Farm Food Facts

Ep 41 Jill Wheeler, Pat Duncanson, Feed the World

September 06, 2019 Episode 41
Farm Food Facts
Ep 41 Jill Wheeler, Pat Duncanson, Feed the World
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Ep 41 Jill Wheeler, Pat Duncanson, Feed the World
Sep 06, 2019 Episode 41
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Our Thought Leader is Jill Wheeler, Head of Sustainable Productivity for Syngenta in North America, where she oversees U.S. and Canadian implementation of the company’s Good Growth Plan – a series of six measurable, global commitments designed to improve food security, rural prosperity and environmental sustainability by 2020. 

The stories YOU NEED to know:
1. Recent USDA Report sees dire Climate-change Impact on U.S. Crops.
2. How to Feed the World and Preserve the Environment.

Today's farmer is Pat Duncanson is owner of Duncanson Growers and Highland Family Farms, a diversified farming operation in southern Minnesota. 



Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm Food Facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm Food Facts for Wednesday, September 11, 2019 I'm your host Phil Lempert. Today's episode is going to delve deep into sustainable agriculture. We have two very special guests with us, Jill Wheeler and Pat Duncanson. Jill is head of sustainable productivity force Syngenta in North America where she oversees the U S and Canadian implementation of the company's good growth plan series of six measurable global commitments designed to improve food security, rural prosperity and environmental sustainability by 2020 Pat Duncanson is owner of Duncanson growers and Highland family farms, a diversified farming operation in southern Minnesota. Duncanson and his wife Kristen produced corn, soybeans, hogs, specialty grains, and vegetable peas. The pair is widely recognized for their leadership in sustainable agriculture and had been certified as river friendly farmers for their environmentally responsible production practices. Jill, I'm going to start with you. There's a lot of talk about agriculture and sustainability, whether it's from retailers, whether it's from farmers. How can we define sustainable agriculture?
Jill Wheeler:
1:20
You're absolutely right. A, you ask 100 different people, you'll get 100 different answers. But from an agricultural perspective, I think it's really good to keep two key things in mind. And the first is that you need to look at it from the standpoint of three pillars. It has to be environmentally sustainable, socially sustainable, and economically sustainable. And the other key element within agriculture is we need to look at it as continuous improvement. It's a journey that allows for modification along the way.
Phil Lempert:
1:51
So Jill, you know, uh, going back a couple years ago in the food world, we had celebrity chefs. Now I see that moving to, I hate to use the word celebrity, but celebrity farmers, consumers, shoppers want to get as close to the farmer as possible. Why is that?
Jill Wheeler:
2:09
Yes, and you're exactly right. It's like farmers are the new rock stars. I think a big thing driving it is simply because you look at our population demographics and only about 2% of people work in agriculture nowadays. Not many people, not many consumers know a farmer, but they're really curious because food is so personal and so important. They want to know who is that farmer who sets face behind their food. And then we also have just a whole culture of transparency driven by the Internet and social media. We're used to having all of this data available. We're used to being able to get all of these answers to these questions. So I think both of those things are coming together and making everybody curious about farmers and what's going on on the farm.
Phil Lempert:
2:51
So Pat, I want to switch a little bit the conversation to the consumer. Um, we, we read all these surveys, especially when it comes to and generation z that they want to know where their food is coming from. Just as Gillette said, they want to know how it's produced. What do consumers really want to know specifically about their foods?
Pat Duncanson:
3:13
That has evolved tremendously over the 30 or 35 years that I've been involved as a full time farmer. And I think it varies widely depending on the type of food that's being produced. Whether it's in a involved in animal agriculture or produce or, uh, primarily I'm a corn and soybean and grain producer, uh, in the heart of the Midwest. So it can vary widely from, you know, the amount of inputs that we put into it, the amount of water that's used, how we take care of the soil, how we take care of our communities. And more importantly is the system that we have. Is it longterm, repeatable? Can we count on it being here, uh, for the next generation. And I think intuitively a lot of farmers are already tuned into thinking about the next generation. We tend to have a longer term time horizon.
Phil Lempert:
4:00
So when you talk to consumers and I, and I know that, you know, consumers are asking you questions all the time, what's the one thing that they are saying to you that they'd really like you to do that's impossible to do?
Pat Duncanson:
4:16
Oh Wow. That is, that is a great question. Um, so, um, first of all, uh, there are, there are conversations that I've been involved with from time to time and depending on what that particular consumer is interested in, it could be a water question, how much water we're using, what the impact of surplus water that we have and how we, uh, how that impacts environment. Um, a lot of our conversations, we were revolve around water, but one of the things that is impossible for us to do is because we are involved in a, in a, an industry that relies absolutely 100% on interactions with the environment is that we will have an impact on the environment. There is no way that we can produce food and not have an impact on the environment. Now, that impact doesn't necessarily have to be negative. It can be a positive impact.
Pat Duncanson:
5:04
For instance, the corn that we grow is a tremendous oxygen producer in the Midwest. It absorbs a lot of carbon dioxide every year and produces a lot of oxygen. Um, but that's one thing that if we're going to raise food, we're going to have an impact on the environment. But as consumers, and I'm a consumer as well, um, we have the ability to make choices. Um, for instance, if we want to have strawberries in February, it's going to have a different impact than if it's going to be the strawberry that I've raised in my garden backyard and, and picked and literally eaten within a few minutes of being fresh and right.
Phil Lempert:
5:38
You know, I love your strawberry example. Um, so as a farmer and when you take all, all of the inputs that you've talked about, um, and think about health and wellness and taste and whatever else, should we be growing strawberries in February?
Pat Duncanson:
5:56
Well, I think that's the consumer and as long as we, um, adequately informed the consumers of what those costs are, and it's entirely possible that strawberries in February are maybe not any worse than a lot of the other foods that we eat. But I think we need to realize that there is a cost. Um, and most of us recognize that in the northern climates. And I'm from Minnesota, we are, we are not able to grow strawberries locally unless they're, you know, a tremendous amount of resources are expended. So it makes sense to say, well, we're going to grow those someplace else and ship them in. And as long as we understand what those costs are, I think it's up to the consumer to decide if they, if they want strawberries in February or not.
Pat Duncanson:
6:39
So Jill, um, can we measure sustainability?
Jill Wheeler:
6:44
Yes, but it all depends of course what you're seeking to do. This is one of those areas that's really evolving. We are all looking for what are the most relevant metrics, but of course it all depends upon your objectives. So from past perspective, farming is still a business, so we have to evaluate sustainability within management practices and what that does to the bottom line. But as we've also just talked about, if you're a consumer, you may have very different metrics that you're evaluating. So I always encourage people to think about what is it that you want to accomplish, but then also think about short and long term impacts. Um, as, as pat said, in agriculture, we tend to look a long ways down the road. So we have several practices. One of them that's becoming very popular for example, is cover crops, but you may not see the full results of that for three to five years. So you have to look again at a longterm metric as opposed to a short when even within the business of farming.
Pat Duncanson:
7:43
And last question, and I'd like you both to answer this. Uh, Jill, maybe you can, you can start, um, what should we be doing to improve our current food system?
Jill Wheeler:
7:55
And you know, I think it is not as much about what do we need to continue to improve because we're doing that with sustainability. My biggest fear is I don't want to see us going backwards because we start measuring for the wrong things. Um, farming is a complex biological system and every choice that we make has ramifications and other elements of the system. So I do want to see us continue to take a very broad perspective and evaluating all of our practices. And I'll give you one example. Um, we've made considerable gains and in no till that's conservation tillage, which is where we don't pull out the plows. It's very good for the soil to do that. But it also requires that we have herbicides to manage the weeds. So there has been some talk of getting rid of herbicides for example, but that would mean that we would actually have to backtrack to older practices which are very detrimental to the soil. The rip it up, they destroy the structure. So we have to look at and tools and what are all of the other elements. If we take away this tool, what is that going to be doing to the rest of the system? And let's look at it holistically from that system perspective. Ask Pat, what do you think we can do to improve? Well, certainly I think we are on a a, a path and I had been my whole farming career and most of my neighbors are as well of continuous improvement. And then as producers, as we become aware of certainly consumer concerns and also concerns even among uh, in bumps just the professional ed community, we are continuously trying to improve. Uh, and I think education and the knowledge on both sides of the equation, both on the consumer side and the producer side and continued dialogues is, is a great path for that continuous [inaudible].
Phil Lempert:
9:38
Well, Pat, Jill, thank you so much for joining us today on farm food facts. Appreciate it.
Pat Duncanson:
9:43
Great. Have a good day.
Phil Lempert:
9:51
And now for the news you need to know we sent USTA report seize dire climate change impact on us crops this summer. We've experienced the hottest year on record due to climate change and that has troubling implications for u s ag. According to a report issued by the USDA economic research service, unchecked climate change could mean that the weather conditions hurting farmers this year will become increasingly common, resulting in a decline in us production of corn and soybeans by as much as 80% over the next 60 years. As a result, corn and soybean prices would skyrocket. As with the price of crop insurance. According to the study which the Wall Street Journal reported on the price of proper insurance to the federal government could rise to seven point $6 billion a year for corn and 3.3 billion for soybeans. In comparison, the USDA has spent roughly $300 million on insurance for the card crop year as of July, 2019 and although the impact of climate change is Dyer ongoing research on sustainable agriculture is helping farmers continue to improve upon their practices, how to feed the world and preserve the environment.
Phil Lempert:
11:02
According to Purdue university's agriculture news, the farmers bear much of the burden for growing food to feed billions of people. As the world population grows. To do this, farmers need to keep crops healthy and high yielding. That necessitates using fertilizers and pesticides, which can be helpful, but sometimes have an inadvertent negative impact on the environment. For instance, pollinators can be harmed. Waterways may become infiltrated with nutrient loads or atmosphere. Greenhouse gases may increase. We want to feed the world but we also want to preserve the environment. Is it possible to do both? Sylvie Browder, a professor of agronomy believes it is her goal is to assist farmers in getting the most out of their field while reducing environmental harm. Her work focuses on carbon and nitrogen cycling and soil carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and water quality impacts. The farming router's research has led to the development of nutrient management guides and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air and water quality by balancing the amount of nitrogen and other fertilizers that are applied to the fields that are taken up by plants are added to the organic nitrogen reserve of healthy soils. She also focuses on modifying tile drainage system and crop rotations to keep nutrients from entering waterways. Another facet of her research explorers cover crops such as cereal rye, which can reduce soil erosion and take up residual soil nitrogen to prevent it from leaking into streams and rivers. For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit food dialogues.com under the programs and media tab and visit us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers for on Twitter at us Fra. Until next time.
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