It was standing room only to hear POET Founder and CEO Jeff Broin’s presentation at the 5th annual Farmer’s Business Network Farmer2Farmer Conference, where he spoke to a packed room of hundreds of farmers and agriculture supporters about the role of agriculture and biofuels in addressing climate change.
The panel, which also featured Farmer’s Business Network CEO Amol Despande, comes at a critical time. “Climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation” began moderator Erin Fitzgerald, the CEO of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, a farmer and rancher led organization committed to encouraging a dialogue about sustainable agriculture and food, as she set the stage for a robust conversation about how farmers are central to turning around the current climate crisis.
Jeff and Amol agreed that today agriculture has a perception problem. “Most of the farmers I’ve met are tremendous stewards, but the problem is that you don’t get enough credit for it” said Amol. “Who gets the credit for the work you do? It’s way down stream- usually the consumer-packaged goods companies that are able to establish a benefit directly with the consumer, but the farmer doesn’t see the benefit of that.”
But Jeff offered some optimism to the crowd saying, “the cool thing about this climate change discussion we’re having today is that it’s a way to turn that around.” He encouraged farmers to broaden their focus from just growing food to “food, fuel, fiber and thousands of new products that we’re going to see come from agriculture.” Jeff highlighted POET’s JIVE product as one example. JIVE is an asphalt rejuvenator that POET developed as a replacement to petroleum products. JIVE is greener and more affordable than existing options out there. Earlier this year POET was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies for their work developing the new product.
Amol recognized innovation in the biofuels industry and pointed to this as a way to boost income for farmers. “Biofuels technology isn’t a static thing. It’s been improving every year, improving cost and efficiencies,” noting that an increase in ethanol demand and production results in an increase in profit for Farmer’s Business Network farmers and small business owners.
Farmers in the audience acknowledged their potential but also the challenges in achieving broad acceptance of the benefits of their work. An audience member asked specifically about what they can do to help change public perception.
By making a small investment in time and money, farmers can collectively make an impact. Participate in advocacy activities; join membership organizations; write or call elected officials; donate to a political action committee; call out the issues on social media. These were just some of the suggestions thrown out by Jeff and Amol during the final minutes of the lightening round Q&A.
Jeff left the audience with the message that the most important thing is that there’s unity across different parts of the industry. From farmers, to biofuels, to food, “we have to unite to fight these fights. Agriculture has to unite and come above the radar. 30 years ago we didn’t have to fight this battle, but today we do” he said referencing that many powerful industries have a lot to lose if agriculture and biofuels continue to gain momentum and win a greater portion of the gas tank.
Amol optimistically added that he sees a future where farmers can “create a situation where you can command a premium. That’s what I would like to see. I would like to see people recognize the efforts of farmers by paying you.”
It’s an uphill battle, and one that Jeff has been fighting for 30 years, but a greener, cleaner future where farmers are recognized financially for their contribution is not out of reach. Jeff has lived the fight day in and day out and knows that success relies on telling our story and convincing policy makers and the public that agriculture is the solution. Agriculture has been a catalyst for some of the most challenging global issues – poverty and hunger – and now ag is positioned to be the best near-term solution to the climate crisis.
“You can only fix climate change in one way and it’s through agriculture and the cycle that god made on the surface of the earth” said Jeff. “My children and grandchildren have to live on this earth and that’s why I go to work every day. I’m trying to create a better set of circumstances for the next generation.”