In the face of the “existential threat” posed by climate change, the potato processor calls on farmers to do more for the environment – Low Calorie Diets Tips

As the effects of climate change continue to impact the potato growing season, a major food processor is urging its growers to adopt more sustainable farming practices.

McCain Foods announced a new plan to implement regenerative farming practices in all of its potato fields worldwide by 2030. The Canadian company makes frozen french fries and appetizers and has plants in Appleton, Plover and Rice Lake.

Potato farmers can choose from the company’s new regenerative agriculture framework which practices they want to implement on their farm. The list includes covering soil with living plants, enhancing plant diversity, minimizing soil disturbance, and reducing the impact of chemicals.

Jess Newman, senior director of agriculture and sustainability at McCain Foods, said it was an easy decision to urge farmers to protect the environment after seeing how the impacts of climate change have intensified in recent years.

“Climate change is an existential threat to the potato industry. If we look at every region in the US and Canada where McCain works directly with potato farmers, we’re seeing an increasing frequency of crop failures,” Newman said. “If we look specifically at Wisconsin, we see heavy rains at odd times, cool temperatures in early spring, increasing moisture pressure that we know drives pests and diseases. It’s getting harder and harder to breed.”

She said McCain Foods now plans biennial crop failures in some regions — a devastating trend for farmers and a challenge for the company’s supply chain.

Newman said the new framework is unlikely to mean a major overhaul for farmers. She said many growers in Wisconsin and other states have already implemented many of the more sustainable practices.

“Keeping live cover on the soils, diversifying crop rotation so you only see a potato crop every four (years), moving toward fewer soil disturbances and tillage events, incorporating livestock, testing biological fumigation, these are all areas where growers in Wisconsin are leaders,” she said.

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Newman said McCain also hopes to make testing of new regenerative farming practices “risk-mitigating” by helping fund trials on the farm and connecting farmers to funding from the US Department of Agriculture or Ag lenders.

Diane Mayerfeld is the Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator in the Department of Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She said regenerative agriculture has grown in popularity over the past five years as farmers and food companies look for ways to differentiate themselves from the increasingly ambiguous term “sustainable.”

“People who wanted to do this kind of work were frustrated by all the people who meant something very minimal by sustainable. And so they really focused on saying, ‘We don’t want to just leave farming as it is. We want farming to do things better.”‘ Maierfeld said.

However, she said there is no legal definition of regenerative agriculture and that means companies can set their own standards for what the term means.

Regarding McCain Foods’ plan, Mayerfeld said her entry-level standards are not what she would describe as ambitious and include many practices that are standard for growers. And she points out that there are several gray areas about how the standards should be implemented.

“I have some sympathy for whoever wrote this. You know, they’re trying to put something on one page, and there’s a lot of variation in the details of what you can and can’t do, depending on the soil you’re growing on, depending on the weather, depending on the type of pest, you’re dealing with,” she said. “Even within Wisconsin, the challenges and practices differ between the Central Sands counties like Portage County and some of the counties that grow potatoes on less sandy soils like Langlade County. “

Mayerfeld said McCain Foods’ plan is largely on par with initiatives by other major food manufacturers. But she said even if companies don’t commit to big changes in the short term, it’s still a positive change if more big players take the first step towards a more sustainable system.

“I also think it’s very important for consumers to keep up the pressure, and I also think it’s important for the government to keep developing policies and enforcing those policies to protect the public,” Mayerfeld said. “I think these corporate commitments can change corporate culture and I think that can be hugely important and they can also motivate farmers to change their practices.”

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