Climate-smart, agricultural system, climate resilience, adaptive capacity, and soil carbon sequestration are terms that evolved to help farmers and researchers communicate about climate change.

A climate-smart agricultural system is a farm designed to operate and thrive through the extreme conditions caused by a changing climate.

The terms “climate resilience” and “adaptive capacity” refer to a farm’s ability to thrive despite challenges created by climate change. However, Adams would like the term “resilience” to be tied more fully to soil health and living soil as means to soil carbon sequestration.

“Soil carbon sequestration” is a term that has been used in previous Climate Change columns. It is the process where root systems store much of the carbon dioxide crops pull from the atmosphere deep in the soil.

As is clear from this list, many terms emerging as part of the shared language of farming and climate change are words and phrases pulled from everyday language and adapted to fit the specific needs of the field. Other terms from resilience science include:

  • Response capacity: a farm’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to avoid or reduce damages from disturbances;
  • Recovery capacity: a farm’s ability to quickly recover post-damage; and
  • Transformation capacity: the farm’s ability to transition to a new type of system when necessary.

Jerry Hatfield developed an equation that stresses the importance of managing (M) one’s farm system to optimize the performance of the genetics (G), given all of the variations in the environment (E): G × E × M. Hatfield’s concept of Genetics × Environment × Management helps many growers to see the larger picture and how the pieces fit together. “I think it is critical for the agricultural producers to realize this same vision and understand these dynamics,” he said.

As the language of climate change and agriculture continues to develop and emerge, it will become more common at conferences and events organized by extension specialists and other organizations that support farmers. Harter, who organized a conference focused on protecting groundwater resources in California in 2016, said many “aha” moments resulted from attendees listening to one another and learning each other’s language. “The shared experience at the conference demonstrated that there is much momentum and interest in agriculture to protect groundwater resources and quality,” Harter said.

Molly Brown, associate research professor at Department of Geographical Sciences at University of Maryland, explores use of long-term records of vegetation, rainfall, soil moisture and evaporative stress in agriculture insurance programs in Africa. She said developing a universal language around farming and climate change is a critical first step in recognizing the real objective of agricultural research and development. “If you’re a first-world scientist and you go to a conference and learn about the concerns of the farmers in the developing world, you may not change your research, but you can change how you express the meaning of that research in your own papers to these other communities,” Brown said.

“It’s only through coming up with a universal language. You need to be aware that everywhere does not look like Kansas, and that the objective of ag development is not to make everywhere like Kansas. It’s to have everyone achieve their own capabilities and their own needs and desires. It’s not to make a cookie cutter world,” she added.

Read more: Mastering the Language of Climate Change and Farming