All I Want for Christmas

1) This year, Santa, my wish list starts with you--and your home at the North Pole.
I'm worried it's going to melt. So although the international agreement reached in Paris is progress, I'm asking for your help. We need you to spread the word about what the global agricultural sector can do to mitigate and reverse the impacts of climate change.

Santa, did you know that agriculture accounts for about 13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)? Some of the main causes are conversion of forests and wetlands to farming, soil management practices that result in large releases of carbon and nitrogen, and livestock digestion, which results in methane emissions. (Sorry, Rudolph.)

On the other hand, green plants: trees and crops--can fix carbon dioxide from the air by photosynthesis. With the right mix of farming practices and incentives, agriculture can help reduce GHG emissions.

We know, for example, that planting cover crops and reducing tillage helps keep carbon stored in the soil, besides enhancing soil health, reducing water erosion and reducing pollution. And we know that new precision and digital agriculture techniques can help farmers increase their yields while reducing their inputs of water and fertilizer -- by telling them exactly when and where to place those inputs and how much to use, and much, much more.

Now the key is to expand awareness and adoption of these practices as rapidly as possible. We need farmers and government and everyone in the food chain to collaborate to cut agricultural GHGs to the minimum. To help play our part, my own company recently announced a commitment to bring our own operations to carbon-neutral -- no net emissions -- by 2021.

Santa, for your own sake as well as ours, will you please spread the word while you are going house to house on your sleigh.

2) My second wish, Santa, is for a greater worldwide recognition of another slow-onset challenge that faces humanity in the 21st century - global nutrition security. By 2050, according to the latest projections, earth will be home to 2.5+ billion more people. More of them than ever before will be able to afford improved diets - more protein, for example. So according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food demand by 2050 is going to increase about 70 percent.

How will we grow all that food, Jolly Old Soul? Are you aware that the Green Revolution of the 1950s, '60s and '70s saved us from the massive famines that had been forecast for many countries? But afterwards, a degree of complacency set in among governments and the agricultural sector itself about global nutrition security. Well, the time for a renewed urgency has arrived.

But too many people still haven't awakened to the global food and nutrition challenge, Santa, or have misdiagnosed it as primarily one of poor distribution or poverty or waste.

All those problems absolutely play a role, Santa, poverty being No. 1. But this world is also just going to need more food. A lot more of it will need to be produced in the places where people are already hungry - in the developing countries of Africa and Asia. And we continue to need to produce more in the Americas and other bread baskets, on which the rest of the world depends.
For both, innovation is crucial to meeting the challenge. Innovation, in turn, requires research and development. But R&D investment in most countries is way below what's needed to give us the productivity boost we need, as you can see on page 14 of this 2015 report from the Global Harvest Initiative.

So Santa, as you slide down the chimney, please don't be too quiet. Wake some people up!

3) My third wish, Nick, is that you bring more children toys like chemistry sets, robotics kits, microscopes, or their own computers - anything that will stir their interest in STEM - science, technology, engineering and math. And please pay special attention to the girls and the kids from poor families and from minority groups... we need all the brainpower we can get to solve the challenges facing farming and food production.

Growth in STEM jobs is hot - three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs over the past decade, according to federal numbers. And it'll stay hot. Yet in spite of all of the good PR that STEM gets these days, budget cuts and policy decisions have left many local, state and federal bodies short of the money needed to fund science education adequately.

Given the challenges I've noted here, Santa, how about making sure that we add STEM gifts to the Christmas lists... so a copy of the new book by Bill Nye (the Science Guy) for Manuel? A telescope for Heather?

4) My fourth wish, Santa, is that every time a bell rings, a monarch gets her wings.

Did you know that monarch caterpillars only eat milkweeds? It's true. You love your cookies and your reindeer love their carrots, but monarchs not only love their vital food source, they require it.

Remember when I had to hand weed the fields on my dad's farm to get on your nice-boy list? Well agriculture has since become really effective at getting rid of the weeds, but we've also lost ground supporting biodiversity, and it's something that needs broad support from lots of partners.

So, Santa can you lend us some extra Christmas magic to help these magnificent, little creatures? They need more farmers to become aware and to allow milkweeds away from crop fields to flourish, or better yet to seek out programs that encourage planting pollinator habitat. In fact, we all can help by ensuring we plant milkweeds in our yards, parks and business sites. Perhaps your elves have told you - their numbers are expected to be up again this year.

5) Just one last wish, Santa. You may have noticed that food has become a pretty contentious issue these days. There are bitter divisions between the supporters and critics of advanced techniques for genetic modification, conventional agriculture, organic farming, etc., etc.

Santa, you're a uniter, not a divider. Will you help us all to see that there's plenty of common ground among us? I think everyone can agree that we want to leave our kids a food secure world... and a healthier planet. We all want to be able to produce more with less input. So help us collaborate so we can solve our problems - rather than argue about them.

Thanks, Santa. I think you know: We don't have many more Christmases to waste.