Ag At Large: Ag must engage climate change
One of my favorite thinkers in agricultural journalism today is Chris Clayton, ag policy editor for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.Clayton, of Omaha, Neb., on Nov. 1, published an e-book, "Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Cl...
One of my favorite thinkers in agricultural journalism today is Chris Clayton, ag policy editor for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.
Clayton, of Omaha, Neb., on Nov. 1, published an e-book, “Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change.” The 294-page book is available for $7.99 on Amazon.com.
“Climate change is a complex problem that we’ve been ignoring on the House and Senate ag committees,” Clayton says. “Nobody in the Beltway talks about its effect on agriculture. But when you look at the science, what other industry is going to be more affected than food production?”
Clayton writes that he’s been preoccupied with the topic for about five years, when the Waxman-Markey bill, including cap and trade provisions for emissions trading, stalled in the Senate. “Basically, a lot of people stopped talking about climate change at that point,” Clayton says. “A lot of people thought that was the end of the debate. But it’s been a difficult topic for me to set aside.”
He says agriculture had an opportunity to benefit from cap-and-trade legislation, but instead worked hard to defeat it.
Saving the world
He calls Burleigh County, N.D., the “Jerusalem of cover-cropping.” Farmers like Gabe Brown, backed by experts with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, have instituted practices that improve soil tilth and build soil resilience in both excess moisture and drought situations.
He writes about the period of 2005 to 2013, which some economists have called the “Golden Age of Agriculture,” because of numerous factors, including the effects of the Renewable Fuels Standard, which brought in ethanol, biomass and methane digester production into rural America. Wind and solar energy production also was developed.
Clayton underlines the fact that farm groups seem intent on discrediting the idea of climate change, despite some tangible benefits to agriculture. Farm groups “wanted to be against this,” based on a mix of rationales, including concerns over higher energy and input costs.
“It’s been confirmed over and over,” Clayton says.
Clayton says some of the agricultural backlash against climate change involved distaste for the politics of former Vice President Al Gore and his global warming cause célèbre. He says carbon offset programs initially had bipartisan support, but the issue became framed as a tax on the economy. Legislation would have exempted agriculture from many regulations, creating a carbon offset market implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
By helping to stop that, agriculture has inadvertently made itself more vulnerable to regulations forced by litigation involving water quality.
“Thirty-five years ago, when I was in the eighth grade, the national debt hit $1 trillion,” Clayton says. “There was a lot of focus on that at that time, and concern that my generation would have to pay for that debt. Thirty-five years later, the national debt is $18 trillion to $19 trillion.”
He says if the nation doesn’t address the climate change question, it will reach a “tipping point.”
Sure, farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana could see production benefits, but big parts of the Central Plains and the South could lose their ability to produce crops.