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Minds from around the world converse over corn in BE

By Staff | Mar 18, 2018

Dr. Harpinder Sandhu, of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, discusses the environmental, cultural, social and health effects of different types of farming, above. Whether you are a traditional farmer, like Blue Earth’s Jim Erdahl, an organic farmer, or a diversified farmer, your farm has an impact not only locally, but globally as well. Dr. Sandu and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, or TEEB, came and talked to local farmers at the Ag Center in Blue Earth on March 9 thanks to an invitation from Jim Erdahl.

It takes water to grow a crop. It takes a city to provide water. It takes investors in the city to buy a crop. It takes consumers to purchase a product made from a crop. It takes employment, equipment, energy and resources in order to plant a crop. This, in essence, is our ecosystem.

But have you ever paused to consider how many variables are involved in the input and output of just one crop? Or perhaps what the natural, human, or social responses are to those crops?

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is a global initiative focused on making sure nature’s value is visible. According to its website, the group “aims to mainstream the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making at all levels” and does so “by following a structured approach to valuation that can help decision makers to recognize the wide range of benefits provided by ecosystems and biodiversity.”

So, why is TEEB important to the Faribault County area? Because the TEEB AgriFood valuation project aims to apply the framework to farm management systems to corn systems in the United States.

Dr. Harpinder Sandhu, of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, along with Nadia Scialabba of FAO in Rome, Daniel Fujiwara of Simetrica, London, and other key investigators from the University of Minnesota paid a visit to local farmers at the Ag Center in Blue Earth not long ago to discuss the important topics related to substantiality in farming.

This group was invited by farmer Jim Erdahl, who is a local corn and soybean farmer in the Blue Earth area. He, along with his wife, Lisa, son-in-law Matt, daughter Katie, and two-year-old-grandson Ben, farm their land as a family.

“I agreed to participate in a panel in February of 2016 at a conference in San Fransisco called ‘The True Cost of Food in America’ which was sponsored by the Sustainable Food Trust and The Global Alliance for the Future of Food, among others,” says Erdahl. “They wanted to do a study or comparison of a midwest corn/soybean farm like me, an organic dairy farm in California, and an alternative diversified farm in West Virginia. I spent the next two or three hours on the Internet trying to figure out who these people were. They definitely weren’t the American Farm Bureau.”

The specific objectives to this study are “to synthesize methodology which identifies the true cost and benefits of diverse production systems and value chains, by measuring environmental, social and health impacts through the exploration of corn systems in the Mississippi basin as a case study as well as describing all dependencies, impacts and both positive and negative externalities that relate to environmental, cultural, social, and health systems.

It seems like a lot to digest, but what it comes down to is evaluating the true costs and benefits associated with a diverse set of management systems in the U.S. by examining all of the impacts within the value chain of corn, which is used as food, feed, and fuel.

Management systems, such as conventional farming, organic farming, and diversified farming, are evaluated, including Erdahl’s conventional farm in Blue Earth.

“I agreed to participate knowing I’d be the only Round-up ready, GMO planting farmer at the whole convention,” says Erdahl. “I mean really, what could they do? Chop my head off? No, this is America. We’ve got rules. But I would have to say a good tar and feathering followed by a public flogging did cross my mind.”

Erdahl says he was pleasantly surprised at the conference in San Francisco. There were no feathers, and no tar, but rather, an understanding that all of the farmers’ goals on the panel were not that different.

“The people I worked with and met seemed genuinely concerned for the environment, how their food was produced and how it is distributed. They also seemed to understand that farming this land and producing a crop to sell is how I make a living,” says Erdahl. “I want to be a good steward of the land and I’m trying to get better every day.”

Area farmers were introduced to the TEEB AgriFood project panel and had a day-long discussion on important topics such as natural capital, health, true cost accounting, and other corn-based farming system topics.

All in all the panel, along with the help of Erdahl, hope to show local farmers different sets of management systems in hopes of providing both information and opportunity for better, healthier crops in a long-term-sustaining environment and ecosystem.