Farm Food Facts

Erin Fitzgerald & Sally Rockey Highlight Foster Our Future interviews PART 2

February 25, 2020 USFRA Episode 64
Farm Food Facts
Erin Fitzgerald & Sally Rockey Highlight Foster Our Future interviews PART 2
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Erin Fitzgerald & Sally Rockey Highlight Foster Our Future interviews PART 2
Feb 25, 2020 Episode 64
USFRA

Today is part two of our interview with Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and  Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.  We’re going to hear their insights while we listen back to three interviews from the "Foster Our Future” event in Washington DC earlier this month.  Meredith Ellis of G Bar C Ranch, Isaya Kisekka of the University of CA-Davis and Dr. Gene Lester, National Program Director USDA-ARS. 

Show Notes Transcript

Today is part two of our interview with Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and  Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.  We’re going to hear their insights while we listen back to three interviews from the "Foster Our Future” event in Washington DC earlier this month.  Meredith Ellis of G Bar C Ranch, Isaya Kisekka of the University of CA-Davis and Dr. Gene Lester, National Program Director USDA-ARS. 

Phil:

Farm food facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to farm food facts for February 26 2020 I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Today is part two of our interview with Sally Rockey, executive director of the foundation for food and agricultural research and our own Aaron Fitzgerald, CEO of us farmers and ranchers Alliance. We're going to hear their insights while we listened back to three interviews that we conducted at the foster future event in Washington DC earlier this month. Meredith Ellis of G Bar C ranch. Isaiah Kisekka of the university of California Davis and dr Jean Leicester national program director of USDA ARS will be with us first up, Meredith Ellis, a second generation rancher in Rawson, Texas who spoke at foster our future on the importance of data in agriculture. But one of the topics here, um, that you're speaking about, matter of fact, has to do with the privacy of data. So tell us a little bit about that.

Meredith:

Well, you know, as a millennial, I really don't share the concerns as the older generation on privacy. Um, I really, well, I mean, yeah, I, you know, if the data is going to be shared to the public, I would ask for some anonymity on that. But really when I think of data, um, I think of it more of, as a collaborative effort. So I see it as an open cloud source format where anyone involved to um, take my data and for me to take their data could share back and forth. So more of a really, um, open collaborative environment is something that I see. Yeah. Similar to blockchain. Yeah. You know, I'd like to see not no restrictions. Basically. I don't want someone to own my data. Um, I don't want to have to pay for someone else's data so to speak. Um, I think that poses great limitations to people. And so, um, I'd see more, you know, I'd really push for more of an open software type system to where I can upload any random data such as my cattle's genetics and have a researcher say, Hey, I'd like to correlate that with something that I'm researching on, you know, randomly and just really,

Phil:

Ane everybody being able to work together.

Meredith:

Yeah. To the next level. Yeah. And have it all together. Um, you know, I think there's a big social dynamic that's lacking a connectability. So having people be able to contact each other, easily, ask followup questions. You know, I'd love to be able to, um, read a paper from a researcher and say, Hey, you know, this is really intriguing to me. These are my unique variables to my ranch, X, Y, and Z, and I'd like to apply them. Can you give me recommendations or something like that. So I think, you know, more of the social media connectivity aspect to it would be extremely important. Um, our ranch has collaborated for the past two decades with the noble research Institute and its noble research Institute is a base, basically 350 employees, 350, um, PhDs and scientists, um, researchers in all aspects related to agriculture. And so that extends my knowledge from not just a rancher, but to all those PhDs and how that is really set up works, uh, works really well for my operation because there's a consultant that comes out with all of those knowledge from noble that helps connect me and really, um, uh, customized recommendations based on my unique operation that, that I have on, you know, on my ranch. So it's working really well. I'd, I'd encourage, you know, um, people to really look closely at that model and how successful it is.

Phil:

So ranchers are under the microscope, if you would, as it relates to sustainability, at least from a consumer point of view. So where, where do we find the real facts about what's going on with sustainability on the ranch?

Meredith:

Yeah. Um, I would encourage, you know, I see a lot of data out there that has been misrepresented and taken away from the big picture of what these reports are saying. So, um, the EPA is report agriculture accounts for only 9% of those greenhouse gas emission. I raised 46,000 pounds of beef and it sounds like a lot, but it is just like a day in the life of one restaurant. Okay. It's not very much, but to do that I have to take care of my national park and that's 3000 acres of pristine wilderness. That wilderness is sequestering carbon. It's purifying water, it's habitat for endangered species on my ranch. And those things have not been taken into account. So absolutely cows admit methane when they burp. But I'd like to think of it as more of a recycled emission so they emit methane, but the land that I'm preserving is a questioning carbon back into the soil. And so, you know, that needs to be taken into account.

Phil:

So Sally, last week on farm food facts, we talked a lot about technology. One topic that didn't come up until Meredith brought it up is the open sourcing of all this data. Talk to me a bit about that and how realistic is it?

Sally:

Yes. Um, I think that the trends these days are to have more open source. Exactly for the reasons Meredith said. So that primarily researchers can have access to data and those data that they've never had before. And when they do have access to those data, they're able to bring out discoveries more quickly. So the idea about open source, and we have in our organization, uh, supported a number of open source systems whereby others can work within the system and many, many farmers and ranchers can get access information themselves. It was interesting, she talked about from the perspective of a millennial because about data privacy, it is an issue for farmers. The bigger issue I think, as she pointed out, is that those are that are going to use farmer data, respect to the farmer themselves and the data that come from the farm. And those data can be protected through anonymization and other means.

Sally:

But by doing that, then we are giving the farmers some confidence that they will know what happened to those data. They're very willing, I think, as Meredith indicated to share data, but they have to know that those data are going to, to be used properly. So we go for open source. But when we do develop open source systems, oftentimes the actual data is anonymized or else we use what's called metadata, which is data about data and not use the actual data otherwise. So she's fantastic. I mean she's really wonderful. She has a, a really holistic thinking about her farm and not only how she preserves land. That's a question Carmen, but how she thinks about those data that are being generated by her farm. She's just, she's just a magnificent rancher.

Phil:

I would agree. And also she shared the details with me of a program I hadn't heard of, which is the ecosystem service market consortium pilot program.

Sally:

Yes. So that is a program that we funded just a recently this past fall. And what the idea of the consortium is, is to bring together companies and scientists and farmers and ranchers to create what we call carbon credits and also credits for water quality and water quantity so that if a farmer sequesters carbon and or improves water quality and or preserves water so that there's more of it, that person can actually gain value by having a credit that they would be paid in exchange for someone who wants to buy that credit. Often the credits are bought by the fossil fuel industry or others. There's a lot of science that has to go on in order to develop this market so that we have appropriate measures of carbon and water quality and water quantity, how much bio diversity we preserve, whatever it's going to be. So that we're very hopeful for. The idea is that that ecosystem services market will be up and running by 2022. In the meantime, there's all going to be some cool science that goes on to make sure this thing is going. And uh, it's very, very exciting.

Phil:

Dr. Gene Lester is the national program director, USDA ARS and told us why they brought alive beehive to foster our future. And I see you know, you're right behind us and you've got a beehive there. Tell me about the beehive. Why is that there?

Gene:

Well, of course pollination crops is critically important and of course bees are threatened all around the world and without adequate pollinations. A lot of the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy at a very economic price can become scarce and very expensive as a result of it. So maintaining a healthy understanding from both a scientific standpoint and a grower use standpoint, the health and wealth, not only in this country but around the world is critically important and maintaining our agriculture.

Phil:

So Sally, when you heard from Dr. Lester that he was bringing alive beehive, what was your reaction?

Sally:

Was very excited. First of all, they, they draw a large crowd because they're so interesting. Everyone wants to find the queen. The queen is usually identified by a dot on her back is him pointed out, pollinators are so important to agriculture. So many of our crops are insect pollinated or use other types of pollinators but also natural pollinators as well. And so we find that there's a lot of things that are going on about bee health or pollinator health in regards to the diseases hive collapse, other things that are going on that really do threaten the entire agricultural system. There's quite a bit of technologies now that we can deploy in order to improve pollination and to improve the health of bees and other natural pollinators. But part of what happens, especially for bees and natural pollinators that need of course pollen and nectar, is that farmers can be very attuned to this and can actually help with pollinators as a whole by um, either the way that they manage their lands by preserving natural plants in, at your field and along field edges and also by reduction in pesticide use, which oftentimes can be very detrimental to pollinators.

Sally:

So farmers and ranchers are very much at the core of pollinator health. And it's been really great to see how this, this intersection between what farmers are doing and the new technologies that are able to help us with pollinators have come together.

Phil:

And one of the biggest concerns that he sees facing agriculture today. What do you see as the top problems that are facing farmers and ranchers today?

Gene:

Whew, that's a little bit outside of my area, but I would say probably rural prosperity and so that we could grow the economy within our rural areas of this country and not then have people leave because there are economic opportunities in rural America and stay and be able to foster our future of agriculture in this country.

Phil:

And Erin, your thoughts?

Erin:

Well, I do love this idea of creating bio products. Um, and I, I do think with innovation that's coming from our farm fields all the way to the consumer, that creates a level of innovation that can inspire rural vibrancy and new job growth. I often think, how can we grow everything from the surface of the earth rather than the inner part of the earth when we are able to grow something that's bio-based, that's, that's cycling carbon, that's creating regenerative economy, that's offsetting displacing products that are typically coming from a non regenerative or fossil fuel derived product and only plants can do that and the agricultural sector. So I do think that that is, um, you could call them green jobs, if you will, in agriculture as we start looking at creating bio-based products. I do think that that is quite an interesting future.

Phil:

And I asked him what USDA is focused on, which is something that consumers, retailers, farmers and ranchers always want to know. Here's what he had to say.

Gene:

We in the USDA want to be able to take those same processes, which is meaning taking crops grown, uh, in our farm land, not economic food crops, but other crops that could be grown in the less desirable crop production, uh, acreages and turn that into bio-based plastics or, uh, disease, fighting organisms for animals and plants that do not have antibacterial resistance associated with it. And when I talk about that, if it's a bio-based pesticide or insecticide and not having antibacterial resistance, it doesn't linger in the environment for a long period of time. The way petroleum or chemical insecticides do, which allows for the bacteria to develop resistance, uh, plant based, uh, bacteria side disappears in the environment so you're not going to get the bacteria to develop resistance. That's what we are focused on in the USDA.

Phil:

Isaya Kisekka is associate professor in the department of land, air and water resources and biological and agriculture engineering at the university of California Davis. He spoke at the event on the importance of water and told me the three main issues facing farmers in California.

Isaya:

In California we have three main problems. What is the number one regulation and lever? Quite interestingly, actually during the severe drought, although we had a reduction in air courage, but the agriculture revenues were actually high. And the reason is that the growers were very innovative. They did a number of things to cope with limited water supplies. There is a shift in terms of the types of crops that grow as a growing from low value crops like cotton, wheat to high value crops. And then there's also the issue of water transfers grow as good sell water and make a little bit more money or they could deficit irrigate and many of them have also adopted high technology like drip irrigation sensors that help them to cope. The new frontier I think is going to be use of data.

Phil:

He spoke on the importance of water and told me the three main issues that are facing farmers in California, something that I'm well aware of since I live in California. Sally, what are your thoughts about the California farming situation?

Sally:

Well, I think with given the drought that they had and now fires that we can really see how climate change is influencing agriculture production in places such as California but also around the world. Um, as you know that most of all of the water withdraws globally are for agriculture. So water is the epicenter of agriculture production. And when we have situations where there is drought and or flooding, also issues with water quality, it becomes very difficult. He did mention about incentives. There's a, and that's one of the reasons our ecosystems services market is looking at water quantity and quality as incentives, as well as again, to bring value to the farmers who preserve water and, or reduce nutrients that go into water. But it's really going to be an issue for here and for the future. And that's why we're, we're focused on climate change because as the population increases, there'll be even more demand for water. And with the climate changing, which has either caused droughts and our flooding, it's always going to be an issue for us at our foundation. We do support a technological advances that irrigation, we have a consortium that does that, but it is really a matter of of global food and nutrition security is how we manage our water. So we are, we feel for California because it's been so extreme there, but it's going to be an issue throughout the world.

Phil:

So in the meantime, Sally, send over some water.

Sally:

Yes. Um, uh, I think I think about it a lot when we live in a place where we don't have drought very often.

Phil:

I want to thank all of our guests on these special additions of far food facts, who we visited at foster future for sharing their insights. G Kowa Maura, dr Shavonda Jacobs young dr Jean Leicester, IsayaKisekka, Meredith Ellis, and Scott Hutchens. And a special shout out to Aaron and Sally for their punditry on the issues and your work on the new ad climate partnership with the foundation for food and agriculture research, us farmers and ranchers Alliance and the world farmer organization. And especially on the very impressive new initiative. For more information on both of these important programs, please visit usfarmersand ranchers.org and foundationfar.org until next week.