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Feb. 21 Webinar to Focus on Harnessing Photosynthesis to Address Climate Change

Climate change is evident through catastrophic fires in Canada and the western U.S., deadly heat waves in the South, and floods across the mid-Atlantic. According to organizers of an upcoming Penn State Extension land-use webinar, the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human systems are already tragic and worsening. This session will explore harnessing photosynthesis for a carbon-negative bioeconomy.

Presenting the 75-minute webinar at noon Feb. 21 will be Tom Richard, professor emeritus of agricultural and biological engineering in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

While wind, solar and energy efficiency contribute to emission reduction, these solutions only can achieve zero emissions at best. With ongoing, significant fossil fuel use, many experts contend, the world needs negative-carbon strategies.

Throughout history, humans have relied on plants for food and fiber but have been slow to realize the crucial role plants can play in addressing the climate challenge, organizers said. Every year, plants remove 10 times as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as all fossil fuel emissions combined.

Photosynthesis is a 3-billion-year-old biotechnology that uses solar energy to collect and dilute carbon dioxide from the air and concentrate it into high-carbon, energy-rich materials. The carbon that plants capture can be stored in soils and ecosystems; can be manufactured into construction materials, furniture and bioplastics; or can be stored safely deep in the earth.

By 2070, the world will need to draw down as much carbon dioxide as residual fossil fuels emit. Scientists note that many pathways exist to achieve this, including biofuels and bioelectricity, coupled with regenerative agriculture and forestry to generate the required biomass.

Pennsylvania and the surrounding region are blessed with abundant forests and productive agricultural lands, organizers said. Recarbonization through a growing bioeconomy can provide opportunities for sustainable agriculture and forestry, they added.

In this webinar, Richard, who also formerly directed the Institute of Energy and the Environment at Penn State, will explore how agriculture, food and forest systems — supported by land-use policies, technology development and knowledge sharing — can form the foundation for a bioeconomy with the potential to drive regional economic growth and play a significant role in solving the climate challenge.

“Harnessing Photosynthesis for a Carbon Negative Bioeconomy” is the second webinar in Penn State Extension’s Winter/Spring 2024 Land-Use Webinar Series. The series is aimed at informing municipal elected and appointed officials, planners, landowners, farmers, and community organizations about land-use issues and decisions in their communities.

All webinars are recorded and available for future viewing. Other programs in the series include:

— Jan. 17: “A Case for Communities to Drop Parking Minimums” (recorded).

— March 20: “Defining Nature’s Worth From a Health and Economic Aspect?”

— April 17: “Norris Square Community Profile: A Process for Community Engagement, Capacity Building and Equitable Development.”

— May 15: “Green Infrastructure Planning for Healthier, Resilient Communities.”

The cost of the webinar series is $50 for all five sessions, or $95 for all five sessions for those who want to receive AICP certification-maintenance credits from the American Planning Association. The cost also is $95 for all five sessions for professional engineers needing PDH credits. In addition, registered landscape architects can receive continuing-education credits for a fee of $65.

For anyone interested in a particular topic from the series, individual session registration is available for a fee of $15 per session. Those needing assistance can access a scholarship option.

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Why Rob Saik is Trying to Build the World’s Most Connected Agriculture Network

Video: Why Rob Saik is Trying to Build the World’s Most Connected Agriculture Network

In a recent interview at the SeedLink Conference in Brandon, Man., Rob Saik, author, speaker, and CEO of AGvisorPRO, took a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about the beginnings of his career and what the future holds.

Graduating from the University of Alberta in 1983, Saik embarked on a journey that started in Brandon, Man. “I got a job with Elanko, got a U-Haul truck, threw everything I had into it, drove to the Victoria Inn, and lived there for three months while they tried to find an apartment for me to move into. So I started my career in Brandon,” Saik shared.

Fast forward to the present, Saik has evolved into an accomplished author and speaker, traversing the globe to engage in high-level discussions about the future of agriculture and the critical role it plays in feeding the world. Yet, despite his global presence, he finds himself back in Brandon, addressing a group of seed growers. But why? Saik emphasizes the fundamental importance of seeds, stating, “It all begins with a seed, doesn’t it?”

Reflecting on his own experiences as a farmer, Saik expresses his excitement when a planted seed germinates and evolves into a thriving crop. He underscores the significance of technology and breeding in seed development, recognizing the crucial role they play in ensuring farmers can propagate seeds, grow profitable crops, and contribute to global food security.

Saik delves into the challenges faced by the agricultural community, particularly the rapid pace of technological advancements. He believes that the key lies in connecting farmers to experts swiftly, boosting farmers’ confidence in adopting new technologies, and ensuring the timely implementation of these advancements. According to Saik, this approach is crucial for steering agriculture towards sustainability and profitability.

As Saik works on his upcoming book, tentatively titled prAGmatic, he sheds light on its central theme. “The thesis would be that I want to write a book that takes what the consumer wants, challenges what the consumer believes, and positions that against what the farmers can actually do pragmatically,” he explains. The book aims to bridge the gap between consumer expectations and the realistic capabilities of farmers, promoting sustainable intensification as the necessary path to feed the planet.

Looking ahead to 2024, Saik emphasizes the need for enhanced connectivity within the seed industry. He discusses his platform, AgvisorPro, which is designed to facilitate connections between farmers, experts, and companies in a way that transcends conventional social media platforms. Saik envisions a credible, connected agricultural network that goes beyond the noise of platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter.

In a passionate vision for the future, Saik imagines a tool for teachers that allows them to pose questions from students, answered by verified farmers and ranchers. This, he believes, would provide an authentic and valuable educational resource, connecting classrooms with individuals who truly understand the intricacies of agriculture.