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Ag, Conservation Groups Step Up Drive to Tackle Climate Change

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Wisconsin is among the states where a number of farmers have adopted conservation practices - to help tackle climate change issues and improve the health of their land. A new national alliance aims to broaden the scope and influence of the movement.

The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance includes a host of organizations, such as the Food Industry Association, National Alliance of Forest Owners and National Farmers Union.

The Nature Conservancy is another partner. Steve Richter is director of agricultural strategies with The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, which provides funding to a handful of the nearly 30 grassroots groups of farmers who share conservation strategies with other producers.

He said there's plenty of room for growth in the Badger State.

"These are a subset of farmers who are really making a difference," said Richter. "In terms of acre-wise, these 31 groups probably control a half a million acres of Wisconsin's farmland. There's well over ten million acres of farmland. So, we've got a long way to go. "

The alliance hopes to provide more sharing of ideas in ag-heavy states such as Wisconsin. It's also promoting policy recommendations such as incentives for farmers to reduce their energy consumption, and supporting the development of private-sector markets for greenhouse-gas credits.

Pipa Elias, the Nature Conservancy's director of agriculture for North America, said the effort can also take the pressure off food companies, some of whom set climate goals over the past couple of years.

"To achieve those ambitious goals, we really need to see farmers and ranchers adapt and be supported in moving to climate-smart practices," said Elias. "So that then in turn, food companies can achieve their climate goals."

In Wisconsin, climate change has created a lot of unpredictability for farmers. For example, in 2019 a very wet season prevented or delayed the planting of crops, resulting in losses.

Also, last year a United Nations panel on climate change warned that for the worst effects of climate change to be reversed, agriculture needed to make some big changes.

Richter said in Wisconsin, because there are so many dairy farms, there's a lot of phosphorus runoff from manure and fertilizer.

"Whether it's dissolved phosphorus or particulate phosphorus, running off the surface runoff into our lakes and rivers," said Richter.

With the incoming Biden administration prioritizing climate-change policy, various agriculture groups say they want a seat at the table in creating more solutions.

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