Farm Foundation’s 30-Year Challenge Policy Competition

An essay that argues for a principle-based, rather than a program-based approach to public policy development has been selected as the top entry in Farm Foundation’s 30-Year Challenge Policy Competition. The competition sought innovative and promising public policy options to address the agriculture and food system challenges outlined in Farm Foundation’s report,  The 30-Year Challenge: Agriculture’s Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World. A total of $20,000 in prize money was awarded in the competition.

“It is our intent that the winning entries will contribute to constructive and deliberative debate of the policies that may be needed to meet the challenges ahead,” says Farm Foundation President Neil Conklin. “However, Farm Foundation does not endorse or advocate any of the concepts presented in these entries. Farm Foundation has a 76-year history of objectivity. We do not lobby or advocate positions. The competition entries are no exception.

“We encourage public and private decision makers to review these policy proposals and consider the concepts in light of challenges facing agriculture and the food system,” Conklin added.

Released in December 2008, the Foundation’s 30-Year Challenge report identifies six major areas of challenges  agriculture will face as it works to provide food, feed, fiber and fuel to a growing world. The six areas are: global financial markets and recession; global food security; global energy security; climate change; competition for natural resources; and global economic development. The report highlights key issues public and private decision makers may need to consider as they confront the challenges of feeding a growing world.

Farm Foundation’s 30-Year Challenge Project was initiated project to provide public and private decision makers with insights into the complex nature of the challenges and the range of long-term strategies and policies that might be considered. In keeping with Farm Foundation’s history of objectivity—the Foundation does not lobby or advocate—this project was not conceived to recommend specific approaches or solutions. Rather, the report is intended as a catalyst to foster understanding among all stakeholders of the challenges ahead, potential options to address those challenges and the consequences of those options.

The top entry in the policy competition, Three Decades Hence—Thinking About Global Agricultural Resource Allocation Policies, was written by William C. Motes, Ph.D.  Dr. Motes, who submitted the entry as a private individual, is chief economist at Informa Economics.  He previously had assignments at USDA and the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. This entry also won the challenge category of global markets and recession.

Motes and the six other winners in the competition will be recognized at the Farm Foundation 30-Year Challenge Policy Conference on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. The seven winning entries—two entries shared the prize in the challenge category of climate change—are:

Global Food Security
Jean-Phillippe Gervais of North Carolina State University: Moving Agricultural Trade Liberalization Forward to Improve Global Food Security

Global Energy Security
Chad Hellwinckel and Daniel De La Torre Ugarte, both of the University of Tennessee: Peak Oil and the Necessity of Transitioning to Regenerative Agriculture

Climate Change – Two Shared Winners
Loni Kemp, Kemp Consulting: Greener Biofuels Tax Credits: A Policy to Drive Multiple Goals

Tristan Brown, Dermont Hayes and Robert Brown, all of Iowa State University: The Embedded Carbon Valuation System: A Policy Concept to Address Climate Change

Competition for Natural Resources
Dean Lemke and Shawn Richmond, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:  Iowa Drainage and Wetlands Landscape Systems Initiative

Global Economic Development
Gregory Vaughan: Integrated Policies for an Agricultural Revolution in the Sahel

Entries were judged by a seven-member panel that included Sandra Batie of Michigan State University, Vernon Eidman of the University of Minnesota, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Michael Espy, John Hardin of Hardin Farms, Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs, Doug Hedley of Hedley & Associates, and James McDonald of Bread for the World.

The judging team’s overarching criteria was an entry’s “potential to influence or frame the policy debate.”  The judges noted that “given the complex and difficult nature of the challenges to be addressed, there were no ‘perfect answers.’ Rather, the entries offered a rich mix of thought-provoking and thoughtful ideas.”  The judges recognized that entries were restricted to 2,500 words.  In some cases, they felt a more detailed elaboration of specific ideas would have been possible. In other cases, the judges were also concerned by the lack of references and evidence to support the ideas or proposals in the entry.

Thirty-eight entries were submitted to the competition on topics ranging from global trade liberalization and regenerative agriculture, to new approaches for addressing biofuel tax credits and carbon valuation systems. Entries were submitted by professionals working around the world in such diverse areas as economics, conservation, economic development and anthropology.  Energy security and climate change attracted the largest number of entries.

The Judges’ Comments
Here are the judges’ comments on all the winning entries.

Grand Prize Winner/Global Markets and Recession Category
William Motes: Three Decades Hence—Thinking About Global Agricultural Resource Allocation Policies
This paper argues that policy development must first focus on critical principles, and offers a comprehensive overview of issues and challenges facing agriculture. It is a call to go back to a principle-based, rather than a program-based approach to policy development. This paper is an initial cut at the principles and a more comprehensive debate on those principles is needed.

The judges recognized that this paper was broad in scope, rather than a specific proposal for an individual policy or program. As a result, they concluded that it best addressed the overarching criteria of contributing to the policy debate with its emphasis on the need for principles to precede policy.

Today’s challenges require a rethinking of agricultural food policy worldwide. That requires debate of wide-ranging issues, both domestic and global—everything from social justice and equality, to technology, efficiency issues and economic growth. To begin requires coming to grips with the basic moral and economic principles that have not been the center of recent policy debates. The judges concluded that whether or not one agrees with all of the principles articulated by Dr. Motes, his paper provides a thought provoking point for starting this important discussion.

Global Food Security
Jean-Phillippe Gervais: Moving Agricultural Trade Liberalization Forward to Improve Global Food Security
This paper is global, appears to be politically feasible, and is innovative, timely and policy-oriented. It suggests ways to break the deadlock between developed and lesser developed countries for trade negotiations in the Doha Round of the WTO. This proposal is an attempt to define an automatic balancing mechanism between increases in market access to developing country markets and increases in amber subsidy levels in developed countries. The implications are long-term. The judges described this proposal as offering “a potential framework for trade relations into the next decade and beyond.”

Global Energy Security
Chad Hellwinckel and Daniel De La Torre Ugarte: Peak Oil and the Necessity of Transitioning to Regenerative Agriculture
The world faces profound long-term resource challenges in providing food and materials derived from agriculture over the next 30 to 50 years. This paper argues that the continuous and highly linear expansion of resources used in agriculture, based on fossil energy and related materials, may not provide an adequate or acceptable growth path in the long term. The proposal is to carefully re-examine alternatives involving lower fossil energy use, nutrient and energy sourcing from plant and animal sources, and pest control from crop rotations and agronomic practices. This paper challenges public institutions to explore and educate the public on innovative alternatives in farmingsystems, rather than relying exclusively on the growing chemical input approaches of the last few decades.

Climate Change – Two Shared Winners
Loni Kemp: Greener Biofuels Tax Credit: A Policy to Drive Multiple Goals
This entry takes an outcome-based approach, associating biofuel tax credits with environmental performance. It focuses attention on the potential unintended consequences that could be ameliorated if addressed upfront. To date, the focus has been on carbon and indirect land use. This paper broadens the issues and outcomes that need to be addressed upfront.

Tristin Brown, Dermont Hayes and Robert Brown: The Embedded Carbon Valuation System: A Policy Concept to Address Climate Change
This proposal introduces interesting dimensions to the debate on cap and trade and carbon taxes. The authors argue that a carbon evaluation system can be designed and implemented to ensure that nations that address climate change will not put their own domestic producers at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy. However, the idea needs further development, particularly in terms of its compatibility with international trade agreements and cost effective implementation mechanisms. The judges complimented the authors on developing an innovative strategy to frame a critical and pressing issue.

Competition for Natural Resources
Dean Lemke and Shawn Richmond: Iowa Drainage and Wetlands Landscape Systems Initiative
This entry integrates emerging landscape knowledge and principles with ecological resources that can be simultaneously beneficial to the environment and to farmers and ranchers. The proposal is a structural step that could potentially address critical issues well beyond the next 30 years. The proposal involves a collaborative process among land owners, drainage commissioners and non-governmental organizations such as environmental/wildlife groups. The judges cited two elements of particular note: a pilot program to learn how best to scale the policy up for wider application, and a research component examining benefits, costs and performance. The judges noted that the proposal “is far broader than just Iowa. For example, successful implementation could impact the hypoxia problems in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere in wet climates.”

Global Economic Development
Gregory Vaughn: Integrated Policies for an Agricultural Revolution in the Sahel
This paper examines a particular group of people and nations in a critical part of the world. It specifically addresses smallholder farms—part of “the bottom billion.” The Sahel is a region of complex environmental and cultural issues, where the patterns of monsoon rains influence and are influenced by agriculture (nomadic or a more sedentary agriculture), and cropping patterns. Recognizing political, economic, religious and national conflict, the paper attempts to address each in a more comprehensive manner than most proposals. It is structured in a way that could incorporate women in the entire participatory program, and could help resolve issues regarding women’s roles. This paper offers a practical policy prescription to extremely complex and difficult cultural, social and political issues, with global implications relative to climate change. It is a regional focus on policy issues that have the potential for global impacts.

Farm Foundation serves as a catalyst for sound public policy by providing objective information to foster a deeper understanding of issues shaping the future for agriculture, food systems and rural regions. Farm Foundation has a 76-year history of objectivity. It does not lobby or advocate.

The 30-Year Challenge Project was directed and led by Farm Foundation. Contributing financial assistance to the project were: the Global Harvest Initiative, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the United Egg Producers.


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