparts or change their labeling. The Plant-Based Foods Association responded by saying that restricting milk labeling would be a First Amendment violation and that it would ultimately be found unconstitutional. Well, what grocers need to know is that sale of conventional milk is declining and prices are falling, and traditional dairy is facing other challenges, including an oversupply of milk. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen if this petition will actually convince the FDA to crackdown on non-dairy products that are using dairy terms. What it will come down to is the consumer. Is the consumer actually confused by products like almond or soy milk?

Phil Lempert:

And from dairy we move to produce. Grocers can capture consumers with fresh cut fruit. Freshly cut fruits are sweet, convenient, portable, and good for us. Fresh cut fruit satisfy consumer demand for healthy snacks that can be eaten on the go. However, a new report from the Produce Marketing Association has found that healthy and fresh cannot solely drive this category. Fun, they say, is an indispensable ingredient for success. The report states that by turning to fruits and vegetables, first and foremost for their health benefits, our audience, meaning shoppers, compartmentalizes produce into the wellness category - traditionally humdrum and prioritizing function over fun. The PMA suggests that grocers should think outside the box when it comes to product presentation. Engaging shoppers with smoothie popsicles, fruit kabobs, and healthy bowls are some great examples of how to show consumers how to have fun with fruit. And to boost sales of cut fruit, the PMA further suggests that grocers could offer pre-cut fruit snack packs along with a side of dip, and also add pre-cut fruits to salad bars in order to make fruit more accessible for the lunch crowd. The U.S. population's healthier snack habits are on an uptick, and this also puts cut fruit in a terrific position for growth. Market researchers at Mintel are pointing to spins data, which indicates that while the $40 billion conventional snacking market declined 2% annually over the past three years, health and wellness snacking grew 6% each year, driven by growth from fresh snacking, which grew 8%. What grocers need to know is: don't forget the fun. People eat fruit because it's delicious, portable, satisfying, shareable, and good for us. What often holds back consumption and sales is fruit that needs prep work or fruit that's just too messy to eat. So grocers that combine fun and convenience in the produce department will increase sales.

Phil Lempert:

And amidst our growing produce consumption, let's be mindful of food waste as well. How digital twins could allow retailers to give more food to food banks. A significant amount of the food we waste is in perfectly good condition for human consumption, especially when we keep in mind that there's a vast number of food insecure people. Food waste happens at all levels of the supply chain, from farms to distributors to consumers. However, food that would likely wind up in a landfill and contributing to greenhouse gases could be renewed as a resource by redistributing it to people in need. Waste happens at the retail level, typically due to overstocking or to imposed quality standards, and so retailers are in a powerful position to lead the charge to reduce global food waste and to feed the hungry. The biggest hurdle that distributors and retailers face isn't a food problem, but a logistics problem. However, if each item were to be digitally tagged, essentially allowing them to have a digital representation, or twin on the Internet, which would be used to store a "best before" info and expiration dates, retailers and consumers could access apps and technology that identify products that are ready to be transferred to a food bank or put on clearance before it spoils. This could also solve storage space issues and reduce costs that are caused by unused items since food banks help ease the pressure on a retailer's storage facilities by relieving them of their unused food items. What grocers need to know is: the technology can reduce labor costs, waste, and feed hungry people - all wins for the retailer who also could promote these good deeds as a way to reinforce its relationship with the community and build brand loyalty.

Phil Lempert:

And on that note, Tyson and cloud-based tech could be the next frontier to reach sustainability goals. Tyson Doods is partnering with the supply chain cloud platform My Farms, in order to accelerate land stewardship practices on 2 million acres of corn by the year 2020. My Farms streamlines agricultural data management, analytics and reporting automation. The platform is also meant to investigate which production practices are best suited and most likely to work in each farmer's unique yield environment. In this way, farmers can use the practices that will work best on their individual farm. What grocers need to know is that while this technology is still in its early stages, Tyson's action to reduce its environmental footprint helps raise the bar for innovation in the food and beverage sector. By doing this, the company is establishing groundwork for continued improvement in sustainability, performance and transparency, and this is at a time when corporate leaders everywhere are trying to align business objectives and environmental goals.

Phil Lempert:

Next up, AG Kawamura brings us right to the ground to hear how he's managing the water on his farm. AG Kawamura, the founding member of Orange County Produce and the former Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture joins us on Farm, Food, Facts. AG is a third-generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, California. He is co-chair of Solutions from the Land, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with farmers, ranchers, foresters and stakeholders to implement climate-smart land management practices and strategies. As one of the most progressive urban farmers, AG has a lifetime of experience working within the shrinking rural and urban boundaries of southern California. Through his company, Orange County produce, he is engaged in building an exciting, interactive, 21st century, 100-acre agricultural showcase at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. So AG, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.

AG Kawamura:

Thank you for having me.

Phil Lempert:

So first, I've got to ask you about this 21st century, 100 acre ags showcase. Tell me about this. I want to go visit it.

AG Kawamura:

We farm in this very urban area of southern California, Orange County, that used to be a powerhouse of agriculture. In fact, the old military base has now been turned into the Orange County Great Park. It used to be the prize lima bean fields of one of the original pioneers, the agricultural pioneers of the area. So, the ground underneath the existing abandoned airport - it was actually the El Toro Marine base where they filmed Top Gun - the ground underneath it, we know is great ground. It's a on an alluvial plane that sits a little bit above the ocean. It's kind of a banana belt. And so, this idea that we could create in a very urban area, a showcase of all kinds of 21st century ag production systems; and because it's again a minute Mediterranean climate, we can grow two to three crops a year.

AG Kawamura:

We are actually in a subtropical zone. So, the kinds of crops we can grow is a very wide range of a diverse set of crops: fruits and vegetables. And so, we're trying to put together a place that is more than educational. It's going to be supported by the pillars of nutrition, of culinary advances. We know that we're working hand in hand with food banks, dealing with food security. And we also had understand the STEM component of agricultural - or STEAM, if you will - some science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math. And so, all of those become components of a large scale edible landscape that we're building altogether.

Phil Lempert:

So, earlier in the podcast I spoke with Alesha Black - who you work with very closely - and found out a lot about water, and being in southern California, myself, being affected by water, I really want to get into this a little bit deeper. One of the things, as a farmer, that you're faced with is called Mother Nature and Mother Nature supplying rain. Which as we know, having gone through a drought, and more than one drought, is cumbersome for a farmer. So talk to me for a minute if you would, about Mother Nature supplying rain and how else you need to get water.

AG Kawamura:

It's kind of remarkable the way our area's laid out. I actually farm in, as an example, three different watersheds. One is very small that leads up to the ocean, of course. Another one's a little broader basin. And the third one is actually a larger, that kind of feeds the LA Basin, in this area of southern California. And in the last drought, in year three of the drought, I was growing a crop of green beans, up above me were citrus groves and avocado groves. And in year three, the well went dry, of the drought here in southern California. And the owner - I don't own the ground that I farm on - afterwards, we barely- and we lost some of the crop, it was a crop of green beans that was compromised because we had no water to give it at the very end. We couldn't finish it off, in other words. The landlord, when we were finished said, you know, we want you to stop growing vegetables cause we don't have enough water for our citrus and our avocados above you. So why didn't you stop? And if that had been our only farm, we would have been out of business in year three of the drought. The following year, one of our other farms is right next to the ocean, less than a mile and a half from the ocean as the crow flies. And in year four going into year five, we started to see significant increases in salt water intrusion affecting the quality of our water on that farm. And to the point where, by the time we got to the end of year four into year five, we shut the well down. Had that been the only well on our ranch, and our only farm, we would've been out of business here in southern California even though we're a relatively modern kind of agricultural systems that we use.

AG Kawamura:

In between those two locations, and they're only separated by 30 miles or so, we happen to farm near the city of Irvine, which is for 30+ years, has engineered an enormously effective water system for reclaimed water, re-using water that's coming through the urban populations, importing the waters from north and south of Colorado and northern California. And because we were using for the last 25+ - almost 30 years now - reclaimed water in a lot of our systems here, we didn't run out of water as long as there's this ample flow of water coming out of the urban stream of a developed water in our area. And so the lesson here is, with the right kind of infrastructure and with this new technologies, we had basically the safest amount of water was coming out of an area that could have been in dire straights, literally, had this drought continued into six, seven, eight, nine, ten years. And yet we were still fairly comfortable that this water supply, which is cleaned up, to the point where it's almost pottable. That's what gives you hope that there's these systems, in a complicated world, that need to be put in place. And that was what our project at the Chicago Council was, to talk about how important it is to develop water infrastructure for the world.

Phil Lempert:

And let's talk a little bit about the Chicago Council. You co-authored the report, From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future. You've talked about some of that, but what can other farmers, what can other food people, what should retailers be taken away from that report and this role that water plays in agriculture and our food supply?

AG Kawamura:

Well, there's quite a few things we can learn and observe. Those of us who farm in southern California and in California, the bulk of agriculture by dollar value is irrigated agriculture. It's not, as people call it, rain-fed agriculture is the kind of agriculture that takes place in 80% of the Midwest, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, above 90% of all of the agriculture in that continent is rain-fed agriculture. You hope it rains enough but it doesn't rain too much, and you have basically a single harvest per year based upon those rain patterns. And there's other variations of that. But for those of us here in a Mediterranean climate, we can harvest two, three, even four crops a year, but we'll manipulate that with the amount of water we can put on. I average 13 to 14 inches of rain right here where I farm. This year we were up to 20 inches. And so we've got a situation where it impacted us just like everybody else with too much water for awhile. But it still comes down to this idea that unpredictable weather means unpredictable harvest. And we try to remind people - everybody that eats should remember that. But that's kind of one of the challenges the global food supply has, is that if we are entering into a time of really unpredictable weather, shifting climate ranges, shifting climate, we should be very cognizant of that and trying to think, how do you build more resilience into your food production systems? Irrigated water as a part of that resilience building.

Phil Lempert:

And what about water conservation? We talk or we read a lot about water conservation; how important is that and how does that take place on the farm?

AG Kawamura:

Well, usually I would like to make an observation. If you're a good farmer - or a successful farmer, let's call it that - you understand that over-irrigating any crop is not good for the crop, as is under-irrigating any crop is not necessarily good for the crop. And when the crop is especially very young, if you mess it up by over-irrigating or under-irrigating it in the early stages after planting, you'll always have a negative impact later on as it matures and you get ready for harvest. So, the idea that water conservation and efficient water use kind of falls into that category of precision agriculture, where we want to maximize the right amount of water at any given time and then utilize other means to be able to hold water in the soil. And that means improving the soil, the soil organic matter that might hold more moisture, the activity that goes on in living soil. All of these are part of that tool set, that toolbox, if you will, that we have to start to put into play, really everywhere on the planet but certainly in our own farms as well. That waters is an incredibly valuable asset and resource. In our case, we have to pay quite a bit for the water. And so, the idea that we'd be wasting it is generally not the case. And yet people will complain about, Oh, you're using too much water for this crop compared to this crop or this area should produce this kind of crop, but not that kind of crop. And those are all nice suggestions or good intention that people may have. But I'd be the first to say that, you know, you might want to ask the question, what's driving those suggestions and the understanding behind trying to prescribe water use and water crop selection when it comes down to, you know, a food supply? Because there's so obviously so many other places we can save and conserve water, and store water, and build water, and water supplies. It's an all of the above kind of strategy, it seems to me.

Phil Lempert:

And probably the most important thing is before people are out there, talking about it and saying here's what you should do, they should probably talk to a farmer. Thanks so much for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts. And thank you for all your insight. Thank you for this report and thank you for working with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on this very important topic.

AG Kawamura:

Well, we will always say the easy thing here that successful other culture sustained civilization and seems to have worked for the 10,000 years that that that concept is more than true. It's something we all have to be a part of. So, thanks for this opportunity to share.

Phil Lempert:

Thank you. And thank you for joining us on farm food facts. For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next week.