Friday, April 12, 2024

The way Indiana grows food is impacted by climate change. Local leaders can face the challenge head-on

By: Larry Clemens, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Indiana, Indiana Farmer

Late last year, global leaders and climate experts from nearly every country on Earth met in Egypt during the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to negotiate goals for tackling the climate crisis. The stakes are high, especially in Indiana.  Purdue University’s Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment predicts hotter temperatures and more intense rainfall if climate action is not taken. This will be costly, as insurance rates, energy bills and food prices will climb, along with the temperatures and flooding.

Climate change is increasing the complexity of nearly every facet of our lives, including our food systems. Conventional agricultural practices can deplete the land and threaten our waters, with sediment and excess nutrients running off into our waterways during intense rainfall events. If we don’t evolve how we produce food and crops, these problems will only intensify, as food demand is expected to increase by 50%—and protein demand by more than 70%—before we reach 2050. 

“Nitrogen and phosphorous nutrients from agricultural fertilizers flow from the White River to the Wabash River, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Mike Dunn, Director of Freshwater for The Nature Conservancy in Indiana. “Only 1-7 percent of the water flowing into the Mississippi is from the Wabash River Watershed, (which includes the White River) but that water contains a disproportionate 11-17 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorous that make it to the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients are the leading cause of the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Fortunately, change is happening all the way up the supply chain. Indiana is seeing a shift toward practices that are restorative, climate friendly and more productive. By adopting regenerative practices—like no-till farming and planting cover crops in off seasons—farmers can help improve water quality and fight climate change while providing people with food.

“It’s increasingly important for farmers and landowners to adopt land management practices that are not only good for their bottom line, but good for nature too.” said Dunn.

While leaders from across the world worked to build a roadmap to support the planet during COP27, momentum at the local and national level is important for reinforcing global climate action. By demonstrating progress in Indiana, together we can drive change on the global stage. To improve nature’s ability to help us, we must quickly help the food and agricultural sector champion regenerative practices, moving beyond sustaining natural resources to embrace large-scale restoration of the lands and waters that supply our food.

Indiana is poised to be a leader in sustainably produced foods, and you can be part of the change for the better. If you’re a farmer, look into healthy soil practices that include no-till and cover crops, which are better for the planet and your bottom line. If you’re an elected official, heed the polling data that indicate Hoosiers want climate change action. If you’re a shopper, select foods grown regeneratively, locally and in season to reduce your carbon footprint. We are happy to work closely with our Indiana State Department of Agriculture to promote conservation practices across the state to all of Indiana’s farmers and hope we can all work together towards our common goal.

Larry Clemens is the Indiana state director for The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit with nearly 5,000 employees in 79 countries whose mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. If you’re a curious Hoosier who cares and wants to know more, follow The Nature Conservancy on social media and subscribe to their free monthly e-newsletter at nature.org/naturenews.

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