Let’s talk resilience.
With the climate crisis breathing down our collective necks, as evidenced by recent wildfires and droughts, every action must be weighed in the global balance of keeping the planet livable. Agriculture is at the forefront of a lot of these efforts. Many of the funding opportunities made available in the past couple years have this delicate balance as a focus for the activities they will support. And many buzzwords are used to describe these activities or practices – regenerative, sustainable, climate-smart.
Whatever the label, the goal in most cases seems to be increasing the resilience of agriculture as a practice and a sector. Whether it’s breeding efforts and plant genetics, water management strategies, agtech innovations – most things are intended to improve how agriculture rolls with the proverbial punches.
Resilience is a common concept in agriculture. It’s a type of toughness, but an elastic one – the ability to bounce back from a setback or disappointment. Think of the fable about the oak and the willow – however strong something is, it’s more likely to break if it remains rigid in all circumstances.
While sticking to your guns is admirable in many cases and stubbornness helps in the face of the continual challenges agriculture brings, it can also lead to inflexibility. Being able to recognize when something doesn’t work – or no longer works well – and altering your approach is also a sign of strength. While it never feels good to fail, the ability to learn from what happened and use that knowledge to improve in the future is an important skill to develop. No one’s right all the time.
Is being prescriptive about the practices that are considered beneficial and thus deserving of funding the best way to improve agriculture’s resilience or carbon footprint? That’s debatable, though I do see the wisdom in starting with set parameters. Introducing too much choice or variety too early in the game can be an easy way to overwhelm people. But, at a certain point, there has to be support for those incorporating resilience and innovation in other ways, too.
Innovation isn’t one-size-fits-all, and farmers are working to balance a plethora of factors with every decision they make. For cost-share and incentive programs to be most useful to farmers, broadening and redesigning them to reflect all forms of innovation would provide greater benefits.
It can be difficult to know where to start. Each farm (and each farmer) is coming to the notion of resilience from a different starting point. Wherever you’re starting from, there’s something to improve, something new to try. It can be big, or it can be something fairly simple. A little time and effort now could lead to major dividends down the line.
And after all – what’s the downside of being more resilient?
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