May 1, 2023

WG Science: A Plan of Action for Sustainability and Resiliency

For anyone who desires such an impossible task, irrigated agriculture will readily bestow the challenge of farming in an increasingly hotter, drier landscape, with the stipulation of decreasing water and crop inputs for the foreseeable future. Despite this impossibility, our growers continue to build healthy soils and pioneer innovative solutions, while providing safe, affordable and nutritious fresh food with great efficiency.

Nearly every climate modeling scenario that limits warming to 1.5° C (34.7° F) requires farmlands and soil on working lands to draw down carbon. Moreover, this undertaking must be accomplished amidst droughts, floods, emergent pest and disease pressure, and a changing social climate. One thing is clear: growers are answering to more stakeholders than ever before, and the stakes keep getting higher.

However, our growers are invested in stewardship of our land and stewardship of our soil. We protect and enhance soil health knowing that healthy soils can absorb and retain more water, help restore aquifers and sustain biodiversity, while supporting crop yields and farm profitability. Farmers are adaptable and pragmatic. If they see something that works, they will adopt it. After all, it was our growers who took the charge on groundwater recharge practices and incorporated cover cropping and organic matter into growing systems. The rewards of these investments are evident as we continue to build healthy soils with great care for the land, water, air and people.

This past March, I joined the Western Growers science team as Environment and Climate Director. In this newly created role, I am focused on supporting our members to take on the challenges of the current and future agricultural climate.

My areas of focus include:

  • Engagement: Facilitating dialog with industry stakeholders on crop inputs, integrated pest management, water quality, resource conservation and climate response
  • Prospect: Identifying development and application of drivers for climate-smart field practices, and opportunities in key focus areas, particularly soil health
  • Advancement: Developing and sharing outcomes of environmental performance initiatives implemented by our member operations
  • Support: Promoting best practices for climate adaptation, resiliency and risk management

Sustainability looks to the future to fulfill the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of the next generation. Resiliency, on the other hand, accounts for the extremes, to withstand adversity and recover from disaster effectively. My aim is to identify achievable and economically feasible resilient solutions, going beyond sustainability to build a more collaborative, science-backed and productive space for our growers and members.

With the diversity of challenges yet to come, it is imperative that we move forward with purpose. This includes supporting investments in improved infrastructure to better prepare for drought and flooding risks before disaster strikes. Additionally, identifying and filling research gaps for necessary pest control and environmental compliance options to provide support for science-backed recommendations, and leveraging data to support our grower network. Lastly, seeking out opportunities that further support our growers to build and maintain healthy soils. Despite a seemingly impossible task, to take on the challenges of farming, our farmers will continue to be invested and resilient, for years to come.