Did You Know ...
- Just nine Midwestern states (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) are responsible for 42% of ALL agricultural emissions in the U.S.(Rhodium Group, 2020).
- This is equal to 4.2% of U.S. emissions from ALL sectors. Most are in the form of nitrous oxide and methane. They are generated by current soil and livestock management practices. In the short-term, these gases are more potent than carbon dioxide.
- Seventy-five percent of the arable land in most of the RE-AMP states is dominated by just two crops — corn and soybeans. These are primarily grown for fuel and livestock feed in the U.S. and abroad.
- If we restore the soil health of just half of the agricultural acres in this nine-state region, the carbon that we could potentially store would be equal to closing over one coal plant the size of Prairie State every year. Prairie State is a 1,766 megawatt coal plant located just 36 miles southeast of St Louis, Missouri. It is the country's 7th largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
- Farmers are overwhelmingly white (95%). In 1920, Black farmers made up 14% of all US farmers. But by 2017, that figure had shrunk to 1.3% (USDA, 2017). Land ownership is important, because it is often one of the few (and largest) forms of wealth. This offers farmers the opportunity to fully participate in, and contribute to, community life.
Tools and Resources
Transforming Agriculture in the Midwest can be used as a springboard to begin working to reduce emissions from food and agricultural systems. The report provides tools and resources that can be adapted to respond to opportunities, capacity, and differences in geography and politics that exist between member states.
By acting together, Midwesterners can do their part to help stabilize our climate. In so doing, they also can address social and economic inequities; revitalize once-vibrant communities; and restore vital ecological systems harmed by current agricultural practices in the Midwest.
New Report Pushes for Overhaul of Midwest
Food and Agriculture Systems
Transforming Agriculture in the Midwest: Critical Responses to a Changing Climate has just been released! Co-authored by Melissa Gavin, Chief Executive Officer, RE-AMP Network and Pam Richart, Co-Director, Eco-Justice Collaborative, the report was prepared to develop an understanding of what actions can be taken in the Midwest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and food systems. Emissions from conventional farming in the nine-state RE-AMP footprint make up 42 percent of U.S. agricultural emissions — or 4.2 percent of TOTAL U.S. emissions.
The report was written for members, partners, and allies of the RE-AMP Network. The Network consists of more than 140 non-profits and foundations from nine Midwestern states. RE-AMP members work together to develop collective strategies for reducing carbon emissions in the region. But, Transforming Agriculture in the Midwest has applicability for anyone interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and food systems in the Midwest.
A Systems Approach
This report was prepared in collaboration with RE-AMP's Agricultural Hub Team, which included Pam Richart and Melissa Gavin. Over 40 individuals were interviewed. Their expertise in food systems; soil science; agro-economics; food worker organizing; and current and historic farming practices were key to developing opportunities for reducing emissions and revitalizing ecosystems, communities. The interviews also were key to understanding barriers that keep young farmers, women, and farmers of color from owning land and participating in regenerative agriculture and local economies. Combining this expertise with research by the authors, Transforming Agriculture in the Midwest draws on elements of systems change to organize recommendations. These include mindsets; relationships and connections; power; practices; and policies. Taking a systems approach requires understanding how the many parts of the agriculture and food systems are interconnected, and how they relate to other parts of the system. Within this report, numerous interdependencies were identified:
- Conventional farming makes farms more vulnerable to extreme weather. The application of synthetic chemicals and mechanized tilling, developed to increase farmer efficiency, profit, and yield, has severely dminished soil health across the Midwest. This makes farms more vulnerable to extreme weather events (healthy soils absorb water during heavy rain events, then release it to crops during drought). Floods can prevent access to farm fields for planting; and flooded fields and drought can decrease yields.
- Fertilizers and pesticides contribute to climate change. When applied to the soil, fertilizers generate nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas that has far greater global warming potential than either methane (CH4) or carbon dioxide (CO2). When they are manufactured, these same three primary greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.
- A significant amount of crops are grown for fuel. In the Midwest, a significant amount of corn and soybeans are grown using synthetic fertilizers to produce ethanol and biodiesel, with the goal of producing cleaner-burning fuels. As transportation becomes electrified, demand for these fuels may decrease. This could pit farmers growing crops for fuel against others working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector through electrification.
- Conventional farming practices pollute our water and reduce biodiversity and wildlife. Conventional farming includes tilling the soil and applying chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. This kills the soil, making it more susceptible to erosion and runoff. Chemical-laden soils creates water pollution, causing algal blooms in the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. Conventional farming also harms beneficial insects, birds, and other animals and destroys the habitat upon which they depend. Moving to regenerative practices (no till, cover crops, organic fertilizers, etc.) restores soil health and increases biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
- Adding animals back to farms is good for animals and our climate. Moving animals off the land and into concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) increases greenhouse gas emissions (primarily methane) and pollution. Putting animals into CAFOs also decreases grazing. Rotational, well-managed grazing of livestock can improve soil health, which increases its ability to store carbon.
- Our food system is vulnerable to a changing climate. Climate change affects access to healthy, affordable food by disrupting food supply chains and reducing yields during extreme weather events. This, in turn, raises prices for consumers. Climate change is also linked with decreased nutritional quality of crops and the health and productivity of livestock.
- Access to healthy, affordable food is not equitable across the United States. Instead, it follows economic and racial delineations. Inequitable food access exacerbates health and economic inequities.
- Systemic racism and discrimination dominate our food and agriculture systems. Farmland in use today was taken by force or stolen through broken treaties from Native Americans. Discriminatory lending practices, heirs’ property laws, and systemic racism have intentionally limited land access for Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color. Efforts are underway at the federal level to redress these harms, and support by Midwesterners can ensure such efforts are adopted and implemented.
Opportunities for Transformation
This report includes tools and resources that can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our agriculture and food systems. It describes practices that can build healthy soil; identfies potential policies and proposed legislation (including the farm bill) that can accelerate climate-smart practices; and highlights programs and models that have already begun to bring about systemic change.
Given the impact of Midwest agriculture on climate, Midwesterners have an enormous responsibility to lead on emission reductions. But, they also can build resilient communities and agricultural and food systems, addressing historic harm to Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color through policy, legislation, and practices. Let's get to work!