Ed Bailey, assistant fund manager for the Sarasin Food and Agriculture Opportunities Fund, explores some of the innovations, adaptations and policies that will drive sustainable production growth in the agriculture sector.
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Food and agriculture is a key focal point of the climate change debate – climate change will impact agricultural production but agriculture itself is a major climate change contributor. The industry must continue to adapt to, and mitigate, this challenge.
Climate change villain…
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that food production contributes over 25% of man-made CO2 equivalent emissions. The bulk of this is generated by nitrogen fertiliser production, deforestation and livestock production, though mechanisation and soil turnover are also contributors.
Nitrogen fertiliser: a revolutionary problem. Nitrogen fertiliser is produced by converting atmospheric nitrogen (through reaction with natural gas) to ammonia, which can then be further processed into urea or other applicable compounds. While this process has revolutionised agriculture, and is estimated to be responsible for sustaining a third of the world’s population, a proportion of the fertiliser reacts with oxygen when applied to a field, forming the greenhouse gas (GHG) nitrous oxide. This GHG has a global warming potential 296 times larger than an equal mass of carbon dioxide.
In the developed world, new formulations of nitrogen fertiliser by companies like Yara and more efficient application through precision farming have already done much to reduce the scale of emissions from nitrous oxide, but there is still considerable scope to reduce the wide use of basic urea and ammonia formulations in emerging market agriculture. It is estimated that a 20-30% reduction in nitrogen fertiliser use in China would save GHG emissions equivalent to Indonesia’s entire power sector.
Deforestation: regulation and industry awareness
Deforestation is often driven by farmers clearing land for pasture or crops. The spread of cattle farming into the Amazon, and the clearing of primary forest in Asia for the production of palm oil (increasingly used in process foods), are perhaps two of the most infamous examples; tropical deforestation is thought to release 1.5 billion tons of carbon each year.
National and international regulations and codes of best practice have been implemented across the world to stop further deforestation, and a number of companies have now committed to sourcing only products certified as sustainable by agencies such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Most large palm oil producers, for example, have now committed to processing only oil produced on sustainably managed land, and many palm oil users are similarly committed to a sustainable product.
Livestock: a meaty challenge
Livestock production is the most significant agricultural GHG emitter, producing 18% of total GHG emissions when land-use change including deforestation and feed production is taken into account. What’s more, emerging market diet change is driving increased demand for protein and livestock production will grow to fill this need. Some innovation is being made in cutting emissions through the use of enzyme based feed additives produced by Novozymes and through breeding animals that emit less methane (Genus) but the livestock industry will continue to be a major GHG emitter.
As such, we expect to see further government policies to regulate and reduce agricultural emissions from these key areas, but the bulk of the future reduction must come from emerging markets where progress lags developed agricultural economies. With emerging market governments reluctant to burden farmers and threaten food security, we see ongoing advantages for those companies finding new ways to provide low cost solutions to these challenges.
Climate change victim…
Agricultural production is highly dependent on localised weather conditions throughout the year, and different crops are suited to a range of climatic conditions. Palm oil, for example, can only be produced in a small tropical band within 20 degrees of the equator, while grains like wheat and corn require a more temperate climate.
Climate change will not affect all regions equally, creating a mixed impact of climate change on agricultural production. An in depth study conducted by the IPCC has concluded that the ideal range for grain production would slowly move North, and that farmers are already adapting to this through altering cultivation and sowing times and crop cultivars. Less work has been done on the impact on tropical crops, but it is possible that more humid conditions near the equator would have a net positive impact on the yields of palm oil and cocoa.
Short term weather extremes are considered a larger threat to annual production than long term climate trends. Over the past two decades, there has been a recordable increase in droughts, floods, heat waves and freezes. While these tend to have localised impacts, weather extremes in the major crop growing regions of the US, Brazil, Eastern Europe or China can send price shocks through the wider food and agriculture markets. While global grain stocks are recovering from record lows, a major disruption in agricultural production would once again strain supplies and food prices would again rise.
Evolution and adaption throughout the food and agricultural industry
Farmers are adapting their planting timings and crop rotations to adjust to the gradual warming of the climate, while also increasing the area of cropland under irrigation. New cultivars (including genetically modified crops) offer some protection against environmental stress and farmers are increasingly focused on improving soil quality. Those companies able to provide the innovation and infrastructure in seeds and inputs (Syngenta), equipment (Agco) and grain handling (Archer Daniels Midland) to facilitate this adaption are the likely beneficiaries of this trend.
At the consumption end of the food and agriculture value chain, leading food processors and retailers like China Mengniu Dairy and Barry Callebaut (chocolate) are also looking at ways to improve the security of their raw material supply. By diversifying sourcing, working with and supporting farmers and reducing waste, companies can reduce the impact of short-term price shocks and longer-term food price inflation.
Our response: engage and evolve
Climate change has the potential to alter the food and agricultural landscape significantly through the introduction of new policies aimed at reducing emissions, the adaption of farming practices and inputs and a greater focus on sustainable sourcing from food processors and retailers.
At Sarasin & Partners we believe that the best way to tackle these changes is through discussion with policy-makers, engagement with companies, and consideration of the impact of climate change on our investee companies. In this way, we are able to identify and monitor those companies driving and adapting to the new reality, and – we hope – those most likely to benefit.
Ed Bailey is the assistant fund manager for the Sarasin Food and Agriculture Opportunities Fund. He joined Sarasin to provide research overage of food and agriculture in 2008 and assumed fund management responsibilities in 2012.
Photo: CIAT via Flickr
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
How Climate Change Altered this Engineer’s Life
Living the life of an engineer likely sounds pretty glamorous: you are educated and highly regarded, typically have high paying gigs, and with the breadth of knowledge and array of fields of specialty, your possibility for jobs is usually immense. But what if there was something else that needed your attention? Something bigger than just being an engineer, going to work every day and doing the same technical tasks typically associated with the profession?
For Kevin McCroary, that is exactly how it played out. A successful engineer, gainfully employed in a prosperous job, a simple trip to the Philippines made him see that there was a bigger issue at hand than using his engineer training in a traditional profession. This bigger issue was that of climate change. And working as a volunteer for underprivileged children in the Philippines, he saw first-hand the extensive pollution and poverty that existed here and that impacted the livelihood of these kids and their families.
Upon returning home, from his trip to the Philippines he had a new perspective of the impact we as individuals and as humanity have on the earth, and more than that Kevin wanted to know more. He started to do some research and study these human-environmental interactions, and shortly thereafter ended up in Greenland. There, he spoke to a man who had lost his home in a tsunami, and, who, through consistent weather tracking could indeed confirm that the current weather trends were “strange:” there was undeniably a general warming tendency happening in the arctic, causing an array of negative effects.
The combination of these observations, as well as his own research, led Kevin to conclude that something had to be done. With that in mind, he launched his project Legend Bracelet. The mission is simple: create a reminder of the legacy we are leaving behind. As individuals and as humanity, we are leaving behind an imprint on the earth, and the magnitude of it is something that needs to be brought to the forefront of public awareness. The idea is to have a bracelet that can serve as a daily reminder of the impact on the earth that each of us can have every day, regardless of how big or small. The bracelet has two capsules: the first is filled with sand or earth, and the second is empty. As the owner, you are to fill the empty one with your own earth, carrying it with you as a reminder and symbol of your connection and commitment to helping look after our environment.
We are all impacted by climate change, and we all have a responsibility to help. And it can start with something as simple as putting on a bracelet. Support Kevin on his Kickstarter campaign for Legend Bracelet, tell others about it, or take action in your own way and play your part in slowing down the effects of climate change. You may think “but I’m just one person!” You are indeed. But so is he. Every change starts with one.