Walmsley gives thoughts on climate change, farming
WEST WINDSOR — Andrew Walmsley spoke to farmers gathered at the New Jersey Farm Bureau’s annual convention here to discuss the impact of climate change on current day and future farming endeavors.
Introduced by Peter Furey of New Jersey Farm Bureau, he described Andrew as “the go to guy” on American Farm Bureau Federation staff when it comes to keeping up with ever-changing data, forecasts and opinions on global climate change.
A graduate of the University of Florida, Walmsley has been with the American Farm Bureau for 17 years and is a founding member of the Food and Agriculture Coalition.
“As a sixth-generation Floridian you probably expect me to speak a bit slower, but I come from a long line of Baptist preachers and so I have a very narrow family tree,” Walmsley joked by way of introducing himself.
“When you look at greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. for almost 17 years that I’ve been at Farm Bureau, we’ve had a robust climate policy and a lot of the early discussions particularly in Washington — they didn’t invite agriculture to the table — and what was put out were different types of carbon taxes and things like that,” he said, adding farm advocacy groups like AFBF know that farmers tend to be high energy consumers, “and we need to have affordable energy to continue to produce affordable food.”
Walmsley displayed graphics of U.S. emissions levels compared with other major developed nations such as China, India and the United Kingdom.
“What makes us extremely unique and why there is so much interest in agriculture is because of our ability to sequester carbon,” he pointed out, noting that comes from careful land use management practices on grazing and crop lands, “and all of these things kind of combine, providing opportunities for us to sequester carbon,” he said, in essence, offsetting emissions from other industries in the United States. Walmsley said American non-agricultural industries can work to reduce emissions while agriculture can play a bigger role in sequestering excess carbon around all 50 states.
“One of the key components in the definition of sustainability is economic viability,” he said.
“It does the climate no good, it does you no good, and the environment no good or anybody else any good to put you out of business in pursuit of climate policy.”
Walmsley displayed another graphic going back roughly ten generations in American agriculture showing how American farmers and American inventiveness and ingenuity have been able to increase outputs and yields of crops and livestock “while inputs have remained relatively flat.”
“For every one input, we’re getting close to three outputs — and this was not done from some type of mandate or any type of legislation — it’s just a combination of factors coming together going back 160 years with our investments in land-grant universities where we’ve taken research from the field, products or the lab and getting that into the hands of our farmers and ranchers.”
In short, investments American farmers and Garden State farmers make on their farms to increase efficiency levels come from research into better genetics of plants and better biotechnology tools for animal herds, “it’s all these things coming together that I think tells that story; this is what we want to continue to develop.”
To describe better yields from valuable research from America’s land grant universities, Walmsley likes the phrase “sustainable intensification.”
“For American agriculture, we have a moral imperative to feed the world. According to the U.N., we just crossed over 8 billion people living on this planet and we’re projected to have 9.5 billion people by 2050. We’re not going to be able to achieve that by going backwards, by reducing our efficiencies, by producing less. It’s that balancing act that we have to look at, going forward, and we’re on a pretty good path and have to continue on that path. But we’re also looking for partners to help us do that” he said.
He displayed another graphic tracking U.S. emissions for the last 30 years and noted U.S. farm-related emissions are up 6 percent, “but we’re also feeding and producing a lot more food, feed, fuel and fiber for the world. When we look at our per capita emissions, we’re down about 20 percent.”
Walmsley reported in the U.S. livestock industry in the last 30 years, beef industry emissions are down about 10 percent, swine industry emissions are down about 20 percent and dairy down about 25 percent, “all while producing more critical protein for a growing world.” Also in the last 30 years, pork production has been up 80 percent, beef production is up 20 percent and milk production is up almost 50 percent.
“Those are all good things that we don’t want to upset, and again I’m not trying to be cavalier by saying we have it all figured out, but it’s not as weak as some would make it out to be.”
“With U.S. agriculture, it’s not just what we produce and how we produce it, it’s our policies that give us support as an organization; we support all of the above when it comes to energy, recognizing that there is a transition and that we need affordable energy but there’s also a lot we can do on our farms and ranches to produce renewable energy into the future.”
Walmsley concluded by alerting Garden State farmers that the 2023 Farm Bill will include lots of funding to large, small and mid-sized farmers that take the time to apply for it.
“There will be 18 billion dollars out there over the next few years that the USDA is going to be trying to figure out how to spend, and we’re going to be writing the Farm Bill that touches on these programs, so there’s going to be an opportunity to further shape where we want to see these programs go,” Walmsley said.