Evolution Ag Summit takes on carbon: the risks, the rewards and what farmers need to know
The subject of the North Dakota Farmers Union event was “The Carbon Conundrum,” and it examined all things carbon from the basics to supply chains, renewable fuels, conservation and more.
JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Agriculture is a target when it comes to the conversation around carbon because the industry has a big carbon footprint, says North Dakota State University’s David Ripplinger.
“Climate is a huge risk to corporations. It’s actually a huge risk to you,” said Ripplinger, NDSU Extension bioenergy and bioproduct economics specialist.
But with that risk comes opportunity, because while agriculture has a big carbon footprint in doing its job to feed, clothe and fuel the world, it also has the opportunity to sequester carbon and use techniques to lessen its impact, he said.
Ripplinger was one of the speakers at the inaugural Evolution Ag Summit put on in Jamestown on Tuesday, Feb. 21, by North Dakota Farmers Union. The subject of the event was “The Carbon Conundrum,” and it examined all things carbon from the basics to supply chains, renewable fuels, conservation and more. Despite inclement weather conditions in the region, the event drew a crowd of about 150 people, spanning all parts of agriculture, from farmers and ranchers to agronomists to agribusinesses.
Ripplinger’s talk, “Carbon 101,” laid out the basics of why carbon is an important topic, how it impacts agriculture and what kind of opportunities exist, now and in the future.
Even now, the opportunities are expanding, he explained. The California Low Carbon Fuel Standard is behind the move to build more soybean crush plants in the region. Biodiesel that will be produced from the soybean oil at the ADM Green Bison plant under construction at Spiritwood, North Dakota, just east of Jamestown, will go into the California market, he said. That provides a new market for soybean farmers.
Such standards are spreading to other states, providing the need for more renewable fuels that rely on crops grown in the region. And as time goes by, companies are going to start looking harder at the way crops and animals are grown and incentivizing people to use low-carbon techniques, Ripplinger said.
Tyson, for example, has goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 and have net zero emissions by 2050. Ripplinger explained Tyson is making those changes for two reasons: it needs access to capital and investment firms increasingly see climate mitigation as a necessity, and it wants to meet customer demands around sustainability. To meet those goals, Tyson plans to not only use renewable energy at their plants but also to work on buying cattle raised using sustainable production practices.
Similarly, a panel of Nikki Zahradka from Anheuser-Busch, Colin Beal from Low Carbon Beef and Kevin Hall from CHS explained how their companies are addressing sustainability and carbon emissions.
Zahradka said consumer demands are part of the equation, but moving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also is in part for the company’s own future.
“We’ve been brewing beer for 160 years, and we plan to keep doing it,” she said.
Beal said consumer demands and misinformation about the role cattle play in greenhouse gas emissions is what led him to start Low Carbon Beef. He started Low Carbon Beef to add value for producers and to provide consumers with more confidence in what they’re eating.
An engineer and cattle rancher, Beal said the story of how cattle are produced is important. Grass-fed and finished cattle don’t actually result in lower emissions as people often assume; likewise, using implants will keep cattle out of natural programs but actually speed up the finishing process, thereby reducing emissions produced by animals.
Hall said including farmers in the discussions about how to lower emissions while remaining sustainable is vital to CHS.
A panel on renewable fuel, featuring Adam Dunlop of Midwest AgEnergy and Kent Engelbrecht of ADM with Ripplinger moderating, also discussed opportunities for growing for biodiesel ethanol markets, aviation fuel, carbon capture and decarbonization and the growing need to know about how supply chain information — including from farms — will continue to come into play.
Alejandro Plastina, an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University, spoke remotely to explain carbon markets. Then a panel of Martin Barbre of Rural Investment to Protect our Environment (or RIPE), USDA Climate Coordinator Dana Ashford-Kornburger and Brad Justice of Indigo Ag explained how various public and private conservation incentives work.