By Roger Johnson, president, National Farmers Union
The Earth’s climate is changing – temperatures are rising, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, and precipitation patterns are shifting dramatically. While some in Washington like to spend their time debating the notion of climate change, there is little debate about the subject in rural America. And that’s because America’s family farmers and ranchers, who are charged with ensuring the nation’s food security and have been dealing with a changing climate for decades.
Nationally, average temperatures have risen across the contiguous 48 states since 1901, with an increased rate of warming over the past 30 years. And the most recent 50 years likely have been the warmest worldwide in at least the last 1,300 years. This increase in temperature not only threatens grain production, but meat production as well. Yes, it’s being felt in every corner of production agriculture.
And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been crystal clear on the matter, noting “evidence exists that the U.S. is already experiencing an increased incidence of extreme weather events.” For those concerned with food, feed and fuel production, grain yields decline about 5 percent for every one degree of temperature increase. And livestock production systems are vulnerable to temperature stresses as well, leading to reduced productivity per animal and thus higher costs for farmers and ranchers.
And that’s why Congress and international leaders need to take meaningful steps to mitigate climate change and pledge themselves to provide adequate risk management tools for America’s food, feed and fuel producers. Thankfully, there are means for adaptation and mitigation through strong, smart public policy that focuses on reduced emissions and increased sequestration.
The nation’s farmers and ranchers are responsible stewards of the land, and combined with strong public policy initiatives, will continue to lead the nation in its efforts to mitigate climate change. Farmers Union has long supported a variety of conservation measures including no-till, the planting of cover crops, Conservation Reserve Program participation, and the use of high-efficiency machinery and equipment.
The Obama administration’s efforts to increase development of renewable energy and energy efficiency are well appreciated, as well as USDA’s work engaging farmers in climate mitigation through existing conservation programs
Clearly, we as a nation have tangible steps that we can take to help mitigate climate change right now. The Renewable Fuel Standard, which has injected a new wave of economic vitality into rural America, must be strongly supported and fully implemented. And moving forward, Congress needs to resist pressure for further cuts to the 2014 Farm Bill and crop insurance, two important policy tools that have greatly helped farmers manage the extreme weather fluctuations they’re already experiencing.
The nation’s farmers and ranchers are happy to lead the way and demonstrate to the rest of our great nation that positive steps toward climate change mitigation are not only possible, they’re happening right before your very eyes.