Jul 18, 2022
American Farmland Trust adds climate, soil health experts

American Farmland Trust (AFT) expanded its national Farmers Combat Climate Change Initiative team by adding a senior climate and soil health scientist, as well as a senior soil health and biochar scientist.

Through its climate initiative, AFT commits to making U.S. agriculture climate neutral or better by catalyzing widespread adoption of diverse regenerative farming practices that rebuild soil health, sequester carbon, and reduce emissions.

“The additions of McGill and Seman-Varner will increase AFT’s capacity to advance transformational implementation and scaling of high impact opportunities. And we must act now, at scale, to avoid irreversible climate impacts to our human endeavor on this planet,” said AFT Climate Initiative Director Bianca Moebius-Clune, PhD. “Expanding the team will leverage AFT’s unique interdisciplinary and holistic approach to agriculture. It will enable us to catalyze more impact-driven research, modeling, decision support tool development and on-the-ground demonstration projects, provide training and mentor more farmers and ranchers, and advance critical policy needs at state and federal levels.”

Moebius-Clune also noted, “Farmers are at the front lines, facing droughts, floods, erratic temperatures and wildfires. A regenerative transition will be a win-win for farmers, ranchers and society at large. Agriculture has the exciting opportunity to build profitability and resilience to climate change impacts, while simultaneously contributing to solving the climate challenge. Reducing emissions and drawing carbon back down into the soil will build soil function, system stability and food security – the foundation of human life on this planet.”

Bonnie Michelle McGill
Bonnie Michelle McGill

As senior climate and soil health scientist, McGill will lead climate solutions related program modeling, data analysis and other research efforts, with the aim to advance climate smart practice adoption and support policy advocacy and communications.

McGill previously served as a science communication fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Anthropocene Studies Section for the Climate and Rural Systems Partnership, where she co-produced local climate data analyses and communication resources with rural network members, including farmers, in western Pennsylvania. McGill earned a Ph.D. in ecosystem ecology at Michigan State University where she studied the greenhouse gas footprint of an irrigated cropping system. She has also conducted focus groups with corn and soybean farmers in Michigan and Iowa to explore barriers to conservation and inform ecosystem modeling.

“I want to serve our land and water and their stewards, especially farmers and ranchers, and future generations by helping transition US agriculture from a net source of greenhouse gases to net removal of atmospheric carbon in ways that are equitable and inclusive,” said McGill. “My prior work has focused on conventional row crop systems as they account for a large proportion of US arable land, have some of the greatest environmental impacts, and are systems with some of the greatest opportunities to benefit and contribute to climate solutions, including making individual farms more resilient to climate and economic volatility. I cannot think of a better organization than AFT for doing relevant, cutting-edge scientific research that supports both farmers on the ground as well as policy making.”

Rachel Seman-Varner
Rachel Seman-Varner

As senior soil health and biochar scientist, Seman-Varner will advance the science and implementation of high-level regenerative soil health management systems and provide technical support for policy advocacy. She will advance AFT’s leadership to integrate and scale up biochar and other innovative, high-potential natural climate solutions into soil health management systems.

Seman-Varner previously served at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Health Division as national soil health specialist. At NRCS, Seman-Varner led the public release of the new Soil Carbon Amendment Conservation Practice Standard, developed technical assistance to support biochar and compost applications and collaborated on working groups addressing climate-smart agriculture, climate adaptation planning, water quantity and biodiversity. She holds a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech with a focus on agroecology and a dissertation on cover cropping’s role in high-functioning agroecosystems.

“Complex problems need multifaceted solutions and addressing climate change will require on-the-ground approaches to increase soil carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across farms, ranches, forests and other managed lands,” said Seman-Varner. “I have a passion for building collaborative and effective partnerships across the scientific community, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, farmers, ranchers and diverse stakeholders to address the critical climate issues we face. Inclusion of diverse perspectives and stakeholders to create solution-driven teams is fundamental to developing innovative solutions to mitigate climate change and build more resilient agroecosystems.”

AFT’s Farmers Combat Climate Change Initiative seeks to bring everyone to the table – from small to large farmers and ranchers of the nation’s diverse production systems, individuals, researchers, agricultural industry leaders, policymakers, government leaders and society to take bold action to make a difference in our climate future.


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