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Agriculture’s role in saving the planet

May 23, 2022

Addressing the Alltech ONE Conference, Dr. Mark Lyons reflected on the journey that Alltech has taken over the last few years. He reminisced about the 2019 event at which he stood on the main stage to announce Working Together for a Planet of Plenty™, a new idea that would soon become the organization's overarching vision.

Lyons admitted that the concept was not the easiest for people to grasp at the time. However, it was a perspective that was deeply rooted in the DNA of Alltech. It was directly connected to and expanded on Dr. Pearse Lyons’ original ACE principle; the belief that it was agriculture’s duty to care for the animal, consumer and environment. Similarly, when this idea was introduced in the 1980s, many people were also slow to get on board.

However, focusing on the present day, Lyons said that the time of the ACE principle and a Planet of Plenty has truly come. He stated that consumers, especially the younger generation, are thinking about food differently, and agriculture must respond to their needs.

To achieve this, however, he explained that we might require a shift in approach.

“Reducing is not enough; we have to do something different,” Lyons said. “Our belief is that agriculture has the greatest positive potential to influence the future of our planet that can provide nutrition for all and help rural communities to thrive and replenish our planet’s resources.”

Carbon sequestration

One of the ways that agriculture can have a major impact on restoring and conserving the environment is through carbon sequestration. Lyons welcomed Dr. Vaughn Holder, Alltech ruminant research group director, to the stage to further explore this concept and how it could be implemented within the industry.

Holder began this discussion by looking at data on greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on our planet. What was clear to see from these graphs was that CO2 is the primary contributor to global warming. However, Holder believes that agriculture could do a lot to solve this issue and showed that Alltech is already working to help farmers address it.

He introduced the audience to an Alltech research alliance called Archbold Expeditions. Based at the 10,000-acre Buck Island Ranch station in Lake Placid, Florida, this research monitors land, nutrient and pollution inputs and outputs to evaluate experimental methodologies and modeling techniques for estimating carbon and nutrient fluxes on working cattle operations.

Holder explained that Buck Island Ranch production data analysis documented emissions from its 3,000-head cattle operation of 10,884 metric tons of CO2e/year, with enteric fermentation responsible for 64%. However, estimates of sequestration by Bahia grass pasture suggest that Buck Island Ranch pastures take up 17,813 metric tons of CO2e/year, resulting in a net sequestration of 6,929 metric tons of CO2e/year.

So, what does this mean for farmers? Holder revealed that the data shows us that by implementing pasture management practices, agriculture is in a unique position where it can both provide the food resources that the world population needs while at the same time engaging in actions that will help conserve and restore the planet. In fact, he stated that by focusing on feed and growth efficiency strategies and carbon sequestration management strategies on grazed lands, we could reduce greenhouse gases by over 50%.

“Our ability to manipulate it is going to become more important,” Holder explained. “No one else is positioned in the way that we are to do this.”

When asked what the next step is for making this a reality, Holder said we first need to create a mindset shift. He explained that a scalable model of how to approach this must be developed so that farmers can focus on food production and the environment simultaneously. Only then can we preserve the future of the planet.

Nutrition for all

Echoing Holder’s message of the importance of conserving the world in which we live, Nikki Putnam Badding, managing director and chief dietitian of Acutia, focused on expanding this theme to the world population.

“Sustainability does not begin and end with environmental impact,” Putnam Badding explained. “It actually means that we are taking care of the health of the planet and the people who share it.”

Putnam Badding presented the ONE attendees with the troubling figures that 1 in 10 people is undernourished, while 1 in 4 is malnourished. This issue can have severe health repercussions, such as pregnancy complications, heart problems and cognitive function. There are also further-reaching consequences, such as slow economic growth, poverty and reduced numbers of children receiving education.

“So, is it enough to just feed the world?” Putnam Badding asked. “Do we need to provide nutrition for all and change the dialogue from food security to nutrition security?”

Putnam Badding believes that agriculture has the opportunity to be the world's hero in this situation, as societal health starts in the soil. She explained that people have known that soil health and human health are intrinsically connected throughout history. This is also backed by numerous case studies showing that bringing deficient nutrients back to the soil can rectify many human health issues.

However, once we bring the nutrients back to the soil, Putnam Badding says we need to focus on the best way of getting the nutrients to the people. This is where animals come in.

“Livestock is nature’s original upcyclers,” Putnam Badding stated. “They take plant stuffs that our bodies cannot do anything with and create highly bioavailable, nutrient-dense, protein-packed meat, dairy and eggs.”

She also revealed that enriching products with nutrients not only benefits human health but the commercial aspects of agriculture too. Studies show that 48% of consumers are willing to pay more for healthier food, while 72% believe that businesses need to play a bigger role in the availability and access to healthy food.

“We must remember that soil, plants, animal, environmental and human health are all deeply interrelated, and our purpose is more than farming,” Putnam Badding concluded. “It’s more than food production; it’s more than the reduction of environmental impact. It is sustaining the life and health of the planet and the lives and health of the people who share it.”

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