“The world is at one minute to midnight” says the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, ahead of the landmark COP26 conference in Glasgow about the need to make urgent changes.
Time, agriculture and the climate are themes of the 2021 REAP Conference: “Changing Time(s) for Agriculture” next week. It promises a lively discussion on emerging agri-tech solutions that support the move towards Net Zero and it is attracting international participation.
However, agriculture is not specifically mentioned in the COP presidency themes:
- Adaptation and resilience – to help communities adapt to, and prepare for, the worst impacts of climate change.
- Nature based solutions – to safeguard and restore natural habitats and ecosystems to preserve the planet’s biodiversity.
- Energy transitions – to accelerate the clean energy transition by encouraging the use of cheaper renewables and storage.
- Clean transport – to clean our air by speeding up the global transition to zero emission vehicles.
- Finance – to encourage our financial systems to be cleaner to unlock growth and create green jobs.
Given that one expects agriculture and the food industry to sit under a number of these major themes, it is disappointing – given the current direction of travel in the industry, and the potential for impact through changes in practice and use of technology – that COP26 isn’t putting these issues front and centre of the discussions.
The journey to Net Zero and role of agri-tech
Overall agricultural emissions in the UK have reduced by 16% since 1990, according to the UK’s National Farmers Union. Its ‘Journey to Net Zero’ strategy outlines the three pillars of the journey to net zero.
- Boosting productivity and reducing emissions
- Farmland carbon storage
- Increasing renewable energy and support for the bioeconomy.
Blending the technology alongside a more regenerative and restorative approach to food production is already yielding significant results – see Tom Pearson and Dyson Farming in the Sofa Session and Catalyst Farming in the the RNAA Agri-Tech Week event.
Predictive yield models are already in place for crops such as salads, potatoes, sugar beet and even forage grass, all aimed at increasing efficiency and reducing over-planting to match supply and demand.
Breeding to enable crops and livestock to be more productive has been underway for decades, and innovative dietary changes can help reduce GHG emissions from cattle and pigs.
Enabling controlled environment production of appropriate crops in appropriate ways can reduce air miles.
Alternative plant and insect-based protein sources for food and feed are poised to make their global mark.
Minute to midnight
Using the clock to indicate the passage of large time intervals is not new – the Montessori Clock of Eras equates an hour on a 12 hour clock face to around 375,000 million years.
A further refinement showing the history of Earth in a 24 hr clock face has often been used to illustrate evolution – with the origin of life at around 4am, the first oxygenating bacteria emerging at around 5.23am, land plants emerging at around 9pm and the dinosaurs just before 11pm. Humans first roamed the Earth at nearly 11.59pm.
That final ‘minute’ of geological time also includes the 10,000 years where humans became hunter-gatherers, then domesticated and started to breed the first grasses which became the ancestors of today’s cereal crops.
Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution and the Green Revolution – and we are actually in the closing few microseconds of Boris Johnson’s “minute to midnight” to impact climate change.
The next two weeks will be crucial – and in the closing seconds of the ‘clock’ of the Earth’s history, let’s buy ourselves more time – and make more noise – about the potential for agriculture to be part of the solution.