Insights from the Minnesota Environmental Congress

Insights from the Minnesota Environmental Congress

December 5th, 2019

Earlier this week, the state Environmental Quality Board hosted the Minnesota Environmental Congress at the Minnesota State University Mankato Campus. This created a great opportunity to join a variety of conversations about different environmental issues impacting Minnesotans.

Speakers from many different backgrounds, including tribal communities, higher education, government, and the Emerging Environmental Leader (EEL) program, shared their work focused on improving the environment. Governor Tim Walz also attended and gave an inspiring speech about Minnesota’s ability to defeat climate change together, with a strong focus on transportation emissions.

There were several breakout sessions attendees could choose from. Topics ranged from climate justice, climate change and biodiversity, farming while addressing climate change, and the Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation report.

Food, Fiber, and Fuel

The topic of one session was, “Food, Fiber, and Fuel: Providing Society’s Needs While Addressing Climate Change”. There were four panelists that gave their real-world experience both on the farm and in the community about how climate change has been affecting their business. The biggest issue panelists talked about was water. Both heavy rainstorms and flash droughts have made farming riskier than ever, and it’s getting worse. Climate change in Minnesota looks like extremely wet springs, followed by periods of hot, dry weather with no rain. Now more than ever, farmers are finding their fields under water or too wet to plant.

One thing was very apparent in listening to the conversations between the panelists-it will take work, but we can adapt to the changing climate so we can keep feeding and fueling our country. A holistic approach needs to be taken to address different issues farmers are facing. The panelists talked about the importance of soil health, diversifying crops, having good data collection practices to show trends in planting, and lastly, collaborating with other farmers for sharing ideas and practices.

Barriers

Of course, there are always barriers to adopt new techniques and practices, and some were surprising to hear. Even in 2019, roughly 24 million Americans don’t have internet at home. Most likely you have internet if you are reading this, but for many farmers, not having a reliable and quick internet can severely limit the resources available for new technology and farming practices. The farmers also stated the need for more flexible policies that allow for adapting to weather patterns. This includes making it easier for farmers to diversify their crops from year to year if needed.

Seeds of Hope

The session ended on a high note, giving hope to everyone in the room that we can work together to both reduce future emissions and adapt to the change in the climate that’s already locked in from past emissions. Experts in the field believe agriculture (the blue portion in graph above) has not been given enough credit for the potentially huge contributions it can have on reducing emissions. This slide on the screen behind the panelists showed that agriculture has large potential to help Minnesota meet our 2050 emission goals, but it’s not being tapped in to. However, all of the panelists agree that if resources were devoted to agricultural methods that reduce emissions, similar to our investments in the power and transportation sectors, new farming practices could not only reduce emissions, but could act as a carbon sink! And that can also produce cleaner fuels for our vehicles.

So let’s support our farmers and support innovations in farming practices. And as always, use biofuels whenever possible to decrease greenhouse gases and support our economy.