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Panel discusses ag role in carbon sequestration

Visitors at Farmfest watched a "Cowbot" autonomous mower demonstration by UMWCROC and Toro Co.

GILFILLAN ESTATE — A panel of agriculture leaders discussed climate change, carbon sequestration, carbon credits, ag policy incentives, and conservation programs at Farmfest Tuesday.

Most of the panel agreed that public and private partnerships are the way to move forward on carbon sequestration, the long-term removal, capture, and sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow or reverse atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution, and mitigate or reverse climate change.

“It has to be a public-private partnership,” said Land O’Lakes Truterra Division Vice President Jason Weller.

“More resources are needed to do it. Public resources alone are not enough,” said The Nature Conservancy Interim Ag Director Kris Johnson.

“It’s the Wild West out there now. We need private companies involved,” said Buffalo Lake farmer Brian Ryberg.

New Ulm crop consultant Steve Commerford said farmers have done a pretty good job over time with conservation if given the tools.

“I’d like to see policies driven by science, not science driven by policies,” said Commerford. “The only way to accomplish carbon sequestration is to be very efficient and have high yields.”

Farmfest Educational Forum Coordinator Kent Thiesse asked how we would know if companies are keeping huge benefits and paying farmers too little.

“Land O’Lakes is a service and marketing cooperative. There’s a lot of discovery going on,” said Weller. “You guys are sitting on a new revenue opportunity. You need good testing to measure how much carbon is in the ground.”

Johnson said it was not just about carbon but also water, water quality, and soil health components to improve witholding water in soil.

“I quantify it like a BB in a box car,” said Commerford. “Right now, the technology is not there.”

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said agriculture Best Management Practice loans are available for no-till equipment.

Petersen also mentioned the Forever Green Initiative, a University of Minnesota and USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) program to develop new crops and high-efficiency cropping systems.

“Reduced tillage really took off the last few years,” said Petersen. “But I’m very concerned about the drought. It’s hard to see farmers selling off cattle. We’ll go backwards if we lose cattle the next few years.”

Iowa farmer and former National Association of Conservation Districts President Tim Palmer said producers need to get a 10% profit or the market will dry up.

“Can we affect the climate? I don’t know,” Palmer said.

He said the international market will set carbon credit prices companies will pay.

Petersen said the next Farm Bill will look much different than the current one.

“The more I listen, the most scared I get,” said Commerford. “A lot of it doesn’t make sense. Soil is a dynamic system. Some is long-term. The rest is pretty transient.”

Weller said carbon sequestration has to be voluntary and collaborative.

“I think we have the tools to do it right. Don’t get mad at the money,” said Weller.

A farmer asked about accurate measurements.

“I think there’s a way to do it,” said Petersen.

“People are paying us to figure it out,” Weller said. “There is a lot of deep science going on to get to the best of what’s possible for farmers. It’ll change. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Commerford said modeling isn’t science, that is has to be validated.

“Taking sulfur out of fuel created a serious hardship for agriculture…We can have very serious consequences,” said Commerford.

“I think it’ll happen. Talking about issues is helpful,” said Petersen.

“I think it’s a great topic for agriculture. I’m excited Land O’Lakes is part of the journey,” Weller said.

“It’s a frontier. A possibility. The science is still evolving,” said Johnson. “The key is to do it cheaply enough so there is money left for producers. Projects are happening now. The rules of the road are still being figured out.”

“Isn’t science always about finding out more?” asked moderator and KDHL Farm Director Jerry Groskreutz. “Do the right thing. Tell others about it. Feel good about it.”

Wednesday’s 1:10 p.m. educational session is about redesigning the U.S. energy system and how the expansion of ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuels fit into the Clean Energy Plan; and the opportunities and limitations of wind, solar, and electric energy.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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