University of Minnesota

Forever Green: Climate Solutions From the World’s Breadbaskets

Climate change

We will build robust, resilient climate-change solutions from the world’s breadbaskets--areas of intensive food production--starting with the agriculture of the North American Midwest.

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Project Summary

Today’s agriculture is a cause of climate change--accounting for approximately 15-20% of greenhouse-gas emissions. It is also highly vulnerable to our changing climate, creating a cascade of problems that threatens billions of people, particularly the rural and urban poor. A solution is at hand: Forever Green agriculture, which covers farmland with living crops year-round, creating healthy soil that can store carbon at scale. Current farming can evolve quickly to Forever Green but not without broad-based economic, political, policy, and cultural support. Working in the Midwest of North America—one of the world’s major “breadbaskets”—we will leverage Forever Green agriculture to help reverse climate change, while also enhancing resilience to climate extremes, thereby safeguarding food security and soil, water and biodiversity. Our solution will address the root causes of climate change, make progress towards shifting agriculture from carbon source to sink, and provide replicable models for other breadbasket regions.

Problem Statement

Climate change is creating major problems for North America’s Midwest, which is a global breadbasket of outsized importance to global food security. The region contains vast expanses of the planet’s best soils as well as the Great Lakes, which represent 20% of global surface freshwater. Food production in this breadbasket is increasingly threatened by changes in rainfall and temperature. Further, under these climate conditions, current farming methods threaten drinking water and can worsen catastrophic floods that demolish vital public infrastructure, homes and private holdings, and other essential systems. Additionally, pollinators and other wildlife--already greatly threatened—will suffer further devastation. To protect the region’s 80 million people from these grave and mounting threats, climate-resilient regional food, water, and energy systems are essential. Moreover, major increases in carbon storage and renewable energy production in these breadbaskets must be achieved to help halt and, over time, reverse climate change. Similar challenges face all other global breadbasket regions. Fortunately, these climate-resilient systems can now be assembled from Forever Green agriculture and other complementary innovations, all of which are now ready for scaling. As demonstrated by the MOUs establishing our project, the food, water, and energy sectors are ready to collaborate and are primed to quickly ramp up this work. By leveraging cross-sector connections, innovations, and investments required to establish these systems across the Midwest region, our project will harness Forever Green agriculture to create adaptable models that will support development of climate-resilient food, water, and energy systems in other global breadbaskets

Solution Overview

While the problems are complicated, the solution is simple: make farmland Forever Green. Unlike current agriculture, farmland in Forever Green agriculture provides continuous living crop cover and continuously-active roots throughout the year. Forever Green is a climate-change solution because soils are protected, actively storing carbon and nutrients rather than being left vulnerable to degradation and loss. Forever Green is a food-security solution because it is inherently resilient to adverse weather: its crops thrive over a very wide range of conditions. Forever Green is a water solution because it enables soils to store large amounts of rainwater, buffering against severe floods and long droughts now rapidly increasing under climate change. Forever Green is an energy solution because it can “host” wind/solar energy infrastructure at very large scales and provides biofuels. Forever Green is an economic solution because it increases farm production, profits, and reduces risk. With MacArthur’s 100&Change, we will harness collective will and resources to expand supply and demand for Forever Green agriculture. Over five years, we will establish climate-resilient Forever Green food, water and energy systems at five “lighthouse” locations, providing regionally- and globally-adaptable models. Key impact metrics include economic, policy, and public support, and on-ground implementation. In essence, over five years we will create a societal movement toward Forever Green by aligning and expanding existing efforts, demonstrating impact, and removing policy and market barriers. Benefits and outcomes include nutritious food, healthy environments, and new economic opportunities for 80 million people during the project and a greater number beyond.

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Project Funders

  • United States Department of Agriculture 2019 - 2024
  • United States Department of Agriculture 2019 - 2024
  • State of Minnesota 2019 - 2021

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