Farm Food Facts

Greg Gershuny, Jamie Robertson, Silvopasture

May 28, 2019 Episode 26
Farm Food Facts
Greg Gershuny, Jamie Robertson, Silvopasture
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Greg Gershuny, Jamie Robertson, Silvopasture
May 28, 2019 Episode 26
USFRA, Greg Gershuny, Jamie Robertson, Phil Lempert
Show Notes Transcript

Our Thought Leader for today is Greg Gershuny, Interim Director of the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program.

The Stories You Need to Know:
• Silvopasture: bringing Benefits for both the Herd and the Soil.
• The Beef Industry debuts Sustainability Framework.
• Opportunity for Timely corn Planting depends on the Soil.
• Syngenta and The Nature Conservancy are collaborating on Nature Innovation.

Today's Farmer is Jamie Robertson, dairy farmer featured on "American Farms" Reality TV show.

Phil Lempert:
0:02
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, May 29th, 2019. I'm your host, Phil Lempert.
Phil Lempert:
0:21
In our news today, we're going to talk all about soil. Then, later in the podcast, we will introduce you to Jamie Robertson, a fifth-generation dairy farmer, father of three sons who work on the farm with him, and one of the farmer stars on The American Farm on HISTORY. You won't want to miss what he shares about dealing with bears. Yup, bears. But first, our thought leader is Greg Gershuny, who currently serves as the Interim Director of the Aspen Institute Energy and Environmental Program and is the Managing Director and the James E. Rogers Energy Fellow of the program. Now, the Energy Environment Program, one of the longest running of the Aspen Institute, challenges thought leaders to test and shape energy, conservation, and environmental policies, governance systems, and institutions that support the well-being of both nature and society. Greg, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Greg Gershuny:
1:17
Well, thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here.
Phil Lempert:
1:19
Well, Greg, tell me first a little bit about the Aspen Institute, what it's all about, and then I want to talk about this new partnership with the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.
Greg Gershuny:
1:30
Sure. The Aspen Institute is a 70-year-old organization. We consider ourselves to be an educational and policy group that looks at a variety of different topical areas, kind of all across the board from energy and environment to justice to education to foreign policy. And we work with people around the country and around the world on all these different topics. As you said, the Energy and Environment Program is one of the longest running programs; we started in the 60s, kind of in response to the environmental crisis that was happening around the U.S., and then the energy crisis that happen in the 70s with the oil embargo. And so now, we work in a bunch of different areas from clean energy, innovation and technology to energy policy to climate and national security to coastal resilience. And this agricultural and food stream of work is relatively new to us. We've been doing some international food security work for the last five or six years. But specifically looking at the U.S. food system, looking at how farmers and ranchers work to be sustainable and to provide food for the world is something that we're really excited to be looking at.
Phil Lempert:
2:45
So, Greg, with U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, you're really beginning a new collaboration between food and farm leaders. Tell us a little bit about what that's gonna look like in the future.
Greg Gershuny:
2:58
Yeah, so we're really happy to be working with the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. What we are looking to do is bring together thought leaders, experts, people working on farms and on ranches all across the U.S. together, as well as people on the retail end of food and in restaurants, to talk about what does the supply chain of food and agriculture look like, how do we look at the sustainability of the whole system, and what can each of the players do to make the system run better, be more efficient, be more sustainable while still making a living for all the people involved? And so, we're going to gather people together to have a conversation. We don't think of ourselves as putting on a conference, but having a dialogue where everyone gets chance to participate and talking about some key questions and key issues about looking at carbon, looking at using metrics and standards as well as the idea of stewardship. How do we identify the good stewards of the land and people who are keeping their farmland in good condition and being sustainable for future generations?
Phil Lempert:
4:09
When you talk about these thought leaders that you're going to have these discussions with, obviously farmers and ranchers are part of it. You mentioned retail, you mentioned food service, what's the breadth of these discussions across the different channels?
Greg Gershuny:
4:27
Yeah, it's pretty broad. But, we're going to be putting together this group that is really gonna stretch from seed and soil, to farmers, to distributors and transportation all the way to grocery stores and to other retail food outlets. Getting people from the CEO-level, but as well as some experts on sustainability, some folks from academia that have spent a lot of time thinking about this to people from the federal government and state governments. So, it's a pretty broad group of people. Our theme for our program, the thing that we think we do really well - our brand - is putting the right people in the right place, talking about the right topic at the right time. And I think that for this gathering is really pivotal in the timing of it and the group of people that we're going to be bringing together.
Phil Lempert:
5:20
So, I hear what you're saying. Let's move forward into the future, and I want you to give me a timetable for that future. How long do we have to have these discussions, to make the points that you talk about, the metrics of the stewardship and so on; what's the timeline for this horizon?
Greg Gershuny:
5:47
It depends on who you ask. Food and agriculture is interesting when you think about it in the context of climate change because it sits on both sides of things. It sits on the mitigation side - which is how do you reduce the greenhouse gases being put into the atmosphere - but it also sits on the adaptation side because a warming planet impacts the ability to grow crops, extreme rain washes away soil. So, it's really the keystone to the whole thing. We, based on some research that our scientific board has put together, we think that, within a few decades, agriculture can actually get to be a net-negative emissions industry where it's actually absorbing more carbon into the soil than it's putting out through things like tractors and transportation and methane through animals. So, it really can not only contribute to the solution, but it can be one of the primary solutions to climate change. On the adaptation side, there are best practices or better practices that farmers and ranchers can use to reduce the impacts of extreme rain; things like cover crops and other things like that. And so, I think that if we want to keep the planet to one and a half or two degrees warming, we have to act pretty quickly. But we have a decade or two to really get to where we need to go in the agricultural sector.
Phil Lempert:
7:14
So, what is your hope? Bringing all these people together, getting their insights, figuring out what we have to do over the next decade or so? What's your hope, that this kind of group can really force a seat at the table for farmers and ranchers? When I look at the different, and you've worked in government, when I look at the different governmental agencies and the government reports that are out there. Not as much as I'd like - we don't see farmers and ranchers having a seat at the table for discussions on nutritional facts labels and so on. Do you see an outcome of this, giving farmers and ranchers a larger voice?
Greg Gershuny:
8:05
Yeah, I think the first thing that we have to recognize, and you mentioned - I've worked in government for a while before I was at the Aspen Institute and I live in Washington DC. But that, solutions don't only come from Washington. Local leadership, individual farmers and ranchers, people who work in city and state and town governments, all have really good ideas and solutions and what we're trying to do is bring all of that to the table to find what the best options are. Because the option that works in Nebraska isn't going to work in Maryland, and the option that works in California isn't going to work in Florida. And so, bringing all these different people together, I think first and foremost, we'll have an opportunity for them to share ideas and think about what may work for them in their community.
Greg Gershuny:
8:54
But I think the outcome that I'm looking for is for people who are coming from unlikely places talking to each other and having conversations that they wouldn't have had normally. Because in our other work in the energy space and the other environmental areas, some of the best outcomes come from these partnerships that are formed by the mayor of a town meeting with the CEO of a company and then building a group that's going to help that person's city develop in some sustainable way. And so, we're hoping that people through both the dialogue that's going to happen in the sessions at the Harvest Forum, but as well as, you know, the breakfast to the lunches, the dinners, the walk, the opportunities to talk to each other, will build these relationships that help them get to where they know they need to go in terms of sustainability and climate change, and build those over many years.
Phil Lempert:
9:47
Well, Greg, it sounds fabulous. Thank you for doing it. And also I hope that we'll be able to touch base again and you can share along this path what some of the outcomes are.
Greg Gershuny:
9:59
That would be fantastic. I really appreciate you having me on today.
Phil Lempert:
10:04
And now the news you need to know.
Phil Lempert:
10:12
Have you heard of silvopasture? Well, it's all about bringing benefits to both the herd and to the soil. Farmers working with rotational grazing should check out silvopasture. It's the practice of integrating trees and forage into livestock grazing areas. Advocates report that the benefits are notable in both the livestock and the land. Many farms already have woodlots, and when used for pasture, these wooded areas give livestock shade and allow farmers to get more use out of their land. Before now, resource professionals advised against using wooded areas because, if not managed properly, grazing could lead to a loss of plant diversity or soil erosion. Now, all that's changed. There are two approaches to silvopasture: establishing trees into existing pasture or established forages in the woods. But there are some challenges, distance and access to water, establishing young trees and maintaining light levels. When well-managed, animals enjoy the benefits. Essentially, shade is more spread out so animals can graze in the shade on a hot day. With room to roam while staying cool, livestock are more likely to spread beneficial manure across a wider span of area. This can also reduce water quality issues due to nutrient imbalances in the soil. What grocers need to know is that farming and ranching is changing rapidly. With an eye on sustainability and the other on animal welfare, we're creating a new ag ecosystem that benefits the entire supply chain and is aligned with consumer values.
Phil Lempert:
11:49
And while we're speaking about livestock, the beef industry debuts the sustainability framework. According to Food Dive, the U.S. Beef Industry Sustainability Framework, a voluntary resource developed by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, was adopted just about a week or so ago by a range of stakeholders across the industry's value chain. The Roundtable represents 30% of the U.S. herd, which accounts for more than 20 billion pounds of processed beef and more than a hundred million consumers. This new sustainability framework lays out indicators to assess beef sustainability including water and land resources, animal and employee safety, and welll-being, efficiency, and yield, and air and greenhouse gas emissions. This is the first resource to demonstrate U.S. beef sustainability across the full value chain. The framework also includes guidance documents to help ranchers achieve sustainability practices in these areas while maintaining operational and financial success. What grocers need to know is that it's time to reach out to the U.S. beef industry sustainability framework and have a seat at the table. And publish these practices to your shoppers to boost their understanding and knowledge about our beef supply and its practices.
Phil Lempert:
13:11
Now let's shift from livestock to crops. The opportunity for timely corn planting depends on the soil. The U.S. average corn yield is significantly determined by weather conditions during the reproductive and grain filling stages throughout the summer months. However, weather conditions during other seasons, as well as the timeliness of planting, are also known to influence yield outcomes. And talk to any farmer, and the past year and a half have been challenging at best. Excessively wet conditions and a slow start to planning this year, has raised interest in whether it's still possible to plant corn crops in a timely matter. This will all depend on four specific factors. First, the percentage of the crop already planted. Number two, the beginning date for significantly late planting penalty for corn yields. Third, the number of days suitable for field work that's needed to plant. And last, the total number of days that are suitable for planting. The bottom line is that the current wet top soil conditions in the Corn Belt does not bode well for planting the entire U.S. corn crop in a timely matter. Even with that, farmers are a resilient bunch, and estimates are that even with the late corn planting in 2019, yields will be at least five to ten percent above average. What grocers need to know is that while there have been some projections, due to the weather, some food prices may have to rise, corn prices should not be affected.
Phil Lempert:
14:44
And on the topic of soil health, Syngenta and the Nature Conservancy are collaborating on nature innovation. These two entities are teaming up for a new innovation for nature collaboration to promote soil health, resource efficiency, and habitat protection in major ag regions worldwide. They say it brings together Syngenta's research and development capabilities and the Nature Conservancy's scientific and conservation expertise to scale up sustainable ag practices. This collaboration intends to demonstrate just how a company can reevaluate its business strategy by incorporating sustainability science into its decision making process and engage with farmers in new ways. The organizations are exploring investments in new precision ag solutions, cover crops, integrated pest management, biological solutions, remote sensing and analytics, improve seed varieties and other advances. Key areas include focusing on nature-guided innovation, striving for the lowest residues and crops in the environment and investing where it matters most to farmers and nature. What grocers need to know is collaboration is the way farmers and ranchers have operated for centuries, sharing experiences and expertise, and so have retailers in their share groups. Now we're starting to see new collaboration such as this one where the entire supply chain, including retailers, will profit.
Phil Lempert:
16:23
Another one of the farmer stars of The American Farm joins us today. Contoocook Creamery at Bohanan Farms is a fifth-generation farm that was started in 1907. Today, it contains more than 440 acres and is home to 200 milk cows who produced more than 23,000 8-ounce servings of milk every day. Jamie Robertson is the patriarch, who along with this three sons - Si, Nate and Bram - is leading the dairy farm into the future. Jamie, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Jamie Robertson:
16:56
Thanks for having me now.
Phil Lempert:
16:58
I'm thrilled to be talking with you today for a couple of reasons. First is that I love watching you and the boys on The American Farm. You are the ultimate fun-loving, hard-headed bearded family. The second one, am I right?
Jamie Robertson:
17:12
We got beards.
Phil Lempert:
17:14
The second one is that my own grandfather was a dairy farmer in Belleville, New Jersey. Jamie, what do you see as the future for dairy farming?
Jamie Robertson:
17:23
Well, we certainly, we here in New England are a little different than a lot of other areas of the country, and especially in New Hampshire. One thing I would like to say is that my wife is extremely involved in the farm also, and it's actually her family's farm that we've taken over. So, Heather is extremely involved day to day, just a little bit camera shy. As far as what I see for the dairy industry, when all three boys decided to come back to the farm here in our little valley in New Hampshire, we just couldn't milk enough cows to support four families on a wholesale dairy operation. Not that we wouldn't have liked to, but we couldn't see doing it without about 1500 cows. And we're really kind of maxed out at 200 cows as far as what we have for land resources around us. So, we chose to move into a little bit more into direct marketing and pretty sure that we can make up the cash flow that we need by growing the business by marketing our milk direct customers.
Phil Lempert:
18:30
So, how are you doing that? Back the way my grandfather was doing it with home delivery?
Jamie Robertson:
18:36
Is that right? And he's in New Jersey, right?
Phil Lempert:
18:38
Yes.
Jamie Robertson:
18:40
So, we looked at home delivery a little bit, but New Hampshire's still pretty rural. We're about an hour hour and a half north of Boston, but it's small towns and we just don't have the population numbers to make an efficient home delivery work for us at the moment. That's not to say it's not in the future as communities grow a little bit. We deliver direct to stores and farm markets, is what we do.
Phil Lempert:
19:07
Gotcha. So, let's go back to The American Farm. In one episode, you had to deal with bears, really big bears, attacking your cornfields. That wasn't staged, right? And how did you handle it?
Jamie Robertson:
19:21
Not very well - we probably lost at least 10% of our silage to bears last year, which is pretty unusual. Usually, we have a little bit of bear damage here and there, but last year's bear population was huge, and we didn't have any nuts in the woods and not much of anything for berries either. So, they were really hungry. We have about 150 acres of corn and we were probably feeding between 10 and 15 bears. They not only eat a lot, but they just knock it all down.
Phil Lempert:
19:52
Wow. And then, when you got done with bears, you also had a problem with rats.
Jamie Robertson:
19:57
Probably the rat problem came first. That's kinda, you know, especially dairy farms where you kind of got to lay the feed out for the cows to have access to it 24/7, that allows the rats to have access to it 24/7 also. And we were certainly feeding an awful lot of rodents we didn't want to feed. I will say, I wasn't overly thrilled when the boys came up with the way to take care of the rat problem, but it has certainly cut our rat problem an awful lot more than I ever anticipated it would.
Phil Lempert:
20:29
So, now that the four of you, five of you, are stars of The American Farm, how has your life changed?
Jamie Robertson:
20:37
The cows don't seem to notice a difference.
Phil Lempert:
20:42
They haven't asked you for your autograph?
Jamie Robertson:
20:45
No, no. It hasn't changed a whole lot at this point, which we're really happy with. Certainly a little bit more product recognition out there with our brand name, but nothing's going crazy yet. Certainly something that we were really, really concerned about. You know, we're pretty happy milking cows. We'd like to make better living at it. But other than that, really the main reason that we decided to take part in the show was we really felt that the American public needs some education on the dairy industry. Not that we're the best dairy farm in the world to tell that, but we had the opportunity and really felt that this was a way that people were learning about their world and their food. That somebody really ought to be there to tell them the story that we think is correct.
Phil Lempert:
21:28
And I also think, especially now that you're trying to go direct to consumers and make deliveries, that brand imagery is really gonna help you do that.
Jamie Robertson:
21:40
We hope so. We hope so. We're very happy about how the show is being received. We see the show as you folks do. We don't have any insight on what they're going to put on on Thursday nights. We've been very happy and pleased with how they've represented all the farms.
Phil Lempert:
21:57
Well, Jamie, thanks so much for being on the show, and thanks for joining us here on Farm, Food, Facts today.
Jamie Robertson:
22:03
Well, Thank you for having me
Phil Lempert:
22:05
And thank you for joining us right here 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. Until next week.
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