We’ve all needed a hero at some point or another, and if we’re lucky, we get to be someone’s hero when they’re in need.

It’s moments like that where we all appreciate the opportunity we have to help others, maybe by leading them out of a dangerous situation or perhaps by preventing such an occasion from happening. Being able to step in and come to the aid of someone is a truly gratifying feeling. And I believe agriculture can come to the rescue of an economy and society desperately searching for climate solutions. 

The ways that can happen are multifaceted, but the reason agriculture can – and should – put on the superhero cape is simple: farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses spend their days working in the same environment we’re all working to protect.

We all have a vested interest in the future health of our air, water, and soil, and there are many different ideas that could drive progress on protecting our natural resources. But it’s critical that agriculture producers be involved in policy conversations as we collectively work toward a more sustainable future. 

I was humbled to be selected as the 2024 Climate Hero of the Year and recipient of a gold Stevie Award from the American Business Awards for my work on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association and Plant Based Products Council. This recognition underscores the importance of the countless efforts to advance American production agriculture as a leader in sustainability and climate solutions.

The opportunity to meet with policymakers about issues critical to the intersection of climate and agriculture has presented me with the opportunity to advocate for agriculture to be not only protected but celebrated as leaders discuss important policy proposals. Industry solutions have been championed at the highest levels, including the White House, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, on Capitol Hill, and overseas at the inaugural “Food & Ag” day at last year’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai. 

American agriculture’s approach to sustainability is comprehensive. Advancements in plant breeding and genetics have led to the development of crops that are more resilient against pests, disease, and extreme weather conditions, decreasing the need for chemical inputs. Coatings on seeds enable plants to take nitrogen from the air, reducing fertilizer needs. Precision agriculture uses GPS, yield monitors, soil sensors, and data analytics to optimize field management – reducing waste, conserving resources, and maximizing yields. Drones that identify and apply a targeted dose of herbicide to emerging weeds are an example of how technological advancement is reducing the use of agricultural chemicals. 

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Sustainability and productivity in American agriculture go hand-in-hand. Thanks to innovations like these, farmers today are doing more with less. In fact, U.S. agriculture would have needed nearly 100 million more acres 30 years ago to match today’s production levels. 

Collaboration and partnerships both also play a pivotal role. Efforts like the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, Farmers for Monarchs, and Field to Market’s Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture are bringing together diverse voices from across the agricultural value chain to prove forward-thinking policies and practices.

Though American agriculture is a leader in climate and sustainability solutions, more work remains. Future policy development must include voices across the agricultural spectrum, addressing everything from carbon intensity scoring to food packaging efforts. 

If decision-making reflects the interests of the full range of agriculture stakeholders, agriculture can – and will – deliver. This is an opportunity for all of us to be heroes. 

Jamaica Gayle is the director of sustainability and environmental affairs for the Corn Refiners Association and Plant Based Products Council. She has been recognized as the American Business Awards Climate Hero of the Year and noted as a member of the Association Forum’s Forty Under 40 and the GreenBiz 30 Under 30.